“The Northman” is the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgrd), the son of King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke), who is betrayed by his brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Amleth flees his homeland, vowing to avenge his father, save his mother, and assassinate Fjölnir. Years later, Amleth has joined a Viking horde plundering and pillaging Eastern Europe when he hears a prophecy that reawakens his desire for vengeance. Amleth travels to Iceland as a slave, accompanied by an enslaved sorceress named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), and begins a reign of terror on Fjölnir.
What distinguishes “The Northman” from other Viking-centric stories from the start is its emphasis on the banality and matter-of-factness with which violence and savagery were part of everyday Viking culture. When we see Amleth fight, he is a one-man army capable of mowing down every armored soldier he encounters while mostly naked. Amleth is a berserker, a member of a Viking army sent in first to attack with fierce and bloody violence to shock the enemy before the main troops arrive — while high on drugs that send Amleth into a trance-like state of rage.
The Northman’s Ending Explained: Does Amleth Achieve His Quest of Vengeance?
Even after learning the truth about his father’s death and that his mother orchestrated the entire plot to kill War-Raven and flee with Fjölnir to start a new life, Amleth insists on avenging his father. However, his plans to save his mother are thwarted by the fact that she refuses to be saved. In fact, she actively seeks Amleth’s death before attempting to do so herself. Finally, Amleth is forced to murder not only his mother but also his half-brother Gunnar (Elliott Rose), effectively robbing Fjölnir of everything in the same way that his own future was robbed as a child. And, while it may appear to be an eye for an eye situation, Amleth takes no pleasure in any of it, though he does not necessarily mourn the woman who attempted to impose an Oedipus complex on him.
Amleth has this otherworldly vision of what can only be described as a family tree throughout the film. Amleth sees his father, ancestors, and future children on this tree. This aspect of the vision only becomes clear after Olga informs him that she is pregnant, and it is part of what drives him to turn back and face Fjölnir. Even if he dies, Amleth is confident that his bloodline will be passed down to the twins, who will one day take their rightful place as rulers. As Amleth embraces death, he sees one of the twins–apparently his daughter–adorned in a crown, allowing him to die knowing that he succeeded.
The ending of The Northman is fairly straightforward. Amleth completes his mission to avenge his father while also avenging himself in a hazy sense. Fjölnir killing War-Raven and Gudrn’s cold indifference both ended his childhood and manhood. In the end, Amleth finds temporary peace with Olga, but eternal peace in knowing that his line will continue once he enters Valhalla. It’s all very spiritual, and it fully embraces the Vikings’ ruthless dedication.
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How Robert Eggers Views The Ending Of The Northman
There are, of course, different reads that audiences can have about The Northman ending – it’s all subjective, and you can get out of it what you bring into it – but in the mind of writer/director Robert Eggers, the conclusion of the Viking epic is not really meant to be viewed as a big win for Amleth.
Why Amleth Sees Valkyrie Before His Death & Not During
Amleth and Olga attempted to flee Iceland because Fjölnir had discovered Amleth’s plan. After saving Amleth from certain death, he sees Valkyrie flying him to Valhalla on a winged horse. A Valkyrie escorting someone to Valhalla is a sure sign of death, but it is more of an omen in this scene. Seeing Valkyrie confirms Amleth’s death in the film, but it was not yet his time to ascend to Valhalla. He saw Valkyrie because he was close to death before, but the premonition showed him that he needed to finish his mission if he was to reach Valhalla at all. The next time Amleth ascends to Valhalla, he has died, stabbed in the heart by Fjölnir, but instead of Valkyrie, he is greeted by Olga and their twin children. In many ways, seeing his new family survive is enough reward for him.
Aurvandill’s True Nature Changes Amleth’s Revenge Plot
For a long time, King Aurvandill was only revered in the eyes of Amleth, whose viewpoint was the only one that mattered. Seeing Aurvandill through Amleth’s eyes throughout the film justifies his plans for vengeance against his uncle. However, discovering Aurvandill’s true nature — as a slave-owning rapist who didn’t seem to care about anyone or anything but himself — changes Amleth’s revenge in unexpected ways. The revelation does not diminish Amleth’s rage and reason for his actions against Fjölnir, especially since he and Queen Gudrn were perfectly fine trying to kill young Amleth, but it does call into question the idea of complete and unquestioning vengeance when Aurvandill himself was so terrible. To that end, Gudrn is treated with a little more sympathy because the request to kill her husband is understood. It certainly adds nuance to things, including Amleth’s vengeance plot.
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Why The Seeress & He-Witch Help Amleth Defeat Fjölnir
The Seeress and Heimir, the he-witch, are on the side of royalty, which is why they come to Amleth to assist him in achieving his objectives. The Seeress, in particular, is a prophet who sees everything that will happen, so she is assisting Amleth not because he is a Viking prince, but because she already knows what will happen. Her appearance in the village where the Berserkers have just arrived is not by chance; it is perfectly timed to Amleth’s character development, as he is now ready to accept the challenge of avenging his father, and the Seeress is more than willing to guide him. Meanwhile, Heimir the Fool had a personal attachment to Aurvandill, with whom he worked. Even after death, Heimir was determined to keep Aurvandill’s bloodline alive and well. That is why he spiritually guided Amleth to the sword he would eventually use to kill Fjölnir.