Half of Hollywood has to be really nervous about the sudden backlash to Game of Thrones’ final season. After all, they’re currently embroiled in a race to find the next GoT—a race that will probably cost billions of dollars when it’s all said and done. All the major premium TV players—Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney, Showtime, HBO, the BBC, and more—have snatched up the rights to various epic fantasy tales and may flood your screen with knights, mages, elves, rebellious princesses, dragons, talking lions, and other assorted mythical and magical figures over the next few years. After all, the success of Game of Thrones is proof of the wider public’s appetite for both fantasy and epic television on a scale closer to blockbuster movies. And in a classic Hollywood move, the industry is going to test the limits of how much of that we can handle.
Of course, the notion that the TV-viewing public has a fever and the only medicine is more fantasy is only one interpretation of the Thrones mania. The series’ popularity can be chalked up to a lot more than that. The epic world building, massive cast, and multiple protagonists offer an immersive experience and many characters for people to grab onto and identify with. The presence of complicated and powerful female characters and the inclusion of some LGBTQ characters only deepen that appeal. (And though the show’s handling of diverse characters has been criticized, at least the criticism is more than just “there aren’t any.”) While the plot is notoriously thick, when boiled down it is pretty easy to understand (a bunch of people are fighting to be king or queen, and at the end one of them will presumably be crowned). The show’s political themes offer some high-minded real-world relevance, and of course the copious amounts of nudity, sex, and violence, though at times heavily criticized, satiate viewers’ baser urges. Oh, also, there are dragons. People just love dragons for some reason.
So we decided to break down all the major new shows vying to fill that Daenerys-shaped whole in your heart, and evaluate them by the important things, like the potential for sex and dragons, among other factors.
The Lord of the Rings Prequel Series
Network: Amazon Prime Premiere date: Unknown
Amazon beat out numerous other streamers and networks to win the privilege to pay a quarter of a billion dollars to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy world into a television series, and will reportedly spend another three quarters of a billion to actually produce it over five seasons, making it the most expensive television series in history. It seems like a smart bet. After all, Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the series was a major hit, and in many ways this feels like a natural Game of Thrones replacement. GoT author George R.R. Martin was not only heavily inspired by Lord of the Rings, but his series also serves as something of a response to the books (Martin ultimately found Tolkien’s notions of good and bad a little too black and white for his tastes). The series will reportedly not be a remake of the material covered in the books and previous films, but rather a prequel of sorts, potentially stretching to lands not explored by Tolkien.
Epicness: Yeah, it’s like the gold standard.
Sex and Violence: With all due apologies to those who ship Samwell and Frodo, LOTR is pretty sexless compared to Game of Thrones. And while there’s violence, it’s not sadistic like Thrones.
Political intrigue: Ultimately, it’s a story about power and leadership, but it should be interesting to see if the television creators stick to Tolkien’s more black-and-white moral universe or succumb to the hazier picture of good and evil so common in modern television.
More than white men with beards?: The fact that the Fellowship of the Ring was portrayed in the movies as seven white guys is part of the reason why the fantasy genre has such an iffy reputation for diversity in the first place. Granted, there were strong female characters in the original story, and Amazon has not yet cast the series.
Dragons?: Yeah. Smaug. Ever heard of him? He’s like the president of the Fantasy Series Dragon Union.
Network: Netflix Premiere date: The second half of 2019, according to Netflix head Reed Hastings.
Based on a series of novels and stories by the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski (though we should note that the video games based on Spakowski’s books may be better known than the books themselves), the upcoming Netflix series is already notable for apparently snagging Henry Cavill away from the role of Superman. Cavill will play Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter sworn to protect a young princess, who uses both supernatural abilities and body modifications to defeat mythical beasts. Save for the fact that it focuses on a smaller number of more intimately connected protagonists, the series, while still somewhat shrouded in mystery, appears to have the potential to tick off a lot of the boxes that made Thrones Thrones.
Epicness: Andrzej Sapkowski has certainly built his own world, but his novels tend to be more episodic in nature and focused mainly on the central protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, and his protégée Ciri.
Sex and violence: Um, how do we put this? There are scenes from the video games that have been uploaded to PornHub. It doesn’t seem to skimp on the violence, either.
Political intrigue: There are warring kingdoms herein, and interestingly it all takes place in a land that was inhabited by magical creatures until humans came around and colonized it. Now those magical creatures are forced to live in ghettos.
More than white men with beards?: Aside from Cavill’s main role, most of the major characters are female, including the bisexual Princess Ciri (though—spoiler alert—her eventual female love interest isn’t among the cast of the first season). The cast list features some diversity and a female showrunner, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich.
Dragons?: Yeah. Geralt kills them. He’s a monster hunter. It’s what he does.
Two separate Star Wars series
Network: Disney+ Premiere date: The first on November 12, 2019
Sure, Stars Wars is technically sci-fi, but it seems natural to consider these two Disney+ series here. The first is The Mandalorian, which finds Thrones alum Pedro Pascal as a lone-wolf gunman running around the edges of the universe in the time between the first trilogy and the most recent. It’s not Boba Fett: The Series, but it’s not not Boba Fett: The Series. What it definitely is, however, is expected to cost somewhere around $100 million. The other, still technically just in development, would be a “spy thriller” focused on Diego Luna’s character from Rogue One.
Epicness: Well, it’s Star Wars. While there’s certainly the possibility of creating epic storylines within the universe in its past or present, both of these series are set within the time frame of the main Skywalker saga. Which means the world building is already done, and these shows will take place in the peripheries of the main events we all already know.
Sex and violence: The sexiest things to happen in Star Wars are what? Princess Leia in that bikini and Kylo Ren in those high-wasted pants? Violence is, well, mostly laser based. We don’t necessarily expect the shows to shake anything up in that regard. Especially given Disney+’s whole family-friendly vibe.
Political intrigue: Portions of the Star Wars universe can certainly get deeply political (villains in the prequel trilogy were named after Republican congressmen), but it isn’t necessarily an inherent part of the franchise’s appeal, outside of ruminating on good versus evil.
More than white men with beards?: Star Wars has been doing an admirable job on this front in the most recent trilogy, and both of these series feature Hispanic actors in the lead. And while only the full cast of The Mandalorian has been revealed, it stacks up. There’s also been a lot of murmuring, including from J.J. Abrams himself, that some LGBTQ representation is coming to the Star Wars universe, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it happens here.
Dragons?: C-3P0 walks past a dragonlike skull in one of the early scenes of the first Star Wars, so, like, a live dragon has to show up somewhere in the series eventually, right?
His Dark Materials
Network: An HBO and BBC coproduction Premiere date: Late 2019
Yes, they already attempted to make this into a movie franchise back in 2007, with The Golden Compass (starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman), and despite your recollections it was a pretty massive hit—well, overseas (had the financing structure been different, we likely would have gotten sequels). The fantasy show, which will air on HBO, is about kids in a Victorian-era-like universe who can travel between multiverses.
Epicness: There’s a full-on universe here, but its scope may be more reminiscent of Harry Potter than Game of Thrones, which is to say, don’t expect battles between warring armies every other episode.
Sex and violence: Sir Philip Pullman didn’t originally write his novel series as YA, but it’s often marketed as appropriate for a YA audience. Again, think Harry Potter.
Political undertones: Big time. In fact, the 2007 movie was criticized by some for not honing in on the book’s anti-religious themes and for being too anti-Christian by others. Some people consider this to be to The Chronicles of Narnia what Thrones was to Lord of the Rings, in that it is inspired by Narnia yet also meant as a criticism of C.S. Lewis’s classic tale.
More than white men with beards?: There were no major actors of color in the 2007 movie, and the HBO/BBC series has corrected that some, but only so much. Of course, there are major female characters, and while Sir Philip is no J.K. Rowling, he doesn’t mind if you happen to think that two angels who show up much later in the series are a celestial gay couple.
Dragons?: Mostly, there is a polar bear who wears golden armor. There are also dæmons, manifestations of human souls that take the forms of various animals and serve as humans’ companions. In the books, one such creature briefly appears as a dragon.
The Chronicles of Narnia
Network: Netflix Premiere date: Unclear
Netflix is going big on the classic franchise, with a TV series and multiple movies planned. Of course, there are already three television adaptations (in various formats) and a movie franchise based on parts of the series, but Netflix owns rights to everything in C.S. Lewis’s expansive wonderland.
Epicness: Pretty epic, but of a different stripe than Thrones.
Sex and violence: We expect this to be pretty youth group appropriate.
Political undertones: The series is famously seen as an allegory for Christianity.
More than white men with beards?: Netflix hasn’t set a cast yet, but most adaptations have been notably white, and the series has been criticized for gender stereotyping.
Dragons?: Yeah, someone gets turned into a dragon for a while. There are also all sorts of other mythical animals, including, most famously, a lion king.
The Kingkiller Chronicles
Network: Showtime Premiere Date: Unclear
Showtime’s big stab at the genre is an adaptation of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicles, and, no, it has nothing to do with Jamie Lannister. Instead, the books mostly focus on the adventurous life of a musician named Kvothe. Lin-Manuel Miranda is on board as an executive producer and songwriter. Here’s the twist, though: Kvothe’s life (and, hence, the source material) may be saved for a movie series, while the television series may be something of a prequel series, which makes this project more of a mystery than most.
Epicness: Again, we’re mostly concerned with one point of view here, but it does take place in a fictional medieval-like world.
Sex and violence: They’re present, but reviews of the books seem to indicate they aren’t particularly gratuitous.
Political undertones: For whatever reasons, this series seems somewhat difficult to explain to people who haven’t read it, but it does include various warring centers of power and what not.
More than white men with beards?: Well, it focuses mostly on one man, but there’s hope. Lin-Manuel Miranda is on board, after all.
Dragons?: Here’s a twist for you: There are stories about myths of dragons in this world, but most people who think they saw a dragon might have actually seen an animal known as a Draccus, which just eats plants.
The Game of Thrones spin-offs
Network: HBO Premiere Date: Unknown
What, you thought HBO was going to let its golden goose go out to pasture without trying to coax some golden eggs out of it? Of course not. Originally commissioning five separate spin-off ideas, HBO has given the green light to a pilot for one, with a cast led by Naomi Watts, variously known as The Long Night, Age of Heroes, or—the current most popular guess—Bloodmoon, and is still considering two more. All these series are said to take place before the timeline we’re currently closing out, meaning there won’t be any crossover with existing characters, though we’re almost guaranteed to meet some of their ancestors. In the case of Bloodmoon, they may be very distant ancestors; it takes place about 10,000 years before.
Epicness: The cast list for the first Bloodmoon is massive so far, so it doesn’t seem like they’re aiming for a more intimate take on the world.
Sex and violence: Well, it’s what we expect.
Political undertones: See above.
More than white men with beards?: Yep, even more so than the original series, according to the cast list so far.
Dragons?: Hmm, good question, actually. We don’t have to explain to Thrones fans that the understanding of history within the franchise is meant to be shaky, but as a quick reminder, dragons were once semi-common in Essos, until the Doom of Valyria. After that, the only known dragons left in the world were the companions of the Targaryens, who, as we know, eventually flew them to take over Westeros.
But what about the history of dragons in ancient Westeros, where we assume Bloodmoon is set? While there are no tales of anyone in Westeros ever riding dragons Targaryen-style, according to various fan sites there are legends on the continent of various historical figures who killed dragons. Meaning they probably existed there at some point. There are even tales of sea dragons! However, if Bloodmoon is relatively light on dragon content, Martin has hinted that one of the other shows in development focuses more on Targaryen history, which likely means even more dragons.