These series are epic and gripping, with complex storylines and compelling characters. Sound familiar?
There’s no doubt that Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows of all time. It’s event television in a time when event television isn’t really a thing anymore since streaming has made it easier for TV fans to watch their favourite shows on their own schedule. That’s why the Game of Thrones phenomenon is so fascinating. Fans host viewing parties, live-tweet the show and dissect new episodes as soon as they become available. The series sets rating records annually, so there’s no wonder the final season of Game of Thrones is arguably the most hotly anticipated television event of 2019.
Sadly, that’s still months away. We don’t know much about the final season yet, except for the fact that it will premiere in the first half of the year, so probably sometime around April. We want more and we want it now, but that’s not going to happen, so fans eager for new information will just have to be patient a tiny bit longer. In the meantime, why not catch up with some equally epic TV series to numb the pain?
Nightflyers, based on a George R.R. Martin novella about a haunted spaceship, is scheduled to drop later this year. It should be a treat for Game of Thrones fans suffering withdrawal symptoms since the writer’s talent for world-building is the stuff of legends. Until the upcoming SyFy show graces our screens, though, here are 12 equally epic series you can binge on right now that are guaranteed to fill the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in your heart. They don’t all hit the high bar set by the HBO hit, but they definitely have enough going for them to appeal to Thrones enthusiasts.
1. Vikings (2013)
If you love Game of Thrones for its violence and striking visuals, you’ll definitely be smitten with Vikings by the end of the show’s first season. The good news is that it just gets better from there. The series is a retelling of the exploits of Ragnar Lothbrok, who was a 9th-century Viking chieftain and hero of many Old Norse sagas. As the show debuts, he goes on a quest to raid the shores of England – a trial he believes Odin wants him to undertake.
The great thing about Vikings is that it doesn’t try to civilise or soften the main players. It’s gory and violent, but it’s also a study of power, as it relies heavily on viewers’ fascination with those times and the characters to make a mark. The phenomenal cast and gorgeous sets are fringe bonuses. Four seasons of the series are available to stream on Netflix and iflix.
- Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok
- Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha Lothbrok
- Gustaf Skarsgard as Floki
- Clive Standen as Rollo
2. Rome (2005)
This gorgeous historical drama features a large ensemble cast, with some of the characters based on real historical figures. However, the main action revolves around two soldiers, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, who find their lives intertwined with key events in history. The action begins in 52 BC, when Julius Caesar finally conquers Gaul, but the Senate seeks to undermine his power. Rome is a fascinating tale of politics, intrigue and violence. In other words, it was Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones became the huge phenomenon it is today.
Despite only lasting for two seasons, the series manages to cover a lot of ground, historically speaking, and it does so beautifully. The show’s magnificent sets and elaborate costumes are just the cherry on top, as Rome delivers on all fronts, benefiting from a clever script and impeccable direction. You can stream the HBO drama on Amazon Prime Video.
- Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo
- Kerry Condon as Octavia
- Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus
- Indira Varma as Niobe of the Voreni
3. The Tudors (2007)
This lavish drama focuses on the early years of King Henry VIII’s near 38-year reign. While his effectiveness as king is tested by both international conflicts and political intrigue in his own court, Henry also becomes frustrated with the fact that his wife is unable to give him a male heir. When a stunning young beauty catches his eye, things escalate quickly.
The Tudors is more soapy than morally complex, so expect plenty of sex and dangerous court liaisons, which is what makes this show so much fun. It may not be the most thought-provoking drama on hand, but it’s an excellent option for when you’re craving something lighter, yet still riveting. Plus, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is magnetic as Henry VIII. His performance alone should be reason enough to tune in. Stream The Tudors on Netflix.
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII
- Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn
- Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon
- Sarah Bolger as Mary Tudor
4. Black Sails (2014)
Did you enjoy Game of Thrones’ epic sea battle from season seven? Then perhaps you would also enjoy a dark series following the adventures of a pirate captain the early 18th-century Caribbean. A prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, Black Sails follows a brutal pirate, Captain Flint, as he quests for treasures, quashes mutinies and exchanges fire with other ships.
The show is amoral and violent, staying true to the (anti)heroes it portrays. It’s not the romanticised version of pirates you grew up with, but something much darker and violent, so don’t expect any wooden legs or mimicking parrots. If you’re into gore and sea battles, however, you’ll be hooked from episode one. Stream Black Sails on Netflix.
- Toby Stephens as Captain Flint
- Luke Arnold as Long John Silver
- Jessica Parker Kennedy as Max
- Hannah New as Eleanor Guthrie
5. The Last Kingdom (2015)
This slick historical drama is based on Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories series of novels. The Last Kingdom is set in the late 9th-century AD, when England’s seven separate kingdoms were gradually attacked by Viking forces. The story centres on Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a man born a Saxon but raised by Vikings, who finds his loyalties tested as the two forces clash.
The show boasts an interesting mix of historical and fictional characters, beautiful scenery and a fantastical story. If you love Game of Thrones for its magnificent action sequences, you might want to give this one a try. Stream The Last Kingdom on Netflix.
- Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred
- Ian Hart as Beocca
- David Dawson as Alfred
- Eliza Butterworth as Aelswith
6. Spartacus (2010)
Spartacus follows a Thracian warrior who is captured and enslaved by Romans. Placed in gladiator school, Spartacus battles to survive and regain his freedom. The series features plenty of violence and depravity, spectacular fight scenes and a compelling hero worth cheering for. Important to note: lead actor Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and passed away in 2011, with Liam McIntyre eventually stepping in to fill the role.
While season one takes its time to dazzle viewers despite solid acting and enough gory bloodshed, subsequent seasons make up for it, doubling up on the action and keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. Once you have a taste for the arena, it will be hard not to binge-watch the whole thing. You can stream Spartacus on Netflix and HOOQ.
- Andy Whitfield as Spartacus
- Liam McIntyre as Spartacus
- Lucy Lawless as Lucretia
- Manu Bennett as Crixus
7. The Borgias (2011)
Centring on the Borgia family, this soapy period drama boasts enough intrigue to hold you off until 2019 at least. Set at the end of the 15th century, The Borgias follows Don Borgia as he schemes his way to the papacy to become Pope Alexander VI, while his relatives also struggle to maintain their grip on power.
Thanks to a great cast and a tight script, the series revels in the scandalous shenanigans of a family that basically bribed its way into the Vatican. It’s chilling and highly addictive, regularly serving generous doses of murder and mayhem. In other words, viewers who appreciate twists and thrills will be nothing short of delighted. The Borgias is available to stream on iflix.
- Francois Arnaud as Cesare Borgia
- Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia
- Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia Borgia
- Sean Harris as Micheletto
8. The White Queen (2013)
Based on Philippa Gregory’s historical novel series The Cousins’ War, The White Queen benefits from a great cast, terrific costumes and plenty of political, soapy intrigue to keep viewers on their toes. The series is set against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses and follows the story of the three women involved in a long conflict for the throne of England. A deadly yet tremendously entertaining power struggle ensues.
While The White Queen doesn’t feature too much graphic violence, it relies heavily on political scheming, with nudity a common occurrence as well. The Wars of the Roses were confusing and turbulent times in England’s history, but this miniseries manages to tell a very accessible story in a compelling way, proving once again that history is anything but boring. You can stream The White Queen on HOOQ.
- Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville
- Max Irons as King Edward IV
- Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort
- Faye Marsay as Lady Anne Neville
9. Merlin (2008)
Merlin ended back in 2012, but that doesn’t make this captivating series any less worthy of your attention. Loosely based on the legends of the young wizard Merlin and his relationship with King Arthur, the show follows the young warlock as he struggles to understand his destiny in Camelot, under the rule of a tyrant who banned the use of magic.
The great thing about Merlin is that you can watch it improve season after season. The show is pretty formulaic as it starts out, but it evolves into a glorious tale of magic and humour that does the legend justice. Well-cast and beautifully shot, the show is the best kind of comfort television. It doesn’t have much in common with Game of Thrones except for the historical fantasy aspect, but it’s a lighter and fluffier binge, perfect for when the gore and violence featured in some of the other entries from our list gets too much. Stream it on Netflix and HOOQ.
- Colin Morgan as Merlin
- Angel Coulby as Guinevere
- Bradley James as King Arthur
- Katie McGrath as Morgan le Fay
10. Frontier (2016)
Frontier chronicles the North American fur trade of the 1700s. The show centres on Declan Harp, an outlaw campaigning to breach the Hudson’s Bay Company’s monopoly on the fur trade in Canada. It’s a story of greed and power, similar to the likes of Game of Thrones. Plus, the lead is played by none other than Jason Momoa, Khal Drogo himself.
Momoa offers a powerhouse performance here, which more than makes up for the show’s occasionally sluggish pacing. Moreover, the series is chaotic and action-packed, shedding light on a battle few even knew happened. Frontier is available to stream on Netflix.
- Jason Momoa as Declan Harp
- Landon Liboiron as Michael Smyth
- Jessica Matten as Sokanon
- Diana Bentley as Imogen
11. The Shannara Chronicles (2016)
Based on the book series of the same name by Terry Brooks, The Shannara Chronicles follows an unlikely trio of heroes as they set out to save their homeland, Four Lands, from an imminent threat. Look at it as the teen-friendly Game of Thrones, if you will. It features less gore and everyone looks beautiful, but the show still boasts a complex universe and compelling characters.
The Shannara Chronicles isn’t prestige television, but it’s a lot of fun, as it relies on a sly sense of self-awareness. It doesn’t pretend to be more than it is, instead, it allows viewers to simply sit back and enjoy the ride. Stream it on Netflix.
- Austin Butler as Wil Ohmsford
- Ivana Baquero as Eretria
- Poppy Drayton as Amberle Elessedil
- Manu Bennett as Allanon
12. Wolf Hall (2015)
Wolf Hall is a brilliantly acted miniseries following Thomas Cromwell through his rise in social hierarchy in the Tudor court run by King Henry VIII. He starts his journey as a humble blacksmith’s son, but learns how to deal with the power struggles of the court, eventually managing to become the king’s chief minister.
Based on the book series by Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall has all the intrigue of a modern political thriller, complete with delicious dialogue and lavish costumes. It’s a clever and atmospheric TV offering, catering specifically to viewers who prefer their characters with plenty of depth. Turns out, being the king’s right-hand man is a dirty business. You can stream Wolf Hall on Amazon Prime Video.
- Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell
- Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn
- Damian Lewis as Henry VIII
- Anton Lesser as Sir Thomas More
When all else fails…
Watch Game of Thrones again! All seven seasons are available to stream on HBO. Why not binge the backlog while you wait for season 8?