Pop culture phenomenon Game of Thrones, based on author George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, succeeded in the seemingly impossible. Not since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy did an epic fantasy (or high fantasy) franchise enjoy the kind of mainstream success that Game of Thrones did. In fact, one could easily argue that Game of Thrones’ permeation of pop culture eclipsed even that of Jackson’s massively popular films. While most fantasy sagas were exclusively the domain of the nerdiest of nerds, Game of Thrones transcended fandoms. It weaved its way into water cooler conversations at the office and braais around the country. Even the most reluctant viewers eventually gave in to the hype. And found themselves sucked into the sprawling and vividly imagined, the world of Westeros, a landscape marked by relentless scheming, politics, murder, incest, oh, and dragons.
But while the series ended with a whimper this year, thanks to some questionable storytelling decisions by showrunners D.B Weiss and David Benioff. The end of HBO’s flagship franchise nonetheless created a vacuum, with studios scrambling to commission the next big epic fantasy TV series. Let’s have a look at some of the fantasy productions coming to a small screen near you, and what we can expect from them.
The Witcher (Netflix)
Led by the square-jawed Henry Cavill as the titular Witcher (basically a supernatural bounty hunter) the show will follow the adventures of a brooding antihero, Geralt of Rivia, who most people will know from the popular RPG games by CD Projekt Red. The series, however, will draw its inspiration from the original books by Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski. In fact, Sapkowski himself (who fervently hates the games) will be hands-on as a creative consultant. So gamers expecting Geralt’s trademark beard and scar might be a tad disappointed. On the bright side, game adaptations are historically awful, so this might well be a blessing in disguise.
What to expect:
The show will likely be the closest thing tonally to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Like Westeros, the war-torn world of The Witcher is gritty and often violent, with terrifying mystical beings lurking in the shadows. But The Witcher will also differ from HBO’s former flagship series in several ways. For one, Game of Thrones mostly employed a subtle “soft magic” system that didn’t overwhelm the viewer. Conversely, The Witcher will lean more towards a Harry Potter–esque hard magic system, which may alienate casual fans. The Witcher is also more about monster hunting and grand quests as opposed to the complex feudal politics that made Martin’s story so enthralling. Bearing all this in mind, The Witcher is unlikely to have the crossover appeal that GoT enjoyed, but it still might just be the breakout hit of the year.
His Dark Materials (HBO)
Not content to rest on their laurels, HBO is tossing its own name in the hat with an ambitious adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Those who have not read the books might nonetheless be familiar with the story of via the much-maligned Golden Compass movie. An adaption of the first novel in the saga. In fact, the trailers for the show, co-produced by the BBC and HBO, look and feel eerily similar to the 2007 film. It should be interesting to see how the show improves on the story. The stellar cast, featuring the always impressive James McAvoy and Logan’s Dafne Keen, suggests that we’re in for a treat.
What to expect:
His Dark Materials is somewhat of an odd departure from HBO’s standard, R-rated fare. While the story’s dense writing and political allegory are best-suited for a mature audience, His Dark Materials is essentially a children’s book. A far cry from the usual sex, violence, and F-bombs that we’ve come to expect from HBO. If the show proves faithful to the books, expect a convoluted plot, rife with political machinations, anti-religious overtones, a complex magic system and of course, badass armored polar bears.
The Wheel of Time (Amazon)
Did you know Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is the second best-selling fantasy book series of this generation, second only to Harry Potter? At an impressive 80 million copies sold, a live-action adaptation almost seems inevitable, right? Well, two things. The saga’s massive scope, fantastical creatures, and epic battles should make for a very challenging (and extremely costly) production. Secondly, even amongst hardcore fans, the Wheel of Time books are notorious for their sluggish pace. That is something the writers will have to circumvent if the studio hopes to retain impatient TV viewers.
What to expect:
With its ambitious world-building and cast of over 3000 characters. The 15 book Wheel of Time saga is as epic as epic fantasy gets, folks. George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire sought to subvert genre tropes in favor of gritty realism and morally ambiguous characters. Whereas Jordan’s books embraced all the hallmarks of traditional, Tolkien-esque high fantasy. Ancient prophecies, an evil dark lord, a messianic hero, it’s all there (plus a really cool elemental magic system reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender). Done right, the show should really push the boundaries of what is achievable on television in terms of VFX and action set pieces. The series is still far from gracing our screens. However, as production is rumored to only begin in September this year.
The Lord of the Rings (Amazon)
Even though it was first announced over a year ago, we still know very little about Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series. Early rumors suggested it would follow the adventures of a young Aragorn. Who was already in his 80’s by the time we first meet him in the Lord of the Rings films. Amazon has since debunked those rumors. It has instead revealed that the show will be based in the Second Age, a few millennia before the events of the Fellowship of the Ring. The show is purported to center on the ancient Elf kingdom of Numenor.
A likely inspiration for George R.R Martin’s Valyria, Numenor was also eventually destroyed in a great cataclysm. Amazon is throwing everything behind the project, with a jaw-dropping $250 million spent on securing the rights alone. It’s a massive gamble, and time will tell if it proves a sound investment for Amazon.
What to expect:
Even though Peter Jackson is not attached to the project, the involvement of John Howe, a concept artist and illustrator for Jackson’s films, suggests that we can expect the series to closely resemble the aesthetics of the films. Game of Thrones scribe Bryan Cogman will also be working on the project, which is slated for a five-season run.