Created by Makoto Yukimura, directed by Shuhei Yabuta, and produced by the WIT Studios, “Vinland Saga” Season 1 is a retelling of the stories of the Jomsvikings, a warrior clan famous in the Scandinavian epics, as well as the story of the Danish Prince, Prince Canute. With a strong background in history mixed with plot twists designed to suit the storyline, “Vinland Saga” could very well be denoted as one of the best retellings of the Viking legends across different media sources. The storyline stands true to the real-life timeline and also draws from the Epics and Cultures to pinpoint the characteristics of the Vikings as well as the mythical warrior clan of the Jomsvikings. The anime, however, could not make the characters express their emotions quite well, and Thorfinn’s cold look in the manga simply comes across as a childish tantrum, but the WIT Studio really did their best to put forward the storyline, and the next season will now be headed by MAPPA Studio. The anime series has been recommended by a lot of viewers yet has also been criticized by other viewers who have read the manga. This article focuses solely on the anime and not the manga, so there are a lot of spoilers ahead regarding the anime.
‘Vinland Saga’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
“Vinland Saga” Season 1 begins with Thors’ journey to Iceland as he navigates through his thoughts of despising bloodshed. He deserts the warrior clan Jomsvikings and the town of Jomsborg as he makes his way toward Iceland with his wife Helga and daughter Ylva to begin a new chapter in their lives as farmers. However, the past eventually catches up with Thors as Floki, a warrior of the Jomsvikings, contacts Thors and insists that he join the Jomsvikings yet again. Thorfinn, Thors’ youngest child, with his excitement for war, follows Thors by hiding away in a barrel on their battleship. A young Thorfinn on that battleship witnesses Thors sacrificing himself to Askeladd and then makes up his mind to avenge him and follow Askeladd. This begins a new chapter for Thorfinn as he learns to live a rough life in the wilderness and later as a spy for Askeladd’s pirate army. Askeladd joins Prince Canute’s retinue, and Thorfinn follows him too. Askeladd, to make sure Prince Canute grows up and becomes the king his people deserve rather than the delicate prince he is, kills Canute’s retainer Ragnor. Askeladd and Thorkell become the young prince’s retainers, while Thorfinn serves as his private guard.
Meanwhile, King Sweyn had ordered the assassination of Prince Canute to make the succession of the crown easier, as he wanted Prince Harold, Canute’s brother, to take over the crown instead. King Sweyn also had not wanted to hand over the crown just yet and, therefore, had sent both princes to war. King Sweyn’s subjugations had caused a lot of grief over the entire continent, and to put this to an end, Askeladd and Thorkell had come to an understanding to call a truce and follow Prince Canute. As they present a safe and sound Canute to the royal council of the King, they have to remain alert constantly. Meanwhile, Leif sails across towns and seas to find Thorfinn and bring him back home to fulfill a promise he made to Helga and Ylva. He meets Thorfinn eventually, and as he convinces him to return home, Askeladd’s outburst and the murder of King Sweyn bring that plan to a screeching halt as Thorfinn rushes to Askeladd’s aid. Canute finally puts an end to Askeladd’s convincing act of rampage and ensures his claim to the crown. Canute becomes the king and accepts Thorfinn’s rage while also casting him out of the court. “Vinland Saga” Season 1 ends with the guards holding Thorfinn back from approaching Askeladd’s dead body.
Would Thors Have Died Even If Thorfinn Was Not There?
Thors Snorresson’s death was a little anticlimactic, but necessary, as little Thorfinn watched his father sacrifice himself for him and the village. This served as a motivator for Thorfinn’s character growth as he embraced revenge and tried to avenge his father at every turn. However, he was soundly defeated by Askeladd every single time. This brings us to wonder: if Thorfinn had not escaped to the ship, would Thors still be alive and leading the Jomsviking army, aiding King Sweyn against the English army? Floki had asked for Thors to join the Jomsviking yet again, threatening his village if he was rejected by Thors. Thors had set out with five very energetic villagers, and his plan was to drop them with Leif and set sail towards the army on his own. However, what he had not accounted for was Floki’s hiring Askeladd to assassinate him. But through Thors’ actions, it was evident that there would be an assassination attempt, which is why he had wanted to send the villagers back as soon as possible. If Thorfinn had not been present there, my best guess is that Thors would have sacrificed himself, making this his last journey to battle. The villagers’ lives were on the line, and Floki would not have harmed them in any way at all because of the warrior code all of the Jomsvikings strictly adhere to. The warrior code also stated the death penalty would be meted out to any and every deserter.
The Jomsvikings were a strict Viking military tribe ruling the Northern Sea, where the age to join was 18, and only when the Vikings turned 50 could they retire from the frontline. Thors, the only Viking who could defeat Thorkell the Tall, was an exceptional warrior who had risen through the ranks at age 25 and had won his way to captaincy. This is why, even though he was a deserter, Floki could not directly harm him and had chosen to assassinate him instead. Therefore, even if Thorfinn had not been presented to witness his father sacrificing himself and dying a true warrior’s death, Thors would not have returned back to their village alive. He had given up his sword and did not want to use it again. His true strength arose from the strict rule of not killing another man and despising war. His spirit shone through, as Askeladd had arranged for a true Jomsviking send-off for Thor after he accepted his own death. The arrows that Askeladd’s men had shot had not pierced through his vital points. Therefore, there was a chance of survival, and if Thors had spoken otherwise, Askeladd would have let him go and instead would have him join his army against Floki. However, Thor’s morals would not let him go against his code of ethics, and this led to his death.
The Jomsvikings were a fierce warrior clan that ruled the North Sea; they were the only clan to not pay taxes to the King of Wendland. Home to this mythical band of fighters was Jomsborg, a port town farther from the mainland of Wendland. The stories of the warriors and their homes are described in detail in the mythological stories of the Scandinavian epics; however, their existence has been questioned to this date. In the Vinland Saga, the daughter of the chieftain of Jomsborg, Helga, was married to Thors after he had climbed his way up to captaincy with his exceptional skills. Thorkell was the chieftain’s brother and also a giant whom nobody could defeat, with the exception of Thors. Thorkell also had an immense appreciation for Thors and his fighting skills, which served as the reason why he helped Thors desert the warrior clan and also regretted not deserting the clan himself later in the story. The Jomsvikings have a dominating presence in the series, and their power makes even the kings tremble in awe.
Was Askeladd’s Death Necessary? Canute’s Betrayal Of Thorfinn
Episode 24 became the turning point in the series as “Vinland Saga” Season 1 ended and set the pace for a changed Thorfinn. Askeladd is famous for his intelligence and patience, which is why he was always 10 steps ahead of any other strategist. He knew when to get rid of his own army before they turned against him. His hatred toward the Danish army due to his Danish father’s abuse of his mother had made him bide his time before his strike. He had at first pretended to be a virtuous son, as his father had taken him in after trying to kill his mother while she had unintentionally interrupted his march; Askeladd had then framed his brother for ruthlessly assassinating their father. Being the loving son and brother he was, Askeladd was able to win over his family and frame his brother easily, resulting in his brother being hanged to death and Askeladd walking away without any blame. He used to believe his mother’s stories about a hero coming to save them, but that changed after his father tried to kill his mother, who was a Welsh noblewoman and had been enslaved by his father, Olaf. This led to the birth of an intense hatred in Askeladd for the Dane warriors and also a dislike for their ways of pillaging village after village. He was offered a lump sum of money by Floki to assassinate Thors, which he accepted. He was soundly defeated by Thors in the duel, but as Thors had accepted his own death, his Norse blood made sure to give him a proper send-off as well as take care of his son, Thorfinn. Over the years, Askeladd had recognized Thorfinn’s tenacity and zeal, which led him to cultivate him by showing him tough love and also entertaining his challenges. Askeladd’s advice had pushed Thorfinn to become a better warrior to rival his father’s strength. Askeladd, through the duels he had with Thorfinn, studied him and thought through how to guide him better, which is why even though he could have killed Thorfinn earlier, he didn’t. Instead, he chose to become a tutor and cultivate the raw talent of Thorfinn, son of the Troll of Jom, Thors.
Askeladd absolutely detested his army of Danish pirates, so when the time came for him to cut them off and choose a new path, he did so without hesitation. He, along with Thorkell, chose to follow Prince Canute after careful consideration. However, while serving as the prince’s retainer, his carefully laid plans were disrupted by Floki’s scheming with King Sweyn. They brought about the subjugation of Wales by pinpointing Askeladd’s weakness and pressing on it. Askeladd, to save both Prince Canute and his beloved country, Wales, chose to act out of anger so that Prince Canute could easily ascend to the throne. He realized that killing King Sweyn and taking all of the blame for the murder would be the only way to stop the King from making Askeladd choose between Canute and Wales. He did not necessarily pledge himself to Canute out of loyalty, but rather his feminine appearance and soft-spoken nature gave him the idea that Canute would, in fact, be the ideal person to put a stop to the Danish Vikings’ brute nature and also safeguard his own country, Wales. Thus, with calculated steps, Askeladd set the stage for Canute to act upon and seize the throne. Canute had to later stab Askeladd to kill him so that nobody questioned the legitimacy of Canute taking the Crown. Canute ends up stabbing Askeladd, letting him die a rather slow death in Thorfinn’s arms; this marks his betrayal toward Thorfinn, who had sworn to avenge his father by defeating Askeladd and killing him on the battlefield. Thorfinn acted out, and he left a scar on Canute’s face, which was what Canute figured he deserved after betraying Thorfinn. Askeladd’s death could have been avoided had the King not miscalculated and ordered the subjugation of Wales. The decision to appoint Askeladd to head the subjugation of Wales and also provoking him by insulting Askeladd’s mother had been the last straw for Askeladd, which is why he calculatingly chose to sacrifice himself by causing enough carnage to elevate Canute to Kingship without a hitch. However, had the King not taken this step, Askeladd would have had to use his brains to play a longer game with King Sweyn while trying his best to make sure Canute seizes the throne.
‘Vinland Saga’ Season 1: Ending Explained – Was Thorfinn Able To Avenge His Father?
To answer the most awaited question of this series, Thorfinn, due to Canute’s betrayal, was unable to avenge his father’s sacrifice. With Askeladd dying from the stab wound, Thorfinn seemed to be at a loss and searching for a reason to live. His main goal had been to defeat and kill Askeladd in a warrior’s duel, showing respect to his father’s clan and soul while also upholding the rules and morals of a warrior; however, he had never plotted out his life after he had taken his revenge. Askeladd’s death came as a due shock to Thorfinn, who had thought his life would consist of duels, even after Askeladd told him his story and also taught him to think ahead of revenge. Thorfinn’s immature and childish nature had been unable to grasp his teachings, and he was left in utter shock, holding a dying Askeladd in his arms.
Askeladd, while taking his dying breath, never gave up on teaching Thorfinn. He told him to move forward in the future and not let his reasoning be clouded by revenge and be stuck in a loop of wanting to avenge further. Because Askeladd knew that if Thorfinn found out that the man behind Thor’s death was, in fact, Floki and not him, he would chase Floki to the dredges of the earth, wanting to avenge his father. But Floki would not be a teacher to Thorfinn and instead would kill him in the first attempt. Askeladd made Thorfinn listen to his last words and asked him to search for the meaning of a true warrior and reach places further than his father Thors was able to so that he would be able to truly respect his memory. Askeladd had a soft spot for Thorfinn, which is why, even on his deathbed, he wanted Thorfinn to search for his soul and live for himself rather than be fixated on revenge. Thorfinn lashed out at Canute, but even Canute felt it necessary to let Thorfinn go so that he could get out of the loop he was stuck in. Through this scene, the viewers could also understand the grudging respect and affection, and the guilt for that affection, that had raged inside Thorfinn for Askeladd. Even though he had always been stubborn, he ultimately carried out every one of Askeladd’s orders and kept trying to prove himself to him.
Thorfinn not only lost his motive for revenge but also a teacher and a guardian who had taken him in and never once questioned his morals as a warrior and had instead played along to improve him. Askeladd had understood Thorfinn, and even though he was sometimes shocked when Thorfinn repeatedly came back to him and saved him, he realized the childish expectations Thorfinn had toward him. So Askeladd had kept to himself the secret behind Thors’ death and had led Thorfinn to practice with him, and his death thrust Thorfinn into a new world where he has to learn to live for himself and to move on from his quest of seeking revenge. Thus begins “Vinland Saga” Season 2, where we can expect growth in Thorfinn’s character as he learns to maneuver in society by himself.