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Comic-Con Interviews: The Cast & Creator of History’s Vikings Discuss Their Strong Female Characters


As we continue to roll out our San Diego Comic-Con coverage, we finally come to one of my favorites. Speaking with the cast of History Channel’s Vikings already provided us with some amusing dialogue on baby goats, but we also got around to speaking about more serious issues, like women’s representation on television. Spoiler: We might have had little hearts in our eyes for part (or all) of this interview.

To be fair, we knew if we asked Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha) about Vikings’ female characters, we’d get some great quotes, but creator Michael Hirst and actor Clive Standen (Rollo) happily surprised us.

We asked Hirst if he had a specific approach toward his female characters and how they interact with each other, as they are quite different from others we normally see on television. “Yeah, I’m enormously proud of that! I did my PhD at Oxford in the short stories of Henry James, and Henry James enjoyed writing about female characters more than male characters. And in some ways I suppose I do too. He said female characters are far more complex and far more interesting for a novelist,” he told The Mary Sue. He continued:

I wasn’t really conscious of making Lagertha almost unique as a leading female character in a TV show. But I think she is unique. I mean, she’s a mother, a wife, and she kicks ass. And she’s a wonderful role model, absolutely. Unfortunately, as a writer, I have to punish her again and again. So she’s always losing everything. And I think that, for women, that’s often the price. Certainly for a powerful woman, that’s the price they pay for achieving anything. So every time you think she’s actually achieved something, risen to the top, you think “Oh, things are going to be easy!”—no, they’re not. They never are. For women, I think then and now, the Dark Ages and now, there were just more problems. More issues, more things to solve, more complications to life. So I don’t write the women differently, but I write them in the same way, so the women are as interesting as the men, and they don’t just decorate the show.

Hirst also noted there are very few women watching Vikings in Ireland particularly, where the show airs a bit later. “And it’s so sad,” he explained, “because they don’t realize that it’s as much about the women characters as the male characters.”


Speaking of those male characters, knowing what we know about the character of Rollo, I was prepared to ask Standen some questions about his characterization. Particularly how he has roughly zero redeeming qualities (here’s our issue with him, if you’re curious). But when we asked about how Standen and co-star Travis Fimmel felt about being on a show with an ensemble filled with women who are strong in varied ways and on equal footing with the men, Standen was quick and fierce in his reply.

“There’s no problem with that. There shouldn’t be a problem. The problem lies with other TV shows that have spent too long with, y’know, cop dramas, having cops come into a room and get a biro pen and pick up some knickers. And it’s just exploiting women,” he said. “Women are always murdered and maimed, and they’re never given their rightful place as lead characters! And I think [creator Michael Hirst] has just written what should have been written a long time ago. There shouldn’t be anything that different about Vikings, but there is, because there’ve just been so many shows that have not stepped up to the plate and given female actors and female characters equal footing.”

Hence the hearts in our eyes.

Winnick, of course, was eager to discuss her character’s place on the show. When asked by another reporter how Lagertha was able to reconcile with Aslaug, the woman pregnant with Ragnar’s child, she said:

“I think Lagertha understands the dynamic, and if anything I think she blames Ragnar more than Aslaug. Here’s a woman that shows up without having any support, shows up with a swollen bely, needs the help of Ragnar. [Leaving] shows [Lagertha’s] character of being a strong woman, and not having her ego get the best of her and being able to make a decision that she will do what’s right for herself and stick up for herself and decide that this is not the best situation for her and she really needs to leave. So, if anything, who do you really blame in a situation when someone cheats on someone? Do you blame the mistress, or do you blame the husband?”

We then asked her how she felt about all of the female characters’ on the show, especially considering advertising for Season 2 played up a love triangle angle, which Winnick told us she absolutely played against.

“I think every woman character, every female character, has her own arc. Yes, I’m a shieldmaiden, and they get the power in terms of the glory and fighting the battle sequences, but also as a mother,” she told The Mary Sue. “But also Princess Aslaug has her own battles. And being a mother and dealing now with Ivar the Boneless, or [Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye]. You know, dealing with different challenges as a mother. And Siggy goes through her own challenges, and Porunn goes through her own different arc. So you have different sides of the female personality and the different sides of being a female in that time period that gets explored.”

Season 3 of Vikings is currently filming and will premiere in 2015.

Previously in Vikings

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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."