All Hela Breaks Loose: The Goddess of Death’s Obsession

"Hela - The Goddess of Death" | Art by IndahAlditha. Used with permission.
To be Asgardian royalty is to have daddy issues. Thor and Loki’s struggles with their father form the crux of past films in the series, but in Thor: Ragnarok, the brothers’ anger is vastly overshadowed by the rage of Hela, the older sister they never knew existed. As Odin’s firstborn, Hela once held her father’s favor, ruling and fighting by his side—only to be banished when Odin had a change of heart.

Under normal circumstances, Hela’s anger over Odin’s rejection would be understandable—except that Odin’s repentance was entirely justified. According to Hela, they had rebuilt an Asgardian empire by violently conquering other lands and peoples. Hela not only played a vital role in the battles, but served as Odin’s executioner—and she loved every minute of it. But Odin eventually realized his actions were unjust and decided to become a wiser, kinder king.

Hela didn’t agree with the decision. Suddenly, Odin’s most powerful asset became his strongest opposition. Unable to cope with Hela’s power and unwilling to let her continue her bloodthirsty rampage, Odin banished Hela from Asgard and imprisoned her.

Hela doesn’t just toy with the deaths of others; she revels in them.

When Odin dies, his power can no longer keep Hela contained. Mere minutes after being freed, Hela breaks Thor’s hammer, strands him and Loki on Sakaar, and heads to Asgard to reclaim the throne.

Hela doesn’t just toy with the deaths of others; she revels in them. Upon her return to Asgard, she is challenged by a group of soldiers and slaughters them all. While walking among their broken bodies, Hela exclaims, “Oh, I’ve missed this.”

Death is a weakness that every mortal being shares, and Hela loves exploiting that weakness. She eagerly inflicts death on anyone who opposes her, and she even plays with death’s finality by using the Eternal Flame from Odin’s vault to reanimate the skeletons of Asgardian soldiers.

Hela enjoys death because she thinks she controls it. She considers herself superior to death and weakness in general, as evidenced when she tells Thor, “You have no idea what’s possible,” before crushing his hammer. Hela’s power over death makes her arguably the strongest villain Thor has encountered, but she also has a weakness: she is consumed by the desire to control.

During the final battle, Hela snarls at Thor, “I’m not a queen or a monster. I’m the goddess of death.” She relies so much on her control of death that it becomes her only defining quality. As much as she desires Asgard’s throne, Hela values her identity as the “goddess” of death even more than her position as Asgard’s queen.

“Thor Ragnarok” by metagalacticlama.deviantart.com.

Like many people who are trapped in an obsession, Hela’s desire began as something natural. As Odin’s firstborn, she wanted and expected to inherit his throne. But the path she took to get there—the path Odin encouraged, at the time—involved destroying innocent people. The slaughter that may have once been a means to an end became an end in itself.

Whenever people are consumed by control, the situation becomes dangerous for everyone involved. Obsession is easy to fall into; it happens when we want something so badly that we’ll do anything to get it. And even if we get what we want, we’re constantly worried about losing it—whether it’s fame, respect, a relationship, financial security, or something else. When we feel a lack of control, we fill the void with obsession.

The result, sadly, is not satisfaction, but bondage. The more we try to take command of situations that are beyond our reach, the more we feel that control slipping through our fingers. So we grip harder and harder until, eventually, something breaks.

The more we try to take command of situations that are beyond our reach, the more we feel that control slipping through our fingers.

Thor is freed from the bondage of control by admitting he doesn’t have any. When he’s stuck on Sakaar, he is determined to return to Asgard and rescue his people from Hela. Loki advises against it, saying, “She destroyed your hammer like a piece of glass.” No one gives Thor’s plan much support because they don’t see a chance for victory. But Thor isn’t blind to the low odds of success; they just don’t matter to him. All he cares about is doing the best he can for his people, even if that means dying.

In the end, it is Thor’s release of control that decides the victory. At the beginning of the film, he does everything he can to prevent Ragnarok, but at the end, he sends Loki to kick-start the calamity he had tried to avoid. It’s a move no one expects because Asgard means so much to Thor—it’s his home and the place where he holds power. Letting go results in the loss of his kingdom, but the salvation of his people.

By contrast, Hela does not let go. She fights with everything she has to hold on to Asgard, the source of her power. And when Surtur strikes back, the self-styled “goddess” of death falls victim to the very force she tried to manipulate.

I may not want control over death, but I constantly try to rule my own life. I plan as much as possible, make endless to-do lists, and try to anticipate every eventuality. When something happens to derail my schedule, even something good, I get flustered. I’m often frustrated with myself because I feel like I should have more control—over my problems, my emotions, my time, and so on. The more I try, the more I realize how little control I have, which makes me anxious.

Like Hela, I’m obsessed with control. But as she illustrates, and as I can attest, control leads to imprisonment. It’s only through admitting my weakness and releasing control that I find both empowerment and peace.

Caitlin Eha

Caitlin Eha

Staff Writer at Area of Effect magazine
A published writer and aspiring novelist, Caitlin can usually be found with her head in the clouds and her heart in a faraway land. When she isn’t devouring a new favourite book or feverishly writing one of her own, she enjoys archery, cosplaying, jewelry making, and time with her Lord.
Caitlin Eha