"The Funeral of a Viking" (Frank B. Dicksee, 1893)
A subtrope of Burial at Sea
in which the deceased (usually a warrior, but not necessarily a Viking) is laid in a boat with his effects, such as a sword, and set out to drift at sea. Then, a character (usually someone with emotional ties to the dead, or simply the most skilled archer
present) lights a flaming arrow
and shoots it at the sail. The ship is then engulfed in flame and slowly breaks up and sinks.
Played straight, it can be a Tear Jerker
. When Played for Laughs
, the character charged with shooting the flaming arrow will continually miss or fumble his bow.*
In some cases, the fire-arrow step isn't performed. This can be due to a lack of flammable sails and fire arrows, a need for haste, or simply different funerary practices.
A third variant exists in which the boat is not set out to sea
, but instead used to lay the corpse in for a funeral pyre
Note that some funerals may also add a living slave to the pyre as a Human Sacrifice
And finally, Viking funerals need not be literal. Many examples feature metaphorical stand-ins for any of the aspects of the ritual.
Because this is a Death Trope, there are unmarked spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.
Anime and Manga
- Viking funerals are common amongst the Asgardians of the Marvel Universe. They have even been known to extend the practice to outsiders who prove themselves worthy. When Asgard was floating over Oklahoma (It Makes Sense in Context) they made funeral pyres with boats.
- The eponymous V from V for Vendetta is given a funeral in the spirit of this trope, with the train acting as a proxy for the traditional boat. Instead of being shot with a fire arrow, the train is packed with explosives.
- Lauren in DMZ is given one of these, although instead of a wooden boat and a flaming arrow it's an inflatable raft and a flare gun.
- The beginning of the 1939 movie adaptation of Beau Geste shows the Geste brothers as boys giving a Viking funeral to a toy soldier by setting a toy boat on fire, and Michael expresses his wish to get a Viking funeral himself. Near the end of the movie, Digby fulfills Michael's wish by burning his body on an improvised pyre. Probably the first depiction of a Viking Funeral on film.
- Happens in the Hollywood epic The Vikings (1958) by Richard Fleischer. The Viking Funeral of Viking prince Einar (Kirk Douglas) is the last scene of the film (see it on YouTube). The Trope Codifier for cinema, this is the earliest instance to add Flaming Arrows to the mix.
- King Arthur is laid to rest this way in First Knight.
- The Robert Zemeckis Beowulf film features one for Beowulf himself. The ship is kindled by pouring flaming oil onto it as it passes beneath an arch of rock.
- History of the World Part I features such a funeral in the Coming Attractions segment. The shot of the burning ship is pilfered from The Vikings (1958).
- Cremation on a pyre is the traditional funerary rite for Jedi in the Star Wars films, the most iconic being Darth Vader's at the end of Return of the Jedi.
- Happens at the end of Outlander. A similar funeral at the beginning of the film would have made Book Ends, but was cut for time.
- It Runs in the Family (2003) features a Viking funeral that is both a Tear Jerker and one of the funniest scenes in the film, particularly because it is set in modern day New York City.
- Ray the firefly's funeral at the end of The Princess and the Frog. Shortly after that, he comes back as a star in the sky.
- King Harold is actually given a funeral resembling this after croaking at the very beginning of Shrek the Third. It even comes with a choir of singing frogs performing his funeral dirge.
- In the Conan the Barbarian (1982) movie, Conan burns Valeria on a funeral pyre after she's killed by Thulsa Doom. It's especially poignant for Subotai's line.
- In S.O.B., the heroes decide their friend needs a better send-off than a Hollywood funeral full of phonies so they steal his body from the funeral home and send it out to sea in a burning boat.
- In Van Helsing, the titular character gives the love interest this treatment after accidentally killing her.
- The grandfather in Rocket Gibraltar.
- The film Grand Theft Parsons revolves around the protagonist's attempt to keep his word to his friend, the late musician Gram Parsons, by burning his corpse in Joshua Tree National Park. Parsons' father wants a more conventional funeral, hence the need for the titular felony. Very loosely based on a true story; the movie adds a bitch-on-wheels ex as the main antagonist, presumably so the real (step)father who claimed the corpse (who probably has real lawyers) didn't have to be the heavy.
- Played for laughs in the direct-to-video film Eulogy.
- V gets one in V for Vendetta, his body is laid to rest in the train that delivers his bomb to the British Parliament.
- Unsurprisingly considering it's a tale of an Arab experiencing Viking culture, two of these feature in the film version of The 13th Warrior, one near the beginning and one near the end of the film.
- In What's New Pussycat?, psychiatrist Peter Sellers, suffering a case of unrequited lust, attempts suicide by Viking funeral, wrapping himself in a Norwegian flag and intending to set himself ablaze with a road flare in a rowboat on a Paris riverfront. He's rudely interrupted by Woody Allen, who chooses the spot for a sit down dinner.
- In Troy, this is standard practice for both Greek and Trojan heroes.
- One of the last scenes of Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring shows Boromir's body laid out in a boat and drifting over the waterfall of the Anduin.
- In Thor: The Dark World, Frigga and the others who fell during the dark elves' invasion of Asgard are given a mass funeral, each set out on their own boat and set on fire by arrows.
- Beasts Of The Southern Wild: Hushpuppy gives this kind of funeral for his father, Wink, with her friends and their families, mostly survivors of the storm, watching in respect.
- Stoick was given this in How to Train Your Dragon 2.
- The children honour their grandfather's wishes in What We Did On Our Holiday and give him a Viking funeral. By building a boat of driftwood, a striped sail from a deck chair, and dousing the corpse in petrol before setting fire to it.
- After Dave Brockie's death in 2014 GWAR gave Oderus Orungus a viking funeral.
- The Manowar ballad "Swords In The Wind" references the funeral-pyre version of this trope, owing to the band's general love of Vikings and warriors in general.
Place my body on a ship, and burn it in the sea
Let my spirit rise, Valkyries carry me
Take me to Valhalla, where my brothers wait for me
Fires burn into the sky
My spirit will never die!
- The Of Monsters And Men song "Your Bones" is about one.
"In the spring we made a boat / out of feathers / out of bones... Said goodbye to you my friend / as the fires spread / All that's left are your bones / That will soon sink like stones"
- The Lost Vikings being, well, Vikings, send their fallen off on a burning ship on the game over screen.
- Dragon Age: Origins: It appears to be tradition in Ferelden. After the siege, the dead of Redcliffe are sent off in floating pyres. In the Return to Ostagar DLC, this is the most respectful send-off you can give the late King.
- Ezio gives one to his father and brothers in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.
- The video game based on Zemeckis' Beowulf, like the movie, features one in a cutscene.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, true to its Viking-inspired roots, has one of these for Kodlak Whitemane, who is burned on a funeral pyre at the Skyforge following the Silver Hand's attack on Jorrvaskr.
- Deckard Cain receives a funeral on a pyre at the end of the first act of Diablo III.
- In the Strong Bad Email from Homestar Runner where the Paper is dying, Strong Bad actually responds to the Paper's death by burning it with his BMW lighter.
- In an episode of The Simpsons, when Bart decided he needed to grow up and put away his childish things, he did so by giving them a Viking Funeral.
- Justice League launched an actual Viking longship into the Sun.
- While Dianna read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, for some reason. It does have very roughly the right portentous, marine feel, and the person in question had spent centuries trying to die, so points for the vague Flying Dutchman tie-in, but viewers who recognized the poem were still somewhat taken aback. What kind of elegy is that for a Viking prince?
- In Kick Buttowski Gunther gives Kick's helmet a viking funeral. We even see nordic god/ancestor constellation entities watching the funeral.
- Steven Universe sees what's left of Frybo get this treatment after Peedee and Steven finish him off in his namesake episode.
- The vikings themselves (duh) as reported by Ahmad ibn Fadlan, though, it was generally reserved only for really remarkable chieftains and warlords. Usually the Norsemen simply either interred their dead or cremated them and interred the ashes. If a boat was used, it usually was a simple rowing boat, and it was often used simply as a casket. The reason is obvious: boats, and more so ships, are expensive investments and of more use in mundane and martial tasks than as funerary implements. To be more practical, the vikings would sometimes instead build fake Stone ships and bury their dead in them, instead of burning real ones.
- Apparently, certain pet owners found it a more interesting alternative to burial in the garden. You can try searching for "viking funeral" on Youtube; chances are there won't be many film scenes among search results.
- WWII vet Andrew Haines requested a Viking Funeral before his death of natural causes. The Coast Guard allowed it.
- Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the first African-American naval aviator could qualify. His plane was shot down during the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. His aircraft crashed, and despite rescue attempts he died trapped in the wreckage. To prevent his body or the plane from falling into enemy hands, a flight of naval aircraft dropped Napalm on the wreckage, as a pilot recited the Lord's Prayer.
- Abhorred in the Real Life amongst boaters. A fire onboard a boat or yacht while underway is often fatal, and almost always results in destruction of the said boat.