「大義」 (Taigi)

If I’m honest, in terms of anime there’s pretty much Vinland and everything else. I’ve said this before but it’s not necessarily that it’s better – though by God, it’s massively better than almost everything else – but that it’s different. No one else is even on the field, never mind in the game. Yukimura Makoto is soaring to thematic heights here that bring me almost to tears from the sheer ambition of it. The interview that Alonom kindly posted in the comments last week gives a fascinating insight into Yukimura’s thinking, and confirms that he’s completely the master of his narrative. He’s telling exactly the story he wants to tell and asking the questions he wants to ask.

This season of Vinland Saga is even different from Vinland. The first season was phenomenal, but in truth that masterpiece – AotY in 2019 and #15 of the decade – was all prologue. It was masterfully plotted, thrilling, and a fantastic character study. But the whole thing was basically to set up the themes we’re seeing play out now, which just makes you shake your head both that Yukimura had the patience to do it and that it was so massively good. Season 1 was a great series in a more or less conventional way; Season 2 is a great series in a completely unique and different way. And it’s getting better every damn week.

This was so fascinating, so heartbreaking, in so many ways. It starts with Thorfinn and Einar returning to the old master’s house, only to find Snake and two of his men waiting there. They’re using Arnheid as bait trying to draw Gardar out – not realizing that Sverkel has told Arnheid to hide him, badly wounded, under his bed. Snake tells Badger to “let them do what they want” but this is no act of kindness – he’s hoping they’ll let something slip, or draw it out of Arnheid. Which might very well have happened, had Thorfinn not been the experienced warrior and strategist he is.

For me, there are three heroes of this piece, all acting in different ways. Let’s start with Einar, who loves Arnheid and has from the moment they met. He’s completely willing to do whatever she wants to do where Gardar is concerned. And that means putting his own life on the line and likely ending any hopes he has of being a free man in Denmark. All to help the woman he loves flee with another man, and a killer at that. Einar is not as Thorfinn’s level of spiritual enlightenment – yet – but make no mistake, he’s a good and noble man. He’s doing the best he can with what’s consistently been a crap deal, and this is no exception.

Then we have Sverkel, who wastes no time feeling sorry for himself for being close to death and bedridden. He helps Arnheid hide Gardar, unhesitatingly. He never stops trying to call Snake, who he considers a friend, back from the path of darkness. He talks of how ridiculous is the notion that slaves are slaves because they’re inferior – they’re just unlucky. Snake retorts that he can’t go around carrying his sword while he’s crying himself to sleep over his unavenged men. “So throw it away” the old man tells him. He then offers Snake his farmstead, telling him to cultivate life instead of death.

I think Sverkel knows his words won’t move Snake, and I think Snake knows the old man is right. But whatever darkness in his past made him the man he is has marked him too deeply – he’s chosen his path, and Sverkel is dying in his bed. And Arnheid is dreaming of something that can never happen, a happy life with a man who – even in the unlikely event he lives – is not the man she loved, with a child that’s not his. And despite knowing the hopelessness of her dream and the cost to themselves, Einar and Sverkel unhesitatingly act to help her. If that’s not heroism I don’t know what is.

Then we have the third hero, Thorfinn. He’s the one who has to take charge here – the one who understands who and what they’re up against. He no doubt thinks what Einar is trying to do is probably hopeless, but he acts. They hatch a plan to use Einar to lure Snake and his men away, allowing Thorfinn and Arnheid to sneak into the house and secret Gardar away. Sverkel – “I’m already involved” – insists that they take him too, to use his authority to clear their passage. But Snake is a very clever man, and realizes that Einar (who’s taking an enormous risk) is too fast to be the badly injured Gardar. Not only that, he runs most of the way back to as not to let Thorfinn hear his horse.

All of those themes that dominated last week’s episode come to the fore here. Thorfinn is trapped, facing a man who will accept nothing less than Gardar’s death as vengeance for the death of his men. Once again we see that this world is broken – justice and right hold no sway. Askeladd fittingly appears at Thorfinn’s shoulder as he wrestles with the moment, knowing that he can’t escape fighting Snake and perpetuating the cycle he’s now committed to breaking. “You’re helping someone. You have a good reason to raise your fists.” Askeladd jovially tells him. “But you know – I’m sure he’s got a good reason too.”

I can only refer back here to the section at about 12:20 of that interview, because I think it’s important to understand Yukimura’s views on war. “They always say it couldn’t be avoided” he says, “But I don’t think that’s the case.” He talks about his struggle to convey that message. And about the fact that “war is cool, Vikings are cool” – something he can’t avoid or ignore as a writer. And watching Thorfinn take his knifewielder’s stance and square off with Snake is thrilling, no question about it. But you know, both of them have a good reason. And that’s the problem with this world, which relentlessly grinds the powerless in its gears. It can’t be reformed (not even through heroism) – the only hope is to leave it behind altogether. But escaping its grip and doing that seems like another hopeless dream.



  1. Couldn’t help but chuckle seeing Gardar hiding right under Snake’s nose (underneath Sverkel’s bed of all places).

    That ringing sword after this scene… That was good sound design.

    Would the term “Warrior Reborn” fit Thorfinn now that he’s once again using his old fighting stance?

    That preview though (possible spoilers for non-manga readers)…either that’s a dream sequence, or (more optimistically) spoils that Gardar and Arnheid manage to get away.

  2. I feel that, in a way, Snake’s and Sverkel’s conversation represents an exploration of modern vs. old moralities about slavery, while still being grounded enough that it could pass for a genuine debate of that period.

    Snake represents the old morality. From the point of view of these Medieval times, he’s been doing honest work, and he’s right in demanding justice against an escaped slave for the killing of his men. Even if the law of slaves wasn’t on his side (it is), it’s a matter of honor that many in that era would understand.

    Sverkel, on the other hand, represents the argument of modern morality. Slaves aren’t inferior, just “unlucky”, and while he doesn’t say it, Snake catches the hidden message: if Snake had been in Gardar’s shoes, wouldn’t he see his violence against the system as justified? Snake avoids the issue by insisting on framing the conflict as justice against a murderer, but the unspoken question lingers. In a way, reminds me of the debates about John Brown’s figure.

    Thorfinn is, as usual, in the middle. He’d be the first to argue that a slave should be free, but also abhors violence. Will he be able to square the circle?


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