‘Vikings’: In ‘Burial of the Dead’ Ragnar and Earl Haraldson clash, Athelstan learns about Viking burials

Earl Haraldson and Ragnar Lothbrok engage in a fight to the death in "Burial of the Dead."

Earl Haraldson and Ragnar Lothbrok engage in a fight to the death in “Burial of the Dead.”

On the heels of the news of their season two renewal, “Burial of the Dead” continued to raise the stakes for the entire cast of VikingsLast week’s episode ended with the chilling announcement by Ragnar that he intends to send Floki to Kattegat in order to issue a “challenge to single combat” on his behalf, and this week picks up right where things left off.

Last week, the writers gave viewers a painful glimpse into the personal sorrows of Earl Haraldson and Siggy, turning them from frustrating antagonists for Ragnar into a fully developed couple, whose loss has torn their unity just as Ragnar and Lagertha’s gain has continued to hold theirs together.  Rather than throw viewers directly into the duel this week, the episode is careful not to squander viewers’ newfound empathy for the Earl and his wife, prefacing the fight with a pair of uniquely tender scenes of the rival couples in which Haraldson cannot sleep for thoughts of his lost sons, and Lagertha seems suddenly strangely uncertain about her husband’s decision.

The duel itself, while lasting only a relatively small portion of the episode, was pulse pounding and full of near misses for both combatants.  In an interesting twist, there is almost as much focus on the audience’s reactions – on Siggy’s apprehension, the strangely unsure look on Lagertha’s face, and Athelstan’s worry – as there was on the combat itself.  The focus on the bystanders as well as the participants is an angle that further increased the tension and humanity of what could have been otherwise a bland fight scene.

However, what makes the climax of the scene is not Ragnar’s victory over Haraldson, but the reactions of those around him following Siggy’s shaky pronouncement of his victory.  Rollo, always vengeful, immediately kills Haraldson’s right hand man, Svein (much to the amusement and dismay of Twitter – Katheryn Winnick quipped “Bye bye Svein,” to which Svein’s actor, David Pearse replied “Why Katheryn?  Oh why?”), but the most memorable action was taken by the women closest to the fallen Earl, as taking a knife from her daughter, Thyri, she murders her daughter’s new husband.  My entire flat all but stood up to cheer at the killing of the abusive new groom and at Siggy’s decision to put her daughter’s happiness ahead of their secure place in society.

The main event of the episode, as hinted at by its title, is the funeral of Earl Haraldson, the grandiosity of which Athelstan is baffled by until Ragnar simply explains that even though the Earl was his enemy, he was still a “great man” who built up his own renown, and he was owed a funeral that befitted that greatness.  Despite this, however, the funeral has its awkward moments, from Ragnar’s refusal to allow Siggy to light her husband’s pyre, to Lagertha’s announcement that she is pregnant and Ragnar’s following proclamation that the child would be a boy (thus making his family the mirror to Siggy’s shattered one.)

As always, Athelstan’s continued growing respect and curiosity towards Viking custom comes into play during this episode, beginning at the funeral, as Bjorn and Ragnar both explain key points of religious significance.  However, as always, Athelstan proves incapable of diving in, and horrified by the killing of a slave woman as a part of the funeral, he withdraws from the celebration when no one is looking,

Despite his hasty exit at the funeral, Athelstan’s curiosity makes another appearance when he awkwardly asks, for a second time, “What is Ragnarok?”  Amidst cries of “Athelstan!  The first rule of Ragnarok is that you don’t talk about Ragnarok!” from me and my flatmates, Ragnar finally consents to Athelstan’s being educated on the topic in a lengthy, somewhat surreal sequence in which the events of Ragnarok are narrated to him by the resident seer.  The slightly bizarre nature of presentation, however, did nothing to diminish the enjoyable nature of the narration, and I find Athelstan’s insistence on knowing about Ragnarok interesting in light of his preoccupation with the Biblical end of days during his first appearance.

Unfortunately, I have to ask myself if all this talk of Ragnarok and Armageddon isn’t actually some very crafty foreshadowing on the part of Michael Hirst, as treachery seems to be brewing in every corner.  Most fresh in viewers’ minds is Rollo’s suggestion to Siggy, after his assurance of his willingness to protect the interests of her and Thyri, that she might wish to be wed to another Earl.  Is he suggesting that he, himself, might betray Ragnar in order to become Earl, or is he still harbouring feelings for Lagertha and hopes to force her and Ragnar into a divorce?

Finally, fans of saga on which the character of Ragnar Lothbrok is partially based may have been excited by the implications of the Northumbrian King Aelle’s execution of a man by dropping him into a pit full of snakes.

So what does lay in store for Ragnar and his family?  Will Athelstan find himself embracing Viking culture more than he anticipated?  Can Rollo ever be trusted?  What will happen to Siggy and Thyri?  Now that the Northumbrians know about the raiders, will they face defeat?  Let us know your predictions and thoughts in the comments!

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8 Responses

  1. Why was Siggy refused the honor of lighting the pyre?

    • In all probability, it was a deliberate slight on Ragnar’s part, but more importantly, it was very likely a power play – a display of “Yes, I will honour your husband through a large funeral because he was a great man, but neither he nor you hold the power here any longer – I do.”

    • I believe Ragnar did not allow Siggy the honor of lighting her husband’s funeral pyre because Ragnar was aware that Siggy had sent out word for help when Rollo was tortured by her husband the Earl. Although Rollo was Ragnar’s brother, and what Siggy did helped them…she still betrayed her husband.

  2. Why was Siggy refused the honor of setting the pyre aflame?

    • In all probability, it was a deliberate slight on Ragnar’s part, but more importantly, it was very likely a power play – a display of “Yes, I will honour your husband through a large funeral because he was a great man, but neither he nor you hold the power here any longer – I do.”

  3. What did Rollo Say in Ragnar’s ear when Ragnar accepted his brother’s loyalty and embraced him in the assembly?

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