- “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 and paranoid 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.
Runeard is the oldest known monarch and founder of Arendelle. At some point, he arranged to be married to a woman from another kingdom named Rita, who became Arendelle's queen upon their marriage. The couple had one son and heir named Prince Agnarr, and Runeard oversaw the construction of Arendelle Castle when Agnarr was a child.
Rita loved Agnarr very much and spent a lot of her time caring for him and playing with him as he grew. When he was a baby, she even knitted him a stuffed puffin doll that she named Sir JorgenBjorgen. Despite the joy she had with Agnarr, Rita was completely isolated from her home country and subsequently became very homesick. Furthermore, while Runeard showered her with all sorts of lavish gifts and material possessions, he never gave or showed Rita any true love or affection. As the years passed, Rita's longing for freedom and her home so much caused her to grow increasingly depressed; eventually, it got to the point that she would stay in her room and bed for days at a time, crying. In response, rather than comforting her and trying to be understanding, Runeard grew impatient with Rita and accused her of being ungrateful, as he didn't understand how she could be so sad when he had given her everything she could possibly want. When Agnarr was five years old, Rita could no longer take living with Runeard, so she sought out the trolls and begged their leader, Pabbie, to remove her memories of her marriage and family so she could completely forget her life in Arendelle. She had wanted to take Agnarr with her, but realized that doing so would lead to Runeard coming after them, possible even starting a war against her kingdom, which would lead to many people dying and Agnarr's life being put in danger, just to bring Agnarr back. With all the potential negative consequences in mind of what could happen if she left with Agnarr, Rita decided that he had to remain with Runeard in Arendelle, and she asked Pabbie to erase her memories so she could forget him and live with leaving him behind.
After having her memories wiped, Rita fled Arendelle entirely, and Runeard officially blamed her disappearance on evil spirits. This was only one of the many instances of Runeard scapegoating magic, fostering widespread xenophobia towards its users in his kingdom. Intent on forgetting about Rita and unwilling to accept that he alone caused her to leave, Runeard hid away all of her belongings, barred her bedroom door, and forbade anyone to speak of her. If anyone mentioned Rita, including speaking her name, they would be immediately banished from Arendelle. However, Runeard did not know about Sir JorgenBjorgen, and the servant Gerda hid the doll from him until she could return it to Agnarr in the future.
Sometime after he began his reign as king of Arendelle, Runeard and the Arendellians made peace with the Northuldra, a northern tribe that resided in the Enchanted Forest along with the elemental spirits of earth, wind, water, and fire. This allegiance was a ploy, however, as Runeard secretly feared and hated the Northuldra due to their association with magic. He declared that their magical ties meant they couldn't be trusted, and orchestrated a plot to eliminate the tribe.
In the Forest, 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 leader in cold blood. This sparked a war between Arendelle and the Northuldra, during which Runeard fell 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 Arendellian citizens believed that the Northuldra were the enemy, and that Runeard was brutally killed in cold blood. The truth wouldn't 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 is willing to treat the neighboring Northuldrans as equals. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Arendellians (including Lieutenant Mattias and Agnarr), Runeard is truly a vile, selfish, cruel, hateful, arrogant, xenophobic, power-hungry, and cold-hearted tyrant who is obsessed with expanding his power and doesn't care about anyone or anything other than himself, his position as king, and the power and authority it gives him. Runeard is also hostile, ruthless, bigoted, and merciless to anyone who isn't within in his power, perceiving himself as a superior, supreme person simply for being a king while simultaneously discriminating everyone else as being below him based on their race and social status, including his own family, servants, soldiers, and the Northuldra. These traits ultimately became his undoing and negatively affected his kingdom and his entire bloodline.
The junior novelization and Dangerous Secrets expands on this. Runeard didn't have affectionate, loving relationships with his wife, Rita, or with his son, Agnarr, and only saw them as assets to his power, rank, and their kingdom. He and Rita, who was a princess from another country, were in an arranged marriage, which Runeard had presumably organized just to create an alliance with her home country and to further increase his political status and power. The only kindness he offered Rita was giving her many superficial material possessions, but he became annoyed and impatient with her when she grew depressed over missing her home kingdom and longing for freedom from their marriage. When Rita finally broke down and fled upon having her memories of her life in Arendelle erased by Pabbie, Runeard refused to accept that he had been a bad husband and was the only one at fault for her departure. He blamed Rita's disappearance on evil spirits and subsequently locked up all of her things and anything else that reminded him of her. Runeard also created a harsh decree against the mentioning of Rita's name, which had a penalty of immediate banishment.
Over the years, Runeard developed a fearful, paranoid belief that magic corrupts people into thinking they are so powerful and entitled that they can defy and overpower a monarch like himself. Much like what he did after Rita ran away, he refused to take responsibility for his own sins and the problems in Arendelle, so he instead blamed them on magic since blaming is much easier than taking responsibility and magic is unable to defend itself.
When the Arendellians met the Northuldra, Runeard immediately distrusted, hated, and became prejudiced towards them simply because of their relationships with the Enchanted Forest's magical spirits. He wrongly believed that, since they were indigenous peasants who followed magic, the Northuldra posed a great risk and challenge to his power and status, and that they had to be eliminated. The novelization reveals even greater depths of Runeard's wrath and bigotry towards the tribe: during the gathering in the Forest, he looks at other Northuldrans with condescending glances, as if he thinks he is better than them, and even as he watches Northuldra children playing with the spirits, he shakes his head and frowns with disapproval and disgust. The Northuldran Yelana witnesses Runeard doing all of these things, allowing her to sense his hatred and realize that he had been lying to her people all the time.
Runeard was proven to be intelligent and cunning, as he plotted a subtle way to destroy the Northuldra with the dam he had built in the Forest, making his people believe it was a gift of peace that would help strengthen the Forest when it was actually created to weaken the lands and starve the tribe of their resources. Then when he murdered the tribe leader when the latter realized the true purpose of the dam, Runeard drew suspicion away from himself and instigated a full-fledged war against the Northuldra.
While he had been an awful husband to Rita, Runeard's treatment of Agnarr was no different: cold, dismissive, abusive, neglectful, and unloving. When Rita left, Runeard lied to the then five-year-old Agnarr about the reason why she was gone and constantly chided him for crying over her absence. Years later, when the Arendellians arrived in the Enchanted Forest, Runeard ordered Agnarr to stand tall in his posture, showing that he only saw his son as a means of indoctrination and hoped to mold him into the same evil man as himself. He then reminded Agnarr that he represents Arendelle, hinting that he only cared about Agnarr's status as his heir and the prince of Arendelle, so he wanted Agnarr to only act royally all the time and not like a child or a non-monarch at all. Shortly before the battle broke out, Agnarr explored the Forest before Runeard impatiently called him over, then coldly berated him for wandering off and being fascinated by magic. When Agnarr tried to apologize and explain himself, his father refused to listen and quickly brushed him off without saying goodbye, leaving Agnarr alone (this was the last time they spoke to each other). Runeard didn't prize Agnarr as his son or as a person in general and had no interest in being a real father to him, so he frequently assigned Agnarr to Lieutenant Mattias to keep him out of his way.
Runeard successfully managed to instill some of his xenophobic, paranoid views about magic into the minds of the Arendellians, who would subsequently follow suit by blaming their own problems on magical spirits, seeing magic as an evil entity, and thinking that the Northuldra were a hostile group of people who would attack Arendelle if given the chance. This shows that Runeard was a direct influence over the kingdom's distrust of magic and anyone with ties to magic for decades, even long after his death. It was due to the Arendellians' hostility towards magic that prompted Agnarr to keep Elsa's powers subdued and hidden from the populace at all costs. Runeard serves as a darker reflection of what Elsa could have become if she had allowed her fear to consume her, had it not been for her younger sister Anna and Olaf during the eternal winter.
Despite his short time on screen, Runeard is shown to have an imposing physique, with a very tall stature and a stocky, robust body. He has fair skin, green eyes, and sports a strawberry-blond mustache, which is the same color of his eyebrows and short hair (he presumably passed this hair color on to Agnarr when the latter grew up, then on to Anna).
Runeard's main attire is similar to the uniforms worn by the palace's guards: a forest green shirt and pants, black boots, and a forest green cape. The bottom and top of his cape and shirt consist of teal and purple rosemaling. Across the chest of Runeard's shirt is a deep purple sash and around his waist is a black belt with a gold buckle that contains Arendelle's crocus symbol. He also wears white gloves that contains a black outline of the same crocus.
Role in the film
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 showing 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 how heinous their grandfather was, Anna realizes that she must destroy the dam to free the Forest and 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 can destroy the kingdom. With the dam gone, and the truth revealed, peace is restored between Arendellians and the Northuldra, and among the spirits, thus putting an end to Runeard's legacy, forever destroyed by his murderous actions, for good.
- According to the junior novelization of Frozen II, 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.
- Runeard had a tendency to blame all misfortunes on magic and evil spirits, resulting in Arendelle's distrust of magic, which only became worse after the battle of the dam.
- According to 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.
- Runeard 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 also one of the few main antagonists to affect the flow of the story from the very beginning of the film.
- He is the third such villain to be biologically related to the main protagonists, after Scar and Hades.
- Runeard is the only Frozen character with a body count, as his battle caused several casualties for both the Northuldra and Arendellians, while he himself offscreen killed the Northuldra leader and dragged another Northuldran with him off a steep cliff to his death.
- Runeard was entirely omitted from pre-release storybook merchandise (except for the junior novelization, which came out a week before the movie). As a result, these books ended with a vague explanation that Elsa "found the truth" and little else in order to cover up his true role in the story. When Jeremy Sisto attended the premiere, not only was it the first time Runeard's actor was revealed to the public, but many people knew nothing about the character he was voicing.
- Despite being the main antagonist, Runeard only has less than two minutes of screentime. In fact, out of all the main antagonists in the Disney canon, he has the least amount of screentime. This makes his actions even worse, since he makes such a huge impact on the story in such a short period of time.
- Mari Mancusi, the author of Dangerous Secrets, confirmed that even if Runeard had been made aware of the law that Rita wasn't legally required to marry him, he would have ignored it and forced her to marry him regardless, showing that he was willing to deprive Rita of her basic rights just to secure his power.
- Runeard is considered a dark reflection to many other characters, including:
- His son, Agnarr: both became kings of Arendelle, both feared magic which led to their lives being lost, both married a woman from a different land, and both had children of their own. However, Agnarr's fear of magic was well-intentioned because Elsa accidentally injured Anna with her ice powers due to having trouble controlling them. He genuinely cared about his family and separated Anna and Elsa from each other for their own protection. On the other hand, Runeard's fear of magic was entirely self-centered because he never wanted to take responsibility for his own problems, and instead blamed his problems on magic because it was easier and magic couldn't defend itself. Additionally, Runeard never loved his own wife and son, as he forcefully married Rita for political reasons and became impatient when she began longing for true love and freedom, and when she left Arendelle for good, he scolded Agnarr for weeping over her absence and lied to him about her being carried off by "evil spirits".
- His older granddaughter, Elsa: both are very powerful monarchs known to control their kingdom with competence while holding their senses of fear to themselves, with Elsa holding a sense of fear that her powers would grow out of control and threaten everyone she cared for, and Runeard holding a sense of fear that magic itself would be a threat to his kingdom. However, unlike Elsa, who overcomes her fear and develops a trust toward others closest to her, Runeard allowed his fear to cloud his judgement over the trust of others; even Elsa coldly points this out before learning the truth of Runeard's notorious crimes. Runeard serves as an example of what Elsa could have become if she allowed her fear to consume her.
- In addition, Runeard is considered a darker reflection of Prince Hans: both are power-hungry monarchs who desired to expand their power by all means necessary, even if includes committing murder and treachery. They're also known to put up a facade of kindness and generosity to hide their true nature and gain the trust of others for their own benefit. However, unlike Hans, who is revealed to have sympathetic qualities due to being tormented by his wicked father and brothers during his tragic childhood, Runeard is far more despicable as he is mainly out for the sake of gaining more power for himself. Furthermore, the snowy ice statue of Runeard about to murder the Northuldra tribe leader in cold blood with his sword bears a strong resemblance to the scene from the first film, where Hans tries to kill Elsa in the same manner. The difference is that while Hans failed to kill Elsa, Runeard succeeded in killing the Northuldra leader. Thus, Runeard serves as what Hans could have easily become if he had killed both Anna and Elsa and become king of Arendelle.
- Unlocking Arendelle: My Treasured Memories, p. 11
- Frozen II: The Deluxe Junior Novelization, p. 1
- Forest of Shadows, p. 53
- Dangerous Secrets, p. 248
- Dangerous Secrets, pp. 215-216
- Dangerous Secrets, pp. 182-183
- Dangerous Secrets, p. 215
- Dangerous Secrets, p. 153
- Dangerous Secrets, pp. 152-153
- Mancusi, Mari (December 15, 2020). "Plot hole: I was just wondering, why didn’t Kai and Gerda look through the library about the Arendelle law and find and tell people that Rita didn’t have to marry Runeard earlier?" (Tumbleblog). Tumblr.