In The Golden Age of Television, we’ve seen many shows come and go and many have become worldwide successes, standing the test of time and will be known as some of the greatest series ever to be produced. One HBO program in particular has received outstanding international success and phenomenal acclaim and praise. Based on George R.R. Martin‘s fantasy novel series A Song of Fire and Ice, Game of Thrones takes its name from Martin’s first novel in the series. With 26 Emmy Awards and 83 nominations, Game of Thrones has swept the industry in terms of production, performance and most of all, screenwriting. The series starts off with a war between House Lannister and House Stark, two of the most powerful houses in Westeros. The writers of the show have an incredible talent for twisting and turning your emotions. One season, you’ll despise a certain character and next season you’ll find yourself rooting for them. Even more incredible is the show’s ability to kill off characters at the height of their potential, leaving audiences heartbroken and remotes broken on the floor after being tossed across the room. Actors in the show have gone from nobodies to household names and thrown into the world of international celebrity and stardom. Game of Thrones is less a TV show and more of a global event that we’re all lucky enough to bear witness to. If you’re itching for the next season, and suffering from GoT withdrawal like many millions across the globe, the 15 TV shows on this list might just be enough to give you a slight fix until The Queen of Dragons reaches the shores of Westeros.
The STARZ television series Spartacus begins when Roman Legatus, Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) recruits the help of Thracian tribes against the Getae, enemies of the Roman empire who frequently raided Thracian lands. An unnamed Thracian (later known as Spartacus), played by Liam McIntyre, convinces his fellow Thracian men to side with the Romans on the condition that all the Getae are killed. The series has a thrilling fast pace, with well executed battle scenes. Although the special effects can be heavy at times, the blood and gore are well done, reminiscent of Zack Snyder‘s 300. In search of higher glory, Glaber forgoes the Getae campaign and decides to move his forces to attack Mithridates VI, King of the Greek state of Pontus. Led by Spartacus, the Thracians refuse to leave their lands defenceless against the Getae and rebel against the Romans. Spartacus is then captured and condemned to death in The Colosseum. After killing the four gladiators enlisted to carry out the sentence, the unnamed Thracian is given the name Spartacus and instead of death, is granted slavery as a gladiator.
14. Robin Hood
The BBC One original programming sought to restore life to the well known, perhaps overdone tale of Robin Hood. After returning from five years of service during the crusades, Robin of Locksley (Jonas Armstrong) and his servant find their home under the rule of the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen). Following the age old tale, Robin becomes the leader of a band of vigilantes with Allan A Dale, Royston White, Will Scarlett, Djaq and of course, Little John. Later on in the series, other characters from the beloved legend of Robin Hood are introduced, including Friar Tuck, Prince John, Archer and many more. Coming to an end after three seasons, the series had mixed reviews scoring 70 on Metacritic and was the subject of much controversy when the master tapes were reportedly stolen and demanded ransom over. The show was also criticized for its failure to convey historical accuracy. Robin is seen to use weapons unnatural to the time and/or place of late 12th Century England. Also, other characters are costumed with clothing that didn’t match the period. Although their aims were set high and their hearts were in the right place, Robin Hood, for the first time, seemed to have missed the mark.
13. The Last Kingdom
Based on a novel of a the same name by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom is a less known Netflix Original series that aired in 2015. The show follows Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), son of Uhtred, Earl of Bebbanburg, an Englishman that was taken captive as a young child and raised by invading Danes. Now an adult and a Dane at heart, Uhtred’s adoptive Danish father and most of his family is killed by a traitorous Danish family. The show follows Uhtred’s quest for revenge against the people that killed his adoptive family, but also an inner battle within himself and the decisions he must make whether or not to side with the Englishmen and retain his rightful claim as an English Lord of Bebbanburg or to fight alongside the Danes who raised him. The Last Kingdom lacks the intense battle scenes often seen in Game of Thrones, but it makes up for it with great performances from actors many have never seen before, as well as a strong and fast-paced plot. This series shows a lot of promise going forward and should definitely not be overlooked.
12. The Tudors
If you’re one of the many that tended to doze off in history class, you may think watching The Tudors may be an entertaining way for you to catch up on the lore of the British empire that you slept through all throughout high school. However, although the acclaimed Showtime drama follows the reign of King Henry VII, it is riddled with historical inaccuracies. What it lacks in historical facts, it makes up for in atmosphere, tension, cinematography and plot. Jonathan Rhys Meyers does a captivating portrayal of a young King Henry VII trying to make his mark on the world. The series received average to negative reviews with the first season scoring 64% on Metacritic and 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Tudors is racked with all the betrayal, sex and anticipation that Game of Thrones fans are accustomed to. In fact, there were 3 sex scenes in the first 36 minutes of the first episode alone. Hows that for an attention grabber?
11. Of Kings and Prophets
Of Kings and Prophets started as an American series that aired on ABC, with a plot based on the Books of Samuel in the Judeo-Christian bible. Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, the show premiered on ABC but was cancelled after just two episodes due to low ratings. The episodes that followed were aired on certain web channels including New Zealand’s TVNZ. Of Kings and Prophets follows prominent biblical characters including King David and King Saul (two successive Israeli Kings), and both their families. The story begins with King Saul arranging a marriage for his daughter in hopes that the marriage will unify the Israelite tribes against their Philistine enemies. According to The Guardian, the show is described as: “A king is trying to unite the disparate houses of the realm to thwart an attacking army full of giants. He’s fighting prophecies that say he isn’t the true king; meanwhile, his scheming wife is mostly interested in maintaining his own power”, a synopsis that could easily work for the first season of GoT. However, the show received mostly negative reviews, scoring just 35% on Rotten Tomatoes and 47% on Metacritic.
Airing originally on BBC One, Merlin is a British Fantasy adventure show written by Julian Jones. Played by Colin Morgan, Merlin is a warlock who arrives in the city of Camelot to stay with Gaius (Richard Wilson), the realm’s court physician. However, to his dismay, he learns that the King outlawed magic twenty years ago in an event called “The Great Purge”. During which the King also imprisoned the last Dragon far beneath the earth. Merlin hears a voice in his head that leads him underneath the city of Camelot where he finds the dragon who tells him that he is destined to protect Arthur, son of King Uhter, who will one day bring magic back to Camelot and restore unity to the kingdom of Albion. Upon their first meeting, Merlin and Arthur immediately dislike each other, but after Merlin saves Arthur’s life, the two begin to respect each other and eventually become friends. The series follows Merlin and Arthur’s quest to save the land of Albion from the sorceress Morgana. The series lasted 5 seasons and received a 56% score on Metacritic.
Based on the novel series of the same name by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is a British television drama developed by Ronald Moore and produced by Sony and Left Bank Pictures for STARZ. The show follows Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a WWII nurse who finds herself travelling through time to Scotland in 1743. There she meets Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a highland warrior, and becomes caught between the Jacobite risings in Great Britain and Ireland. The show masterfully blends a peculiar mix of Fantasy, Time-Travel, Action and Romance, into a hit series that has been praised and well received. Season one scored 73% on Metacritic and an astounding 91% “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Season two did even better scoring 85% on Metacritic and 97% Rotten Tomatoes was even nominated for an Emmy and three Golden Globes.
Produced for HBO and BBC Two, ROME is a British-American-Italian historical-drama filmed in carious locations, with some scenes filmed on location in Rome. ROME follows the lives of the rich and powerful, with many characters based on real people from historical records. The series also follows the lives of the two commoners Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), who witness many of the historical events depicted in the series. Season one shows Caesar’s civil war of 49 BC, his rise to power in Rome, and of course his eventual assassination in 44 BC. Also shown are also the early years of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor. The show received success with its first season, but was cancelled after season two due to budgeting concerns and was known as one of the most expensive productions in the history of television. The series received mostly positive reviews scoring 71% on Metacritic, and received 7 Emmy Awards and 2 Golden Globes.
7. Black Sails
Produced by Michael Bay and created by Jonathan E. Steinberg, Black Sails is set in the early 1700s during The Golden Age of Piracy. The show starts off with a bang, literally, as infamous Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) massacres a lone ship, killing most of its crew. Flint adds a young crew member and they fight for the survival their home of New Providence Island. Actual historical pirates are portrayed on the show, including: Blackbeard, Benjamin Hornigold, Jack Rackham, Ned Low, and many others. Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, the first season follows Flint’s hunt for a rumoured Spanish treasure. While the series has received mixed reviews, it received four nominations in the 66th Emmy Awards and won the “Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role” and “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series” awards. The show has fast-paced, exciting battle scenes and sheds light on a world and setting that is not often shown on television.
6. House of Cards
If there’s one show that stands out from the rest of this list it’s House of Cards. Set in the present, 21st Century United States, House of Cards is a political drama about the rise of Governor Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright). Although the series doesn’t have dragons, magic, or the epic battle scenes Game of Thrones is known for, House of Cards has just as much (or perhaps even more) betrayal, espionage and political conflict. With spectacular performances from the series’ main leads (Spacey and Wright), the show delves deep into the desires, weaknesses, strengths and connections with each of the show’s characters. One of the main themes or ideas in Game of Thrones is the rise to power or how to attain power and keep it in a world where arrows fly from all directions and you don’t know if someone is about to kiss you or stab you in the back. In a lot of ways, House of Cards is the same way and with a ruthless and relentless character like Frank Underwood who would just as easily murder someone as he would sit down and have a meal, the series is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.
5. The Bastard Executioner
Written by Kurt Sutter, the creator of the highly acclaimed Sons of Anarchy, The Bastard Executioner is Set in Wales during the early 1300s and follows Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a knight in the English army who is betrayed and left to die. After his near death experience, Brattle lays down his sword and decides to follow a different path. The show fast forwards into the future with Wilkin living happily as a farmer, and his wife expecting a child. However, this illusion of peace doesn’t last long before “Baron” Erik Ventris (Brian O’Byrne), the one who betrayed Wilkin, raises taxes on the farmers. Wilkin rebels and leads a raid on the tax collector. Ventris then kills all the women and children in Brattle’s village. Later on, Brattle impersonates an executioner in order to gain entrance into Castle Ventris to find the murderers who sacked his village so he and his men can exact revenge. Brattle finds himself leading a double life and questions whether or not his new life as a farmer was his true destiny, or whether it was a mistake leaving the world of kings and castles. Although the show had so much potential, it received mostly negative reviews, and was cancelled after one season, leaving audiences to wonder if it could have been a GoT contender.
4. Marco Polo
Another Netflix Original, Marco Polo was created by John Fusco, and was based on the real life of Marco Polo and his years spent in the service of Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong). The story starts off with a young Marco (Lorenzo Richelmy) and his father being scolded by Kublai Khan for failing to bring the priests he requested into his land. Marco speaks out of turn and impresses the Khan with a few wise comments. In exchange for permission to trade on the Silk Roads, Marco’s father abandons him to remain in service of the Khan and promises to return for him when further terms are negotiated. Kublai discovers Marco’s skills and intelligence and teaches him the ways of Mongolian culture. The first season of the series received mostly negative reviews, scoring only 24% on Rotten Tomatoes and 48% on Metacritic, but was nevertheless renewed for 2nd and 3rd seasons.
3. The Borgias
A Bravo! and Showtime series, The Borgias is a historical-drama following the Borgia family and their rise to power within the Roman Catholic Church and the lengths they must go through to maintain their hold. Set in 15th Century Europe, the show begins with Rodrigo Borgia’s (Jeremy Irons) election to the papacy and his inauguration as Pope Alexander VI. The show also follows Rodrigo’s children: Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), Cesare (François Arnaud) and Gioffre. Although the series may sound just as boring as papal elections are on TV, the program shows a possible dark side to the papacy and the political aspects that many are unaware of. The Borgias has spectacular performances from various less known actors, and is wrought with tension, forbidden love, treachery and betrayal. The series had mixed reviews scoring 62% on Rotten Tomatoes and 66% on Metacritic.
Perhaps one of the best known shows on this list, Vikings has received exceptional success scoring 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and 71% on Metacritic. The historical drama is filmed in Ireland, and written by Michael Hirst. The series was inspired by the tales of legendary viking Chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok. The show begins with Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) as a farmer and follows his rise to power, eventually becoming a Scandinavian king. The story starts with Ragnar lamenting the Chieftain’s choice to raid villages to the East like they’ve done for many years, knowing there is little plunder left for them to take. Ragnar convinces other men that there are riches and new Gods in the lands to the West and he devises a plan to get there. While Vikings has a slightly slower start than Game of Thrones, the series is rich with tension, battle, love, lust, death and brutality. If you’re someone who can’t wait for the next season of GoT, watching Vikings is a great way to spend the time in between.
1. The Pillars of The Earth
Based on Ken Follett‘s novel of the same name, The Pillars of the Earth is an epic miniseries featuring a star studded cast: Donald Sutherland (Hunger Games), Eddie Redmayne (Theory of Everything, Les Miserables, Jupiter Ascending), Ian McShane (Game of Thrones, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Jack the Giant Slayer) and Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale, The Illusionist, God’s of Egypt). Set in the mid 1100s, the show follows the construction of a cathedral in a fictional town called Kingsbridge in England. The events take place during the Anarchy, which was a civil war between England and Normandy. The series had mostly positive reviews scoring 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and winning an Emmy in 2011 for Outstanding Sound Editing. Although the synopsis of a church being built may sound bland, don’t let that fool you into giving this show a pass. This 8-part miniseries is a hidden gem and deserves to have a spotlight shone on it.
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