Blogs around the web have been drawing comparisons between Showtime’s Borgias , Starz’ Camelot and HBO’s Game of Thrones. The similarities are obvious- each is a lavish, mid-evil Europe costume drama predominantly featuring powerful kings, lovely ladies and brutal gore. Having watched the premiere episode of each new series, this blogger can confidently say that each of them is blessed with amazing scenery (human and otherwise), powerful acting, and big budget productions. I’d like to start off by saying that I genuinely enjoyed these shows that I plan on watching all three series’ in their entirety. But having watched each of them within a week of one another, I can safely say that HBO’s Game of Thrones clearly holds some key advantages over the other three.
Production Value – After a bit of research into the matter it turns out that Game of Thrones’ ~5 Million dollars per episode is just about the same as either of the other two show’s budgets. That having been said, Game of Thrones source material calls for sweeping, daunting locations that span an entire realm. Between King’s Landing, Riverrun, and Winterfell alone, that five million dollars seems to have been well spent after seeing the various trailers and now the first episode of the series. Camelot and Borgias both look wonderful and it seems as though no expense was spared when it came to costumes, actors and scenery but once you’ve seen even the first 15 minutes of Game of Thrones you’ll be convinced of the grandiosity of Westeros. As opposed to both Camelot and The Borgias which spend a lot of their time inside castles, churches and other indoor locales. Game of Thrones simply has a more epic feel to it and all things being equal in terms of spending, HBO’s production value seems to have the edge over the other two programs.
Installed Userbase – Never underestimate the power of a small, loyal group of die-hard fans. Game of Thrones’ fans are intelligent, thoughtful readers with a taste for great fantasy. These fans are already blogging, tweeting and wiki-sizing their favorite fantasy universe. The true strength of a franchise is measured by the amount of ‘stuff’ it generates outside of the show itself. Think Star Wars, Lord of the Rings etc. Game of Thrones could be the next big thing because of this pre-installed userbase. With more novels to read than, fan forums to visit and fellow fans to discuss the series with you’re sure to get more out of Game of Thrones than you would, say – The Borgias. In fact, there is really no chance of either of the other two shows generating as much buzz as ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ already has all around the world.
Excellent Source Material – This isn’t to say that the legend of Camelot and 15th century Italy aren’t brimming with storytelling opportunities but from what I’ve seen of the scope they’ve chosen to adhere to, Game of Thrones has a larger pool of possibility. Beyond just the scope of the material, the depth of George R. R. Martin’s characters, locations and political intrigue can’t be replicated. With over 4000 pages of content (and more coming!) we watch these characters develop literally from childhood on through adulthood. The love and attachment the viewer (reader) has for these people isn’t going to be matched by Camelot’s Arthur or the altogether unlovable Mr Borgias. Westeros is as rich a world as you could possibly ask for as a producer and HBO seems to be capitalizing on that fact.
Endless Source Material – Both Camelot and The Borgias are expected to be around ten episodes each. You could almost classify them as mini-series. Though Game of Thrones is also slated to be ten episodes, the second season (A Clash of Kings) is already written and I’m sure the screenplay is being discussed as I write this. There are set to be seven books in the series in all with the fifth one (Dance with Dragons) launching this summer. This should line up perfectly assuming a new ‘Song of Fire and Ice’ (Game of Thrones) season is released on HBO once per year as it takes George R. R. Martian a few years to pen each tome. Camelot begins this spring and ends later this spring. The Borgias does the same. Can they really have the same impact with one, possibly two seasons each? Either way, Game of Thrones holds the advantage because it’s material already exists and is already quite amazing.
A Unique Experience – Lovers of period-costume-dramas are in heaven this year. All of these shows are worth watching but what makes Game of Thrones so unique is that it is the very first program to seriously take on a real fantasy epic on television. Sure, Xena, Warrior Princess is close to a lot of our hearts but this is truly the first time that a Lord of the Rings scaled novel masterpiece has been given a budget like this to be featured on a network like HBO. Camelot is trying to do something somewhat similar but so far (the first two episodes) I feel confined to smallish sets with only a handful of notable characters. Game of Thrones is unlike any other television venture ever attempted in that it puts down big money on true fantasy. Camelot and The Borgias are wonderful period dramas (with a spash of fantasy in Camelot) but as I watch them I don’t feel as though theyre one of a kind, pioneering series the way that Game of Thrones is.
No matter your personal preferences, we can all admit that our DVRs (and cable bills!) are going to get a little out of control this spring. As a fantasy fan with a wife who enjoys period pieces, I couldn’t be more happy about the cornucopia of great programs that we can both enjoy together throughout the week. Game of Thrones is at the top of that list and I don’t see it being knocked off any time soon.