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To grieve deeply… Loss and Healing in God of War Ragnarök

Stories of Norse Myths have been retold time and time again. Books have been written and rewritten telling slight variations of tales about these long living, youth filled deities. However one constant across these retellings is Ragnarök.

Across all these stories Ragnarök has always been ‘The destruction of Gods’ – an event that ends the life of all the legends in these stories. I saw God of War Ragnarök as no different; this was going to be big, dramatic and violent and whilst this game is all of these things, it also manages to do something I wasn’t expecting it to do: make its Gods incredibly human.

Ragnarök in God of War isn’t just the end of Gods in a literal sense; it chooses to strip down these legends and beautifully humanise them in their shared experience of grief. As much as this is Kratos and Atreus’ journey, grief is a thematic throughline for many of the characters in this world. Freya is overcome with revenge after the death of her son and has set herself on a path of violence to avenge his death. Thor is a product of abuse and after both of his sons deaths is struggling to cope – resulting in behaviours such as drinking and violence. Finally Sindri, who perhaps has one of the most tragic stories, begins to mourn the death of his brother. All of these examples highlight how grief is a core part of Ragnarök’s story and I’d argue that this theme holds more emotional weight over the narrative than the apocalyptic event itself.

So if grief is such a big part of God of War Ragnarök, then what is it actually trying to say? Ragnarök’s exploration of grief comes from a simple truth: we always look for meaning and understanding when we lose someone. Loss is something many of us have experienced or will have to go through in our lifetime, and within that experience we feel confusion and often attempt to understand why we have lost someone we care about. Kratos’ attitude towards Atreus is actually his own response to grief. Back in 2018, Kratos told Atreus to close his heart to the world, and in the context of Ragnarök, these words aren’t protective measures for Atreus, but for himself. His understanding of the world is that when you open your heart to it, you lose the ones you love and he can’t lose Atreus in the same way. In Ragnarök, Kratos is still protective of Atreus and still navigating his own understanding of the loss of Faye. In a similar way Freya is navigating those same waters but in the haze of loss is looking for someone to blame. Sindri on the other hand is an example of the raw grief felt so soon after someone we love has passed. It’s a very powerful thematic note to showcase one of the games most happy-go-lucky characters experiencing resentfulness during grief, a shocking look at how grief can change us.

Kratos’ understanding of grief comes full circle in a flashback with his wife Faye in which she states that ‘The culmination of love is grief’, a sentiment that is both beautiful and universal. It highlights how we allow ourselves to love despite how we eventually lose the ones we open our hearts to. Words like these give meaning to the emotions we feel during the grieving process and allow us to see our pain for the manifestation of love that it is. However, Faye’s next words hit home the story’s themes with such raw honesty that I couldn’t believe it was packed inside a Norse epic:

‘Open your heart to the world as you have opened it to me, and you will find every reason to keep living in it.’

This line really shines a light on the dark feelings we go through when grieving. Sometimes we don’t even realise how much we close ourselves off to the world, especially when our world is someone who’s now gone. This line also offers the hopeful side of grief, the hope that despite the pain we feel, we will find a way to open ourselves up to the world again.

These words echo through all our characters. Kratos, realising that closing your heart isn’t the way forward, apologises to his son and passes Faye’s message of opening your heart to the world onto him. With this, Atreus’ empathy and kindness echoes throughout Ragnarök as they try to save villagers and stop others from getting hurt. Kratos also takes this message forward with him as he tries to make the world a better place. Freya finds it in herself to work with Kratos, forgiving him for the death of her son and finally making peace with his death. Even Thor, despite his demise, realises in his final moments that violence is no longer the way forward and sees the error of his ways, saving his daughter in the process. 

As a whole, God of War Ragnarök is a story about how we navigate through grief. This doesn’t mean that the grief these people feel has vanished; it’s something they’ll always have to live with. However, these characters have started to reach a place where the good parts of the world are seeping back in. This sentiment is true for the Gods of this game but also for us as individuals. Although grief may never vanish, small pockets of goodness start to grow around it, and somewhere in that we find a reason to keep going.

Despite its large scale, God of War Ragnarök has a nuanced and profound understanding of the grieving process. Losing someone can feel like a Ragnarök-sized weight on your mind, but it’s okay to feel all the things you are going through. There is hope and if you’re struggling at the moment, please head to the Safe In Our World signposting page.

Harry Stainer

Safe In Our World Ambassador, Freelance writer, book person on Instagram & occasional scriptwriter