Dark Interpretations: Baldur in God of War. The Analysis of Video Game Essay Example
With how much modern media adores Loki and all their trickster ways, it is a surprise to discover how arguably their most important myth is left on the backburner! Our beloved trickster getting an innocent god struck down, and in turn beginning the downfall of the gods would be a compelling story except for one issue: Baldur himself. As a god of almost all good, he is not given much in the way of negative characterization and is only prominent in his tales of immortality and death, with a large stretch of time between each myth. While this works well in a myth context, where the story is mostly narratively driven, his lack of fault falls short in more modern, character-driven story telling. Moral ambiguity is all the rave, and Baldur’s original character leaves lots of room to play around with. This is where the God of War interpretation shines. The undefined character dynamics of the original allow the interpreters to create more morally ambiguous characters while staying true to the source material.
The original tale, while important, has very little substance. Baldur, called simply Baldur the Good, has visions of his tragic death (Thury). A counsel is created, and it was decided that Frigg, his mother, was to exact an oath from almost everything on earth, which renders Baldur invincible. As a result, other gods enjoy throwing weapons at Baldur and watching them bounce off. Loki, seeing this, acquires the only thing that can still injured Baldur, young mistletoe, and creates a projectile weapon from it. He then gives this weapon to Baldur’s blind brother and directs him to throw the dart, which kills Baldur instantly. Not much is given about the relationships between characters, other than how familial connections.
Interestingly, The God of War franchise does not begin with Nordic mythology in its first installments. A brief summary is that Kratos, the main character, is the son of Zeus and after serving Ares for years, is tricked by Ares into killing his first wife and daughter. As retribution, he kills Ares and ascends to become the new God of War. In the latest game, God of War (2018), Kratos is travelling to Midgard with his son, Atreus, to honor his late second wife and scatter her ashes from the highest peak of the nine realms. During this journey, the duo meets the game’s version of Baldur.
While the framework of his tale of immortality remains the same, he experiences visions in his youth that cause his mother to intervene and turn him invincible, the game changes a few key details. Namely, his mother, called Freya in this version, casts a spell to make him invincible instead of the oath method, and one caveat to his invincibility is given: He loses the ability to feel anything, not just pain. As described by Baldur himself, “I can’t taste. I can’t smell. I can’t even feel the temperature of this room. Feasting, Drinking, Women. It’s all gone!” (God of War 2018). Set at least one hundred years after she cast the spell on him, he is introduced as a hateful and jaded character, seeking revenge against his mother for her “curse.”
The alteration of the method of invincibility and the added caveat are the catalysts for the rest of the game’s events. He meets our protagonists on a quest from Odin in the hopes of reversing the spell and attempts dangerous feats such as fighting Kratos in a failed attempt feel pain. This change serves a narrative purpose. As I mentioned previously, the original tale was interesting, but lacked the character that drives modern stories, as well as the moral greyness that many of us have come to love and expect. Even modern action heroes, such as Batman, have been altered over time to fit this modern obsession. By adding this caveat, it creates a more natural transition from perfect dog of purity to the villain of the franchise without sacrificing the elements of the story. The dynamic between the hero and the villian is more suspenseful. With his character traits given in the original tale, his villainy would lack any weight and the suspense between who will or even should win is maintained.
He also serves as the foil to both Kratos and Atreus in his rage. Kratos is attempting to be separate from his past of revenge, while Baldur’s mission for the last half of the game is to murder his mother for her spell upon him. Atreus is like Baldur in that they are both aggressive and act on impulse, showing what the young boy could become if he does not change his ways. The change also places his mother into a questionable moral standpoint.
She is aware of mistletoe being the cure but lies to Baldur and actively attempts to conceal this fact by throwing away Atreus’ mistletoe arrows. While Baldur’s death was ultimately brought on by Freya’s actions, the change in the game has an extra edge of tragedy by showing how broken he was after a century of torment. Unlike his mythological counterpart, he is overjoyed when the curse is broken and revels in every sensation he can experience, even as he dies. The changes create a more compelling character narratively and makes his death feel more inevitable, as opposed to a scheme acted out by Loki for undiscernible reasons. Interestingly, the game also places Loki in a more sympathetic angle. Atreus, effectively his foil throughout the game, is revealed to be Loki under a different name. The previously unclear motive for murder in the mythos becomes a non-violent act to protect his father in battle.
While the original tale of a god of purity being struck down by a simple oversight and starting the downfall of a most loved pantheon of gods is a compelling myth, the tale lacks detail and complex characters. By changing a few details and altering concepts left vague in the source, the God of War writers were able to change the dynamics between characters while keeping the framework of an interesting myth intact. Baldur's death became less of a contrived plot point and more of a suspenseful end to a tragic character arc. While staying true to the original compelling tale, the writers were able to create morally grey scenarios that appeal to modern audiences.