Originally Posted by gwsat
...it never degenerates into a soap opera
I don't think anyone on this show has ever seen a bar of soap.
I really like that they make the Vikes (well, the men anyway) look so scraggly. Their hairdos and beards are works of anti-art. Compare with the Kirk Douglas epic from 1958 (which was pretty good) in which the Vikes all had coiffed hair and neatly trimmed beards, at least in my recollection.
More substantively, I also like that they make even the protagonists amoral killers. No pet-the-dog with these guys. It's a good trick to get us identify with Ragnar after, e.g., he slaughters the innocent monks for no real reason at the outset. But they have somehow managed it, I guess by portraying brutality as an unquestioned feature of their culture.