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God of War Ragnarök’s Odin: A Devious Genius

A deep dive into the All-Father’s schemes and machinations.

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This is Odin’s Game, and He Plays it Well

Right from the very start, Odin catches the player off guard.

For the entirety of God of War 2018, though never actually seen, the All-Father was built up to be something truly terrible – a force to be reckoned with, a master manipulator, and a cunning tactician. Freya and Mimir despise him for what he did to them. Fear him for what he might do next. Knowing all this, players went into God of War Ragnarök with an image built up in their heads, and prepared themselves for the worst.

Then, less than an hour into the game – once the scene has been set and the player has been introduced to Thor in a perfect pay-off to his tease at the end of God of War 2018 – Odin shows up at Kratos’ door. And he isn’t imposing or frightening, he barely even registers as a threat. He is a small, wiry old man with a balding head and a slight stiffness to his movements. He is dwarfed by Kratos, yet, through a masterful portrayal by Richard Schiff, there’s an undeniable cleverness to him. He knows something the player does not.

Something immediately feels off about him. Unperturbed by Kratos’ sheer scale, Odin strides right on in, grabs a seat, and sits at the table, uninvited. Despite not even coming up to the God of War’s chest, he instantly takes control of the room, making himself at home, drinking from Kratos’ cup, and talking the entire time. Odin never lets anyone else get a word in, and that’s all part of a deliberate tactic of manipulation – to read his opponent, and figure out his next move, without ever giving them a chance to react.

He immediately launches in with a threat, confronting Kratos for killing Thor’s sons, Magni and Modi, only to instantly brush it aside and forgive him, saying “they were pretty useless anyway”. He flatters Kratos, mocks Mimir, but does it all in an off-hand, almost jovial manner, never once pausing between one thought and the next, never letting his words sink in until it’s too late to respond. He asks for peace, even promises to keep Freya off their backs, to keep Atreus safe from her vengeful fury. He says everything he thinks Kratos wants to hear, but comes across as a little too genial, too quick to want to call things off.

Kratos is a stubborn man, and he sees right through him.

The player then sees their first glimpse at Odin’s true power when, in response to his offer of peace, Kratos says “No”. With a single word, Odin has Thor launch Kratos into the upper atmosphere, putting him in his place with a fight that perfectly echoes the Stranger fight from the first game, and shows Kratos just how strong Asgardians can be, and how much work he’ll have to put in to defeat them. But, of course, this move isn’t just to make Kratos feel small, but to get Atreus alone.

As said previously, Kratos is stubborn. Odin has no way of bending him to his will. Atreus, on the other hand… Atreus is strong and capable, kind-hearted, but he’s still young, naïve. His honorable, virtuous nature can be easy to exploit. Especially if he thinks he’s doing the right thing.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - Kratos knows Odin is not to be trusted.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – Kratos knows Odin is not to be trusted.

Odin and Atreus

It’s never revealed word for word what exactly Odin says to Atreus during their time alone, but the gist of it is: he would like Atreus to come to Asgard, willingly, to help find another solution to end Ragnarök, without any bloodshed. He then leaves before Kratos returns, but the seed has already been planted. And it plays on Atreus’ mind, gets under his skin.

Everyone has told young Atreus never to trust Odin. Everyone. Kratos because he knows the true nature of Gods. Mimir because of how he was imprisoned and tortured by Odin. And Freya because he used her for her magic and when she was no longer useful to him, he belittled her, robbed her of much of her power, prevented her from visiting other realms, and prevented her from seeing her son. Her one ray of light in the darkness.

Every story he has been told portrays Odin as a cruel, callous oppressor, but where do these stories come from? Mimir, of course. A man who despises Odin to the very core. Odin himself offers a new point of view. Kratos and Mimir believe hiding away is the best course of action – you can’t start Ragnarök if you don’t go looking for trouble. Whereas Odin wants to take an active role in preventing the end of the world.

And so, Atreus is conflicted. He wants to do the right thing, wants to help his friends and his family, but he can’t sit still and just wait for things to happen to them. He wants to act. Or at least, he wants to know what Odin knows. He wants to know if Ragnarök can be stopped.

So, against his father’s wishes, Atreus goes to Asgard to meet Odin. He tells himself he’ll trick the All-Father, pretend to work for him when in reality, he’ll be spying for the good guys. But deep down, he knows that Odin will see right through him.

And it’s in Asgard that he learns what Odin is truly after.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - Seldom outright lying, Odin is honest about what he wants most.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – Seldom outright lying, Odin is honest about what he wants most.

Control Your Fate

In the old Norse myths, Odin zealously sought prophecies. He needed to know what would happen next so that he could either work to prevent it, or twist it in his favor. And he wasn’t above killing and deceit to get what he wanted. Knowledge is power – the power to change destiny, the power to control. And he seeks to control others’ destinies as much as he seeks to control his own. And in the game, he’s no different.

In God of War Ragnarök, Odin shows Atreus a jade green tear in reality – a rip in the fabric of time and space – and he hears it calling to him.

Truth, that is what Odin desires above all else. Not just control, but knowledge – knowledge of what comes next when he dies, knowledge of the universe, reality, and beyond. In his own words, “Truth. All the answers. To find out why we’re here”. And he believes that looking into this tear will grant him this wish. Only he needs Atreus’ help to do so.

No one, not even a God, can look into the tear without the help of a magic mask. The only problem is, the mask has been broken into fragments, and those fragments have been scattered across the Nine Realms. Odin doesn’t know where to begin. But he hopes that some indecipherable text and Atreus’ gift for language can lead him in the right direction.

Atreus, naturally, is hesitant to trust Odin, and Odin understands this all too well. So, he plays to the boy’s better side. While explaining his own reasons for wanting to seek the truth beyond the tear, he peppers in Atreus’ hopes and fears as well. Perhaps the knowledge locked away, just out of reach, could hold the key to preventing Ragnarök, to save those they love from their fates…

Reluctantly, though no doubt intrigued, Atreus agrees to help him. It may seem like he was too easily convinced, but Odin has been influencing him from the moment they first met.

A Master of Manipulation

Odin has perfected the art of manipulation. Every single thing he does, every word, every action, is carefully thought out to ensure a desired outcome. Every moment he is on screen is an act, a game to win both Atreus and the player to his side.

During their very first meeting in Kratos and Atreus’ hut, Odin jumps straight in with offering peace, with finding a simple solution to averting Ragnarök. While Kratos (in Atreus’ eyes, at least) just wants to hide, to run away from the problem. Odin shows Atreus that they think alike, that they both want the same thing. He then proceeds to invite Atreus to his home in Asgard, but only if the boy wants to go willingly. He’s not a monster; he’s not going to kidnap anybody.

Then, when Atreus does finally agree to visit Asgard, Odin’s ravens drop him off outside the giant stone walls. This is no accident. Odin’s ravens can take people almost anywhere. The All-Father deliberately dropped Atreus outside so that he would have to work his way to him. He made it a challenge (one Atreus couldn’t back down from, because he had no other way home), something the boy had to overcome so that he would be relieved when he finally worked his way to Odin, his prize.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - Odin is open, even jovial, with Atreus, but every sentence is undercut with the hint of violence.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – Odin is open, even jovial, with Atreus, but every sentence is undercut with the hint of violence.

Atreus’ route to and up the walls not only showed off the beauty and relative peace of Odin’s realm, but also took him past a settlement of Midgardians that Odin had “graciously” invited into Asgard to protect them from the horrors of Fimbulwinter. It was even contrived that the first God Atreus met there was the deeply unlikeable jerk, Heimdall. The purple-eyed know-it-all distrusts Atreus from the start, and makes it his mission to drive him away, even outright attacking Atreus in full view of the other Asgardians, only for Odin to swoop in and save the day.

Despite presumably setting Heimdall up to this confrontation, Odin plays it off as though Heimdall is just being overeager and overprotective. He brushes him and his concerns aside while praising Atreus. When Heimdall says he can see Atreus is planning to betray him, Odin makes him look foolish by saying he already knew that, it was obvious, but the boy wasn’t going to kill anyone the moment he got to Asgard, was he? He even proves this point by deliberately turning his back on Atreus, despite his drawn bow, showing the boy he trusts him, and that Atreus should extend that kindness back to him.

From there, Odin takes Atreus on a tour around Asgard, giving him an “unbiased” account of life there, showing him how much everyone respects him. He mentions Kratos, complimenting him, yet at the same time deriding his parenting skills. He jokes about Mimir, pretending he’s put their past behind them. He opens up to Atreus, shows him the tear, tells him his plans, even asks the boy for help. He appears far more accepting of Atreus’ ideas than Kratos ever was.

Even when Odin appears busy during later visits – reading through documents, searching for answers – he makes a point to show that he will always have time for Atreus. The exact opposite of Kratos’ closed nature. Odin even offers Atreus gifts – such as Ingrid, the magical sword – and knowledge. And when Atreus asks to leave, he doesn’t get mad, only says he’s disappointed, but will always be there waiting if Atreus ever decides to come back.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - A gift is an easy way to change someone's opinion of you.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – A gift is an easy way to change someone’s opinion of you.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Even though there are hints of truth in everything he says and does, it’s all an act. As Mimir said at the start of the game, “If Odin tells you the snow is white, he’s lying!”

He’s a quick study, is Odin. He knows how best to turn people to his side. With Atreus, he comes off as a little goofy, telling little jokes, pretending he doesn’t know where things or people are, but it’s all set against an undercurrent of thinly veiled violence. Laugh, joke with me, but you will do as I say, or else.

A trick he pulls with everyone, is in how he speaks. He talks quickly, hopping from one thought to another without giving any one sentence enough time to fully sink in before moving on to the next. Never giving anyone else a chance to respond. He speaks honestly (mostly), is even jokey and complementary, but carefully mixes in biting putdowns and threats. He gets people on his side by making them look up to him, want to seek his approval, while at the same time subjugating them through the fear of what he might do if they do not comply. Just look at what happened to Tyr and Mimir.

With Thor, he takes a different approach. Thor is powerful, perhaps powerful enough to take Odin down, if he ever had a mind too. And so, Odin keeps him feeling small. He constantly questions Thor’s intelligence, belittles him, makes him feel insecure about himself and his family. Emotional bullying, through and through. Odin keeps Thor from thinking his actions through by saying he will do the thinking for him.

There’s only one person Odin cannot control. One person he fears. A God Killer.

Kratos cannot be manipulated, threatened, or subjugated. Kratos is stubborn. He knows Odin is bad news, and nothing will sway him from that conclusion. But that doesn’t stop Odin from trying. First with his speech at the very beginning of the game, and then again after Kratos acquires the Draupnir spear. He tries to control Kratos, first through flattery and promises of peace, and then when that doesn’t work, through outright cajoling and threats of violence. That doesn’t work either. Yet despite his posturing, despite his hatred, he can’t kill Kratos. Not only because he’s not strong enough, but because killing Kratos would make it impossible to manipulate Atreus.

But of course, knowing Odin’s true nature means characters (and the player) are instinctively wary of him. No matter how hard he tries, some part of them will not trust him. He knows this. He’s planned for this. For you see, all of these tricks and attempts at manipulation were designed to draw eyes away from the real deception.

Tyr.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - It was all a lie.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – It was all a lie.

A Twist of the Knife

As players discover in an explosive twist right near the end of the game, the Tyr they had rescued, the God who had been living with them and was a party to every secret conversation, was in fact Odin in disguise. This was his ultimate deception.

Despite playing Tyr as a caricature – turning him into a coward who has lost his fighting spirit, who immediately knocks down any plan involving violence – Kratos, Atreus, Mimir, Freya, and even the player trusted him. They saw him as broken by his years of solitude and torture at Odin’s hands. They love Tyr for what he did in the past, for the alliances and truces he brokered, the good he did, and so they accept him, no matter what. Odin plays on their kind-hearted natures, their want to do just as much good as Tyr, and he plays them perfectly. Especially Atreus, whose idea it was to free Tyr in the first place. Even Kratos cannot help but trust him, even if it’s just for the sake of his son.

As Tyr, Odin continues his pursuit of knowledge and control by making himself a part of every major discussion and decision the party of heroes makes. He learns of their plans and at every turn, attempts to subvert them. He tries to swing them away from attacking Asgard or killing Odin by appealing to their best selves – by asking them to be better. He plays them all against each other, showing them that their party will fall apart if they aren’t all on the same page as him.

And, from the outside, he appears to be speaking truth. To find a way to avert Ragnarök, to avoid killing Odin, to even make peace with him, all in an effort to prevent further bloodshed, seems like the right thing to do. But to never seek violence, no matter what, is a step too far. Some men cannot be stopped unless they are forced to. And if no one fights back, Odin will never be defeated.

He deceived them all. And would have gotten away with it, were it not for one pesky dwarf.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - It's the nature of the thing.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – It’s the nature of the thing.

Odin’s Downfall

Everything Odin has worked for, every lie, every deceit, crumbles apart at the last possible moment, just before the attack on Asgard. And it’s all because of Brok. The dwarf notices the cracks in Odin’s façade, sees that everything “ain’t quite melding together right”.

Brok sees the nature of the thing, not its form.

When, in too much of a rush to claim the completed mask as his own, Odin (still as Tyr) slips up and reveals he knows a secret way into Asgard, Brok starts to question him. And this, in turn, results in the others questioning him too. Kratos confronts him, saying they should have been told about this “secret way into Asgard”, and Odin back-peddles, saying doing so would have got them all killed.

Odin realizes he’s losing control – the one thing he simply cannot abide – and so takes the mask for himself and tries to leave. But Brok stops him. He wants details about this “secret path”, he wants to know why Tyr is suddenly calling Atreus “Loki”, and he wants him to give the mask back to the boy.

In this moment, Odin no longer has the upper hand, he’s losing control over the situation, and so, he acts rashly, without fully thinking through the consequences. He murders Brok, revealing himself. Then he holds Atreus at knifepoint, demanding Kratos hands over the mask, or else. Odin is completely surrounded at this point, yet still asserts that he’s in control of the situation. He even yells it out. He simply cannot conceive of being powerless. Yet still, he’s forced to flee.

Odin’s best-laid plans were undone by one stubborn dwarf. And he lost his precious mask in the process.

This is when the characters, and the player, start to see Odin as he truly is, as the selfish, spiteful, heartless monster who doesn’t care who he harms as long as he gets what he wants.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - When someone becomes a problem, Odin removes them with extreme prejudice.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – When someone becomes a problem, Odin removes them with extreme prejudice.

Hubris

When they meet again in Asgard, Odin immediately shows his true colors. He sends Thor to do his dirty work for him, sends him to put Kratos down once and for all. But Kratos has grown since their last encounter. He defeats Thor, but refuses to kill him. Instead, Kratos appeals to his better nature – to his love for his family, for his daughter – and Thor finally sees what Odin has been doing this entire time.

Odin appears then and demands that Thor kill Kratos. He continues his emotional bullying, telling Thor he’s nothing without him, that he can’t think for himself. But Thor has had enough. He says no, and Odin kills him. Odin kills him without a second thought, without hesitation. Thor is just a useless, broken tool to him now, to be thrown away. He never cared about him at all.

Thrud, Thor’s daughter, sees this all, yet Odin still tries to manipulate her. “They did this!” he cries, blaming Kratos for her father’s death. Even with everything collapsing around him (quite literally), he still strives for control, still tries to manipulate, to subjugate. But it doesn’t work. He’s slipping, and finally, everyone can see the bitter old man beneath the façade.

It’s then that Atreus breaks the magical mask, forever sealing the green tear in reality. What good would ultimate truth do anyone? It would only serve to make them paranoid, constantly trying to fight against fate. And it’s then that Odin loses all semblance of composure.

“What does it all mean?” he yells, raging against Atreus and Kratos. Robbed of his goal, his Truth, he becomes unstable, and volatile, and that’s just enough for Kratos and Atreus to finally stop him once and for all.

Atreus traps his soul within a marble. But violence begets violence, and Kratos, Atreus, Mimir, and even Freya have had enough to last a thousand lifetimes. They all choose to spare him. And then, in a final touch of hubris, Sindri smashes the marble in revenge for Brok. And Odin’s light is finally snuffed out.

Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios - Despite everything, Odin could not prevent his fate.
Image: Sony/Santa Monica Studios – Despite everything, Odin could not prevent his fate.

Odin is the perfect villain. A devious genius. A master of manipulation. He built his life around control – controlling his fate, controlling the people around him – but his arrogance and hot-headedness led to his downfall. Throughout the game, there are times when his emotions break through and he starts to lose composure, his Tyr mask starts to slip. He calls Freya “Frigg” just to annoy her, he gets genuinely angry with Brok for stealing his Draupnir ring, and many more. But that final outburst, the one that killed Brok, sealed his fate.

Odin is the perfect villain, but In the end, nothing could save him from himself.

Max Longhurst is a keen gamer, avid writer and reader, and former teacher. He first got into gaming when, at the age of 8, his parents bought him a PS2 and Kingdom Hearts for Christmas, and he’s never looked back. Primarily a PlayStation fan, he loves games with a rich single-player experience and stories with unexpected twists and turns.

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