Whether we like it or not, Game of Thrones is going to end in a season or two. Sunday’s season finale was full of explosive plot twists, explosive revelations, and explosive… explosions. “The Winds of Winter” was one of the best episodes the series has ever done. This episode was ready to propel the story forward to the final act. This is a show that is currently pressing full tilt towards the end of its story. Soon enough that end will come and there will a huge empty hole in all of our lives. Somehow we are all going to have to learn to live in a post-Game of Thrones world. What will we do to fill up our fantasy TV series niche?
Fortunately, Game of Thrones’ source material, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, is not the only epic fantasy series. It’s not the darkest and it’s not the most fantastic. It can be replaced, maybe even be topped. There are plenty of stories that can take over our lives and dominate our water cooler conversations at the office. (Do people actually talk about things around water coolers?) Here are five potential candidates that could take Game of Thrones’ place on television:
Replace Game of Thrones With: Dune
Frank Herbert’s Dune series is one of the all-time classics of SciFi literature. The original 1965 novel Dune was a revolution in the genre. Dune offered a fantastic universe of epic heroes, villainous barons, and a distinctly spiritual take on science fiction. Dune‘s influence on the genre cannot be overstated. One of its primary disciples was a little film series that you may have heard of called “Star Wars”. Dune was able to create a fictional universe and imbue not just distinct characters and fascinating technology, it also created an entire tangible culture. This universe is made believable thanks to the mysticism of the Fremen people and the effect that culture has on the hero, Paul Atreides.
The Dune series of books include six novels written by Frank Herbert himself, which span across three eras in a galaxy-wide Empire. Characters survive between the eras thanks to horrifying changes in their bodies and the use of clones known as Gholas. Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert would go on to write later books to a mixed reception. Taking only the original six novels, Dune offers much for a stranded Game of Thrones fan. There are dark betrayals. Noble houses fall and rise again stronger than ever. The characters of Paul and his son Leto II Atreides live messianic lives that could entrance any fan of Daenerys Targaryen.
Furthermore, Dune is an excellent SciFi universe that has yet to be given a proper adaptation. Alejandro Jodorowsky famously tried and failed to adapt the book in the 1970s. The 1984 David Lynch film was a fascinating mess. And the SciFi Channel miniseries was more accurate to the source material but very dull. A big budget Game of Thrones-style adaptation could finally show all the weirdness and beauty of Frank Herbert’s vision to for a new generation of viewers.
Replace Game of Thrones With: The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time is in many ways is the natural successor to Game of Thrones. It was a series so huge in scale and story that it outlived its own writer, Robert Jordan. The last three of the fourteen volumes had to be finished by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s death. The Wheel of Time was *the* fantasy series of the 1990s. It was A Song of Ice and Fire before A Song of Ice and Fire was A Song of Ice and Fire.
The universe is a mixture of Eastern and Western mythologies. The Indian ideas of reincarnation and cycles of time are combined with a Daoist concept of duality and balance in nature, all married to a Western fantasy setting of good vs. evil. The hero of the story, Rand al’Thor, is one of three youths from a backwater of the world who may be the reincarnation of Lews Therin, a great hero gone mad. He and his friends begin a standard fantasy journey across the world to defeat the Dark One and save the world. But that is only the first novel of The Wheel of Time. The later books add further complications. The heroes themselves become embroidered in increasingly less black and white battles, as greater evils emerge from the world’s dark past.
Unfortunately, the middle volumes of the series have issues. Many books moved too slowly and accomplished too little plot-wise. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones has greatly simplified the storylines of A Song of Ice and Fire. It should be considered a model of a prudent adaptation of a fantasy series. The Wheel of Time could use some trimming from a television adaptation. According to Jordan’s widow, a TV series is already in the works.
Replace Game of Thrones With: The Sandman
The Sandman is a series of Vertigo comic books written by Neil Gaiman. It tells the tale of the Sandman, AKA Morpheus, AKA the King of Dreams, AKA the Prince of Stories, AKA the Dream of the Endless. Dream is one of the seven Endless, the immortal supreme beings of the DC comic universe, older and more powerful than the gods themselves. He is the incarnation of dreaming itself, ruling over the land of sleep. Despite being a mighty creature with power beyond imagination, Dream is also a lonely lord prone to disastrous relationships. His brother-sister Endless, Desire wants him dead for an ancient slight.
Through the seven volumes of The Sandman and its various spin-offs, Dream goes on adventures through modern New York City, the far reaches of time and space, and into magical realms beyond imagining. In one arc Dream finds himself the unwitting owner of Hell when Lucifer retires. In another, he must recapture missing dream creatures who have escaped his realm into our world. However, much of the series is made up of short stories involving people whose lives are changed by a single encounter with Dream. These include a medieval knight who bets that he will enjoy immortality forever, a great Caliph of Baghdad, and the Emperor of the United States.
The Sandman would be a very unique series to take Game of Thrones’ place. It does not have the trappings of noble wars or great battles. But it is a series of very subtle plotting. Little details build up into enormous consequences. New fans would have much to speculate on while trying to follow the breadcrumbs that Neil Gaiman’s works lay out for them. Also, Fox just released Lucifer, a police procedural series starring the Vertigo comics version of Satan. Maybe that show can be the gateway for Gaiman’s grand musing on the nature of fiction and dreams that Sandman is.
Replace Game of Thrones With: Malazan Book of the Fallen
What is Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series about? Well, even beginning to summarize this series is going to need more than three paragraphs. This article will not do it justice. If HBO or anybody else wants to adapt this series they better have more than seven seasons planned. This is a fantasy series so terrifyingly ambitious in scale it feels more like Thomas Pynchon novels than J.R.R. Tolkien.
Malazan Book of the Fallen is a series of fantasy novels set in the Malazan Empire, a massive magical state bent on world conquest. The first novel, The Gardens of the Moon, is set in just a small front of a campaign to capture the entire Genabackis Continent. It is a freakishly massive novel involving dozens of characters, demigods, and an entire pantheon of deities based around a tarot deck. This huge book introduces what appears to be a core cast of heroes in Malazan army. But through its byzantine web of schemes and counter-schemes, The Gardens of the Moon ends up following an entirely different cast who are instead fighting the Malazan invasion. All of this is just one part of a planet-wide storyline – there are at least two other whole storylines going on elsewhere. The series has ten novels each of ridiculous size and tons of spin-offs.
Malazan Book of the Fallen is everything a Game of Thrones fan would want. It is incredibly complicated. It is gruesome and brutal. The storyline is written with such density that literally any character could die – there is no central hero here. This is not good versus evil. Rather it is one slightly less evil faction against a slightly more evil faction. However, Malazan’s complexity may just be unfilmable. A Song of Ice and Fire has maybe a quarter the depth that Malazan Book of the Fallen has. Can any studio manage to cast this many characters or film this many locations? If you are lost keeping track of the Starks and Lannisters, your mind has not yet begun to be boggled.
Replace Game of Thrones With: The Stormlight Archive
The Stormlight Archive is Brandon Sanderson’s series of ten planned novels. Only two books have been completed and a third is planned for release in 2017. It may be therefore too early for a studio to begin writing scripts and casting actors. However, The Stormlight Archive is already a fantastic series. There is a lot of promise from these first two books. This could be the series that fantasy readers flock to once (if) A Song of Ice and Fire finishes.
The Stormlight Archive is a series set in a strange world full of storms. Most of the flora and fauna have adapted to the endless weather by taking on characteristics of undersea life. The magical kingdoms of the world carve their cities into the rock to hide from the crushing weather. Our hero, Kaladin Stormblessed, is a slave who was betrayed by the corrupt upper classes, the Lighteyes. His masters could not care if he lives or dies. Kaladin and his fellow slaves must carry a bridge for an army in a never-ending war. Meanwhile, a dark force known as the Voidbringers is rumbling to return to the world. The great heroes of the past, the Knights Radiant, have disbanded. Without them, the coming desolation may mean the end of this world.
Sanderson’s combat scenes are especially awesome. The unwitting assassin, Szeth-son-son-Vallano, has powers to cling to walls and defy gravity. This a very visual series, which is why Sanderson has had the novels published with extensive illustrations. The Stormlight Archive deserves to be filmed. Game of Thrones fans will also recognize another series about impending evil while squabbling lords ignore the disaster to come.