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Vikings Shocker: A Major Death in “Burial of the Dead” 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession / HISTORY

[Warning: Huge Spoilers for “Burial of the Dead”]

I’m stunned right now. I don’t know if there were any spoilers out there but the title alone signaled that this was going to be a big episode. Even suspecting some huge development, I didn’t really predict this particular event.

  • Ragnar has challenged the Earl Haraldson to a fight to the death. Haraldson tortured his brother. He’s gone after his family and damn near killed him. He took most of the treasure garnered from the raids on England — the ones that Ragnar led. Ragnar’s pissed.
  • The fight: Here’s where I was living in total denial. I kept trying to figure out how both of these guys were going to get out of this epic showdown alive. I knew Ragnar would be fine. Travis Fimmel is the lead of the series. But as horrible a person that Haraldson was, Gabriel Byrne played him. I love him and I love the way he didn’t make the Earl one dimensional. I should have known he was doomed when he made a surprising admission to his wife, Siggy. He revealed to her that he had the utmost respect for Ragnar:

Earl Haraldson: “He is what I used to be. Restless. Ambitious. And he was right about the Western lands. But I always knew that in my heart.”

  • I needed to remember that this is a drama about Vikings. They are warriors. And warriors go big or they go home. While we don’t get a long, drawn out battle, it’s a good one. But there is a clear winner. Despite Ragnar playing hurt, he’s still too strong for the Earl to defeat.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession / HISTORY
  • After Ragnar slashes Haraldson’s back with the axe (it actually looked like he may have severed the guy’s spine), he doesn’t back down. He slits the Earl’s wrist and lets him bleed out in front of everyone, including his wife and daughter. His death 20 minutes into the episode enabled him to join the sons he’d been mourning this entire series. I think part of him was OK with dying.
  • And with the Earl’s passing, I was left thinking a bit about Game of Thrones and how in season one, that show unleashed a major death on us when Sean Bean’s Ned Stark was beheaded. Granted, the character died in the books, but if you hadn’t read them, this was a cruel surprise. I don’t think the Earl’s death is as emotional as that one was but it’s definitely a significant loss. It also changes the game in a big, big way.
  • A new Earl must be named and it’s no surprise that it’s Ragnar. When I hit the Vikings press room at the recent WonderCon 2013, I asked Fimmel where Ragnar’s ambition comes from:

Fimmel: “I guess some people just got that in their mind that they’re not happy with where they are. Or they just want more and to see more of the world. I’m a farm kid. You know, I grew up on a farm. I love it. But I’m over here trying to make some more of myself and make my future children proud. It’s like anybody. You want to do well with yourself. And some people are prepared to take more of a risk than others and I think Ragnar will take any risk or sacrifice anything…he wants to acquire more knowledge and I’m sure a lot of it’s just to be known and respected and have posterity.”

  • Just as the Earl confessed to having respect for Ragnar and meeting his challenge rather than taking the coward’s way out, Ragnar showed his respect for Haraldson by letting him have a huge funeral worthy of this former leader. Athelstan didn’t understand why he would do this for his enemy:

Ragnar: “He was also a great man…and a warrior. He earned his renown in this life and now, in death, he deserves such a funeral.”

  • Everyone quickly throws their support to Ragnar. While he doesn’t feel his brother needs to make a public declaration, Rollo does anyway. However, he does worry about how they’re ever going to be equal. I worry about that relationship.
  • Part of me was confused by a couple of things during the episode. First was the Ragnarok. It seemed to be a weird, psychedelic vision that foretold of a horribly difficult time ahead. I just had no idea what was going on. There also seemed to be some time jumps that messed with my head a little bit. I actually loved seeing the action jump forward mid-episode. That doesn’t often happen on a show. However, the way they were executed was rather abrupt.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession / HISTORY
  • But other than that, I’m still trying to process the fact that there will be a Vikings without Gabriel Byrne. I wasn’t prepared for that but I’m excited to see what kind of leader Ragnar’s going to be. How is his life going to change? Lagertha’s with child and he’s sure that it’s another boy. They’re raiding England again, but it seems to be the King there may be more prepared for their arrival this time. I’m so excited to see what’s ahead for Ragnar and everyone. But I’m not going to lie. I’m going to miss Travis Fimmel / Gabriel Byrne scenes something fierce.

Vikings airs on HISTORY Sundays at 10/9c.

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