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Vikings Episode 6 Review and Recap

Burial of the Dead

by James Chantrill

In last Sunday’s Vikings episode, we see the great battle that has been brewing from the start of the season: Earl Haraldson vs. Ragnar.  This battle of titans started with conflicting ideologies over raiding and now we get to see the only way this is to be resolved.

At the start of the episode we get to see Floki formally challenge the Earl on behalf of Ragnar.  While the Earl’s right hand man replies that the Earl will not accept on the grounds that Ragnar is a criminal, the Earl has a flashback of his meeting with the Oracle.  During this flashback, the Earl remembers what he was told and agrees to Ragnar’s challenge.

Back at the Ragnar homefront, we see how Lagertha is trying to urge Ragnar not to fight the Earl due to his weakened state.  While that is happening, we see what the Earl is up to on the night before the challenge.  Earl Haraldson looks out upon the landscape as his wife comes to join him.  This is where we hear that Earl Haraldson actually has respect for Ragnar (the earl see himself in Ragnar).  Later that night, we see the Earl pray to what looks like a figure of Odin asking for strength in the upcoming battle, but his faith has clearly been shaken and the earl expresses that he can’t feel the Gods around him.  The Earl’s wife sees this lack of faith and only asks him to have faith in their deceased sons and to have faith in himself.

As the crowd gathers in a circle the next day, we get a sweeping view of the crowd and the camera momentarily stops on Rollo’s face.  When I saw Rollo’s face, I immediately thought he’s the Viking Joker and I just wanted him to say, “You want to know how I got these scars.” The pain he endured to keep his brother, Ragnar, alive and safe is now easily discernable.

As Ragnar and Earl Haraldson enter the arena, we get let into the rules of a Viking challenge. If I may indulge myself and make a movie comparison, I would say, “One man enters, One man leaves” (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome), but I digress:  The Viking rules are each man is given two shields and after both become broken, the challengers are down to using their weapons for both defense and offense. 

With that being said, the Earl chooses to throw away his first shield and Ragnar follows suit and tosses his as well.  I believe that this had to be some type of tactic to throw Ragnar off and cast a little doubt in Ragnar’s mind.  As the fighting goes on, Ragnar’s sword becomes broken and he has to use his shield to bash the Earl. This only leads to both of their shields being broken apart and leaving Ragnar down to his broken sword.  With just his sword, Ragnar throws it away and in an act of respect, the Earl throws his sword to the ground. Now it’s down to the last weapon: the hand axe.  This is the best part of the battle since it’s hand to hand with no defense and both sides give a good showing of their abilities.  Ultimately, Ragnar gets the upper hand and critically wounds the Earl (this is only after Ragnar took a blow to the chest).  As the Earl lies on the ground, Ragnar whispers that Odin is here and that one of them will go to his great hall and drink with the Gods.  With that acknowledgement, the Earl gives the sign to Ragnar to end it. Ragnar then slits the Earl’s wrist.

While the Earl bleeds out his right-hand man tries to order someone to kill Ragnar and this just makes Rollo angry.  Rolla makes short work of the Earl’s man by stabbing him in the chest.  This is not the only man to die after the Earl as his wife takes a dagger and kills the Swede that was married to her daughter.  With the Earl Haraldson’s death, this makes Ragnar the next Earl. 

After the battle Ragnar takes his seat on the throne with the urging of all the Vikings in the mead hall.  As soon as he sits down, his raiding party pledges their allegiances to Earl Ragnar, with Ragnar only telling them that they are his friends and it’s not needed.  With that a new character in the form of an aging warrior Viking pledges his loyalty to Ragnar on the condition that he gets to go on the next raiding party to the West.  This Viking only wants to have the opportunity to die an honorable death in battle so he may join his friends in Val Halla.  Ragnar agrees to let the man go after the speech the Viking gave and shortly after Rollo comes forth to pledge his allegiance.  Ragnar picks Rollo up and tells him that it’s not needed because of the price he had to pay for his loyalty.  As Ragnar holds Rollo in an embrace Rollo whispers, “How can we be equal now brother?”  So I’m thinking that the seeds of jealousy have been planted in Rollo.

Brother Athelstan asks Ragnar later that day why he is allowing such a grand funeral for Earl Harladson since they were enemies and Ragnar replies that he was a great man and has earned it (a true mark of the Viking culture).  Ragnar later takes Brother Athelstan to a tent where a female slave of Earl Haraldson has agreed to be killed to join the Earl in the afterlife and this leads Brother Athelstan to become even more confused in the culture that he is in.  As the funeral games and the drinking commence, Bjorn (Ragnar’s son) takes Brother Athelstan to get a drink and explains something that the slave has to do before she is allowed to meet her end.  This is something that I found strange, the slave has to have sex with the men that want her to pass on their love to the Earl Haraldson (a weird mark of Viking culture). 

We get to see the Vikings way of passing into the afterlife and someone that is called the “Angel of Death” I would compare this to a present day undertaker.  The Earl Haraldson’s body is put onto a boat with offerings to the Gods and his dead slave is laid next to him, this boat is a funeral pyre that is going to be lit on fire and pushed out into the water.  The wife of the Earl asks Ragnar if she can light the pyre, but Ragnar denies this so the wife and her daughter storm off to steal as many riches as they can and make their escape.  They fear for their lives and Rollo catches them, but offers the former queen another option.  That if she was to marry Rollo, then he would vouch for them in return and they would not be shunned or attacked. 

As the winter continues, we see a scene of celebration inside a mead hall where Bjorn asks Ragnar if he can go along on the raids and is disappointed when told no.  This scene is also great because Brother Athelstan asks the Vikings about Ragnarok and we get to see the oracle explain what happens. 

In this episode, we saw the culmination of the battle that has been brewing since the start of the season with Earl Haraldson accepting the challenge of Ragnar.  I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Ragnar's rise of power.  Now that he is the man on the throne, it will be interesting to see where the season goes from here.  The look into the Viking culture also added the historical elements that keep the show authentic.  With this, we saw some great moments from how the Earl showed that he had respect for Ragnar although they were enemies to the paralleling respect that Ragnar showed with allowing the funeral of the Earl.  This episode has me expecting great things from Ragnar now that he is the new Earl and I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode to see how King Aelle responds to the threat at his doorstep.

Keywords: Vikings, History Channel Vikings review, Burial of the Dead
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