Floki is brought before Earl Haraldson to deliver the message that Ragnar Lothbrok has challenged him to one-on-one combat. Floki tells the Earl that shame will follow him the rest of his life if he doesn’t accept. The Earl scoffs at the suggestion that he and Ragnar are equals, but he does accept the challenge.
That night, Ragnar and Lagertha are making love, but she is distracted. She tells Ragnar that they should leave and make a life for themselves elsewhere. Lagertha is concerned about Ragnar’s health, and she warns him never to fight unless the odds are in his favor. He tells her that their fates are already decided. “You don’t believe that, and neither do I,” she replies. Ragnar promises that he does believe it.
Meanwhile, Earl Haraldson is struggling to sleep. He’s thinking about their sons and what they would look like if they were still alive. Siggy warns him not to think about the boys and that he needs to rest for the fight tomorrow. Haraldson admits that he respects Lothbrok. He believes that if he had reached out to Ragnar, all of his supporters would have left him. He lies to Siggy when she asks if the Seer had promised that Haraldson would kill Ragnar.
Thryi is struggling to deal with her Swedish husband. She vocalizes her displeasure with his hygiene as he tells her to get some fish. He then threatens to beat her if she doesn’t fetch him some herring.
The following morning, Ragnar wakes up to his entire family staring at him. Miles away, Haraldson prays to Odin, but he doesn’t get a response from the god. Siggy tries to comfort him by giving him a necklace made of their son’s hair. She tells him to believe in himself.
Ragnar wearily limps off the boat and into the fighter’s area. Earl Haraldson meets him. Each fighter is given two shields and a choice of weapons. It’s a gritty fight that sees Ragnar injured, but Haraldson gets too aggressive and over swings with his axe. Ragnar counters the move and cuts Haraldson down.
The victorious Lothbrok gets on his knees and tells Haraldson that Odin is there waiting to take one of them to dine in his halls. The Earl notes that Odin hasn’t denied him entrance to his halls after all. Ragnar cuts Haraldson’s wrist, and the Earl dies accepting his defeat and claiming that he will be drinking with his boys that night.
With the Earl dead, Haraldson’s right-hand man calls for the crowd to kill Ragnar. Rollo steps forward and plants an axe in the man’s chest. Siggy then takes a knife from Thryi and stabs her daughter’s husband to death, which eliminates any potential claim he could have to be chieftain. Siggy hails Ragnar as the new Earl. Lagertha looks displeased as everyone hails him.
Ragnar enters the throne room and takes the earl’s chair to everyone’s cheers. He accepts the oaths of allegiance from his friends, and then grants an older warrior by the name of Tosteg the opportunity to raid with everyone the following summer. Ragnar grants this privilege after Tosteg explains that his entire family and all of his friends are dead, and he would like a chance to die with honor.
Later, Athelstan questions why Ragnar would grant Haraldson a large funeral. Ragnar replies that Haraldson was a good man, and he deserves such a great funeral in death. He then leads Athelstan to a tent with a drunken woman being cleaned up. It turns out that she has agreed to die with Haraldson to show her love for him.
Athelstan is stunned to walk around the village and see all the drunken partying going on. Bjorn sees him and gets him a drink. Athelstan points out the drunken consort being escorted to a tent. Bjorn explains that she will have sex with the men in the tent in order to be able to speak with Haraldson in the afterlife.
The consort is then brought before a woman they call the Angel of Death. She strips off her jewelry and drinks out of a cup. The consort claims that she can see her master, and that he’s in Valhalla. She proclaims herself ready to die. Athelstan doesn’t want to watch, but Bjorn threatens to go to Ragnar if he leaves. Athelstan watches as the Angel of Death slits the consort’s throat. They then carry the woman onto Haraldson’s pyre as Bjorn cheers.
A rather uncomfortable looking Ragnar Lothbrok appears with Lagertha and his daughter Gyda for the ceremony. They are now dressed in the clothing of the royal family. Siggy requests to light her husband’s funeral pyre, which he denies. The pyre is lit, and the villagers stand in vigil over the bodies as they float away.
Lagertha chooses this time to tell Ragnar that she’s pregnant. Ragnar responds with joy as a jealous Rollo looks on.
Meanwhile, Siggy and Thryi are frantically packing their treasure when Rollo appears their tent. He tells them that Ragnar won’t kill them. He promises to vouch for Siggy, and in return, he offers her the opportunity to marry an earl again. “Who?” she asks. “Me,” Ragnar replies with a smirk.
Months later, a now healthy Ragnar speaks with Bjorn. “The pigs are fattening nicely,” Bjorn says. Ragnar looks over at his pregnant wife and says, “Just like your mother.” Bjorn notes that it’s cold, and his father gives him a blanket to warm up. The boy tells Ragnar that he wants to raid in the spring, but he’s rebuffed. Ragnar says he’s too young, and he shouldn’t be in a rush to put himself in danger.
Athelstan surprises the group by asking about Ragnarok. Ragnar decides to show the ignorant Christian what Ragnarok is and tells Floki to get the leaves. They burn and a raven flies through the room while the seer explains that Ragnarok is essentially the end of the world.
The following June, the Vikings are now raiding Northumberland, England. King Aelle is disturbed by the news and decides to use poisonous snakes against the incoming Raiders. He proves his point by tossing the man who failed to stop Ragnar the previous year into a pit full of the snakes.
“Burial of the Dead” was the best episode of the series thus far. The writing was clear, everything moved in a forward direction, and there was even somewhat of a redemption for Earl Haraldson. “Burial of the Dead” showed progression for every major character and storyline, which is more than what any other episode has done to this point.
The only concern that I have is that the Haraldson story arc was closed with only a couple other episodes left in the season. Most people expect there to be a cliffhanger during a season finale, but it does seem as if it’s a bit late to start moving in a whole other direction. It will interesting to see how the show’s writers planned out the final three episodes of the season. Nonetheless, Vikings was the best it’s ever been on Sunday night. I look forward to finding out what happens next with Ragnar and Rollo.