Weeks on, there are those among us still staring vacantly at a screen each Monday, wondering how to fill the void left by the end of Game of Thrones. Here’s three diverting and different series (on free-to-air and subscription) packed with family intrigue, brutality, scheming, hideous deaths and unlikely heroes to help ease the pain.
The historical soap opera: Rome
In some respects Rome, which ran for two seasons between 2005-7, served as HBO’s training run for Game of Thrones. The utterly addictive historical saga, set during Julius Caesar’s heyday, combined all the best bits of GoT: sex, intrigue, violence, incest and politics.
The show chronicled the exploits of Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), a gloomy ex-centurion and a larrikin ex-legionary, who find themselves Forrest Gump-style players at the significant events leading to Caesar’s rise and fall.
But Rome is dominated by Polly Walker’s magnificent portrayal of Caesar’s niece Atia, who uses her brazen sexuality to advance her limitless ambition. Atia removes her enemies with a flourish that would make Cersei take to her wine in envy.
In series two she finds a worthy foil in Simon Woods, playing her oily son Octavian with a dead-eyed malevolence that is a far cry from his impossibly cheery Mr Bingley from Pride & Prejudice (2005).
Key scene: During an attack on her house by supporters of Caesar’s enemies, Atia assigns domestic staff to help kill her and her family should the thugs break in. She squabbles with her surly teenage daughter Octavia who would rather be killed by anyone but her mother.
Animal kingdom: Dynasties
The BBC’s most recent Attenborough-narrated extravaganza is every bit as brutal as GoT and, given it’s scripted from nature, more believably written to boot. Each of the five episodes portrays the struggle for survival within an animal clan – chimpanzees, lions, penguins, tigers.
Nature, as always, dishes out in spades the remorseless violence of GoT: regicide, infanticide, conflict within families and huge, lethal monsters. And snow, at least in one episode. Lots of snow. Watching David, the alpha-male chimp, reclaim his crown after a violent coup one can’t help but make a mental list of all the missteps Stannis Baratheon made along the way.
Key scene: A war between two packs of painted wolves, one led by an ageing matriarch, another by her ambitious daughter, sees the weaker clan decimated by hyenas during a relentless night pursuit. In the light of day, the pack slakes its thirst forgetting African waterholes contain reptilian perils that would give Daenerys’ dragons a run for their money. A shocking moment worthy of the Red Wedding.
The stranger than fiction horror story: Chernobyl
HBO’s most recent water-cooler series has little in common thematically with GoT – except perhaps that those in authority should never be trusted and we all live on a knife’s edge. But Chernobyl is hitting boundaries as TV’s most addictive drama.
Narrating the events surrounding the 1986 nuclear disaster, Chernobyl is crammed with moments of jaw-dropping horror and incredible sacrifice. Given the former Soviet Union’s penchant for secrecy many of these stories are being told for the first time. Each new episode deals up new ‘what would I have done?’ moments and reminds those who were alive then how close Europe came to nuclear devastation. In a fine ensemble cast, Jared Harris, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard are standouts.
Key scene: A detail of Russian soldiers goes house to house in an evacuated exclusion zone killing all the dogs, left behind by their owners and living off chickens and each other. The canine casualty rate dwarfs that of GoT’s dire wolves, which was devastating enough.