Women Warriors: Taking a look at Lagertha and Siggy, the powerhouse women of ‘Vikings’

Lagertha and Ragnar.

Lagertha and Ragnar.

If Vikings viewers have learned nothing else about Viking women, it’s that, as Jessalyn Gilsig, who plays Siggy, put it “these are not retiring women.”  The position of women in Viking society was in many ways a unique one for Europe during this time period.  They could have status separate from that of their male relatives, they could marry and divorce, make their own decisions, and according to some sources, some women even trained in combat and went into battle.  On Vikings, audiences are introduced to two very powerful, but very different women, Lagertha and Siggy, who both take charge, both of their own lives and of things around them.

Lagertha in battle gear.

Lagertha in battlegear.

Perhaps one of the show’s most readily recognisable characters, Lagertha is an obvious powerhouse.  She is a famous shieldmaiden – a female warrior, and in one of her earliest appearances in the first episode, she single-handedly fights off two male attackers.  During a later domestic dispute, she matches Ragnar blow for blow and it’s revealed that she once saved his life.  Then, once she joins the raids and viewers get to see her in action, it’s clear that she is every bit the equal to her male companions, both capable of holding her own in battle and a vital part of the fighting force.

In the sagas and historical accounts, Lagertha was known for fighting with her hair free rather than tied up, which was said to have made clear to her enemies the fact that she was a woman.  In the show, Lagertha pursues her own personal mythology in much the same way.  While Ragnar invents himself as a daring explorer, descended from Odin and watched by the gods, Lagertha creates her own reputation, wearing her hair mostly long in battle and braiding chains into it, and not hesitating to destroy anyone who dares to cross her or her family.  She is very conscious of the value of having a formidable reputation, as after all, as she puts it in the latest episode, “Our whole lives are just stories.”

Her dynamic with Ragnar is also one that bears looking at.  The two of them act as a unit of equals – they share responsibility and take part in joint decisions.  While Ragnar is away, Lagertha manages the farm, and then later acts as Earl in his stead, making legal judgements and settling disputes just as he would be expected to if he were not raiding.  What’s more, she is depicted as being just as proficient in dealing with the problems of the people as her husband and as being just as respected.

Siggy.

Siggy.

The other extremely powerful woman on Vikings is Earl Haraldson’s wife, Siggy.  If Lagertha is a woman of action, then Siggy is one of patience and slow-burning intrigue.  From the beginning, even though she says very little, it is very clear that Siggy has political influence, though hers is less openly vocalised than Lagertha’s is when she later fills the same role.  While she is not a warrior, she comes from a background of influence and has learned to wield her intelligence and beauty as a weapon to both manipulate and, in one instance, to uncover untrustworthy elements in her husband’s court.

Like Lagertha, however, Siggy is a woman in charge of, and determined to remain in charge of her own destiny.  When her husband falls in combat, her first action after proclaiming Ragnar as the next Earl is to kill – in front of several witnesses – her daughter’s abusive husband, thus ending an arranged marriage that she was already against, and putting her daughter’s happiness over their potential security.  This potential loss of security proves to be something that she is extremely conscious of, as seen both in her later interaction with Rollo when she points out that it was perfectly reasonable for her to assume that Ragnar had sent him to kill her and Thyri, and this week in her approaching Lagertha for a role as one of her handmaidens.  Siggy never steps into anything without an angle, and so it can be guessed that even her putting herself under Lagertha serves a purpose beyond simply placing herself and Thyri under the shieldmaiden’s protection..

The dynamic between Earl Haraldson and Siggy, like the one between Ragnar and Lagertha, is portrayed as being one of partnership.  They communicate through subtle body language and make decisions jointly; when he goes behind her back to arrange a marriage for Thyri, Siggy calls him out on it and fights his decision.  While their relationship and teamwork is revealed to have been damaged by the deaths of their sons, it is suggested that their original dynamic might not have been at all unlike that of Ragnar and Lagertha.

Ragnar and Siggy with the fallen Earl Haraldson.

Ragnar and Siggy with the fallen Earl Haraldson.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about how Vikings has portrayed both Lagertha and Siggy thus far is that while they are both tremendously powerful characters, the writer’s do not render them powerful by way of stripping them of their femininity.  Writers in both television and film often seem to be under the impression that in order for a female character to be powerful, she must in some way be masculine, and Vikings rejects that notion, putting for a more realistic portrayal in which the characters are powerful as well as feminine rather than despite it.

Audiences see Lagertha as both a formidable, sword brandishing warrior and as fiercely protective mother and loving wife.  She spends almost as much time in the dresses that she wears at home as in her battle armor, and viewers see her from many emotional different angles – just as many as her male counterparts.  Siggy often wields her femininity as a weapon, but other times it is simply an expression of who she is.  As the product of an influential family, she is accustomed to being able to choose her clothing based on personal preference rather than what is necessary, and so even when she is at her lowest points, her clothing choices and actions are as much about self-expression as about practicality, and like Lagertha, the viewers are treated to a wide range of expression and angles that is as complex and fascinating as those of the male characters in the series.

So far, the women of Vikings are not just strong female characters; they are intricately written, well-developed, and every bit as fascinating as their male co-stars.  To quote Jessalyn Gilsig again, “one of the ways that I feel history has been told, is that I don’t think women were not interesting, I just think that history has not been interested in women.  I think women are always as interesting as men” and in Vikings, it looks like audiences are starting to get a taste of a history that is interested in women, and hopefully will continue to increase that interest going into the next season.

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