Hi. So this guy was dashed down as PE early 2020 as people found his crimes were not given enough elucidation nor weight, leading them to regard him as a mere “flashback villain who vaguely attempted conquest”, and moreover, the sort of person he was outside of the 2 minutes of flashback wasn't shown to us. I was always more of the belief that he counted, but I could see where people were coming from. Since then, however, more Frozen material has dropped and painted the guy with more precise, cruel strokes, and as Ordeaux said when he gave me the go-ahead to write this proposal, it’s probably quite enough for this rotter to be pushed past the threshold of Particular Evilness.
What are the works?
Frozen II is the 2019 sequel to Disney’s big sleeper hit, 2013’s Frozen, which tells the story of Elsa dragging her sister Anna and friends to the Enchanted Forest which has for over thirty years been bounded on all sides by an impenetrable mist. Little is known but that the mist is part of a curse, and inside the Enchanted Forest a squadron of Arendellian soldiers have lived in stalemate with the humble population of the Northuldra all this time. The latter are portrayed as a belligerent people who, thirty years ago, ambushed the Arendellians (who had come with peaceful mien) and murdered Elsa and Anna’s grandfather, the noble King Runeard. Of course, as we all know it turns out Runeard is the sole culprit in essentially all that went wrong.
Scraps of context and lore were added onto this story in tie-in magazines, the Expanded Junior Novelization and most recently the YA spin-off focusing on Elsa and Anna’s parents, Agnarr and Iduna, named Dangerous Secrets. This novel does a lot to corroborate the narrative that Runeard was an uber terrible man. As for the canonicity of the tie-in literature, the authors were in close communication with the writers of the films, gleaned extended lore from them and gave no new spins to the universe without the approval of the universe’s proverbial Gods. All this to say, we’re not dealing with Bizarro Universe Runeards here.
Who is the Character? What does he Do?
King Runeard is the oldest known monarch of Arendelle and the nominal architect behind its glorious castle we see in the films. He was, as Iduna gathered in her years of residence in the land, a leader who was “respected -- feared, even”. While the people never quite warmed up to him as a person, he did excellently at commanding their reverence.
As early merchandise revealed, Runeard’s wife was an elusive Queen Rita, who never actually makes a physical appearance in the entire Frozen chronology. What we learn about her in Dangerous Secrets is rather dark though. She had come from another kingdom and had been arranged to wed Runeard for political purposes. From the get-go, their marriage had not sprung from love. While Rita had initially seemed like a bright and cheerful woman to the staff in Arendelle’s castle, over time “her laughter began to fade”. She began to languish for her home, her own kingdom and, more to the point, freedom. At first, Runeard did attempt to placate her by offering her materialistic gifts, but Rita wanted nothing but love, which Runeard could “never give her”. It got so bad that she spent day in and day out, glued to her bed and sobbing. Instead of looking inwards, Runeard simply “grew impatient at her behavior”, finding it incomprehensible that she would be so thoroughly depressed despite being offered shallow gifts. No matter what, he would never heed her pleas and release her, so one day she took matters into her own hands. Deciding she could take her miserable life no more, she fled the castle and sought out the magical trolls, exhorting them to wipe her memories of her life in Arendelle, her son Agnarr and her marriage to Runeard. She was so emotionally torn apart that “she wanted to forget who she was”. While it broke her heart to leave her own son with Runeard, she knew that if she carried him off into the night she’d spark a war between Arendelle and her own kingdom, claiming many lives and jeopardizing Agnarr’s safety.
Runeard combed the entire kingdom for Rita but found no sign of her. (Side note, not to get too Fridge Horror, but isn’t this a pretty grim conclusion to a character? Just getting their memories erased and vanishing, not being mentioned ever again? I mean, that’s just a little hardcore… Anyway, back to Runeard)
Instead of owning that he’d been a terrible husband and a failure of a King to his Queen, Runeard opted to blame “evil spirits” on Iduna’s disappearance. At least, this is what he told Agnarr. Standing in his son’s doorway (startling him by appearing), he rather succinctly told him that his mother had been carried off by these spirits and wouldn’t be coming back. This haunted Agnarr so much that he couldn’t sleep for a week after the news. The days he would spend praying for the spirits to return her. The nights he would spend awake, trembling at the thoughts of evil spirits coming to grab him.
This is one of many instances of Runeard blaming magic spirits and magic itself for his own errors, and not giving a hoot about the consequences, as it was “easier than taking responsibility.” In this fashion he engendered the harsh xenophobia towards magic in Arendelle which would only gain more and more currency as time went on. The people of Arendelle espoused his propaganda, blaming the magical spirits “since they couldn’t exactly defend themselves.” Runeard’s opinion on magic users is most explicitly stated in this passage: “Sorcery corrupted the very soul, turning it black as night.” Mighty fascist-y. And instead of there being a tragic incident that kickstarted Runeard’s hatred of magic, it seems it’s always been a case of convenient scapegoating.
Wanting to erase Rita from the history of Arendelle, Runeard locked away all her belongings, barred her bedroom door and forbade ever discussing her, going as far as to banish anyone who mentioned her name. As Iduna put it, not only did Agnarr lose his mother, but he was denied all memories of her as well, which is just extra terrible. When Agnarr wept over the permanent loss of his mother, Runeard merely shamed him, causing him to lock himself away for years. Dangerous Secrets makes it patently clear that Runeard royally screwed up his own son emotionally. Observing Agnarr in childhood, Iduna noticed a dramatic shift in his entire disposition when his father showed. His shoulders slumped, his head bowed in shame, his smile faded. As also mentioned in the Junior Novelization, Runeard strived more to raise him as a prince/diplomat rather than a person. The extended lore even shows that the iconic phrase “conceal, don’t feel” originated from Runeard, who wanted his son to stifle all of his emotions for the sake of acting regal. These words were embedded into Agnarr’s brain, and he carried them with him even into adulthood and projected them onto his daughter Elsa, showing just how long-term the negative effects of his father’s abuse lasted. While Rita had been motherly and loving in her ways of treating Agnarr as an actual son whom she cherished, Runeard had been draconian and distant, and as Agnarr reflected upon their relationship way after the fact he concluded that he was ultimately angry at his father and wished he had been Lt. Mattias’ (who was much more of a healthy father figure to him anyway) son instead.
Now, into more familiar territory. Runeard discovered the peaceful Northuldra people who lived in the Enchanted Forest and existed in harmony with the magical spirits of wind, water, fire and earth. He brokered a peaceful alliance with them and commissioned the construction of a great dam (whose blueprints had puzzlingly been sketched out before Agnarr was even born -- speaks to Runeard’s devotion) to honor their friendship by ‘strengthening’ their waters, however that works. This was a laborious project which spanned over multiple years, and in the meantime Runeard made multiple visits to the Northuldran population, seemingly ingratiating himself with them. Not everyone trusted him right off the bat, though. The natural skeptic Yelana could immediately sense his “hatred” and noted how the Arendellian king would look on Northuldran children playing with tiny sparks of spirits, shaking his head with disgust. That is just a really eerie little detail to include.
As the construction was nearing its conclusion, Runeard ordered an aide to bring Arendelle’s full guard to the Forest for the dam’s planned celebration. The aide was shocked by Runeard’s decree, arguing that the Northuldrans had given them no reason not to trust them. Runeard stared him down, briefly intimidating him before uttering his infamous belief that since the Northuldrans followed magic, they could never be trusted. They felt too powerful and too entitled and could defy his will as a King. As they walked on, Runeard elaborated on his plot, revealing that he had in truth constructed the dam to cut off their waters, making them unable to live off their weakened lands and thus wholly dependent on him; of course ensuring they could never gain the upper hand. Runeard added that when the Northuldrans would naively gather to celebrate the dam, the Arendellians would have a perfect opportunity to gauge their numbers and strength (implying, along with bringing the whole army, some nefarious prospect or other).
On the day of the celebration, the Arendellians poured with excitement into the Enchanted Forest. Not only soldiers, but shield-maids, everyday citizens and their children. Runeard brought Agnarr along for no other discernible reason than to “represent Arendelle”, and the latter quickly set to exploring the forest, deeply enchanted by its feeling of magic, which enraged his father. Agnarr got to catch a few glimpses of fun and fascination with Iduna, his future wife, before Runeard roared for him to come back, shattering his sprightly energy as described earlier. Runeard chided Agnarr for his curiosity in magic, asserting it is to be “feared, not admired”. Agnarr couldn’t even look his father in the eyes as he weakly apologized, but it didn’t matter much as Runeard only dismissively waved him off without a goodbye. This was their final interaction. It’s mentioned that Agnarr stood and watched his father leave him, unhappy and lonely, until Lt. Mattias emerged to cheer him up, once again reinforcing that it was in him he found his true father figure.
And here we get to the most damning new Runeard tidbit of all, if you ask me. Iduna noticed from the thickets how Runeard strode over to a group of soldiers stationed at the head of the camp. He asked them in a very deliberate tone: “Are you ready for the… festivities?”, laughing at the last word in a way so ominously fake and bitter that it unnerved Iduna, making a “strange feeling” worm through her stomach. It is described as “threatening in tone”, and though the words themselves were innocuous, the way Runeard uttered them is described as ‘’wrong’’. That he would furtively drop such a Deadly Euphemism to his soldiers is far and away the most undeniable evidence that Runeard had anticipated if not premeditated his imminent attack on the people, and that he would make such a point of stressing the word ‘festivities’ (and use that word in the first place) implies Runeard’s mighty glad to get some Northuldra-slashing under way.
We then get to the infamous scene where the unnamed Northuldran leader at the time begged Runeard to do something about the dam, as he had made out that it was detrimental to the forest and cut off the North. Not inclined to let the leader finish his plea, Runeard offered to discuss matters with him in secret over a cup of tea. The Northuldran leader went along with this proposition, and once alone with Runeard in a clearing he stooped down to collect some water from a tree. Runeard stole up to him with a firm grip on his sword and a malignant little grin. This grin is next to imperceptible in the final film with its FX and whatnot, but a behind the scenes breakdown of the shot revealed the grin was there to show Runeard ‘relishing his evil act’ as his animator put it -- also lending a little more credence to the whole thing being calculated. Not to put too fine a point on it, Runeard murdered the unarmed old leader and hereby initiated a brutal battle with the Northuldrans during which all the Arendellians were led to believe the Northuldrans had attacked them.
And a brutal battle it was. Not just brutal as in Agnarr describing it was a brutal battle when recounting it to his daughters. No, Dangerous Secrets puts a lot of extra meat onto the whole tragedy. Iduna, through whom the battle was experienced, immediately resolved to find her family in the carnage as she heard “cries of anger turning to agony” “People screaming.”. Understanding the situation was only going to get worse, Iduna fled deeper into the forest and came across Agnarr who had been so hurt in the battle he was bleeding out. “There was so much blood that it took me a moment to recognize him.” It is underlined at many points that if not for Iduna, Agnarr would’ve died.
She tried to hop on a wagon and escape the battle zone along with the wounded Agnarr but was immediately forced to hide as a little group of Arendellian soldiers came rushing. One asked whether the other had spotted any Northuldrans, and the other responded that if he saw any he wouldn’t waste any time talking and would instead “slash them all down”. Furthermore, when the soldiers later discovered Iduna in the wagon one of them violently seized her arm and interrogated her about her heritage. The scene very heavily implies that Iduna’s in real danger should they discover she was a Northuldran: “With my injured ankle, there was no escaping my fate.” She was in the last second saved by a merciful Arendellian by the name of Lord Peterssen who claimed she was the orphaned child of Greta and Torra, two Arendellians killed in the battle. Both of these scenes clearly evince the “kill on sight” mentality under which Runeard’s soldiers operated during the battle, even showing that children were endangered.
Indeed, the upshot after this battle was that the Northuldrans were now viewed as despicable “traitors” who attempted to “slaughter” their people in cold blood. Up until near the end of her life, Iduna was forced to hide her true heritage because of the legitimately deadly threat of the near-indelible hatred towards Northuldrans Runeard had cultivated.
There’s also given something of a bodycount to the battle. Beyond the named Greta and Torra whose fates the soldiers describe as “tragic”, Peterssen laments that many of the people in their kingdom have “lost loved ones”. Of course, some of them might just have gotten trapped in the cursed mist, but there are also those who were expressly killed under the pointless battle Runeard instigated. Children in the orphanage in which Iduna spends many of her years talk about their parents dying in battle. Agnarr expressly states that “many lost parents during the battle of the Enchanted Forest”. The battle caused the orphanage to be so overcrowded with newly orphaned children that it needed additional funds to expand the building and pay for the food. So not only did Runeard callously instigate a bloody war with his son present, but with untold numbers of other children at the dam celebration as well. The undertones of mass murder also briefly surface when Iduna (during a depressive breakdown) asks if the Northuldra were “destroyed” whilst wondering who survived.
Runeard of course, didn’t survive. Whilst trying to strike a Northuldran down he tumbled off a cliff, dragging his enemy with him and killing them both. But as we all know, his atrocious legacy would linger on for more than thirty years yet. Of course Runeard had no idea his actions would cause a curse to cage a group of Arendellians and Northuldrans together for decades until the dam was busted, but the fact that there was literal divine intervention to put a stop to Runeard’s madness is telling.
Nah. Runeard is clearly depicted as a sociopathic tyrant who values his own authority over the well-being of everyone else. He doesn’t detest magic because he believes it poses a genuine threat to his people, but because he has consciously made magic the villain of his kingdom for years, to obfuscate his own errors. At heart his motivation stems from a fear of anything undermining his power. He wants to neutralize the Northuldran people for practicing magic as he thinks they’ll find themselves able to “defy the will of a king”. Beyond being driven by selfish motivations, he shows shades of sadism as well, grinning whilst charging at the Northuldran leader to kill him and while describing how his dam would force the entire people to become susceptible to him (not to mention the whole ‘...festivities’ comment).
His relationship with his son is distinctly toxic and devoid of love. He berates Agnarr for expressing any emotion that isn’t obedience or grace when he isn’t neglecting him and foisting him onto Mattias, and had no qualms about sparking an attack at an event which almost killed Agnarr.
As for Rita, while he did try to placate her with royal gifts, it’s explicitly said that he never actually gave her genuine “love”. As her depression worsened, he merely grew impatient with her, to the point that she experienced a Despair Event Horizon and had to have her memories wiped to cope with the way her life turned out. Though Runeard attempting to hide everything that reminded him of Rita could’ve been written as a case of guilt, it’s actually just played as a deluded man unwilling to accept responsibility for his own actions. It is not played for sympathy at all, and is instead used to show how cruel he was to his own son, forbidding him to ever indulge in the memory of his beloved mother and utilizing the tragedy to hammer his head full with more scarring anti-magic propaganda.
While Runeard’s never had a problem with exceeding the relatively low Heinous Standard of Frozen (where the two other major villains have been greedy comic relief and “kill the hero” usurper prince), his more detailed (and new) crimes definitely propel him much higher.
Here we have a man who was indifferent to his wife’s suffering in a forced marriage until she vanished into the night, abandoning her son and choosing to have her own memories erased; abusively manipulated and indoctrinated his son at every turn (shaping him into the rather problematic character we see in the first film); weakened a neighboring kingdom just so they would be at his mercy; funneled his entire military into a “peaceful” excursion to this kingdom (which by the way left his own kingdom completely defenseless for years and weak to rivaling lands) and killed an unarmed man to spark a battle which now explicitly has claimed lives on both sides, at an occasion where civilians and children (including his own) were present.
And this is not even counting the more disturbing genocidal implications which his fanatical denouncement of all magic users as black-souled, his private conference with some of his soldiers about ‘festivities’ as well as the soldiers’ later willingness to “slash them all down” greatly bolster. Of course there's still no in-media confirmation that vouches for an intention to truly destroy the entire people, but it's quite safe to say that Runeard had a mind to descend upon the Northuldrans with his grand army and destroy enough for them to be no more perceived trouble to him.
On the whole there’s no doubt he is the worst in the franchise and crossed the MEH big time with his cold-blooded murder of the Northuldran leader, coupled with his blatant disregard for the lives around him he endangered/ended; so long as it meant preserving his power.
I’m thinking yes. That was already where I was leaning in the first place, but he's been a little more irredeemably bad here.