Before I started this blog, I brainstormed ideas for content other than my stories, and one idea that appealed greatly was that of writing articles about my favourite characters from various forms of media. So, with that being said, this is the first in a series of articles I will be writing about my favourite characters, and why they are my favourites. As the title suggests, this article is about Ivar the Boneless, namely the version from the History Channel’s Vikings. As such, I must warn you that this article contains spoilers.
If, like me, you have even a passing interest in the Vikings, then you will more than likely have come across the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, and the Tale of Ragnar’s sons; accounts of debated historicity of the exploits of the eponymous Ragnar Lodbrok, and his equally famous sons. Within these sagas you
will come across many memorable names: Ragnar Lodbrok (Lodbrok meaning shaggy breeches), Björn Ironside, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, but there is one name that stands out above all others: Ivar the Boneless. When I first read the name, I knew I had to know everything there was to know about this legendary Viking. I mean, how does one come to possess a name like that? Well, sadly, we’ll likely never know, the Ivar of history almost as much a mystery as his legendary father, although there has been no shortage of contemporary media that attempt to fill in the blanks, chief among them, the History Channel’s Vikings, a fictional retelling of the story of Ragnar Lodbrok (Lothbrok in the series) and his sons.
We first meet Ivar in the second from last episode of season two, the last son to be born to Ragnar and his second wife, Aslaug. As for his infamous nickname, the series goes with the most dramatic and, somewhat sadly, least likely explanation put forward by historians. After his father returns from England, he ignores his mother’s warning that they should wait three nights before having sex and Ivar is born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as Brittle Bone Disease, leaving him unable to walk.
For the next season and a half, Ivar doesn’t really do much and doesn’t truly come into his own until half way through season four where a time jump of several years shows the sons of Ragnar now grown into young men. By this point, Ivar, played masterfully by Danish actor Alex Høgh Andersen, has already developed a reputation as someone to be feared, even among his own brothers: bad-
tempered, violent, maybe even a bit crazy. Since then, Ivar has quickly become a fan favourite with many, myself included, considering him to be the thing carrying the entire show what with the departure of Travis Fimmel’s Ragnar. This is thanks, in no small part, to Andersen’s performance which is nothing short of breathtaking. Even when acting alongside actors who are every bit as capable and, in many cases, far more experienced, Andersen dominates every scene he is in, throwing in every ounce of effort, and, at the same time, making it look completely effortless as he channels Ivar’s rage and madness. Even as the quality of the show’s writing began to slump, one thing has remained constant, Ivar never fails to be entertaining. Don’t believe me? Just watch the scene where a lone, crippled Ivar screams like a lunatic at a legion of English soldiers who are too terrified to go near him despite outnumbering him about thirty to one.
On a more personal level, the character of Ivar has become a favourite of mine due to the similarities between us. Now, I’m not a murderous and bloodthirsty Viking with a god-complex, but there are a few things we have in common that has allowed me to sympathize with him. Being disabled myself (though nowhere near as severely as Ivar), I understand that it often seems like the whole world is against you and it can be an uphill struggle to get anything done. If anyone understands this perfectly it is Ivar who, despite being born into a position of power and privilege, faces an uphill struggle everyday of his life, sometimes literally! As soon as he is born, his father leaves him outside to die, believing that he will only be destined for a life of pain and ridicule otherwise, and is only saved when his mother intervenes. From then on, Ivar is mostly ignored and ostracized by his father, brothers, and just about everyone else who knows him, often written off as “just a cripple”. Even as a feared young man, he is usually underestimated and mocked by those unaware of his reputation. Naturally, this treatment results in Ivar growing to become a very angry and bitter person, a fact that very much resonates with me. As I have grown, just like Ivar, I have developed a lot of anger and bitterness, much if it stemming from my own condition. Like Ivar, I often feel that certain parts of life have been gated off from me, forced to watch from the sidelines as others have all the fun,
resulting in a pervasive frustration both with myself and life in general. Ivar often exhibits intense envy of those who don’t share his struggles, even going so far as to craft artificial means to make up for his physical shortcomings. I, too, am often jealous of those who don’t share my difficulties and find myself wishing that I could change myself so I can be like “normal people”, and enjoy the aspects of life that I feel like I am missing out on, and am frustrated by the fact that, no matter how hard I try, I, like Ivar, will never truly be able to.
Another aspect that has endeared fans (and myself) so much to Ivar is his sheer determination and tenacity. Ivar is pure rage. A life of pain and hardship has filled him so full of anger that he often seems like a ticking timebomb waiting to go off. Ivar is someone who refuses to be dominated and will stop at nothing to get what he wants, aspects that no doubt play a major role in why people are drawn to him so much. It’s always satisfying to watch an underdog rise above whatever it is holding them back and have their efforts rewarded, even if Ivar’s methods are more than a little unethical. Like probably many people, I wish I possessed even a fraction of Ivar’s gumption. He’s someone who never lets anything stop him, not even his condition. Despite not being able to walk, he is a force to be reckoned with in a fight, be it screaming across the battlefield in his chariot or on the ground with a hatchet in each hand. It’s only a shame we don’t get to see more of him fighting; even in the instances where he does go into battle we’re still not shown much. He is unafraid to stand up to anyone, and, if you underestimate him, it will likely be the last thing you ever do. In addition, Ivar is made all the more remarkable (and frightening) by his intelligence. Like his real-life counterpart, Ivar displays a consistent and uncanny ability to think multiple steps ahead of his enemies and
outsmart them on the battlefield. His cunning often means that he does not need to fight since he can just as easily beat you with just his mind. As Ivar himself says, “The mind is a far better warrior than the sword”, and, as we’ve seen with many other legendary characters, those that are vicious and murderous are terrifying enough but those who are intelligent on top of that are all the more terrifying.
Ultimately, Ivar has become a favourite of mine and many others due to a combination of things: most notably Alex Høgh Andersen’s acting and the fact that, despite being at severe disadvantage from birth, he has risen above every obstacle in his way, going on to become king of Kattegat although, admittedly he does become a bit less likeable after this, going from a slightly unhinged but endearing underdog to a brutal and deranged tyrant at seemingly the drop of a hat. Many fans, including myself, didn’t like this turn for Ivar, and the show’s writer, Michael Hirst, promised the
sixth and final series would show a different side to Ivar although, to be honest, I’m not seeing it, which isn’t helped by the fact that the writing in Season six hasn’t been very good overall. In the end, with only ten episodes left, we can only hope that Ivar and the rest of the cast (or what remains of it) will receive the satisfying conclusion they deserve although, given how the series has gone so far, I’m, sadly, not holding my breath. But at least we’ll always have the Ivar from the beginning of season 4B to the end of season 5A.