God of War Ragnarök Brilliantly Challenges Greek & Norse Mythology

Kratos yells over depictions of the Greek fates and Valhalla

God of War Ragnarök is not just a massive success in terms of gameplay and visuals, but it is also one of the best-written games to come out in 2022. One of the ways Ragnarök stands out is its commitment to exploring deeper themes within its narrative that tie to the mythological inspirations for the game. Kratos is originally from Greece. More specifically, it’s a mythologized version of Greece where gods like Zeus and Poseidon regularly intervened in the lives of the people living there. In 2018’s God of War and its sequel, Ragnarök, Kratos has moved to Midgard, one of the Nine Realms present in Norse Mythology.

God of War Ragnarök doesn’t just include common themes from both mythologies, but it also meaningfully subverts them to deliver a satisfying and surprising story. One theme the game emphasizes heavily is that of fate, and what individuals can do to change their destinies. Many Greek myths and tragedies such as The Iliad express the idea that prophecy is unavoidable. Further, Ragnarök explores the common Norse belief in the idea of a “worthy death” that would grant warriors access to Valhalla. The themes of prophecy and death loom over Kratos and Atreus’ journey across the Nine Realms and motivate many of their actions, but the game also has a new take on the father-son duo that breaks with the conventions of these established myths.

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God of War Ragnarök Challenges the Concept of Fate

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Many mythological Greek figures have challenged prophecies that they did not wish to come true. Achilles’ mother, Thetis, dipped him in the River Styx to make him invincible and avoid the prophecy of his death at Troy. Similarly, Oedipus left his home to avoid the Oracle’s prediction that he would kill his own father and marry his mother. However, Greek mythology always posited that prophecies could not be avoided. Achilles was killed at Troy when an arrow pierced his heel, the one part of him his mother did not fully submerge in the underworld’s river. Oedipus had not known that he was adopted, and by leaving his adopted family he inadvertently set into motion events that would cause him to kill his birth father.

When seeking the Norns in God of War Ragnarök, Kratos remarks to Freya that his homeland had many tales of people who tried to avoid fate and in doing so made their prophecies come true. This shows that the game’s writers were clearly aware of the mythological precedent set by Greek tales, and understood the expectations many players had when they saw the prophecy of Kratos’ death and Atreus serving Odin. Throughout the game, several characters express the belief that they have agency over their fate and that prophecy will not dictate their actions. When the credits roll, Kratos lives and Odin is defeated. Not only did Ragnarök‘s writers create tension by convincing players they were about to witness a Greek tragedy, but they also made a strong statement about the power of individual choice when they subverted that expectation.

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There Are No Glorious Deaths in God of War

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Sindri mourns Brok on Svartalfheim in God of War Ragnorok

Norse mythology had several afterlives, one of the best being that of Valhalla. Warriors who died in battle, which was seen as a worthy death, were said to go to Valhalla where they would feast daily and live happily with Odin as their leader. In a practical sense, this belief was a great way for Norse leaders to inspire their men into battle since they were promised paradise were they to be killed. God of War Ragnarök seems to push back against this idea by refusing to present death in a glorified manner.

Plenty of characters die in God of War Ragnarök and not just the enemies who fall by Kratos’ hand. Thor, who acts as a flawed mentor to Atreus throughout several sections of the game is tragically killed moments before his redemption. His death isn’t portrayed as a heroic sacrifice. Instead, he is violently stabbed through the back by his own father, Odin, at the first signs of hesitation.

Perhaps one of the most tragic deaths in the game is that of Brok, the helpful dwarf who had been a companion to Kratos since 2018’s God of War. Brok is stabbed by Odin not on a battlefield, but in the comfort of his own home, where he dies of his wounds. Each major character’s death hits the player like a freight train. There is no sense that they were meaningful or necessary, but instead, they are presented as tragic and violent. In this way, the game pushes back against the idea of a worthy or glorious death, instead showing the tragic impact that war has on the people who fight them.

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God of War Ragnarök Creates a Unique Narrative

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Kratos tends to a campfire while Atreus stands behind him with a hunted deer in God of War Ragnarok.

By pushing against established themes common to the type of story it tells, God of War Ragnarök sets itself apart from them. This does more than just subvert the expectations of players — it also sends a deeper thematic message to those who play it. Ragnarök is a hopeful story about doing what’s right and standing up to those who would seek to oppress others. By allowing Kratos and Atreus to defy their fates and make their own decisions, the game tells players that they too can stand up for what they believe is right and be successful. The game also doesn’t shy away from the negative impact that can be felt when tyrants like Odin are allowed to stay in power.

God of War Ragnarök is a strong narrative about the importance of defying traditions that would seek to keep people down. By going against the idea of fate, Kratos and Atreus show that people can make their own destinies, and should not be resigned to the one they are told to have. In challenging the notion of a glorious death, the game makes players consider how unjust it is for rulers like Odin to expect others to die for them. Players familiar with the mythologies that the game is based upon are likely surprised to see Ragnarök take such a big step away from its source material, which only helps to make the game’s message about challenging traditions more poignant. Kratos may have taken a step back from killing entire pantheons of gods, but he is still meaningfully tearing down the ideas for which they once stood.


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