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!