Last episode the story made me realize how complex Askeladd is, and this episode reminded me why I often side with Thorfinn in my perception of him. While we learned of his complexity in the last episode we’ve been reminded this episode how merciless the band can be. We watch the events through a village girl named Anne, a character who provides further insight into how Christianity has affected the area that she is from. Much of the insight to her character is seeing her very large family. They’re all devout Christians who are being taught to pray in order to go to heaven. While a lot of the insight from many of the characters about Christianity has been to discuss the lore, the rudimentary way we see them celebrate their faith is more typical to civilian life. For all intents and purposes, Anne is just a character who is lamenting her frailty of character after stealing, and this frailty of character ultimately ends up saving her life. Though it is accidental, it leads to bigger questions of faith that the viewer must contend with from the eyes of a character who experiences great loss.
Much of the story of Vinland Saga is to focus on a grandiose tale from the perspective of a solid few. Thorfinn, the vengeance seeking son of a fallen warrior, Askeladd, the morally grey son of concubine and a Norseman who will easily kill to further his beliefs and ambitions, and then the characters who appear only briefly to show us the perspective of the world. All of Anne’s story focuses on her internal monologue about her guilty feelings and how God won’t let her go to heaven because she stole a ring, and then ultimately watching her family die as she narrowly avoids the massacre by stepping out to consider her personal feelings just as the Danes arrive to pillage the town. Watching her ironic escape is a moment of gut wrenching agony for me as I see how she is feeling: and how inconsequential her loss is to Askeladd.
Vinland Saga makes me think a lot about spirituality, death, and the individual. It’s a unique way of remembering how unimportant those things can be in the span of history, but how terribly captivating each story can be in spite of their insignificance to the major characters in each story. Askeladd’s murder is something a lot of people can probably write off because of what it is: his men needed food, he savaged a town and murdered the civilians in order to obtain food for the winter. Though his actions might actively lead Prince Canute to safety, to write them off as anything unimportant comparative to the loss of the main character is impossible. We have seen Askeladd murder people many times, and lead his band to savage individuals. But this was after an important moment for Askeladd. Vinland Saga reminds us with this episode that he is still the man we have come to know: good and bad. And the Danes with him are fine with seeing people die, as they always have been.
Where do we draw the line? I don’t think Vinland Saga is asking us to. It is always reminding us of the fragility and reality of life in the world before our time. An event that would be a monstrous tragedy to us is something the people of the time had to deal with, and the people who purported these crimes were very simple when described by Anne: People who are not afraid of God’s judgment. The Danes, after all, believe that a warrior’s death will lead to an eternity of fighting and victory. Meanwhile the conflicting Christian mindset speaks of a righteous path and a wrong one, and a punishment for those who fail to treat others with dignity and respect. History has often considered the matter of Christianity as a turning point in perception of peoples: often times Christianity is associated with the idea of people being taught to be better in order to be rewarded in the afterlife. Of course this creates a very complicated dialogue where people were once able to ‘buy’ tickets to heaven, where murderous individuals similar to the Danes were sent on Crusades not for righteousness but to sate their criminal behaviors, and many other gray morality points that have been pondered on over time.
Instead of looking to the gray morality question of religion with talking points from modern society, often times the thought provoking episodes in this show ask us to consider simple thoughts. Evil people exist, innocent people die, yet greater goods can be done through greater evils. Vinland Saga isn’t necessarily trying to promote any particular message: but it is trying to promote the introspective look on the human soul that this era of man-kind especially draws attention to. Once again Vinland Saga asks us to look inward as well as to the story to understand a greater message and a greater arc of humankind than most stories even dream of scratching. I don’t hate Askeladd after this week, but I am reminded of the fact that he is not a ‘hero’. In the beginning of the episode the drunken priest hears stories of Thors from the Vikings and is moved by the way he is regarded. Even as the story moves on without him and many forget his name, Thors’ unique way of holding honor and protecting lives makes him something special to think about.