Note: While I make references to scenes and lines in God of War Ragnarök in this article, I do my best to not give the plot away.
I apologize if this article isn’t the best that it could be. I very recently finished the main story, and I love God of War, a lot — so do bear with my nerding out.
“Open your heart to the world, and you will find every reason to keep living in it.”
God of War Ragnarök
A Bedtime Story
Kratos and his now-teenaged son, Atreus, prepare to sleep.
Atreus asks Kratos to tell him a story, making Kratos promise that if Atreus were to fall asleep, Kratos would finish the story the next day.
Kratos tells of an old man in a village, who chopped wood for a living. Every single evening, he carried the logs on his back and gave them to his fellow villagers.
Yet, the logs were heavy, and as time went on, the old man only grew weaker. Until one day, the old man could no longer carry the weight of the logs, so he put them down.
He called for Death to take his life, and Death arrived.
As Kratos is about to finish his story, he realizes that Atreus has already fallen asleep.
At the sight of his son sleeping, Kratos weeps and places his hand on his son’s shoulder, as he thinks of all that he has to live for. After a moment, he tries to sleep.
What God of War is About
If you are not familiar with the God of War games, the story follows Kratos, a Spartan warrior who traded his life with the Greek god of war, Ares, for victory in battle. Ares granted him the victory he craved, in the form of a pair of chained blades, the Blades of Chaos.
In his servitude to Ares, he was tricked into slaughtering a village, not realizing his own wife and daughter fell victim to his blades. The village oracle cursed him as “The Ghost of Sparta”, turning his skin pale-white as he is forced to wear the ashes of his wife and daughter, as a reminder of his sins.
Kratos would spend years seeking vengeance. In the process, he would claim the throne as the god of war, and he would end up destroying the entire pantheon of Greek gods.
In the soft reboot, God of War (2018), we see that an older Kratos has travelled to the Norse lands in an attempt to run away from his past. He has remarried and has a son, Atreus. Yet, even with a new family, he is still very much haunted by his past, as his path of vengeance ultimately gave him no peace.
His Blades of Chaos are symbolic of the past that he has unsuccessfully tried to bury, that he would sooner or later need to face and make peace with sometime, for the good of himself and his loved ones.
In the game, Kratos’s second wife, Faye, has recently died, and he and his son embark on a journey to honor her will by spreading her ashes on the highest peak of all realms. Along the way, they learn of the prophecy of Ragnarök, or the end of all gods — which largely involves war with Asgard (where the gods Odin and Thor come from). They learn that prior to her death, Faye had foretold every step that they had taken so far, as well as their future roles in Ragnarök.
Now in God of War Ragnarök, Kratos and Atreus continue uncovering Faye’s secrets, as they learn of the path that they are destined to tread — and as for Kratos, especially, he realizes that he has been blessed with a second chance to life all the while, one which he had never imagined himself deserving.
Throughout these two games in the Norse saga, Kratos learns to be at peace with his past, as he moves forward in becoming a better person for his son, and for the larger world around him.
As a father, he learns not to project his fears from his past onto his son, though he does not want his son to repeat his mistakes. He learns to let his son be his own person, and he learns to do his utmost in preparing his son to survive without him, and even vice versa.
“I’ll listen for your voice when you’re not there.”
Atreus to Kratos
My Playthrough of God of War Ragnarök
From my own personal playthrough of God of War Ragnarök, these are the things that I absolutely love about the game.
Having played the God of War games since I was 7 years old (I know it’s not an appropriate age) — it means a lot to me how God of War Ragnarök does justice to Kratos’s character, by giving him the development and the peace that he deserves.
In the Greek saga, it’s rare to see Kratos exhibit any emotion other than anger. But in the Norse saga, even though he is world-weary from carrying the burdens of his past, as well as from grieving his wife Faye, we get to see how he slowly becomes wiser, more temperate and gentle to those around him.
At the start of the 2018 God of War game, he is this cold and distant father, who could barely look at his son in the eyes, and would think twice before even giving him a pat on the back for his comfort. He doesn’t even call his son by his name, as he only calls him “Boy”.
He treats other characters with the same distance and gruffness. He refers to Brok, a dwarf who aids him and Atreus in their journey, by “The Blue One” or “Dwarf”. And he calls Mimir, another close ally of theirs whose head was cut off and reanimated, simply as “Head”.
Later, among other things, we get to see how Kratos’s stoic demeanor completely crumbles once Atreus falls ill, as he panickedly seeks help for his son.
In God of War Ragnarök, I noticed that he never calls his son “Boy”, except only once, when they are in an extremely heated argument. I noticed too, that he is generous in giving Atreus reassurance, praise and advice, as well as a safe space to talk about his troubles — rather than giving him one-liners or flat-out ignoring him like he used to.
He has also begun calling his allies by their names, and referring to them as his friends.
Other than that, it’s pretty ingenious how the 2018 game built anticipation for God of War Ragnarök. In the former, we mostly dealt with lesser-known characters in Norse mythology, while only hearing about the big names such as Odin, Thor and Heimdall — as well as Kratos’s wife Faye — in conversations depicting them as larger-than-life characters.
After years of waiting, we finally get to see these characters in the flesh in God of War Ragnarök, including Faye in Kratos’s flashbacks.
Also, the game deserves credit for not fitting into the typical portrayals of the characters in Norse mythology. Instead, the game takes the basic elements of these characters, and gives its own spin and makes the characters multi-layered, in order to tell its own original story. Odin, for example, isn’t depicted as a king in a lavish kingdom per se, as he typically is, but more of an unassuming mob boss as in The Godfather films, who exists in a dysfunctional family dynamic.
And of course, the voice acting and the dialogue are just incredible, as I often had to pause the game so that I could jot down the great lines I heard.
“Forgiveness can be powerful, even for the undeserving. My wife Faye taught me that.”
Moving on to themes, grief is definitely a central part of the game. In fact, during most of my playthrough, I was reminded of a particular aspect of grieving which I learned in therapy, and that is, carrying on values.
If you struggle with the absence of someone significant to you, you can keep them close to you at heart by honoring their memory, or by remembering the values that they taught you or that they embodied, and doing your best to live by them.
This is how Kratos deals with his grief for Faye. Time and again, Kratos reminds himself and Atreus of the values that Faye upheld. We even learn that many of the wise words that Kratos utters are echoes of what Faye had said to him before.
For one thing, a line that Kratos utters a lot in the Norse saga is “we must be better”. In a touching flashback scene, we learn that it was Faye who had taught him this perspective.
In that scene, Faye carries a baby Atreus and talks to him, while Kratos remains silent. “Have you nothing to say to your son?,” asks Faye to Kratos. “Let him learn your voice. Let him know you.”
Ashamed of his past, Kratos replies, “He is far better off knowing as little as possible.”
“Knowledge is not always a burden,” Faye tells him. Faye chuckles and tells him, “To think, the mighty god of war, frightened of his own child.”
“I do not fear our child, Faye,” says Kratos. “I fear for him. He is innocent.”
Faye, in turn, tells him, “We are not our failures. We are not who we were. We must be better. Atreus is our future.”
Another line that affected me deeply is where Kratos tells Atreus to “close your heart” to other people’s suffering in the 2018 game, as Atreus cries after killing his first enemy. Unlike Kratos, Atreus is much more empathic and in tune with his emotions.
This concept comes back in God of War Ragnarök in another flashback with Faye, where she and Kratos discuss her last will.
“We will always walk together,” she tells Kratos. “You will always be a part of me. I will always be a part of you.”
“When you are gone, that part of me dies as well,” says Kratos. “Faye, to feel your absence –“
“The culmination of love is grief,” Faye comforts Kratos. “And yet, we love despite the inevitable, we open our hearts to it…To grieve deeply is to have loved fully. Open your heart to the world as you have opened it to me, and you will find every reason to keep living in it.”
Remembering Faye’s words, Kratos tells Atreus to “open your heart” to other people’s suffering, that Atreus feels their pain because that is who he is — and that Kratos was wrong for what he had said in contrast before.
And of course, from the theme of grief and loss also comes the theme of second chances.
Faye knew who Kratos was. She knew about his past. Yet, she believed in the potential and the good that she saw in him. And most importantly, she helped Kratos see that in himself, too.
As Faye has always reminded Kratos, our past doesn’t define who we are. There’s always time for us to change the road that we’re on. There’s always a chance for us to decide to be better than who we were yesterday. There’s always a chance for us to leave behind our old ways which don’t serve us.
While we may still feel the weight of our past at times, we don’t have to see it as a punishment, or a form of torture on ourselves. We can see them as motivation for us to again, be better. We can even feel proud of ourselves, for having come a long way from who we used to be.
The world may break us apart, but we may learn not to shut ourselves from it, in fear of being broken again. The world may break us again and again, and again — but every time it does, it’s a chance for us to open ourselves to it — for us to be of service, and to give our love to other people, because we’ve gone through what we’ve gone through.
Overall, God of War Ragnarök has an incredibly well-written story, one that I absolutely believe is the best in the entire series. It was worth waiting years for this sequel to finally be released.
Gotta Continue Living
Eventually, Atreus gets Kratos to continue his story.
So, when Death came for the old man, Death asked why the old man had called for him. Seeing Death before his eyes, the old man reconsidered his wish.
After a moment to himself, he asked for Death to help him place the logs onto his back, so that he could resume his journey.
He wished to continue living.