How God of War Ragnarök Amplifies The Millennial Dream of Parents Apologizing

Warning: Full game spoilers for God of War and God of War: Ragnarök follow. 

In 2018, Santa Monica Studios released the highly anticipated God of War, a successor and reboot of a decades old franchise known for its violent hack and slash mechanics and one-track minded protagonist Kratos. While the game was overwhelmingly welcomed and praised by critics, there was certainly some surprise when it came to the premise.  The god-killing, perpetually pissed off demigod and Spartan general was hanging up the Blades of Chaos and trying out (for the second time) parenthood. It was a weird shift, and even if it made narrative sense for the character after what seemed like an eternity of bloodshed, the question remained: how do you create a meaningful and believable character shift for someone like Kratos? Creative director Cory Barlog committed himself and the team to the task, and it turns out the answer is pretty simple.  You can’t create that character shift overnight. It takes hours of gameplay (and story, and conflict, and obstacles) to set the foundations for this shift, and it takes a profound sense of identity and accountability, something Kratos essentially fled from to begin with. But with true introspection and taking accountability, it is possible, and the follow up game, God of War Ragnarök, solidifies that notion. Not just for Kratos, but for the other gods who find themselves in his path. 

And this also just happens to be a heartfelt desire of many millennials: to have their parents take accountability for their failures, and be better. 

GoWR Kratos and Atreus
Atreus (left) arguing with his father Kratos (right) over their next move in the fight against Odin.

This concept isn’t new, and it’s something we’ve seen a lot of in media as more and more millennials end up in leadership positions across various media types. It’s probably most prevalent in Disney films in recent years; Brave, Moana, Coco, Encanto, and Turning Red immediately come to mind. A protagonist struggles with the overbearing expectations of their parent or guardian, which causes a crisis of identity that must be overcome in order for them to resolve the story’s central conflict. All of these stories end with the parent admitting fault and resolving to be more present and supportive to the protagonist. It’s the very thing that so many millennials (including myself) wish our boomer parents would recognize and take on. Since it is basically a pipe dream in real life, we’ve chosen to realize these stories in movies, books, and video games as a way to come as close to the desired experience as possible. Inadvertently, we are also creating the playbook by which we will adapt our own parenting styles. So it’s still a net win.

The seeds that were planted in 2018’s God of War bloomed in Ragnarök, and Kratos’ evolution is apparent pretty early on. Following the events of God of War, Kratos struggles to imbue a sense of duty and self preservation in his son Atreus, who is now a teenager and has become much more curious about his identity and his purpose. The majority of the game follows the conflicted goals of Kratos and Atreus, with Atreus resentful of his father for dismissing his curiosity and desire for more, and Kratos angry at Atreus for what he deems disobedience and foolishness. While Kratos does show a greater willingness to follow Atreus and foster his growth, he is still haunted by his fear that Atreus will repeat the same mistakes that he has made. It’s only when Kratos accepts that he is no longer the man that he used to be, and that he must trust Atreus to grow into the man he was always meant to be, that the two are able to bridge that relational gap and work together to avert the coming apocalypse.

Interestingly enough, this conflict is not solely relegated to the protagonists.  It is very much an obstacle for the antagonists as well, like Odin’s relationship with his son Thor, and Thor’s relationship with his daughter, Thrud. There’s an irony to the fact that gods themselves are just as capable of mistakes as parents, and those mistakes result in bitterness, resentment, and other much more dire consequences for the Realms. Odin’s lack of care and concern for Thor, even going so far as to mock him when he was attempting to get sober following the death of his sons, is a pretty blatant representation of the type of father Odin is. 

GoWR Odin and Thor
Thor (left) and his father Odin (right) meeting with Kratos to discuss “terms for peace”.

Thor however, is represented with a greater sense of internal conflict. He drinks to suppress the pain he feels from the loss of his sons and the anger he feels for his father, and he constantly self-deprecates to soften the stinging blows of his father’s disrespect. But it’s clear how deeply he wishes to be a better man. There’s a moment in the game where his daughter Thrud confronts him for relapsing into alcoholism, and during their entire confrontation, he refuses to even look at her. His face is worn down, he looks exhausted, and he is clearly ashamed of the way his decisions have caused his daughter pain. Thor’s role as an antagonist is directly fueled by his anger and resentment, and it comes to a very abrupt end in his confrontation with Kratos, who represents true growth as a man and as a god, and how that growth has led to his ability to physically best Thor and also emotionally challenge him like he never has been before. It’s why Thor’s death at the hands of Odin immediately after committing himself to change is so tragic. Growth is only possible insofar as you have the resources and support to commit yourself to that change, which Thor was never going to get from his own father. 

So what does all of this mean? It can be summed up, for the most part, by where the central characters’ arcs land them. Even though Thor doesn’t get a chance to show how he has changed, his daughter is a witness to his commitment to try. Freya, though she still suffers immense grief over her son’s death, accepts that she played a part in making him what he was, and resolves to fight those demons instead of projecting blame. Kratos, though he fears how his violent past might shape Atreus’ future, accepts that his past is his past, and he has the knowledge of his past choices to influence the kind of future he wants for them both. 

GoWR Kratos Redemption
At the end of the game, Kratos finally earns the reward he thought he would never get: being revered as a beloved god.

Millennials, the children of the Baby Boomer generation, face a difficult uphill battle. Boomers have no incentive to change.  They were raised by parents that won a decisive world war and spearheaded a robust economy that they reaped the benefits of for decades. There was nothing to be accountable for. It was only when they became parents, homeowners, and economic leaders that we saw the consequences of their more favorable upbringing. Now that millennials must navigate economic and political crisis after crisis, most of which were in some way started by boomers, our boomer parents call us lazy, entitled, and “unwilling to work.” It’s natural that we’d feel our own sense of resentment, being scapegoated as “the problem” in a world that has been completely reshaped to work against us and benefit them. As parents, boomers were often strict, unrelenting, overbearing, and unfair, because their parents were the same way. But we live in a social media age now. Millennials and succeeding generations can share experiences, find companionship and camaraderie in those experiences, and navigate what we need to feel empowered to be better. Since our boomer parents won’t do it, the responsibility sadly falls to us. And I hope for plenty more God of War Ragnaröks to pave the way to that future.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments