What happens at the end of The Northman? Robert Eggers’s brutal thriller movie The Northman tells a harrowing tale of revenge during the age of the Vikings. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a muscular berserker who will stop at nothing to get back at the man he watched execute his father.
During the film, we watch Amleth go from raiding as a berserker to being seen as nothing more than a mere captured slave, all in service of putting his uncle Fjölnir’s (Cales Bang) head on a pike. Fjölnir beheaded Amleth’s father in front of him, and now the prince is coming back to even the score. Along the way, he meets Olga (Anya-Taylor Joy), and finds himself torn on where his life should lead.
Our The Northman review gave it five-stars, but even we’ll admit the snappy pacing, historical terminology, and supernatural elements, make hard to discern every angle of the fiery conclusion. No need to enrol in an evening course on translating runes, though – we’ve broken down The Northman ending to help you understand exactly what it is you just watched.
What happens in The Northman ending?
The pieces start moving into place for The Northman’s finale when Amleth strikes a deal with Fjölnir to save Olga’s life. Amleth allowed himself to be imprisoned by Fjölnir so Olga may live, after he’d butchered friends of Fjölnir’s son.
When ravens – possibly sent by Odin – pick away the ropes that bind Amleth, he and Olga escape together, getting on a boat towards Orkney, islands off the northern coast of Scotland. En route, Amleth finds out Olga is pregnant with their twin children, and he has a vision of one of them becoming a ruler. While joyous, it strikes fear in his heart because he knows that Fjölnir will one day target his children.
As the Seeress had foretold, Amleth had to choose between his family or killing Fjölnir, and he chooses the latter, telling Olga to mind their twins as he jumps overboard. She wills the winds to help the boat sail faster, as Amleth heads back towards Fjölnir’s farm. Once there, he begins a ravenous coup, carving up guards, setting all the slaves free, and burning the property to the ground.
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He’s forced to kill his mother, and the child she had with Fjölnir. Once back, Fjölnir takes their bodies, and arranges to meet Amleth near Hekla, an erupting volcano, for Holmgang, an old Scandinavian method of settling disputes through fighting it out. Amleth rides on horseback to Hekla, where lit only by the canals of molten lava, he and Fjölnir battle in the nude using sword and shield.
It’s a close duel, so much so that Amleth only barely wins, left mortally wounded. As he lays there dying, he sees Olga nurturing their two kin, and ascends towards Valhalla, now at peace with himself and his lineage.
What was the prophecy of the Seeress?
In the settlement we see him raid as a berserker, Amleth encounters a mysterious Seeress (Björk) in a temple. A Seeress is a form of prophet who receives messages from deities and other spirits, allowing them to tell the future and provide guidance and wisdom. The one Amleth meets is blind, but claims she can see other things.
The Seeress informs him that he’ll find what he seeks, but he’ll have to make more sacrifices to get it. Beyond just his own life, which he’s always been prepared to do, he’ll have to choose between his family, and taking Fjölnir’s head. For a time, neither we nor Amleth fully grasp what she means, until on the boat to Scotland with Olga, when it’s revealed she’s with children.
Knowing what he must do, Amleth chooses to end it with Fjölnir rather than settle down with Olga. To him, there is no alternative, because he believes they’ll never be safe so long as Fjölnir is alive. He’s not necessarily wrong, but there’s a small sense of ambiguity. At the start of the film, Fjölnir kills Amleth’s father, King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke), because he wanted the throne, but when we see him again, he’s become a quiet farmer in Iceland.
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Would Fjölnir have come for Amleth and Olga’s family? It’s possible, but he’d need to abandon his current property, or get to the point where he can expand to other countries. As the Seeress makes clear, the choice lies with Amleth, and he decides to put a bloody full-stop to the whole saga while he has the chance.
What does Olga do when Amleth leaves?
Once Olga and Amleth have their heartfelt goodbye, she turns in the direction the boat is going, and shouts an incantation for the spirits of the wind to carry them ever faster. This causes a great gust that pushes the ship to higher speeds. She’s a sorceress, who harnesses Earthly elements, and the moment she invokes the air is proof her abilities are real, at least as far as everyone in The Northman is concerned.
Olga disagrees with Amleth’s decision to go back for Fjölnir, but knows she can’t stop him. When he dives into the water, Olga proceeds to get herself and their children to Scotland as quickly as possible. It adds an element of finality to what Amleth’s chosen to do, making the parting of ways all the greater.
What’s in Amleth’s final vision?
Throughout The Northman, Amleth has short visions that appear to us as surreal vignettes. The first is when he sees the family tree during the initiation for the throne with King Aurvandill, something he revisits when fading away at the foot of Hekla.
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He sees Olga, holding their twin children, and watches his daughter become the maiden king. In the last shot, he’s on a horse, moving into a massive gateway bathed in light. These are the gates to Valhalla, where he will live for eternity, now that he has managed to do right by his father’s grave.