“Vikings: Valhalla” made us privy to many antagonists throughout its two seasons, whose actions had the potential of determining the fate of the northern lands, and probably Olaf Haraldsson was the most treacherous and unwavering of them all. He believed that Christians were superior to those who practiced pagan religions, and he tried his best to make the people believe that the pagans were a threat to their culture. Through this article, we will try to understand the root cause of his hatred and how he came to believe that there was only one putative religious group that had the right to exist on the face of the earth.
Why Did Olaf Hate The Pagans? Did Freydis Kill Him?
We were introduced to Olaf “the holy” Haraldsson in the first season of “Vikings: Valhalla,” when he had arrived at Kattegat with his brother Gunnar. King Canute was aware that both brothers knew about the defenses of the English empire, as they had helped King Aethelred build them. They knew every secret passageway, every natural and manmade barrier, and every architectural strength and weakness of the fortress in London, and that is why Canute knew that the united forces of Vikings could greatly benefit from their presence. Though Olaf wanted to be King of Norway someday, his life had another mission that he gave priority to above all else. Olaf wanted to make the entire country of Norway ethnically homogenous, and the amount of contempt that he had for the pagans was unparalleled. He was blunt and clear that he would only fight for the cause of the Vikings if Canute allowed him to do a mass conversion. Canute was not an extremist like Olaf, and he denied doing anything of the sort. Maybe if the circumstances had been normal, Canute would have given it some thought, but considering that they were fighting for such a great cause, these petty issues didn’t hold any value for him. But it was not the case with Olaf, who was ready to lose the war but would not compromise on his staunch religious beliefs.
Though Olaf was adamant about portraying himself to the world as a man of principles and ethics, in reality, he was nothing close to it. Ironically, he believed that doing mass conversions would help his religion prosper, but not even once did it occur to him that real prosperity only came if one walked on a righteous path. Olaf had the potential to deceive anybody in this world, and it didn’t matter to him if the person was a friend or foe. Olaf knew that to take Kattegat from Ejarl Estrid Haakon, he would need Kare’s help, and he very unabashedly went there to ask for it. When the deal was to be made, Olaf was agreeing to all the terms and conditions being laid out by Kare, but deep down, he had no intention of fulfilling them. Olaf had a treacherous game plan in his mind that Kare was not aware of. Olaf knew very well that Kare bore extreme hatred for the pagans, probably more than he did himself, and that is why he wanted to take complete advantage of that. We realized how hypocritical and conniving Olaf could be when he sent Kare’s army to fight against the army of Kattegat without any intention of going and helping his ally in battle. We saw Olaf’s sanctimonious beliefs peeling off and giving way to a deceitful core that breathed betrayal and disloyalty. He let Kare die on the battlefield for his selfish interests, but he still wasn’t able to succeed as Sweyn Forkbeard arrived at the shores of Kattegat with his Danish fleet.
Olaf was taken into custody, and the residents of Kattegat wanted him to be brutally tortured, but Forkbeard had something else in mind. Forkbeard had years of experience dealing with matters of state, and more than that, he understood human behavior. He knew that he could only choose a person over whom he had some leverage to be the protector of his grandson. Olaf was deceitful, and he had given plenty of reasons for others to form that opinion, but it was a fact that he loved his son, Magnus, more than anything in this world. Forkbeard struck a deal with Olaf and told him that his son would be safe in his custody until the time he promised to protect his grandson and raise him up to be a Viking warrior. Olaf had no choice but to agree to the terms and conditions because it gave him hope that one day Magnus would sit on the throne of Norway.
Olaf started hunting Freydis and Harald, like a predator hunting its prey. After reaching Novgorod in the second season of “Vikings: Valhalla,” Olaf came to know that Freydis had made Jomsborg her base, and it was imperative for the success of his plan that he reach and destroy that place. Jomsborg was probably the last place that pagans could call their own, and the clan was hoping that they could make it a pilgrimage site, like Uppsala.
When Olaf was leaving Novgorod, a priest gave him his blessing, and it was at that very moment that we realized how delusional he was. He actually believed that he was some kind of messenger of God who was sent to earth to fight for the cause of Christianity. Olaf’s cause, his beliefs, and his perspective were not only radical but extremely flawed. No religion ever tells its disciples to resort to such extreme measures, and if they do, it’s totally on their own accord. People like Olaf are scared and insecure, and to hide their fears from the world, they justify their intentions by leaning on a larger-than-life philosophy, one that nobody can question. People back then, and even today, know how to use words like faith and devotion to their advantage. Olaf’s actions were pretextual, and he always bore a retaliatory motive, maybe because he couldn’t digest the fact (like many others in our real world) that a difference of opinion, culture, beliefs, or lifestyle doesn’t mean that one has to be wrong for the other to be right. When Olaf reached Jomsborg, he believed that he was being guided by a divine force, but his delusions were shattered when Freydis made him privy to reality. Olaf, until the very last moment, believed that even if he died on the battlefield, he would be considered a martyr, but Freydis made sure that nothing of the sort happened. She made sure that history would remember him as a treacherous zealot who was not fit to sit on the throne of Norway. In the third season of “Vikings: Valhalla,” we will get to know if Olaf’s son, Magnus, decides to carry the torch and become an extremist bigot or if he chooses to walk on his own path and create his own legacy.