If you’re anything like us, watching this most recent season of Game of Thrones was a bittersweet moment. While the penultimate season moved the story ahead at a rapid pace and set things up for a wild ride of a conclusion, seven episodes blew by just like that and now we’re left with well over a yearlong wait until the eighth and final season, which may not arrive until 2019. Yes, that’s right; 2018 could come and go without a single new Game of Thrones episode and that’s just something we’re not sure if we can handle right now.
Fortunately, we also happen to be in the era of peak TV, meaning that Game of Thrones is far from being the only show worth investing time in. But maybe you just enjoy watching just Game of Thrones and nothing else will do. Well, while you may enjoy all the shows we’ve included on this list, these are the ones we’d most recommend checking out while you settle in for a long winter (and spring and summer and fall and possibly even another winter) of waiting to see how Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are going to deal with that pesky Night King.
There isn’t really anything else like Game of Thrones on TV (which is part of the reason why the wait between seasons is so hard to endure) but Vikings arguably comes the closest, even if it is a historical drama. Based on the saga of legendary Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, Vikings may be quite a bit tamer than Game of Thrones when it comes to violence and nudity, but it’s still an enjoyable watch, especially if sword-and-shield battle sequences are your thing.
In its early seasons, Vikings was written off by some as “Game of Thrones-lite” and there was some truth to these dismissals, as the show lacked the scope and ambition of HBO’s drama and wasn’t as well-written. Fortunately, Vikings has only gotten better with time and it helps that it features some great performances, particularly from leads Travis Fimmel and Katheryn Winnick. Overall, Vikings may fall short of Game of Thrones on multiple levels, but considering there aren’t a whole lot of other options like it on TV, you could do a lot worse.
At first glance, The 100 would seem to have nothing in common with Game of Thrones. After all, it’s a sci fi series about a group of juvenile delinquents sent down to try and survive on a post-apocalyptic earth, with nary a dragon in sight. However, if you’re a fan of the warring families dynamic of Game of Thrones, you’ll probably like The 100 because it quickly evolves into a series laser-focused on how difficult it is to survive when multiple factions want you dead. In addition to the aforementioned group of teens, The 100 features many different tribes of survivors who not only hate the “Sky People” but also each other, and alliances and backstabbings come and go at a rapid pace.
The show also delves into some deeply disturbing moral dilemmas and even though it isn’t on HBO, makes for a surprisingly violent watch. If watching a bunch of people squabble and not get along is your thing (and if you’re watching Game of Thrones, it’s a pretty safe bet that it is), The 100 offers one of the best looks you’re likely to find on television at just how difficult it is to build a functioning society.
The Last Kingdom
Another historical drama in the vein of Vikings, the BBC series The Last Kingdom (co-produced by Netflix) is based on a series of books called The Saxon Stories. Set in 10th century AD England, the series follows Uhtred, a Saxon orphaned by Viking invaders who is raised by the very people who killed his family, and the story follows his struggle to choose between his adoptive family or his native country. The Last Kingdom is basically Game of Thrones but with the fantastical elements stripped out, as it delivers a winning mix of political intrigue and brutal battle sequences. Come to think of it, Uhtred’s crisis of loyalty is very similar to Tyrion Lannister’s mixed allegiances in Game of Thrones and although The Last Kingdom isn’t quite up to snuff in terms of production values or casting, it’s still well worth your time if you enjoy violent historical dramas.
If you watch Game of Thrones just for the sheer spectacle and scale of it all, Netflix’s short-lived Marco Polo should be right up your alley. Following the legendary explorer’s early years spent in the court of Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), Marco Polo may not have been a critical hit but it makes up for this deficiency through pure spectacle.
There’s a good reason that Netflix cancelled this series after only two seasons, as Marco Polo is one of the most lavish productions in television history and delivers its fair share of political intrigue and drama. From an overall quality standpoint, Marco Polo has nothing on Game of Thrones but with the relatively small time commitment required, you may find yourself enjoying this big expensive mess of a show.
While The Tudors is ostensibly a historical drama, it’s full of so many inaccuracies that it’s really a poor excuse of a depiction of King Henry VIII’s reign in England. However, if you can come to terms with this largely being a fictional look at this tumultuous time in the country’s history, The Tudors offers some seriously compelling and entertaining political drama. It’s an especially captivating watch if you enjoy the courtroom drama of Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing scenes and even features the breakout performance of Game of Thrones alum Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell) as Anne Boelyn.
Basically, if you miss the days when Game of Thrones was more concerned with who was sitting on the Iron Throne than with having dragons and ice zombies do battle, you’ll probably find something to like about The Tudors and its examination of just how many women it takes to get King Henry a male heir (quite a few, as it turns out).
If you watched the most recent Game of Thrones season and was disappointed that murderous pirate Euron Greyjoy didn’t have a bigger role, you should stop what you’re doing and start watching Black Sails on Starz. Billed as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, Black Sails follows the adventures of Captain Flint, one of the most infamous pirates to have sailed the high seas.
While the early episodes are quite rough and seem to exist just to see how much blood and boobs Starz could get away filling the screen with, the series quickly finds its footing and evolves into a sprawling, compelling story that just so happens to star a bunch of pirates. Considering how few shows have actually been devoted to pirates over the years, it really isn’t saying much that Black Sails is the best in its genre, but you could do a lot worse than watching four seasons worth of fun pirate action.
Outside of Game of Thrones, there’s probably no other show as infamous for its scenes of graphic violence and sex than Spartacus, so it makes sense that if you’re a fan of one, you’ll probably enjoy the other. Following the famous Thracian gladiator who led a slave revolt against the Roman Republic, Spartacus is not a subtle show by any means and delights in its depiction of over-the-top action and steamy sex scenes.
This very easily could have turned out to be an overly cheesy production, but the series is anchored by some great performances from the likes of lead Andy Whitfield and Lucy Lawless of Xena-fame. Sadly, Whitfield passed away from cancer following the first season, but his replacement Liam McIntyre filled in ably and helped see the series through to a third and final season.
Whether you’ve heard of it or not, Outlander is arguably one of the best shows currently on TV and could very well fill that Game of Thrones-sized hole in your heart. Following Claire Randall, a World War II nurse who finds herself transported through time to Scotland in 1743, Outlander defies genre classification, as it has elements of historical drama, science fiction, romance, and political intrigue. Admittedly, the first few episodes are a slow burn but once Outlander gets going, it doesn’t let up.
The evolving relationship between Catriona Balfe’s Claire and Sam Heughan’s Scottish Highlander Jamie Fraser is one of the best-acted and realistic on television and the show’s central villain, played by Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully from Game of Thrones), is so despicably sadistic that he makes Ramsay Bolton look tame by comparison. The only thing I would caution with Outlander is that it is very hard to watch at times and has some scenes that will probably be very awkward to watch with other people, so I’d recommend watching it alone. Now in its third season, Outlander is still new enough to easily catch up on and is a superbly acted and produced series that shouldn’t be missed.
House of Cards
House of Cards actually seems to come up quite a bit when talking about shows that are similar to Game of Thrones, as the Netflix series contains all the political machinations and back-stabbing that made the early seasons of Game of Thrones so compelling, if not more so. Starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as a husband and wife duo helping each other climb the ranks in Washington D.C., House of Cards may be a serious political drama that requires at least some understanding of the American political system, but it’s still a show that even those who can’t stand politics would likely enjoy.
Granted, the quality dips a bit in later seasons and given the current political climate in the US, watching a series about corruption in the nation’s capital may be a little too real for some viewers to enjoy. Still, if you can get past its all-too-realistic premise, House of Cards is one of the most compelling shows on TV and perhaps the best example of Netflix’s season release model at work.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Although its storytelling has taken a noticeable dip in quality over the last few seasons, Game of Thrones still deserves the label of “prestige drama,” as its many Emmy awards and nominations attest. Therefore, if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’re likely also a fan of prestige dramas and there may be no better one to have come out in 2017 than The Handmaid’s Tale. Based on Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale presents a harrowing and all too realistic near-future in which the United States has been overthrown by a violent theocracy following years of declining birth rates.
The show is anchored by an Emmy-worthy performance from Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), who plays the title handmaid Offred — a fertile woman forced into servitude and ritualistic rape by her “commander” — but the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), who turns in the performance of her career as one of Offred’s fellow handmaids. Harrowing and uncomfortable to watch, The Handmaid’s Tale is required viewing for anyone who craves evocative television and is arguably one of the most important series being produced right now. Don’t miss it.
While the wait between seasons is tough for Game of Thrones fans right now, another popular HBO series is also currently on a long hiatus, as the second season of Westworld isn’t set to arrive until spring 2018. Westworld may have only one season under its belt so far, but considering HBO is positioning this series about a futuristic Western-themed amusement park as one of their premier attractions to fill the void left by Game of Thrones when it goes off the air, it’s a good idea to get hooked now when getting in is still accessible.
Genre-wise, Westworld is quite a bit different from Game of Thrones, but it shares the same high production values and stellar casting, with the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, and especially Evan Rachel Wood turning in some incredible performances. And it’s likely to only get better from here, as the first season, while quite good, had a number of kinds that needed to be ironed out before the show really started to take off in the season’s back half.
I’ll readily admit that The Leftovers doesn’t have much in common with Game of Thrones other than that they’re both produced by HBO, but if you’re planning to hang onto your HBO subscription between now and when the final Thrones season airs, you owe it to yourself to check out one of the network’s best series. Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta and based on Tom Perotta’s novel of the same name, The Leftovers is set three years after a global event that saw 140 million people, or 2% of the world’s population, suddenly disappear without explanation.
As the title implies, the series is all about the other 98% and is a demanding watch, as no easy answers are ever given. Instead, The Leftovers is an examination of how people react when they’re forced to confront things that shake their very belief system and much of the drama comes from seeing how these reactions manifest themselves in different characters. Gifted with an absolutely stellar cast, Lindelof and Perotta deliver a series that starts out strong in its first season and becomes something else entirely in its second and third, all adding up to one of the best TV dramas of the last decade. The Leftovers is definitely an acquired taste and you may very well hate it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, you end up enjoying it even more than Game of Thrones.