Season 4 of Game of Thrones has come and gone as one of the most exciting seasons to ever grace the TV screen and most of us addicts can already feel the withdrawals coming as the Game of Thrones shaped void in our hearts grows larger every day. There is no true replacement for the dark twists and betrayals of Westeros, but there’s still a slew of other great TV shows out there that might just help pass the time and get us through the long cold winter wait.
Now that The Cast Beyond the Wall is on hiatus and we’re all in for a long wait, I thought it might ease the withdrawals by delivering a few alternative prescriptions. Here are ten shows that just might get you through the next 40+ weeks without your favorite imp.
10. The Leftovers
The Leftovers has only just debuted on HBO, but it’s already showing a lot of promise with its cast of characters tinged with just the right amount of mystery and suspense. At this point the show could still go either way, but the pilot shows real promise for some of the most interesting TV we’ll see this year. It may not have the Game of Thrones brand of thrill, but the fact that it just started airing its 10 episode season means that HBO watchers already have a new show to tune into every Sunday night. You can catch the pilot for The Leftovers online with HBO Go and new episodes on Sunday nights at 10/9 central.
In many ways Rome was one of HBO’s forerunners that laid the groundwork for Game of Thrones’s success. It was a massively budgeted historical drama that went inside the political back stabbings and betrayals of largest empire to ever rule the earth. Like Thrones, it had a massive cast and a number of characters vying for more power in the empire. Characters like Julius Caesar, Pompey, Mark Antony, Octavia, and many others used sex, war mongering, and deception to climb the ladder of power. It featured a fair number of surprising twists and action set pieces in its brief twenty-two episode run that Game of Thrones fans will find hard to pass up on. It didn’t exactly get the wrap up it deserved, but it’s a great way to stick to the good ol’ fashion political power playing that Game of Thrones is known for. Both seasons of Rome are available on HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video.
8. Black Sails
Black Sails just wrapped its freshman season earlier this year and it doesn’t fail to impress. It may not have quite the political edge or the writing chops of Game of Thrones, but it does offer some seriously impressive pirate raping/pillaging spectacle that rivals the intensity of Blackwater. Black Sails is a pseudo-prequel to the classic novel Treasure Island telling the story of James Flint and his crew as they search for the lost treasure of Urca de Lima. It’s a show pirate fans won’t want to miss thanks to its mix of real history, fictional characters, and some bloody good swashbuckling. Black Sails isn’t exactly in the same category as Game of Thrones in terms depth or sophistication, but it delivers eight action packed episodes that’ll have you binge watching from one episode to the next. The first season of Black Sails can be found on Amazon.
7. House of Cards
Game of Thrones fans interested in the political double dealings, lying, and corruption running the seven kingdoms are going to want to check out the adventures of Frank Underwood in House of Cards.This is the TV show where conniving schemer and political mastermind Petyr Baelish equivalent Frank Underwood cheats and manipulates his way to the top of the Washington food chain. House of Cards takes on an even darker and even nihilistic take on politics and the powers running the good old US of A every single day. It’s full of some of the sharpest dialog and most surprisingly effective narration of any show out there. You may never really love any of the characters, but there’s something irresistibly mesmerizing about seeing so many villainous people clamoring for power. You can catch the first two seasons of this political thrill ride on Netflix.
6. True Detective
Time is a flat circle. TV is just giving us the same story over and over…at least that’s what True Detective’s Rust Cohle would tell you. 2014 has been an exceptional year for new premium cable TV, but there’s no doubt that the personal journeys taken by two detectives to unlock the secrets of Carcossa and “the yellow king” is the best so far. Game of Thrones is nothing if not a compilation of stories about obsession and finding truth in the greater tragedies of life and True Detective takes on some of the more existential questions hinted at in Westeros to an entirely new level.
If Rust (in the best performance of McConaughey’s career) isn’t badgering his partner Martin(the also impressive Woody Harrelson) with totally hopeless nihilism, the duo are slowly losing grips with their own respective realities as they are all but consumed by solving the case. It’s got the an equally layered sophistication to its writing and characters and never fails to leave you on the edge at the end of each episode. You can catch the first season of True Detective on HBO Go.
5. The West Wing
An absolutely essential viewing for anyone interested in the politicking of Game of Thrones is Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. It’s not nearly as dark as the other political drama of choice, but the dialog driven stories surrounding Martin Sheen’s presidency(you read that right!) If you take the bickering of Game of Thrones and gave it a wittier more sarcastic tone, you get irresistibly funny and infinitely watchable semi-parody of Washington DC in The West Wing. It’s got its own share of drama, but like Sorkin’s other works(The Newsroom, The Social Network) it takes a backseat to the sharp dialog and banter exchanged between every member of the cast. The West Wing has seven seasons made up of 154 episodes which makes this the perfect way to pass a few weeks in the long wait until the White Walker return next spring. You can catch the entire series on Netflix.
You can never beat a classic! Especially one with just as many characters, plot twists, and deaths as Game of Thrones. Lost has become a staple of every Netflix binge watchers diet and it’s one that has managed to stay in the good graces of word of mouth despite its massively controversial ending. Thrones fans who don’t like feeling safe or love the torturous feeling of falling in love with a character just so that they can see them brutally killed aren’t going to want to miss the roller coaster thrill ride that is Lost.
It may be set in a world with polar bears, time-travel, smoke monsters, and ageless beings, but ultimately the thing that Lost shares with HBO’s finest is its incredible character drama hinging on cliffhanger after cliffhanger. You better clear your calendar because there’s 121 episodes to get through and I promise that once you start, there’s no stopping for about a month. The entire series of Lost can be found on Netflix and Hulu+.
3. Breaking Bad
There’s nothing remotely sound about what any of our favorite characters are doing in Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad explores those ideas of moral decay and the layers of ambiguity between good and evil that Westeros hints at. We’ve seen Arya’s loss of innocence take her down a dark path, but imagine a show totally dedicated to the idea of a hopeful and upstanding person totally give into the darkness looming within. This is another one of the essentials of every Netflix watcher’s canon and for good reason. It’s one of the greatest show to ever air on TV.
The break down of the chemistry teacher Walter White delves into the darker aspects of human nature that Game of Thrones seems equally keen to explore. Despite being dark and depressing, it still brings enough laughs and energy to demand a minimum of three episodes at a time every time you turn on Netflix. It’s what I like to describe as a high addicting five star rated dish of TV. The entire series can currently be found on Netflix.
2. The Legend of Korra
On the lighter side of TV comes a show that is just as dedicated to its world building, characters, and intricate history and mythology as Game of Thrones. The Legend of Korra may air on Nickelodeon, but make no mistake; this is one of the most intelligent, heart felt, and well written stories currently on the air disguised as children’s television. This follow up to the surprisingly exceptional Avatar: The Last Airbender follows the adventures of the latest Avatar(think spiritual balancing beam of justice) named Korra as she saves Republic City from terrorists, an impending civil war, and a war with the spirits she has vowed to protect.
The show weaves in a number of ideas about race, class, war profiteering, pacifism into the larger story at work in the world of Avatar. It’s also a really sleek looking show that keeps the emphasis on the characters as they all try to discover just who they all are through all of the chaos. This should be an essential viewing for Game of Thrones die hards as The Legend of Korra never settles for a safe status quo, but is always pushing the limits on what can be done on TV. The first two seasons can be found on home video and season 3 just started airing on Fridays at 7pm/6 central.
1. The Wire
There’s plenty of TV out there that hits the high standards of Game of Thrones, but in my experience there are very few that totally top it in nearly every category. Among the greats is HBO’s very own crime drama The Wire. Unlike Game of Thrones which focuses exclusively on the royalty, The Wire takes a look at every aspect of city politics in the equally corrupt city of Baltimore. Littlefinger himself(actor Aiden Gillen) even plays a major as(you guessed it) a politician using Baltimore to climb the political ladder in Maryland. It may not have the momentum or the fury of Thrones, but the slow burn pace allows for more intimate development across the sprawling cast of characters. It may not be based on novels, but it feels every bit as much like literature as George RR Martin’s magnum opus thanks to its intricate plot structure and dedication to capturing the tone of such a city.
There’s still plenty of gun toting and monologuing for fans less interesting in the artful side of The Wire which makes this an essential fan for any Game of Thrones fan looking for great TV. You can catch all the misadventures of Omar, McNulty, and Stringer Bell on HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video.