WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
If you’re anything like us, the last three months or so of your lives have been absolutely consumed by Game of Thrones. Sure, it may masquerade as only one hour out of your week, but Monday’s (and probably every other day’s) conversations at work or school were surely dominated by it as well. And this doesn’t even cover second or third viewings, hours spent browsing the Internet for new fan theories, or evenings spent indulging in mead or your beverage of choice straight from your newly purchased stein or goblet while pretending you’re a Stark, Lannister or Targaryen (you all do that too, right? …right?).
But it’s been a few weeks since the finale left the Game of Thrones universe suspended in time for the 9 months or so: Daenerys’s ships on their way toward Westeros, Cersei sitting upon her newly won throne, Jon Snow proudly becoming King of the North, and Arya savoring her fresh vengeance upon Walder Frey. The wait until the new season isn’t exactly like the wait between George R. R. Martin’s books, but it’s still excruciating and it’s only a matter of time before the withdrawal has us hunched over, shaking in the corner with delirium tremens muttering incoherently about winter coming and the faceless man.
Of course, we at TheRichest want to be helpful and have taken the time to carefully compile a list of suggestions that are either similarly themed or of similar quality. Here are 15 of the best shows to help get you through those trying winter months!
15. The Shannara Chronicles
To be honest, this particular entry barely made it onto our list. The Shannara Chronicles is aired on MTV and does not really come close to the level of excellence we have come to expect from HBO programs. Minutes into the first episode, you can see that the acting and pacing are nowhere near what Game of Thrones offers, which makes it difficult to become completely immersed in its world when certain line deliveries and gestures constantly remind you that you’re watching people act. Part of why Game of Thrones works so well is that its fantasy is made believable through excellent acting, writing and production. Still, The Shannara Chronicles has some promise. It’s based upon an excellent series of fantasy novels (sound familiar?) by Terry Brooks. And it will be coming out with a second season, so it has a following and you may find that it satisfies your fantasy needs. Plus, it has elves, trolls, demons and a central quest, which is always a recipe for fantasy success!
14. The Bastard Executioner
Here is another show that just squeaked onto our list. The Bastard Executioner has all the makings of a successful Game of Thrones replacement (it’s created by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter and uses much of that show’s cast, including the excellent Katey Sagal), but we are left feeling that it never quite worked. The show takes place in Wales during the 14th century, during the reign of King Edward I, and follows the tale of Wilkin Brattle, a warrior-turned-executioner, on his quest for vengeance against those responsible for the murder of his wife and child. Sounds great, right? Well, for some reason, despite moments of strong acting, the narrative never quite comes together well enough to reach the levels that you, the avid Game of Thrones enthusiast that you are, have come to expect. Nonetheless, if you are looking for something that involves swordplay with a pinch of magical elements thrown in, this might be just what you’re looking for!
13. The Tudors
The Tudors is another period drama that does a great job of capturing the essence and feeling of its portrayed time period. It takes place in England during the 1500s and focuses primarily upon the rule of King Henry VIII. This is during what was arguably the height of the British Renaissance and The Tudors makes use of some excellent costume and set design to bring that time period to vivid life for its audience. You will also get a few other great historical figures thrown in there, such as Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. We should mention that there is a distinct lack of action and battles, but the political and interpersonal elements of Game of Thrones are there and they are generally quite compelling. The Tudors may have some perceived weaknesses, such as some uneven acting and actors who are just a bit too pretty (although you don’t hear too many complaints about this where Jon Snow and Daenerys are concerned!), but it’s certainly worth checking out.
12. Black Sails
This particular entry comes from Starz and is a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Even though it takes place about 20 years prior to the book, all of our favorite characters are there: Captain Flint, (Long) John Silver, Billy Bones, and so on. Of course, this show deals extensively with pirating, as it takes place in the 18th century during what was a peak period of success for pirates. As with most pirate tales, the central narrative involves the search for a treasure, in this case a lost Spanish treasure. There is plenty of action and lots of great maritime battle. While there are no dragons or drunken Lannisters named Tyrion to speak of, the sea battles certainly make this show the perfect prescription for your Game of Thrones withdrawal if one of your main withdrawal causes is your inability to wait any longer to see Daenerys laying waste to all enemies in her path with her fleet of ships (and her dragons; never forget the dragons).
11. Marco Polo
With Black Sails and now Marco Polo, we are starting to get into some truly great television on this list. Marco Polo is extremely underappreciated and is much better than some reviews might lead you to believe. The show follows Marco Polo (how’s that for some hard-hitting journalistic investigation?) on his adventures in Mongolia during the 13th century as his father, an explorer, leaves Marco Polo, against his will, at the court of Kublai Khan. Marco Polo has some great action and all the storydriven nudity (did we mention that many shows on this list are rated TV-MA and are intended for mature audiences? Although, of course, since you’re reading TheRichest we can already assume that you’re quite the mature individual, indeed) that Game of Thrones is known for. The acting is also quite strong and it’s worth tuning in to Marco Polo just for Benedict Wong’s portrayal of Kublai Khan, which is truly captivating.
10. The Walking Dead
Most of you reading this article are probably already quite familiar with The Walking Dead, but if you are not, you should certainly strike up an acquaintance with it. Light up your fireplace, get out the good dinnerware, prepare some food and drinks and invite it over for the night. It’s easily one of the most popular programs on television and is worth your time. Its fantasy world isn’t exactly in the same vein as Game of Thrones, but the postapocalyptic world of The Walking Dead is filled with just as much threat as Westeros and possibly even more violence. Oh, and did we mention that is has zombies? Lots and lots of zombies. But the beauty of the show is that the undead presence isn’t really the main antagonist. The Walking Dead concerns itself with the darkness of humanity and the survivors of the apocalypse are always the truly darkest villains. The show is also known for killing off members of its main cast, so if the shocking death of Ned Stark back in season 1 set the right tone for you, then The Walking Dead should be right up your (dark, zombie-filled) alley.
9. The Last Kingdom
This offering from BBC perfectly captures that medieval feeling that drenches the streets and wilderness of Westeros. (Side note: Raise your hand if you’ve had a friend or two refer to Game of Thrones as historical? OK, you can put it back down now so you can forward this link to those friends so they can watch a show that actually represents that historical period and doesn’t have fictional elements like dragons and magic. Oh, and feel free to make fun of them a bit for their lack of historical understanding, while you’re at it). The Last Kingdom is based upon a set of historical novels by Bernard Cornwell and takes place during the 9th century in what is currently England. It follows the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, son of a Saxon nobleman, as he attempts to navigate in a world where the Anglo-Saxons have been conquered in many areas by the Danish and the Kingdom of Wessex is left alone, fighting for survival against the Viking hordes.
Finally, we have our first HBO offering for you. Deadwood lives up to all the flawless production values you have come to love from Game of Thrones and has an excellent story to go along with them. The series takes place in South Dakota in the latter part of the 1800s and deals with the attempted establishment of law and order on the wild west. It’s worth noting, however, that the show blends historical fact and narrative fiction, so it’s not a good idea to take the series as historical fact. Deadwood primarily follows the lives of Seth Bullock (played by Timothy Olyphant of Justified fame) and Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). The former is the newly arrived sheriff while the latter is a longstanding member of the community who runs the local saloon (which seems to mainly act as a brothel – you are probably starting to see some Game of Thrones links here). Both men attempt to bring order to their town, but do so with drastically different methods. The acting is incredible and this show deserves all the critical acclaim it has received. Do yourself a favor and watch this one.
7. The Pillars of the Earth
The Pillars of the Earth is a mini-series brought to us by the Starz network. It’s only 9 episodes long, so it’s more of a bandage for your Game of Thrones withdrawal than an actual cure, but it packs so much into its 9 episodes that it’s earned a pretty high place on our list. It takes place during the 12th century in England and is adapted from Ken Follett’s novel of the same title. It stars, among others, Ian McShane (of Deadwood fame) and Eddie Redmayne (who you may know from his recent Academy Award victory for Best Leading Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything). Needless to say, the acting is top notch. The central narrative involves the construction of a cathedral, but there is plenty of turmoil and violence to propel the plot. And did we mention there is a great love story thrown into the mix? It might just help you get over Jon Snow’s loss of Ygritte for while (but probably not – they were so good for each other!).
6. The Sopranos
OK, so we are coming into a portion of the list where the next two shows aren’t really that much like Game of Thrones in plot, but trust us, their quality is amazing and you might be surprised that they satisfy your craving for a few specific elements that Game of Thrones provides you with. Up first, we present you with The Sopranos. This show is incredible. We can’t stress that enough. Incredible. The acting and writing are absolutely first rate and the show arguably achieves a level or artistic merit most often reserved for good literature (J.D. Salinger would be proud of the duck symbolism!). The show follows the life of Tony Soprano as he navigates the treacherous waters of being a mafia boss in New Jersey. Now you may be asking how this will satisfy your Game of Thrones withdrawal. Look no further than the political scheming. Tony Soprano’s political maneuvering rivals that of Westeros mastermind, Cersei Lannister, and is often just as violent. Besides, this is one of those shows that every television aficionado should watch.
5. Breaking Bad
Up next, we have the second offering in this section of shows that deviate from the fantasy realm. You’ve almost certainly heard numerous friends and family members raving about the excellence of this show to the point of possible annoyance, but rest assured: they were right and no amount of lip service can ever be more than Breaking Bad deserves. Propelled by the acting of the exceptional Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad is excellent in every respect: the acting is flawless, the writing is superb and builds suspense in true Hitchcockian manner, and the cinematography is beautiful with its wide angle shots of New Mexico. And during his foray into the underworld of criminal meth dealing, Walter White encounters some of the best villains network television has ever seen, particularly Giancarlo Esposito’s portrayal of the cold and calculating Gustavo Fring. Eat your heart out, Ramsay Bolton (although, I guess your dogs have already done that for you…).
Spartacus is perfect if you find yourself craving swordplay and excellently choreographed battles that can be held up to the standard you’ve come to expect from Game of Thrones. It follows the titular character, Spartacus, during his time as a Roman slave as he becomes a dominant gladiator and eventually instigates a slave uprising. As you might have guessed from a show dealing with gladiator battles in the Colosseum, Spartacus is very liberal in its use of violence, although maybe never quite reaching the shock value of Oberyn Martell’s death at the hands (too soon?) of The Mountain. And certainly no death on Spartacus is ever quite as satisfying as watching Joffrey being poisoned, or Ramsay getting devoured by his own dogs, or Walder Frey being stabbed, or… You know what, this list could actually go on for quite a while. Spartacus is a quality show, though, and it will certainly satisfy your bloodlust and suit all your swordplay and action needs in a setting that often looks quite a bit like Meereen.
3. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies
Alright, so we’ve pulled one more fast one over on you by sneaking a series of films onto the list. But I’m sure you can forgive us, right? After all, we’re providing you with loads of excellent Netflix and chill-worthy viewing pleasure here. And hear us out. Between the two trilogies, there are 18 hours of screen time (even more if you are watching the extended editions!), which is the equivalent to almost two seasons of Game of Thrones! In fact, that’s more screen time than there is left in Game of Thrones at this point, which probably only has about 13 episodes left. Ever. Oh, we just realized you may not have known that fact. We’ll give you a moment to quietly sob into your shirt collar before we continue. Finished? OK, good. Back to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Actually, you probably already know all about them. Packed with all the hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, battles, magic and quests you could ever hope for, these films are the perfect Game of Thrones substitutes. Plus, many have suggested that George R. R. Martin was heavily influenced by Tolkien’s fictional world, so, as an avid GoT fan, you should probably familiarize yourself with it.
Here we have our third and final entry from HBO. Set in the second oldest time period out of the shows on this list, next to only Spartacus, Rome takes place in Rome during the first century BC and deals primarily with its transition from a republic, with its elected representatives, to an autocratic empire, with its single ruler. All the heavy historical hitters make appearances, such as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, but Rome primarily follows the lives of two Roman soldiers, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus. This allows for some excellent battle scenes, of course, but also provides an interesting perspective on all the historical events we are so familiar with, such as the assassination of Julius Caesar (we aren’t going to count that as a spoiler, since you’ve had over 2000 years to catch up on that one!). And yes, sometimes history is just as awesome as fantasy. Trust us, you’ll enjoy this one.
Finally, we have reached the top of the list, which was reserved for the History network’s Vikings. Sure, there are complaints about the show’s anachronisms, but while there are certainly historical errors, the show is excellent in many ways. Its depiction of 13th century Viking life is well done and typically informative and immersive. Vikings follows the kind of the Viking tribes, Ragnar Lothbrok, who attempts to reconcile his Norse heritage with his discovery of Christianity as he leads bloody excursions into both England and France. The battles are well done and high budget, but the true standout feature of this show is the acting. There are numerous performances we could discuss, but the standout is clearly the lead, Travis Fimmel. His portrayal of Ragnar Lothbrok is cold-eyed and brilliant, teetering from calculating to borderline insane. If you only need one show to pass the time until Game of Thrones returns, this should be it.