Vinland Saga episode 3 sets up what was already being setup in the first few episodes: as the viewers we know Thors is set on a path to his doom. There is no feasible way that the story won’t head in that direction- (it also helps that the cliffnotes summary sets up Thorfinn as the main character so we can just go ahead and call that a not-spoiler)- and I’ve never seen a story take so long to deal the punch since Claymore. I’ve mentioned this before but I’m a big giant fan of Claymore. You won’t find a better rendition of a revenge story than the manga ‘Claymore’.
Obviously because I say this because I want you to know the references I’m making. As a reviewer I only have my frame of reference, but this is a good anime for comparison. The feeling of anxiety that a new viewer gets as they anticipate the fate of a character they are forced to spend time with is a special and delicate procedure. In Claymore there were several chapters and about three episodes dedicated to the introduction and fall of the titular characters parental figure, Teresa. In Vinland Saga there is a kindred spirit: four episodes have been given to us as the viewers that force us to interact with Thors.
Vinland Saga’s story isn’t unique – not, of course not- the story of a young boy who loses his father and his guilt resulting in a tale of regret and revenge is a very old tale. It’s not originality that cements us to fiction but the ability to connect with the fictional characters inside that story. Vinland Saga does what I often chagrin other stories for lacking: it makes us spend time with the people we will lose. What about life makes it valuable? That it is never ending? No. In stories when characters die we should be able to feel the loss and value in the character’s life or it becomes apparent that it is just a story.
In Vinland Saga’s third episode I felt a lot of dread. It’s a familiar dread when you know someone is going to die but you find yourself caring anyway. That is a masterfully crafted beginning. Of course that being said episode 4 is where things take their turn and we must finally observe Thors fate. That being said: Thors is the most badass motherfucker I have ever seen and watching him fight is one of the greatest joys that has ever existed. I can’t recommend the fights enough because watching Thors do so amazingly just brings a visceral squeal of glee to me. Oh jeez!
But the joy doesn’t last long. With the unfortunate nature of war there is no honor, and Thors is filled with arrows. His son cries into the fabric of his stomach and with his last bit of energy, he delicately strokes the boys hair. The careful animation to show each frame of movement on Thors tender affections towards his son, his last affections, is heartbreaking. The man who killed him filled with respect, the son who lost him filled with remorse, Thors was a hundred of the ‘brats’ he saved.
Thorfinn’s stage is set. Every man who was responsible for his death mocks him as he says he’ll kill them, until he’s screaming with vengeance in a way none can deny. The look in his eyes is not of a child, but of the man who will one day kill them if he has his way. Together we join this child whose father was stolen from him to watch his vengeance- his only way to consolidate his rage is to swear their deaths.
I’m sold. Show me your vengeance, Thorfinn.