'Vikings' Star Katheryn Winnick Breaks Down Show's Big Death — and Her Character's Cliffhanger! (Exclusive)
WARNING: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you haven’t watched Wednesday’s episode of Vikings!
Another major Vikings battle, another major loss for Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).
Our favorite shield maiden found herself once again mourning the death of a lover on Wednesday’s episode of the History drama, when Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was brutally killed in battle against Harald (Peter Franzén) and his Viking forces.
While from the start, the pair’s relationship was plagued by uncertain allegiances, Heahmund’s commitment to Lagertha couldn’t be denied as he shouted out his last word — her name — as arrows shot through his body and he fell to his death. Heahmund’s sacrifice helped Wessex win their battle against Harald and his troops, but it was King Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who honored him before sending him off to his grave; Lagertha was nowhere to be found.
“When she finally hears his last word, which is Lagertha, that really resonates with her,” Winnick tells ET of her character’s reaction to Heahmund’s death. “Her whole life, she’s been betrayed by so many people, and she’s never sure if she should actually trust Heahmund, and for her to actually see him in his last words scream out her name, really has an effect on her. Here’s another person she got close with, and now is gone again. So, she ends up leaving.”
After five seasons on Vikings, however, is this really how we’ll say goodbye to Lagertha? Find out what Winnick says below.
ET: Lagertha is missing at the end of the episode, with not even her son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) able to find her. What can you tease of her fate?
Katheryn Winnick: Well, we don’t know where she ends up going, and we will pick up with her later on. But it was one of those interesting things. I even asked, ‘Why is she leaving?’ … But I think it does work for her, because she’s now moved her whole life over to Wessex and has fought for everything, lost a kingdom, and now she has to figure out what’s next for her and only her.
Michael Hirst always gives me a new person to play with (Laughs). I loved working with Jonathan Rhys Meyers. He’s just such a talented actor, and such a deep actor and a complex person. And he’s somebody who, his character also has a dark side, and a very philosophical mind and questioning his fate and questioning the gods and questioning the religion, and I think that’s the true connection between the two of them, they’re both in that same place right now. And the relationship did move fast, a little bit too fast maybe, but I think for her, she really needed to trust somebody that in this time of her life, and she moved her whole family and life over there try to figure out the next move to come back to Kattegat. So it was hard to see Bishop Heahmund go, just because he’s such an amazing character, and they had such a bond.
It’s also interesting to see the evolution of your character, season after season, because since the pilot aired just five years ago, Lagertha has aged decades. Is it fun to play such a long period of Lagertha’s life? Or has it gotten more challenging?
It’s both, it’s definitely creatively exciting to have an opportunity in a character to be able to take her through decades and decades, but it’s also extremely challenging, because we’re only five years apart (Laughs). I worked hard this year to get Lagertha’s voice at a different resonance, because I’ve been studying and working with women, as they get older, their voice gets lower. Also, their gate is different. I actually had to catch myself a few times because I ran to the battlefield and I’m like, ‘Wait, she’s a little older, maybe she wouldn’t be as agile. Can I get another take?’ It took me a second to be reminded of that. And how you carry yourself just a little slower.
But all that is as you will see this season go on, she will start to deteriorate and also physically change and in the season to come, you will see the prosthetic makeup in her to suggest that she’s older. It’s really hard to do. I think I started off in my 20s as Lagertha, and later you’ll see her in her late 50s, maybe. …It is a great challenge to play her. But it was very rewarding as well, and I’m blessed to have that opportunity to creatively push myself on one role for so many years. It would be boring to stay in one spot!
You also directed an episode of season six. We won’t get to see the episode for a while, but why was it important for you to step behind the camera?
Directing was one of the most challenging yet the most rewarding experience of my life. It was a huge undertaking to take on, especially on the massive show of Vikings, with hundreds of cast members and the epic scale of everything, and the success of the show. For me, it was important to creatively test my skills outside of being in front of the camera, and I actually started directing in high school before I was an actress, so I’ve always had a desire to try to get behind the camera, and now we need more women filmmakers.
Vikings and MGM were great at giving me their full support. I had the full support from all the cast members and the crew members, who were literally pushing up cranes and mountains to try to make the sunrise in the morning of the day, or rushing like crazy to try to make the sunsets, because our show is very daylight-dependent. And I couldn’t be more proud of my episode, so I feel grateful that I got the opportunity to do it. I wanted to do it earlier, but it took a lot of time and to earn the confidence from the powers at be to let me behind the camera. I know I was the only cast member that has had that chance, and I’m grateful for that.
Vikings airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History.