Robert Eggers’ Viking epic The Northman is filled to the brim with animalistic violence, ill-fated romance, and all-consuming vengeance. But it also doles out a healthy dose of Norse mythology and religion that plays a pretty pivotal part in the final act of the film. With The Northman now streaming on Peacock, and coming to VOD services and 4K Blu-ray, let’s take a look at what happens at the end of Eggers’ latest film, The Northman.
For the better part of the two-hour-twenty-minute film, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) has a singular mission: “Avenge father. Save mother. Kill Fjölnir.” This quest is set into motion when he is just a boy and his father, King War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), is murdered by his bastard half-brother Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang) and his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), is taken. He is steadfast in his belief that he will fight Fjölnir at the gates of hell with a mythical blade, and ultimately he does! Through a mixture of divine intervention and Amleth actively chasing down his own demise, he finds the Night Blade in a Viking boat burial and tracks Fjölnir down to an island with an active volcano.
Even after Amleth learns the truth about his father’s death and that his mother had contrived the whole plot to do away with War-Raven and run away with Fjölnir to start a new life, he still maintains that he wants to avenge his father. However, his plans to save his mother are completely ruined by the fact that she doesn’t want to be saved. In fact, she actively tries to have Amleth killed, before attempting to do it herself. Ultimately, Amleth is left with no choice but to kill not only his mother, but also his half-brother Gunnar (Elliott Rose), effectively taking everything away from Fjölnir in the same way as his own future was robbed as a child. And while it may seem like an eye for an eye situation, Amleth takes no pleasure in any of it, though he doesn’t necessarily mourn the woman who tried to force an Oedipus complex on him.
In the first chapter of the film, King War-Raven states that he wants to die in battle, rather than dying a “greybeard,” which is a more fanciful way of saying that he doesn’t want to die of old age, he wants to go out in a blaze of glory. This line of thinking was fairly typical for Vikings who were notorious for last stands and taking pride in dying in battle. The only way to be received into Valhalla was by dying in battle, otherwise, Vikings would be delivered to Helheim, which is a realm just below Midgard overseen by the goddess Hel. All of this feeds into Amleth’s decision to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite the opportunity that he had to leave with Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and start a new life—one filled with love, safety, and fatherhood—he follows the path that has been pre-ordained for him.
The Northman’s script (penned by Eggers and Sjón) is based on the Scandinavian legend of Amleth, a figure that happened to have inspired William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Hamlet. While the epic swordfight in Eggers’ tale may not be fought with poisoned blades, it is unlike any swordfight that you will find in any other film. After Amleth kills Gudrún and Gunnar, he meets Fjölnir at the volcano to have their final showdown. They strip off their outer layers until they are both naked, and then they fight—to the death—in the middle of an active volcano.
Throughout the film, Amleth has this otherworldly vision of, what can only be described as a family tree. Upon this tree, Amleth sees his father, his ancestors, and his future children. This particular aspect of the vision only comes into full focus after Olga tells him that she is pregnant, and it is, in part, what propels him to turn back and face Fjölnir. Even if he dies Amleth has the assurance that his bloodline will continue with the twins and that they will take their rightful place as the ruler one day. In his final moments, as Amleth embraces death, he sees one of the twins–his daughter, seemingly–adorned in a crown, which allows him to die knowing that he succeeded.
In terms of its ending, The Northman is fairly straightforward. Amleth achieves his mission to avenge his father, but in the process is also able to avenge himself in a vague sense. His childhood and manhood were both cut down by Fjölnir killing War-Raven and by Gudrún’s cold indifference. In the end, Amleth finds temporary peace with Olga, but eternal rest with the knowledge that his line will continue once he has gone to the halls of Valhalla. It’s all very deeply spiritual, and it fully embraces the cutthroat dedication of the Vikings.