Netflix’s epic drama series, “Vikings,” strikes the screen again with a sequel, “Vikings: Valhalla,” which, like its predecessor, weaves an enthralling historical-fictional narrative based on facts and figures surrounding its legendary heroes. The original series followed the sagas of the legendary Viking hero, Ragnar Lodbrok, who was born a farmer but transformed into a fierce warrior and not only raided England but also became the crowned King of Denmark. During his reign, Ragnar was attacked and executed by the King Ælla of Northumbria. After their father’s death, Ragnar’s son, burned with a vengeance, and built a ferocious army to avenge the death of Ragnar Lodbrok.
At the end of the “Viking” series, the Scandinavian army achieved its purpose and was later invited (lured with gold) by the English leaders to settle into their communities. Trusting their friendly gestures, the Viking raiders brought their families and made the Danelaw their new home. In the 11th century, 100 years after the death of Ragnar Lodbrok, his murder faded into legends while the Vikings started living a peaceful life with their English counterparts until their Saxon neighbors and the English king, Aethelred II, repeated history and massacred Viking men, women, and children on St. Brice’s Day in 1002.
“Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1 consists of 8 episodes of approximately 50 minutes each and follows the formation of another Great Viking Army under the rule of King Canute, or Cnut “the Great,” who swears to take revenge for the deaths of their fallen brothers and bring back the head of King Aethelred II. However, the allied Viking army faces internal threats of a civil war arising from conflicts between the followers of old and new religions. Without any further ado, let’s follow the rise of King Canute and other great heroes who join his fleet.
“Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1: Plot Summary
In 1002, on the day of St. Brice’s Day, the King of England, Aethelred II, assembles an army and prepares for an attack on the Danelaw Viking Settlement near London at night.
Meanwhile, the Prince of Norway, Harald Sigurdsson, who has come to visit his brother, Sten, a member of the Royal Kingsguard, is leaving for Norway after a celebration. Sten is called upon by Aethelred II to assist, and hence Harald leaves for his boat without his brother. In between these two events, the English army attacks the Viking settlement. Harald manages to escape with the help of Earl Godwin (the king’s advisor), but Sten is tricked into a feast and slaughtered under the roof of the Royal Palace. Soon after the massacre on St. Brice’s Day, King Canute of Denmark sent out a call for all the Viking armies to gather in Kattegat, Noway, and join their forces to take revenge.
At Kattegat, a band of Greenlanders arrives on a longboat, facing the perils of the sea non-stop for five long weeks. The captain of the ship, Leif Erikson, and his half-sister, Freydis Eriksdotter, have arrived on the island to hunt down a man named Gunnar Magnusson, who is the right-hand of Olaf Haraldsson, King of Norway. During Freydis’ childhood, Gunnar raped her and carved a cross on her back with a knife while her family was away. Since then, Freydis has been burning with a desire for vengeance and has been planning to kill Gunnar for the crimes he committed against her.
Leif and other Greenlanders find out that Gunnar is a close associate of Jarl Olaf, and killing him will mean starting a war with King Canute as Canute needs Olaf’s help to invade England because Olaf was once Aethelred’s advisor and knows the secret channels to invade his territory. Yet, the Greenlanders take the risk, and Freydis stabs Gunnar infront of Olaf, Canute, and Harald, who attend a feast as guests of the Queen of Kattegat, Estrid Haakon. Hence, after Gunnar’s murder, Estrid decides to render judgment on Freydis’ acts, and when she is presented before her, Harald, who loves Freydis, charmingly convinces Estrid that Freydis has robbed the Viking army of a valuable part of their arsenal and, to acknowledge her debt, she would be forced to pay for it with something equal, like her brother, Leif Erikson.
Harald had seen Leif’s combat skills and knew his expertise as the captain of the ship. He was keen to take Leif to war, but Leif declined the offer. But with Freydis under Estrid’s arrest, Leif is compelled to do as Estrid commands, or it will be the end of them all.
The next morning, the Viking army leaves Kattegat and sails towards England to bring back the head of the English King, Aethelred II. Meanwhile, in Kattegat, Estrid entrusts Freydis with a new mission and sends her on a pilgrimage to Uppsala to find the answers she is seeking from the Old Norse Gods.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Why Didn’t King Canute Kill Prince Edmund After The Fall Of London?
The three main pillars of “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1: Leif Erikson, Freydis, and Harald Sigurdsson, were all driven by a passion for vengeance. Harald vowed revenge and persuaded Olaf to join forces with Canute.
Harald was young blood with little interest in politics, but Canute and Olaf wanted more than just mere revenge. They wanted power and glory. Olaf learned the doctrines of Christianity while working for Aethelred and wanted to spread the word of Jesus Christ and convert all Vikings to Christianity. However, to begin his holy war, Olaf needed gold and thus abducted Emma of Normandy, Queen of England, and stepmother of Prince Edmund.
But Olaf was short-sighted. He believed in snatching power and deceiving people instead of winning their trust, and that’s where King Canute came in. Canute was the epitome of a perfect strategist and a better king, which is why he was denoted with the title, “Cnut the Great.” Canute looked for the “good” in people, and he gave them a chance to become a better version of themselves. He was able to understand their conflicts and trusted his men with all his heart. The way Canute sat with Leif Erikson the night before the fall of London Bridge and shared his grief about carrying the weight of a powerful father was the reason why Canute not only related to Leif’s struggle but also spared Prince Edmund’s life.
King Canute didn’t invade England like a mercenary, but instead as a visionary. He desired to establish a Great Northern Empire that stretched across the top of Europe, and he required England’s wealth as well as men he could trust. Saxons wouldn’t have paid the taxes imposed by a Viking, which was why Canute decided to rule alongside Edmund and made Emma of Normandy his wife and advisor, because evidently, she knew the lands better than he. Above all, Canute beheaded the Mercian king, Eadric Streona, who betrayed Prince Edmund in the Battle with the Vikings. Eadric wanted the throne for himself, which was his reason for betraying Edmund, but he was unaware that the Viking king was planning on sitting on the throne himself. And when he realized that, it was too late.
Later, Canute’s first wife, Ælfgifu of Northampton, who was born into a royal family from the Midlands (Mercia), was tricked by Canute’s father, Sweyn Forkbeard, and Canute’s loyal Earl, Godwin, to help them establish peace between Canute and the Mercians, thereby making Canute’s ruler stronger and free of any internal threats in England.
On the other hand, Prince Edmund, was later killed by Earl Godwin, who made his death look like an accident. Godwin probably carried the orders of Forkbeard, who wanted to get rid of Edmund without getting directly involved in the murder. Godwin, like a shadow puppeteer, pulled the strings in the English court that would eventually pave the way for the rise of his own lineage, who would sit on the throne of England by the end of “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 3.
How Did The Fall Of Kattegat And Uppsala Mark The Beginning Of The End Of Viking Age?
Other than the struggle for power, the Vikings fought a religious war that incited conflict between the followers of the Old Norse God Odin and the New English God, Jesus Christ. The Christian Vikings mocked the followers of Nordic Gods and called them “pagans” to either convince or forcefully convert them into Christianity.
Kattegat and the holy Uppsala were the last few centers where the followers of the old gods took refuge, and the Queen of Kattegat, Estrid Haakon, promised to protect them at all costs. However, she knew that the end was near and the fall of Kattegat and the Uppsala would mark the end of Viking Age as the tribe would lose its roots and connection with Old Norse Gods.
The end began when Olaf Haraldsson, after his return from England, went straight to Denmark to turn Canute’s first wife, Ælfgifu of Northampton, against King Canute so that the fleets of Denmark wouldn’t try to save Kattegat when Olaf would attack those lands to cleanse them of the pagans. Ælfgifu took the bait, and while Canute was locked in a war in Denmark, Jarl Olaf joined forces with an extremist madman, Jarl Kåre, to destroy Kattegat under the banner of Christ.
We first met Kåre when Estrid sent Freydis Eriksdotter to pilgrim Uppsala, Sweden, and find her destiny through “The Seer.” In self-defense, Freydis killed Kåre’s berserker, and Kåre decided to exact revenge on Freydis. However, he later found Freydis holding the holy sword and discovered that she was “the last.” The Seer twice prophesied a great battle that would end it all. First, it was Estrid who had the vision of an upcoming tide that would kill everyone in Kattegat except “The Last Daughter of Uppsala.” Until the very end, Estrid believed that she was the last one, but later it was revealed that it was Freydis who would become the last survivor of Uppsala and end the tyranny of Jarl Kåre.
Kåre was born into a Viking family whose members believed in the barbaric rituals of sacrifice to the old gods. During a ceremony in Uppsala temple, Kåre’s brother was sacrificed to the old gods. The incident left a mental scar on Kåre, who despised these rituals and became a dedicated Christian. However, his mental sickness quickly took over, making Kåre a ruthless and brutal monster who started slaughtering the pagans to cleanse the lands. After Kåre destroyed Uppsala and killed all the pagans living in the lands, he brought his holy war to Kattegat, which was the only remaining center of the followers of Old Golds.
At the end of “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1, Jarl Olaf betrayed Kåre because he knew of his mental illness, and while Kåre and his men fought Estrid and her warriors on the front, Olaf took them by surprise and destroyed Kattegat, killing each and every pagan except Freydis, who escaped with a wounded Harald Sigurdsson.
“Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1: Ending, Explained
In the absence of King Canute, his wife Ælfgifu came to England to sit on the throne of London and blackmailed Forkbeard by hiding the fleet of Denmark, without which it was impossible for Forkbeard to stop Jarl Olaf’s attack on Kattegat, who wanted to become the King of Denmark as well as overthrow Canute. Hence, to save the kingdom, Forkbeard orchestrated a fake departure of Emma of Normandy to gain Ælfgifu’s trust and buy some time to locate the hidden fleet. While Ælfgifu visited Mercia with Earl Godwin, Forkbeard found the fleet and sailed to Kattegat to aid Estrid Haakon, but it was too late.
Jarl Olaf had already destroyed the city, killing Haakon and her warriors. Only Freydis, Leif Erikson, and Harald Sigurdsson survived the attack, and as soon as Olaf and his men found out about Forkbeard’s fleet, they escaped from Kattegat to survive.
However, during the Battle, Jarl Olaf stabbed Leif’s love, Liv, and killed her. After the fall of London, Liv wished to return to Greenland but stayed back in Kattegat because Leif wanted to stay among men who considered him a hero of the English Battle. Throughout “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1, Leif held himself responsible for the deaths of his crewmen who came to Kattegat to pursue Freydis’ personal vengeance. With each death, Leif was slowly descending into madness and after Liv’s murder, Leif finally lost his way.
Leif’s father, Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red, was a legendary Viking explorer and warrior. He was banished from Norway and Iceland for murder, after which he sailed to Greenland (where he is believed to have discovered it) and made the country his peaceful abode. The three prominent figures of “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1, Leif, Canute, and Edmund, lived in the shadows of their father, and while Canute managed to escape it by becoming the king of England, Edmund died in the pursuit, and in the end, it was about Leif, as the narrative explored the question, “What will become of him?”
According to Leif, his father was a man filled with darkness. His fearlessness made him a hero, but it also made him a difficult father and an even more complicated person. He was a berserker in the true sense of the word who couldn’t control his anger, and thus, when his rage took over, he forgot whether he was raiding in a war or living in a society. He killed men and hurt them without thinking, as if some kind of darkness had possessed him. Leif feared that he shared his father’s darkness and could lose control at any given moment. For the time being, Liv silenced Leif’s demons, which he even pointed out while telling her that with her, he could do great things, but without her, he would descend into madness just like his father.
Hence, at the end of “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 1, the death of Liv was the test of Leif’s character. In a rage, he became a berserker and killed Olaf’s men brutally in a shed in Kattegat. At this pivotal moment, the fleet of Forkbeard arrived in Kattegat, and along with his warriors, Forkbeard brought his grandsons to the battleground. Canute’s eldest son heard screams coming out of the shed and ran into it where he faced Leif Erikson, the warrior blinded with the rage of a dead lover and soaked in “red” blood, who was ready to kill anyone who came in front of him. Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger without revealing the fate of either Leif or Canute’s eldest son.
“Vikings: Valhalla” Season 2: Expectations
When Leif Erikson first encountered the men who attacked him because his father killed their brother, Leif told them that he was nothing like his father. But falling prey to destiny, Leif eventually lets his father’s darkness take over his consciousness, and if he kills Canute’s son in his rage, then Leif will be destined to become everything he had been running away from since the beginning. The murder will also spark a conflict between Canute and Leif, who may banish Leif from the Northern Empire and thus he will have to sail to either Greenland or any other land repeating the actions of his father.
But if Leif somehow regains control and spares the life of Canute’s son, then he will embark on a path of vengeance against Jarl Olaf, who killed Liv in front of his eyes.
Freydis and Harald Sigurdsson managed to escape after the fall of Kattegat. In “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 2, Harald will strike back at his brother Olaf to take the throne of Norway, which was promised to him by King Canute in Season 1. Freydis, on the other hand, will seek her destiny as the “last pagan daughter of Uppsala,” who may face another great war that will eventually mark the end of the Viking Age. “Vikings: Valhalla,” which is already proposed for three seasons, follows the end of the Viking Age, which will eventually be the great war about which “The Seer” prophesied.
It will be interesting to witness what part the last spiritual guide, Freydis, will play in the grand scheme of things, while all other Vikings will be forced to convert to Christianity for different reasons of their own. For instance, Harald Sigurdsson’s grandfather converted to Christianity so that he could pass the crown through the family without bloodshed. Maybe King Canute will be forced to make a similar decision after Ælfgifu’s betrayal and hunger for power. Also, the further seasons of “Vikings: Valhalla” will follow the fall of King Canute and the rise of a new house, Goldwin, that will rule England after the Vikings.
“Vikings: Valhalla” is a 2022 Historical Drama Television series created by Jeb Stuart. Season 1 is streaming on Netflix.