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The Toughest Vikings Scene Katheryn Winnick Had To Shoot

Queen, shield-maiden, fierce warrior, grieving mother, and woman scorned, Vikings' Lagertha lived a brutal life laced with violence and tragedy. The actress who played her, Katheryn Winnick, modeled the character's resilience herself. She was the only original Vikings cast member to appear regularly on all six seasons, and neither the character nor the actress got a peaceful send-off. On the final season, Lagertha wins one last heroic fight, only to be murdered in a tragic act of mistaken identity brought on by hallucination (a very Vikings way to go). And shooting those final scenes was no picnic for Winnick.

While Lagertha gritted her teeth through her darkest moments, Winnick has been much more open about the challenges, both emotional and physical, of playing a Viking. The show doesn't shy away from even the most barbaric traditions deployed by the ancient Norse people in both history and myth (blood eagle, anyone?), and Lagertha was not innocent. Let's not forget the machinations behind absolute worst things Lagertha has done on Vikings. But the character also had to contend with abuse aimed against herself and her family, all while surviving freezing, muddy, wet conditions. So when Winnick talks about her toughest Vikings scene, she recalls dealing with not just grizzly Viking violence, but also with an onslaught from the kind of enemy you can't vanquish: the weather.

Katheryn Winnick did not enjoy getting cold and wet

Lagertha and her fellow Viking warriors don't let little things like water, mud, or cold bother them in their quests to seize and hold power. But the untold truth of Vikings is that playing a permanently battle-ready soldier often means toughing out unfavorable conditions. For the actors, many scenes required hours of shivering in freezing conditions, often while wearing cool but very uncomfortable costumes. For example, during one of the weekly Instagram Q&As Winnick did with fans (known as Winnick Wednesdays), she commented that one of the toughest scenes she filmed for Vikings involved "swimming in the freezing water with pounds of armor on." Another day on the job for Lagertha, but a deeply unpleasant one for Winnick.

Even scenes that didn't require full immersion in freezing water were physically challenging. When the Vikings weren't raining misery upon each other, misery was raining on them in the form of, well, literal and incessant rain. Winnick admitted that after filming her final scene as Lagertha — which happened to be the one in which she's murdered (films and TV shows don't often shoot scenes chronologically) — she couldn't even think about celebrating because she was so wet and cold. Speaking to TV Line, the actress recalled that the scene had her "freezing cold and lying on the cold ground without a mat or anything like that, crawling forever." She added, "Everybody wanted to applaud after... but I just wanted to be warm."

Lagertha's final scene was Katheryn Winnick's toughest emotional moment

The rain put a damper (or at least a rain check) on any afterparty plans that Winnick might've had for when her final scene wrapped. Of course, she may not have been in the mood for fun anyway. She told TV Guide that the scene made for "definitely one of the hardest shooting days [she] ever had to play emotionally." That really is saying something when you look at Lagertha's history.

At San Diego Comic-Con in 2013, just after the show's first season had ended, Winnick answered a question about her toughest scene to that point by saying that Lagertha's miscarriage raised a lot of questions for her about how it would feel to lose a child. But she added that playing Lagertha came with a lot of emotionally difficult moments. "I can't necessarily single out one thing, but... it was a challenge for me, definitely, to play Lagertha," she said.

Creator Michael Hirst helped Winnick get to that place one last time on her final day. She revealed to TV Guide that before shooting the scene, Hirst played her the track that would score Lagertha's death, titled "Lagertha" and written specifically for the character's demise. "I was just in tears," Winnick told TV Guide. "It's one of the most beautiful songs ever... just such an honor. What a great way to go." But it wasn't until she saw Lagertha's funeral that the character's death really sunk in. "I think walking into the funeral in the next episode and having that out-of-body experience hit me harder. That's when I broke down in tears that it was happening," Winnick told Variety. The lesson here, clearly, is that even Vikings cry. 

Katheryn Winnick ended her Vikings run on a high note

For as emotionally taxing as Winnick's Vikings swan song was, it was also incredibly rewarding for her. The episode immediately following the one on which Lagertha dies is one that Winnick herself directed. Stepping behind the camera to direct "Valhalla Can Wait" was monumental for several reasons: It marked Winnick's directorial debut, and is the first and only episode of Vikings ever to be directed by a cast member. This all added sweetness to Winnick's series farewell.

"What a way to say goodbye. To [...] say goodbye as a director was the best gift I could ever ask for and the best goodbye I could ever ask for," Winnick said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. "Vikings has been definitely a momentous, if not the highlight of my career to this date, and it was an overwhelming experience to actually leave Ireland and say goodbye. But I feel that I left a completely different person." 

She added, "It was just so gratifying to be able to work with my fellow actors who I consider close friends and family at this point. And to be able to know the storylines as well as you do and know every script and know about the characters and know the tone of the show, and to be able to put your creative flair on it behind the camera was such a rewarding experience — and the most challenging [...] I couldn't have asked for a better platform to be able to have a directorial debut. I had such support from my fellow actors, as well as the crew members that gave me a lot of their time and energy to really help make it a smooth, easy process, and rewarding. I couldn't have done it alone, so I'm very grateful for that."

Lagertha's time on Vikings is over, and the show will wrap up its story with the second half of season 6 later this year. The show is already set to find an afterlife when Vikings: Valhalla premieres on Netflix.