A Goddess Scorned: Ragnarok’s Hela

I hate it when blog posts open with the words ‘It’s been so long since I posted.’ For a long time, I thought it was ridiculous to call attention to the gap between one’s posts. ‘It’s okay,’ I wanted to tell those offenders, ‘We get it, you have a life, and the commitments that come with it.’ Now I’m one of those people.

The point of that long paragraph was to say the words without actually saying them. I think I succeeded.

Thor: Ragnarok spoilers are coming at you below.

Anyway, I have so much to write about, I don’t knew where to start. I saw Thor: Ragnarok the day of its release, so I suppose I should lead with that. I liked it, not loved it, and my favourite part was not Loki (Tom Hiddleston is still in my bad books), but Cate Blanchett’s Hela. I walked out of the theatre thinking, ‘Wow, I have so many deep things to say about her and her claims of being written out of history, I can reference imperialism and the sacred feminine and the monstrous feminine and all sorts of other smart things,’ but then because I was lazy and/or consumed by the process of ‘having a life’, someone else got to it first. But I won’t be bitter about it; here’s the article on Tor, which does a fairly good job of laying out Ragnarok’s anti-imperialist stance, so enjoy that and reflect on the idea that someone in the world usually has the same good idea as you, so don’t get distracted but sit down and write it out RIGHT NOW.

hela with hammer

But I do want to dwell on Hela a bit, so bear with me. First of all, Cate Blanchett was great, which was no surprise. Second, Hela’s motivation, while decidedly non-original, seemed, to me, perhaps more weirdly sympathetic and understandable than that of many other Marvel villains. For one thing, the Thor franchise seems to have learned from its mistakes (cough Dark Elves cough) and actually allowed for some development of their big bad here. For another, Hela’s rationale, of coming back to claim her rightful place was, strangely enough, a surprisingly strong rationale. Yes, she had been denied her rightful place. Yes, she had been shamefully cast aside by her father once she had outlasted her value. Yes, she had been too ‘monstrous’ for him to keep by his side, and had to be put away. Odin had used her talents to expand his rule to Asgard’s Nine Realms, but when her ambition ‘grew too much’, and her appetites were beyond what he deemed acceptable, he cast her away, and removed her image and memory from his kingdom. Hela’s face when she realizes that nobody knows who she is is actually heartbreaking, a moment of rare emotion from a character who is otherwise the consummate chilling, angry, sword and spear-casting villain. Hela is actually hurt by Odin’s absolute removal. He keeps the ‘gilded’ image of Asgard, and papers over the memory of her; he has his people worship him and his sons, but burns away any knowledge of his daughter, without whom, it is implied, his rule would have been very different.

I do not support Hela’s agenda at all, let me make that clear. Of course it’s not cool to go around enslaving other worlds simply because you’re good at it. But I also think that it’s no small thing that she’s a goddess who has been slighted. Female anger has traditionally been hidden away, with women who have gone ‘beyond their use’ locked away or simply disposed of—think of all those ‘witches’ who were drowned or burnt, or otherwise inconvenient women who faced brutal ends. Megan Garber’s piece in the Atlantic, ‘All the Angry Ladies,’ is a brilliant illustration of this history. Hela’s anger in a time of cascading revelations regarding sexual misconduct, its arrival near the anniversary of the women’s march, makes it seem timely. Hela is magnificent not only because she’s a literal goddess who can destroy a god’s symbol of phallic power, but because she channels what women have felt for so long: anger at having been put away, silenced, when she was no longer convenient for the patriarch.

So it was with some discomfort that I watched as she was vanquished, left to fight an unending battle with a one-dimensional fire giant while her brothers made an escape. There was no redemption for Hela, and she did not seek any. Her actions through the course of the film were unforgiveable, and she betrays not a shred of pity for the people over whom she rules. But even so, even though she is such an obviously horrible figure, I felt a tiny spark of recognition for her. I wonder whether it’s problematic, my recognition, or whether it’s more problematic that the film quashed her so ruthlessly at the hands of a blonde, buff man and his merry band of misfits. Characterized as angry, and needlessly violent, Hela is a discomfiting figure, but her imprisonment and defeat do not do anything to ease us. If anything, they make her more compelling, and worrisome, in their own way.

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Five Reasons Tom Hiddleston should be cast as Theon Greyjoy

Image I decided, after the terrible earnestness of my last post, to do something fun and light (if not any less earnest). So I’m going to present you five reasons why my favourite actor in the world should have played my favourite character in Westeros. If you agree with me by the end of this post, join me in writing a strongly-worded letter to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Alternately, you could recommend me to Buzzfeed. Kthanx.

Tom Hiddleston is on his way to becoming a household name, thanks to his stint as Loki in the Marvel franchise. The beauty of Tom lies not only in his flawless portrayal of a malcontent demi-god, but his ability to quote Shakespeare on demand and bring to life quasi-historical figures like Henry V. And have you heard him read poetry?

Basically, I think Tom could play anyone. And the idea of him playing Theon? Exquisite.

1)      He knows how to be annoyingly sassy

 This was one of the first things that I liked about Theon. He’s smart and good looking and he knows it, and that drives people crazy. He takes risks and gets berated for it; recall how he shot the wildling holding Bran in A Game of Thrones and got yelled at by Robb for his hasty action. And his ever-present smirk-smile gives Jon and Ramsay both the heebie-jeebies. Ramsay retaliates by smashing his teeth, ensuring that Theon isn’t going to be smiling prettily anymore.

 And we all know that Tom can do a damn good smirk.

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Oh, yeah.

 

2)      He knows his way with a weapon

 Having played Shakespeare’s Henry V and Captain Nicholls in War Horse, Tom presumably knows his way around a battlefield. He’s done some swordplay and can swing a blade as well as Alfie Allen, I would assume, if not better. And yes, I know Theon uses a bow and arrow. Can’t you just see Tom drawing one as imperiously as he commands a crowd to kneel?

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That is a whole lot of regal.

 

3)      He’s played characters with Daddy issues.

 Read: Loki. And he does it so well. That perfect blend of defiance and vulnerability. He knows how to act abandoned and how to lash back. Admitted, Theon does it a lot less gracefully than Loki, but oh well, one’s a god.

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Heartbreak.

 

4)      He can do the bromance

 

Oh come now, we all know Theon and Robb have the greatest bromance in ASoIaF, not Jon and Robb. ‘Am I your brother, now and always?’ Theon demands when he swears loyalty to Robb, and with one curt nod, Robb affirms it.

Too bad things get so messed up later.

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That is an actual poster. There was no morphing.

 

Loki and Thor have a good relationship too, or did. This deleted scene from the first movie certainly seems to indicate that Loki bears his older brother no ill will. If only those other feelings hadn’t swum up…

 

5)      Because I really, really want to hear what he’d make of that epic line.

 ‘I wanted to be one of them.’

 I feel teary already.

Oh Tom. If only you’d been hanging around that studio. I will console myself with the idea that in a perfect, parallel universe, you are doing a great job as poor, misunderstood Theon Greyjoy.

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We will always have our dreams.