As one of the biggest TV series on the planet, Game of Thrones has never really lacked imitators. There’s a lot of money in replicating what people like about Thrones. Though not all of them hit the mark, when they did, it’s meant that fans have had a myriad of other entertainment options to tide them over until the next season comes along.
So, even though we’re only a few episodes into the sixth season of the popular series, we wanted to take a look at the shows we think every Game of Thrones fan needs to see – some of which came before, and others which followed in the wake of one of the most talked about TV dramas of all time.
Netflix’s own riff on the Game of Thrones formula, Marco Polo is a historical drama that follows the titular Venetian explorer after he’s abandoned by his father and struggles to find his place within the intrigue-laden royal court of the Mongol Kublai Khan.
Though it owes a bit more to the martial arts of Asian cinema than it does the knights and dragons of the fantasy genre, Marco Polo does a pretty good job of matching that balance of bloodshed, betrayal and big storytelling scale of HBO’s series. Season 2 is set to land in July, so there’s never been a better to pick it up if you’re craving something to fill the void between new episodes of Thrones.
Like Game of Thrones, the series has a pretty huge scale to its storytelling, with the most recent season taking a pretty ambitious nine-year jump forward in time. The battles are epic, the action bloody and the characters both well-conceived and well-conceited. Thrones fans will find a lot to like about Vikings.
It’d be easy to write off the rebooted Battlestar Galactica on account of its science-fiction trapping but there’s a lot here that Game of Thrones fans will appreciate. Slick direction and authentic production design? Check. Hugely-talented ensemble cast and sprawling mythology? Check. Great female characters and a central plot with a penchant for big twists? Check.
Prior to Thrones, BSG loomed as one of the top dogs of high-concept cable dramas and it still holds up today. On the surface, it is very different to HBO’s series but they share a lot of the same strengths. Like Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica isn’t just “great genre television”, it’s just “great television”.
These days, it feels like every streaming and cable platform on the planet has their own challenger to Game of Thrones but few have amassed an audience as large and fervent at the same speed as Starz’s Outlander. Based on the book series by Diana Gabaldon and created by Battlestar Galactica showrunner Ronald D. Moore, Outlander blends historical drama with the story’s fantasy and science fiction elements to great effect.
There are less dragons and White Walkers here but still plenty of medieval drama and political intrigue to sink your teeth into. The series has even poached a few actors from Thrones, including Edmure (Tobias Menzies) and Brynden (Clive Russell) Tully. Of all the shows on this list, Outlander is probably one of the stronger contenders when it comes to picking up the audience that Game of Thrones will leave behind when it ends in 2018.
Like Battlestar Galactica, Showtimes’ literary-horror drama Penny Dreadful is a very different beast to Game of Thrones but there’s still a lot here you’ll like. The series envisions a Victorian London where famous literary creations like Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Grey move in the same circles and band together to face supernatural threats.
Penny Dreadful has lavish production values, great casting and more than a few sudden plot turns. In terms of the sheer care and thought that’s goes into a series, it confidently stands with the best of them and is an easy recommend to Thrones fans.
THE LAST KINGDOM
Another historical drama, The Last Kingdom is a BBC America-produced series that follows the warring kingdoms of early England, through the eyes of a Saxon raised by the vikings who murder his family. It’s brutal, epic and comes surprisingly close to the production values on Thrones while being distinctly different.
There’s an air of authenticity around this series that’s absent from even Vikings and it’s fascinating to watch it all come together. With a second season expected later this year, The Last Kingdom is worth investigating.
Another science fiction series, Sy Fy’s The Expanse is based on the James S.A. Corey’s book series and while the first season only recently wrapped up, it’s quickly making a name for itself. Set several hundred years in the future, The Expanse navigates the murky political landscape of a three-way Cold War between Earth, Mars and the colonists of the asteroid belt.
George RR Martin has himself called Corey’s series “a really kickass space opera” and, like Thrones, there’s a wonderful depth and detail to the world it explores. Like HBO’s series, the production values are impressive and stylish and the series is bloodthirsty in a way that often surprises.
Game of Thrones screens Mondays on Showcase.