When History Channel’s Vikings burst onto TV screens in 2013, the show centered on one very famous male Viking, Ragnar Lothbrok. In Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok, known in the Viking sagas for his epic warrior tales as much as for his luck with the ladies, grew from a lowly farmer to become one of the most influential Vikings of his time. After his death, the series continued on in the male-centric storytelling, this time focusing on Ragnar’s sons, of which he had plenty.
However, as the series has evolved, Ragnar and his story have taken a sidestep, even though it continues to center on his family lineage. Instead, as female characters such as Lagertha, Judith, and Torvi have emerged, the show has managed to bring to life a female-centric show that has captivated its audience.
“The main thread [on the series] is about brothers, but it’s really about women being at the head of the thing all along,” costume supervisor Helen McCusker, recently told Variety.
“It was fascinating to me to work on such a bloodthirsty, macho show — and that was the women!”
New archaeological evidence is starting to emerge that also backs up not only the storylines in Vikings but the Viking sagas the TV series is based on that, sees women holding prominent positions of power, something that wasn’t evident in other cultures of the time.
This is something that one of the actors, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, comments on when asked about how his Vikings role is different to that of his other period series, The Tudors.
“This was very different,” Meyers explains to Variety.
“There was nothing fluffy at all here with the women.”
While some of the historical accuracies can be questioned within the storylines of Vikings, when it comes to the costumes, there is a great need for accuracy according to McCusker. Many of the costumes used in Vikings are handmade and hand dyed.
“We molded wet leather onto [the actors’] bodies, then dried it,” explains McCusker.
“When you look at female armor, you’re looking at the shape of their bodies being reflected. We didn’t want them to look like superheroes — it was based on how they would have done it at the time.”
And, with authentic costumes, for the actresses involved — even those accustomed to the physical elements of fightings, such as Taekwondo expert, Katheryn Winnick — it has led to certain complications.
“There’s a lot of leather and tight-fitting costumes, and when you have to carry a heavy shield in one hand and a sword in another and then remember intricate [battle] choreography, it’s a lot,” Winnick explains. “But it’s so rewarding, and it brings a lot of women out of their comfort zone.”
In addition to the costuming for the female actors of Vikings, the show has also led to an increase in female stunt doubles in Ireland, where the show is filmed. Initially, only a few female stunt doubles were required, according to Jordan Coombes, a stunt performer with the TV series.
“When the show started, there were probably only a couple of women stunt performers in the country,” Coombes told Variety. “Suddenly, there was this need for up to 20 women at a time who could battle.”
Season 5 of Vikings will return to History Channel on Friday, November 28, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.