“Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” are the two hottest shows on the air. It’s not hard to see why: both feature diverse casts in hostile worlds running from hordes of the undead. But which show is better? There’s been plenty of discussion on the subject, but it’s time to weigh in. After much debate and several painstaking experiments, we’ve narrowed down the reasons why “Game of Thrones” is unconditionally the best show you can be watching right now.
From the production values to the writing, “Game of Thrones” has consistently shown a deep regard for long term plotting, character arcs, and verisimilitude. Westeros is a world unlike any other on the small screen, populated with unique characters that have become iconic parts of popular culture. If you’re curious to know all the reasons we’re choosing “Game of Thrones” as champion, check out the list below.
WARNING: The following list contains several spoilers for “Game Of Thrones.”
15. The Zombies Are Actually Hard To Kill
The Wights and the White Walkers are the underlying menace of Westeros. No matter how many schemes and betrayals occur down south, we know that the army of the dead is coming for everyone and they don’t care who’s in charge. One of the reasons that building tension works so well is that we’ve seen both the Wights and the White Walkers are incredibly hard to kill. You can’t simply stab them in the brain, because some of them are just animated skeletons with an uncontrollable urge to destroy any living thing in their path.
The two biggest battles involving the army of the dead have been north of the Wall in the episodes “Hardhome” and “The Door.” Both sequences are pretty much massacres, with characters either being mercilessly slaughtered or barely escaping with their lives. The army of the dead does have some weaknesses, however, but they’re weaved deep into the mythology of the show, so those weaknesses are incredibly difficult to exploit.
14. The Character Growths Are Consistent
“Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” both feature harsh worlds populated by incredibly flawed characters. Many are sadists, many are good people trying to make a difference and many are just caught in the middle of power plays. But every character in “Game of Thrones” is always growing and adapting to their new situations. Even Jon Snow, stubborn as he is in his ways, is hardly the same person now that he was in the first season.
Their actions are also completely consistent with the new factors that they meet. All of the characters, even though they’re evolving, tend to have a consistent thought process you can follow from episode to episode based on who they are. That may not always work out for their benefit, but if they make the wrong choice, we’ll know exactly why and how they ended up with those consequences… which pretty much describes every member of House Stark.
13. Character Deaths Matter
A lot of people die in both shows. In fact, it’s a running gag that George R.R. Martin (author of the books the show is based on) is a self-proclaimed not-so-secret sadist that lives off the tears of his readers. Many characters, some of them major players, are killed off over the course of “Game of Thrones.” A vast majority of the time, one of those deaths contributes a great deal to a character arc or the plot of the show. The most obvious of these would be Ned Stark, who’s death at the end of season 1 essentially jump-starts the plot for the rest of the story.
But the demise of even the smallest characters contributes to the narrative. Take Hodor, for example. As a recurring character in the first six seasons, he often seems like little more than a good-natured giant with a mental disability. However, his tragic sacrifice in “The Door” gave new layers not only to who he was, but also Bran’s ability to effect the past. As we see him implant the thought of “hold the door” into Hodor as a child, it advances character and plot in ways most writers can only dream.
12. You Have A Much Better Sense Of The World
While some would say “Game of Thrones” is filled with perhaps too much lore, it’s impossible to deny that you get an exceptional understanding of Westeros, Essos, and the history of both. There are various groups in each section of the world, each with their own different beliefs and relevant information. Characters hear rumblings regarding far-off lands and make decisions that impact others thousands of miles away. There’s a sense of a living, breathing world full of real people and realistic civilizations.
The biggest reason all these little details are important is that, even after six seasons, the world still feels real. The consistent and expansive lore actually heightens the drama because we understand exactly what’s at stake and the impact of a single character’s choice. That way, the writers can have their personal drama while also setting up larger conflicts that give us the massive action scenes later in the seasons.
11. Even The Less Capable Characters Are Useful
While it’s true that not every character can be a zombie-slaying herald of righteous doom or a “god of tits and wine,” that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the overall story in meaningful ways. “Game of Thrones” has tons of characters who may not have combat experience, but they still impact the narrative. Sansa, for example, seems like a fairly useless character at the beginning of the show. However, even when she’s at her most vulnerable and scared, she always holds a strategic value as the last-known legitimate Stark, she is the key to holding the North. As she starts to realize her worth and how the political game is played in King’s Landing, she slowly morphs into a skilled manipulator.
Samwell Tarly is another character who shouldn’t be surviving in Westeros, but his thirst for knowledge provides a unique asset that may be key to saving the entire world. Instead of becoming proficient with a sword, Samwell sharpens his mind and works to unlock the secret to defeating the White Walkers.
10. They’re Building Up To Something
Good drama is about escalating tension. The key to ramping up the drama every season is by giving the audience a show-wide ticking clock. In the case of “Game of Thrones,” that ticking clock comes in the form of winter. As they state over and over again throughout the show, winter is definitely coming. While there’s certainly some added tension of harsh weather conditions and the possibility of a mass famine, that isn’t the only thing winter brings.
At this point in the show, winter is analogous to an impending zombie invasion that will lead to a battle the likes of which the world has never seen. If our heroes lose that battle, then it means the end of everyone we know (love them or not) in Westeros. Now, it’s a perfectly reasonable critique of the show to say that this invasion is taking a little while to get going, but the fact remains it is coming… and every time we’ve seen it up close it’s meant total disaster for our heroes.
9. Better Production Values
With filming going on in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Malta, Coratia, Iceland and Morocco, “Game of Thrones” is a production bigger than most feature length films. At $10M an episode, they have the resources to fully realize a fantasy world with intricate costumes, customized swords, and elaborate set extensions. With one major army battle per season, it has an epic scale that is unrivaled by anything else on television. Even most major motion pictures often fail to capture the same verisimilitude present in the show.
The variety of characters and locations also keep the series from feeling stagnant. While many of the plotlines stay in single locations like Castle Black or Meereen, they are so different from each other that the viewer feels like they’re on a globetrotting adventure filled with dangerous and exotic locations. When the series finally ends, it will be a long time before we see anything this ambitious on television again.
8. The Weapons Have Backstories
Weapons are cool and swords are the coolest weapons. But when those swords have long histories that actually matter to the story, that’s the kind of detail that makes an already wonderful show. The first time we meet Ned Stark, he impresses upon his children that an execution should be carried out by the man who passed the sentence. The sword he used in his first scene was then later used to behead him. After the fall of house Stark, it was melted down and give to other characters, like corrupted heirlooms that are simultaneously working to sully their legacy and working to live up to it.
Another is the subject of Valyrian steel. Swords carrying this metal have special properties, some of which are very relevant to the overall plot (like the fact that they can be used to kill White Walkers, for instance). Tracking these weapons and seeing how they’re useful is part of the fun. It adds yet another layer to an already amazing narrative.
7. The Bad Guys Are Bad In Different Ways
“Game of Thrones” is no stranger to villainy. Westeros is populated by some very bad people who are all competing with each other. One of the most interesting parts of the show, however, is that no villain is alike. They range from chaotic sadists like Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsey Bolton to pragmatists unafraid to spill blood like Petyr Baelish and Tywin Lannister. Each character has his or her own approach to a situation, whether it be political acumen, manipulation, or just plain brute force.
All these different types of enemies means our heroes have to be resourceful in many different ways. Fighting a political enemy is very different than confronting a swordsman on the battlefield, but both adversaries require the same amount of cunning and determination to defeat. We’ve seen how a duplicitous witch inspired Daenerys to embrace her inner strength and how the White Walkers have forced John to accept a unification between the Wildlings and House Stark. If a hero is only as good as their villains, then “Game of Thrones” has the best heroes on television.
6. Nobody Is As Cool As Tyrion Lannister
People may give him a lot of guff for being a dwarf, but Tyrion Lannister is a master of cool. Not only does he have the best dialogue in the series, but also he uses his silver tongue to manipulate events to his benefit. In perhaps one of his greatest moments, in order to discover who he can trust as Hand of the King, he tells three different stories to three different advisers. When one of them leaks their particular story to his sister, Tyrion automatically knows who can keep a secret.
His ability to govern is matched only by his family baggage and his vices. His need to drink away his problems may lead to some humorous scenes, but it also betrays a past full of abuse. It’s his journey to overcome the torment dished out to him by his family members that’s made him so interesting. That combined with his intelligence and clever wit have made him one of the most beloved characters on television.
5. They Actually Cut Off A Lead Character’s Hand
One of the brilliant strokes of character development George R.R. Martin put into “A Storm of Swords” was that the famed swordsman Jaime Lannister lost his hand. The move wasn’t just for shock value either. It put Jamie on a path that greatly developed his character beyond the vain and cocky Kingsguard who pushed a boy out a window into something resembling an honorable man. By stripping Jamie of everything that defined his place in the world, he developed empathy for others and struck up several notable friendships with Brienne and Bronn.
Of course, cutting off a character’s hand also means a great deal of limitations for both the actor and filmmakers. Make up, CGI, and prop hands would all have to be used frequently. In addition, the action scenes with Jamie just wouldn’t have the same flair that they did before. But the contributions to the character’s arc was so important that showrunners took the hit and stuck to Martin’s story. The series benefited greatly.
4. Many Side Characters Stick Around For A Long Time
For a show so famous for the copious amounts of death spilling from every frame, “Game of Thrones” has a lot of characters weaving through its narrative. And, main characters aside, many of them stick around for a long time. With a few extremely notable and heavily promoted exceptions, side characters typically last a while on the show. Bronn, Shea, Ser Barristan, and even Maester Pycelle are characters that probably would have met their end on other shows fairly quickly, but “Game of Thrones” is all about the long play. If you stick with it, you can potentially be handsomely rewarded.
They introduce many characters almost as an afterthought, building them up slowly in the audiences’ eyes and giving them several relationships with key characters. These side characters are the glue that holds the plot of the show together. If they do finally die, their contributions to the narrative and their interactions with others are sorely missed.
3. The Fight For The Iron Throne Is More Interesting Than Just Surviving
Survival is a strong motivator for just about anyone in a life or death situation. The fight for survival can lead to some great drama, but that drama can only go so long before your heroes need a more tangible goal. “Game of Thrones” has a very clear goal for every character to fight over: the Iron Throne. Acquiring it is difficult, but holding it is even tougher. The backstabbing, battles, and scheming that are the central spine of the show all revolve around who sits in a chair, but that desire is so strong it’s led to some of the most shocking moments in television history.
The clarity of the character’s goals means that their different approaches can be wildly varied, but because they’re all competing with each other, that means each clash is wildly different. While Robb Stark is a tactical genius in the field, Tywin Lannister uses his finances and pragmatism to outmaneuver him without engaging him in battle. When Tywin goes up against the Tyrell family, however, he uses bureaucracy to his advantage.
2. The Fight Scenes Are The Best On Television
While there is a distinct lack of gunplay, the amazing army battles and sword duels more than make up for it. Westeros is as varied as our world, with a different fighting style for every region. In fact, the show makes it a point to discuss how the different styles play off each other and we see it in action several times. In the arena battle in Meereen, tons of different fighters square off against each other, including the broadsword wielding Jorah against a waterdancing swordsman.
But more than the one-on-one fights are the battles that draw in the biggest accolades. From Blackwater Bay to the Battle of the Bastards, “Game of Thrones” has featured engagements that are just as smart as they are technically and visually impressive. Tactics and character matter just as much as spectacle, which is why the tension is so high every time a character draws a sword.
1. It Has More Than Just Zombies
We can all agree that zombies are awesome. After all, they’re undead eating machines that will stop at nothing to destroy the living. It’s hard to beat that, but somehow “Game of Thrones” does. In Westeros, the zombies are just the henchmen for the sword-carrying magic ice-monsters who are almost undefeatable. On top of them, we have characters who can take control of animals and project their consciousness across time. If that weren’t enough, there are shape-shifting assassins, shadow demons and ancient tree folk that affect the story in insane ways.
But the real showstopper is Daenerys’ three dragons. Once completely extinct, the resurrection of the dragon species at the end of the first season completely changed the story. From then on, it simply became a matter of time before those guys were become big enough to fly to Westeros and own everyone. It also doesn’t hurt that the special effects on them are incredibly well executed.
Do you think we got it wrong? Which show do you think is better? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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