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 has made enemies on the path to glory, and they 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 backsides, and then left in a shallow grave, as a sign of disrespect toward 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 believes in trusting others and someone who sees his enemies hiding behind every corner. Haraldson swore that if he ever found the men responsible for his sons' murders, he would kill them in the most brutal fashion he could devise.
Earl Haraldson is the current ruler of Kattegat and the surrounding area. One of his responsibilities as ruler is to preside over The Thing, the governing assembly made up of the free people of the community. The event is taking place in the earl's Great Hall, where Haraldson is seated on a throne next to his wife Siggy. He is presiding over his people and passing judgement on criminal matters, such as common thievery and murder. He is being assisted by his steward and right-hand man Svein. At first glance, the earl appears to be a benevolent leader. He sentences the thief to run through a gathering of the people while they hurl things at him. He sentences a man named Eric Trygvasson, accused of murdering his neighbor over a land dispute, to death.
The next night is a celebratory feast. Before the feast begins, Haraldson presents Ragnar's son Björn, and another young boy named Olaf Ingolfsson, with their arm rings upon their oath of fealty to him. This marks both boys as men in Viking Society. Both boys then receive a kiss from Siggy. Haraldson then tells the gathered people that the Summer Raiding party will once again head east toward Russia. As Ragnar hears this, he is compelled to stand and explain that their raiding party should go west, towards new lands. Immediately irritated at being questioned in public, Haraldson silences Ragnar by stating that since they are using his ships, and are from his lands, it is his decision where they raid. The feast begins. During the meal, Rollo, Ragnar's older brother, informs Ragnar and Björn that Earl Haraldson is known to have wanted Eric Trygvasson's land, hinting that this was the real reason for why he sentenced Eric to death.
Later, the earl summons Ragnar to his private chambers, where it is clear he has heard enough talk of the west. Haraldson threatens Ragnar by saying how many people would want his land for themselves. He forbids Ragnar from sailing west. After dismissing Ragnar, Haraldson says he doesn't trust him and orders him to be followed.
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, Ragnar is found innocent and walks from the hall a free man once again.
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. The earl has married his daughter to an old Swedish earl for twenty pounds of silver. He married Thyri off to Earl Bjarni to increase his money chest and to get an ally.
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 discards his first shield out of respect for his opponent, and knowing Ragnar will reciprocate. The two begin fighting with swords and shields, and Haraldson honors 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 so he can die quickly. 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, celebrating, and the 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.
Haraldson's 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. He is also very faithful to his wife who he loves very much. Whilst respected for his bravery and solidity as a ruler, he is a very hard man, perhaps made so by the brutal killing of his sons. The murder of his sons has left him a shell of a man.
Earl Haraldson is prone to unscrupulous conduct, if it serves his own ambitions and interests. For example, while Haraldson does make fair decisions at The Thing, he is not above killing Eric Trygvasson, a man accused of murder, so that he will be able to get his land. After the man is executed, Haraldson unnecessarily curses him, condemning him from entering Valhalla. Ragnar and Rollo and surprised and upset by this, deeming it not right because the man had committed no serious crime or sin in Norse society.
The earl is also shown to be rather paranoid that some unknown group is constantly trying to take his power and position. His wife seems to share and support his paranoia. He has become a petty despot who dominated and persecutes his people, despite their loyalty. Thus, it can be just as dangerous to be one of his loyal followers as it is to be one of his enemies. He goes so far as to give one of his men permission to sleep with his wife, and then has the man executed when he takes the earl up on his offer. He is pompous, arrogant, and forces others to say what a great ruler he is.
- Haraldson is his last name, and his first name is unknown.
- Earl Haraldson's status and behavior is an example of a historical inaccuracy in the series. 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 his power and position is dependent on the loyalty of his warriors and his generosity 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.
- Through most of them are uncredited, Johan Renck gave all the housecarls of Haraldson's names.
|Season one appearances|
|Rites of Passage||Wrath of the Northmen||Dispossessed|
|Trial||Raid||Burial of the Dead|
|A King's Ransom||Sacrifice||All Change|