Here on the factory floor we haven’t addressed TV content before now – as a mass medium, TV has a well-established system in place to realize and promote its productions, it doesn’t need any help from the outside – and, given our focus on “dark” or aggressive/transgressive art, TV content is generally unremarkable compared to the cavernous well of extremities from whence we take so much sinister inspiration. Nevertheless, 2016 has been such a dark and dour time that The History Channel’s Vikings is one popular program worth examining. We recently participated in a press call with actor Katheryn Winnick to discuss the show, her character Lagertha, and tonight’s mid-season premiere.
“I think that’s what makes me love being a Viking. It’s because it’s raw and it’s real.” – Katheryn Winnick
The show offers an interesting blend of historical fact and creative interpretation, a process that closely follows the example set by its source material in Scandinavian folklore, which often embellished factual accounts with fanciful details, for instance a blurred borrowing of tales about the Norse deity Thorgerd informs some of the lore surrounding the character Lagertha; however, as she is portrayed on Vikings, Winnick says of the character, “I feel that she is really the modern woman that everyone can relate to…[Lagertha] is formidable, she is strong, but she is also a woman. She is allowed to be vulnerable, she is allowed to be feminist. She is allowed not to have her shit together at times and that’s what makes this character so real and fantastic. It’s not just the strength of her character as a warrior but her strength, her personality, and her strong sense of will is what I think a lot of people identify with.”
At the heart of the production, lone writer Michael Winnick has maintained a singular vision for the show over the course of four seasons (with a fifth currently in production), yet the process of realizing that vision is a collaborative one, which provides both writer and actors the flexibility to develop genuinely dynamic characters. Winnick observes, “Michael is very hands-on in the sense that whenever we get the new scripts every few weeks, we sit and talk about what’s coming for Lagertha, and where do I see her, and where we can challenge her, and what we could do that’s unexpected.”
The show’s popular appeal also makes sense when one considers it presents a worldview predicated on hardship: the characters are perpetually faced with physical struggles, be they violent conflicts, challenging environmental conditions, or the constant threat of resource scarcity; and even when these threats are successfully met, they can never be completely diminished or defeated. As our modern middle class continues to lose its economic footing and the social fabric of society is tarnished by absurdly childish hate rhetoric, it is reassuring to see characters who confront similar uncertainties with dignity and determination.
“In those days,” Winnick says, “it was making a name yourself, and teaching your children to be good warriors, and to be able to find their own path, is what really drove them and definitely is what drives Lagertha.” She says her character is conflicted by the conditions at Kattegat as it is presently managed by Aslaug – wife of Lagertha’s ex-husband, warrior king Ragnar Lothbrok – and that a confrontation between the two women is necessary: “She is doing the right thing by reclaiming it because nobody would rule it better.”
VIKINGS mid-season premiere airs tonight at 9 p.m. PT