Earl Haraldson was the local Viking chieftain of Kattegat before Ragnar Lothbrok. He became embroiled in a struggle for power and glory with his successor before his death. The Earl was madly in love with his spouse, Siggy, with whom he had three children, a daughter, Thyri and two sons. The colors of his house (ætt) were red and black.
Haraldson has forged a reputation as a powerful and fearsome warrior, who in his youth led his kinsmen in daring raids in the east. As a result, he became a respected figure.
However, the Earl had made enemies on the path to glory, who would strike a blow against him that would persist until his death. At one point, his two sons were brutally murdered, their heads cut off and set against their backside, and left in a shallow grave, as a sign of disrespect for their father. Haraldson, filled with grief, buried them humanely and took locks of hair from their heads as a keepsake. This act left the Earl as a grim, cruel man who no longer believed in trusting others and saw his enemies hiding behind every corner. Haraldson swore that if he ever found the men responsible for their murders, he would kill them in the most brutal fashion he could devise.
As incumbent earl, Haraldson is the one designated to give arm rings to men of his community, who would then pledge their loyalty to him. Bjorn, Ragnar Lothbrok's son, had recently turned 12 and had just received his arm ring from Haraldson.
Seeing the opportunity at the feast with his fellow Viking warriors, Ragnar called Haraldson out for not wanting to raid what Ragnar believes to be the fruitful lands of the West. Ragnar attempted to tell them his plans, but Haraldson soon refused him, not wanting to risk his ships or reputation on a potentially fruitless and dangerous endeavor. He later summoned Ragnar privately and threatened him, recognizing the threat Ragnar possibly posed when he decided to challenge him in his own halls. Worried that Ragnar's ambitious nature might end his rule, or worse, his life, Haraldson constantly sought the advice of the Seer.
Unbeknownst to him, Ragnar is having his own longship made to carry out the voyage. Haraldson learns the existence of it from Olafur who he sent to shadow Ragnar's movement. He also sends his half-brother Knut Tjodulf to spy on him as well. Eventually, Ragnar and his warband sets sail. Haraldson spares little thought to it at first, believing they will get lost and die at sea.
Despite all odds, Ragnar and his friends do return from the west laden with plunder and glory. Haraldson can no longer deny the existence of other lands, and thus new, lucrative raiding targets. He also realizes he has lost face with his people and, in an attempt to show dominance, he confiscates Ragnar's hoard, leaving the warrior and his allies with only one item each. Ragnar takes the Christian Athelstan as his slave, instead of gold and silver, surprising the old earl.
Ragnar again goes before Haraldson and asks him to sanction more raids to the west. Haraldson agrees, but on the condition a warrior he trust accompanies the raiders in order to safeguard his interests. He chooses Knut to do so, and secretly charges him to uncover the methods Ragnar uses to navigate the open sea.
Things go awry as Knut is killed while raiding the Saxon village of Haxem. Not by a Saxon warrior, but by Lagertha, wife of Ragnar, who kills him as he attempts to rape her. She later tells Ragnar this in front of his warband, infuriating Ragnar when she tells him that there were no witnesses to the act, which will make it harder for him to defend her when the earl inevitably finds out. When the Northmen return home, Haraldson does indeed notice Knut's absence and forces the issue. In an attempt to protect his wife, Ragnar takes the blame, causing the earl to put him in irons and on trial.
Later, the Earl attempts to seduce Rollo to his cause, sensing the warrior's discontent at being merely the second of Ragnar, offering him a goodly portion of the confiscated treasure and the hand of his daughter in marriage, and promising him that he would be treated like his one son. The trial commences the next day, Ragnar defends himself by saying that he only slew Knut as he attempted to rape his wife. Lagertha confirm the story, but Haraldson brushes it aside and accuses her of lying for her husband, prompting Lagertha to angrily protest and reveal that Ragnar is in fact innocent of the charges.
Haraldson then calls upon Rollo to tell what happened. Much to the surprise of the Earl, Rollo tells that what Ragnar has sworn is true. Thus, the reaver is found innocent and walks from the hall free.
After the trial Haraldson has his men attack Ragnars' farm and as he has a severely wounded Ragnar in front of him, he asks Ragnar if he accepts his fate and he replies with a yes and he asks to make his peace with his god, which the earl allows. Unfortunately for Haraldson, Ragnar seizes the moment and makes his escape on horse. Haraldson then orders his men to go after him and bring him back alive.
His men later return and when he questions them of Ragnar's fate they are not certain of it, enraging the earl. He then orders them to find Ragnar's family and bring them to him.
While at dinner Haraldson is visited by Bjarni, an earl from Svealand. Haraldson invites him to feast and tells the earl to sit next to Thyri, so they can get to know each other better. Siggy questions this and it is revealed that Thyri and Earl Bjarni are getting married.
Afterwards Siggy is angry with her husband for marrying their daughter to old earl, through Haraldson defends his actions by saying that the marriage will bring them land and important alliances. Siggy then says he did not tell her of the marriage and has treated her with contempt, claiming that he does not care. He agrees with her, saying he stopped caring about a lot of things when their sons were murdered, and he reveals the details of their deaths. He then showed Siggy two locks of hair that he took from their heads and said that compared with his knowledge, being married to an old man is not so bad.
At Thyri's wedding Rollo enters and says they should talk. Haraldson asks him what he wants to talk about and Rollo says it's pointless to have his thugs following him around. Haraldson disagrees since he could have led him to his brother's location. Rollo responds by saying that Ragnar is dead. Haraldson does not believe him and has Rollo captured, then personally tortures him for Ragnar's location.
Eventually Haraldson accepts a challenge by Ragnar to a duel to the death. The night before the duel he tells his wife he wonders what his sons would look like if they were still alive. He eventually admits that has the utmost respect for Ragnar; seeing Ragnar as what he used to be. He also admits that if he had reached out to Ragnar for support, his followers would have abandoned him. Haraldson claims that the Seer assured him of victory.
When the fateful duel with Ragnar begins, Haraldson dicards his first shield out of respect for his opponent (as he knows Ragnar will reciprocate). The two begin fighting with swords and shields, and Haraldson honours Ragnar once again by not attacking him when his sword and shield break. The two change their weapons to axes and engage once more, with Haraldson managing to score a hit to Ragnar's chest. However Ragnar manages to strike Haraldson in the back, causing him to collapse. He takes comfort in Ragnar's words that Odin is waiting to carry him to Valhalla and offers no resistance when Ragnar slices his wrist as a mercy-kill. He declares to his wife that he shall drink that night with their sons, and dies shortly after.
Despite their bitter history, the newly annointed Earl Ragnar grants Haraldson a great funeral as a token of respect. The ceremony is accompanied by music, dancing, celebration and a sacrifice of a servant woman who has been chosen to join Haraldson in the afterlife. Siggy asks Ragnar to be given the right to light her husband's pyre, but Ragnar refuses, and an unknown relative of Haraldon's performs the task instead. Haraldson's funeral ship is set adrift in the waters of Kattegat as Ragnar, Siggy, and many others watch as the fire burns.
His past as a great warrior earned him his important position. A deep believer in temporal power, Haraldson will fight to the death to hold on to his faded glory.
Whilst respected for his bravery and solidity as a ruler, he was a very hard man, perhaps made so by the brutal killing of his own sons. Earl Haraldsson however was prone to unscrupulous conduct, if it served his own ambitions and interests. An example is ordering the killing of a man in a land dispute, and condemning him from entering Valhalla. This, according to Ragnar and Rollo who watched the execution, was not right as the man had committed no crime or sin in Norse society. The reason for the damnation was to gain the land which he wanted out of avarice, as the executed man had the strongest claim to it.
He is also very faithful to his wife who he loves very much.
- Haraldsson is necessarily the patronymic name in Norse culture, so it would normally be preceded by the personal name. The first name of the Earl is thus unknown.
- Earl Haraldson's status and behavior is an example of an historical inaccuracy in the show. Haraldson would have no legal right to claim plunder from free men and doing so under threat of force would seriously undermine his political power in the community as it would be dependent on the loyalty of his warriors and his generousity towards them.
- The accurate term for a Norse noble is Jarl, with Earl being an English form. Both Jarl and Earl are of Germanic origin, and the same etymological root. Both versions are used in the show, so the reasoning for Haraldson being referred to specifically as Earl instead of Jarl is unknown.
|Season one appearances|
|Rites of Passage||Wrath of the Northmen||Dispossessed|
|Trial||Raid||Burial of the Dead|
|A King's Ransom||Sacrifice||All Change|