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The Untold Truth Of The Elder Scrolls' Headless Horseman

As far as high fantasy RPG's go, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skryim is definitely on the darker end of the spectrum. While it's full of all the requisite fantasy tropes like elves, dragons, and (extinct) dwarves, it's full of creepy stuff like cannibalism, necromancy, serial killers, vampire covens, and more.

One of the game's creepier Easter Eggs is the Headless Horseman, a ghostly decapitated rider on a spectral horse who only appears at night. It can be difficult to locate him. He spawns randomly almost anywhere on the game's map between 10pm and 4am. Once the Dragonborn spots him, they can't speak with or otherwise interact with him in any way. They can only follow him. Usually, he leads the Dragonborn to Hamvir's Rest, a Nordic ruin near Whiterun with a small graveyard. Once there, the player may be attacked by reanimated skeletons. By morning, the Headless Horseman is gone.

Skyrim's Headless Horseman doesn't have an attached quest. Is he just an Easter Egg referencing the ghoulish antagonist who menaces Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving's famous short story? Lots of fans think there's more to it.

His identity might be found in the in-game lore

Lots of fans believe the Headless Horseman might actually be the ghost of Ragnar the Red. Ragnar is the subject of a popular Nordic folk song sung in taverns throughout the game. He was a hero who liked to brag about his heroics, until a shieldmaiden named Matilda got fed up and decapitated him.

There are clues to support this theory. According to the lyrics, Ragnar was riding from Rorikstead to Whiterun. The Headless Horseman's spawning location varies, but he'll always ride towards Whiterun. Both Ragnar and the ghostly rider in the game are missing their heads. Finally, Ragnar was a Nord, and the game classified the Headless Horseman as a member of the Nordic race.

On the other hand, the lyrics mention Ragnar wielding a "blade," which usually means "sword." The Headless Horseman wields a battleaxe, so that's a bit of a stretch. The Headless Horseman is also much more stoic than Ragnar. He rarely talks, and only speaks about the inevitability of death. Maybe death changed him? But given how Skyrim is littered with decapitated skulls, it's not like there's a shortage of candidates for the Headless Horseman's identity. 

He's prone to weird glitches

Many Skyrim players have spent hundreds of hours without ever seeing the Headless Horseman. But if you're lucky enough to spot him, there's a good chance he'll just fall into one of his many known glitches. It's unclear why this one NPC is so prone to glitches, but it can get pretty hilarious.

The Headless Horseman can spawn on foot behind his horse, which forces him to chase the horse all the way to Hamvir's rest. He can spawn standing in the horse's saddle, like a stunt rider. (Pictured.) While being followed, the Horseman can float up into the air — but randomly, not in a creepy ghost way. He can lose his sense of direction and stall out, requiring a nudge from the player to get him going again. He can get stuck in a tree. Finally, NPCs like bandits and wolves will occasionally attack the Headless Horseman, but since he's classified as a ghost, he can't be damaged. 

One player even reported following the Horseman into a river. They were all swept away and the player got pinned under the horse and drowned. Might not be as scary as the Headless Horseman who menaced Ichabod Crane, but apparently still dangerous.