Ten months. 300 days. The gestation of a human child. However you choose to couch it, Game Of Thrones isn’t coming back for a bloody long time. If you’re suffering from withdrawals already, you’re clearly going to need a substitute to get you through the winter. Here are ten recommendations from Lifehacker’s chief fantasy nerd that will appease any GoT fan. Epic fight scenes, nail-biting betrayals, gratuitous nooky – you’ll find it all here!
A note on our selection criteria: You may notice that not all of the choices below are from the fantasy genre. This is no accident. The beauty of Game of Thrones is that it has the scope and complexity of a meticulously researched historical drama. (Indeed, George R. R. Martin originally toyed with having no magic in the series at all, but eventually changed his mind so he could throw in some dragons.) We’ve subsequently widened our net to include fictional works set in the real world, from Ancient Rome to Medieval Europe. Basically, as long as it contains swords, highly compelling characters and lashings of sex and/or violence, we considered it fair game!
Spartacus is like Game Of Thrones‘s dumber, sexier sibling. Inspired by the titular Thracian gladiator who led a slave revolt against Ancient Rome in 73 BC, the show is equal parts Gladiator, Game of Thrones and 300. The sex and violence is laughably stylised and the whole thing threatens to descend into a heavy metal music video at times — but those who persevere will be rewarded by the story and characters. Spartacus ran for four seasons and is well worth checking out if you need a guilty pleasure.
Watch it if: you like ogling GoT’s ripped warriors.
Some consider Rome to be a forerunner to HBO’s Game Of Thrones, laying much of the groundwork for large-scale period TV drama. Beginning with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and ending with his nephew’s rise to power, Rome proved that TV could be every bit as epic as cinema. The show features a sprawling cast of characters who are constantly forging alliances and double-crossing each other as they strive to consolidate power (sound familiar?)
There are also plenty of shock deaths for people who don’t know their history — by the last episode, practically everyone is sailing up the river Styx. Because this is a HBO series, there are one or two wholly gratuitous sex scenes per episode; just like another show we could mention.
Watch it if: you enjoy GoT’s meaty diplomacy scenes and bloody betrayals.
Vikings (History Channel)
Loosely based on the Scandinavian epics Ragnars saga Loðbrókar and Ragnarssona þáttr, Vikings follows the masculine adventures of Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok; a real-life historical figure whose exploits became legendary in Medieval Europe. Vikings is mostly shot on location in Ireland which lends an epic, cinematic feel to proceedings. It also shares many of the same themes that make Game Of Thrones great, including sibling rivalry, the personal cost of ambition and a hero’s heart in conflict with itself.
Incidentally, the next season of Game Of Thrones is tipped to focus heavily on the Greyjoys who are essentially Vikings in all but name, which makes this a great primer.
Watch it if: House Greyjoy is your favourite family on GoT.
The Borgias (Showtime)
The Borgias is a historical melodrama about Italy’s most infamous family. Set during the Renaissance, the show follows the debauched, bloody exploits of the titular Borgias who allegedly hosted orgies in the Vatican palace, practiced incest and murdered multiple rivals at court. (In other words, they were essentially real-life Lannisters.)
The show plays fast and loose with historical accuracy, but that only makes it more fun. The series includes a few tragic deaths and some excellently choreographed battle scenes — everything that a Game Of Thrones fan needs, really. It also benefits hugely from the thespian talents of Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI.
Watch it if: House Lannister is your favourite GoT family. You pervert.
Legend Of The Seeker (ABC Studios)
Around the same time that Game Of Thrones was first published, the biggest franchise in fantasy fiction was the Sword Of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. In 2008, the books were adapted into a TV show by Sam Raimi who produced two seasons before its untimely cancellation.
Legend Of The Seeker follows the adventures of Richard Cypher; a simple farm boy who embarks on a perilous quest to overthrow an evil wizard who turns out to be his daddy. In other words, it’s a shameless rip-off of Star Wars/The Lord of The Rings; complete with a princess to rescue and an old magical mentor who shows our hero the ropes. Shot on location in New Zealand, the show isn’t a patch on Game Of Thrones but it’s probably the best fantasy series this side of Xena: Warrior Princess.
Watch it if: you wish GoT was a bit more like Dungeons & Dragons.
Ironclad (Jonathan English)
Ironclad is an underrated historical adventure that chronicles King John’s attempts to reclaim the English throne in 1215. The film shares many of the same elements as HBO’s Thrones adaptation; particularly the award-winning Blackwater episode. There’s a motley assortment of lords, knights and brigands struggling to stay alive, brutal swordplay with copious amounts of spurting claret, an assortment of lumbering siege engines and improbably attractive commoners in ill-fitting corsets (including the fashion model Bree Condon).
The film also boasts a cameo from Charles Dance (AKA Tywin Lannister) as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Watch it if: you love GoT’s siege warfare and gritty combat.
Conan The Barbarian (John Milius)
We’d be remiss not to include 1982’s Conan The Barbarian on this list: after all, Martin has cited Robert E. Howard as a chief influence on his own writing. While Milius’ bombastic adaptation isn’t perfect, it remains the best movie version of Conan that we have. If you can get past Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian-oak acting, the film has a lot to offer Game Of Thrones fans — there are warring realms, exotic cultures, unknowable magic and gratuitous violence and nudity (natch).
Like HBO’s Game Of Thrones, the film benefits from a realistic, historical look thanks to on-location shooting in Europe. The swordplay and practical effects are also impressively authentic looking — real animal blood was used in many of the fight scenes. We’re not sure why it has such a hokey reputation; it’s actually a very solid movie.
Khal Drogo fans might also want to check out the 2011 remake which stars the horse lord himself; Jason Momoa. That’s your cue to start swooning, ladies.
Watch it if: you prefer GoT’s epic fantasy elements.
Black Death (Christopher Smith)
Starring Sean Bean (AKA Ned Stark) and Carice van Houten (AKA Melisandre), this 2010 movie almost feels like Game of Thrones fan fiction. Both actors play similar roles to their characters on GoT — Bean is a stoic knight with a strict code of honour while van Houten is a mysterious witch who may or may not be evil (only this time she’s blonde, not red).
Okay, so the film is actually set in Medieval Europe during the Bubonic plague — but the nameless village where most of the action takes place might as well be in Westeros. Much like Game Of Thrones, the film keeps its supernatural elements to the sidelines, which makes for some creepy ambiguity. It also has some interesting things to say about the role of women in a patriarchal society; culminating in a bloody retribution that brings Daenerys Targarean to mind. Be warned though; this film is as bleak as its name suggests.
Watch it if: you’re not put off by GoT’s grisly death scenes.
Queen Margot (Patrice Chéreau)
Queen Margot, or La Reine Margot to give it it’s native title, is a 1994 French film based on the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas. It follows the power struggle between Catholics and Protestants in 16th century France, with the titular Margot de’ Medici used as a political pawn to forge alliances and spill bloodshed. The film looks extravagantly gorgeous (especially when Isabelle Adjani is onscreen) and the endless betrayals and intrigues are pure Game Of Thrones.
Oh, and if you thought the Red Wedding was bad, just wait until you see Margot’s nuptials which culminate in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Rob Stark got off lightly, frankly.
Watch it if: you’re a fan of GoT’s Machiavellian court intrigue.
Krull (Peter Yates)
Nah. I can’t back this up. But watch Krull anyway. It’s ace!
Anything we missed out on? If you’ve found a fitting Game Of Thrones substitute to while away the months to come, let us know in the comments section below.
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