Best Bloodshed

Best Bloodshed

Third Quarter Court Results: Who will it be????

The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (Ep. 34): Helgi Thorbjarnarson, brother of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup, was exhausted from his fight with Svart the Viking. Suddenly, Gunnar appeared and asked if he could step in to finish the fight. Helgi wasn’t having any of that. Instead, he said, “Lend me your sword instead.” Then Gunnar tossed the sword in the air and Helgi caught, still fending off an attacking Svart. With Gunnar’s sword in hand, Helgi quickly took control of the fight. Svart gave ground and left himself open. At that moment, Helgi struck such a forceful blow on the crown of Svart’s head that he split it in two and carved right through the body until the two halves of Svart fell in opposite directions. And that, my friends, is how you win Best Bloodshed. There was no discussion or arguing about this one. Helgi deserved the award.

The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Ep. 33): There were plenty of fine candidates to consider in this saga, especially given Thorgeir and Thormod’s love of killing. Though Thormod thoroughly impressed with his death-defying fight on a cliffside and the de-pantsing of his enemy, we gave the award to Thorgeir for the showmanship involved in his killing. After an awkward dinner with Butraldi, Thorgeir decided to kill him. His reasoning is questionable, but his execution is admirable (pun intended). He climbed a snowy hill to get ahead of Butraldi. When he spotted Butraldi on the slope below, the saga says: “Thorgeir placed his spear underneath him, with the spearhead facing forwards, raised his axe to shoulder height and slid down the snow towards Butraldi. He heard the sound of Thorgeir whizzing down and looked up, but before he knew what was happening Thorgeir struck him full in the chest with his axe and cut right through him and he fell back down the slope. Thorgeir continued down past him until he reached flat ground.”

For this completely unnecessary bit of flair in his completely unnecessary killing of Butraldi, Thorgeir won the prize.

The Saga of Thord Menace (Ep. 32): Thord Menace received a rare Lifetime Achievement Award for his many many many killings and his signature move, the Thorðarson Chop (a.k.a. the Menacing Blow). With Thord chopping his way through the saga, there were a lot of great candidates, including a stunning stroke that separated Ozur’s ribcage from his spine. But the winner of the coveted Best Bloodshed award for The Saga of Thord Menace had to be Klypp and his brothers invading the hall of King Sigurd Snake. This scene, based on the historical assassination of King Sigurd, simply had too much high-stakes action to ignore. Congrats to the Thorðarsons on the win!

The Saga of Bard the God of Snowfell (Ep. 31): After Bard is unable to help him during his fight with the undead Raknar, Gest calls instead to King Olaf, pledging to convert to Christianity and accept baptism if the King can save him from the deceased viking. Olaf then appears in a holy light, stunning Raknar and allowing Gest to win the battle. Upon his return to Olaf’s court, Gest fulfills his oath and converts. The night after his baptism, Bard appears in his son’s dreams, and berates him for his lack of character in abandoning his faith in the old gods. For this betrayal, Bard decrees that Gest will lose both his eyes, and leaps upon his son. Waking up, Gest then feels a terrible pain behind his eyes, both of which then pop from his head. Gest dies of these injuries soon after.
For death via the Freddy Kreuger Manoeuvre, this eye-popping incident takes the prize.

The Saga of Hord and the Holm-Dwellers (Ep. 30): The body count of this saga offers us a lot in the way of wholesale death, but is lean in the way of ‘hand-crafted artisanal killings.’ However, we have seen a few which are downright gruesome. Our winner this saga is the scene where Thorolf Stiff attempts to kill Ref the Godi in his sleep. When Thorolf pauses before delivering the deadly strike, Thorbjorg Katla, Ref’s mother spots the would-be assassin and calls out in warning, waking the sleeping godi. Ref then tries to stand. Thorolf breaks out of his hesitation and strikes, “once where the calf was thinnest, and once upon the ankle.” Thorolf then jumps out of the bed closet, only to be tackled by Thorbjorg, who pulls him under her and bisects his windpipe with her teeth.

We’ve been desensitized to sword bisections by now, but this downright horrific combination of an attempted killing-turned-maiming and maw-generated gore did what was necessary to grab out attention and lay disquieting in our memories. Congratulations Thorbjorg Katla!

The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson (Ep. 29):
Egil doesn’t tend to waste time with creativity when it comes to killing people. He tends towards the ruthlessly efficient. However, on one occasion, his usual tactics of sword or axe don’t work, and for this we give him the award for Best Bloodshed.

Atli the Short managed to predict the usual methods of violence which happen during a duel, and his spells of protection were able to render standard tactics ineffective. In a moment of inspiration (and perhaps some berserker insight), Egil improvises and rips Atli’s throat out with his teeth. Afterwards, Egil hoists the sacrificial bull in the air and snaps its neck.

Leave it up to a warrior poet to be creative and ghoulishly blunt. It’s certainly unique and memorable, and for this we give Egil’s killer smile a standing ovation.

The “Saga” of Ale-Hood (Ep. 28): For the first time we have a veritable conscientious objector of a saga. There is no bloodshed. Despite many harsh words and hurt feelings, there are no violent acts taken. Sorry bloodshed fans: no candidates – no winners.

The Saga of the People of Floi (Ep. 27): This saga managed to provide several good (if under-described) options, such as Thorgils bisecting one of the Ranvids, and the slaying of 30 Vikings on the Greenland Coast. However, due to its level of narrative description the award goes to Thorgils’ act of parental protectiveness in slaying the polar bear at Brattahlid when his young son, Thorfinn, was in danger. The doggie was mean. Thorgils was meaner.

The Saga of the People of Kjalarnes (Ep.26): This time the award goes to the young Bui Andridson, for his killing (or potential murder) of Thorstein in the temple of Thor. Using his bare hands, the pint-sized protagonist temporarily removes the unwary Thorstein from the temple floor before immediate re-introducing them to each other. After giving the place a new paint job with his persecutor’s grey matter, Bui then adds arson to his rap sheet by setting the temple alight before running home. All at the tender age of twelve.

The Saga of Ref the Sly (Ep. 25): This is a saga where imaginative and clever engineering takes the spotlight. Despite some well-dealt revenge killings, it’s Ref and his sons’ escape from the second siege of his Greenlandic Fortress of Solitude that wins the day. Where else in the sagas are you going to see four men killed by a mechanical boat launch? For an unforeseen application of gravity combined with the beginning of a clever get-away, Ref, we salute you!

Second Quarter Court (Ep. 24): While it looked like Skarphedin might yet again dazzle us with his skating prowess, the whale-top battle in the Saga of Grettir the Strong won the day with an impressive 39.33% of the vote. An honorable mention goes yet again to Thord Cormorant and his unfortunate piercing. Poor guy just can’t get a break.

The Saga of Droplaug’s Sons (Ep. 23): The majority of candidates for best bloodshed come from the battle of the two Helgis.  I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that the top two candidates were Thord Cormorant being pinned to a snowdrift by his scrotal sack and Helgi Droplaugarson taking a sword to the face.  The decision was very difficult as John and Andy were forced to weigh their childish natures against the awe they felt when Helgi D. stuffed his beard in his bloody mouth and kept on fighting.  When push came to shove, Helgi D. was rewarded for his get up and go.  An honorable mention was offered to poor Thord Cormorant.

The Saga of the People of Vopnafjord (Ep. 22): While there were several good candidates to choose from, John and Andy were tickled by the idea of the lacuna doing violence to the text itself.  Though a highly unorthodox choice, the lacuna was awarded best bloodshed.

Thorstein the White’s Saga (Ep. 21): Despite its diminutive size, this saga had a few good candidates.  The problem was that the author never really fleshes out the scenes for us.  John and Andy were both disappointed with the lack of good candidates here.  Thankfully, the young Brodd-Helgi appeared near the end to save the day by strapping an ice-spur to the head of his bull.  Thus armed, the bull managed to gore his opponent and come out of the skirmish victorious.  Brodd-Helgi and the bull will have to share this one for their team effort.

 Njal’s Saga (Ep. 20): Picking just one winner from Njal’s Saga for Best Bloodshed seems sacrilegious.  We snuck in as many candidates as we could, including several quick hits suggestions from our listeners.   In the end, we settled on just a few candidates and chose from them.  Among our favorites were Thorhall using his pus-covered spear to kick off the brawl at the Althing, Skarphedin sliding across the ice and high-sticking Thrain Sigfusson, Broðir unwinding around the tree after a long battle, and Kol losing his head during a financial transaction. The burning of Njal and family didn’t even make the list!  After a brief debate, John and Andy agreed that Skarphedin’s athletic and stylistic slaying of Thrain Sigfusson had everything the category of Best Bloodshed was designed to recognize.  It was no surprise that Skarphedin walked away with the trophy here.

The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta (Ep. 19): There were several good options in Reykdala Saga, but what happens to the assassin Grim is one of the more spectacular and gruesome bits of bloodshed we’ve seen on the podcast.  Killer-Skuta catches on to Grim’s plot, strips him naked, drags him out to an island on Myvatn lake,  and then ties him to a post.  Grim is left on the island to starve, assuming the horrible Myvatn midges don’t kill him first.  It’s not the kind of battle-frenzied, bloody winner we usually see, but it’s possibly one of the most horrific in a while.

The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong (Ep. 18): So many worthy candidates in this saga about a man who simply loves to smash, kill, and destroy.  Finnbogi’s Saga was one glorious candidate for Best Bloodshed after another.  We had to pass on bear fights and the most impressive bit of rock throwing in all of Western literature.  It was hard to pick just one. In the end, we chose one of the more charming and fantastic moments.  From chapter 37: “[Finnbogi] chopped off Bersi’s head so suddenly that it landed between the shoulders of one of his farmhands, who immediately fell down unconscious.”  That’s a mighty blow!  It might not be the most violent moment in the saga (in fact it’s not), but it has all the elements we enjoy in saga bloodshed.

The Saga of the Greenlanders (Ep. 17): The battles with the Skraelings are both impressive and curious enough to garner some attention, but nothing in this saga could compare to Freydis arranging the murders of Helgi, Finnbogi, and their crew.  To top it off, Freydis personally murdered all the women when her followers didn’t have the guts.  It’s an impressive, if deeply disturbing, act of bloodshed.  We think we’ll mail her this award, however.

Grettir’s Saga (Ep. 16): There’s more bloodshed in this saga than in any other we’ve covered.  Grettir, a guy who hacks and cuts his way through any problem, could be called the King of Best Bloodshed.  But none of Grettir’s bloody accomplishments compares to the battle over a whale carcass from chapter 12.  It all starts with Thorgeir Bottle-back charging up the back of a dead whale to exact revenge on Thorfinn the assassin.  Thorgeir kindly returns Thorfinn’s axe, cutting his head off in the process.  After that, everyone joins the battle.  A legs is cut off, a head is smashed in with a rib from whale, and Ofeig Grettir is killed.  What makes this battle best is the fact that bits of whale, slices of meat and blubber, were used as weapons by unarmed men.  The scene is preserved in the following poem:

I have heard that rather tough
war-weapons were used at Rifsker,
for many unarmed men struck
mainly with bits of whale;
but metal-Gauts [warriors] have thrown
lumps of whale-flab
very hard in return;
we find this fray unsavory.

Quarter Court Results (Ep. 15): There really wasn’t much competition here.  Gisli’s last stand won nearly 70% of the vote.

Vatsndœla Saga (Ep. 14): So much bloodshed.  Despite the abundance of great candidates, there was only one possible winner here.  How could we pass up Ingolf Thorsteinsson’s bold attack on the bandits?  He ingeniously strapped a rock to his chest and another between his shoulders before charging into battle against at least 18 men.  At one point, he raised his sword, Aettartangi, cleaved the head of them man behind him and then delivered a deathblow to the man in front of him.  It was one of our more fantastic examples of Best Bloodshed in a while.  Sadly, Ingolf succumbed to his wounds the following spring.

Viglund’s Saga (Ep. 13): This saga isn’t known for it’s bloodshed, but when blood is shed it’s shed in fantastic fashion. While it would have been nice to reward Viglund’s horse for his impressive dismantling of Blackie, we felt it would be an injustice to ignore Viglund’s juggling skills.  When Viglund realized that he couldn’t continue the battle against Jokul on account of his wounds and his exhaustion, he “threw  up the shield and the axe, and since he could fight equally well with either hand he caught the shield with his right hand and the axe with the left.”  This obviously surprised Jokul, who couldn’t follow the movement, giving Viglund the opportunity to slice his arm off.  Jokul then tries to run away, but Viglund finishes him off with a spear.  Great stuff!

The Saga of Bjorn Champion of the Hitardal People (Ep. 12): Very little debate here.  The seal who bit Thord’s thigh won the honor easily.  This is our first winner from the animal kingdom, though not our first non-human winner.  The uniped from Eirik’s saga had that privilege.

Kormak’s Saga (Ep. 11): While Bersi’s buttocks were a major contender, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to award the Scottish giant who kills Kormak.  Where else are you going to run into a giant with a Scottish accent that’s also worshipped as an idol?  We wonder how his worshippers responded to his untimely demise.

Hallfred Troublesome-Poet’s Saga (Ep. 10): Hallfred sets his heel in Thorleif’s eye and jerks the eye right out of him.  It’s a unique way to pluck out an eyeball, making us wonder about Hallfred’s footwear.

Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue’s Saga (Ep. 9): Hrafn’s leg is cut off and he doesn’t even fall down.  As the saga says, he “dropped back to a tree stump and rested the stump of his leg on it.”  What a guy!  We hope this award helps ease the pain.

Bandamanna saga (Ep. 8): The creepy tableau of Ospak’s bled-out corpse in the caves was a winner, narrowly beating out the death of Hermund by causes unknown (though we’ve got top men looking at the Zaprudersson film right now to get to the bottom of this mystery).

Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and his Sons (Ep. 7): No official judgments, but plenty of great bloodshed here.  If we had to pick,   we might go with the blood-eagle.  It inspired Saga Briefs, so it has to be good.

Hen-Thorir’s Saga (Ep. 6): We’ve got slaughtered horses, randomly shot arrows, and merciless burnings in Hen-Thorir’s Saga.  But it was Hersteinn’s beheading of the already dead Hen-Thorir that won the title.  We still wonder what he does with that head.  Proudly displayed on his mantle perhaps?

Gisli’s saga Sursson (Ep. 5): There are so many strong contenders in Gisli’s saga that many other sagas’ winning moments wouldn’t have made the nominees list for this one. In the end, Gisli’s over-the-top last stand (complete with Gisli’s shirt being tied up to keep his guts in long enough for him to make a final speech and  a final, diving death-blow to yet another enemy) was spectacular enough to make this an easy decision.

Eirik the Red’s saga (Ep. 4): In a saga that includes some pretty spectacular moments (dying by drowning in a sea of maggots? Thorstein the farmer having to bury an axe in his wife’s reanimated corpse to stop her from climbing into the beds of living men?), one death stood out. Thorvald Eiriksson, shot by a Uniped in the New World, can lay claim to perhaps the most unique death anywhere in the sagas.

Eyrbyggja Saga (Ep. 3): The attack on Thorarin Black’s farm, with the ridiculously tough Aud of Mavahlid telling her husband Thorarin not to make such a fuss over her severed hand…and Thorarin (who ignores her) then splitting Thorbjorn Stout’s head down to the neck in retaliation. For an added bonus, there are a number of other deaths along with Thorir Arnarson’s severed leg. Blood, gore, and severed limbs galore–a worthy win.

Hrafnkel’s saga (Ep. 2): Sám and the Thjostarssons string the men of Hrafnkel’s farm up by their Achilles tendons–a rare example of torture in the sagas!

One thought on “Best Bloodshed

  1. Pingback: Saga Thing: Putting the Sagas of Icelanders on Trial – Fjörn's Hall

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