- “Magic makes people feel too powerful, too entitled. It makes them think they can defy the will of a king.”
- ―Runeard voicing his disapproval of magic[src]
King Runeard is the main antagonist of Disney's 2019 animated feature film Frozen II. He was the ruler of Arendelle, and the father of King Agnarr. In his lifetime, Runeard was revered as a noble and generous leader. In truth, however, he was a ruthless tyrant who believed magic to be a threat to his kingship. In his attempt to eliminate the Northuldra, Runeard sparked a decades-long catastrophe that was then left to his granddaughters, Anna and Elsa, to rectify.
During Runeard‘s reign, the people of Arendelle made peace with the Northuldra, a northern tribe in the Enchanted Forest with a special connection to the elemental spirits of earth, wind, water, and fire. This allegiance was a ploy, however, as Runeard secretly feared the Northuldra due to their association with magic. He declared that they could not be trusted, and orchestrated a plot to eliminate the tribe.
Runeard commissioned the construction of a dam, which was gifted to the Northuldra as a peace offering designed to bring prosperity to their land. In truth, the dam would weaken the Northuldra’s resources and—in their desperation—force them to be susceptible to Runeard. Upon realizing the damage being brought upon by the dam, the leader of the Northuldra consulted Runeard, who offered to heed the leader’s pleas in private. Once alone, Runeard murdered the Northuldran leader. This sparked a war between Arendelle and the Northuldra, during which Runeard falls off a cliff to his death while fighting a tribe member. The conflict between Arendelle and the Northuldra angered the spirits, who turned against humanity. In their wrath, the Enchanted Forest was encapsulated within an impenetrable mist that prevented anyone from leaving or entering.
In the decades following Runeard's death, conflicting information spread regarding the origins of the war. The citizens of Arendelle believed that the Northuldra were the enemy and that Runeard was brutally killed in cold blood. The truth would not be discovered until over thirty-four years later, by Runeard's granddaughters, Elsa and Anna, under the guide of the spirits.
At first glance, Runeard presents himself as a calm, collected, and upright person who cares about his people and family, and was willing to treat the neighboring Northuldrans as equals. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Arendellians (including Mattias and Agnarr), Runeard is selfish, xenophobic, racist, cold-hearted and merciless to anyone who wasn't within his power. These traits ultimately became his undoing as well as negatively affecting his kingdom and his entire bloodline.
The junior novelization expands on this. Runeard did not seem to have a close and loving relationship with his son Agnarr, as he instead frequently assigned him to Lieutenant Mattias to keep him out of his way. Runeard only saw his son as a means of indoctrination, as evident in the prologue where he constantly groomed his son in hopes of Agnarr becoming the same cold and pragmatic man that he himself was. Runeard is also intelligent and cunning, plotting subtle ways of weakening the Northuldran people and assassinating the Northuldran leader when he catches on about the true purpose of the dam, simultaneously hiding dark designs and creating a pretext to wage war on the Northuldran people.
Runeard successfully managed to instill some of his xenophobia in the mind of Agnarr, who would grow up to see the Northuldrans as a hostile people, and who wanted to keep Elsa's magic subdued and hidden from the populace at all costs. Runeard serves as a darker reflection of his older granddaughter Elsa as she would had let her fear consume her had it not been for her younger sister Anna and Olaf during the eternal winter.
Runeard first appears during the prologue, when Agnarr recounts the war that cursed the Enchanted Forest. Agnarr recalls watching his father fall to his death, unaware that Runeard was the cause of the conflict.
Thirty-four years later, Runeard's granddaughters, Elsa and Anna, accompanied by Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven, journey to the Enchanted Forest after Elsa accidentally awakens the spirits, who then wreak havoc on Arendelle. While fighting the wind spirit (later named Gale) with her icy magic, Elsa sees vague, misty glimpses of the past including Runeard's arm swinging his sword (with Runeard roaring in rage) followed by Runeard himself stating: "For Arendelle."
Elsa and her party encounter the trapped Northuldra and Arendellians who, like Agnarr, are unaware of what truly caused the war that doomed their land. Elsa is eventually driven to seek out the fabled river Ahtohallan for answers. While traversing its caverns, Elsa is able to analyze numerous visions of Arendelle's past, including those involving Runeard. She discovers his fearful dislike of magic, as well as his plot to control the Northuldra.
With these findings and nothing but outrage towards her late grandfather for his treacherous actions, Elsa sends a message to Anna in the form of an ice statue, which sculpts Runeard sneaking up behind the unarmed Northuldra leader and murdering him in cold blood. Deducing that Runeard was the culprit behind the war and also seeing what a heinous scoundrel their grandfather was, Anna realizes that she must destroy the dam to restore peace to Arendelle. By provoking the Earth Giants, Anna is attacked by staggering boulders. She lures the giants to the dam, where their boulders successfully destroy the structure. This causes a massive wave to hurl towards Arendelle, but Elsa is able to block the waters before it could destroy the kingdom. With the dam destroyed, and the truth revealed, peace is restored between Arendelle and the Northuldra, and among the spirits, thus putting an end to Runeard's legacy, forever ruined by his act of betrayal, for good.
- According to the Junior Novelization Runeard is the founder of Arendelle. However in other books such as Forest of Shadows and Elsa's Icy Rescue Arendelle is implied to be far older.
- According to Frozen: Forest of Shadows, Runeard oversaw the construction of Arendelle Castle.
- Runeard is the first villain to die in the Disney animated feature canon since King Candy in Wreck-It Ralph, seven years prior.
- He is the first main antagonist in the Disney Animated Canon to be a completely posthumous character, since he had been long dead by the time the film's events take place.
- He is the second Disney villain to die before the events of a film take place, the first being the Pixar villain, Ernesto de la Cruz.
- He is the third Disney villain to be related to the main characters, after Scar and Hades.
- King Runeard is the only Frozen character with a body count as his battle caused several casualties for both Northuldra and Arendellians, while he himself on-screen killed the Northuldra leader and dragged another Northuldra with him off a steep cliff to his death.
- King Runeard was entirely omitted from pre-release merchandise (except for the Junior novelization, which came out a week before the movie).
- Despite being the main antagonist, King Runeard only had four minutes of screentime. In fact, out of all the main antagonists in the Disney Animated Canon, he has the smallest amount of screentime.