From being a folk heroine in Iceland to being played by an Olympian swimmer, Gunnhild makes for quite an interesting Vikings character.
Introduced in Season 5 of Vikings, Gunnhild became a fan-favorite character for her bravery as a shield-maiden and her romance with Bjorn. As the show came to an end this year, Gunnhild met a tragic fate but her legacy still lives on.
For those who are interested in knowing the historical context behind the show and its characters, Gunnhild will prove to be a subject of interest as she was quite an influential monarch in the 10th century. Ragga Ragnar, the actress who played Gunnhild, is also an interesting figure about whom diehard Vikings fans will be interested to learn.
She Was Inspired By A Semi-Historical Figure
Referred to as the ‘Mother of Kings’, Gunnhild was a far more powerful character in the original Icelandic sagas that describe her as a 10th-century queen and even a witch. According to local Viking folklore, many of her sons went on to become co-rulers of Norway.
Born in Jutland, Denmark, she can be seen as a quasi-historical figure as there is evidence to prove that she actually existed. Much like other main characters in Vikings, Gunnhild’s story was heavily fictionalized to fit in the show’s narrative. Given that the show is set in the 8th century, it is clear that the depiction of Gunnhild is not true to what historians know about the real woman.
The Real Harald Was Her Father-In-Law
In Vikings, Gunnhild and Bjorn’s relationship takes center stage. After his death, she is willing to meet him in Valhalla by drowning herself. However, there was no Bjorn in her real life. Instead, there is historical evidence that suggests marriage to the Norwegian ruler Eric Bloodaxe.
Interestingly, Eric’s father was Harald Fairhair who is considered to be the first King of Norway according to Icelandic epics. The show ignores these facts and instead shows Harald as a contemporary of Gunnhild’s who falls for her and is even willing to marry her.
She Is Played By An Olympian
Ragnheiður Ragnarsdóttir, aka Ragga Ragnars, began acting only after she retired from her swimming career. As a swimmer, she mostly competed in the long and short course freestyle events. As a professional swimmer, she has competed in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics. In the former, she made her debut at 19-years-old, making her Iceland’s youngest swimmer that year. According to an Express article quoting showrunner Michael Hirst, Gunnhild’s deadly swim to Valhalla was an intentional choice because of Ragnar’s aquatic background.
After her retirement, she enrolled in an acting program at New York Film Academy. Since then, her most famous role has been that of Gunnhild along with Queen Sigrid in an animated TV adaptation of the video game Ark: Survival Evolved.
The Meaning Of Her Name
According to name origin platforms like Behind The Name, the moniker Gunnhild originates from Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian roots. Gunilla and Gunhilda are some of the variants of the same name.
When it comes to the meaning of the name, the word is an amalgamation of ancient Scandinavian terms gunnr (war) and hildr (battle). With such a militaristic name, it is no surprise that Gunnhild was one of the vicious shield-maiden fighters in the Viking’s universe.
The Show Creator’s Explanation For Her Death
After Bjorn’s death, Harald persuades Gunnhild to marry him along with Ingrid. However, Gunnhild wishes to stand by her morals and drowns to her death. This ending polarized viewers as some felt her death was unnecessary. However, the show’s creator Michael Hirst has defended the ending by showing how this conclusion sums up Gunnhild’s values.
As he told Express, “In the end, she just couldn’t compromise her own morals by marrying someone she really didn’t like and had never really liked.” In the same interview, Hirst also touched upon how Gunnhild’s death also marks the end of an era: “When she goes to Bjorn’s tomb she wonders whether the Golden Age of the Vikings is over. She wants to be part of, and remembered as part of the Golden Age.”
A Reference To Frejya
Freyja is one of the most popular Norse deities and is often depicted as the goddess of love, sex, war, beauty, and fertility. Legend has it that whenever her husband Óðr leaves her, she cries tears of gold for him and searches him all over the world.
A similar parallel of love and devotion can be drawn in the case of Gunnhild and Bjorn. Even when Bjorn engages in adultery, Gunnhild is willing to love him the same. In one of the best episodes of Vikings, Gunnhild even tells Ingrid about this story. Bjorn feels guilty for making Ingrid his second wife but Gunnhild insists on him spending the night with his new partner. As Bjorn leaves, Gunnhild seems to cry golden tears. This seems like an interesting nod to Frejya with some fans speculating that maybe Gunnhild is Freyja herself.
Ragga Ragnar’s Interesting Familial Connection With Vikings
The series protagonist of Vikings is the legendary hero Ragnar Lothbrok while Bjorn Ironside has a supporting role as Ragnar’s son and Gunnhild’s husband.
Gunnhilde’s actress Ragga Ragnar seems to have always been destined to act in Vikings as she revealed in an interview with ET Canada that her father’s name is Bjorn Ragnar! She states: “He never goes by Bjorn but when he came to set, he was obviously introducing himself as Bjorn Ragnar.”
Gunnhild’s Real Death Also Involved Drowning
While it was a deliberate choice that swimmer Ragga Ragnar’s character Gunnhild dies while submerging herself in water, history suggests that the real Gunnhild might have also died in such conditions, although not as an act of killing herself.
After Harald Fairhair’s death, Gunnhild and her husband Eric were overthrown and exiled to various areas of Scandinavian nations. When she finally went back to Denmark in 977, her political rival King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ Gormsson had her executed by drowning in a bog.
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