When they said everything is permitted, did they mean everything?
The Viking age is one of the most requested eras to be given the Assassin’s Creed treatment next to feudal Japan. Ubisoft are finally giving the fans what that want, a few days ago dropping a slick cinematic trailer for their upcoming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. But while Scandinavian hardwood is currently in surplus, does a Viking assassin really make any kind of sense at all?
The typical depiction of a Viking is a bloodthirsty, pagan savage who rapes and murders for fun and profit. Pop history has demonised the so-called Nazis of the North endlessly, and pop culture has glamourised them in equal measure. Wherever the truth may lay, it can probably be agreed that they were extremely aggressive colonisers, who disregarded the general rules surrounding warfare, and struck fear through hit-and-run brutality and targeting of monasteries and clergy. They left an indelible impression on the entire world as they spread across England and mainland Europe, with no more proof needed than the cornucopia of sweet Norse words and concepts that transformed the entire English language itself (next time you choose to scull a few beers to get happy on a Thursday but end up crawling in the muck for instance you can thank the Vikings). So how does this all fit into Assassin’s Creed?
It’s probably a good starting point to identify the literal assassin’s creed as espoused by the Assassin Order:
Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent.
Hide in plain sight.
Never compromise the Brotherhood.
This creed is upheld in conjunction with the mildly confusing maxim: nothing is true; everything is permitted. In the words of Ezio himself:
“Where other men blindly follow the truth, remember, nothing is true.
Where other men are limited by morality or law, remember, everything is permitted.
We work in the dark to serve the light.
We are assassins.”
The maxim itself almost seems to negate the entire creed, but if we accept it for how it manifests itself in the games, Assassins are pretty much the ‘good’ guys, who will use any tactics necessary to protect humanity’s freedom (i.e. serve the light). The chaos favoured by the Assassin Order (although it is always a positive touchy-feely version of chaos, not true anarchy) is directly opposed by the Templars, who desire ultimate dominion and control to preserve their power and protect humanity from itself. So while everything may be permitted, assassins don’t kill for the fun of it or to advance their personal agenda, and are in general guided by a sense of morality in murder.
…if you had Vikings at the gate then no matter who you were – man, woman, child or priest (especially priests if historical accounts are anything to go by) – the good times could very likely be over.
Vikings then would seem to make zero sense in this context. While they were fans of laying ambushes, surveying their targets extensively and utilising deceit and surprise, they also mercilessly slaughtered (another Norse word coincidentally) soldier and citizen alike. A warlike people who settled disputes at home and abroad with violence, who valued fearlessness and strength above all else. Whether or not history and Catholic propaganda has villainised them, it is a certainty that their ingrained culture of war would have made these foreign oppressors absolutely terrifying to fight against, and if you had Vikings at the gate then no matter who you were – man, woman, child or priest (especially priests if historical accounts are anything to go by) – the good times could very likely be over.
The game will see us take control of a male or female Viking warrior and clan leader named Eivor in 9th Century England. The main thrust of the game is role-playing as a foreign invader developing and protecting a settlement in hostile England. The reason for their hostility is pretty simple – you are effectively in their base, killing their dudes. Interestingly, the trailer seems to identify the main antagonist as none other than King Alfred the Great. Ubisoft then are fighting a historical war on two fronts in trying to awkwardly mash the Viking age into the Assassin’s Creed mould. They are going to have to play pretty fast and loose with history to not only establish the good-guy violent Viking coloniser, but also besmirch a King who was so good we’re still talking about him over a thousand years later (they also don’t hand out title of the Great to any old cat either). Ubisoft has played successfully with many depictions of interesting historical figures, but painting the guy that saved and unified England (if it wasn’t for him you’d all be speaking Viking right now) by repelling foreign invaders and ultimately establishing treaties with them as a villain is a pretty long bow to draw. It’s akin to rewriting Tomorrow When the War Began but making the kids the villains (when we know the real villain was the godawful acting in the movie adaptation).
Assassin’s Creeds games are made in conjunction with well-versed historians, but the developers of course have a certain degree of poetic licence. I’m not sure how they’re going to pull it off, but the idea of a Viking assassin fighting against the evil King Alfred the Great may well be their wildest idea yet.