Vinland Saga is a journey towards perfection of life through the lens of a warrior. Though the story is borrowed from real life accounts of Vikings, author Makoto Yukimura doesn’t hesitate to showcase his own viewpoints and perspectives on War and Slavery head on.
Aside from all that, I personally think Vinland Saga is a story about a man who seeks personal fulfillment and peace. A world without chaos, greed and bloodlust. A leader in this world more or less tends to be a warrior. And in this story, Thorfinn strives to become such a warrior that would fulfill his goal.
So what is this “true” warrior Thors had been talking about? The story hasn’t given a direct full answer to it yet but I feel it’s one of those things Yukimura would leave it to one’s interpretations.
In this article, I’ll explain what a true warrior means from a purely philosophical and cultural perspective, citing the Bible and Indian scriptures.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
The meaning of ‘True Warrior’ in Vinland Saga
A true warrior is someone who will protect you from harm and fight not out of anger but out of a sense of duty. A detached warrior cares little about the result and is unconcerned with the mechanisms by which it is achieved.
Does it seem too simple? Alright I’ll break it down for you.
The word warrior comes from the Old North French word ‘werreier’ meaning ‘a soldier’. And the original meaning of a soldier or warrior comes from the Sanskrit term “Kṣatriya”. What does it mean?
Ksat trāyate iti ksatriya
Ksat means injury, and one who gives protection from injury, he is ksatriya.
In the Parasara-smrti, or religious codes made by Parasara, the great sage and father of Vyasadeva (the compiler of the Vedic scriptures), the duty of a true warrior or Ksatriya is stated as follows:
- ksatriyo hi praja raksan
- sastra-panih pradandayan
- nirjitya para-sainyadi
- ksitim dharmena palayet
“The ksatriya’s duty is to protect the citizens from all kinds of difficulties, and for that reason he has to apply violence in suitable cases for law and order. Therefore, he has to conquer the soldiers of inimical kings, and thus, with religious principles, he should rule over the world.”
To explain in simple terms, a warrior should absolutely train hard and grow strong, but fight only when it is necessary for the upliftment of law and order in the world. He sees his act of combat as a sense of duty and his emotions aren’t attached to it. But that doesn’t mean the person becomes a pacifist.
Pacifism, according to Asian culture, is reserved for monks or people who affirm to meditate for years and years. Fighting is not necessary for them because no one in their community engages in hand-to-hand conflict. They do have debates on occasion, but they are always amicable and polite.
They don’t just pick up firearms or swords and yell, “Hit me up!” Violence or conflict among monks is unjustified, and all problems should be resolved peacefully.
Pacifism is meant for the renounced and not for passionate warriors.
And just to be clear, Vinland Saga DOES NOT advocate complete pacifism. Let me explain how.
Thors hated violence but never hesitated to use it to defend himself or his people. When Askeladd’s men ran towards him to strike, Thors showed no mercy. The dude literally broke a pirate’s arm and a nose.
People love to quote Thors famous saying, “A true warrior doesn’t need a sword.” and he used a sword against Askeladd because he ain’t a master yet.
Keep in mind that Askeladd and Thorkell were among the many soldiers who held Thors in the highest esteem. When it comes to being an effective leader, Thorfinn aspires to surpass even his father. Thors is a good example to follow when comparing oneself to the other murderous Vikings of the Vinland Saga universe.
Thors also once said “You don’t have any enemies. No one has any enemies. There’s no one who it’s okay to hurt.”
A true warrior doesn’t go about looking for enemies or fights to boost his ego but rather perpetually seeks for one’s spiritual uplifting. He only fights when it’s needed for self defense or protecting others. This is also confirmed in the Bible, which Yukimura quotes often in the series.
’You won’t have to fight in this battle. Position yourself, remain still, and gaze upon the Lord your God, who is with you, O Jerusalem and Judah!’ Don’t be scared or worried; go out and fight them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you
2 Chronicles 20:17
Basically it means that a true warrior does not seek out wars or get involved in every argument that arises. Rather, they listen to the almighty Holy Spirit to determine the best time to fight. Their primary concern is spiritual positioning.
TLDR: A true warrior draws his sword only when he needs to for the sake of protection.
Now, Thorfinn’s goal is to one day exist in a world devoid of war and slavery. Will that ever happen?
Seeing how this world is and how it’s going to become, I say it’s impossible to completely eradicate war and slavery in this world. It’s all upto the individual whether he/she wants to act upon it or not. But even that free will is restricted, because during the World War, those who had no experience in combat were dragged to the battlefield.
This world, according to scripture, is described as an ocean of misery. And the only way to save yourself is to get out of the cycle of birth and death and entering heaven or a higher place of being. Thorfinn’s goal can be achieved BUT only in a limited scale.
Speaking of Thorfinn, he had lived quite a violent life, leaving behind corpses wherever he went. He was peaceful when his father was alive but after Asekladd entered his life, he had only one direction in life – vengeance. And he pursued it relentlessly for years and finally after Asekladd died, he felt empty. He felt his life had no purpose anymore. And that’s when his entire farm life is arguably had best character development moments in all of anime.
From a selfish murderer to a selfless peacemaker
Thorfinn was born just like the rest of us, possessed an insatiable desire to survive and exact vengeance on those responsible for his father’s death. He does things on the spur of the moment without giving much thought to the consequences. Ever since he was a little boy, he had followed in his father’s footsteps and aspired to become a warrior just like him.
But Thors already knew the truth about what happens to a murderer (something Thorfinn doesn’t learn until Season 2 Episode 9), and he wanted to teach his kid the meaning of a true warrior or Ksatriya.
Thors finally came to this conclusion after years of killing for his own ego and decided to make amends. Unfortunately, his death trying to save his son was already predetermined by fate. The shafts of death he unleashed symbolize the cosmic payback for the many lives he took needlessly. Since he began his path to redemption, though, it’s possible that he won’t have to spend as much time in hell.
He realized that a true warrior, one who gets to go to Valhalla after death, fights for law and order only when necessary, out of a sense of duty, and never out of any craving for blood. That’s why later Thors kept fighting, but only to defend innocent lives.
According to Greek Mythology, in the land of the Viking gods, Asgard, there is a great hall called Valhalla that is made entirely of gold. It’s a fantastic land where Odin, the father of the Viking gods, presides. These rafters are spear shafts, and the roof is covered with golden shields, making this hall look like something out of a fairy tale.
Valhalla is a reference to Indra’s castle in the heavenly kingdom called Amaravati. And believe it or not, it has more or less, the same description.
The pillars of Amaravati are made of diamonds, and the furnishings is constructed of pure gold. Amaravati’s palaces are likewise gold. Pleasant breezes are said to bring the fragrance of rose-colored blossoms. Amaravati’s residents are delighted by music, dancing, and other festivals. The place is said to be filled with divinity.
According to Indian Philosophy, a king or ksatriya, while fighting another king envious of him, is eligible for achieving heavenly planets after death.
But does that mean any warrior who dies on the battlefield goes to heaven or Valhalla?
Nope. Warriors who lived a life of selfish assassinating and did not follow the Ksatriya code are consigned to hell. That’s why Thorfinn was taken aback to find Bjorn in Hell in Season 2 Episode 9, despite the fact that he (Bjorn) was certain he’d go to paradise after dying a “warrior’s death.”
In fact, he witnessed a full on war amongst the undead who did not satisfy the criteria of a true warrior/Kṣatriya.
Thorfinn came to realize all this after spending his youthful life filled with unnecessary bloodshed. Following his father’s death, Thorfinn has been on a mission to kill Askeladd for the past eleven years. A self-centered goal that neither his father nor his peers encouraged. This craving for Askeladd’s blood was the origin of all his issues.
When he didn’t succeed, his childish purity progressively turned into fury, which is the world’s all-devouring, sinful enemy.
The Hindu/Vedic scriptural treatise “The Bhagavad Gita” describes the cause and effects of selfish desires left unsatiated.
When one comes in contact with any object (which one sees, hears or tastes etc.), one develops an attachment (a like or dislike) for it. From such like or dislike develops a desire to possess or to get rid of that object. Non-fulfilment of desire breeds anger.
Anger leads to clouding of judgement, and impairment of judgement results in bewilderment of memory ( one forgets as to what is right and what is wrong). When the memory is bewildered, intelligence (the wisdom) is lost.
Instead of using his discrimination diligently, one flows with the stream of emotions. As a result, one falls into degradation. He is ultimately ruined.
Askeladd’s death is one of the most significant events in Vinland Saga, especially given that Thorfinn did not murder him. This puts Thorfinn in a difficult situation, completely flipping his life upside down. But the most interesting (or relatable) aspect is that he felt empty & clueless. His life no longer bears any meaning anymore (bewilderment).
Nevertheless, Askeladd gives him a key peace of advice that would define his goal forever, to become a true warrior by following his father’s footsteps and live his life building a Vinland.
Enter Farmland Saga, the arc which some argue makes the whole show a snooze fest. But that conclusion is incorrect, considering the payback you get in terms of Thorfinn’s magnificent character development.
Having grown into a young man, Thorfinn was lost (both mentally & geographically) and somehow ended up becoming a slave in Ketil’s farm. That’s his first major reaction to his sinful deeds (he became what he killed). A textbook example of what does the realization of “Sow as you reap” (aka the law of Karma) does to a impulsive being.
However, Everything was leading to him being “reborn”.
How? The field he and Einar helped revitalise represents Thorfinn eradicating the weeds of doubt and guilt in his head and recreating his thought process with a “fertile” mentality. The “free” men destroying the wheat crops symbolise Thorfinn’s greedy bloodlust destroying slaves’ lives.
Thorfinn’s childlike antagonism and desire for vengeance can be seen in Einar’s actions. By trying to stop Einar, he was, in effect, trying to prevent his younger self from acting aggressively and doing something foolish.
Ketil (the land owner) paralleling Thors in detesting violence and showing mercy to the kid and his sister (representing Thorfinn & his family). Ketil also tried in educating his warrior son but he doesn’t listen.
Thorfinn’s journey of atonement began in Season 2 Episode 9 when he dreamt of falling into Hell and getting pulled down by those who were mercilessly killed by him. Now he had to choose, either live a life of piety or get dragged into hell for his punishment.
God then, metaphorically, gave him a second chance by lending him a hand from the above. This experience kneaded the knowledge to Thorfinn on what to do with his life.
(Vinland Saga Chapter 83)
After saying all this, Thorfinn comes to a conclusion that fighting isn’t necessary at all. But Einar has a good argument. He says sometimes you have to commit violence to preserve the peace of your life from the assault of other aggressors. But Thorfinn counters and says, well, that wouldn’t be enough to escape the hell of endless slaughter.
The thing is, Thorfinn is looking for a “Paradise” on Earth, which is realistically impossible. In this prison-like world, there will be wars, death, diseases and slaughter. That is a cycle one cannot escape. If you want to live on this Earth, you need to defend yourself, even if you need to resort to violence.
And that’s exactly what Thorfinn chooses to do while confronting Snake.
Gardar was injured. Thorfinn needs to save him. Snake comes along to kill him. So what does he do? If he had followed his words he uttered to Einar, he’d been a corpse and so would Gardar. In the end, he’d accomplished nothing other than being a coward.
With a clean sword pointing towards him, Thorfinn begins to think and in that moment, Askeladd’s ghost decides to pay a visit to help his former captive. At that time, he asks the most important question of all!
And what does Thorfinn do?
That’s right! He FREAKING FIGHTS!
The look on his face shows he doesn’t want to do this but he’s doing out of duty, an act to save a life. What fans might not notice in the hype is he using the same Viking instincts for battle and bloodshed to merely prevent murder in an amicable way.
Yukimura is VERY CLEARLY demonstrating that COMPLETE PACIFISM wouldn’t solve the problem of war and slavery in this world, something Thorfinn was wondering an episode back. The act of violence has its place but in righteousness. The intent of fighting is what matters most than the fight itself. All of Thorfinn’s learnings as a kid is coming in full circle as he attempts to use those skills to protect rather than to satisfy his selfish desire for bloodshed.
In other words, you have a house, you have a family, you have assets and you want to use them in righteousness so you have to protect them. And anything that threatens its existence, you’ll have to retaliate. It’s as simple as that.