Game of Thrones: From Wolf Hall to Spartacus, five shows to keep you going till season 8
Season 7 of Game of Thrones was at times exhilarating, maddening and just plain bananas.
Even though critical acclaim for the show has been slipping — ever so slightly — fans simply can't get enough (all hail Jonerys, our rightful king and queen!).
But now, The Long Night is upon us.
Like Arya Stark exacting bloody vengeance upon the Freys, Winter has Come for us all.
According to rumours, Season 8 of our beloved show about dead men, dragons and dragon queens won't premiere until 2019 (sobs uncontrollably). Damn you, HBO!
So what will we Game of Throne-aholics do — after our tears have dried and we have cursed out D&D (Dan and Dave to all you fookin' kneelers), George RR Martin and the HBO executives who greenlit this harebrained scheme to deprive us of goodness — until 2019?
Talk to our friends? Reconnect with loved ones? Take a long walk and commune with nature?
Ha! Waste not yer precious hours. Firstpost has you covered. Here are our top five shows to scratch that GoT itch.
Wolf Hall: A feast for the senses
BBC's Wolf Hall, based on the excellent novels by Hillary Mantel, tells the story of Thomas Cromwell, a shopkeeper's son from Putney, rising to power in the court of Henry VIII.
Don't let the fact that there are no dragons, swordplay or the dead coming back to life — much to the relief of a king with a penchant for literally chopping and changing wives — put you off.
Wolf Hall may be very antitheses of Game of Thrones but it is also six episodes of utterly captivating television.
The great British stage actor Mark Rylance, recently seen in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk brings to life Thomas Cromwell, a man of many talents.
Cromwell can draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury.
Such a man is of great value to Henry, a psychopath in king's clothing, played with regal swagger by Homeland veteran and famous ginger Damian Lewis (Hi Brody!).
Henry is at his wit's end. He wants to rid himself of his wife, who was previously married to his deceased brother. Henry believes god is punishing him. Like any king, he knows that his reign will amount to nothing until he has an heir.
Which is why, in his desperation, he does what no other British monarch has done before him: Bring into his court a man of lowly birth and throw his weight behind him.
Rylance's performance is one of inches. His face remains implacable in the face of Henry's volcanic temper, eyes darting this way and that as he tries to figure out the best way to keep his head attached to his shoulders.
His eyes are hollow. You can see the life draining from them slowly as he realises his fate is inextricably tied up with the wishes of a king who has turned on every man and woman who's ever served him.
He knows it is only a matter of time before it's his neck on the chopping block. And yet, he does what he must. To survive. He knows no other way.
Rounding out the cast is the ethereal Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn. Foy, who stars in the Netflix show The Crown, seems to have an affinity for playing "difficult" British queens.
Boleyn is the ultimate social climber. Her sister icily describes her as selling herself to Henry, piece by piece. Boleyn knows that she wants: To be The Queen. And she's willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
In Cromwell, she finds a kindred spirit. Their sparring is slow. Subtle. They admire each other. But they never forget who they are. What they are. Where they are.
Somehow, Foy finds a way to make Boleyn endearing. You can't help but root for her, even as you know the tragedy that's lurking around the corner.
Henry passes the sentence but it is Cromwell who swings the sword. You can see regret in Cromwell's eyes and the understanding in hers. She knows she played the game and lost: Non, Je ne regrette rien.
That's the nature of the beast that is medieval England, where man is wolf to man.
Much like Game of Thrones, Wolf Hall thrives in quiet conversations. It is the dialogue and character beats that make the show, in addition to the gorgeous stagecraft and elaborate costumes.
Wolf Hall is a feast for the senses. Savour it. Then watch it all over again.
Rome: The grandaddy of them all
Like The Sopranos before it, HBO's Rome paved the way for imitators, flatterers and downright rip-offs (I'm looking at you Reign and The White Queen).
Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson are the protagonists of the show: McKidd plays Lucius Vorenus , a straight-laced army officer who is saddled with the onerous task of straightening out Stevenson's Titus Pullo, a lovable but rough around the edges hard-drinking soldier interested in just three things: Drinking, finding treasure and f#%^&#%.
Vorenus and Pullo are assigned a series of impossible tasks: Beginning with recovering the stolen Golden Eagle that belongs to Caesar's army. You can see flashes of the odd couple pairing that Game of Thrones has used so well in the past few seasons in Vorenus and Pullo, although neither of them seems to have the acting chops to carry off a show on their shoulders.
Still, they're better when they share screen time together. Wisely, the show makers never split them apart.
Rome also features former Game of Thrones alumnus Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar (RIP Mance Rayder, the King beyond the Wall). Caesar is a complicated man: At turns, ruthless and merciful. A realist and an idealist. Corrupt and incorruptible. Generous and petty. Paranoid and trusting. Dictator and friend to all.
Like Mance, Caesar is a tormented man. Like Mance, Caesar isn't satisfied with his lot. His angling for a crown and the freedom to do as he pleases and for the good of his people (spoiler alert, but seriously, read a book people!) ends up costing him his life.
James Purefoy also has a memorable turn as Mark Antony (not the singer). If Caesar is the strategist, Antony is his id. Lustful. Raging. Violent. He wants to consume everything and be consumed by it all. Politics bores him. He's a soldier through and through. He disdains the Senate. Rome is nothing but the mob. For all his strength, he is utterly naive and that gets him killed.
Rome plays more than a little fast and loose with history: After all, the second episode is titled How Titus Pullo brought down the Republic. A bold boast. But that doesn't stop it from being eminently watchable.
Those fascinated by all things Rome would do well to binge watch the HBO drama. After all, this is the grandaddy of them all and sparked the swords and sandals renaissance in pop culture.
Spartacus: The guilty pleasure
Spartacus is perhaps, the most fun show on this list.
Almost everyone knows the name of Spartacus: The story of the Thracian warrior who served in Rome's legions who was taken as a slave, moulded into a great gladiator and then turned rebel.
The show, by upstart network Starz (which has gained fame for Outlander and American Gods) wastes absolutely no time in getting going: By the end of the first season, not only has Spartacus wreaked bloody vengeance on his masters but is also on the run from the innumerable legions of Rome.
It never pretends to be high-brow art. There's no slow burn to be had here. There's no Game of Thrones style sexposition. It makes no excuses for itself, never takes itself too seriously. It knows what it is and indulges every vice. Sex and violence is a feature, not a bug.
Welsh actor Andy Whitfield, who played Spartacus in the show's first season, brought a pathos and a depth to Spartacus that remains unmatched on film (with due respect to Kirk Douglas).
Whitfield was a wonder. He played Spartacus with sad, haunted eyes, gripped by the memory of the wife he lost and an uncontrollable rage he can only let loose in the blood-soaked sands of the arena.
Whitfield tragically passed away after in 2011, only 18 months after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was only 40.
John Hannah plays Lentulus Batiatus, the owner of a gladiator school in Capua who wants nothing more than to be accepted by his betters. Batiatus is a small man with delusions of grandeur. A coarse man that puts on an air of dignity. A man who extends his hand in friendship even as he sharpens the blade meant for his enemies' hearts. And yet, Hannah makes you feel sorry for Lentulus. Makes him a man you can't help but pity, even as you eagerly await the moment Spartacus puts his sword through his chest.
Xena star Lucy Lawless, the heroine of little boys and girls everywhere, is Lentulus' delightfully wicked wife Lucretia. She is the master of the home in all but name. The gladiators and her servants are playthings, meant to satiate her baser urges and exact revenge upon those she imagines have wronged her.
Lawless has never been farther from her role as a goody two-shoes, looked better or seemed like she was having such a damn good time playing a "bad" girl.
Lawless' performance brings to mind the old adage: Actors love to play bad guys. After all, the devil gets all the best lines.
Our advice: Kick back. Let Spartacus take you on a wild ride. And just enjoy it.
Vikings: Gritty, Game of Thrones lite, but worth the watch
Some have dismissed the History Channel's Vikings as Game of Thrones lite. That may be harsh, but that's not entirely unfair.
Hang on though. While Vikings may not have the depth, scope or budget of Game of Thrones, it is still a show worth watching.
The lyrics of the show's theme: If I had a heart, I would love you, perfectly set the stage for the type of world you're about enter.
There are no high lords here ruminating about the nature of men, power and honour.
No heroes in gleaming armour trading insults and flinging courtesies. The women (barring a handful) do not look like models, nor do they drape themselves in finery and have pretty coiffed hair.
This is a grim, gritty place filled with grim, gritty people.
A world far more brutal than the one of Game of Thrones, if you can imagine it.
Travis Fimmel plays the protagonist Ragnar Lodbrok, a legendary Norse hero who is destined to meet a gruesome end (as most legendary heroes are).
Lodbrok is a man of few words and much action. He believes himself the son of Odin and as such, a man with a great destiny.
Lodbrok wishes to break free. He defies convention and the wishes of his people to set sail for a strange new lands: England and France.
He wants to do what few men have done before him: Conquer.
Fimmel, a former fashion model doesn't have the charisma of a Jon Hamm or a James Gandolfini. His thousand yard death stare evokes little fear. He emotes less than Kit Harrington's Jon Snow, which makes it difficult for the audience to truly develop a bond with him.
And yet Fimmel's crazy-as-a-fox expression and knowing smirk lets the audience know that he's knows what he's doing. He has his enemies right where he wants them. He knows exactly what he's doing. Every gesture is and movement is calculated for maximum effect.
Vikings also features some notable and familiar names, the biggest of which is Gabriel Bryne as Earl Haraldson, chief of Ragnar's village. Haraldson is a man of modest ambition. He seeks home hearth and comfort. He cares not for Ragnar's wild notions. All he wants is to remain the king of his little pile of rubble in a far-flung corner of the world. He knows its only a matter of time before Ragnar makes his move. He's always known it. And he's ready for Ragnar.
The always excellent Donal Logue, who specialises in playing grizzled tough guys with a heart of gold (Gotham and Terriers), makes several appearance as Viking king Horik. The Viking king is fascinated by the upstart Ragnar and seeks to make common ground with him, even as he takes the measure of the man he knows he'll have to someday betray. Anything more would be giving the game away.
But the show's most valuable player is Clive Standen, who plays Lodbrok's older brother Rollo, a big, mean tough guy with sad, puppy dog eyes.Standen's performance evokes flashes of the Hound and Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones. Rollo is tired of life. Weary of looking up to his little brother. Jealous of what he can't have. Rollo's redemption arc is show's heart and soul.
Don't expect the world from Vikings and you won't be disappointed. A few episodes in, you might even be surprised by how damn much you care.
The Tudors: Like High School Musical. But with sex and murder
Like Wolf Hall, The Tudors deals with the trials and tribulations of Henry VIII.
But where Wolf Hall's England is a show about a man dealing with a society on the perpetual verge of melt down, The Tudors is content to cast its ambitions low: Focusing on the lives, loves and fast friendships that make up Henry's court. This is High School Musical meets the Fifteenth Century. But with posh British accents, sex and murder.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the aforementioned king, not so much as a murderous sociopath, but a depressive,
horny lovelorn teenager who keeps falling for the wrong woman. Over. And over. And over. Again. Henry loses his heart with such frequency, one almost feels sorry for him. Almost.
Henry Cavill (yes, Superman himself) plays the Duke of Suffolk, Henry's buddy and reluctant wingman. Cavill dips into his vast reserves of British restraint here. Suffolk is an impossible position. His sense of honour will not let him endorse Henry's philandering ways, but he knows where his bread is buttered. He knows, like everyone else, he is at the mercy of a short-tempered king with a short memory and a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude.
The impossibly beautiful Natalie Dormer (our own Margaery Tyrell!) is the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, the woman who drives Henry so out of his mind with want that he leaves his lawful wife and the Church of England. Not that we blame him, mind you. Dormer's Boleyn is basically Margaery part deux. We just hope she doesn't keep getting typecast as beautiful queens slated for death.
Sam Neill plays Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a man who's fast falling out of favour with his king — after a lifetime of devoted service — because he cannot do as his master pleases and rid him of a troublesome wife. Neill brings dignity to Wolsey, even as the cardinal suffers a series of indignities at the hands of a petty monarch, losing his home, his possessions, his health, wealth and ultimately his life.
The Tudors is classic popcorn fare. Turn your brain off and you'll enjoy it all the more.
But alas. Nothing will ever fill the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in our hearts. 2019 can't come soon enough.
To quote everyone's favourite Lord Imp:
Game of Thrones and Rome are available to view on Hotstar. Tudors and Spartacus can be streamed on Netflix.