The events of this episode are not only what I consider to be the peak of Vinland Saga, but also some of my favorite scenes in fiction as a whole, so to say I was looking forward to seeing them animated would be an understatement. And thankfully, the animation, direction, music and voice acting were all as fantastic as I was hoping they would be, resulting in an phenomenal episode that will surely be talked about for many years to come.
Let me just get what I didn’t like out of the way first: I still wish they hadn’t added this anime original subplot of Thorfinn going to jail, Leif visiting him there and telling him to go to Vinland with him (and presumably bailing him out, though they didn’t even show that) and then Thorfinn getting to the boat, before deciding to go back after looking at a bird. All it accomplished was lessen the impact of the following moments where Askeladd asks Thorfinn about him having no plans for his life after killing him. Because here, he did — he was already thinking of going back home and then going to Vinland with Leif. Even if these new scenes certainly didn’t ruin that moment between Thorfinn and Askeladd (as well as the shock Thorfinn feels after his death), they still didn’t mesh well with it and lessened the moment a bit for me. But that’s really my only (relatively minor) gripe with an otherwise stellar and gorgeous episode (and adaptation as a whole).
The sequence of events from the moment Askeladd insults the king’s face is absolutely glorious in an utterly unpredictable way. It’s hard to tell a story that’s great, and it’s hard to tell a story that’s unpredictable, but to tell a story that’s both at the same time — that takes real skill. I particularly love the detail of Askeladd having had a real name all along, given to him by his mother, which he waited to reveal at the absolutely perfect time. Lucius Artorius Castus. It’s a name those present at the scene won’t forget anytime soon, and neither will the viewers of this show.
But as powerful as that beheading was, it’s even more powerful when we realize what Askeladd’s intentions behind it — and his subsequent mad rampage — were. Indeed, when offered the choice to sacrifice Wales or Canute, Askeladd chooses a third option, which allows him to protect both: sacrificing himself. Many doubted him when he made his oath to Canute, but in the end Askeladd absolutely kept true to his words there, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that now that he had finally found the worthy king he had sought for so long, his loyalty to him was genuine.
And this is what makes the conclusion to his story as fascinating as the character himself has been as a whole. Askeladd lived an ignoble and selfish life where he sacrificed many to achieve his aims, but in the end he chose to sacrifice himself for a greater good in the safety of his king and countrymen. I’ve spoken before about how Askeladd and Thors were great foils, and their respective death scenes only accentuate that in their were remarkable similarities; Thors gave his life for a greater and more meaningful purpose, sacrificing himself to protect those important to him, and now Askeladd, who led a decidedly less noble life, chose to die in the same manner. It’s a beautiful and touching conclusion to his story, which shows that it’s never too late to try to do some good with your life, even after you’ve gone as astray as a person possibly can go. And Askeladd went very astray indeed, and he was well aware of that, which is why he also used his last breath to point Thorfinn in a different direction, a direction Askeladd himself wasn’t able to follow in his own life.
Is there a more perfect and powerful conclusion to this story arc than Askeladd dying in Thorfinn’s arms? Such an intense and heartbreaking scene, with phenomenal performances from both Uchida Naoya and Uemura Yuuto. It doesn’t get much more poignant in a very twisted way than Thorfinn screaming at the closest thing he’s had to a father for the last decade that he was supposed to die by his hand. It brings one back to the lyrics of the anime’s first opening, “I’ve paid my dues, I’ve sold my soul, so tell me what is left for me when I’ve given up everything?” Indeed, Thorfinn sacrificed everything for his revenge and shed the blood of many, surely creating new tragedies of loss similar to his own. And now, it was all for nothing. In a single instant, his whole life purpose was stolen from him in front of his very eyes. His look of utter despair towards Canute almost reflects a feeling of betrayal, since Canute was aware of their blood feud but ended up stealing Thorfinn’s kill regardless. And of course, he did it for a much greater purpose than revenge, although Thorfinn couldn’t care less about that, which is why he snaps at Canute and ends up being apprehended as a result.
And then, contrary to my expectations, Wit decided to end this arc with the same cliffhanger the manga did, and even added an anime original montage teasing characters from future arcs. I gotta wonder what this means for the prospect of an eventual Season 2, but I can only hope it comes, since I definitely want to see the following arc brought to life in the same glorious manner as this one.