The fight between Snake and Thorfinn is impressively badass as expected. He’s shocked a warrior of Snake’s skill is guarding a farm, and Snake is shocked a warrior of Thorfinn’s skill is a slave. But Sverkel was right: it really came down to luck who ended up as what.
Snake is a warrior of Miklagard, AKA Constantinople (now Istanbul), but he can only imagine what “monsters” surrounded Thorfinn, and how he must not have “experienced a single good thing” to be a match for him.
Call it a combination of Thorfinn being unarmed and a little rusty, or chalk it up to Snake simply being a bit better, but Thorfinn isn’t able to keep Snake away from the cart where Gardar lay. Gardar’s last line of defense is Arnheid, begging Snake not to take his life.
Snake is unequivocal: Gardar took the lives of five of his men, so he must die. He and his men may be “stupid nasty scumbags” who can’t even use their real names, but he’s right that Gardar’s life isn’t worth more than those five. So he stabs Gardar in the gut with his sword.
While he’s telling Thorfinn and Arnheid that they’ll be bound pending punishment fitting their actions, Gardar grabs Snake from behind and puts him in a chokehold. Neither Snake nor Thorfinn can so much as nudge Gardar’s tree trunk-like arms. The only one who can stop him from killing Snake is Arnheid, whose voice breaks him out of his trance.
Gardar and Arnheid take Sverkel’s cart (with his permission and blessing) and they intend to ride it home to their son Hjalti. Arnheid doesn’t tell him the truth because, well, why spoil the last moments the two of them have? Gardar drifts in and out of consciousness, and has visions of abandoned souls lining the road.
He also dreams of the day his son was born, took his first steps, pissed on his face while he was changing him. These memories are as full of love and happiness and joy as reality is full of pain, anguish, and despair. They were the best days of his life, when he was with his wife and son, at home, living in peace. No matter what happened afterwards, they lived those days together.
Gardar also relives the day he decided to leave his home and family to fight for honor and wealth, only he’s watching himself leaving while sitting beside Arnheid and Hjalti. He couldn’t see her face then, but he does now, and he’s filled with regret for leaving.
When he comes to one last time, he asks Arnheid how old Hjalti is (six), imagines he’s forgotten them but still become a prankster like him, and is certain that he’ll want to go off on Viking adventures. But he tells Arnheid he won’t let him go. Then he takes her hand and slumps over in her lap.
As Arnheid sheds tears as her husband’s life fades, Gardar finds himself riding the cart into his village, untouched since he last left it. He spots Hjalti on a sad looking morose until he spots his dad and starts running towards him. Gardar is home. Arnheid holds him in her arms, welcoming him home. Snake’s men catch up to the car and surround it, their shadows long in the low sun.
This was perhaps the most heartwrenching depiction of a death we’ve seen on Vinland Saga. In this period of Thorfinn’s life the loss of even one life is terrible and agonizing to behold, but also beautiful and sublime. Arnheid got to see her Gardar in life and Gardar will get to see their Hjalti in death. And one day, they’ll all be reunited in the hereafter; a family shattered by war and violence whose bonds of love frayed but never broke.