God of War and Norse Mythology

God of War and Norse Mythology

****Big Spoilers Ahead*****

The new God of War isn’t just about Kratos’s redemption. It’s also an origin story to one of the most mysterious characters in myth, Loki the trickster god. At the end of the game you find out that Kratos’s wife, Faye, was a giantess that received a prophecy about a child and the end times and left the giants to go make that prophecy a reality. Kratos reveals that Faye wanted to name their son Loki not Aretus.

To those familiar with Norse myth, or marvel movies, that reveal might seem sinister, but it’s not presented that way. Rather it’s a heartfelt moment. Aretus discovers a part of his past, the giants. And Kratos and Aretus finally say goodbye to Aretus’s mother together.

Aretus, the Loki of God of War, seems like he will be a very different figure than the Loki of myth, but maybe not that different. Mythology is meant to be reinterpreted. Stories often have multiple endings and shifts in relationships between characters. Each retelling is a new adaptation building on the bones of the old. And there are enough gaps in myth and ways to view Loki’s actions to make him into a sympathetic character. And the new God of War  has already shown that it knows how retell and re-frame a good myth.

One thing that the original God of War series got right about mythology is that the gods are jerks. The amazing Myths and Legends Podcast (cannot recommend enough) calls Zeus mythology’s ‘greatest monster’ and the God of War series dug into that. In Norse myth the Aesir can be just as bad, especially to the giants, who while not exactly benevolent, don’t deserve all the tricks and murdering that the Aesir inflicted on them.

The new God of War casts the giants in a sympathetic light, even making monsters like the World Serpent into polite allies. It accomplishes this by simply telling the actual myths. Throughout God of War you travel the Lake of the Nine listening to Mimir, your friendly served head and guide. He tells Aretus different Norse legends, but from the giant’s point of view, making the Aesir the antagonists rather than the heroes.

In other ways God of War expands upon ideas already in Norse mythology like Freya marrying Odin even though Freya was Vanir (a different ‘tribe’ of gods.) I don’t love God of War’s reinterpretation of Bladur, but its exploration of his invulnerability makes him more complex. Baldur’s immortality becomes a curse, he can’t die or feel pain, but he can’t feel anything and rather than be grateful to his mother Freya for the gift, he resents her. Also Bladur gives you the biggest hint that Aretus is really Loki pre-end game. Freya freaks out when she sees the ‘green’ arrows that Aretus has. I knew that Bladur dies from an arrow made of mistletoe and leapt out of my seat with an ‘oh damn!’ at that scene.

Loki himself is a figure ripe for this kind of re-framing and exploration. In myth he’s not an Aesir or a giant, though he is connected to them both. Loki hangs out with Odin and Thor, an outsider as much as core member of Asgard. And his tricks help the gods as much as they hurt them. He doesn’t become a true villain until Ragnarok when his monstrous children with a giantess: The World Serpent and Fenrir the wolf, are destined to kill the gods. Loki himself kicks off Ragnarok by orchestrating Baldur’s murder.

In God of War Aretus-loki (Areki? Lotus?) wounds Baldur with a mistletoe arrow by mistake. He does so in an attempt to save Freya from Baldur who is set on killing her. Aretus is presented as less a trickster and more as clever. He’s good at languages and riddles and can work magic unlike his Dad who just brute forces his way through. Aretus does have a bit of Loki’s mean streak, though he apologizes and learns from it.

The God of War version of Loki is probably going to be closer to the God of War version of Tyr. There’s not a lot myths involving Tyr. He’s the Norse god of war and loses a hand to Fenrir in order to bind the wolf. God of War uses the gaps in Tyr’s myth to expand the character. He’s the anti-Kratos, a god of war that isn’t violent and aggressive, but rather one that decides ending wars should be his role. He becomes something of a diplomat god and works against the Aesir to save the giants before disappearing.

Aretus-Loki will probably grow in the next God of War games in a similar way. He will be clever and tricky, but not wicked. He will be molded by myth, but not shaped by it, becoming a unique character all his own. But he will still owe something to the Lokis of myth and pop culture that came before him. A reaction to them, a retelling, the way myths are meant to be.

‘God of War’ Reactions: Dadifaction

‘God of War’ Reactions: Dadifaction

*Light Spoilers ahead*

I always thought that Kratos from God of War was an irredeemable character. And I don’t just mean that in the context of his fictional universe, where he’s slaughtered almost everyone and everything in Greek mythology. I mean that as the lead of video game series. He always felt juvenile to me, a brooding try-hard that would have fit in the pages of a Rob Liefeld comic.

During the first God of War I put up with Kratos’s shouty rage fine enough, but by the second game in the series I actively disliked the guy. By the third I was playing God of War despite Kratos and couldn’t even finish the game. I felt like I was guiding a more self-important Freddy Kruger through Greek myth, butchering everyone in sight. Zeus wasn’t so great a guy in mythology or in the God of War series, but Kratos felt like the real villain by the end.

So, it was to my complete shock that when I finished the new God of War. I not only liked Kratos. He had also become one of my favorite characters of the current console generation. A complex, imperfect hero that often succeeds despite his rage, not because of it.

The main reason for Kratos’s transformation is his Dadifaction. He’s a father and single parent, tasked with spreading his dead wife’s ashes from the highest peak in all the nine realms. His son Atreus feels like a real kid. He’s super inquisitive, but also at times self-conscious. He lies and screams at his Dad, and rather than talk about his emotions he sulks. He’s often generous but can be selfish and makes some truly horrible mistakes. And yet despite all this Atreus never feels annoying, never feels like a character you don’t want to protect and guide.

You can tell that Kratos has a rocky relationship with his son. He takes his role as father seriously, but he’s distant to Atreus, shouting orders more than parenting. I thought at first that was because Kratos didn’t know how to be a dad, and there’ an element of that. But Kratos’s distance from his child runs deeper than that and showed something that was absolutely necessary for me to care about Kratos again, regret.

Kratos is never repentant in the new God of War. But he is a man who is ashamed of his past. He’s buried the ‘Blades of Chaos’ his signature weapon and refuses to use them save as a last resort. He breaks Greek pottery depicting him to try and hide his former self from Atreus. And when in Hel and Kratos is tormented by visions of himself beating Zeus to death, he cries out for Atreus to look away.

Kratos never comes out and says he’s ashamed. When anyone asks why he won’t reveal his past to Atreus he says it’s to protect the boy from his own godhood. And yet through their journey Kratos realizes that his legacy is no longer his alone. In having a child he needs to tell Atreus who he was, so the boy can understand where he comes from. It’s only by revealing his past to Atreus that Kratos begins to come to grips with it himself. He finally acknowledges, ‘I killed many who deserved it, and many who did not.’

Rather than being something to run from Kratos’s past as a monster makes him more real. He still experiences rage, but he also tries to hold it in check. When tormented by those he killed, rather than scream at them like he did in the past he instead grudgingly agrees with them. He’s a man ashamed of himself and only by caring about Atreus more than himself is Kratos able to let go of his past angst and vengeance and grow as a character.

Fatherhood changes you. It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. And fatherhood has been changing video games for the last two generations: The Witcher 3, Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’, the Bioshock games, and The Last of Us all have included stories about being parent, but none of them have felt so transformative as God of War. The new God of War is proof that we all grow up at some point, that we can regret our past while at the same time accepting it. All we need to do is care about something or someone more than ourselves.