With a host of new characters being introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Asgard (Hela the death goddess included) in Thor: Ragnarok, you might find yourself in need of a crash course in sixty-or-so years of Marvel comics history, and why you should be caring about these new folks. Here's the complete lowdown on the character of Valkyrie, all set to be played by Tessa Thompson, who could prove to be far more than just another doe-eyed love interest for the god of thunder.
Valkyrie’s true name is Brunnhilde, and she’s loosely based on a character from Norse mythology of the same name (with some wildly different spelling). As with most myths and legends, the details are garbled through multiple retellings, though most stories of Brunnhilde have the same basic gist: cursed and cast down from her position as Odin’s shieldmaiden, Brunnhilde is forced to live as a mortal. Sometime later she is rescued from her exile by the Volsung warrior Sigurd, fresh from killing a dragon and most probably the greatest warrior in the land.
The two hit it off immediately and decide to marry, but a number of disastrous circumstances lead to Sigurd being tricked into marrying someone else, leaving Brunnhilde heartbroken and plunging the story into a flurry of stabbings and suicides until everyone is dead - like all the great legends.
The Marvel comics version adapts the character in massively broad strokes, having her start off not only as a Valkyrie but also as leader of the Valkyrior, responsible for bringing fallen warriors to Valhalla (Norse heaven, basically). Brunnhilde’s backstory has her falling in love with Thor while the both of them were in the guise of mortals, though all memories of these events were later erased. The character of Enchantress would impersonate her for a number of years before the ‘real’ Valkyrie was introduced.
Valkyrie would serve in her post until years later, when she left Asgard for Earth and became a prominent member of the Defenders. This is where she became known as ‘Valkyrie’, a title that would be more generic around the rest of the Nine Worlds where there are plenty of those flying around, but worked just fine on Earth. Valkyrie has served a number of Earth-based teams since then, including the Avengers for a short time, and is currently carrying out her main job (guiding the souls of the dead) in Midgard after being revived from death for about the fourth time. Her powers are similar to those of Thor and the rest of the Asgardians, in that she’s immensely strong and able to lift several tons. Her strength is greater than most of her kind, but not quite as much as those such as Thor and Hela. Valkyrie is almost unmatched in her level of swordplay and combat and is incredibly durable, healing from almost any wound.
More unique to her station is a ‘death sense’ that lets Valkyrie see when a person is about to die. She’s also able to teleport between realms, again as part of her job.
The Valkyrie in the comics, while still her own distinct person, acts very similar to Thor and plays a similar role in her various teams: the quirky, honor-obsessed fish-out-of-water who refuses to back down from a fight and is quick to suggest wholesale violence as a convenient answer to most problems. It remains to be seen exactly how she’s utilized in the MCU, though we’ve been given a few clues.
We know that Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is out of the picture, meaning that she and Thor may have had some kind of off-screen break-up, or may simply be "taking a break" a la Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (long distance relationships are tough). This leaves Thor without a love interest, a position we’ve been told that Valkyrie will be filling.
That’s something of a blow to the fringe group of Sif enthusiasts, especially since she and Thor have consistently been portrayed as lovers in the comics, though it could have implications for the MCU. With Natalie Portman apparently denying even making a cameo, her role in this universe could be over for good. Meanwhile, Chris Hemsworth won’t be in the role forever, and the steady process of phasing out the old crowd has already begun, meaning that the female Thor from the comics (Jane Foster) could well be replaced with Valkyrie, provided the character proves popular enough.
If that’s the case, then Thor: Ragnarok could serve as a handover from one Thor to another, allowing Hemsworth-Thor to relax on a beach in Valhalla while Brunnhilde takes up the hammer and fights in the Infinity War.
All this is speculation, however, as her true role in Ragnarok is unknown. The comics storyline had her killed during the event, like all the Asgardians, and later revived on Earth, which means we could be heading for a massive downer ending. In a broader sense, Valkyrie’s role guiding the spirits of the dead is even less clear, since Valhalla has only been mentioned in passing and never seen as a physical place. In fact, the MCU Asgard is more grounded than in the comics, relying on what seems to be extremely advanced technology instead of everything being fueled by blatant sorcery, though plenty of exceptions exist.
Whether this version of Valkyrie actually has the power to travel back and forth to Valhalla and is charged with guiding the spirits of fallen warriors is up in the air, though it seems less likely. The MCU might give her a more grounded version of her job, or Thor: Ragnarok could just go the whole hog and lay on the magic thick and fast like we’ve never before seen. We know we’re seeing Hela, goddess of the dead, but also the Incredible Hulk, who has practically nothing to do with any of this magical nonsense, making the story kind of hard to predict.
Whatever the depiction of Valkyrie, she’s a well-loved character from the comics who fans have been waiting to see in the MCU for years. Whether she’s tipped as the future Thor or just popping up to give Chris Hemsworth come-hither looks and mow down waves of bad guys with a sword, let’s hope that Tessa Thompson is up to the challenge of bringing the character to life.
Captain America: Civil War is in theaters now. Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.