Game of Thrones has ended, but its specter looms over television as every major network attempts to find the new Game of Thrones. The show was the biggest in the world and had an unprecedented level of success for an adult fantasy series on a premium cable channel, so understandably the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and of course HBO are all looking to find its replacement.
Finding the new Game of Thrones, however, is much easier said than done. Although it's something most networks are actively looking at, there was a perfect storm that led to Game of Thrones' success. Similar attempts at cashing in on that, such as History's Vikings and BBC/Netflix's The Last Kingdom have been moderate hits, but not close to the level of the HBO behemoth.
Now that Game of Thrones is over, there's a huge vacancy in what's become an increasingly crowded marketplace. Given so few TV shows manage to dominate ratings, conversation, and awards like Game of Thrones, it's no surprise that there are a number of big-budget fantasy series on the way (or already on the air) attempting to take Game of Thrones' crown, but don't expect any of them to actually do so.
His Dark Materials
A co-production with BBC, His Dark Materials is one of HBO's biggest series in a post-Game of Thrones world. Although it has a decidedly younger skew in mind, with this being far more family-friendly, the source material nonetheless offers up the chance of a long-running, richly textured fantasy series with a who's who of British actors. His Dark Materials follows Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) in an alternate version of our universe where humans are accompanied by daemons, animals companions that are the manifestation of the soul. Lyra goes from her home at Jordan College in Oxford onto a dangerous globetrotting adventure that involves witches, armored polar bears, and a mysterious substance called Dust, which may hold the key to everything. The VFX looks extremely impressive, and although a previous movie version failed, HBO's His Dark Materials is shaping up to be a worthy adaptation of Philip Pullman's books.
The Witcher is Netflix's upcoming effort at creating their own epic fantasy series, and one that should appeal to many Game of Thrones fans. Based on the books by Andrzej Sapkowski, which have already been adapted into the successful video game series, Netflix's The Witcher stars Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, the titular witcher, a.k.a. a monster hunter, and takes place in a fictional land called the Continent. As well as its main characters, which include a sorceress and a princess, there'll be some examination of the politics of the Continent, lots of morally grey characters, plenty of action, and a healthy dose of sex and violence, all of which helps add up to The Witcher being Netflix's Game of Thrones.
Shortly after the credits rolled on Game of Thrones' series finale, HBO dropped a trailer for Westworld season 3. It felt like a meta-joke, given where Arya's story ended: 'What's west of Westeros? Westworld, of course.' But the bigger implication was clear: this is already the heir to Game of Thrones' crown. Although Westworld has a sci-fi bent, it closely follows the Game of Thrones playbook: characters who are neither heroes nor villains; lavish production values; an incredible cast; blockbuster action, accompanied by violence and gore; and some huge plot twists. Westworld season 3 looks to take the show in a new direction after criticism of season 2, and it's likely to take GoT's usual April release slot too. Season 3 is where Game of Thrones took a massive leap forward in quality and audience, and HBO is hoping for something similar from Westworld.
Lord Of The Rings
George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The impact of Peter Jackson's movies can be seen in Game of Thrones. But now Amazon's Lord of the Rings is a result of Game of Thrones' success. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has outright stated he wants his company to find its own Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings is the outcome: an ambitious, $1 billion project that is set to span multiple seasons, taking place during the Second Age. Given the similarities between the two, Amazon's Lord of the Rings is one of the most direct and obvious Game of Thrones successors in the works, sharing many hallmarks - a rich fantasy world, a sweeping scope, epic action - but with its own fanbase already built-in, and it's even nabbed Game of Thrones' best writer in Bryan Cogman.
The Chronicles Of Narnia
Already adapted into a series of movies, it was announced last year that Netflix had acquired the rights to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia novels, opening the door for a new TV series based upon the books. As with His Dark Materials, this will be targeting more of a family audience, but the pre-existing fantasy world of Narnia and its story of Kings and Queens make this a real target for the Game of Thrones crowd. It's still in the early stages of development, but we can expect Netflix's The Chronicles of Narnia to be given a major budget as they attempt to stay ahead in the streaming wars.
The Wheel Of Time
Like Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time is a high fantasy series that served as an important influence on A Song of Ice and Fire, and is now being made into a TV show by Amazon post-Lord of the Rings. It doesn't have quite the same mainstream name recognition that LOTR does after the films, but The Wheel of Time is regarded as one of the classic fantasy series, which is why Amazon is adapting it. The Wheel of Time TV series will star Rosamund Pike as Moiraine, one of the powerful all-female organization the Aes Sedai, who goes on a journey to find the Dragon Reborn, a prophecized person who may save or destroy humanity. The Wheel of Time is an extremely imaginative, fully realized and densely populated world that's filled with magic, giving this the attributes needed to become a Game of Thrones-esque TV show.
The Kingkiller Chronicle
With a sprawling fantasy world filled with magic and music, and at its core a University where the hero goes to develop his considerable potential and power, Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicle reads like a lovechild of A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter. It's not as well-known as either (yet), but there are big plans for it: Lionsgate is making a movie adaption of the books, while Showtime's TV series will be set a generation before the central story of Kvothe that plays out in the books. The Kingkiller Chronicle TV show will instead follow a group of travelers - likely the Edema Ruh - and explore different corners of the world of Temerant. With religion, action, magic-like abilities, fantastical creatures, and its own living world, Showtime's The Kingkiller Chronicle holds a lot of promise for Game of Thrones fans, with Rothfuss himself strongly influenced by George R.R. Martin.
Game Of Thrones Prequel
HBO might have other series planned, but they've also realized that the easiest way to replace Game of Thrones is with, well, more Game of Thrones. The Game of Thrones prequel, which has been created by Jane Goldman and George R.R. Martin (with the former serving as showrunner), will be set thousands of years before the events of the main series, focusing on the Age of Heroes and The Long Night. It'll feature the formation of the major houses, reveal a number of secrets, and include the truth about the White Walkers. It'll be a very different Westeros to that of Game of Thrones, while still retaining the core DNA that made it so popular.
Why There Won't Be A New Game Of Thrones
As we can see, there are lots of big fantasy shows directly aiming to be the new Game of Thrones, but it's unlikely any of them will succeed. That's not to say any of the series listed above will be bad; all have, to varying degrees, a lot of talent involved and hold plenty of promise. But attempting to be the new Game of Thrones is a near-impossible mission in 2019, because TV no longer allows it. The way audiences consume television has completely changed in the last few years, and Game of Thrones was the last true watercooler TV show left standing.
The amount of streaming services is only going to increase, with Disney+, HBO Max, NBC Universal and more joining the likes of Netflix and Amazon, which in turn further ramps up the competition for viewers. We've already seen that Netflix shows can dominate the conversation for a weekend, or even a week, but binge-watching doesn't allow for one TV show to monopolize the market for several months at a time in the way Game of Thrones used to. In the Peak TV era, it's even harder to stand out from the crowd, and a single TV show - especially one on cable - reaching tens of millions of viewers around the world seems extremely unlikely.
Compounding this is the fact that the next big thing is rarely like that which came before. There were plenty of efforts at recreating Lost, but it was Breaking Bad that really took its crown as the most buzzed-about TV show, which then passed not to another similar show, but Game of Thrones. And before Lost, it was The Sopranos, which was different again. That pattern would suggest it won't be a big fantasy series that becomes the next Game of Thrones anyway, but the changing of TV suggests nothing will, and that we'll never see its like again.