How to Avoid 'Game of Thrones' Withdrawal

'Game of Thrones' is over until next spring. But don't despair: Try 'Black Sails' or 'Vikings' or 'Outlander' or even 'The Leftovers.' 

Game of Thrones is officially over, and it will be an entire year before you can dive into new episodes and find out what the newly crowned Queen Cersei might get up to. But if you’re worried that everything else you watch until then is a pale imitation, don’t despair. There are plenty of shows that will quench your thirst for epic battles, high quality production, snarky dialogue, and surprising plot turns. Just maybe not dragons. Here are some shows you can dive into in the next few months.

Black Sails

Black Sails has the richest characterization on TV — not just for a political action adventure show but for any show. That alone would be enough to make it worthwhile, but it also expertly marries character work with action sequences that are up to par with Game of Thrones setpieces like “Blackwater” and “The Battle of The Bastards.” Season 3 included a single-shot wild west style horse chase, ship battles, shark wrestling, forest battles, duels — and through it all, the writers never lose sight of the gloriously complex characters. Were you annoyed when Game of Thrones dropped the ball on Arya’s character this season, making her act nonsensically for the sake of the plot? That never happens on Black Sails.

Everyone is fully developed and Machiavellian; when you think something isn’t adding up, unpredictable motives are revealed later, the lead (Toby Stephens as Captain Flint) is the same level as Lena Heady’s Cersei, one character (Jack Rackham) gives Tyrion a run for his money in quips and snark, two others speed past early Jaime Lannister in “Wow, you’re not who I first thought you were” evolutions (Silver and Vane) and the show features thoughtful depictions of non-stereotypical queer and polyamorous relationships to boot. Season 1 is a bit slow but it’s only eight episodes, and Seasons 2 and 3 are two of the most well-crafted television seasons out there, barring none — even Game of Thrones.

Time investment: Season 1 is eight episodes, the subsequent two seasons are both 10 episodes, and a fourth season will be out around January.

Vikings

Vikings is inferior to both Game of Thrones and Black Sails in the realm of character. Here, characters will often act in ways that benefit the plot instead of what plausibly corresponds to their psychological makeup. But if you’re not the kind of person who cares much about character depth, its action sequences, battles, and scope are enough to scratch that Game of Thrones itch. Particularly if “The Battle of The Bastards” was your favorite Game of Thrones episode, the Vikings Season 3 siege of Paris — which lasts two whole episodes and includes many moving parts, just as “Bastards” did — is up there with it. The battles nicely capture the chaos and are always accompanied by a great soundtrack.

Time investment: The first three seasons are ten episodes each, the fourth is twenty but is split in half. The second set of Season 4 episodes will be out sometime this year.

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful is a strange, over-the-top, gloriously gothic show. If you’ve got an affinity for gothic literature, poetic dialogue, old-school Universal monsters like the Wolfman, pulpy scenes like characters dancing in blood, or you just love seeing sets filled with old-timey laboratories, seedy gentlemen’s clubs, Victorian era orgies, and seances, this is the show for you.

Plot is not always its strong point, but with bizarre and imaginative setpieces, fresh spins on characters like Victor Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and Dracula — not to mention a cast that includes Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, and Timothy Dalton — this is a show where it’s okay that plot is secondary to character and atmosphere. It also approaches feminism in an interesting and ballsy way — and it might be the only show that adapts multiple books at once. Its opening credits perfectly encapsulate its spirit and mood.

Time investment: There are three seasons; twenty-seven episodes total with no more coming, sadly.

Outlander

Outlander has a leisurely pace that isn’t for everyone, but if you like Game of Thrones for its settings and attention to historical detail (the realistic depiction of those dragons, man), then you’ll like Outlander. Unlike these other shows, instead of focusing on a sprawling cast of characters, it has a close-focus on its heroine, really digging into her mind. This is unusual for a show of this nature, as is her relationship with the hero — in which he is often in the role of the damsel in distress and the object of focus during intimate scenes. Fair warning, if you’re sensitive to depictions of rape, Season 1 ends with an overly graphic sequence, and if the show follows the books closely, there will be more like that coming. But if you’ve got a love for Scotland, this is also the show for you.

Time investment: Season 1 has 16 episodes, Season 2 has 13, and the show has been renewed for two more seasons.

The Leftovers

This show isn’t for everyone — it’s extremely weird, and episodes don’t exactly leave you feeling cheerful — but if you liked the Wildfire sequence in the Game of Thrones Season 6 finale where haunting piano music and clever cinematography cutting to characters realizing what’s about to happen build an atmosphere of eerie dread, then you’ll like The Leftovers. Sequences like that are basically the whole show. Season 1 isn’t the best — the writers too often try to evoke emotion without earning it, which leads to it feeling like it takes itself too seriously — but Season 2 finds that sweet spot between philosophy and having a sense of humor about itself and it’s a true television masterpiece. It’s one of the most exquisite set of episodes in existence, particularly its eight episode “International Assassin.” That hour is straight-up art.

Time investment: Seasons 1 and 2 are both ten episodes, a third and final season is coming this year.

Misfits

Misfits is part X-Men if it was a show about a bunch of juvenile delinquents doing community service instead of studying at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and part Heroes back when it was good (So, just the first season). It doesn’t have epic battles like Game of Thrones but it’s got snappy dialogue, fast-paced plotting, and a sprawling cast of — you guessed it — misfits. Also, Ramsay Bolton is in it but he’s shy and endearing. It’s weird but kind of nice.

Time investment: The show is five seasons, though each is less than 10 episodes and the cast changes after the third season.

Honorary mentions also go to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which did the death-and-resurrection thing before Game of Thrones, its way too underrated spin-off Angel, to The Last Kingdom and to Rome and Deadwood.

So don’t despair post Thrones. There is plenty of television at that level out there, just waiting for you to dive in. All Men Must Watch.

Media via HBO