The game that Amleth of Skarsgård is forced to play is called Knattleikr. I didn’t know her name when the scene was playing, so I just called her “the screwed up butt.” The basic configuration, as historians have been able to reconstruct it, of Knattleikr is quite simple. Usually the match was played on a giant patch of ice, but in “The Northman” it is on a pitch, which was not unheard of for the match. There are two teams of players, each equipped with a stick (really more like a club). Two goals are installed on either side of a field. There is a ball, and like in many other sports, the object is to get the ball into your opponent’s goal. They could either run with the ball in hand or pass the ball to their teammates.
But these are the Vikings we are talking about. Sportsmanship, I guess, hadn’t been invented yet, because to say Knattleikr was physical would be the grossest understatement of the century. These guys will do anything to prevent the ball from progressing or get anyone out of their way as they head for goal. And I mean anything. Remember when I said they had sticks in their hands? Well, sometimes they used the sticks to hit the ball to their teammate. Most of the time they just use these sticks to fight each other.
One of the players on the team facing Amleth is particularly big and brutal, basically The Mountain from “Game of Thrones” but for old Iceland. My guess was that it was for dramatic effect, as its brutality plays a part in the relationship between Amleth and the characters played by Claes Bang and Nicole Kidman. However, according to Health & Fitness History, Knattleikr was just as brutal as “The Northman” portrays him:
“Icelandic sagas that deal with knattleikr reveal that players were sometimes killed on the pitch – sometimes intentionally. One of the sagas tells the story of a man killing his opponent with an ax after a fierce match, both teams clashing in mortal combat in the sequel.”
And you thought Malice at the Palace was bad. I understand why Amleth had to participate in the game. He was forced to. But people gladly played it in real life once upon a time. I don’t understand it. Bloodsport was never my thing. How hard you can hit someone has never made me watch a game. I like basketball. Sure, there’s a bit of physicality, but they don’t bludgeon their opponents to serious injuries with a club. So if you’ve ever watched MMA and thought, “This is too tame,” may I suggest Knattleikr?