I am going to start by saying that I love Askeladd as a character. I also am a big fan of Vinland Saga so far. It’s rare that a show can keep my attention and my interest while delivering on sheer entertainment value. This will clear up any confusion as to where I stand writing this article. Am I going to fanboy out of my mind? Likely, but I intend to build a cohesive argument and state the reasons why I love this character. As your hype-man for a series well done, I can say without a doubt that Askeladd is one of my favorite characters developed to date across any variety of media to include books, comics, movies, you name it. He is both mysterious and interesting. While we unravel the man that is simply a hired assassin and killer of Thors, the father of Thorfinn our actual protagonist, there is certainly more to him than meets the eye.
At first its natural like Thorfinn to assume the worst of Askeladd. How could he just simply kill Thors who was a living legend in his world for being known as the strongest warrior? To unpack the assassination of Thors Askeladd can be seen as a neutral third party that was the conduit for a dirty business transaction. Floki, a commander of the Jomsvikings, pays Askeladd to make Thors disappear under the pretense that once you desert the Jomsvikings the penalty for desertion is death. Askeladd finds the situation suspicious but nevertheless completes his contract with Floki by killing Thors.
Askeladd could have killed all witnesses to the event of Thors death, but is so moved by the efforts of Thors to save his son and the men with him that he in the ends spares the lives of all the men who sailed with Thors. Thors accurately assesses the situation and single-handedly defeated many of the pirates out for his life. Thors accurately gauges the leader of the pirates Askeladd, challenging him to a duel. Knowing that the lives of all the others were on the line Thors conducts himself in a manner to draw the least amount of ire from Askeladd. Askeladd could have given the order to kill Thors and everyone on board the ships at anytime. Thors shows his strength and that he had the ability to have killed lots of Askeladd’s men in exchange for his own head. Thors even impresses Askeladd by guessing who put him up to the task of assassination. While Askeladd may be a pirate lord, he is not an idiot. Knowing full well that Thors could have killed him and many of his men Askeladd makes a deal with Thors that he will only kill Thors and spare the lives of the other men sailing with Thors. Askeladd was a man of his word, sparing the lives of the other men that Thors had nobly fought to protect.
Askeladd gives us the notion that he is a clever man and a man of his word. He is also an excellent fighter and tactician. Through the course of the prologue to Vinland Saga we slowly learn small things about Askeladd. We learn Askeladd is half Welsh. We learn that his mother was a Welsh slave sold to his Danish father. We learn that he hates Danes despite leading a pirate band of Danes. It’s also revealed that he murdered his own father for the mistreatment of his slave mother. Askeladd motivations and reasons for his actions become more clear as the story moves forward. He wished and waited for the return of the one true king Artorius. Realizing that king Artorius was a fairy tale he decides to serve Prince Canute.
Askeladd uses his cunning to manipulate the Danish king into keeping Canute alive. He also uses his cunning to engineer a situation into which the king cannot separate Thorkell, a legendary fighter, and Prince Canute. Unfortunately things reach a point where Askeladd’s luck runs out. The Danish king threatens to attack his homeland of Wales. The king offers Askeladd the option to kill Canute to spare Wales from attack. The other option given by the king is to save Canute and let Wales fall. In the words of Askeladd he cannot back down when it comes to Wales, also Askeladd is a man of his word when he said he would serve Canute. Given these two options Askeladd chooses neither. Instead he takes the head of the king in the council of the elders and proclaims himself the true king. By feigning madness he not only saves Canute but he also saves his homeland of Wales from attack.
In that one selfless act of killing the king Askeladd is forced to show his true colors and who he was as a man. He is a man of his word and he is a man who has loyalty to Wales. His conviction that Prince Canute would make the best king is put to the test, and Askeladd passes with flying colors. Beheading the king ensures Canute takes control of the army and thereby the Kingship. While Canute is forced to take the life of Askeladd it is done with the mutual understanding that this is for the best. While Askeladd is certainly not an innocent man, he is a clever man who is true to his beliefs and convictions. He is surprisingly human and vulnerable for a man who we first believed to be a complete monster. Askeladd’s death ensures the survival of his king, Canute, and ensures that his homeland will be spared the fate of war.