Friday, March 7, 2014

Fangirl Fridays – Lagertha the Shield Maiden

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Fresh off the heels of reading an entire book about kickass Dangerous Women, I was surfing the interwebs for photos to add to a book review. (Amazing how differently I pictured “kickass women” in my head than what showed up in my online search.) And then suddenly there she was, in stark contrast to all those undistinctive, interchangeable faces. Fierce, mesmerizing, and regally poised to take on the world: the Vikings’ most dangerous woman, Lagertha. And I fell in love with her all over again.

If you haven’t met Lagertha Lothbrok, let me take this opportunity to introduce her to you. She is the ultimate kickass woman. A Shield Maiden of The Far North. Tales of her bravery and passion have been told through the ages round the fires of plunder and immortalized in Nordic myth.

She can do it all: fight alongside the men, stay home and defend the farm, raise the kids, and still keep her love life smoking hot. You know, all the stuff modern women do—without the luxury of electricity, running water, or toilets—plus plunder and pillage!

Lagertha hasn’t got her own book series, but she does have a tv series, called Vikings, which is beginning its second season in the U.S. now. I know that a lot of Wenches aren’t able to watch Vikings, so I wanted to share a few words about this amazing character. Who would be equally at ease slinging swords alongside Fever’s Makayla Lane or Chicagoland Vampires’s Merit, or running the homestead and killing wolves with her bare hands alongside Outlander’s Claire Fraser.

So whether you’re a fan of the Vikings tv show or not, I hope you saucy fans of strong female characters will join me for a little fangirling about the legendary Lagertha’s story. (I will keep spoilers to a minimum for those who have not seen Vikings, and I admit that I’m trying not to spoil myself too badly by looking too deeply into what lies beyond season 1.)



Vikings puts the V in Urban Fantasy


Once again I’m fangirling about something that both entertains and educates me. (Or at least inspires me to search online for accurate historical information about what I just watched.) Vikings takes place in lands (and oceans) of sweeping vistas, where rugged men and women forge a living out of an unforgivingly harsh environment. Their homelands are so inhospitable that it is easier to cross dangerous seas and steal their livelihood from whomever they stumble across than wrest it out of the land and sea.

To survive, the characters must be tougher than the elements and their enemies. They are larger-than-life, holding their own against the cinematic splendor of mountains, fjords, seascapes, and grand battles.

The ads for the show focused on the cocky, charismatic Ragnar Lothbrok, fabled for his manly exploits. But by episode 3, for me this show was all about Lagertha, Ragnar’s wife. She was my new awesomely badass hero(ine)!! And I began to enjoy Vikings as more of an Urban Fantasy that happened to be set in a rural, medieval Scandinavia!

Looting, lusting, laughing, and loving life


Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha Lothbrok
Lagertha was a Viking Shield Maiden. She led armies, sailed ships, married chieftains, dispensed charity and justice, and protected the weak. She also nurtured children, tended crops, hand-fed livestock, and worried about keeping her husband’s affections from wandering too far when he “traveled for business”.

Here are a few reasons why I think Lagertha would be be a great UF heroine.


She has high standards.

Legend has it that she met Ragnar Lothbrok by joining her warriors with his to avenge the death of the Norwegian king and the shameful mistreatment of the surviving women in the king’s family. Ragnar fell in love with her and won her by being the only man who could pass her entrance test. According to the Vikings wikia:

Ragnar went to Lagertha’s home to confess his love to her, but he was set upon by a bear and an enormous hound who guarded her home. Ragnar killed the bear with his spear and strangled the hound with his bare hands, thus gaining her hand in marriage.

She is fierce, devoted, and passionate.



She knows how to take care of...Herself.



She knows how to take care of...Her man.



She knows how to take care of...Her family.



She knows how to take care of...Her guests.

At one point, Ragnar is “given” a prisoner of war as his reward for discovering new lands to plunder. Though technically a slave, they treat their prize with a fair amount of dignity and respect. Ragnar and Lagertha even invite him into their bed one night, being the thoughtful hosts that they are. (He politely refuses, being the extremely befuddled Christian monk that he is.)


She jumps at the chance to fight for her farm, village, and fellow Vikings.


She’s a team player when she needs to be.

Shield Wall!!!

She can also go it alone.


So...Do not mess with her.


Do not pick on women and children.


Do not piss her off.


And be warned...she has good backup.

Legends say Lagertha might be related to the Valkyrie, the host of female figures from Norse mythology who transport fallen warriors to Valhalla. So you never know who might show up to help her out when she sounds the battle cry. You’d better think twice before taking her on.

Ragnar might think he’s the shit, but he is damn lucky to have such a magnificent wife. And he seems to know that. [Show/Hide spoiler...]

For a while. I am so ready to kick his ass. But more about that later.


Lagertha’s story in Vikings


Vikings is based more or less on tales handed down verbally in Scandinavian lore and eventually written down in various books through the ages. (For example, Wikipedia credits various historical records and accounts for the plot, along with the 13th-century sagas Ragnars saga Loðbrókar and Ragnarssona þáttr, and Saxo Grammaticus’s 12th-century work Gesta Danorum.)


Vikings is set at the start of the Viking Age; its opening episodes show a raid on the coast of England that occurred (in “real-life”) in 793. The first season focuses on the legendary Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok—who in my opinion can never appreciate enough how lucky he is to be married to Lagertha—and their children, their settlement, and their raiding crews. Through their eyes, we see life in a village ruled by a local Earl who pledges fealty to a faraway king—the politics, the hardships, the strong voice Lagertha has, though it is still a man’s world and misogyny is rampant.

Ragnar distinguishes himself by discovering the “mythical” coast of England, with its dazzling new smorgasbord of riches to plunder, like churches. (I had a hard time believing they’d never run across England and lived to spread the word, but I was willing to suspend belief on that point.) He leaves Lagertha home to mind the farm, which peeves her to no end...though that turns out to be a surprisingly “alpha-male” assignment in itself.

Here’s where we see Lagertha’s softer side: nurturing her children, tending farm animals, dispensing charity and assistance to the villagers. And this just makes it all the sweeter when we later see her join the raiding parties and realize what a badass warrior she is.

While Ragnar builds his legacy in battles, Lagertha defends their home. Against thieves who would steal it, enemies who would harm their children, and suitors who hope to woo her away (by charm or by force) from Ragnar. This last problematic situation sent me scurrying to the interwebs to research the Viking definitions of marriage, family traditions, monogamy, divorce, incest...the usual stuff of romance.

[Show/Hide spoiler...]

Some interesting suitors show up.

The clash of cultures, religions, and personal ambitions makes for compelling story lines, and Lagertha always wants to be at the center of the action. As in any richly lived life, she knows great triumph and deep loss. Battles for loyalty, romance, riches, adventure, heartbreak, and treachery abound. I can’t wait to see how Lagertha fares.

How is she not distracted by all the eye candy?


It’s a bit of a detour, but then again we are the Wenches. If Lagertha’s extraordinary tale isn’t enough of an enticement, let me suggest another reason to watch Vikings. It is gorgeous to look at, and so are its leading men and women.

Ragnar Lothbrok

Ragnar is played by Travis Fimmel


Rollo Lothbrok, Ragnar’s brother

Rollo is played by Clive Standen


Supporting cast

Left: Lagertha’s children show their new pet monk (George Blagden) around the farm

Right: Floki the shipbuilder helps Ragnar design his boat (Gustaf Skarsgård—some of you might be familiar with his brother!)


Left: Ragnar believes there really is an “England” out there

Right: Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) isn’t Ragnar’s biggest fan


Left: Ragnar’s raiding party returns

Right: Earl Haraldson’s wife (Jessalyn Gilsig) admires the latest plunder


Their back yard

And their work commute...


Lagertha’s legacy


Despite a lifetime dedicated to serving her family, friends, and legions of mistreated women and children, Lagertha is ultimately remembered as a warrior. I have poked around at the legend online enough to see how her story ends. And I have to wonder whether the show will follow suit. Because it turns out Lagertha will forgive and forget for only so long. Let’s just say, in legends, she doesn’t do victim and would rather rule alone than share a throne with someone who can’t meet her standards—not unlike our Vikings Lagertha. So it should be interesting! *cackles gleefully*

The story of Vikings—Lagertha and Ragnar—has in turns evoked standing ovations, a lot of hiding my eyes from the carnage, intrigue, lust, and outrage from me...and has even inspired me to become a more kickass woman! Because after the end of season 1, I am totally ready to kick someone’s ass. I’m not going to say whose, in case you haven’t seen all the episodes yet…but the dangerous woman in me is ready to go Medieval on someone’s ass just as soon as season 2 hits the screens this week. If you’ve seen the show, you’re probably ready to kick some ass with me. And if you haven’t, aren’t you just itching to join in the fight fun?

Watch your back...


4 comments:

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  2. What a great post, Kathi! And such an awesome character. Yes, Lagertha is such a strong character, I love her. Between Vikings, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy I have more than enough violence and gore, but also a kind of beauty, though I can't count how many times I averted my gaze during violent scenes.

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  3. Great post! I recently discovered Vikings and... wow. Lagertha haunts me ! I also love Sons of Anarchy, which is really violent... in a different way. And I have to say I actually prefer watching Vikings because this violence is... more beautiful in a strange way. Anyway, amazing post! xx

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    1. Thank you! I love meeting new Vikings fans, and I'm glad you enjoyed my Lagertha love! I think Vikings is more violent than ever this year. At least I'm (halfway) hiding my eyes more. But there is something artistic (beautiful, as you say) about the ritualistic and spiritual aspects of their traditions, as violent as some of them are. I read an article this week saying that perhaps much of the violent behavior attributed to the Vikings as marauders was bestowed upon them by their victims, who wrote the historical accounts handed down to us. But certainly not all of it. I was loving Lagertha so much in episode 4!!! Ragnar is very lucky she is willing to help him out. As for SoA, it is on my list of shows to binge watch when I get a chance. I hear so many people raving about it! I think my neighbor just bought DVDs of all the seasons, so I can borrow them. My reading time really cuts into my tv viewing time, and it's hard to find enough time for either one!

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