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Film / The Raven Trilogy

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"Thungur Hnifur."note 

The Raven Trilogy is a series of Icelandic medieval adventure films written and directed by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson note  (whose first name means "Raven"). The films include When the Raven Flies (1984, a.k.a. Revenge of the Barbarians), Shadow of the Raven (1988) and The White Viking (1991). The films are not traditionally connected, but all take place in the same world in various stages of The Viking Age and deals with the same themes; family, revenge and religion. Although full of anachronisms and inventions, the films were (at the time) one of the truest portraits of Norse people and Vikings ever made. The films are as follows:

  • When the Raven Flies: Essentially Yojimbo with Vikings: as a child, the family of Gest is killed by marauding vikings from Norway. Twenty years later, the vikings have fled Harald Fairhair and set up in Iceland and Gest comes to wreak vengeance. The film takes place in the 9th century.
  • The Shadow of the Raven: In a re-telling of the myth of Tristan and Isolde, Icelander Trausti return home after studying theology in Norway and is drawn into a bloody vendetta when his clan engages in a feud over a stranded whale. The film takes place in the 11th century.
  • The White Viking: King Olaf Tryggvason forces the young Viking Askur to covert Iceland to Christianity, while holding his pagan wife Embla hostage in a monastery. The film takes place in the 10th century.

The Raven Trilogy provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Fistful of Rehashes: Like A Fistfulof Dollars, the film is an unofficial adaptation of Red Harvest and Yojimbo, but features enough original material and characters not to be considered a full-on rip-off.
  • Animal Motifs: As the title suggest, ravens are ever present. Their mythological importance is only touched upon in the second film tho.
  • Anti-Hero: Gest is not above tricking Thord into killing his own son to get vengeance, and he gets a lot of innocent people killed in his revenge spree.
  • Batman Gambit: Thord's final scheme to get to Gest is to pretend to sacrifice his son to lure Gest out. It backfires.
  • Blasphemous Boast:
  • Bittersweet Ending: Despite all the death and tragedy in Shadow of the Raven,
  • Burn the Witch!: Embla is considered a witch (or rather a Norn) by the Christians and is tied up in the temple of Odin as it is burned. She is only saved when Godbrandur agrees to convert.
  • Call-Back: The Kross farm is filmed in the same location as Thord's farmstead in the first film. But rather than simply recycling the old sets, it's revealed to actually be the same farm only 200 years later when Trausti visits his father's grave and we find Thord's helmet and cloak there along with his idol's of Odin and Thor, as well as Gest's throwing knifes.
  • Color-Coded Characters: In When the Raven Flies, Thord and his household wears dark colors and blacks while Erik wears reds. In Shadow, Trausti's family wears blacks while Isault's family wears whites and grays. The clan of the bishop wears yellows and browns. This even goes for their horses.
  • Cool Helmet:
    • The one used by Thord, which you can see in the picture up there. It's a reconstruction of the Swedish Vendel helmet No.XIV which is one of the coolest medieval battle helmets ever made.
    • Trausti gets a hold of it in Shadow and leads a squadron of Doom Troopers with similar helmets.
    • The helmets of king Olaf's soldiers have leather masks attached to them, like the Sutton Hoo helmet.
  • Lighter And Softer: Odd example with The White Viking. The theatrical cut intercuts the storylines of Askur and Embla. The darker parts of Embla's story are cut and the Icelandic storyline made more comic, making it slightly lighter than the other films. Embla on the other hand cuts the Iceland plot completely, taking away much of the humor, and reinserts a deeply tragic sideplot which changes the nature of the entire story. Also, the ending of Embla borders on downright Downer Ending.
  • Death Glare: Helgi Skúlason who plays Thord, has a brutal one.
  • Death of the Old Gods: In the second film, Iceland has (at least nominally) embraced Christianity. Rather than simply burning the old pagan idols, the Icelanders are shown to have symbolically buried them by placing them in the tombs of their pagan ancestors.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Essentially, Gest wanted to get revenge on three people: Thord, Erik and Björn. He ends up responsible for the deaths of way more people than that and many of them were innocent.
  • Easy Evangelism: Thangbranudr believes in this. He is completely out of touch.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Thord really does love Einar and is surprisingly tender with Gest's sister.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: King Olaf is an schizophrenic Knight Templar that tortures and burns people alive, but he keeps the promises he has made and although he wants Embla for himself, he never forces himself upon her and keeps his promise that she won't be raped.
  • Evil Matriarch: Sigrid in Shadow of the Raven tricks her son into killing his own cousin whom he genuinely loved.
  • FakeGerman: Thanbrandur is played by a Swede, speaking Icelandic. His Swedish accent stands in for a German accent, unlike other Swedes in the trilogy who are dubbed.
  • Doom Troopers: Trausti's hired men in Shadow wear dark cloaks and carry helmets with protective masks.
    • The Christians in The White Viking up the ante with really creepy facial masks in leather and black outfits.
  • Downer Ending: The first film. After killing all of the vikings, Gest asks his sister and her son by Thord, Einar, to come with them to Ireland. She blatantly refuses and as the confused Gest rides away he is watched by Einar who then digs up Gest's buried weapons and looks grimly after Gest, indicating the violence is about to be repeated.
  • The Dung Ages: The films make note of the vikings washing habits. It does not show that such habits exists at all though.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Thord's brother gives him paranoid advise while Gestur's sister suggest that he be more trusting and less violent. The advise Thord's brother gives if are all bad and only serves to help Gestur, while the advise given by Gestur's sister would help him. Then Thord's brother wants to usurp him.
  • Grim Up North: A faithful representation of Iceland as it appears in the sagas: brimming with blood feuds, outlaws and violence.
  • The Ghost: Björn and Erik's father in the first film are relevant to the plot, but Björn only appears briefly in the opening to deliver the Arc Words.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Olaf I was probably not a pleasant fellow, but he wasn't the giggling maniac of The White Viking.
  • Hollywood History: Zig-zaged. Shadow and The White Viking are probably among the most historically correct Viking films there are. That said, there are anachronisms, such as the Awesome, but Impractical leather helmets/battle masks that are based on historical helmets, but which predate the Viking age and were certainly not in leather.
  • Horny Vikings: Averts the Hollywood cliches and bases them more around actual facts about the period. The tone is very faithful to the Icelandic sagas and certainly strives for authenticity. While pretty authentic, however, it's not without its creative license with historical details.
  • Imagine Spot: Through vague in The White Viking, in Embla it's made more clear that the vision Embla sees of her father calling for Odin is simply a hallucination and since the scenes explaining Askur's death were a ploy, his reappearance seems more like another hallucination.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: In the first film, Thord is led to believe that Odin wants him to sacrifice his son. The son is one of the few characters to make it, playing the trope straight.
    • Played straight and invoked in-story in the second film, where characters take care so that Sol will not be harmed.
    • The saddest and most powerful scene of Embla, is when the main couple reburies their infant child. The puppet is disturbingly real, which adds to the Tear Jerker moment.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: The use of Á Sprengisandi and Sudurnesjamenn as themes beyond Rule of Cool is certainly this. It might seem odd to use two modern folk tunes in films set in the Viking age. Unless you are Icelandic or familiar with these songs in particular that is. Á Sprengisandi which is used as the riding theme in Raven is the tune of a song about riding. In Shadow, Sudurnesjamenn, which is played in scenes surrounding the conflict of the stranded whale, is a song about fishermen in southern Iceland, where the film takes place.
  • Made a Slave: Gest's sister, through it never made clear if she is still Thord's Sex Slave or the lady of the farm.
  • Made of Iron: Trausti survives a house burning to the ground, being stabbed with a spear and an attempt at boiling him alive.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Gest is this. His Arc Words are "I am your guest" which is symbolic, because Sacred Hospitality was extremely important to the Vikings. The moment that Gest called himself Thord's guest, Thord HAS to accommodate him, even though it's obvious that Gest wants to kill him. Also, his speech about his various identities echoes Odin's speech in Grimnismál, adding further insult to injury.
  • Meaningful Name: Gest/Gestur literally means "guest."
  • The protagonists of The White Viking are called Askur and Embla, the first humans in Norse mythology.
  • Naked in Mink: Embla on her wedding night. Mind you, the actress was 17 when the scene was shot.
  • Nasty Party: The wedding in Shadow basically turns into the Red Wedding when bishop Hördur's men set fire to Isault's farmstead and massacre anyone trying to escape.
  • Naytheist: Inverted with Thorgeir: he thinks religion is completely man-made but accepts people's need for belief. But he wants man to construct a peaceful god.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Gestur manages to kill Thord and avenge his family. The problem is that his sister actually wanted to stay with him, not out of love for Thord, but for the son she had borne him. The last scene is a shot of Gestur's newly orphaned nephew digging up his throwing knives.
  • No Name Given: Gest and his sister's names are never mentioned, in the first film; the only named main characters are Thord, Erik and Einar. Two minor villains are called Hjörleifur and Björn, the later is The Ghost. Thord's brother goes unnamed as does the mentally challenged assistant of Erik, who is referred to as "guard" in the official cast listings (the film credits the actors without attaching them to their character's names). Thrain Karlsson's character, the one who spares Gest as a child, is sometimes referred to as Olaf the childlover, due to his similarity to a character from Icelandic lorenote .
  • Ironic Echo: He is old enough to have seen too much.
  • Karma Houdini: King Olav: if you don't known his fate in history, he was eventually ganged up upon by Norwegian rebels, and the joint fleets of the Danes and the Swedes.
  • Knight Templar: Olaf I is a nasty example of the trope. Unlike the other Christian villains, he is actually fully devoted to God to the point of letting go of all personal grudges if it could help the spread of Christianity, in contrast with Thangbrandur.
  • Happiness in Slavery: It's ambiguous if Gest's sister is simply Thord's Sex Slave or the lady of the farm.
  • Historical Domain Character: Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway. Lawman Thorgeir & bishop Thangbrandur as well.
  • Playing Both Sides: How Gest works. Thord figures it out and retells a story about a boy killing two giants using this method.
  • Pet the Dog: Gest saving the slaves on the beach. Through, this is a subverted version. Despite what he tells them, Gest was going to kill the slavers anyway, so saving the slaves was just something that happened along the way.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Trausti gets one before his final confrontation: I will play with you later Sol. Now I will play with Hjoerleifur.
    • And don't forget this: I will forgive you when you are dead!
  • Putting on the Reich: Thord wears a cape with swastika embroidery. Swastikas were in fact used by pagan Scandinavians but their appearance here clearly signals Thord as evil. Ironically, Thord is completely down with racial mixing.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: What Thord and Eirik did in Ireland. Well, the film did not have a budget for them to burn anything but the first two parts.
    • Askur is a experienced Viking, and is in his mid teens.
  • Re-Cut: There are three different cuts of The White Viking. The producer's cut, which is the version most people are familiar with, the 5-hour mini-series and the director's cut Embla, which cuts out most of Askur's plot and focuses on Embla.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Invoked and subverted in the first film. Gest tries to play this against Thord and manipulates him by driving the ravens out of their nest, making Thord's farmstead be flooded with them, manipulating Erik's corpse into appearing to have moved, stealing Thord's sacred horse after overhearing Thord saying the dedication of the horse to Odin was a sufficient offering, and turning around the idols of Odin and Thor once Thord questions if Odin wants him to make a sacrifice.note  But Thord is only manipulated by this because he does not think Gest exists and the things Gest does are sacrileges that a Norseman would never dare to do. Once Gest's sister reveals the plot to save Einar Thord buys it at once and is furious that his devotion has been turned against him.
    • Played straight with Godbrandur in The White Viking, tho.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Gest is accused of this by his sister.
    • Arguably the case of the Bishop's clan.
  • Scenery Porn: The films are shot in Iceland and Norway, taking full advantage of the setting.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: In Shadow of the Raven the film's comic relief Antonioni goes back to Italy just before the film goes full on Red Wedding.
  • Sinister Minister: Bishop Hördur is a Fat Bastard who's a bishop in name only in contrast to the heroic Trausti who is devoted to Jesus on a philosophical way and lives by his word even when invoking Odin.
    • Thangbrandur want to murder Askur as vengeance for being expelled from Iceland by Askur's father Thorgeir, despite Askur being made a missionary by the king and sent to christen Iceland.
  • Smug Snake: Thord's brother, who is arguably much more evil than Thord and lacks Thord's (very viking) sense of honor and love for his family.
  • Sword Cane: Bishop Hördur uses one and Gest as well, another motif in the films.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Inverted in-story in When the Raven Flies. Erik's sidekick (simply credited as "Guard" in official casting notes) kills Olaf the childlover, because he took Erik's threat against Olaf literary. Erik even gives him an annoyed glare after the deed but says nothing about it, because the Guard is likely mentally challenged and it would be no use. This only serves to fuel Thord's suspicions about Erik. But when Thord and his men attack Erik's farmstead, the Guard is spared because Thord's brother considers him too stupid to be killed. He is the least intelligent character in the film and one of the few bad guys to survive.
  • You Killed My Father: In various forms in every film. In the first, the cycle of vengeance is shown as dark and endless, while in the second film, the main character is aware of this cycle and the film is about him desperately trying to break it.
  • Violence is the Only Option: Gestur thinks so. Trausti knows this will only end in death but the Bishop's clan forces him into resorting to this. Askur manages to somewhat avoid this thanks to Thorgeir.
  • Visual Pun: Some creative uses in The White Viking. The most notable is when Askur is having sex with the lady of the farm, and a statue of Freyr with a rather impressive limb starts rockingnote .
  • What Could Have Been: Back in 2005, Hrafn Gunlaugsson announced plans for a fourth film that would feature teenage and adolescent fundamentalist Vikings in the mountains and glaciers of Iceland. The film will in all likelihood never be made.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Thord's brother of all people. He even gives Hjörleifur a snide look for accidentally axing a woman in the head.

"Þessi hnífur á að vera þungur."