Making a god of rage and fury
The new “God of War” isn’t the first time Kratos has been a family man. He was a devoted father to his wife and daughter when first introduced. As a decorated soldier of Sparta, he pledged his life to – at that time – the god of war Ares in an attempt to gain more power. As most deals with deities go, it backfired and he was tricked into savagely murdering his wife and child. As if the act wasn’t devastating enough to one’s psyche, he was cursed to wear the ashes of his murdered wife and daughter forever. And thus, the Ghost of Sparta was born. This is the first of many betrayals from the gods, but not even their most capital of offenses.
Kratos’ past life is dead. He tries to forget his sins by taking his anger out on enemies on the battlefield, winning wars and joylessly fraternizing with women who will never fulfill him. And, it’s all while literally carrying the reminder that he’ll never be free of his past.
After reaching a breaking point, he finds a way to slay Ares and takes his place on Olympus as the new god of war. Then, his own father, Zeus, tries to murder him. Fueled by contempt for all of Olympus, plus rejection and betrayal that has reached a family level, he turns to the only option he sees: tearing it all down. He wages war on Olympus, on the very fabric that holds all of Ancient Greece together.
All of these events woven together form Kratos’ intense hatred for higher beings, and who could blame him? Not only was he crossed, tricked and nearly killed at their hands, his journeys follow trails of suffering in their name. The Temple of Pandora, the gigantic labyrinth that is the setting of much of the first game, was built by a man named Pathos Verdes III and his two sons at the command of Zeus. The endeavor cost those two sons their lives, and Pathos Verdes his sanity. Throughout its construction and at its completion, the gods gave no aid. That’s just one of the many examples that the gods of Olympus bring more harm than good.
To Kratos, gods are a disease that eats away at the people who worship them. They don’t have a power that is earned. They are the malevolent beings who hoard their gifts with little care of what happens to the underlings beneath them. Kratos is well aware of his past deeds both in life and on the battlefield. His disdain for the gods carries over to a harmful dose of self hatred. Kratos carries the heavy burden. When his suicide attempt at the end of “God of War 3” doesn’t work, his only option was to run away and hide. This leads directly into the events of the new “God of War.”
(a young Kratos holds his first wife's lifeless body)
Hiding from the past
Attempting to murder his past didn’t free him of it. So, Kratos ran and hid. Without the gods to keep Olympus in order, Greece was left in the throes of plagues. He needed a new home, and he found it in Norse lore.
Kratos lived through enough family dysfunction to never want to be a part of one ever again, which sets up the new “God of War” perfectly. The old, hardened anti-hero doesn’t remember how to love, but he finds himself as a reluctant father. From the game’s opening scene, this new Kratos is still dealing with his problems the same old way he always has: violence. He finds the final tree marked by his late wife Faye for her own pyre. After a fleeting moment of emotion, Kratos immediately pushes it out of his mind by violently swinging his axe into its bark. The tree represents his grief, and he brings it down in the hopes that it stays dead.
The secluded, snowy forest is Kratos’ hiding place. Not only is he hiding from anyone important enough that could recognize him from his past, but he also hides from his own son. He keeps his scarred arms wrapped tightly, obsessively guarding himself when a small piece of fabric comes unwrapped. His famed Blades of Chaos that were once chained to his body are kept hidden under his house. His late wife and living child don’t know his past, and Kratos intends to keep it that way. To him, the world doesn't need any more gods.
Throughout the game, we see the strained bond between Kratos and his son Atreus. Kratos was once a loving father, but that was a past life. Now he lives in the constant fear that he’s doomed to repeat his past misdeeds. He could very well be more danger to Atreus than the creatures that lurk in the woods. His solution is to keep him at a distance. If he doesn’t get too close, neither of them can hurt.
During Atreus’ short life, the boy muses that it’s clear Kratos never wanted him. He’s never home and he’s never taken an interest. Young Atreus was raised almost exclusively by his mother. He’s practically begging for his father for attention, but their mutual grief can’t even bring them to common ground. Early on, Kratos throws his grieving son a bow to take him hunting, not because his father could be a great teacher, but because that was his wife’s wish. Kratos is just going through the motions in carrying out final wishes. Bonding with his son isn't something he has an actual interest in.
As indifferent as Kratos is to his son early on, he never falters in being Atreus’ trustworthy protector. It’s in that role of protector that we see glimpses of the father he longs to be. An embattled Kratos strives to be a better father than he had and was. It takes Atreus getting captured by dark elves for Kratos to snap. If facing his past is his biggest fear, repeating his sins is a close second. He refuses to let another child die on his watch. He’s lived with those sins for a lifetime, and having to carry more pain would be too much.
When Atreus falls ill due to the inner conflict of being a god while believing he’s mortal, it’s revealed that Kratos must return home to retrieve his Blades of Chaos and quite literally dig up his past. The Blades of Chaos reveal is a turning point. The past will always be there regardless of how long Kratos attempts to hide from it, but the past doesn’t have to be a burden. Rather, it can be a tool to make a better future for his family. It’s at that point that he reveals his true nature to his son.
The relationship between Kratos and Atreus grows after this revelation. In order to break the cycle of gods being ruthless and family members betraying each other, Kratos has to be the change. But, the gods may not be finished with this new and improved Ghost of Sparta just yet.
(Kratos teaches the first of many lessons to his young son)
Evolving for the future despite a looming revelation
Kratos completes an arc that seemed as impossible as retrieving Pandora’s Box form the back of the Titan Cronos. He became a loving father to a boy who was desperately looking for guidance. It took Atreus learning the truth about himself for Kratos to step up and be the father figure that he never thought he could be again. Training one young god to be good and caring could prevent the creation of countless future Kratoses.
The father and son share the bonding moment that put the entire journey in motion. Together they sprinkle their loved one’s ashes at the top of the highest peak in the realm. But, that finale is not without its revelations. It’s a revelation that could fling Kratos back into his harmful past.
Faye sent Kratos and Atreus to that mountain peak for a reason. A cave just below its peak reveals that she, a giant, was a protector of her kind. Norse lore states that those giants will bring Ragnarok, or the end of everything. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with the Norse gods, which leads to an ongoing war between the norse gods and giants. The revelation culminates in a small, but important, line of dialog from Atreus stating that his mother wanted to name him “Loki.” The news seems to surprise Kratos. It also puts the game’s opening encounter with Baldur, son of Odin, into an entirely new perspective.
Chopping down the final tree marked by Faye lifted the protective spell around Kratos’ home. Shortly after Kratos burns the trees, he’s visited by Baldur. Baldur is sent by his father Odin to investigate. Take note of what Baldur says to Kratos, “I know what you really are.” “You can’t hide forever.” Upon seeing Kratos, Balder says, “I thought you’d be bigger.” Balder isn’t there for Kratos, he’s there for Faye and he expected to find a giant. He has no idea who Kratos is and he doesn’t care. Odin sent him there to find Faye and Atreus. This means that Atreus could very well be … wait for it … the son of Odin and not Kratos!
Here’s what we know: Faye was a giant who died. She had a son named Atreus who was originally supposed to be named Loki. Loki is traditionally a Norse god and potentially the son of Odin. After her death, Faye lifted the spell to reveal her family’s location to the gods. Odin immediately sends his son Baldur there to investigate. Baldur knows there’s someone hiding in the house, presumably because his father filled him in.
Here’s the theory: Odin gave Faye a child and that child is Atreus. Faye kept it a secret because of the ongoing conflict between the gods and giants. She hid her family out of fear that Odin would find Atreus and kill him. It was only after her death that she led her son to discover the truth. We know Atreus is a god, and this would still be true if his father were Odin and not Kratos. It’s explained in the game that godly powers are not passed down and that every god is unique, so we would have no way of knowing who the father is based on Atreus’ abilities. Faye wanted Kratos to train Atreus to be able to defend himself, presumably so he could protect himself against his vengeful father Odin.
Then there’s the question of whether or not Kratos knows the truth. He had little interest in Atreus and saw him almost as a burden even immediately after his wife’s death. This could be because he knows Atreus isn’t his actual child.
Herein lies Kratos’ true tragedy that could be looming on “God of War’s” horizon. Atreus, the very being that broke Kratos’ cycle of rage and opened him up to love again, may not even be his son. The one thing that was the catalyst for him to achieve some semblance of personal growth could be built on a lie. Once again, the gods of this new land could be responsible for all of it. How will Kratos react when he finds out? Will he revert to his old ways or will he recognize that he’s still a father to his son regardless of blood lineage? Kratos’ biggest obstacles still lie ahead, as this new series is just revealing the smallest branches of this twisted family tree.
We’ve now seen Kratos evolve as a character, but his journey of growth could be challenged in a big way. This new “God of War” series is just getting started.