Vinland Saga Season 2‘s latest episode delivered some blows – in every sense of the word. Arnheid’s story came to a tragic conclusion and while her future is uncertain, it definitely won’t be a happy one. Her arc so far has been impressive and it managed to showcase what Vinland Saga is truly about from every angle, without flashy action and drawn-out fights. Although she’s an amazingly written character, the men in her life ultimately determined her fate and her story can best be told through her relationships with them.
The first one I’d like to focus on is Ketil, the benevolent slave owner who offers freedom to his slaves and has been nothing but good to Thorfinn and Einar. He feels for the kids who get caught stealing and does everything he can to protect them without looking weak in front of his retainers. However, this is exactly where the root of his problems lies.
He spent most of his life lying and trying to preserve his pride through things he is good at, mainly farming and managing. Yet, deep down Ketil is nothing more than a coward and the only person who knows this is Arnheid. It’s not like she has a choice: the only person who sees their relationship as equal and willing on her part is Ketil. Arnheid is his confidant and mistress, but also the only one who knows true him. It’s quite ironic that he is ready to grovel before the king and other strong and powerful men in his life and then talk about pride to a woman he enslaved. e is unable to control his sons, Canute sees him as a target and the life he spent building is about to go away. He overcompensates and takes his anger over his own powerless self on her – simply because she is the only one who is “weaker” and forced to take it. Her cries about their unborn child mean nothing to him and I had to wonder if he’d be relieved if both of them were gone as it would mean one less thing to explain to his wife.
Gardar is in many ways the source of Arnheid’s doom. His greed cost them their life and their son and led to them both being enslaved. He is unable to take the abuse and ends up killing the people who bought him. His first step is to look for Arnheid and he inadvertently manages the destroy the little life she built for herself. Torn between her husband and her unborn child, Arnheid makes an idealistic choice, which turns out to be the wrong one.
No one can blame Gardar for the violence he sows but you also can’t argue with how selfish he is. Yes, he is unwell but he never stops to think about Arnheid. Much like Ketil, he sees her as his property – something to protect and cherish but not someone to listen to and respect as an equal.
Thorfinn and Einar
Thorfinn understands where Gardar’s choices will lead him and although he can’t stop the violence he decides to try and protect the couple. He doesn’t approve of violence and he sees Gardar as his opposite, yet something pushes him forward. I’m not sure he does it for Arnheid as much as he does it for his own beliefs. Sverkel’s support only further cements his determination and in some way he probably wants Einar to be happy.
Einar’s love for Arnheid is his motivator and it seems like he doesn’t mind the fact that she does not feel the same way. Their relationship is a tragic one because there is no realistic chance that they will ever be together. Einar’s treatment of Arnheid says a lot about him: he is innocent and idealistic, but most importantly kind-hearted. He is willing to sacrifice everything for the people he cares for and he does not expect anything in return. He is ready to stay on the farm and sacrifice his freedom for her because he wants to stay close. Whether this is true love or an idealistic crush of a young man is irrelevant, as Einar’s presence made Arnheid’s life a little bit happier.
Sverkel is an interesting old man. He has baggage from his past that he regrets carrying around and he sees helping Arnheid as a way to fix that. Sadly, he is unable to stop the system his son set up and Snake, who is hellbent on following it. To him, slavery is wrong and no person should find themselves in this position. We don’t know how much he actually knows about Ketil and Arnheid’s relationship but it seems like he at least suspected it. He won’t get punished no matter what he does so it is kind of easy for him to encourage Arnheid. It’s fair to say he probably couldn’t have expected Ketil’s reaction. Interestingly enough, it is Snake who stops Ketil – perhaps some of Sverkel’s teaching rubbed off on him.
Arnheid is one of those characters that are not especially remarkable in any way but they leave a lasting impression on you. Her life was not easy in any way and she has lost so much but she keeps looking for something to hold on to. She tries to stay strong for her child. Losing Hjalti is not something she will ever get over but she fights to find strength for her unborn baby. She spent years before Gardar’s escape braving the storm and looking for joy in small things like Einar’s presence and friendship. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards for her. Those who have read the manga know how this arc will end, but in terms of the anime, it was episode 18 that told us everything we needed to know.
It’s rare to have such an interesting side character in a story aimed at a primarily male audience (the manga started in a shonen magazine and then later moved to a seinen one). Makoto Yukimura manages to pull this off with Arnheid. He managed to capture her struggles, desires, joy, and sadness and somehow created a truly memorable character that will leave a lasting impact not only on the characters within the story but also on the audience that is following it.