The Most Brutal Scenes In The Northman, Ranked

Warning: This article contains major spoilers for "The Northman."

Despite only making three feature-length films, Robert Eggers has established himself as a major player in cinema. His debut, the 2015 film "The Witch," was a startling horror that announced his talents, and helped make a superstar out of Anya Taylor-Joy — who has a small yet significant role in Eggers' latest film, the revenge epic "The Northman." 

The film follows a Viking named Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), whose father, a king, is shockingly murdered by Amleth's uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who also takes Amleth's mother, Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), as his wife. Amleth manages to escape alive, and his entire life has one purpose and one purpose only: to exact revenge upon Fjölnir and rescue his mother from his uncle's evil clutches.

If you've seen Eggers' previous films, "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse," you probably have some idea of what to expect with his latest movie. This is not a director to shy away from brutality. "The Northman" is Eggers' bleakest, most relentless film yet, and he turns a fairly standard story of revenge into a hugely thrilling, action-packed spectacle rooted in compelling Icelandic folklore. Here are the most brutal scenes in "The Northman" ranked.

13. Earning the sword

The night after a vicious raid, Amleth meets a Seeress (a chilling turn from Björk), who informs him that his lifelong quest for revenge will soon take shape. Amleth blends in with a group of slaves headed to his uncle Fjölnir's land, bringing him face-to-face with the man he swears to bring down countless years after he murdered Amleth's father.

Amleth is hungry for vengeance, but he lacks any sort of weapon to aid in his quest. On a fateful eve, Amleth encounters a He-Witch (Ingvar Sigurdsson) who briefly resurrects Heimir (Willem Dafoe), who, it's revealed, was also slain by Fjölnir. Most importantly, Heimir tells Amleth the location of a mystical sword. Amleth travels to the location, deep underground, and a massive undead giant wields the sword. In order to obtain it, Amleth must earn it by defeating the enormous swordbearer.

What ensues is a chilling duel, which is visually striking and exquisitely lit only by the light emanating off of the moon. It's one of the darkest scenes in the film (visibly, of course; there are plenty of brutalities to come), and its unique visuals make the savage battle one to remember. It's impressive to see how Amleth is able to use quick thinking on top of his incredible physical strength. At the end of the fight, the sword is his to bear.

12. A kingdom destroyed, and a path to vengeance is born

The misery is piled on heavy at the beginning of "The Northman." Mere moments after witnessing the death of his father and almost having his own life taken, young Amleth (Oscar Novak) returns to his family's kingdom to see that his nightmares are only just beginning. It turns out that the murder of his father was just part of a larger plan to take over the kingdom, and Amleth comes back after fleeing his enemies to discover streets strewn with dead bodies and flowing with blood.

The chilling sequence follows young Amleth as he attempts to find his mother, Queen Gudrún, navigating the streets that were once so friendly to him now drenched with hostility and danger. Watching Amleth sneak through his land to try and locate his mother is intense, as his potential death lies around every corner. 

Eventually, Amleth locates Gudrún as she is carried away screaming, and the anguish is palpable as he knows there is nothing he can do. The camera cuts to young Amleth escaping on a boat, rowing away with tears in his eyes. Alongside the crushing sadness, though, there is a burning fury. Vengeance will be his, no matter how long it takes, and no matter the cost.

11. Accepting his fate

After being savagely beaten by Fjölnir and his men, Amleth manages to escape his untimely demise thanks to a flock of ravens who free him from his restraints, along with his lover, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), who helps him escape. The two flee Iceland on a boat, and through a vision, Amleth discovers that Olga is pregnant with twins. The couple is elated and thrilled to start their new life together — if only for a moment. It quickly dawns upon Amleth that as long as Fjölnir is alive, his family will never be at peace.

Despite everything he has learned from his long-awaited reunion with Gudrún, Amleth is unable to shake his all-consuming drive for revenge for the death of his father. Despite an impassioned and teary plea from Olga, Amleth cannot just leave his quest unfinished and stay with his new family. They hold each other one last time, and Amleth jumps off the boat to finally destroy Fjölnir once and for all, ensuring the safety of his children, whom he knows he will never meet. 

The scene ends on the boat with a primal scream from Olga, as she knows Amleth facing off against Fjölnir will certainly cost him his life. The emotionally riveting moment is proof that the most brutal moments in "The Northman" don't always come from violence and gore.

10. A new family heir

While there's plenty of shocking and brutal violence to be found in "The Northman," there are also lots of bizarre mysticism and strange, unknowable forces at play. This is largely thanks to a script, co-written by director Robert Eggers and Sjón, that is equally interested in telling a savage tale of revenge as it is in exploring Icelandic folklore. In the wake of Thórir's (Gustav Lindh) death, a ceremony is performed to honor his life, end their mourning, and confirm younger sibling Gunnar (Elliott Rose) as the official heir of Fjölnir.

The ceremony is eerie and terrifying — the sort of thing you'd rather observe behind your fingers — but there's something so alluring about it that you can't help but watch. It begins with a young woman singing as the camera delicately pulls back to reveal Thórir's body. We then pan slowly to Gunnar, who is handed a large sword, and a horse. 

Suddenly, brutal screams pierce our ears as Gunnar begins to slaughter the horse, and the singing girl is seen stabbed to death in the background. After a moment's breath, Gunnar beheads the horse, the animal's spewing blood collected in a bowl by Gudrún. She then splashes the blood onto Gunnar and Fjölnir, claiming that their time of mourning is over, and a new heir has taken over. It's frightening, shocking, unexpected, and brutal.

9. Family ties severed

Before the two meet at the prophesied lake of fire, Amleth has some unfinished business of his own to tend to, involving the utter destruction of everything Fjölnir holds dear. With his revenge close, Amleth's rage seems to be in overdrive, yet he possesses an eerie calm as he slaughters Fjölnir's men. One particularly ugly moment comes when Amleth comes face-to-face with Finnr, whose nose he cut off when he was young. Amleth finishes the job in a gruesome fashion, driving his sword through the hole where Finnr's nose used to be.

But that's not all: As Amleth enters his mother Gudrún's chambers, she strikes him with her sword in a screaming rage. Amleth coldly drives his sword through her heart and holds her in his arms. She utters, "Thank you," before dropping to her death. Suddenly, Gudrún's youngest child, Gunnar, leaps onto Amleth's back and unleashes a number of brutal blows with a knife while screaming in agony over the loss of his mother. In one fluid motion, Amleth pulls Gunnar off him and drives his sword through him, quickly ending his half-brother's life.

In a moment of quiet, Fjölnir appears, hauntingly framed by the doorway. He picks up the corpses of his wife and son and tells Amleth, "I will meet you at the gates of Hel ... and there you will die, by the hands that killed your father." 

8. The betrayal

If you had absolutely no idea what "The Northman" was about going into it, the stunning, out-of-nowhere death of King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) would come as quite a shock. For the rest of us, awaiting the catalyst for the promised (and delivered) epic revenge story, Aurvandil's death is a brutal, but expected occurrence. After a spiritual ritual where both young Amleth and Aurvandil crawl around like dogs and fart and burp like men, the two are suddenly ambushed the next day. A peaceful conversation between father and son is ended by the whoosh of two arrows suddenly puncturing Aurvandil, who, realizing the end of his life is upon him, instructs his son to run.

Amleth does, but not very far, hiding behind a large tree trunk to witness the end of his father's life. A group of masked men surrounds Aurvandil, one of which is revealed to be the king's own brother, Fjölnir. In a play to take over his brother's kingdom and take his wife for himself, Fjölnir brutally strikes Aurvandil down, beheading him and immediately ending his reign. Fjölnir then sends his men after Amleth to ensure Aurvandil has no heirs. His bodyguard, Finnr, pins Amleth down, ready to kill. He's unprepared for Amleth, however, who swiftly removes his nose with a quick flick of his blade, and runs off to begin his quest for revenge, spurring "The Northman" and its epic tale into action.

7. All the pretty horses

In his previous films, "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse," Robert Eggers proved that he's no stranger to unforgettable imagery. Whether bursting with color or in an uneasy black-and-white, Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who's worked with Eggers on all three films) know how to make a single image linger in your mind long after you've seen it.

Such is certainly the case in "The Northman," which is full of breathtaking compositions and thoughtful mise-en-scène. One of the most striking images in the film is also one of the most brutal and difficult to shake over the movie's electric 137 minutes. During a rampage courtesy of Amleth, a group of Fjölniir's men are brought into a dark house and murdered. Sure, the killing is violent enough, but it's what's done with the bodies that is truly harrowing. The next morning, a group of Fjölnir's men looks on in horror at something we cannot see, until a sharp edit reveals the unfathomable sight: the men's bodies have been cut up and put together to take the shape of a galloping horse.

Fjölnir is particularly disgusted by what's become of his trusted warriors. He is clearly distraught, but Gudrún (who, at this point, knows Amleth is among them) keeps him steady, reminding him: "These wounds are not of our world ... this distempered spirit will rise again, it wields a hungry blade." She's right; the violence and brutality are far from over.

6. The exchange

After Fjölnir's eldest son is viciously slain by an unknown assailant, he is despondent. Many of his most trusted men are gone, and now his son has been murdered, his heart savagely removed. Overwhelmed by all the atrocities that have overcome him and his family, he breaks down and begins to cry. He's stopped by Queen Gudrún, who orders him to pull himself together. His tears lead to fury, and he starts ruthlessly slitting the throats of his slaves, as he believes one of them must be behind it. As he reaches Olga, Amleth's lover, Amleth reveals himself as Thórir's murderer and offers to exchange his heart for Olga's safety.

Fjölnir agrees, removing his blade from Olga's neck and sending a group of his men after Amleth. Despite being outnumbered, Amleth appears to be in no great danger, as he takes down a few men without much difficulty, reminding us what an extraordinary menace he's capable of being. Soon, though, he finds himself overwhelmed, and is keeled over on the ground, taking a beating from a group of men. As "The Northman" has trained us to expect by now, there's a harsh cut that takes us to a close-up of Amleth, beaten and bloodied, as he hangs by his wrists. The camera stares directly into Amleth's face, who cannot return our gaze, as he's beaten and bruised so badly that he can barely open his eyes.

5. A building burns

There's a moment in Robert Eggers' film that is skin-crawlingly intense, and it actually takes place inside of another scene on this list. It's tough to process, and is so casually savage, that it deserves its very own spot when it comes to the most brutal moments in "The Northman."

During a breathless Viking raid, Amleth and his fellow berserkers wreak absolute havoc on a village, slaughtering the soldiers without hesitation and paving the cobbled streets with blood. Wreckage begins to pile up as buildings are broken and stockpiles are burned. There's so much destruction happening at such a breakneck pace that it's hard to wrap your head around the sheer intensity of it. Then, in a single shot, we see a couple of men set fire to a building, with its door closed. The camera slowly zooms in on the building as the flames encroach, and all is quiet. Then, suddenly, the door starts to shake, and a startling realization occurs: The building is full of people, screaming and trying to break down the door to prevent being burned alive.

We have no idea who's inside; it could be a couple of vicious prisoners, or a building overstuffed with men, women, and children. It's impossible to know for sure, and the fate of those inside is never to be discovered. This all unfolds in a single shot, and there's an incomprehensible amount of cruelty in this brief moment.

4. A game gone wrong

For the entertainment of Fjölnir, his family, and his men, Amleth is selected alongside other slaves to participate in what appears to be a game of knattleikr. Robert Eggers frames the match tightly, and we're uncomfortably close to the bodies of these men as they violently fight for possession of the ball. We can hear the bones crunch as players are sent tumbling to the ground as these slaves try to make an impression on their masters. 

In a twist of fate, Gunnar gets overly excited and runs onto the field. The boy picks up the ball and starts running with it, to the abject horror of his parents. He's knocked down brutally by the strongest member of the opposing team, which sends Amleth into a blind fury. He tackles the opponent while Gunnar lies unconscious behind him.

In close-up, Amleth smashes his head into the opponent's over and over. Eggers wisely prevents the camera from showing the other man, but from the increasingly bloodied Amleth, it's clear that he's slaughtering him using nothing but the force of his own skull. In all of the brutal moments of "The Northman," this may just be the bleakest, but it serves a purpose, as Amleth rescuing Gunnar gains him new privileges that prove vital to his quest for revenge.

3. Revelations

It's the moment that Amleth has been waiting his entire adult life for — the chance to be reunited with his beloved mother. One night, he sneaks into her chambers and places his sword against her unsuspecting neck. Not to kill her, of course, but to ensure she doesn't scream and alert any guards. What follows is one of the most brutal moments in the entire film, all courtesy of searing monologue and an unwavering and deeply committed performance from Nicole Kidman.

Amleth has longed to see his mother again, and he finally has the opportunity to rescue her from her life with a man she never wanted to be with, and children she never wanted to have. Or so he thinks. Anchored by the flickering candlelight that lights the room, Gudrún drops revelation after revelation in her prickly speech to her first son. It turns out that Amleth's father, Aurvandil, acquired Gudrún as a slave, and Amleth was born from rape. "Your father endured me because I bore him a son," she says, while claiming that she never mourned him. Gudrún also reveals that she begged Fjölnir to kill Aurvandil and to take out Amleth as well, in order to terminate the bloodline. 

This pivotal moment undoes everything Amleth has been fighting for and simultaneously destroys the image of his father who he believed to be a heroic man. In disbelief, Amleth says none of this can be true as she was screaming in horror when he last saw her. "Screaming? I was laughing," she coldly responds, before unleashing a cackle Amleth will never forget.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

2. The one-take raid

An exquisite example of tour-de-force filmmaking, Robert Eggers unfolds a ferocious, relentless Viking raid in a single take. It's a blistering sequence, set many years after Amleth's escape from Fjölnir. He's since grown up and transformed into a hulking, muscular Alexander Skarsgård. He's joined a group of Vikings and is fueled by rage. The scene, in which Amleth and his fellow Vikings obliterate a nearby village, is astonishing, and the frame is jam-packed with meticulous detail, and stunning violence.

Our eyes, however, are trained to follow Amleth, who showcases his startling strength and brutality. He cuts down enemy soldiers with precision and almost superhuman ease, and you really get the feeling witnessing this raid that absolutely nothing will stand in Amleth's way until he achieves his destiny. As impressive as it is, it's also hideously violent and unsettling, as the screams and cries of the innocent plague your ears, creating a cacophony of agony that permeates through the screen.

1. The lake of fire

It's all come down to this: the lake of fire, where it was prophesied that Amleth would obtain his vengeance on Fjölnir for killing Amleth's father. Amleth is beaten and bloodied, but he has arrived at the gates of Hel for his revenge. As he approaches the menacing volcano, he sees the corpses of Gudrún and Gunnar, alongside a beheaded horse. He makes his final goodbyes to his mother, tenderly touching his lips and hers, saying, "Slain by iron, we shall all meet again."

With the final fight upon us, Fjölnir emerges from the ashes, and the two begin their brutal duel to the death. Since Amleth has already been badly injured by his family, he's at a significant disadvantage. The fire-soaked screen obscures their faces, though their rippling, muscular figures are clear as they hack away at each other, desperate to land a killing blow. 

Suddenly, Fjölnir has the upper hand and strikes Amleth to his knees, and a chilling sensation washes over as it seems as if his quest for revenge will be cut short. In an otherworldly display of strength, Amleth rises, and they both strike at one another. Amleth beheads Fjölnir, who has managed to drive his sword through Amleth's heart, killing them both. It's an especially savage end, though there is a silver lining in the tragedy: Amleth has a vision of Olga and their two children living happily, while his spirit ascends to Valhalla.