Gabriel Byrne is Earl Haraldson
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 wife, Siggy, and they had one daughter, Thyri, and two sons, whose brutal murders hardened the earl.
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 a spy 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 thing 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 Ragnars fate and they are not certain of it, enraging the earl. He then orders them to find Ragnars’ family and bring them to him.
While at dinner Haraldson is visited by Earl Bjarni and he invites him to feast with and tells the Earl Bjarni to sit next to Thyri, so they can get to know each other better. Siggy questions this and her reveals that Thyri and Earl Bjarni are getting married.
Afterwards Siggy is angry with her husband for marrying their daughter to Earl Bjarni, 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 his their boys were murdered and revealed 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 Thyrie’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 and Haraldson disagrees since he could led him to his brothers location. Rollo responds by saying that Ragnar is dead. and Haraldson does not believe him and has Rollo beaten captured. He then personally tortures him for Ragnar’s location.
Eventually Ragnar and Haraldson fight a duel to the death, one in which Ragnar wins. Haroldson was giving full viking burial honors due his station in life.
Gabriel Byrne began his acting career with Ireland’s Focus Theatre and the world renowned Abbey Theatre, later joining London’s Royal Court Theatre and the Royal National Theatre, where he played leading roles before moving to the United States.
On Broadway, he received a Tony nomination for his performance in Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his performance in another O’Neill play, A Touch of the Poet.
Byrne has worked with some of the cinema’s leading directors, including the Coen Brothers, Wim Wenders, Costa-Gavras, Jim Jarmusch, Ken Loach, John Boorman, David Cronenberg and Bryan Singer. He has starred in more than 35 feature films including Excalibur, Miller’s Crossing, Into the West, The Point of No Return, Little Women, The Usual Suspects, Dead Man, The End of Violence, The Man in the Iron Mask, Vanity Fair, Jindabyne and Wah-Wah.
His television credits include HBO’s Weapons of Mass Distraction and In Treatment. For his work on In Treatment, he was nominated twice for an Emmy and received the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama.