With the finale of Game of Thrones leaving a void for fans of intense dramas and complex characters, HBO offers another gripping series called Chernobyl. If you rage-quit your HBO subscription, you might want to consider subscribing again to dive into this examination of the worst nuclear disaster in history. The five-part miniseries chronicles the night of April 26th, 1986 when the Chernobyl plant’s core exploded, as well as the aftermath in the days and weeks afterwards through the eyes of the scientists who investigated it.
The Chernobyl accident killed hundreds of first responders, engineers, and bystanders in the first several weeks, causing the deaths of as many as 4,000 to 90,000 people with symptoms from exposure to radiation. The surrounding area remains affected by radiation even today, and won’t dissipate for an estimated 20,000 years. Here are ten reasons why you should give HBO’s Chernobyl a chance.
10 IT HAS COMPLEX CHARACTERS
Like Game of Thrones, Chernobyl has complex characters driven by different motivations to achieve a common end; containment. Whether or not it was to protect the people of Chernobyl and its surrounding states, the reputation of the Soviet State, or the fortitude of Communism on the world stage, had entirely to do with each character’s personal history and perspective on the fallout.
For chief accident investigator Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), containment had everything to do with protecting people and preventing a future accident from happening. For career party member Boris Scherbina (Stellan Skarsgard), vice-president of the Council of Ministers, it had everything to do with making sure the SSR still maintained its dignity.
9 IT HAS INTENSELY HIGH STAKES
From the moment the first episode begins, there is palpable intensity. We all know we’re going to witness the infamous Chernobyl plant meltdown, we just don’t know when, and in the moments leading up to it, and all the moments after, there is a relentless undercurrent of urgency.
As first responder efforts are mounted, and politicians scream about the ramifications of the truth getting out, families are literally being ripped apart. And all the while, two men and one woman are assigned the unenviable task of figuring out how to contain the accident in the days that follow. At every turn there is the risk of another disaster, while the death toll continues to mount at a frenetic pace.
8 IT'S A FAITHFUL ADAPTATION OF ITS SOURCE MATERIAL
While many fans of the book series by George R. R. Martin were divided with the adaptation HBO gave them, Chernobyl offers a no-holds barred recount of the horrific events of the 1986 disaster. To say it is a faithful adaptation of its source material is an understatement; it shows the event and its aftermath in as raw and authentic a reproduction as possible.
Long gone are the days when the SSR might have liked certain aspects about the Chernobyl accident to be left unmentioned. In fact, the entire circumstances weren’t clear for years after it happened, but now viewers are seeing what actually happened to the best of HBO’s abilities.
7 IT HAS AMAZING SPECIAL EFFECTS
Like Game of Thrones, Chernobyl was filmed on location in several places associated with the Chernobyl plant (though not actually near the plant itself, which is still contained in a “sarcophagus” structure to contain the spread of radiation). And like in Game of Thrones, it uses computer graphics to create structures that don’t exist in real life.
Aside from amazing CGI, practical effects are utilized to create the horrific environmental conditions felt by first responders, bystanders, miners, military, and the key cast members. Rubble, smoke, and damaged nuclear equipment are just a few ways the FX team makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of the chaos.
6 IT HAS GREAT ACTING
It doesn’t matter that not every actor portraying their character in Chernobyl resembles their real life counterpart, because their acting makes you believe in their conviction. Jared Harris as chief accident investigator Valery Legasov gives a deeply emotional performance as a man frustrated with the web of bureaucracy that prevents him from saving lives.
Stellan Skarsgard as Boris Scherbina plays a disciplined theocrat that finds his conscience at odds with his Party’s beliefs. Emily Watson as nuclear scientist Ulana Khomyuk bravely infiltrates hospitals to be the voices of the victims. We’re on the edge of our seats to see if she’ll be captured.
5 IT DOESN'T PULL ANY PUNCHES WITH ITS VISUALS
Just like in Game of Thrones, Chernobyl doesn’t shy away from violence, blood, or disturbing imagery. The team of engineers operating the plant become exposed to astronomically high levels of radiation. Viewers see the horrific effects it has on their bodies within seconds.
Severe radiation poisoning is one of the most horrific ways to die imaginable. Your body starts melting from the inside out as the radiation shreds your DNA at the cellular level. The special effects crew had the task of recreating the horrific deaths experienced by the first responders exposed to the radiation, engineers, and bystanders observing the accident on April 26th, 1986.
4 IT HAS INTRIGUE
Part of the appeal of Game of Thrones was its cloak and dagger intrigue. Following the schemes of characters invested in their own aims or the aims of others made it exciting to follow (if a little hard to keep track). Chernobyl gives viewers a glimpse into a claustrophobic world where KGB operatives dog your every step.
Even though the central characters are trying to do good, they cannot escape the vice-like grip of the “party line." Characters feel like part of a lugubrious machine, their necessity and expendability completely at the whim of the Soviet State. The party line is more important than the safety of everyone. Even the firefighters tasked with controlling the nuclear blaze aren’t given any masks.
3 IT'S FRUSTRATING (AND THAT'S A GOOD THING)
What was more fun than screaming at your television screen as character after character on Game of Thrones made asinine decisions that helped neither themselves nor anyone else? Some of the frustration viewers felt was because they were privy to information other characters didn’t have, but what if the characters did have certain information, and did nothing about it?
It’s important that Chernobyl shows exactly what happens when eye witness accounting is refuted as a lie. Even in the face of hard evidence, certain high ranking party members and chief engineers refused to accept what the truth is, favoring instead of mind boggling narrative that hurts themselves and the people of the SSR.
2 THERE ARE NO GOOD GUYS
George R.R. Martin once said in Game of Thrones there were “no good guys, and no bad guys”. He steered away from the dichotomy of “good versus evil” by featuring characters who made decisions based on personal history and their human impulses. It made heroic characters act villainous and villains act heroic, and showed the grey world of circumstance they inhabited.
Chernobyl is no different, with characters who are forced by their circumstances to behave in ways that are sometimes brave, sometimes cowardly, and sometimes completely irrational. They are tasked with thinking about their own survival as well as that of thousands of people.
1 DUTY COMES AT THE COST OF EVERYTHING (AND EVERYONE)
As characters in Game of Thrones were often slaves to the quarrels of their Houses, with feuds and alliances deciding their fealty to one another over the years, so too does Chernobyl show how people are slaves to their political parties. It offers a hard look at Soviet life in the waning years of the Communist regime.
Though every party member seems to want what’s best for “The People," it soon becomes clear “The People” in the abstract sense are more important than any individual in the public. This indoctrinated way of thinking is both horrific and authentic. It shows how misplaced blind loyalty can be in the wake of disaster.