Game of Thrones: 7 Shows to Watch After It’s Over (Non-Swords and Shields Division)
It's going to be a long time before we see the Game of Thrones endgame. Here are seven options to invest your time in during withdrawal.
“There are no men like me. Only me.”
That line, uttered by an imprisoned, grime-covered Jaime Lannister to the widow of a man his family executed is all you need to know about the golden-haired lion. Even in the most dire of circumstances, how can he pass on a chance to linguistically spike the football once more?
It’s a line that also applies to Game of Thrones, itself. There are no other shows like Game of Thrones. Only Game of Thrones. Thrones is a singular miracle of television. Its author, George R.R. Martin, famously sought to craft a story so grand that it’s unfilmable. Thanks to the folks at HBO, he failed.
Game of Thrones is unique among its television peers. It’s huge… like really huge. Huge in concept, huge in budget, huge in cast, huge in cultural impact. It has helped to bring the world of fantasy fiction to the masses on a nearly unprecedented scale by bringing a dose of uncomfortable, political reality to that magical realm.
Now Game of Thrones is leaving us one last time before the real Long Night. The penultimate season aired its finale this past Sunday and with the enormity of the final six-episode season looming, we may not get to see new episodes for a year and a half. What’s a Westeros-obsessive to do with his or her TV right now? Let it collect dust? After all there are no shows like Game of Thrones. Only Game of Thrones.
While that sentiment may be true, there are other shows that capture at least some favorable aspects of Game of Thrones.
The appeal of Game of Thrones is indeed huge, but its appeal goes way beyond the swords, shields, dragons, and enormous scale. So we’re going to find other shows that may be quite different in setting and tone than Game of Thrones, but who share the same dramatic DNA. That is to say shows with big, charismatic casts, fast-moving plots, extensive in-show mythology and believability.
Any other list would just Google “TV shows with swords” but this is not that list.
This is all to say: no, Rome, Vikings, Outlander, The Borgias, Black Sails, or any other period epic will be on this list. All very good shows and plenty similar to Game of Thrones in aesthetic terms. But they don’t quite have Game of Thrones’ soul. In honor of the Faith of the Seven, here are seven shows that best replicate the feel, enormity, and capable mythmaking of Game of Thrones in their own unique ways.
How It’s Similar:
Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ initial pitch to HBO was simple: imagine The Sopranos in Middle-earth. That’s obviously an oversimplification, but it was enough to capture HBO’s interest, and we can still see some of the similarities seven seasons in. The big similarity between the two is both shows’ interest in the concept of family in general and of family’s as war-like clans in particular. The families of The Sopranos are both literal nuclear families and crime families. Tony Soprano has a wife, Carmela, a daughter, Meadow, a son, A.J., and many other members of his extended family. He also runs the DiMeo (later on arguably Soprano) crime family. In that case, the Sopranos are not much different from the Starks or the Lannisters. Families are bound by love and blood, and they also exist as a quasi-political entity. In the underworld of organized crime in New Jersey/New York, family names are indistinguishable from clans or warring factions.
The Sopranos and Game of Thrones are alike in this somewhat superficial aspect but are even more alike at their murky depths. Both shows can safely be categorized as being about… well, everything. Love, death, family, insecurity, fear, selfishness, mystery, seemingly divine interventions wound up inside the mundanities of day to day life. You can find the similarities pretty much wherever you want or wherever you look. This is not unusual, as they are both excellent shows and the truly excellent shows tend to feel like they’re commenting on virtually every aspect of humanity. One thing in particular that Thrones fans might appreciate from The Sopranos though is its tone. Both Thrones and The Sopranos adopt a darkly comic tone that could be best described as “telling a dirty joke at the end of the world.” Both Westeros and Tony Soprano’s lifestyle feel like they’re nearing the end of a very important era but through that sense of melancholy, there are still plenty of colorful characters and strange situations to appreciate.
Most Similar Characters: Both shows have their fair shares of sociopaths, but Ralphie Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) and Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) are especially cruel.
Where to Watch: HBO Now, HBO Go, Amazon Prime
How It’s Similar:
Lost may seem like a strange choice at first. It aired a lifetime ago, and on network TV where it couldn’t indulge the same violent and prurient interests that Game of Thrones excels at. Still, you don’t need to squint to find some major similarities. One of the best aspects of Game of Thrones is its truly immense, sprawling cast of characters. On Game of Thrones you can go 40 names down the call sheet and find a character that is still somehow strong and interesting enough to carry his or her own show. Pitching obscure Game of Thrones spinoffs has become a kind of cottage industry on the internet. Who wouldn’t want to see a spinoff where Hot Pie changes the culinary landscape of Westeros forever? Or a spinoff in which Gendry establishes the first Westerosi Olympics with his distance running? Every character on Game of Thrones feels simultaneously lived-in, believable, and just downright cool. The only other show with a cast that deep with interesting characters is Lost.
From the pilot all the way through to the (unfairly maligned) end, Lost is invested in its characters. The characters of Lost are somehow simultaneously archetypical and believably human. That is to say lead characters like Jack Shephard and John Locke could believably embody the symbolic roles of science and faith, but at the same time feel like people you could potentially meet one day. The characters on Game of Thrones operate very similarly with the added asterisk that you’re even less likely to meet them someday.
Lost and Game of Thrones are also interested in the supernatural. Game of Thrones is certainly more grounded in reality, particularly in its earlier seasons, but now that the show is in its homestretch and going full on White Walker/Dragon battles, it’s resembling the “fate of the universe hangs in the balance” supernatural stakes that Lost eventually reached. Lost takes a much more optimistic approach to its supernatural leanings, but at the end of the day both shows pull off their own version of a psychedelic hero’s journey.
Really the most important comparison here is that of both show’s sprawling casts and extensive interest in easter eggs for fans to devour. If you’ve heard the phrase “R+L=J” and have not yet watched Lost, you’re absolutely doing yourself a disservice.
Most Similar Characters: John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) and the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) are equally obstinate men of faith who are bound to get everyone killed.
Where to Watch: Netflix
How It’s Similar:
Benioff and Weiss’ “The Sopranos in Middle-earth” could have just as easily been “The Sopranos in The Wire’s Baltimore.” No, David Simon’s crime epic doesn’t take place in the land of hobbits and elves, but his only slightly fictionalized version of Baltimore, Maryland is one of the most complete and lovingly rendered locales in all of TV. Game of Thrones fans who delight in the show’s opening credits map-a-palooza will be similarly taken by The Wire’s excellent sense of place.
Beyond just believable settings, both The Wire and Game of Thrones exhibit a similar, important theme: dysfunction. In the world of The Wire, the larger an organization becomes, and the more power it accrues, the more dysfunctional it becomes. Each season of The Wire covers a different aspect of Baltimore and highlights how bureaucracy and groupthink conspire to further devastate the struggling city. The five seasons of The Wire cover organizational dysfunction in: the police, the docks, City Hall, the schools, and the media. Game of Thrones’ view of dysfunction isn’t as strictly regimented. There is no single season of Game of Thrones that focuses exclusively on say, the Sept, though that would be tremendously cool. But Game of Thrones is still almost every bit as political and angry as The Wire.
read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 Predictions and Theories
The ruling class in Game of Thrones cares only about achieving and maintaining power at the expense of everyone else in the known world. The show is about the “game of thrones” that the highborn play, as well as the inherent dysfunction created by those games. Both shows in some respect are about the exciting and intoxicating pursuit of power, and the consequences of that pursuit – all within an extensive, believable fictional universe.
Most Similar Characters: Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew) and Littlefinger both understand how to achieve political power through deal-making, backstabbing, and espionage.
Where to Watch: HBO Now, HBO Go, Amazon Prime
Avatar: The Last Airbender
How It’s Similar:
When you’re looking for something as large and epic as Game of Thrones, animation is not a bad place to start. Animated shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender don’t have to worry about the same budgetary constraints as live-action shows, and as a result they end up building a much more expansive fictional universe.
And the world of Avatar is truly expansive. It’s set in a fictional Asiatic universe in which there are four warring states: Fire Nation, Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, and Air Nomads. Each state is populated by both “normal” human beings and individuals who possess the ability to control or “bend” the respective “element” of their home (fire, earth, air, or water). At any time, only one person is able to bend all four elements and they are known as a demigod like figure called the “Avatar.” Avatar follows one young airbender named Aang and his training to become the next Avatar who’ll bring peace to the warring world once more.
Tone-wise, Avatar is obviously very different from Game of Thrones. One is an animated show intended primarily for children, and the other necessitated the creation of the term “sexposition” because of how often characters delivered important plot information in the nude. Still, they are alike where it truly counts: storytelling. Game of Thrones and Avatar simply know how to tell a great story. Avatar is a well-organized, fast-moving tale about good confronting evil, and humanity learning to better itself. Game of Thrones, for all of its pessimistic/realistic trappings, is at its core the same. It’s a story about people in a realistic world trying to make that world better. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are realistic, flawed individuals but they are also “heroes” in the classic sense.
Most Similar Characters: Both Avatar and Game of Thrones feature excellent, diverse female characters but every now and then, it’s perfectly fine to celebrate the straight-up strong female Terminator role. Katara (voiced by Mae Whitman) and Arya Stark (Maise Williams) are equally badass.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
How It’s Similar:
Battlestar Galactica could almost be a science fiction version of a season 8 or 9 of Game of Thrones in which the White Walkers are fully on the loose. One of the best aspects of Battlestar Galactica (and there are many excellent aspects of Battlestar Galactica) is how vibrantly and terrifyingly it captures existential dread. And we don’t just mean the Middle Class “what am I doing with my life” existential dread – we mean the “oh shit, humanity may get wiped out” existential dread.
Battlestar Galactica helped clear the path for excellent science fiction and fantasy stories on TV. It’s adapted from a short-lived 1970s series of the same name and ran for four seasons on Syfy (then the Sci-Fi Channel) back in the mid-2000s. It’s the story of human beings who live in a crowded star system lightyears away, and how they are almost entirely exterminated by their own creation, the Cylons. After the robotic Cylons (along with some Cylons indistinugishable from other humans) wipe out more than 99 percent of humanity, the remaining members of our species jet off into the unknown universe of outer space and try to find a new home, avoid the pursuing Cylons and just generally survive.
read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Everything We Know
Battlestar Galactica can be every bit as bleak as Game of Thrones. There is one memorable episode in which a prominent character commits suicide after a heartbreaking setback in the search for the fabled planet “Earth.” Game of Thrones can be as cynical as it wants to be thanks in part to Battlestar Galactica’s influence and example. BSG is different from Game of Thrones, however, in that it has a stronger appreciation for the divine than Westeros does… which is no small feat as the Red God has been known to literally resurrect the dead.
Still, the similarities outweigh the differences. Both shows are interested in realistic portrayals of war, extensive casts, and extinction-level threats to humanity. Thrones so far has spent much more time with human on human conflict, though the final season may end up resembling Battlestar Galactica more than we might expect.
Most Similar Characters: Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) are both unassuming women who must rise to the challenge of being the leaders of the world.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Rick and Morty
How It’s Similar:
As we said before with Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the only ways to replicate the grandiosity of the Game of Thrones universe is through animation. Avatar was a fairly easy sell despite being a children’s show, as both it and Game of Thrones dealt with heroes embarking on a violent journey to paradoxically bring peace back to the world. Rick and Morty though? We’ll have to do some explaining.
Yes, Rick and Morty is an animated comedy, and a tremendously funny one at that. It’s also a blisteringly dark exploration of humanity. Rick Sanchez is the most misanthropic individual that exists outside of Westeros. Rick and his grandson Morty embark on all manner of science fiction adventures throughout the universe. The message, or at least the message that Rick is trying to impart, in each of those adventures is that nothing matters.
Still, as co-creator Dan Harmon explains in this clip, saying “nothing matters” is not much different from saying “everything matters.”
Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty are operating on a similar philosophical level. They both acknowledge that the universe is amoral and uncaring, but then assert that we don’t have to be. Red Weddings will happen because of course they will. Why wouldn’t they? Humans are selfish, petty creatures, and there is no force in the universe that cares enough or is strong enough to stop us. Still, Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty feature moments of real human kindness and connection that argue even though the universe may be nihilistic, we don’t have to be.
Most Similar Characters: Birdperson (voiced by Dan Harmon) and Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) have similar staccato speaking patterns and an emotionless pursuit for justice.
Where to Watch: Seasons 1 and 2 on Hulu. Current season available on Adultswim.com with cable subscription.
How It’s Similar:
Black Mirror is an anthology series so it may seem hard at first to draw comparisons to the serialized Game of Thrones. There is a very key similarity between the two shows, however, and it’s a feeling more than anything. Both Game of Thrones and Black Mirror are capable of instilling within their viewers a feeling better than any show on television. That feeling is the dropping of one’s stomach upon realizing that it’s possible for the “good guys” to thoroughly, embarrassingly, and totally lose.
Black Mirror has a reputation for being bleak and pessimistic. It’s a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series about technology and all the ways it can highlight the best and worst in humanity. Some episodes, like the much celebrated “San Junipero,” are positively optimistic. Many more, however, are hour-long morality plays in which our protagonists are defeated or beaten down by technology. Black Mirror and Game of Thrones are uniquely capable of capturing a mood best described by the novel 1984. “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
Game of Thrones and Black Mirror are not just misery feasts. Both shows are capable of filing through the worst of humanity to find its best qualities. But the totality in which they are able to depict the worst is astonishing – and is very frequently the first thing the mind comes up with when thinking of either show.
Most Similar Characters: Jerome Flynn basically plays Bronn in the Black Mirror episode, “Shut Up and Dance.” Or maybe Jerome Flynn just is Bronn.
Where to Watch: Netflix