HBO’s blockbuster series Game of Thrones has become a pop culture phenomenon and inspired a rabid worldwide fanbase, but we realize not everyone knows who Tyrion Lannister is or fears the impending threat of the White Walkers. With the fourth season set to premiere on April 6, we thought we’d be extra thoughtful and give those of you who have yet to take the plunge a few weeks to catch up. Read on for an overview, hunker down for an intense ride, and get yourself up to speed, because winter is coming.
What’s the premise? Warring kingdoms and influential families struggle to assert political and military dominance over each other in a fictional, fantastical medieval world.
What’s it like? There isn’t anything quite like Game of Thrones on television at the moment, which might help explain why it’s so popular. It not only satisfies a niche audience in need of a Tolkien-esque fantasy fix, but also caters to those who favor serialized slow-burn dramas. Take the period political intrigue of something like The Borgias, add some of the blood and sex of Starz’ Spartacus, and dress it all up in the aesthetics and supernatural themes of Middle Earth, and you’ll have an approximation of Game of Thrones.
Where can I see it? You’re in luck if you’ve got an HBO GO subscription; every GoT episode is available to stream on their website. Otherwise, all three seasons are available for purchase on iTunes and Vudu, while Amazon carries just the first two seasons.
How long will it take? Each season is ten episodes long, and the average episode runtime is somewhere around 55 minutes, so you’re looking at about 30 hours of commitment. You can probably knock it out in a couple of weeks, but the show is so heavy that an intense binge may leave you feeling a bit deflated. We recommend that you might take a short break every five or six episodes. Good luck with that, though.
What do the critics think? As far as the critics are concerned, Game of Thrones just gets better and better. All three seasons are Certified Fresh, and each season has earned a higher Tomatometer than the last (83, 97, and 100 percent). A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff sums it up by writing, “This is gorgeous, well-acted, smartly written TV, and even if it takes a little while to get going, it’s clear from shot one that we’re in very good hands.”
Why should I watch this? Thanks to George R.R. Martin’s meticulously crafted source novels, the GoT world feels fully fleshed out, with challenging but immersive narratives and complex characters who don’t easily fall into traditional definitions of “good” and “evil” (except Joffrey — screw that guy). The show is also infamously unpredictable; no character is safe from Martin’s bloodthirsty pen, which admittedly can be frustrating for some, but rather refreshing for most, since it keeps viewers on their toes. The cast is top notch, populated by veterans (Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Ciarán Hinds, Peter Dinklage) and up-and-comers (Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington), and thanks to multimillion-dollar production budgets, the show is gorgeous to look at. In short, this isn’t just a silly medieval hodgepodge of beautiful people fighting dragons in chainmail and gettin’ it on, Dark Ages style; this is high-stakes drama with a dash of the supernatural, often bleak and full of the kind of thought-provoking moral ambiguity that made previous HBO series like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire so compelling.
What’s my next step? The most obvious recommendation to make here is A Song of Ice and Fire, the series of George R.R. Martin fantasy novels upon which Game of Thrones is based — just make sure you don’t read past the third book if you don’t want anything spoiled in upcoming seasons. Beyond that, Martin himself also authored a blog post full of other book recommendations for you fantasy junkies. On TV, Rome, The Borgias, and The Tudors probably come closest to the look and feel of GoT, while shows like House of Cards and the HBO series mentioned above are great for long-form stories about power, corruption, and the nature of good and evil. Movies are trickier, but some broad recommendations include the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Excalibur, Valhalla Rising, Braveheart, Dragonslayer, Henry V , and, for a bit of a twist, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.
Seriously, screw this guy.