Druids, Tolkien and Glastonbury: the legacy of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones wrapped up its seventh season last August, leaving millions of fans with dropped jaws and the devastating realisation that they would have to wait until 2019 to find out if Tormund survived the destruction of the Wall. With its record-breaking 38 Emmy wins, ratings of 94 per cent and 9.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb respectively, and its status as the most torrented TV show for six years running, it’s safe to say that Game of Thrones pairs epic storylines with startlingly beautiful cinematography, managing to keep viewers on their toes.

The compellingly magical, vaguely Medieval European world that has been intricately crafted through seven seasons of storytelling has recently been followed by several similarly set TV shows, including Sky Atlantic’s Britannia and Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series. Is this testament to the legacy of Game of Thrones kicking in before it has even finished?

Britannia has been described by The Radio Times as “Game of Thrones [meeting] the most debauched year you ever had at Glastonbury.” Much like its US competitor (also aired on Sky Atlantic in the UK), Britannia has a strong element of fantasy, with magical druids speaking for Gods. Yet unlike Game of Thrones, it is set in 43 AD in the real world and is more straightforwardly inspired by historical events. Both shows feature visual close-ups of gruesome violence, with new forms of chaos and carnage in every episode.

Britannia also replicates Game of Thrones through its dialogue, which is mostly written as if the characters were speaking in the modern day, although Game of Thrones does have the occasional conversation in High Valyrian or Dothraki. Annabel Scholey, who plays Amena in Brittania, told The Daily Express that she feels as though it has “a completely different tone to Game of Thrones. We’ve got a lot of humour because of Jezz [Butterworth] and Tom [Butterworth]’s amazing script.” While Britannia promises to develop differently to Game of Thrones, there is no question that it draws considerable inspiration from the gritty complexities of D.B. Weiss and David Benioff’s epic fantasy.

While little is known about the upcoming Lord of the Rings series, it does not pledge to become as big of a hit as Game of Thrones. The Lord of the Rings has a cult following that has existed for decades, and like Game of Thrones, the franchise has made its own mark on the genre of high fantasy. The events of the upcoming Lord of the Rings series are meant to take place prior to Frodo Baggins’ journey beginning in The Fellowship of the Ring.

While Game of Thrones began as a faithful adaptation with a promised audience of loyal book fans, the viewership of the Lord of the Rings series is likely to be wary of a series that might be less faithful than the recent Hobbit trilogy and The Lord of the Rings that came before it. Although The Lord of the Rings is iconic in itself, it can be said that the Amazon’s interest in a new series stems from the recent high fantasy trend that Game of Thrones has almost single-handedly started.

Game of Thrones has built a legacy for itself by placing flawed, cynical characters exploring shifting balances of power in a contrastingly enthralling world of fantasy, and certainly will not be replaced anytime soon. However, this does not mean we shouldn’t keep an eye out for other exciting high fantasy TV shows.

Image: Twipzdeeauxilia via Flickr

By Thea Nawal

Winner of the TV & Radio section's best writer award in March 2018.

One reply on “Druids, Tolkien and Glastonbury: the legacy of Game of Thrones”

Hmm, well, where do I start? Yet another writer making the easy comparison with GoT and getting it wrong. I’m someone who eagerly awaits every new GoT season but I’m not so obsessed that I see every vaguely epic and historical show as a challenge and a lesser attempt at doing the same thing. George Martin wasn’t an original: he based his story on the actual Wars of the Roses and acknowledges, also, his debt to Tolkien. The writers of Britannia claim never to have seen GoT and I believe them. In history, the same ideas just keep getting repeated and you can’t avoid them in your stories, that’s all. What’s special and different about Britannia is that we know so little about the Celts but, what we do know, the writers have taken up and run with, thus creating a very special and different world from anything that we recognise. The Celts wrote nothing down about themselves and so we rely on the odd Roman account. They were a genuinely egalitarian society with women leaders, queens and warriors. The patriarchal Romans couldn’t get their heads around this which is why they thought it OK to flog Boudicca and rape her daughters: they were only women, weren’t they? The warring tribes actually existed and weren’t a copy of the warring kingdoms of GoT. The mystical and powerful Druids appear to have had immense control over them. They all covered themselves in blue symbols and tattoos and bleached their hair with lime which coarsened it and made it into a bit of a bird’s nest. They believed in the eternal soul. And the Romans actually did play off one tribe against the other with some clever wheeling and dealing: the politics are accurate and not GoT lite. So many interesting ideas to play with and the show does play with them and gives us something weird and strange. Britannia is its own thing. Just sit down and forget about GoT and enjoy this very different show.

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