The Valhalla Murders: Netflix ~ A Non-Spoiler Review

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Photo montage of scenes from The Valhalla Murders. Central image is the theatrical poster for the show.


THE VALHALLA MURDERS (2020) is a crime drama available on Netflix internationally. 8-episodes x 45-47 min. 18 Cert U.K. Available in Icelandic with English close captioning (also available with dubbing). This was the first Netflix series from Iceland.


An Oslo detective with a painful past returns to his native Iceland to help a police officer hunt for a serial killer with a link to a mysterious photograph. He works with local detective, Kata.


Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir as Kata
Björn Thors as Arnar
Aldís Amah Hamilton as Dísa
Sigurður Skúlason as Magnus
Bergur Ebbi Benediktsson as Erlingur
Valur Freyr Einarsson as Egill
Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir as Hugrún
Tinna Hrafnsdóttir as Helga
Edda Björgvinsdóttir as Svava
Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir as Laufey
Vikingur Kristjánsson as Hákon
Þorsteinn Bachmann as Helgi
Vilhjálmur Hjálmarsson as Thor

Theatrical poster for the show The Valhalla Murders


Directors: Þórður Pálsson, Davíd Óskar Ólafsson & Thora Hilmarsdottir

Creator: Þórður Pálsson

Writers: Þórður Pálsson, Óttar Martin Norðfjörð, Davíd Óskar Ólafsson, Margrét Örnólfsdóttir, Ottó Geir Borg & Mikael Torfason

Cinematographer: Árni Filippusson

Music: Rick Balentine

Make-Up: Tattoo designer Emil Hreiðar Björnsson & Dept Head Áslaug Drörfn Sigurdardóttir

Stunt Coordinator: Jón Viðar Arnþórsson

Theatrical poster for the show The Valhalla Murders


Re: Arnar’s large tattoo if you are a baptized Jehovah’s Witness, you cannot have a tattoo. Leviticus 19:28 says: ‘You must not make cuts in your flesh for a dead person, and you must not make tattoo markings on yourselves.’

“In the late 1940s, an almost similar event took place in remote Iceland. A state-run institution (probably some sort of a rehab/asylum) housed troubled, young boys, aged between seven and 14, where they were beaten and abused by the staff. Although in reality there was no murder per se, as shown in the series, it caused quite a noise and the boys were eventually compensated in monetary terms. Palsson wanted to address the issue of abuse, even if it was a dated event, and start a conversation around the same.”(MEAWW March 19, 2020)

Most Icelandic police officers do not carry guns. They are all trained in firearms and there is a special locker in police vehicles in case firearms are required. Special teams of police carry arms in the normal course of the day.


This review is following a second watch of The Valhalla Murders. I first watched this show on BBC but the rewatch was on Netflix U.K. (it is a Netflix co-production). I enjoyed the show the first time but I was particularly interested in what I would make of this series upon a subsequent watch. So… what did I make of The Valhalla Murders take 2?

One of the beauties of a rewatch is it tends to give the viewer a bit of “breathing space” to take in more details of the story and characters. Things that might not “ping” on your radar the first time suddenly have great importance. Bearing this in mind let us start with the character and actions of Arnar (Björn Thor’s).

Image of Arnar (Björn Thors) in a scene from The Valhalla Murders

Arnar is an outcast, literally. Ejected during his early teenage years from the Jehovah’s Witness family and community in which he was raised because he is gay still affects him. He rejects his father on his death bed (and we can understand why) yet breaks down upon news of his death. His mother has long fled the coop but left the children behind, so abandonment issues on top of the rest. We see incidents that show exactly what most of that community think of him (e.g. funeral). We hear of physical and psychological abuse. He admits to using alcohol and drugs in the past (we can imagine why).

Arnar has had a tattoo, a very large winged tattoo, on his back, which is symbolic of his rebellion against the religious sect and his rejection of them and his family.

When he first arrives in Reykjavik he is cold, distanced, hyper-focused on work, bordering on unfriendly and dismissive. Later we see a very gentle, kind, sensitive and empathetic side to this man. We also witness flashes of uncontrolled anger and violence which leave him staggering and deeply upset because this is a man who tries hard to contain all his feelings because he is aware of how damaged he is. His multiple self-harming scars show externally the damage his soul has suffered. He is brave and will put his own life at risk to do what needs to be done. He hits the mini bottles in the fridge when it all gets too much. Great performance by Björn Thors.

Kata (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir) on the left in a scene from The Valhalla Murders

Kata (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir) well what DO we make of Kata? She is a dogged and determined police officer who is further motivated to solve these murders is partly fuelled by her having been passed over for a “sure thing” promotion. She is also a bit of a loose cannon who displays some awful errors of judgment. These are counterbalanced by the fact that she is courageous. She has trust and control issues. Hers is a character a little out of the Sarah Lund book. Another impressive performance with great range from this lead actress.

One of the main things to bear in mind with this show is that it is Icelandic, so not only do we get the chance to see some wonderful scenery but we also have to bear in mind that generally, Iceland does not witness cases like this. Do not be tempted to judge the actions of these police officers in the same way as you might judge others from other countries or areas. You can see how much more experienced Arnar is in comparison with Kata and Hakón.

Hákon (Vikingur Kristjánsson) in a scene from The Valhalla Murders

This is a story with a false ending partway through where we think the story should be over but then both the viewer and the officers realise that nothing is over yet.

I have not yet touched upon one of the main aspects of this story which is the abuse, sexual, physical and emotional, that the poor boys in the home were subjected to. Again, as with Arnar, these now grown men (the ones who have survived that is) show their scars externally and internally. The scenes where we see the victims express (or being incapable of expressing) what happened to them and the long-lasting effects are very affecting. Whilst we do not actually see the assaults the verbal descriptions are shocking.

I appreciated the cinematography in The Valhalla Murders. The colour palette and filter chosen for much of the show is effective. The wide screenshot of the car driving through the desolate snowy landscape as it goes to and from Reykjavík is a very effective device. The dark scenes with only the light of a torch or squads of armoured and armed officers with lights in attack mode are excellent. The pacing of the show does drop off at times.

Publicity image for The Valhalla Murders with a track of blood after a car driving through a snowy, Icelandic 
landscape. A large, grey building is set off to the right.

In The Valhalla Murders, we see revenge, retribution, forgiveness, punishment, trust, vice, betrayal, love and corruption (in every sense of the word). Responsible adults betrayed their responsibility for the minors in their care. Many did even worse than that, being directly involved in abuse and enabling the abusers. In the here and now Arnar tries to help but is faced with tragedy and this shows how hard it can be to stop such things going on. Such perpetrators prey on the vulnerable and will use any means not to be discovered.

The Valhalla Murders story revolves around deeply affecting, tragic, horrific events. If nothing else people should be thinking and talking about the issues it raises. Not only for events in the past and their persisting effects on individuals but also for what can be done to stop things like this EVER happening again. This is not “just” entertainment.

“But the thing about mistakes is it’s never too late to make up for them.”


1 nomination Edda Awards (2021) Best Director ~ Þórður Pálsson, Davíd Óskar Ólafsson and Thora Hilmarsdottir

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