What Netflix's Vikings: Valhalla Star Caroline Henderson Would Say To Anyone Complaining About Jarl Haakon Being Black

caroline henderson jarl haakon vikings: valhalla season 1 netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Vikings: Valhalla hit Netflix on February 25, and quickly found millions of fans (despite mixed reviews) who were eager to watch all of the Norse adventures, battles, and political intrigue the series had to offer. Some were likely surprised, though, to see that one of the new characters populating the show and leading the community in Kattegat is a Black woman, Jarl Estrid Haakon, played by Caroline Henderson. Now, Henderson has revealed what she’d tell anyone who has complaints about her role in the series.

What Caroline Henderson Would Say To Those Complaining About Jarl Haakon On Vikings: Valhalla

Fans of the History Channel action-packed drama, Vikings, were beyond bummed when they heard the hit show would wrap with Season 6 at the end of 2020. But, they were given hope when it was announced that creator Michael Hirst was set to help shepherd a sequel spinoff to the small screen for Netflix. Now that Vikings: Valhalla has delivered the full picture of all the action teased in the first look, though, there are probably quite a few people who have questions about the existence of Caroline Henderson’s Black, female leader, Jarl Haakon. 

When talking to Netflix’s Tudum about her role, Henderson was asked what she’d say to folks who think a Black woman can’t be a Viking ruler, and she responded:

I would say that you should do your research, because [even though] Jarl Haakon is a fictional character, but most likely there [have] been people of color [who ruled]. We know that through DNA [and] research. We know for a fact that they mixed and traveled all over the place, much more than what we knew 100 years ago. Now we actually know, through science, that [Vikings] were really travelers and of course they mixed cultures and babies and knowledge and foods and slaves and, yes, of course, they were mixed. They were not this little isolated colony up north. There might have been a Black Jarl Haakon or a Russian Jarl Haakon or somebody from Asia or Native American, most likely. If you want to know about stuff, what really happened, there's so much research and interesting stuff that you can dig into.

One complaint that historical fiction series like Vikings: Valhalla often get now, especially if they try to broaden the scope of who is seen in these shows beyond straight, white people, is that there’s no way those people could have been in the place and time depicted, or had the value in society that they’re shown as having. We saw this happen with Bridgerton’s Black Queen Charlotte and the other non-white characters on that drama, so it makes unfortunate sense that the same objection would come up with Vikings: Valhalla.

As Henderson noted, we now have scientific evidence to prove that Vikings did spread their DNA around to a wide variety of cultures as they had fun adventuring across the world, so while traditional depictions of them have been homogenous, the truth is much more diverse. And, Henderson herself identifies with Jarl Haakon, whose Viking grandfather fell in love with her African grandmother and returned to Kattegat to eventually rule:

I'm a mix of everything. I think I can really relate to Jarl Haakon, my character, because I [was] born in Stockholm, Sweden. My mother is Swedish, my dad is African American. We moved to the states when I was a little kid. We lived in Philadelphia, in New York for a while and then we moved to Paris, where my grandparents lived, and we came back to Sweden, and then I moved to Denmark. I think that gave me strength actually. As a child, I was a little bit confused, I must admit, but I think the character, I can really relate to her. I am Jarl Haakon, just, like, a thousand years on.

You can enjoy Caroline Henderson as a badass Viking Jarl by watching Vikings: Valhalla on Netflix. For more to watch after that emotional finale while we wait for Season 2, check out the 2022 TV premiere dates, and see what else is coming with the 2022 Netflix TV schedule!

Adrienne Jones
Senior Content Creator

Covering The Witcher, Outlander, Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias and a slew of other streaming shows, Adrienne Jones is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend, and started in the fall of 2015. In addition to writing and editing stories on a variety of different topics, she also spends her work days trying to find new ways to write about the many romantic entanglements that fictional characters find themselves in on TV shows. She graduated from Mizzou with a degree in Photojournalism.