The Hero of the saga, an Icelandic warrior and son of a great general turned freehold farmer. Thorfinn starts the series as a violent, revenge-driven warrior in employ of his own father's killer. The saga follows his growth from his origins into the "true warrior" exemplified by his father.
Anti-Hero: When first met, Thorfinn is a sullen boy who lives only for revenge and gives little if any thought to matters not related to killing Askeladd. He grows out of it.
You Killed My Father: Askeladd killed Thors, so Thorfinn has to avenge him by killing Askeladd. It's deconstructed. Not only does the oath of vengeance pretty much ruin Thorfinn's life, but Askeladd makes it clear to him that he's an idiot who has no real clue what really wanting to kill someone means. When Askeladd is mortally wounded he tells Thorfinn he can finish it if he likes, and Thorfinn isn't able to do it, instead getting a Heroic BSOD and attacking Askeladd's killer.
Characters introduced in the first arc.
"Askeladd", son of Olaf, aka Lucius Artorius Castius
A danish mercenary commander of mysterious origins, driven to excel through his own unknown motivations. Askeladd serves as antagonist and surrogate father-figure to Thorfinn during the first arc of the saga, pushing around the younger man through having killed his father Thors and using the promise of revenge to make Thorfinn follow him. Through his Welsh mother, he is a direct descendant of King Arthur and aims to change the world by putting an end to viking culture while keeping Wales safe.
Awesomeness by Analysis: It's not his freakish strength or speed that makes Askeladd so dangerous, it's his mind and his ability to read people. Only Thors ever gets the better of him.
Badass: Probably the second-greatest warrior seen in the series. Only Thors is seen beating him, and being on the 'Thors beat you' list doesn't disqualify anyone from this label.
Heroic Sacrifice: Given the choice of sacrificing Canute or Wales, Askeladd picks "himself" and assassinates Sweyn Forkbeard at the cost of his own life.
Lonely at the Top: Askeladd doesn't really have anyone he can relate to as an equal. Thors was the closest he got, and he had to kill him. Bjorn claims that his professed hate for everyone else probably mirrors a lot of hate for himself.
Only Friend: He calls Bjorn this just before he kills him. Judging by his reactions afterwards, he may even have been genuine.
Lightning Bruiser: He's just as quick as Thorfinn, and more physically powerful (Though not to the same extent as Thorkell).
Manipulative Bastard: He's excellent at playing politics, having orchestrated his father's assassination and pinned the blame on one of his brothers. He employs this skill against Sweyn as well, but is Out-Gambitted at the most crucial moment.
Morality Pet: Askeladd has a soft spot for his mother's homeland of Wales, and for Thorfinn as well.
Mysterious Past: He intentionally cultivates an air of mystery. If they know nothing of your origins, they cannot blackmail you.
No Place for Me There: All but outright states that in being no better than a viking he's lost all rights to trying to build a better world, despite having both the ability and bloodline to become king of Wales or a powerful Norse chief.
Not So Different: He's essentially Thors without a family to care for or the martial pacifism, actively working towards making a more peaceful world.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Askeladd usually presents a cheerful, joking and jovial attitude to employers and strangers to catch them off their guard. His true nature is far more straight-laced.
OOC Is Serious Business: Towards the end of the first arc, as he loses his men, sees Canute turn into someone who can make his dreams come true and makes an enemy of King Sweyn, Askeladd becomes increasingly morose and introspective. It comes to head in his final 'duel' with Thorfinn when Askeladd forgoes his usual attitude and just beats Thorfinn bloody with his bare hands before giving him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech on how he killed his own father.
Rags to Riches: Legitimised bastard of a Danish lord turned mercenary commander turned advisor to the future king of Denmark, England and Norway.
Spirit Advisor: To Thorfinn during the Farmland Arc, continuing in much the same fashion as when he was alive.
Supporting Leader: A villainous version. While Thorfinn remains the protagonist and viewpoint of the first arc, Askeladd is the one who drives the plot for much of it and it is his plans that eventually become the focus of the prologue and he and Canute are the ones whose actions end it.
Vague Age: It's never made entirely clear how old Askeladd is. He's clearly got at least a decade on Thorfinn and is hinted to be younger than Thorkell, but the flashbacks back to his childhood lack a date marker.
Villainous Friendship: Askeladd and Bjorn dance between the line between Type I and Type III, depending on Askeladd's mood. Just before he kills him, Askeladd cements it as a type I by claiming Bjorn was his only friend.
Thorfinn's dead father, the mightiest and most favoured captain of the Jomsvikings mercenary band turned anonymous Icelandic farmer and family man. Thors only appears in the saga for less than ten chapters during a flashback, but Thorfinn spends the first two arcs haunted by his death or trying to live up to the ideals Thors attempted to impact on him.
Badass: Thorkell describes him as the one man he could never beat, and the flashback sees him take on Askeladd and defeat him handily.
Spell My Name with an S: "Thors" is not a common Norse name, and would probably be better represented as "Thor" (with all its mythological undertones). His name as spelled would give Thorfinn the somewhat silly surname of "Thorssson".
The Starscream: Whatever it is he's working for, it's not what it looks like.
Thorkell "The Tall"
Former captain of the Jomsvikings, Thorkell is an extremely tall and mighty and above all jovial warrior based on the historical/mythological figure of the same name. He has his own band of Blood Knights defined by their tendency to switch to whichever side is losing so they'll have the stronger side to fight against. He is also Thorfinn's great-uncle.
An Axe to Grind: He dual-wields Dane axes, two-handed poleaxes designed to stop horses in their tracks and break shield walls.
Blood Knight: This is his most prominent personality trait. Upon realizing that the Vikings would steamroll through England, he decides that sort of war is no fun, and so switches to the losing side. When Askeladd declares his intention to kill King Sweyn Forkbeard to his face, in front of his whole court, Thorkell's knee-jerk reaction is to demand they switch places so he can kill Sweyn.
Luke, I Am Your Father: He's the uncle of Thorfinn's mother, making Thorfinn his great-nephew. Revealed when they are duelling.
My Greatest Failure: He mentions that his greatest regret was not following Thors when he met him again after his "death" and discovering what a "true warrior" was. Which is why he'll follow post-Character Development Canute because there's no way he's letting it happen to him twice.
Warrior Poet: He's capable of being eloquent and thoughtful, especially on the concept of battles and duty. Most of the time, however, he doesn't want to, and he's completely unable to grasp Thors' philosophy on what a "true warrior" is.
World's Strongest Man: He may not be as skilled as Thors or Askeladd, but his prodigious strength makes up for it.
Worthy Opponent: He regards Thorfinn as this, being the son of the one man he could never beat.
Prince Canute, son of Sweyn King Canute "The Great"
Youngest son of Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark and England. Based on the historical king of the same name, making his character arc somewhat of a Foregone Conclusion to any student of history. Starting the story as a girly-looking Royal Brat, he comes into importance during the latter half of the first arc and is an important background figure and ultimate antagonist of the second arc.
Break Them by Talking: Willibald pretty much breaks him with his speech on true love, destroying his Shrinking Violet persona. Later, Thorfinn manages a more benign version, making him realise he's not alone in trying to make a better world.
Not under closer examination. Griffith is a Working Class Hero who starts out with strong convictions towards becoming a king and is Driven by Envy, making him Gone Horribly Wrong and ending up becoming the Big Bad. Canute by comparison is a Sheltered Aristocrat with no convictions who is broken, rebuilt, decides to use his already high status to make a better world and who is ultimately pulled from the brink of extremism by a chance encounter with Thorfinn and becomes a Big Good.
You Are Not Alone: What Thorfinn eventually makes him realise by challenging Canute not to muck up too badly so Thorfinn won't have so much trouble building a place for everyone Canute neglects, which softens his stance.
Real Men Cook: Inverted. In a society that puts no 'manliness' stock in cooking (it is seen as slave's work, at least to the upper class), Canute's ability to cook becomes another strike against him as someone who's not a real man.
Mercy Kill: Askeladd is eventually forced to give him a mercy-blow after he takes a gut wound that gets infected.
Undying Loyalty: He's one of only two people in his band that Askeladd trusts unconditionally (the other being Thorfinn).
Villainous Friendship: Askeladd and Bjorn dance between the line between Type I and Type III, depending on Askeladd's mood. Just before he kills him, Askeladd cements it as a type I by claiming Bjorn was the closest thing he's ever had to a friend amongst vikings.
Non-Action Guy: The kids in the village make fun of him for not being a strong warrior.
Ylva, daughter of Helga
Anger Born of Worry: Once Thorfinn returns home. When she misstakes him for a conman she strangles him a a bit. Once she's convinced it's actually her long lost, thought dead little brother she outright assaults him.
Death by Adaptation: Well, he died in Real Life after a very short reign of England too, but he probably didn't get his head cut off by the last scion of king Arthur.
Nerves of Steel: Not even Askeladd putting a sword to his neck visibly unnerves him.
The Un-Smile: Sweyn's face is so decrepit that even his smiles become creepy by association. The fact that we know none of them are genuine probably doesn't help either.
The Uriah Gambit: He puts Canute in charge of besieging London — against defenders led by Thorkell — in a blatant attempt to get him killed or otherwise made not his problem.
Characters introduced in the second arc
A slave from the Danelaw who is the first character introduced in the second arc. Purchased by Ketil to work on his farm, he encounters Thorfinn and becomes his first true friend and blood-brother. Having only seen the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed, he is extremely focused on social justice.
And Now for Someone Completely Different: The first chapter of the second arc doesn't even include Thorfinn until the very end. Einar continues to be the viewpoint character for a good while afterwards.
Dogged Nice Guy: Towards Arneis, a fellow slave, who either never picks up on it or chooses not to.
Get Ahold Of Yourself Man: He attempts to take vengeance on Ketil for killing Arneis. Thorfinn, who has already been down that road, has to knock it out of him.
Non-Idle Rich: No matter how rich his farmland gets, he constantly strives to improve upon it.
Pet the Dog: He spends a lot of the early farmland arc showing what a kind and soft-hearted man he is. This only makes it all the more noticeable when he breaks.
Reasonable Authority Figure: A generally kind-hearted man who allows his slaves to buy their freedom through honest work, and trusts men Snake and his fellow outlaws as household guards. Being outlawed by Canute did not go well over with him.
Verbal Tic: He tends to say "aye" to himself a lot, as in thought.
The "old master", Ketil's (now-retired) father and former owner of the Ketil farm who spends his retirement working his own field.
Perpetual Frowner: He has a constant sour look on his face. He's a nice man despite it, however.
Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Constantly brutally honest and has little regard or care for things like social class and thralldom in how he deals with people.
Vitriolic Best Buds: With Snake, who seems to pay more attention to him than his own flesh-and-blood family.
Thorgil, son of Ketil
Ketil's older son. A picture of the norse warrior ideal as a man who enjoys fighting and killing. He left the farm to serve in Canute's household and dislikes the rest of his family for their peaceable nature.
Big Brother Mentor: To his little brother, in the stern, disapproving style only a real big brother who's been looked up at all his life can manage. About the only thing he succeeds at is to make Ormar realise what he's not.
Blood Knight: Relishes the thought of having to fight his former liege lord.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: As opposed to his brother. Thorgil is as hung-up on being a 'true warrior' as Ormar but he has the strength and skill to live up to it.
Social Darwinist: Believes that battle is the means in which the worthy are separated from those who aren't.
Ormar, son of Ketil
Ketil's younger son and heir to the farm. Starts out the arc as a bratty rebellious teen with designs of following in his brother's footsteps, who goes through severe Character Developmentand ultimately proves himself a better man than his father.
A Real Man Is a Killer: Inverted: Ormar only becomes a 'real man' by realising that this trope doesn't hold after killing a man in a fixed duel.
Unwitting Pawn: He is the (unwilling and unwitting) linchpin in Canute's plan to appropriate his family's farm.
"World of Cardboard" Speech: Delivers one near the end when he decides to surrender to Canute and accept outlawry to spare further loss of life, pointing out that he can never live up to the Nordic warrior ideal of 'death before dishonour' nor does he want to.
A beautiful Swedish houseslave on Ketil's farm. Einar has a rather transparent crush on her.
Death by Despair: While she probably suffered from a cerebral haemorrhage, her death evokes this trope pretty hard.
Imperiled in Pregnancy: She is secretly pregnant with her master Ketil's child. When her former husband comes to take her back - slaying several guards of the farm in the process - and she tries to escape with him, Ketil does not take it well. Just before her punishment, she reveals to him she is pregnant with his child; his response is to suspect that the child isn't his, and beat her half to death. And not only half, as she dies shortly after.
Unofficial 'captain of the guards' of Ketil's farm as the leader of the warrior band who have settled on the grounds. Snake serves as an on-off antagonist and/or ally to Einar and Thorfinn during the farmland arc. He is hinted to have been a former member of the Varangian Guard, given his use of a sabre and his ability to read an orthodox bible.
Bad Ass: After Gardar kills several of his men, he defeats him without taking as much as a scratch. Also, he is able to fight evenly with Thorfinn.
He's also one of only two characters to have slain a Jomsviking on-screen in a fair fight (Askeladd being the other).
Brilliant, but Lazy: He may look like a scruffy vagrant, and he mostly acts like a scruffy vagrant, but Thorfinn considers him in a fighting class similar to Askeladd. He could probably have joined the Jomsvikings or the household of a king (and is implied to have done just that in the past), but chooses to live on a farm instead.
Dark and Troubled Past: He and his men are all former outlawsnote under Norse law, someone with no legal protection or rights to life, liberty or property: Anyone could kill him without legal repercussions. As such they stick together and serve Ketil because he's willing to take them.
The Fettered: He may not have much pride, honour or friends left, but by gum he's sticking to what little he's got.
A Swedish slave from a nearby farm who decided to kill his master, his master's whole family, and burn down the house. He is now running into the territory that Thorfinn and Einar work.
Bad Ass: He is able to kill several guards while wounded and weakened.
Heartbroken Badass: He is Arneis' husband and they were happily married until the men left the women on a campaign to secure a mine. The women were left defenceless during this period and this is when a group of Vikings raided the village. Most of the women were sold into slavery and Arneis' son, Hjalti was murdered. Gardar was also made into a slave and spent the next five years feeling incredible guilt over what happened.
Historical-Domain Character: Probably based on Ulf Torgilsson a real Danish Jarl from the 11th century and one of Canutes most trusted men. Unfortunately he ended up betraying Canute by making Canutes son Hardeknut king, wich in practice would make Ulf Denmarks real ruler. When Norway and Sweden invaded Denmark in a joint attack, Ulf helped Canute defeat them. Howeve Canute never forgave Ulf for his treachery and later had him murdered.
A young, feisty woman who longs to become a sailor and travel the world. She is a widower - Gudrid was once married to Leif's brother and thus she is his sister-in-law. She is set to be re-married to Haafdan's son, Sigurd, but dreads living the life of a "normal woman" where she will be locked in the house for life and will never experience adventure.
Foregone Conclusion: If you're up to scratch with your Nordic history then you'll know she is Thorfinn's future wife and mother of his child, Snorri (who is the first European born on American soil).
Important Haircut: Cuts her long hair to look "less like a woman" because she wants to perform masculine duties.