Assassin's Creed

On Whitewashing the Vikings

To open this discussion, I would like to say that I've been an Assassin's Creed fan for quite some time. I've played through the original game set during the Crusades, I'm playing through the Ezio Trilogy right now, had a lot of fun with Black Flag, and have also played the first two installments (Origins and Odyssey) of what I like to call the Origins Trilogy (the games comprising of the most recently released games following the hiatus after Syndicate). Having enjoyed the first two games of the new RPG esque style they were handling (albeit preferring Origins over Odyssey), I was excited about the final entry in the trilogy: Valhalla.

Particularly since they were promising a more nuanced and sophisticated look at a people that have historically been demonized into bloodthirsty barbarians. While the vikings of Norway and Denmark certainly do deserve a reputation of being fearsome warriors, they were also shrewd traders and explorers. And given that Ubisoft handled nuanced such cultures with a great deal of tact in the past, such as the pirates from Black Flag.

And in some capacity, they succeeded. The Norse are portrayed with more dignity and nuance than most other depictions.

Except it also went in the complete opposite direction.

The problem with portraying the Norse and Danes during the Viking Age as sympathetic is that they were guilty of a lot of the crimes associated with them and more. They raided monasteries, desecrated religious iconography associated with the Christian faith, and butchered unarmed monks. They made a mess out of the lands they conquered, pillaged, and enslaved those that they captured and sold into a rather lucrative slave trade. With such a list of crimes and injustices they inflicted, how exactly did Ubisoft portray them and still make them sympathetic in Valhalla?

Simple. They sidestepped and made it impossible for you to kill civilians.

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Nothing about the more unsavory actions of the vikings are addressed. None of the Raven Clan bats an eye at raiding monasteries and plundering them for resources. There's a character during the Kingsmaker arc that brutally tortures Saxon soldiers, yet nobody, not even Eivor, calls him out on it. There's only one instance of the slave trade happening in the arc in Norway, but then it just disappears.

In fact, you could almost say the opposite happens. None of the Saxons that oppose the vikings are portrayed as heroic or competent. The one level-headed Saxon during the Kingsmaker arc is repeatedly shouted down by his king and is rendered ineffectual. By contrast, the Great Heathen Army was portrayed as almost wholly heroic, often improving the conditions of the natives rather than making things worse than they do in canon. Even though we clearly see the vikings pillaging religious sites, and turning a church into a torture chamber!

In the Grantsbridge arc, it's specifically told that the local jarl Soma improved things when she came into power. We never actually get any indication of how that is or any voices saying otherwise. We're just told. We never get a voice from the other side that shows the story in full and what Soma was actually doing. We're just told things are better, and that's it. There's not even that many side quests that delve into the perspective of the Saxons or those that the vikings hurt: the World Events can with few exceptions, meeting up with some quirky character and making a joke of things.

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If you've probably guessed, this is in line with the colonial myth. That those who conquer have the "white man's burden" of uplifting the weaker native into a more "civilized" state. It's the same argument used to subjugate and assimilate the Native Americans into the colonies. Something that was directly torn apart in III. Yes, I do know that these are the Britains who are being conquered, they who built an empire over colonization. But that's literally centuries away, the Britain of yesteryear and the Britain of the Colonial Period are two different beasts.

And the last time somebody used Norse iconography and the beliefs of the ancient Norse and Danes in order to justify their conquest of Britain, they threatened to raise a red flag with a Swastika in London.

I do want to enjoy Valhalla. The gameplay's not bad and I do like the character designs. I could even forgive some of these things if the story were decent. But when portraying the events and people that existed in the real world, you need to give them the respect they deserve. Assassin's Creed made a name off of portraying most historical events accurately, warts and all. So I really can't ignore it. Especially when portrayals such as Expedition: Vikings have proven that you can portray the Norse and Danes sympathetically whilst still retaining their flaws. The culture is questionable, but that doesn't mean the people aren't and can't make the best out of a bad situation.

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That's what Eivor should've been. Trying to make the best out of a bad situation whilst questioning the morality of their culture.

Instead, the vikings got whitewashed. And everything they did is conveniently written out of the narrative.

Isn't that the definition of historical revisionism?

I'll leave some links down below that demonstrate my point better than I could. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments below. I figure something like this warranted some discussion:

Collections: Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and the Unfortunate Implications – A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry (acoup.blog)

Review: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla fails to make colonisation fun | The Spinoff

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