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This article includes minor spoilers for God of War Ragnarök.

There’s a moment in the middle of God of War Ragnarök where Richard Schiff’s Odin takes you on a whistle-stop tour of Asgard. You follow along while he walks and talks, checking in on logistics, his armies, and his other servants while also giving you a small glimpse of his influence and power.

It’s a sight you might be familiar with if you’ve ever watched The West Wing, where the same actor, playing Toby Ziegler, chews up a corridor full of people while a camera tracks him.

“The walk and talk was an homage to what we love, and [it was] why we wanted Richard Schiff to play that character,” game director Eric Williams explains. “He didn’t even know we were doing it because he just did the voiceover, and we put that together with the normal animation set. We showed him when he was doing the VO session, and he was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool!’”

Ragnarök imagines Odin as somewhere between a conman, a magician, and a mob boss. He doesn’t have the physical presence of some of the other gods, but he feels dangerous in a different way, with a tongue of poison and honey.

“He’s this unassuming old man,” Williams says. “And then you sit down to play chess with him, and all of a sudden, he’s emptied your pockets.”


As an actor most famous for playing a character who works in politics, Schiff knows all about emptying your pockets. When Sony Santa Monica first called him about the role, he was in the car with his son.

“He didn’t know what it was when we made the call to him,” Williams says. “And then his son’s like, ‘What do they want you to do?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, they want me to be in God of War.’ He was like, ‘Do it, Dad!’

“His son was a huge fan and he broke down God of War 2018 [for him]. He wrote down all these highlight notes on two pages so his dad knew how to talk to us about everything. Who does that? He’s Richard Schiff. He could just show up!”

That’s how his character does it in-game, turning up at Kratos’s house unannounced at the beginning of the story and sauntering around in a scene that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Admittedly, there are fewer feet.

The rest of the new characters have a similar twist to them, helping them to stand out among the various interpretations of the Norse gods in popular culture.

“It’s tough because a lot of people either know the Prose Edda – they are super academic about it – or they know Marvel,” Williams says. “We wanted to make Norse characters inside the God of War universe. We read everything about the characters and tried to get as much background as possible, but then we were like, ‘Well, that’s not going to work with the story we want to tell.’ So then we started fiddling with them.”

Odin, Thor and Kratos in God of War Ragnarok

You can see this fiddling in Thor, who, despite looming over Kratos and Odin, has about as much heroism in him as Martin Shkreli. Ragnarök imagines Thor as a kind of hammer-wielding henchman for Odin, whose love for drink is only matched by the size of his beer gut.

“I wanted Thor to be this manchild – he’s burly, hedonistic, he drinks, he fucks,” Williams says. “That’s what he does. It makes sense why he’s out there doing all this dirty work for Odin. As much as he wields that hammer, Thor is the hammer.”

Much like how Richard Schiff was earmarked for his work on The West Wing, Ryan Hurst, who plays Thor, got cast because of his role as Harry ‘Opie’ Winston in Sons of Anarchy.

“We’ve always looked at the Aesir as a biker gang and the Vanir as hippies,” Williams says.

“[Eric Williams] mentioned the bikers, especially Ryan Hurst being from Sons of Anarchy was a huge influence for the role,” art director Raf Grassetti adds. “The Greek gods had a lot of gold. We wanted to play with what [gods] would look like in Norse mythology. So they would have way less gold, and they wouldn’t care that much about their appearance. They’re living with humans, and that really influenced the design and how they act. The tension of dealing with gangs was also something very present in how these characters interact.”

God of War Ragnarök Kratos and Thor.

When Williams and the team originally approached Hurst for the role, it was the height of the pandemic. Just as they were scheduled to meet, the work-from-home mandates began. They couldn’t even head to a local Starbucks. Hurst invited them to his house instead.

“So me and Matt Sophos, the narrative director, went to his house. He’s got, like, ten dogs. It was amazing,” Williams laughs. “We sat down for three hours with him, and we brought pictures and walked him through the whole story. At the end, he was like, ‘Man, I wanna do this so bad. I’ve never done anything like this before.’ We could see he was really engaged Then finally, he says, ‘Just make me one promise, man. Don’t make me big and dumb.’”

Like all of the characters in Ragnarök, Thor is a multidimensional character. Sure, he has simple needs – “he’s burly, hedonistic, he drinks, he fucks” – but that doesn’t mean he’s not complex inside. His character arc is easily one of the highlights of the story.

Thor works as well as he does because he’s a parallel to Kratos, giving us a glimpse of what might have been if Kratos never rebelled against his own father and allowed himself instead to become a blunt instrument. “We love mirrors and a cautionary tale,” Williams says.


God of War 2018 was a simple story about a man teaching his son to survive. Along the way, Kratos realized that he was the student and his son was the one teaching him how to live. In Ragnarök, that becomes even more apparent, and Kratos softens more over the course of the story. It’s a difficult line to tread with a character like this – one whose past is so bloody and barbaric.

Those who didn’t play the original games might have a sense that Kratos isn’t a particularly nice fella, but they probably don’t realize quite how bad he used to be. In God of War 3, he saves a princess from Poseidon and then uses her body to hold open a door by stuffing her into a crank, which summarily mangles her up. The last game dealt with this by shying away from it, but Ragnarök offers up a more reflective Kratos.

“It’s like a little bit of therapy session for him to get that stuff out and not be scared to talk about it,” Williams says. “Because if you can’t talk about it, it can make you the person you were. If those are the things that drove you to do those things, and you can’t let them go, they can come back.”

If any character needed redemption, Kratos is it. It’s admirable that the writers at Sony Santa Monica managed to pull it off. Of course, it wasn’t easy. Go too far in one direction and it doesn’t feel true to the character. Go too far the other way and you’ve created an edgelord. The trick is to contextualize these changes and mix them in slowly so that they feel natural as the characters grow.

“It was super tough,” Williams says. “I remember Cory Barlog coming to me and he’s like, ‘Dude, he’s too passive. He goes to sleep? He sits down at a table and eats? He’s sitting in a cave?’ And I was like, ‘Dude’s tired, man.’”


At the time, Barlog said he was worried about the direction the story was taking. It was early in development and the characters didn’t have faces yet, the scenes were blocked out, and you couldn’t see the nuances of Christopher Judge’s performance as Kratos.

“And then we sat down again,” Williams explains. “I told him, ‘Here’s the one thing that I don’t think is coming through yet. In these scenes, he’s reflecting on the fact that Faye lied to him. The woman who brought him back from the brink of destruction and made him human again. She lied to him. And he’s got to hold that.’ And then he started to see Chris’s performance. He was like, ‘Oh, shit, this makes sense.’

“Kratos can’t answer the questions that his kid has about his nature. At the beginning of the game, he’s sitting there, he’s got the empty ashes bag in his hand. It’s just brutal. Every time I watch that it just crushes me.”

There are a lot of brave choices in Ragnarök. The year is 2022 and video games love to add dog petting animations to their games in the hopes that they get a share from a Twitter account about petting dogs in video games. Developers make memes of their own games to make them sharable. Everyone wants virality.

One of the most memeable aspects of God of War 2018 was Christopher Judge’s delivery of the word “Boy”, which he used to address his son across the course of the game. Search “God of War boy” on YouTube, and you’ll be met with supercuts, Let’s Plays, and more, all focused on Kratos grunting at his kid. Fast forward to Ragnarök, and Kratos has more respect for Atreus, so he doesn’t really call him that anymore. In fact, it’s only used once in the entire game.

God of War Ragnarok showing Kratos and Atreus

“The team was like, ‘Really? Why? That’s our thing.’ But then when I explained, they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, that totally makes sense.’ A lot of surface things are always easy, but you’ve got to dig a little deeper, and that takes effort. You gotta go, ‘Oh, man, that’s gonna be even better.’ And you called it out. Because that’s the only time he says ‘Boy’ in the whole game. The genesis of that whole piece was: when your parents are really mad at you and they use your middle name.”

It’s fitting for a series that’s grown up over the years. Back when the originals came out, that was the kind of game people associated with the word “mature” – hyper-violence and bare nipples – but the industry has aged alongside Kratos and Atreus, and it takes more than shock and awe to keep people interested. Ragnarök has that too, of course – battles with screen-filling bosses and expensive set pieces that make your jaw drop – but the real heart of the game is in its subtleties. The Ghost of Sparta has finally become a man, and he somehow managed to raise one at the same time. 

If you're currently playing, check out our God of War Ragnarok walkthrough.