As of writing this, we have ONE WHOLE YEAR left before we get the final season of Game of Thrones. If you’re anything like me, you’re chomping at the bit and, well, you’re just going to have to bide your time. If you’re feeling like you’re in a TV rut, look no further. We compiled our favorite dark, gritty, historical (or fantastical) dramas with just a smidge of comedy. Don’t see your favorite on the list? Shoot us a message on social media or post in the comments below!
1. Black Sails
I actually found out about Black Sails thanks to my love of Bear McCreary, the composer who also worked on Battlestar Galactica. Black Sails is set about twenty years before the events of Treasure Island and includes a lot of familiar faces if you’re into pirate lore, plus lots of positive representation, with all the grit and gore of GOT. It’s available from STARZ.
If you follow this blog, you probably already watch Vikings. If you don’t, get on that shit! Arguably the only historical thing to come out of The History Channel in years, Vikings follows the adventures and misadventures of real Norseman, Ragnar Lothbrok and his friends and family.
3. The Last Kingdom
Originally appearing on BBC Two and BBC America (but now available on Netflix) is The Last Kingdom. In 9th century England, Uhtred of Bebbanburg was the child of Saxon landholders who were killed by invading Danes. These Danes took a shine to Uhtred and took him in, where his adventures continue as an adult. I binged the first couple seasons of this series one weekend, and let me tell you– it is highly bingeable. Good thing Netflix is making more.
4. American Gods
While on the surface American Gods doesn’t seem very applicable to readers of this blog– keep watching. With a strong vein of Norse mythology mixed in with the gritty reality of Shadow Moon’s modern life. It’s also available on STARZ.
5. Marco Polo
This gritty and dramatic historical series was sadly canceled by Netflix after two seasons, but those two seasons were beautiful, colorful, and intriguing. Follow real-person Marco Polo as he joins Kublai Khan’s retinue and learns to navigate the social and wartime norms of this new culture. Since it was a Netflix original series, it’s still available there.
6. Pillars of the Earth
Sadly this was only a mini-series (again, from STARZ!), but it left me wanting more. It stars Ian McShane (Mr. Wednesday from American Gods) and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter from the Marvel universe) and a whole host of other nerdy wet-dreams before they were famous. The story follows the monumental construction of a cathedral in 12th century England, and all the drama that goes along with that. It’s also a book series, for those readers out there. Also– there’s a very popular video game version of it!
7. The Borgias
Getting out of medieval England for a bit, let’s head over to Italy. The Borgias takes place in a Rome looking for a pope, and they decide to elect known-villain, Jeremy Irons. Hello, who elects Scar from the Lion King as pope? You can see where the drama’s going here. Dirty, gritty, and dark, the Borgias is Game of Thrones without the dragons.
8. The Bastard Executioner
This series was sadly canceled by FX, but its single season is well-worth the watch. It’s a tale of revenge as old as time, and follows former knight, Wilkin Brattle, as he seeks those who have wronged him… repeatedly. He takes up the mantle as a executioner in order to find these fools and… well, you’ll just have to watch.
9. The White Queen
If you were every obsessed with historical romance fiction growing up (like I was), you know Phillippa Gregory better than you know your own family. When The White Queen was made into a show on BBC One/STARZ, I think my heart stopped. Direct inspiration for Game of Thrones (with houses Lancaster and York), the War of The Roses sets the dark and gloomy backdrop for this series. And ladies? This one’s for us, as all three protagonists are tough gals. Arya Stark would be proud.