In Iceland, a nation that was close to nowhere; Thorfinn lived a jolly and carefree life. He remained oblivious to the terrifying world outside as he spent his time enraptured by Lief’s tales of adventuring and sailing. However, hard times would soon come knocking, to snatch away everything that he had.
It was an era where war was as rampant as farming and even a place as distant as Iceland wasn’t spared from its dire clutches. This happened when Floki, Commander of Jomsvikings came to convince Thors to pick up his weapon again.
After learning that his father was a former Commander of Jomsvikings, Thorfinn was full of pride and wanted to live up to Thors’ name. When Thors was leaving to participate in a war, Thorfinn sneaked into the ship. This was the moment that would throw Thorfinn into a spiral of downfall.
The start of the downfall:
Thorfinn’s switch into becoming a revenge-fueled monster comes from witnessing his father, Thors’ death at the early age of six. It was clear that Thorfinn wants his revenge, no matter what. He even left his family and everything behind to kill Askeladd.
Here, Thorfinn also realised that he can’t survive in this cruel world without a weapon, as his father would’ve won had he used the sword. What his father taught him and what he experienced were completely opposite. Thors taught him that he had no enemy, but all Thorfinn saw around him were foes.
After witnessing all of this, his feelings completely overtook him, making him incapable of thinking about anything but revenge.
Thorfinn sneaking into Askeladd’s ship to kill him isn’t as far-fetched as it seemed either. He is very stubborn and has the blood of a Viking flowing through him. Moreover, Thorfinn is spontaneous, he acts according to his feelings, as a kid does. To seek revenge, he went as far as to join Askeladd’s band, just to earn a chance to duel him.
Riding the spiral of hate :
Askeladd exploited Thorfinn completely, making him do the toughest missions like getting a general’s head, infiltrating enemy territories and fighting Thorkell. He could entrust Thorfinn with such tasks easily due to two reasons; his innate talent as the son of Thors and his determination.
Perhaps Askeladd had such good control over Thorfinn due to the latter being naive. Whatever Thorfinn learned about fighting and diplomacy was from Askeladd.
His actions were hypocritical too, as he killed hundreds of fathers, brothers and sons. He didn’t care about the villages the band pillaged or what happened to the women of these villages. Just for the sake of his revenge, he created countless “Thorfinn(s)” himself.
Even after earning multiple duel opportunities, Thorfinn never won. Akseladd always got under Thorfinn’s skin, making him lose his calm completely.
This anger also stems from the deep respect he had for his father. Askeladd used Thorfinn’s aggression and pride against him, making him act recklessly.
This respect is shown by waking up terrified from a nightmare, where Thors leaves him. It is apparent that this is Thorfinn’s subconscious, telling him that Thors would never want this, that he should leave this revenge act behind and go back to Iceland. This implies that a part of Thorfinn resents himself for taking this path, and would’ve preferred going back to Iceland instead.
Thors leaving also signifies his exit from Thorfinn’s life as he is dead, forcing Thorfinn to make his own decisions at such a young age, leaving him broken and vulnerable.
Thorfinn was even more hypocritical, as he considered people around him to be “lowly”, while he wasn’t any different at the time. Askeladd’s men used to pillage villages, assault the women, kill the kids and the men and sell many as slaves.
While he didn’t participate in any of these activities, he played a major role in capturing these villages, as he had become one of Askelad’s main cards. On top of that, Thorfinn has shown to accept Askeladd’s qualities as a leader and a fighter countless times. In fact, he has even shown trust towards Askeladd when the band was stuck in dire situations.
However, Thorfinn was too young to understand these contradictions in his behaviour, he did not understand such concepts, he only knew hatred.
While this was the case, he did feel a soft spot for people with whom he interacted. He tried to help the old woman who treated his wounds and also let many women escape; one of whom plays a major role later.
The break of the cycle:
Askeladd’s death is one of the most important moments in Vinland Saga; especially because Thorfinn didn’t kill him. This puts Thorfinn in a huge predicament, turning his life upside down.
Thorfinn’s weapon falling to the ground shows exactly what happened in the arc. Just a few seconds and it captures Thorfinn so well.
He had lost so many times that it subconsciously became his life cycle. It is apparent that Thorfinn did have some form of attachment to Askeladd, who taught him a lot of things in his own way. Thorfinn’s voice actor handled this scene so well, they let all the emotions flow through their voice and delivered a masterpiece of a scene.
Even during his last breaths, Askeladd told Thorfinn to follow his father’s footsteps; to become a true warrior. Askeladd never meant any disrespect towards Thors, he just used the insults to bait Thorfinn. In fact, Askeladd wanted Thorfinn to stay away from this path. Hence, he asks Thorfinn to leave all of this behind and live his life building a Vinland, like how his father did.
This last conversation between the two is so important because this time, Thorfinn realises that he can’t continue his life like this anymore; his motive for killing is gone. Askeladd gives him a last piece of advice, to become a true warrior.
Being one of the strongest first arcs, the Prologue sets up the story ahead very well. Askeladd worked well as a catalyst towards our protagonist’s development as a character. It was always foreshadowed that Thorfinn was in the wrong and that he will change.
Askeladd’s death also solidified Thorfinn losing what made him human, his emotions; or rather the only emotion he remembered. This builds up towards a heavier progression in our protagonist perfectly, by making him “empty”, i.e. making him a vessel.
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