Valhalla’s incredibly cinematic trailer calls to mind Netflix’s The Last Kingdom and History Channel’s Vikings in terms of both story and visuals. The gist of Valhalla’s plot, judging from the trailer, aligns with the timeframe and backdrop of The Last Kingdom, while Valhalla’s protagonist Eivor bears more than a passing resemblance to Vikings’ Ragnar Lothbrok and his son Bjorn. But there are plenty of other great Viking-themed movies and TV shows gamers should check out while awaiting the arrival of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla later this year. These titles fit the period, style and tone of the Valhalla trailer (albeit with one Marvel-ous exception), so apologies to those bummed that How to Train Your Dragon didn’t make the cut.
The Last Kingdom
Based on Bernard Cornwell’s historical novels, this series – now in its fourth season – takes place in 9th century England as the Anglo-Saxons fight to protect their lands from the invading Danes. It is the time of Alfred the Great, the King of Wessex whose war against the Vikings serves as the backdrop to the series. The show revolves around Uhtred of Bebbanburg, whose conflicting loyalties between the kingdom of his birth and the Danes who “adopted” him are continually tested. Over its run, the ensemble cast has included such familiar faces as Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer and Harry Potter’s Ian Hart, and while we probably won’t see such familiar faces n AC Valhalla, it’s a great primer for the era Ubisoft’s latest is set in.
The History Channel brought the early Norsemen to vivid life with this gritty, thrilling series inspired by the legendary sagas of Ragnar Lothbrok and his family. The series isn’t afraid to kill off leading characters as it chronicles the scheming and warring amongst its many players during their violent conquest of medieval Europe and Scandinavia. The amount of implied sex and gory violence the show has gotten away with given the broadcast limitations of the History Channel is surprising, making Vikings a (slightly) less graphic “Game of Thrones for history buffs”. And even though it’s coming to an end after Season 6, fans can look forward to a spinoff, also called Valhalla, set 100 years after the events of the show, that will air on Netflix.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
This anime, adapted from the manga series by Makoto Yukimura and produced by Wit Studio (Attack on Titan), is set in Viking-occupied England, which has led more than a few observers to deem it something of a “spiritual sequel” to History Channel’s Vikings. IGN praised the show for its methodical pacing, masterfully-crafted art style, thrilling score, and “gorgeously-directed and bloody” battle scenes. The show revolves mainly around hot-headed young warrior Thorfinn, who seeks revenge against his scheming commander, Askeladd. As we wrote last year, “if Vinland Saga keeps up this same quality of the animation, dialogue, characterization, and music, it feels like a classic in the making. A show with real, palpable, fleshed-out characters that you’ll quickly grow to love, living in a harsh but beautifully-captured world brought to life by stellar art and soothing melodies. Vinland Saga is an epic in every sense of the word.”
This action oddity from 2007 follows Ghost (Karl Urban), a Viking who was shipwrecked as a boy on the coast of America centuries before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Although raised by the indigenous people who found him, Ghost is not truly one of them and so remains torn between two worlds. When the “Dragon Men” return fifteen years later to conquer the natives and plunder their land, Ghost stands with his adopted people against the ruthless Norse invaders. Pathfinder makes for a fun companion piece to Zach Snyder’s 300 (though that is an overall better movie) in so far as both films owe more to fantasy and escapism than they do historical accuracy.
Coming just a few years after the release of Pathfinder, this trippy, bloody film, directed by Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn, also depicts a violent encounter between Norsemen and Native Americans. Starting off in Scandivanian Scotland before heading overseas,a ship carrying Christian Norsemen – en route to fight in the Crusades – and their mute slave, One-Eye (played by the always-intense Mads Mikkelsen), gets lost at sea and winds up in North America. What follows is a violent and visceral tale of revenge and redemption that’s both primeval and evocative.
The 13th Warrior
This 1999 film based on Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, was a notoriously troubled production and regrettably giant box office flop, though it has garnered a cult following in the decades since. The central character Ahmad ibn Fadlan (played by Antonio Banderas) is a real-life 10th century traveler, writer, and emissary who left behind an account of his dealings with the Volga Vikings. In The 13th Warrior, Ahmad ends up becoming part of the Vikings’ mission to aid a neighboring village against an ancient evil. In addition to just being a strange yet entertaining “bunch of guys on a mission” movie, The 13th Warrior also offers intriguing glimpses into the Viking way of life.
Marvel’s Thor Trilogy
Where to watch: Disney+
While Assassin’s Creed Valhalla might be slightly more interested in history than fantasy (I mean, Odin and his raven do show up in the trailer), the MCU’s Thor films nevertheless warrant a mention here. As the original 2011 film depicts, these long-lived aliens from the shining realm of Asgard were the inspiration for the Norse gods who the Vikings worshipped, with Odin and Thor (well, at least in the first two films) adhering to our vision of mighty Viking warrior-rulers. While there’s definitely more sci-fi than history in the Thor trilogy, no list about Viking films and shows to check out would be complete without them.
This atmospheric 2007 CG-animated fantasy film, directed by Robert Zemeckis in one of the first major motion-capture endeavors, retells the epic 9th century poem of the heroic Beowulf’s quest to defeat the monstrous Grendel. Zemeckis married then-cutting edge filmmaking tech with one of the oldest stories in western civilization. Although the animation doesn’t hold up too well (it proved divisive even at the time of the film’s release), Beowulf should prove of interest to gamers waiting for Valhalla thanks to its cool cast (Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Crispin Glover) and grim, bloody story (Neil Gaiman was one of the screenwriters).
Hammer of the Gods
This 2013 film, set in 9th century Britain, sees Norse prince Steinar tasked by his dying father, the king (played by Game of Thrones actor and Richard Harris stand-in James Cosmo), with bringing home Steinar’s long-missing big brother Haken. With the Saxons rebelling and the king in failing health, it’s time for Haken to become king. During the course of his journey, Steinar must not only survive the perilous British countryside but also his own ruthless family.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes
Kirk Douglas stars in this 1958 epic about the titular bad boys of Scandinavia. Set during the Dark Ages, the film depicts the Vikings’ invasion of Britain. Einar (Douglas) is the vain, lascivious son of barbaric ruler Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine, who was actually a year younger than Douglas). Einar develops a ruthless hatred for rebellious slave Eric (Tony Curtis) after the falcon Eric is training blinds and scars him. Neither Einar nor Eric realize that Eric is Ragnar’s illegitimate son. After Ragnar dies, Einar and Eric temporarily put aside their differences but, alas, both men also seek the affections of Princess Morgana (Janet Leigh). The Vikings features some beautiful location cinematography as well as a memorably haunting score.For more on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, read up on these 37 gameplay, story, and world details we uncovered, check out our breakdown of the first trailer, learn more about the game’s male and female protagonists, and check out these other Viking games to play while waiting for Valhalla.
Jim Vejvoda is IGN’s Executive Editor of Movies. Follow him at @JimVejvoda.