The Heroine Journey in Barbarians

Barbarians is at the gate, and you should be paying attention.

The German Netflix series is an action-packed retelling of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, between the Romans and the Germanic peoples, in the year 9 CE. With a conflicted central character, an incredible heroine, and engaging story lines, Barbarians should be your next binge. Here’s why it deserves the top spot on your watch list.

At the center of Barbarians is Arminius (Laurence Rupp), a Germanic soldier working for the Romans after being given away by his family as a tribute. Arminius’ conflicted feelings about his predicament are the unpredictable driving force throughout the season. The thrilling twists often come from his sudden changes of heart, and the very human choices he makes are both emotional and exciting. His struggle helps ground what is otherwise a big, action-heavy work of historical fiction.

While Barbarians does embellish its story to make a compelling drama, it is a retelling of a real battle, in which feuding Germanic tribes put aside their problems and join forces to defeat their common enemy, the Romans. Arminius and Thusnelda (Jeanne Goursaud), two of the show’s central figures, each hold a place in European history.

The series knows when to bend to tell a great story while keeping its eye on what the history books tell us. While there is a lot we don’t know about these fascinating figures, creative liberties fill in the holes and help draw a fuller picture of what this period was like.


Fighting is part of this story, but Barbarians knows when it’s time for action. Between the feuding tribes and the cruelty of the oppressive Roman regime, there are lots of opportunities for gore. And when there are fights, Barbarians does get nasty, but it picks the right moments for an execution, act of aggression, and full battle sequences. The creators have crafted stunning battles, and allowed the characters to engage in effective emotional moments as well.

Filling Barbarians‘ cast with beloved figures of German cinema allows an international audience to get to know them and provides them the opportunity to tell a story about their own history. Like many popular international shows before it, including Netflix’s own Money Heist and Elite, people from all over will get to know these actors. As we have meaningful conversations about authenticity, Barbarians is an excellent example of what should happen more often.


While Arminius is stuck in two worlds, Thusnelda is the heroine viewers will root for. As the princess of her tribe, many expectations are placed on her, but Thusnelda is not having it. From the beginning, she shows herself to be a brave woman who will do what she believes is right without question — even when it puts her at odds with her parents or the man she loves. One incredibly powerful arc pits Thusnelda against her parents to protect her young brother after he is seriously injured.

At a time when she is considered a commodity, even by her loved ones, Thusnelda becomes a pivotal figure in bringing her people together to fight their Roman oppressors. Even when she makes some risky choices, her aim is clear: She’ll do anything for her people.