It's a little too soon to tell where Vikings will rank, after just one episode, but the series is off to a good start. The central theme is the breakthrough of the Vikings from a relatively local force that plundered east at the end of the 8th century AD to the first in-effect world power, with ships that went west and all the way to North America. I've long been fascinated by this accomplishment, how and why it succeeded and ultimately failed, and Vikings looks like it's up to the task of telling us more about it.
To get across the "open ocean," as the Atlantic was referred to by the Vikings, suitable ships had to be constructed. Floki, a slightly cracked genius of a ship builder, is doing the job. Such a voyage will also require support of a Viking leader, or be much more difficult. Haraldson - played by Gabriel Byrne - is vicious, jealous, arbitrary in his rulings, and not game. This is good foundation for a high-tension story.
Most of all, a trip across the ocean, or even to just England and France and the west, will require someone at the helm, a Viking able to get the voyage going in face of all the inertia and outright opposition. Ragnar - a "real" person in history, insofar as he is a major hero in the Norse sagas - is such a man, and is the protagonist of this narrative. He has a beautiful wife, a powerful younger brother who covets Ragnar's wife and needs to be convinced about the voyage, and an implacable vision of his future and his place in the west.
Ragnar's wife Lagertha (played by Katheryn Winnick from Bones!) is not only beautiful but powerful in her own right. She not only rules the home but kicks the asses of two men who want their way with her when Ragnar and brother Rollo are away, and later in the story talks Rollo down when he makes a pass at her. Rollo is by this time convinced about the value of a voyage to the west, and is willing to brook its dangers, but will Lagertha in the end go along with it?
A good first episode, with heroes and villains and those in between assembling the ingredients of what looks to be an excellent series.
See also Vikings 1.2: Lindisfarne ... Vikings 1.3: The Priest ... Vikings 1.4: Twist and Testudo ... Vikings 1.5: Freud and Family ... Vikings 1.7: Religion and Battle ... Vikings 1.8: Sacrifice ... Vikings Season 1 Finale: Below the Ash