The first season of Vinland Saga follows Thorfinn as he strives to gain strength and ability to avenge the passing of his father, Thors, on his path of retribution, acceptance, and struggle. The unique element of his vengeance story, which sets it apart from many others, is that Askeladd, the person who killed his father, is served by Thorfinn. The fact that Thorfinn freely declares his goal to kill Askeladd and does not conceal himself behind a fictitious pretense of service is another intriguing aspect of the relationship that distinguishes it even more from other comparable vengeance narratives.
The Jomsviking Commander, Floki, hires Askeladd to murder Thors, which is how he first appears in the narrative. Thors is not only the father of the main character, Thorfinn, but also a loving, obedient, and all-around likeable character who wins over admirers with his morally upright and fatherly manner. The logical response would be to despise Askeladd and continually support Thorfinn's retaliation when he kills such a character in a way befitting a rogue. But as the plot develops, Vinland Saga is able to turn the narrative in Askeladd's favor, which makes viewers want Askeladd and Thorfinn to patch things up rather than see them go head to head.
The Murder of Thor
The unfortunate truth of Askeladd’s and Thors’ duel is that it does not matter who won. As long as Askeladd survives, Thors is going to die. He needs to die for Thorfinn’s inciting incident in his arc and, within the narrative, Askeladd has little option but to progress his own agenda. As the duel comes to a conclusion, it is Bjorn’s capturing of Thorfinn that offers the opportunity for Askeladd to command his men to slay Thors. An important observation of this encounter is Askeladd’s reaction. Due to his defeat, he has accepted his own demise, but the interruption from his subordinate leads him to decide to finish the job.
There is an obvious distaste in Askeladd’s demeanor and facial expressions that is implied in his thought process during this moment. He needs to juggle his position as the leader of his band while also considering the honor of his defeat. Ultimately, he chooses to complete his objective, and in doing so, he transforms the innocent Thorfinn into an obsessive killer, hellbent on taking Askealadd's head at the first opportunity. At this point, Askeladd is the treacherous villain, and audiences are desperate for the day Thorfinn will exact his revenge. Even so, the lingering images of Askeladd’s reflection imply that there is more to him than a dishonorable deceiver.
Askeladd and Thorfinn's Odd Relationship
There is no doubt that Thorfinn wishes to kill Askeladd, and this does not change even as Season 1 comes to its conclusion. Askeladd uses Thorfinn to clear difficult battlefield situations and as a valuable asset in his company, in the knowledge that everything Thorfinn learns will one day be used against him. It could be construed that Askeladd holds a level of respect for the young Dane's tenacity and is smart enough to utilize it without endangering his own life. However, it's clear that even in Askeladds roguish nature, he understands the weight of his killing of Thors and the repercussions this entails, accepting a future where his life is on the line at the hands of the boy he makes powerful.
Their bond, while always based on the idea of vengeance, grows into an unhealthy parental replacement for Thors. Their relationship becomes one of symbiotic necessity, and the depth of Askeladd is shown behind the guise of his arrogant and violent persona. This increasing dependence on each other’s survival, even if for vastly different reasons, offers audiences a chance to see the more dimensional personality structure of Askeladd. Thorfinn’s unruly behavior and understandably childish obsession create an image of Askeladd as the avoider of violence when he could have easily slain Thorfinn, revealing more of Askeladd’s internal conflicts and honorable nature in keeping his word to Thors.
The Compatibility of Askeladd's History
One of the most endearing moments that Askeladd is given is through the portrayal of his backstory. The struggle he was forced to endure, the importance placed upon him through his lineage and the relationship he had with his ailing mother constructed the foundation of a believable and more dynamic antagonist. The character that slew Thors now has a sympathetic history that helps sculpt his characterization, and this process nearly always helps audiences understand a character on a deeper level. The deeper the character is understood, the more likable they become through their struggles and flaws.
By the conclusion of Season 1, Askeladd has shown a wide range of personality traits, albeit still masked by his roguish personality, and the death of Thors feels like a story of legend rather than a recent event in the life of the show. Through his final act of killing King Sweyn and ensuring both Wales’ safety and Canute’s life and rise to power, Askeladd unveils his mask for all to see. During a moment of acting monstrously, Askeladd is the most visible to those close to him and the audience than he has ever been throughout the series. While he has grown more likable during the course of the story, the heartfelt moment of Thorfinn begging him not to die is likely what moves audiences the most.