His figure in Vikings: Valhalla is in the background, the adviser, the observer. But make no mistake: Earl Godwin, played by David Oakes is one of the most dangerous antagonists in the series, capable of killing, as we already know. Godwin’s trajectory is fascinating and here is the potential of what we can see in the Netflix series. “For almost every character, treating him as if he is useless and worthless means that nobody expects anything from Godwin, that will be the mistake of a lot of people”, warned the actor in an interview.
In Vikings: Valhalla, while we follow the intrigues and conflicts in the Viking territories, on English soil we have Earl Godwin as a rising figure. He begins the series as the King of England’s closest advisor when the prince, Edmund (Louis Davison), inherits the throne, but his political wiles are feared by Queen Emma (Laura Berlin) and are still unclear to Canute (Bradley Freegard). Godwin is ambitious and wants even more than to be on the winning side of history. Known as the “kingmaker”, he will have his lineage sitting on the throne. That’s right, but we’ll come back to that point. As far as we’ve seen, Godwin masterfully helped Emma and King Sweyn Forkbeard (Søren Pilmark) to get rid of Queen Ælfgifu (Pollyanna McIntosh), Canute’s wife, as well as the figure of Edmund in addition to helping to regain control of the fleet from the Danes.
The real Godwin was the son of Wulfnoth Cild, who would have betrayed King Athelred II and fled with 20 ships, devastating the south coast. He only survived because he was close to Aethelred’s eldest son, Aethelstan, and when his entire family fortune was confiscated, he was left with a small estate to survive on.
With the arrival of Canute (theme of the first season), the Viking negotiated with Athelred’s son, Edmund, that he would have all of England north of the Thames, while the south (including London) would be held by Edmund. Only after the death of the monarch that the throne would be 100% of the Vikings, which happened very quickly, even with Edmund’s youth, secretly helped by Godwin, who ends the story with titles and prestige, including that of Earl of Wessex. Around the year 1018, Godwin travels with Canute to Denmark and marries Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, sister of the Viking’s brother-in-law. They have three children: Swein, Harold, and Edith, who will have controversial and relevant roles in the story.
After Canute’s death in 1035, the throne of England will initially be disputed between Harold Harefoot (Canute’s son by Ælfgifu) and Harthacnut (his son by Emma). But everything is even more complicated because there are also Alfred and Edward, Emma’s children with King Athelred II, deposed by Canute. Even as the Viking’s stepchildren, they were entitled to the throne of England.
With Harthacnut in Denmark, Godwin supported Harold Harefoot in England. When Emma’s eldest sons invade the country, Godwin helps capture Alfred and hands him over to Harold, who cruelly blinds him, leading to his death. According to History, Godwin managed to fool everyone by claiming to be loyal to Alfred, only to turn against the young prince and score points with Harold. “Fortunately”, the same Harold died afterward, eliminating the evidence of his involvement with the bloody attack.
Harthacnut’s reign also does not last many years and so the Crown ends up going to Emma’s youngest, and Æthelred’s last surviving son, Edward the Confessor. Skilled in changing sides, it is now even better for Godwin because Edward marries Edith, becoming his son-in-law. Half a connoisseur realizes the shortcut taken by Godwin, now effectively the most powerful man and with full access to the King. Not for long.
At first, under the influence of Godwin and Edith, Edward banishes his mother from Court and then believes in the accusations of her relations with the Bishop of Winchester and, as a test of her innocence, forced his mother to publicly submit to the “trial by fire”, which forced her to walk barefoot on nine molten iron spikes. After she passed the ordeal, Edward takes Emma back and trouble begins for Edith and Godwin. Now advised by his mother, Edward develops his own power base with Norman-French nobles and priests, leading Godwin to lead the opposition. Tensions grew when the Godwins refused to heed the King’s orders and were exiled.
Godwin and his sons return to England just a year later and manage to forcibly restore their position in the County of Wessex, but a sudden illness takes Godwin’s life. In this way, Harold assumes his position and achieves even greater influence. With the death of King Edward, in 1066, it is Harold Godwinson himself who succeeds him to the throne. That is, Godwin is the father of the King of England.
With all these tips, it’s wise to pay attention to Vikings: Valhalla’s most dangerous opponent. One of the most interesting characters in the entire plot.