Game of Thrones has ended after eight seasons. It was a wild ride of ups and downs – both emotional and in the field of quality. The show has led to an increased interest in historical shows and many networks have attempted to make their own Game of Thrones. Shows filled with sex, violence, war, and political power plays. Now that the show is over it is a great time to look at similar series that could fill that Game of Thrones hole that you might have.
The legend of Spartacus is famous and Starz broadcast their version from 2010 to 2013. Spartacus is one of the more action-packed shows on this list – it was made on the back of the hit 2007 movie 300 and wanted to capture that movie’s grotesque slo-mo action. It was unabashed fun and that was why people were drawn to the show.
Spartacus was filmed in New Zealand and most of the cast were from Australia and New Zealand. The show was beset with tragedy when the original star, Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and died at the age of 39. Starz made a prequel miniseries in between season one and two – focusing the gladiators and after Whitfield’s passing Liam McIntyre took on the role.
9. Black Sails
Black Sails is an 18th-century set show that was broadcast by Starz, focusing on the Golden Age of Piracy. Black Sails was made as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island but was a lot less family friendly due to the show’s use of sex and violence. The show aimed for a more realistic take on piracy as it shows the pirates in conflict with major naval powers (i.e. Britain and Spain) and with each other as they try to dominate the criminal world. The mix of history, politics, and crime and setting the show mostly in a town made Black Sails the pirate version of Deadwood.
The first season was mired by the overuse of sex and swearing but it improved massively after that shaky start.
8. The Tudors
A predecessor to Game of Thrones was the Showtime series The Tudors. As the title suggests The Tudors focused on everyone’s favorite obese king, Henry VIII of England and his struggles against the church, international rivals, and his various marriages. It lasted for four seasons and started a successful career in TV for the showrunner Michael Hirst. The show was historically dubious, playing fast and loose with the facts, condensed events and most importantly Henry VIII reminded a handsome man despite in real life he developed a big waistline as he got older.
The show had a massive cast that featured respectable actors like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sam Neill and, Peter O’Toole, and emerging talents. Actors like Henry Cavill, Natalie Dormer, and Annabelle Wallis have gone on to big things since appearing in the show.
7. The Borgias
Another show offering political intrigue in the late-medieval/early modern period was The Borgias. The House of Borgia was a powerful noble family in Europe and their patriarch, Rodrigo Borgia, became the Pope despite the facts that he had children, loved to the ladies, and exceedingly corrupt. The show looks at how Rodrigo Borgia became Pope by using every political trick in the book and keep power whilst facing threats, both foreign and domestic.
The Borgias lasted for three seasons and it garnered a fanbase. After its cancellation fans launch a campaign for revival and Showtime did consider making a two-hour finale but decided against it because of the cost. The showrunner, Neil Jordan, did intend for a four-season run.
The Borgias was not the only recent show about the famous family. There was also a multi-national production known as Borgia: Faith and Fear. So history fans can have a double helping of Borgia actions.
6. I, Claudius
The oldest show on this list is the BBC classic I, Claudius. Based on the novels by Robert Graves I, Claudius focuses on the early history of the Roman Empire and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Spanning 12 episodes I, Claudius was one of the most ambitious shows of its time due to its production values. It had a tremendous cast of British talent with big names like Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Brian Blessed, Patrick Stewart, and John Rhys-Davies. It was also one of the most controversial shows of its time with one of the most infamous being Caligula eating an unborn baby.
I, Claudius was incidentally criticized by critics but grew to be an award-winning show in the UK and US and is often considered one of the best British shows ever made.
5. The White Queen
The War of the Roses was one of the biggest influence on Game of Thrones. It was a dynastic conflict between the House of York and House of Lancaster for the throne of England. So a series about The War of the Roses would be a fitting Game of Thrones fix.
The White Queen was based on a trilogy of novels by Philippa Gregory, focusing on Elizabeth Woodville, the wife to Edward IV. She was a woman of lowly status and by marrying the king her family was awarded land and titles – but also made themselves a lot of enemies at court. Elizabeth Woodville and her family were an influence for the Lannisters.
The White Queen was made by the BBC and Starz and it gave Rebecca Ferguson her first major leading role. Starz has released two sequel series, The White Princess which starred Killing Eve‘s Jodie Comer and The Spanish Princess.
4. The Hollow Crown
Some of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays were his histories and The Hollow Crown series spanned from the reigns of Richard II to Richard III. The Hollow Crown was made for the BBC and broadcast by PBS in the US. This was a series based on famous pieces of theater and focuses on a period of near-constant conflict – whether it was England at war with France or English nobles fighting themselves. That alone is a draw for Game of Thrones fans.
The series was made by celebrated theater directors and attracted many great British actors. These include Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Patrick Stewart. The series even had Game of Thrones alumni Michelle Dockery. The series went for a realistic look and it was an expensive production.
3. The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom is a series based on The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. The BBC and Netflix produced the first two seasons and the third was solely distributed on Netflix.
The Last Kingdom set in 9th Century England when the Vikings are conquering the land. In the middle of the conflict is Uthred of Bebbanburg, the son of a Saxon lord who was captured by the Danes as a child – leading to him having divided loyalties between the Saxons and the Danes.
Like many of Cornwell’s work, The Last Kingdom does a fantastic blending fact and fiction and showing that there are heroes and villains on both sides. This leads to great characterization because most characters are a mixed bag. Like Game of Thrones there was plenty of court intrigue on a political level as people compete for land, a personal level due to people liking or despising Uthred.
The Last Kingdom is a smaller scale, Earthy show compared to other shows that go for an epic view. Battles and fights were won by outsmarting the enemy and rarely led to a massive brawl. The show does tough on hard subject matter like murder and rape yet kept mostly a fun tone.
Out of all the Game of Thrones clones Vikings is one of the best. As the title implies the show focuses on everyone’s favorite raiders, rapists and pillagers during their golden age. The series focus was on legendary Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons who lead to the rise of the Vikings. This show looked at famous events like the raid on Lindisfarne, the Siege of Paris, and the Great Heathen Army’s conquest of England. The show has to play fast and loose with the facts because these are events take place over hundreds of years.
The big draw of Vikings was the action scenes. It was filled with bloody battle sequences that could rival Game of Thrones and movies like Gladiator and Braveheart. The best came during the third season during a three-episode arc where Ragnar Lothbrok’s forces try and fail to capture Paris.
Rome is arguably the main predecessor to Game of Thrones, an ambitious show that HBO used as a building block for the fantasy series. Rome was a co-production between HBO, the BBC and RAI (Italy’s public broadcaster) which looked at the fall of the Roman Republic and rise of Julius Caesar and Augustus.
Rome was an ambitious show – it was the most expensive show made at the time. It was filmed mostly in Italy, including at the famous Cinecittà Studios in Rome. It had an impressive cast featuring the likes of Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, and James Purefoy. Some cast members even appeared in Game of Thrones, i.e. Ciarán Hinds and Tobias Menzies.
Rome was a huge production that looked at both the power struggles amongst the elites of the Republic and issues affecting the regular people. All of this was seen through the eyes of two veterans of Caesar’s army. History buffs and politics nuts enjoyed the power plays and there were plenty of subplots looking at the underworld and domestic situations. Like Game of Thrones there was plenty of sex, violence, and nudity.
The showrunners planned a five-season run for Rome but it was cut down to two. This forced the show to cram in a lot during the second and this is where Rome faltered. The worst example of this was the subplot involving two Jewish rebels tried to assassin King Herod. It was a plot that went nowhere and did not add anything to the series.