‘Westworld’ is just the tip of the iceberg.
What does it take to be “the next Game of Thrones”? It’s a phrase TV fans hear all the time, the easiest (and in some cases, laziest) way to hype anything that’s high budget or dense or medieval or bloody. Lately, HBO’s robots-in-the-wild-west series Westworld, now in its second season, has been hailed as the fantasy flagship’s heir apparent.
I don’t buy it. Westworld has certainly gained fans in the offseason, and its shiny self-aggrandizement is hard to look away from, but it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine myself emotionally involved in six more seasons of each character questioning humanity’s definition with a furrowed brow. Plus, with six more episodes of Thrones in production, isn’t it a bit early to crown a replacement? That feels about as premature as Robb Stark celebrating his reconciliation with House Frey.
Still, if Game of Thrones has taught us one practical lesson with all its Valar Morghulis-ing, it’s that all good things come to an end. A look ahead reveals that, although no show will ever be exactly like Game of Thrones, there are dozens with the potential to fill the dragon-shaped holes in our hearts. Below, I’ve outlined thirteen contenders worth getting excited about, plus solved the mystery of Amazon’s recent absence from the film festival big spenders’ list:
Lord of Light
Sound familiar? Although this upcoming show shares a title with Game of Thrones’ own eastern fire god R’hllor, it’s actually an unrelated adaptation of a different iconic book. Roger Zelazney’s 1960s sci-fi/fantasy novel follows humans, extraterrestrial beings, and gods warring for sovereignty on another planet. With religion, power, and colonialism as central themes and an “unfilmable” reputation, Lord of Light has plenty in common with HBO’s current juggernaut. The series doesn’t seem to have a home channel yet (Universal Cable Productions, which often put its programming on USA, SyFy, or NBC, has optioned the show), but with the epic source material and The Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd on board, chances are it’ll be worth the watch wherever it lands.
The late author Terry Pratchett’s expansive Discworld series may be even more beloved than George R.R. Martin’s and, since the first book was published in 1983, fans have waited an extra decade longer for an adaptation. Compiled into a funny magic fantasy series with over forty books, Pratchett’s most famous works are at once light genre parodies and authentic, deeply felt stories all their own. Right now a six-part series is planned with BBC Studios, although there’s plenty of territory to cover if the powers-that-be choose to make more episodes.
Amazon seems to be hunting for their own Game of Thrones more overtly than any other network. Lazarus is just one of many potentially big-budget sci-fi/fantasy-tinged series the company currently has in development. The plot sounds like catnip for fans of Thrones’ strategy and swordplay. In a dystopian near-future, sixteen wealthy families rule the world, and each employs a single assassin to do their dirty work and help them maintain power. Series author Greg Rucka has serious nerd cred, having written several arcs for DC and Marvel alike, along with a handful of Star Wars novels.
The Kingkiller Chronicles
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Sam Raimi aren’t two people you’d expect to read about in the same sentence, but thanks to Patrick Rothfuss’ popular books, the Broadway genius and horror maestro might soon work together. The Kingkiller Chronicles tells the story of a fantasy world adventurer and musician named Kvothe, and like another series (ahem) is still in progress. Lionsgate must love what they’ve read already since they’re planning both a movie adaptation and a series for Showtime. Miranda is set to produce and make music for both, while Raimi is apparently in talks to direct the movie.
For the past few months, four words have excited genre fans more than any others: Stephen King extended universe. At this point, Hulu’s J.J. Abrams-produced series, which is billed as coming from “the mind of Stephen King,” is still a mystery. Starring cast members from past King classics–Sissy Spacek! Bill Skarsgard! Melanie Lynskey!–and set in one of the author’s most-referenced fictional towns, the possibilities are thrilling and nearly endless. Plus, the show already has one of the key elements that made Thrones such a huge hit: a built-in fan-base of hardcore, loyal, easter egg-hunting obsessives.
Although it never quite took off, fans of the now-ended Black Sails will tell you that, in its heyday, the Starz adventure series reached Thrones-level addictiveness and creative heights. Now the series’ co-creators are reaching into the past once more, this time to reimagine the treacherous and tragic life of Egypt’s most recognizable historical figure. Political intrigue, gender politics, and bloodshed are sure to abound in the series, which is in the works at Amazon. Now here’s hoping for some historically accurate casting to make up for decades of bad wigs and skin-darkening makeup.
East of West
Yet another Amazon project, East of West was just announced and is in development with Robert Kirkman’s (The Walking Dead) production company, Skybound Entertainment. The series will be based on a graphic novel of the same name, an epic sci-fi Western featuring none other than the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It should be noted that this is one of several titles from Image Comics–a brand known for unique and daring non-superhero sagas–that’s currently in development for TV, and that another show based on a second series by author Jonathan Hickman, Transhuman, is also in the works.
Queen of Shadows
Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series is a modern young adult fantasy mainstay, so a screen adaptation seemed inevitable. Set for a Hulu release that may come later this year, the fantasy series will tell the story of an imprisoned teen assassin who competes against fellow killers for a role in the king’s court, becoming embroiled in romances and conspiracies along the way. TV could always use another badass female lead, and with The 100’s Kira Snyder writing the pilot and Outlander’s Anna Foerster directing, the series has the potential to become a female empowerment favorite.
Admittedly, this historic reimagining of post-Civil War America might have more in common with The Man in the High Castle than Game of Thrones, but its origin story is certainly relevant for Thrones fans. Although Amazon reportedly already had the series in the works with Will Packer (Girls Trip) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks) at the helm, it gained attention after Westeros’ own David Benioff and D.B. Weiss announced their own alt-history racial drama, Confederate. D&D’s idea, which involved modern American slavery, was immediately criticized for potential cultural insensitivity, and since appears to be in limbo while the two pursue other projects. Black America, though, is highly anticipated for its creative story, which reimagines a version of the U.S. that’s split into two nations when sovereignty over a few Southern states is offered to free slaves as a form of reparation.
The Lord of the Rings
Superfans of Peter Jackson’s original trilogy (and detractors of The Hobbit films) will likely find fault with Amazon adaptation of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien series. However, Amazon has already shown that it plans to take the story seriously, winning rights to the series–which the Tolkien estate apparently also approached Netflix and HBO about developing–by shelling out over 200 million dollars. The deal’s fine print states that the five-season series must begin production within two years of November 2017, and according to one report, the show is expected to cost nearly a billion dollars in total.
Who Fears Death
Not Arya Stark, who inspires us all to tell it “not today.” The award-winning novel Who Fears Death, written by Nnedi Okorafor, must have caught George R.R. Martin’s eye, as the author is set to executive produce an HBO adaptation alongside two former network and TV company presidents, Michael Lombardo and Angela Mancuso. Set in a grim future version of North Africa, Who Fears Death follows young heroine Onyesowu (whose name translates into the title phrase) on a quest to harness her powers and defeat her evil sorcerer father. The novel includes heavy themes of colorism, gendered violence, and the complexities of cultural traditions. Hopefully, the votes of confidence from GRRM and HBO lead to a series as powerful as its source material.
Based on the critically acclaimed, genre-crossing novel by Matt Ruff, this HBO show will be the brainchild of J.J. Abrams and Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele. The fantastical horror story explores both Lovecraftian monsters and the very real scariness of Jim Crow America as its central characters undertake a cross-country road trip in search of a missing relative. The upcoming show–which will star Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Jonathan Majors–may not have the density or medieval trappings of Thrones, but with talented people on both sides of the camera and the promise of an intense odyssey, it’s easy to imagine Lovecraft Country as a comparably engrossing Sunday night addiction.