When the showrunners Dan Benioff and D.B. Weiss pitched Game of Thrones, they called it “The Sopranos in Middle Earth”. HBO was hesitant to adapt a fantasy series, which until that point had been a niche genre. Thus, pre-release hype was muted.
Then it was released, and quickly became a surprise phenomenon,
As of season four, Game of Thrones is the most-watched television show in HBO’s history. Noted for its high production values, well realized characters, epic scope and overall quality, Game of Thrones has not only raised the bar for TV; it’s set the new standard for fantasy.
In addition to the creation of Dothraki as a living language, making Khaleesi one of the most popular baby names in 2014, and the term “Sexposition”, the series, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, has also introduced fantasy of all kinds to the masses. With the new interest in fantasy and, sadly, the approaching end of Game of Thrones, fantasy properties are now a hot commodity for adaptation into movie and TV.
It makes sense; fantasy when done right is one of the most rewarding of experiences. With its larger than life characters, often deep thematic content, gigantic worlds, and conflicts so enormous the Avengers would cower in fear, it is fantasy’s moment in the pop culture limelight.
But what does this cultural phenomenon have in store for viewers in future? Which direction might TV executives take to fill the gap left by GoT when it leaves our screens? The following are seven fantasy series that could make incredible TV shows or movies.
7. The Kingkiller Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss
Kvothe the Bloodless is a legend. He’s traveled the world, killed demons, burned towns down, is a master magician, swordsman, musician, and lover. However, after the events that give the series its name, he resides in a backwater town, living as a simple innkeeper. When a person from his past life reappears, a Chronicler, Kvothe makes a deal to tell his life story over the next three days – not the stories around him, but his own story.
A postmodern take on storytelling and fantasy novels, The Kingkiller Chronicles is at once a tale well told and a small scale fantasy story that still manages to tell an epic tale. The main character is a fascinating study that uses his personal history to highlight how stories are altered by time and fancy, marrying the epic with the intimate.
This series has already been optioned for a TV series.
6. The First Law Trilogy (And Other Works) – Joe Abercrombie
The First Law reads like the lovechild pf George R.R. Martin and Tolkien. It features a fellowship carrying an item of unparalleled power across dangerous edges of the world. It features an amoral torturer who has suffered enough torture not to care, and it a doomed war effort created by the “heroes”.
The First Law is notable as part of the “Grimdark” genre of epic fantasy. It takes Martin’s nihilistic assessment of man to its logical extreme. The handsome Prince Gallant in this story is a lecherous coward and has no actual fighting ability, the barbarian is the most civilized character – but prone to amnesiac outbursts of extreme violence – and the wizard is Gandalf in reverse.
5. The Second Apocalypse – R. Scott Bakker
The Second Apocalypse is the story of Drusas Achamian and Anasurimbor Kellhus. Taking place 2000 years after the death of the “No-God”, a holy war is ignited by the dominant religious order in the three seas.
Meanwhile, Kellhus – a master of human psychology and manipulation – is on a quest to kill his father. However, during the search, he inadvertently fulfills a prophecy that predicts the return of the No-God and the coming of the Second Apocalypse.
As opposed to one long series, this series is a set of trilogies. Featuring epic set pieces, elements of Dune, politicking even more labyrinthine than Game of Thrones and action just as epic, this series would work well on screen. It has the scope, the characters, and the conflict to make a live action adaptation endlessly interesting.
4. Book of the New Sun/Solar Cycle – Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is one of the most famous sci-fi/fantasy authors you’ve never heard of. Famous for unreliable narrators, high aims and grand themes, The Book of the New Sun is frequently called one of the best fantasy series ever written.
Taking place on Earth in the distant future, the story follows Severian, a boy raised in the guild of torturers and exiled for showing mercy to one of their “clients”. The four-book series examines heady philosophical subjects while Severian journeys through Urth, where the sun is dying and even in daylight the stars show bright.
Featuring bizarre creatures and events, heavy philosophy, and a beautiful and dream-like world, Book of the New sun would be a fantastic addition to the fantasy TV universe.
3. The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King
Roland Deschain is the last gunslinger, an ancient knightly order that protected the peace for thousands of years, until various elements of darkness brought the order crumbling. Roland has one mission: To reach the Dark Tower, the center of all universes. Along the way he fights with his long standing enemy, the Man in Black; forms a new family of Gunslingers; and is dragged into a conflict that threatens not just his reality, but every single universe in existence.
The Dark Tower has been on the docket for adaptation for years. Ron Howard has tried to variously adapt it as Three Movies and Two TV series, and various other configurations and actors, but they have all fallen through. The series itself is epic as epic can get while also being a post-modern assessment of fantasy literature, Stephen King’s body of work (the story threads through a number of other books of his), and is just a good time overall.
2. The Cosmere – Brandon Sanderson
The Cosmere is a bit like the MCU of fantasy literature: It isn’t one series, but a series of interconnected series, taking place on various planets in a single universe. Starting with the standalone novel “Elantris” in 2005, Sanderson has been successively adding to this meta-series with each new book he writes. Mistborn, Warbreaker, The Stormlight Archives and others all take place within this universe.
The series is a work in progress, with an intended volume count of 32-36 books. The interesting thing, however, is that each series is converging with the others, starting out with separate plots that will eventually meet to form a giant series-spanning plot that threatens the entire universe in which the story is set. The potential for this series is virtually limitless, and is open to the shared universe story telling made popular by Marvel and DC comics.
1. The Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan
The Wheel of Time stands as one of the most enduring and popular works of epic fantasy ever written. Started by Robert Jordan with the Eye of the World, it follows Rand al’Thor, Mat Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere, and Nynaeve al’Meara. They are five country teens who find out, to their dismay, that they must be the saviors of the world.
The source of all the evil from which they need to save the world was sealed away at the beginning of time. But now, he’s breaking the bonds and wreaking destruction and mayhem. Along with thousands of other characters, the five heroes prepare for Tarmon Gaidon, the last battle, and rally the forces of the world for the ultimate showdown.
Spanning 14 volumes, the series was ultimately completed by Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s untimely death in 2007. The series featured huge action set pieces, a well realized world and one of the best explored cast of characters outside of Game of Thrones. It stands as one of the ultimate testaments to epic fantasy and has spawned conventions, an enormous fan base, and a host of other fantasy writers.
The world of fantasy fans were waiting with bated breath for the announcement of an on-screen adaptation of The Wheel of Time, but when a bizarre pilot aired unexpectedly on FXX it was met with confusion and a very poor critical response. There’s speculation that the pilot was cobbled together by the producers who own the television rights to the series, as their rights would expire if they didn’t produce something by February, 2015. In order to buy themselves some time, they came up with a substandard pilot that left fans disappointed – but everyone agrees that there’s potential here for a great on-screen adaptation, if it’s properly explored.