The brawling Viking fighters, treacherous nobles and conniving rulers who star in Vikings: Valhalla, one character stands out as stronger than the rest – the tough, vengeance-seeking female warrior Freydis Eriksdotter (Frida Gustavsson). We first meet her as she seeks revenge on the man who raped and scarred her (she has a cross carved into her back) years before. Her killing skills grow throughout the series as she dispatches her rapist followed by a Berserker attacker who murders her friends. Freydis then trains to be a shieldmaiden (a Scandinavian warrior) in Kattegat, something which comes in very handy when the city falls under attack. She even manages to defeat the evil Kåre in a gory fight – and behead him, just to make sure he is really dead – [in the season finale,] but even that isn’t quite as bloodthirsty as some of the adventures that the real Freydis got up to in the 10th century. The daughter of Erik The Red (who had a reputation for the occasional brutal killing himself) and sister of explorer Leif Erikson (historians disagree as to whether they were full siblings or had different mothers), the real Freydis was born around 970, and her exploits were recorded in two Viking sagas – the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Erik The Red.
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The Red story, which recounts the adventures of Norse explorers to Vinland (now believed to be Newfoundland), the Vikings are attacked by native inhabitants and try to escape, but a heavily pregnant Freydis is unable to keep up, so bravely stands her ground and defends herself. According to Norse historian Dr Johanna Katrin Fridriksdottir [via smartstream21.net], this involves Freydis picking up a sword from one of her slain countrymen, fearlessly brandishing it at her attackers, and then pounding it against her naked breast – which scares them enough that they turn around and head for the hills. The Greenlanders story, however, focuses less on Freydis’s bravery and more on her savagery, featuring a story so gruesome it’s unlikely to make it into [a future season] of Vikings: Valhalla. In this version, Freydis plotted against her fellow travelers to Vinland, bringing more people on the journey than the other men so that she had a larger force. When in-fighting broke out (or, in another translation, she simply got angry because they wouldn’t do what she wanted), Freydis commanded her warriors to tie up and kill the men in the other group – which they did. Apparently, her men drew the line at killing the women who remained alive, but Freydis had no such qualms and butchered them all with an axe. She then threatened everyone there with death if they talked about the murders, adding to her fierce reputation. Of course, both these sagas were written hundreds of years after Freydis was supposed to have lived, and were written by authors who may have had their own agenda in depicting her as a ruthless warrior, as [Vikings: Valhalla creator Jeb Stuart explained exclusively] to Digital Spy. What we know of Freydis comes from the sagas, and remember that those sagas were written 200 years after the fact, they weren’t written at the time, and they were written by Christians looking back, Stuart says. We know Freydis was an uber-pagan, she never changed over [to Christianity] and just like her father held on to those old ways. So you have to look back at what we know about Freydis through that lens of a Christian looking back and trying to paint a picture of a wild woman, barbaric in many ways.
There are a couple of different renderings of Freydis in the sagas and I’m trying to pull more about that powerful woman who had incredible bravery, and I also needed to find ways to dramatize the fearless pagan aspect of her. Frida Gustavsson, meanwhile, who plays Freydis, was keen to portray the female warrior as a brave woman who had survived great hardship, as she explained in an interview with Digital Spy and other media.