Not that everyone was pleased. From the start, there has always been some Internet criticism of Lagertha that accuses the character of “forced feminism,” ahistorically expansive sexuality, and the impossibility of the existence of actual “shield-maidens.” Some have even argued that women do not possess the physical strength to wield historically accurate Viking weapons (despite watching female actors, Winnick and Georgia Hirst specifically, regularly do just that on Vikings on a regular basis).
In fact, Lagertha appears to be closer to the truth than even many historians assumed when the show began seven years ago. According to the series’ historical consultant and writer Justin Pollard, not only was “Viking society, for all of its apparent terrors to Christians, a much more egalitarian society than Christian society, and women had a much stronger role in it,” but despite “quite a lot of howls of complaint, since then, we’ve found a number of excavated bodies, often excavated in the 19th century, that have been reanalyzed and now been shown to be women.”
The most famous of these is the grave of what many historians had referred to, up until 2017, as the archetypical “ultimate Viking” of the tenth century, found on the island of Birka, Sweden. First discovered and documented in 1878, it was assumed to be the skeletal remains and grave items of a male warrior—sword, spear, axe, arrows, shields, etc. One year after Vikings premiered, an analysis of the pelvic bones and jaw by bioarchaelogist Anna Kjellström strongly suggested that the skeleton was that of a woman. In 2017, analysis of the DNA and Strontium isotypes on the skeleton by a team led by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson confirmed that the body was a woman, and consistent with the geographic profile of someone having lived in the correct place to be a Viking.
Lagertha, and women like her, weren’t a modern-day invention—Hirst’s women warriors were a strangely prophetic echo from the past.
Nor are women incapable of the type of fighting we get to watch on the show. I brought up the point when I interviewed Clive Standen (Rollo) a few years ago, asking whether it was odd having Winnick, who stands as much as a foot shorter and weighs half as much than many of her male co-stars, on the battlefield. He laughed outright, assuring me that the actress, who holds black belts in two martial arts and founded three martial arts schools before the age of 22, is more than a match for those her character faces on the killing fields of Vikings–a not inconsiderable recommendation considering Standen’s own martial arts background. In other words, what we saw on the series was just as, if not more, real than the reality shows that make up a great deal of History Channel’s programming.