Game of Thrones withdrawal is a very real thing, pushing fans to read (or re-read) the books, play through the Telltale Game series again, and keeping them awake at night poring over fan theories online. The season 6 premiere is still a few weeks away, so here are some alternatives to help ease the pain while waiting for April 24. A fair warning, however: some of these are so good, fans may have a new addiction on their hands.
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books (the source material for Game of Thrones) are not easy to read. The five books have a collected 1.7 million words, plus enough characters to make anyone’s head spin. Regardless of the dense text, the books feature engaging characters, political intrigue, and world-building that immerses the reader in Westeros.
The Lord of the Rings
Similar in depth are J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books, though they are about half the length of A Song of Ice and Fire. Lord of the Rings is a bit more high fantasy than ASoIaF, so there is a great deal more magic involved in Tolkien’s world. However, just as there is a Dothraki dictionary, Tolkien also created an entire Elvish language. Middle Earth was one of the first fully-fleshed out fantasy worlds. Lord of the Rings is sort of the grandparent of all modern fantasy, and thus is required reading for any fantasy buff.
Closer in tone to ASoIaF is the Kushiel’s Legacy cycle by Jacqueline Carey. The series tells the story of Phèdre, an orphan girl with a scarlet mote in her eye that means she was touched by the gods to feel pleasure and pain as one. The books take place in an alternate version of our own world, and Phèdre’s Terre d’Ange is similar to medieval France. Though Phèdre is a courtesan, she goes on incredible adventures, saving her country from destruction more than once. The world in which Phèdre lives is filled with depth, and there are a wide variety of characters to get attached to. (Just like the ASoIaF books, the Kushiel’s books have indexes of characters, places, and groups.)
The magic in the Kushiel‘s books is similar to that in ASoIaF and Game of Thrones in that it is mostly unheard of in the realms. There are bits of magic here and there, but they are used to otherwise tell a story about political intrigue, the costs of war, and the power of love and sex. These books have some of the steamiest, best-written sex scenes to ever grace a page, so make sure to read these when Grandma’s not around.
Dragonriders of Pern
Another sexy and magical series, the Dragonriders of Pern books by Anne McCaffrey also contain adventure and fantastic world-building like GoT. The books also center around dragons, which is a pretty massive selling point. The Pern books are interesting in that they are actually science fiction, and not fantasy, but they are certainly in the same vein as the other books mentioned here. The hardest thing with Pern is that there are a lot of books (25 currently), and the publishing order and plot progression are not in sync. First-time readers should start with Dragonflight, the first Pern book published, and fall in love with the world of Pern from the beginning. These books, like GoT, contain sex, violence, and plot twists for days.
If reading about knights, dragons, and magic isn’t enough, there are plenty of video games available to let players act out their medieval fantasies.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher series of games, based on a Polish book series, follow the adventures of Geralt, a monster hunter who undergoes mutation experiments to give him additional magical powers. The games are smartly written and the world is impressive. The third game, Wild Hunt, offers an expansive map where players can explore the world of The Witcher at their leisure. Like GoT, The Witcher has a heavy focus on medieval politics and warfare, along with the magic Geralt uses to fight monsters. The games are also known for their graphic depictions of sex, so if getting it on with a sexy monster lady sounds like your idea of fun, go grab a copy of The Witcher 3.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Another expansive, free-roaming game is Skyrim. Part of the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim takes place in a medieval world where dragons are a very real danger. Players control a dragonborn, capable of using shouts in the dragon language as magic. The world is filled with culture, as there are 10 playable races, each with their own histories and societies.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
If political intrigue, sex, dragons, and swordplay are all necessary for a game to really capture a GoT fan’s attention, there’s always the Dragon Age series. Players can create their own character in a complex medieval world, and if they play their cards right, can even end up as royalty. Party members follow the player around and can be interacted with, including romantic and sexual possibilities. Each of the three games in the series offers a different kind of gameplay, so players can identify which they prefer and start with that game.
It’s difficult to get the level of depth in a movie that GoT does in the series, but there are a couple of films that have a similar tone or cater to similar needs.
Centurion, starring Michael Fassbender, is about a Roman Centurion fighting against the barbaric Picts. His legion is captured by the Picts, they escape, and then there is a mad chase through the forests of what would become Scotland and northern England. Centurion features a druidic-style witch, played by Imogen Poots, whom Fassbender’s character has a romantic plot with. Also starring is GoT‘s Liam Cunningham (Sir Davos) as one of the members of the legion. Centurion is particularly good at portraying the same kind of violence as GoT, along with similar landscapes and some similar costuming.
Another film that delivers on medieval violence is Valhalla Rising. Directed by Drive auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, the film stars Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal on TV’s Hannibal) and is about a mute warrior who fights both against and alongside Vikings. The movie is slow-paced and the plot is sort of meandering, but the visuals alone make it worth watching. If GoT‘s gore is too much for anyone, this is definitely not the movie for them.
Game of Thrones is not the first premium cable show to feature a giant cast of characters, gratuitous T&A, and medieval politics. That title goes to Showtime’s The Tudors, based on the life of King Henry VIII and his six wives. (GoT bonus: Natalie Dormer (Margarey Tyrell) plays Henry’s second and most controversial wife, Anne Boleyn.) While there is no magic in The Tudors, there is a great deal of sex and politics, along with occasional violence. As long as viewers don’t care too much about historical accuracy, The Tudors offers a great deal to fans of GoT and is, in a way, its predecessor.
Camelot is another premium-cable series that catered to viewer’s fantasy needs. Though the Starz series only has two seasons, there is plenty of great content within. There are definitely flaws in the series that lead to its cancellation, but Eva Green is fantastic as witch Morgan Pendragon, and Joseph Fiennes is fabulous as Merlin. The show is sexy and violent, and Morgan Pendragon’s magic occasionally feels a bit like Melisandre’s from GoT.
On regular cable, History Channel’s Vikings also offers a lot of the same semi-medieval goodness as GoT. The show is currently in its fourth season and features extreme violence, sex, and consistent betrayal. Sound familiar?