- “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 posthumous 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 founder and oldest known monarch 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, once she married Runeard and came to live with him in Arendelle as its new queen, 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 grew increasingly depressed from feeling trapped in her loveless marriage and missing her home so much; eventually, it got to the point that she would stay in her room for days at a time, lying in bed and crying. In response, rather than comforting her and trying to be understanding about her grief, 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 he thought 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 and be free to leave forever. 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 get 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 for his own faults, causing him to foster 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, waiting to return it to Agnarr in the future.
Sometime after he began his reign as king of Arendelle, Runeard and the Arendellians discovered and made peace with the Northuldra, a indigenous tribe of people that resided far north in the Enchanted Forest alongside 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 forest and starve the people of their resources; in their desperation, the Northuldra would then be forced to turn to Runeard for help. Upon realizing the damage being brought upon by the dam, the leader of the Northuldra consulted Runeard while they and their people were gathered in the forest to celebrate their alliance. Runeard offered to heed the leader’s pleas in private and suggested they discuss the matter on the fjord while having tea. The leader agreed, but once the two men were alone together, Runeard snuck up behind and murdered him in cold blood. To cover up his crime, Runeard subsequently started a war between the Arendellians and the Northuldra, during which he fell off a cliff to his death while fighting a tribe member. The conflict angered the spirits, who turned their magic against humanity. In their wrath, the 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 was presented as a calm, collected, and upright person who cared about his people and family, and was willing to treat the neighboring Northuldrans as equals. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Arendellians (including Lieutenant Mattias and Agnarr), Runeard was truly a vile, selfish, cruel, hateful, arrogant, xenophobic, dishonest, power-hungry, manipulative, and cold-hearted tyrant who was obsessed with expanding his power and didn't care about anyone or anything other than himself, his position as king, and the power and authority it gave him. Runeard was also hostile, ruthless, bigoted, and merciless towards anyone who wasn't within in his power, having perceived himself as a superior, supreme person simply for being in the highest place in society as a king. He discriminated everyone else as being below him based on their race, social rank, and (possibly) gender, including his own family, servants, soldiers, commoners, the Arendellian citizens, and particularly 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 had a very distant relationship both with his wife, Rita, and their son, Agnarr, as he only saw them as assets to his power, status, 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 so depressed over missing her home kingdom and longing for freedom from their confining marriage. After 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 to blame for her departure. Besides claiming that she was carried off by evil spirits, he subsequently locked up all of her things along with 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.
Runeard had a deep-rooted fear of magic that bordered on paranoia in which he believed that nothing good comes from magic and that it corrupts people into thinking they are so powerful and entitled that they can defy and overpower a monarch like himself. It is implied that Runeard knew Rita had her memories erased through unknown means. This likely made him falsely believe that the fact that Rita had her memories erased gave her the willpower to run away. So because magic was tied to Rita leaving him, it furthered his resentment of magic and convinced him that he was correct in his false opinions about it. Having such views, combined with his feelings of superiority in being a king, caused Runeard to become a very self-righteous person who believed he could do no wrong. As a result, he refused to ever take responsibility for his own faults and problems that occurred in Arendelle, and instead blamed them on magic and magical spirits since blaming is much easier than taking responsibility and magic is unable to defend itself. These actions were, again, demonstrated perfectly when Runeard scapegoated magic for Rita's disappearance since he did not want to accept that her leaving was entirely his fault.
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, so 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 land 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 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 role as his (Runeard's) 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 when/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 kingdom at all costs as she was growing up. 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 appears long enough to reveal his imposing physique of a towering height and a stocky, robust body. Although he is not very muscular, he is in decent shape enough to be physically accomplished, as shown by his excellent skills in sword fighting and shield usage during the war in the forest. Runeard has fair skin, green eyes, red hair, sideburns, and a mustache. He appears to have 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 at the cuffs.
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 Arendellian soldiers 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 about to murder him in cold blood with his sword. 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 the Arendellians and the Northuldra, and among the spirits, thus putting an end to what remains of Runeard's reign and his legacy, forever destroyed by his murderous act of betrayal, 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 main 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: the flashback in the prologue shows that Runeard's actions cause the Northuldra and Arendellian soldiers to become trapped in the forest for years before, then they plague the protagonists in the present day.
- Likewise, Runeard is the first and only main antagonist in the Disney Animated Canon who doesn't face, interact, or make any contact with the main protagonists or any other major characters in the films.
- He is the third such villain to be biologically related to the main protagonists, after Scar (Simba's uncle by way of being Mufasa's brother) and Hades (Hercules's uncle by way of being Zeus's brother).
- 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 killed the Northuldra leader (offscreen) 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 is only on screen for less than two minutes. In fact, out of all the main antagonists in the Disney canon, he has the shortest 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 them losing their lives, and both married a woman from a different land with whom they had children. However, Agnarr was able to accept Elsa’s magic and still love her as his daughter and a person, rather than simply as his heir, along with his other daughter Anna and wife Iduna, both of whom he also genuinely loved. The fear of magic he had was well-intentioned because Elsa accidentally injured Anna with her ice powers due to having trouble controlling them. Agnarr was also determined to protect his daughters, which he did by separating them and trying to help Elsa learn to control her magic to prevent further accidents. On the other hand, Runeard’s fear of magic was entirely self-centered because he viewed it as a threat, but only to himself rather than the people in his kingdom. He blamed all of his problems, including those that happened in Arendelle, on magic because he never wanted to accept responsibility and took the easy way out by blaming magic since magic cannot defend itself. Additionally, Runeard never even loved Rita and Agnarr and only saw them as assets to his status and Arendelle based on their own royal positions. He forcefully married Rita to create an alliance with her kingdom and increase his power and rank, then later became annoyed and impatient with her when she grew sad over missing her home and yearning for freedom. When Rita left Arendelle for good, Runeard scolded Agnarr for weeping over her absence and lied to him about her being carried off by “evil spirits”. He subsequently assigned Lieutenant Mattias to be Agnarr’s official guard so he wouldn’t have to be responsibility for Agnarr’s well-being himself. Runeard serves as an example of what Agnarr could have become if not for his mother, Mattias, and Iduna’s influence.
- His oldest granddaughter, Elsa: both are very powerful monarchs known to control their kingdom with competence while holding a deep-rooted fear of magic, with Elsa fearing her powers would harm people and Runeard fearing magic would be a threat to his kingdom. However, while Elsa feared her powers for selfless reasons, Runeard feared magic for selfish reasons. Elsa believed that she would harm innocent people, especially her family, with her magic if she lost control, but gradually learned to overcome her fear and learn to trust herself and others. Runeard feared magic only for himself rather than for his people, seeing it as a risk, challenge, and competition to his royal status and power. His fear twisted into paranoia, hatred, and bigotry, which clouded and corrupted his judgment over trusting people if they were magical or had magical ties; even Elsa coldly points this out before learning the truth of Runeard's notorious crimes. This makes Runeard serve as an example of what Elsa could have become if she allowed her fear to consume her.
- His youngest granddaughter, Anna: both are rulers of Arendelle who lost or were disconnected from a family member due to magic (specifically, the trolls’ magic), with Runeard having lost Rita after she fled upon having her memories of him erased by Pabbie, and Anna growing up separated from Elsa after accidentally being injured by her, which later caused Pabbie to alter Anna’s memories to help conceal Elsa’s powers. Years later, the girls lose their parents when Agnarr and Iduna try to find Ahtohallan. However, despite their separation, Anna still loved Elsa and yearned to reconnect with her. When Elsa’s powers were revealed, Anna held no spite, fear, or bigotry towards her sister and her powers, and instead sought to help her. But Runeard held a great amount of wrath and bigotry towards magic and anyone with ties to magic, with one of his reasons being because he blamed it for Rita leaving him (he presumably somehow figured out that Rita had her memories erased). This made him gradually distrust people or beings who had anything to do with magic and stubbornly refuse to ever give them a chance. Therefore, Runeard serves as the kind of person Anna would have become if she gave up on Elsa and learned to develop prejudice and fear towards magic.
- In addition, Runeard is 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 are 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.
- In addition, both men attempt to use marriage to increase and secure their political status and power: Runeard arranges for Rita to marry him to build an alliance with her home country and use that alliance to his advantage, while Hans tries to seduce and marry Anna so he can kill Elsa and take over as king of Arendelle with Anna as his queen. However, while Runeard succeeded in marrying Rita (even though she ultimately leaves him due to his cruelty and abuse), Hans failed to have Anna as his wife. Thus, Runeard also serves as an example of what Hans could have become if he had married Anna if not for Elsa revealing her ice powers in the ballroom.
- 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.