That’s it, Thrones fans. That’s your lot. After eight years, 73 episodes, 4,000-odd minutes, it’s all over.
With Amazon’s Lord of the Rings show not due until 2021 at the very earliest, you’re probably wondering how best to fill those dragon-free hours until the slew of prequels and imitators descend for your subscription fees. It may be less than a day since the Games of Thrones phenomenon drew to a close, but if you’re already missing the muck, the battlefields and the illustrative stares that made it the best thing on telly at 2am on a Monday morning (for eager UK viewers), then we’ve got your back.
From fantastical epics to conniving family sagas, here’s a guide to five things you ought to watch to scratch that Thrones itch.
Die Nibelungen (1924)
Director Fritz Lang
You won’t get much change from five hours viewing time, but that shouldn’t put off Game of Thrones bingers who’ve smashed their way through entire seasons in a weekend. The original fantasy epic, directed by Fritz Lang and adapted from the 13th Century poem Nibelungenlied by his wife Thea von Harbou, Die Nibelungen makes a persuasive argument for being the strongest film of the director’s silent period (sorry, Metropolis fans). Dragon-slaying, cursed treasure and power-drunk madness ensue across its two parts, all rendered with an immensely scaled grandeur. Its canny blend of the political and fantastical saw Adolf Hitler claim affinity with the first nationalistically-minded part, before disavowing the second which saw Lang raze it all to the ground.
Director John Boorman
A long-standing passion project for director and grail enthusiast John Boorman, Excalibur strips, condenses and repurposes the Arthurian narrative into a splendidly loopy phantasmagoria of image-making. At its most fascinating when confronting and humanising the archetypal, it’s heavier on mood and dream-state textures than dialogue-driven coherence, the film falling somewhere between his earlier wackadoo adventures, Zardoz (1974) and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). As with those films, Boorman’s approach makes for a bold, visionary spectacle, played with the straightest of faces, for better or worse. As so often with this ecologically-minded filmmaker, it’s a film rooted in nature, but there’s more than enough blood, magic, sex and medieval grime to keep a Thrones fan happy.
Director Akira Kurosawa
If it’s more war-torn chaos you’re after now that Thrones is done, fill your boots with Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 masterpiece, Ran. A decade in the making, it’s the most epically-scaled of the Japanese master’s late period films, throwing some 1,500 extras and 300 horses into the claret-soaked fray of the battlefield. Transposing Shakespeare’s King Lear to 16th-century Japan, Kurosawa sets the stage for a tale of madness, revenge, political intrigue and betrayal, as Tatsuya Nakadai’s warlord divides his kingdom between his three good-for-nothing sons. Mieko Harada gives a performance for the ages as the ageing ruler’s ruthless daughter-in-law Lady Kaede, but it’s in Kurosawa’s poetic, colour-coded compositions and jaw-dropping facility for action staging that his tragic masterwork truly soars.
Hard to be a God (2013)
Director Aleksey German
Adapted from the novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (the same duo behind the source text for Tarkovsky’s Stalker), Aleksey German’s magnum opus was some fifteen years in production. Set on a planet identical to earth, albeit one 800 years culturally behind, it’s effectively the Middle Ages, the Renaissance having been suppressed by a ruling nobility. So it’s a medieval sci-fi, of sorts, despite said description barely beginning to cover the sensory overload German inflicts on his audience. Every corner of the frame is bursting with life, the viewer plunged into the muddy mire of a graphically realised world, while German’s camera staggers through in perpetual motion. Don’t let the fact that it’s a three-hour, black and white Russian film put you off, this is a breathtaking cinematic vision; a nightmarish descent into a feudal quagmire of social malaise and fascist brutality.
The second work on our list to take its inspiration from King Lear is this caustically funny HBO series from The Thick of It (2005-2009) scribe, Jesse Armstrong. If you watched Game of Thrones for the political intrigue and ruthless backstabbing, you’re on to a winner here. Brian Cox’s corporate bigwig Logan Roy is retiring, ceding control of his business empire to his eldest son, or so his eldest son thinks. Soon the vultures are circling; an ever-expanding family closing in, ready to pick at the flesh of what they see as their wounded, enfeebled bear of a patriarch. Amoral, unsympathetic and venom-tongued — it’s hard not to read the Roy dynasty as proxies for the Trumps and Kushners of this world. Fierce stuff. Roll on season two.