Is Askeladd truly the villain of Vinland Saga’s story? Or rather, is Askeladd a man who used his wit and cunning to become the hero he needed his younger self to see? We will explore all of this and more in our Vinland Saga Season One review.
Askeladd – Descendant of King Arthur
Forgive me if this is taboo to openly admit – but I respect the hell out of Askeladd’s character.
Sure, he made some mistakes in his life and you could really tell he wanted things to be different – but the age Askeladd was born into was cruel and harsh. Where weakness was snuffed out quickly and truth cut down like weeds, why try and make an honest living when you can ensure you’ll never die by pirating?
Askeladd – “From the Ashes”
Although Askeladd’s mother Lydia had given him the noble name Lucius Artorius Castus at birth, Askeladd kept the epithet denoted to him during his life as a slave. He cared for and looked after his mother, who had been taken as a sex slave during a conquest by his cruel Viking Warlord father, Olaf.
After Olaf got tired of riding Lydia, he left her in the stables with his other mounts to eat hay.
Askeladd never forgave Olaf for this, and bid his time learning the art of blacksmithing and possibly practicing swordplay in secret. Until one day, he had his chance at defending his mother’s honor and capturing the attention of his father. Utilizing this moment, Askeladd turned his life around by feigning the innocent son – thus gaining the trust of his half-brothers and polishing his craft of elegant swordplay.
When the time was right – Olaf slaughtered his father while in bed with a wench. Then, he planted evidence suggesting it was a son the father had fallen out with, using this cover to sow discord and presumably, slip away from Olaf’s camp with his mother Lydia in tow.
Judging by flashbacks, it seems Lydia sat by the ocean and told Askeladd stories of their ancestor King Arthur as the sun shone high in the sky in his recently freed youth. In the bleak darkness of winter, Askeladd again told these stories to Prince Canute, Thorkell, and Thorfinn – in a way trying to gently tell Thorfinn that he would never win their duels because Askeladd knew his straightforward mannerisms all too well.
Askeladd – Kingmaker and Changer of Histories
I think it’s safe to say that we all know Askeladd really didn’t want to kill Thorfinn’s father, Thors.
I truly believe Askeladd’s sincerity when he asked Thors to be their leader, as for Askeladd’s whole life he had been waiting for a King Arthur-like figure to arrive, somebody who would be worthy of him to pledge his sword to.
Thors was that type of man.
Intelligent, tactical, and most importantly – human.
Thors had that elegance in his swordplay and movements that Askeladd said time and time again that the Danes lacked. Thors had the insight to try and improve the world around him, rather than continually conduct raids that destroyed any sort of meaningful progression in their increasingly uncivilized world.
Because Thors died protecting his son Thorfinn, Askeladd succeeded in maintaining his cover and not pissing off the Jomsviking Commander Floki who gave him the mission. When realizing Thorfinn had stowed away on the ship, Askeladd could have thrown him overboard – but he didn’t.
During any one of their conquests, raids, or ongoing pillages of villages Askeladd could have let Thorfinn die on the frontlines – but he didn’t. Instead, he trained the young boy and never told him the truth of his father’s death: that Floki had issued an unsanctioned hit on his father in a vain bid for power out of jealousy of his ability.
I mean sure, Thorkell does mention the Jomsviking punishment for desertion was death, but 15 long years had passed and it seems the Chief (Thor’s father-in-law) just wanted Thors back in the fold, rather than dead.
Thors death was a complete and utter waste of his talents as a warrior, and as a man.
When Askeladd ventured back to his “hometown” with the other mercenaries, he seemed almost jealous of the old man who counted their money with a pretty young woman beside him. This seemed to hint that Askeladd may have simply wanted a quiet life, maybe to become a farmer and take a pretty wife.
Instead, he had a mission to fulfill – to use the weak young son of the Danish King Sweyn in order to play kingmaker and protect his coveted Welsh homeland.
The Ragnarök of Danish Kings
Ragnarök is often a word we hear whenever one speaks of Norse Mythology. The word Ragnarök comes from rögn “gods” and rök ” which can be read as a “destined end” or rökr for “twilight”.
In Bath, Askeladd spoke to Thorfinn of Ragnarök under the twilight of morning’s light. Askeladd spoke at length about men, destiny, and the Roman ruins that lay at their feet.
During this speech, Askeladd mentioned that the Romans were a great civilization that conquered the world at one point – then suddenly dying out with only ruins remaining to whisper stories of their greatness.
Like those ruins in Bath, Askeladd lived his life in a similar way.
When news came of Prince Canute’s capture, Askeladd decided to fulfill his perceived life mission of embodying the King Arthur of legend he wanted to see. The Divine King he spent a youth seeking during his turmoil, before realizing that nobody was coming to save him nor his mother.
So, he put it all on the line for his heritage, his beloved country of Wales, and the memory of his mother – Lydia.
Why Did They Kill Askeladd?
Askeladd knew that his own Ragnarök was coming.
He marched his men deep into enemy territory during the winter, signifying that Askeladd was in the winter of his life. Feeling his back pushed against the wall, he could no longer lead his dual life of being both a Welsh nobleman and a common Viking thug.
So, he expedited his plans – sacrificing the trust and safety of his Norse men in the process.
Askeladd broke the young Prince Canute’s emotional crutch and father figure Ragnar – forcing him to grow up faster.
He shattered Thorfinn’s taste for hatred, making Thorfinn realize just how futile his attempts had been during all of those wasted years.
Askeladd broke Björn’s trust in him and gave him a swift death during their duel – signifying Askeladd cutting ties with the remaining Norse Vikings who had heard his true story and knew of his deeds in the Welsh village.
Askeladd gave his solid gold snake bracelet to one of the two brothers who led the mutiny amongst his men – urging him to start a family and give up their rough life.
Tying up the emotional loose ends and bonds in his life and settling them in his own way, Askeladd then completed his final mission: murdering the reigning Danish Monarch King Sweyn in order for Prince Canute to usurp Command of the English forces through the crown.
Thus, Askeladd chose to sacrifice himself and succumb to Ragnarök – taking as many high-ranking Danish lords (who most likely supported Prince Harald) with him in the process.
To save Wales, to lay the foundation for a new world alongside the ruins at Bath, to try to talk some sense into Thorfinn about his quest for vengeance – Askeladd laid down his life and allowed Prince Canute to be the hero son who defeated a mad man named Lucius Artorius Castus who proclaimed himself the rightful King of Britannia and tried to steal his father’s crown.
Is Askeladd A Villain?
Returning back to our earlier query – no, Askeladd is not the villain of Vinland Saga.
I’d even argue that Askeladd is the true hero of our story, as he attempted to set the course of politics toward an age of peace and prosperity for his beloved Wales, and the newly formed country known as England.
Askeladd became a father figure toward a young Thorfinn, ventured and raided with Norse men he claimed he never liked, and chose to sacrifice himself for the mere idea of a better future to come.
Does that sound like a villain to you?
But, tell me your thoughts.
Do you agree with my assessment of Askeladd’s character?
Why do you think Askeladd never told Thorfinn that Floki ordered the hit?
And…do you think Ragnarök always destroys everybody but a few of the old guard each time?
Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more Vinland Saga Anime Reviews and Discussions!
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