This put up comprises spoilers for The Northman
There is a background character in The Northman you most likely blinked and missed. However her look, nevertheless temporary, electrified me greater than another thrill in director Robert Eggers’ bombastic new Viking epic (and that is saying one thing).
Amleth (who embodies the normal hypermasculine Viking warrior very best that dominates at the moment’s trendy reimaginings of this historical historical past) is partaking within the spoils of a violent raid on an harmless village. Then an armor-clad girl on horseback storms into the shot. Bearing all of the visible markers of a navy chief, she rallies the conquered villagers, waving a flag and calling upon robust warriors of any background to affix her battle — earlier than driving off, by no means to be seen within the film once more.
However I spent the remainder of its runtime eager for the film that would’ve been, if solely she had been its principal character as a substitute.
Do not get me fallacious: I love what The Northman does with Alexander Skarsgård as its lead. However let’s be trustworthy, by far essentially the most underwhelming a part of Egger’s enthrallingly refreshing movie is its drained outdated Revenge-For-My-Daddy-King storyline that is been shoved down our throats numerous instances earlier than, by every part from Hamlet to The Lion King.
But I digress. As a result of as a dork for this period of prehistory, I am particularly a fan of Eggers’ entry into the current popular culture pattern placing Vikings in main TV reveals, movies, and video video games. From Historical past Channel’s surprisingly nice Vikings collection to Netflix’s more moderen Norsemen and Vikings: Valhalla reveals, Marvel’s field office-breaking Thor films (significantly Ragnarok), and the wonderful 2018 reboot of God of Conflict, I am dwelling for this historical Nordic second within the mainstream.
However I am additionally sick of every one making the identical precise mistake by sidelining the perfect a part of real-world Viking historical past: absolutely the badassery of their warrior girls (AKA shieldmaidens).
The very fact, fiction, fable, and misogyny behind shieldmaidens
Now, to his credit score, Eggers is a stickler for historic accuracy in his films.
That is why the anonymous feminine navy chief in The Northman is a deliberate acknowledgment of current archaeological proof suggesting that Viking warrior girls actually did exist, which specialists beforehand doubted. In response to interviews, the film character is loosely based mostly on the well-known grave of a high-ranking Viking navy chief (recognized as Bj 581) long-assumed to be male — till DNA proof revealed in 2017 definitively proved she was feminine.
In The Northman, Amleth’s prophesied demise (delivered by none apart from Björk) alongside together with his “King’s tree” imaginative and prescient implies that his downfall is simply the primary chapter in his daughter’s bigger story, as she fulfills her future of changing into a terrific Viking Queen. We’ll depend that as one more nod to precise archeological proof that management roles within the Viking Age have been way more gender-fluid than beforehand thought.
However for the love of all that’s Freya, why is all this Viking warrior girl badassery nonetheless saved so squarely within the background of The Northman?
Nearly each different popular culture story set within the Viking Age is responsible of the identical oversight. God of Conflict and Thor actually embrace the robust mythological feminine characters central to Norse lore, just like the Valkyries and goddess Freya. The Vikings TV present brings that illustration a step nearer to house by depicting real-world Viking girls battling alongside males. However solely 2020’s Murderer’s Creed: Valhalla online game provides gamers the choice to play as a Viking feminine protagonist. Even then, although, getting the choice to play as a girl will not be the identical as getting a narrative particularly grounded within the perspective of a Viking shieldmaiden.
Why is all this Viking warrior girl badassery nonetheless saved so squarely within the background of ‘The Northman’?
In all equity, although, we will not blame the sidelining of warlike Viking girls completely on The Northman and its ilk. Till fairly not too long ago, girls’s significance in Viking society was sidelined by historical past itself too.
Historical past, significantly prehistory pieced collectively by means of thousand-year-old archeological finds, is not as exhausting of a science as we wish it to be. Constructed on a basis of details that rely closely on the subjective interpretation of artifacts, it is coloured by the biases of our trendy, male-dominated society. The affect these biases can have on our understanding of gender dynamics within the Viking Age turned very clear within the response to the 2017 DNA evaluation research of the so-called Birka feminine Viking warrior’s grave.
After the skeleton was confirmed to be feminine, some archeologists jumped to the conclusion that the grave should’ve by no means belonged to a navy chief within the first place, then, regardless of containing ample qualifying artifacts. However debate over the Birka feminine Viking warrior grave solely deepened an present divide throughout the archeological neighborhood over Viking girls’s position within the social hierarchy.
Many specialists nonetheless negate the mounting proof of ladies being current for the hostile Viking invasions, and discoveries of even extra feminine warrior graves, together with the historic accounts of Viking girls becoming a member of in warfare — insisting that the statues and depictions of battle-ready Viking girls are solely symbolic quite than indicative of real-world shieldmaidens. Either side of this debate accuses the opposite of contemporary biases, implying that both sexism or feminism clouds the opposite’s objectivity.
The ladies written out of the Viking popular culture pattern
We do not but have conclusive solutions on how pervasive shieldmaidens have been within the Viking Age. However their absence from The Northman, other than the few seconds afforded to the one confirmed incontrovertibly actual, tells us lots about which narratives we’re inclined to consider at the moment, even in a movie stuffed with magic.
I am all for Robert Eggers’ close to obsessive fixation on grounding his movies in real-world details as a lot as doable. However precisely which model of historical past is he giving extra weight to — and whose perspective do these variations omit?
Very similar to films, historical past is a narrative we inform ourselves to make sense of the world. And albeit, I am simply uninterested in the Viking Age getting used completely as a setting to justify depictions of unfettered hypermasculinity, to train the identical outdated male-centric anxieties about patriarchy, by means of the identical cookie-cutter male hero archetype, in the identical story instructed over and time and again.
Frankly, I am simply uninterested in the Viking Age getting used completely as a setting to justify depictions of unfettered hypermasculinity.
This is not actually a feminist call-out. It is a declaration of utter boredom — a plea for popular culture’s Vikings to attempt on actually something apart from muddy blood-soaked males, if just for the change of tempo. Out of anybody, I assumed that perhaps the director of The Witch would’ve identified how invigorating it may be to immerse trendy audiences within the perspective of ladies who have been too usually written out of their very own histories.
However maybe Eggers selected to sideline shieldmaidens in The Northman as a franchise play, to hype up The Northwoman, if you’ll (god, please do not let this change into an precise actuality). Probably, although, it is simply the identical lack of creativeness that turned actual Viking girls right into a fable.