The Historical Accuracy:
Well to be more clear, the historical accuracy while still within the context of cinematic entertainment. At the end of the day, the whole point of a TV Show is to earn/get the viewers money. But Vikings is a rare breed of a show, it does not presume to think that you NEED to know that the creators read up on their medieval history. Rather it presumes that you know it has historical accuracy without having to actually look it up. It's simple confidence, and they do it with such a natural ease that it's hard not to be swept up and forget that damn near 90% of the story you're watching all actually happened. Now it's important to read that 90% part, because mostly everything concerning the dialogue and inter-going-ons between the characters while in Norway are all mostly derived from legend. Do not mistake me here, the characters all existed in these places at these times, and while certain dialogue might have been faithfully recorded by the Saxons, when it comes down to it a lot of it is here-say. SPOILER ALERT, the huge moments in the show, like Ragnar's fake death, his real death, the many stage siege of Paris, the taking the boats up the mountains, Rollo becoming a duke, King Ecbert's moral decisions etc. Those are all recorded throughout history and actually happened. That is simply an unparalleled amount of historical context, plot and accuracy that no other show outside of the occasional documentary will show you.
I will be the fist to admit it, Lagertha, Aslaug, young Bjorn and arguably Rollo are just... Alright. They are still a far-cry better than a large majority of characters on TV in this day and age but in comparison to some of the show's standouts they tend to be eclipsed by them. Which leads into my main point, seasoned and weary Bjorn, Floki, Athelstan and Ecbert and OH MY GOD RAGNAR are just some of the single most interesting charaters I have seen on TV in the last decade. Much of this can be attributed to the stellar and magnetic performance of the actors who sink their cinematic flair into you and steadfastly refuse to let you go. Travis Fimmel's Ragnar Lothbrok and Gustaf Skaarsgard's Floki are such incredibly well made, written and quirky characters that you want to see nothing but them. Adding into this is that historical accuracy that I mentioned earlier, it makes these characters so much more appealing and so much less open to individual interpretation. See that's why these characters work, they existed. We know their end goals, we know how they eventually die, and seeing their lives play out in such well done cinematic flair is just impressive to behold.
With good characterization comes great writers. The dialogue does unfortunately dip into melodrama and unnecessarily morally corrupt for the sake of morally corrupt decision making. However, I'd be amiss to not say that the way that the characters are shot and the way they deliver their individual lines and stories are phenomenally well done and should really stand as a testament for shows that are struggling to be cohesive with their writing. And that really is what sets Vikings apart from the rest of the crowd, yes I realize by saying it's cohesive that it would kind make my initial point moot with the comment of quality dip but here's the thing; it's all dialogue, story and shooting that regardless of it's quality always comes full circle and makes everything become completely cohesive. Make sense? No? Alright, think of the writing like a LEGO set, you have a set image in your mind as to what you want to make, you have the pieces and the knowledge. But no matter how you go about making the final construction, inevitably there will be times in the middle where it looks like a random collection of pieces but behind all the chaos is an end goal with one whole set.
Simplistically Effective Storytelling:
Here's the thing about Vikings, this is not House of Cards level multi-tiered storytelling nor is it the broad sweeping cinematic appeal of Game of Thrones. It's storytelling is ultimately simple in it's execution without sacrificing significant backstory, it tells very simple day-to-day stories that intertwine into the occasional bigger plot. The main theme here is mankind's ultimate desire to be continually more ambitious, regardless of the guarantee of success or the seemig lack of any possible success. That's the main theme, but in season 1 the overall plot was Ragnar VS Rollo as Ragnar fights to become King of Kattegat and it's surrounding villages. Then season 2 - 3 are about branching out and establishing dominance and seeing new things. This then returns to the main theme here, ambition. Rollo's ambition to be out from under his brothers shadow. Ragnars ambition to become a legend. Bjorn's ambition to explore the world. How many other shows can you say have one revolving theme for every character? Not many. It's remarkably effective as a story piece because while the show may not be garnered towards children it leaves it's story as very open and easy to follow. And I for one love that about this show.
I am a sucker for a well made shot, whether establishing a scene, telling a story or establishing a whole movie the way the camera is angled and shot and the way locations are portrayed is the ultimate crux of movie making magic. And Vikings really nails these particular trends; the scenes portray character's physical emotions very well with the angles it's shot at. And the locales and the way they're shot is simply astonishing; well timed shots of fog rolling over the Norwegian Fjords, mist covering a grey English coast, the sunsets behind Paris, the detail poured into every set and village. The physical cinematography is at it's best when it's examining the world these characters inhabit, telling a story is important but it won't matter if the viewer is uninterested in the world the story is taking place in. Vikings knows this and it revels in almost bombastically gorgeous cinematography. Absolutely amazing work by the cameramen and directors for this show. Just do yourself a favor, stop reading this list and go watch the show, I promise you won't regret it.