Though we knew how astute and ruthlessly pragmatic Earl Godwin could be, in Season 2 of “Vikings: Valhalla,” we realized that he was more farsighted than what people believed him to be. Godwin had lived his childhood in fear and shame, but it wasn’t enough to make him stop dreaming of the day when he would get back what was rightfully his. So, let’s find out if anybody got a whiff of his deceitful intentions or if he was able to accomplish what he set out for.
Earl Godwin believed that there was no point in saving a rotten house and that it needed to be torn down in order to build a better one. There are a few characters whose intentions become evident through their actions, but Godwin was not one of them. He was the kind of man who didn’t let his real self be known, and one could say that he was a master strategist of the highest order. Godwin knew from the very beginning that what he wanted to achieve needed long-term planning, which is why he never sought immediate gratification in whatever he did. A proof of his foresight and his long-term agendas could be ascertained from what he had done when King Aethelred had ordered to burn down Danelaw. The guards had caught Harald at the dock, and Godwin arrived at the scene and allowed him to escape. Harald could never understand why Godwin had done so, and later, when he came back to conquer England under the leadership of King Canute, he asked him the same question. That’s when we came to know that underneath the pretense of a loyal servant, he was actually trying to bring down the British empire.
Godwin’s father had betrayed King Aethelred, and that’s why he had been stripped of all his titles, and all their ancestral wealth was confiscated by the state. John Fletcher, a.k.a. The Bear, who is introduced in the second season of “Vikings: Valhalla,” took care of a young Godwin and made sure that he was able to survive after his parent’s demise. Godwin always blamed the English empire for the fate of his family, and it is quite possible that a seed of vengeance was sown in his initial years. The English Empire was just like the tree that trusted the axe, as it was beyond their imagination that the person whom they saw as the kingmaker held a grudge so huge that it had the potential to destroy the empire.
Queen Emma’s children had been kidnapped by Olaf, as he wanted to know where Aethelred had hidden his treasure. Emma asked Canute to help her out with the situation, and he knew that Godwin was the perfect man for the job. Godwin found the whereabouts of Emma’s children and went there dressed as a priest. He slaughtered the guards and brought the children back safely. He made an impression on King Canute, but that wasn’t enough for the latter to trust him unconditionally. Canute knew that he needed Godwin’s help in yet another matter pertaining to Edmund, the future King of England. Canute didn’t want to rule in a coalition as he had proposed, and deep down, he wanted Edmund removed from his position. Canute understood the power dynamics of the empire, and he realized that he would need the support of the Anglo-Saxon nobles if he wanted smooth governance. Godwin made Canute’s dream come true when he killed Edmund in a manner that the nobles thought that their king had met with an accident. It was such an impressive sleight of hand that the nobles didn’t even realize that Edmund was killed right in front of their eyes. Godwin seemed to inch closer to accomplishing his goal, but then, Canute had to leave England and go back to Denmark to fight a war.
After Canute left, Queen Emma of Normandy started observing Godwin closely, and that is when she realized that something was not right with him. Even though she didn’t have any evidence to corroborate her beliefs, she knew that Godwin was not the well-wisher of the regime that he pretended to be. Emma was probably the first person to realize how farsighted and shrewd Godwin could be. Under the cloak of nobility and selflessness, he was hiding his evil desires. Emma was told by Godwin that her life was under threat and that there were rebels who were planning to kill her. Emma didn’t believe him until an assassin actually tried to poison her. Godwin caught the perpetrator, and he was about to extract more information from him when the prison was attacked by unknown people, and everybody, including the attacker, was killed. Godwin tried really hard to make it look like a coincidence, but Emma was not somebody who was going to be duped so easily.
Godwin was in a relationship with a girl named Aelfwynn, who felt privileged to be loved by such a nobleman. Aelfwynn didn’t belong to any royal family, and for Emma, it was very hard to believe that an opportunist like Godwin didn’t have any hidden agendas within. One day Aelfwynn asked Godwin where he would see them in the next 20 years, and Godwin’s reply was probably the biggest hint about his devious plan. Godwin said that he wanted his eldest to be the king one day, and Aelfwynn almost laughed at his baseless fantasies. She said that when neither of them belonged to the royal family, then how could their son become king? Godwin cryptically said that if one dared to dream, then there would obviously be some way of realizing it too.
Godwin might have felt nice spending time with Aelfwynn now and then, but he hadn’t entered a relationship with her because he loved her. He used the innocent girl as bait, as he knew that he would have to do something so that Canute felt sympathetic and gave him a royal title. Aelfwynn was collateral damage in the end in the game of power and politics. Though Emma had an idea of how cunning Godwin was, even she couldn’t imagine that he had such impressive foresight and that he had already mapped out everything. If Godwin actually had feelings for Aelfwynn, he wouldn’t have been able to cope with the grief so easily. Godwin accepted Canute’s offer to marry his niece Gytha as if he were just waiting for it to happen. He had won Canute’s trust completely, and the King of Denmark had become so sure of him that he even vouched for Godwin when Emma was expressing her suspicions regarding his actions. Emma went to apologize to Gytha, as she thought that she wouldn’t want to marry a man like Godwin, but on the contrary, Gytha, just like Aelfwynn, felt that it was her good fortune that she was getting married to one of the kindest men in all of England. It was at that moment that Emma realized how good Godwin was at playing his games. He had made everybody believe that he was an aggrieved lover who, even after such a huge loss, maintained his composure and handled his surging emotions quite well.
We would get to witness a battle of wits between Emma and Godwin in Season 3 of “Vikings: Valhalla.” The conflict has become even more interesting as Godwin knows that Emma is fully aware of his intentions. She knows that he wants his son to be the king one day and that even her knowing the fact wouldn’t stop him. How Godwin uses the leverage bestowed upon him will determine the fate of England and the northern lands.