God of War Ragnarok's scene-stealing villain is the best of 2022
It's good to be the All-Father.
Kratos and Atreus are the stars of God of War Ragnarok — except when Odin shows up. As compelling as the many performances in the epic sequel to God of War (2018) are, no one can compare to the All-Father of the Norse pantheon. If the adage that a story is only as good as its villain holds any truth, then God of War Ragnarok is a great story, because Odin is the best video game villain of the year.
It was inevitable that Kratos would have to face off with Odin. Kratos is a man who has no love for the gods of any pantheon. The moment his adventure began in the Norse world, everything was leading to Odin.
However, the All-Father of the Norse world was not seen or heard in the entirety of God of War (2018). Instead, he is a specter that haunts Kratos and Atreus. His legend is built up by the stories of other characters. A portrait of Odin begins to form in the player’s mind — a portrait of a ferocious and uncaring god. One that is incredibly dangerous to cross in any way.
Odin becomes more like the shark from Jaws, instilling fear in the player by showing the real terror he has instilled in the residents of the world you move through.
All of this anticipation has been building within fans for four long years, as they waited to see this god with their own eyes. So, when Odin appears as a normal-looking old man and strolls into Kratos’s home offering a tankard of mead early on in Ragnarok, something feels off.
The god we’ve heard about and the god we see before us do not appear to be the same person. Yet, Odin is able to quickly demonstrate that he is all the rumors have made him out to be — and that he is in control of every situation. This calm demeanor hides a storm underneath. Odin is a leader who adheres to the mentality of “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
This portrayal of Odin is unconventional but succeeds thanks to the strength of the performer responsible — Richard Schiff.
Schiff is a well-established film and television actor, who admittedly knows nothing about God of War. He took the role at the urging of his son.
In the minds of many Schiff is and always will be Toby Zeigler, the White House Communications Director on Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. Sorkin’s dialogue bears the weight of The West Wing, often communicating unseen power dynamics at play. Schiff is a master at this, and one of the highlights of the show. This background is what makes his portrayal of Odin so unique.
Rather than the simple path of creating an Odin that is larger than life, violent, and menacing, Schiff’s Odin seems like a reasonable man. The first discussion he has with Kratos begins with him offering peace, Kratos is portrayed as an emotionally unstable person in this conversation. But Schiff demands respect in these interactions, wielding his words as expertly as Kratos does the Leviathan Axe. Odin holds himself with a sense of power, this may be Kratos’s house but the second Odin walked in he took control.
The close single-take camera of Ragnarok adds to Schiff’s portrayal of Odin, giving him long drawn-out scenes where he can slowly demonstrate his manipulations in Sony Santa Monica’s take on a classic Sorkin walk-and-talk shot.
There is a scene in the first episode of The West Wing that introduces the president by having him walk in on a heated argument and calmly but sternly putting everyone in the room in their place. This authority and respect from those around him is understood to be based on the power he holds in his position. This is how Odin is portrayed, but underlying his calm demeanor is a very real threat of force, one he doesn’t resort to personally as he doesn’t need to. Most people in the realm are smart enough to not get in his way.
Odin’s characterization in Ragnarok subverts every expectation players had. But it’s the pitch-perfect performance from Richard Schiff that shatters those expectations, making Odin one of the most memorable video-game baddies in recent memory.
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