Thursday, April 18, 2013

Game of Thrones vs. Vikings

Game of Thrones is currently the biggest Juggernaut on air.  It’s got massive backing, a rabid fanbase, and it’s the most illegally downloaded show out there.  This is all while being on HBO, which you have to pay to watch. 

Meanwhile, Vikings is on the History Channel and sorta slides in after The Bible because the History Channel doesn't want to come down solidly on one side of religion or the other.

Why am I comparing them?  Well, partially because presenting at the East Central Indiana Social Media Group took a lot of time out of reading time this week, partially because a lot of people are going to anyway.  It’s like Buffy and Charmed, you can’t NOT compare them, even if you don’t want to.

Both shows are historical dramas in the dung ages and focus on kings, battles, religion, and morally grey characters.  They’re visually similar, both having a Grey Filter for a lot of shots.  They both have actors you've probably seen somewhere else.

So, which is better?  Let’s find out.  I’ll split this into four categories: Characters, Story, Addiction, and The Prestige.
"I'm not questioning your honor, Lord Janos. I'm denying its existence."
If we go in terms of quantity, Game of Thrones has more.  Dear gods, Game of Thrones has more.  Tyrion, Arya, John Snow, Robb, Lady Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Stannis Baratheon, Theon Greyjoy, Sam, and that’s just the main characters.  I probably forgot some.  Each has their own individual plotlines. 

John Snow
Robb Stark
Lady Stark
Meanwhile, Vikings is more focused on Ragnar, the guile-hero, who’s clearly the main character, but his Nakama definitely gets their own screen time.  Athelstan, Lagertha, Rollo, Floki, Ragnar’s kids, even some of the villains get their own arcs.  The characters aren’t all as likeable, and only one is female, but since there’s LESS of them we get to know them much better.  It’s hard to judge characters, so I’ll give them stars out of five for how interested I am in their arc.

Earl Haraldson
While I care a lot about Tyrion, Arya and Daenerys, because funny, cool and dragons, respectively, the Starks don’t interest me much and I’m ready for Theon and Stannis to just go away.  Sam is only interesting because I’ve heard he does cool things in like, three books from now.
Meanwhile, I’m really interested in all of the focus characters from Vikings, because they all raise interesting questions.  I’m most excited about Athelstan, because he’s questioning his religion and it’s fascinating to watch it play out.  Point to Vikings.

"We're going to see Floki."
"Like the Mad God?"
"Not exactly."
"How's he different?"
"...he's not a god."

Second verse, same as the first.  Game of Thrones has approximately ALL of the plots.  John Snow is up north getting involved with the wildlings who are marshaling for war with the White Walkers who are chasing Sam to the Wall which is north of the ruins of Winterfell where the Starks lived until they started waging war to rescue their sisters who are captives of oh gods no.  If you really want to know, watch the show or watch this video.

Meanwhile, Vikings has a few plots, most of them subtle things (Rollo trying to become Earl, Athelstan’s conversion) but most things center around Ragnar’s progression from nobody to hero to outcast to Earl to…who knows what, and his conflict with Earl Haraldson. 

That said, Vikings has a fairly simple plot, whereas Game of Thrones has…all of the plots (no really, all of them) and still manages to tell good stories.  It takes a long time, but they CAN make the plots work, even if it’ll be about four years before they actually resolve most of them. That said, each season some of the plots do get resolved satisfyingly.  And I’ll admit, I’m more interested in seeing what happens to all the characters in Game of Thrones because, well, Dragons vs. Sorcerers vs. Zombies vs. Armies vs. Shapeshifters vs. Tyrion Lannister  So, in the end, Point to Game of Thrones.

Athelstan: "There is a time to sow, a time to reap. A time to
heal and...and a time to kill."
Ragnar: "Sometimes your God sounds like one of ours."
This comes down to which do I want to watch more as the weeks go on.  As it stands, I want to watch Vikings more, every time.  You’d think Game of Thrones, because of all the cliffhangers, but no.  That’s the trouble with having nine (or more, hell, I totally forgot Sansa and Jeoffry) characters to keep track of, half of them will be in peril at the end of the episode INEVITABLY.  (Oh and also Bran, he’s got a separate plotline too.  Christ!)  Because I know there’s going to be a cliffhanger and probably no satisfying ending, and because I’ll often forget which of four cliffhangers happened first. 

Meanwhile with Vikings, each episode ends with either a single cliffhanger or with conflicts mounting, but having a stasis, however uneasy, at the end of each episode.  Also, the character development is slow and interesting, and I want to see how things will change and if there’ll be a big payoff.  I’ve mentioned Athelstan the Monk.  Ragnar’s slave, friend, and almost lover, he has a fascinating and slow building arc towards possibly converting from Christianity to Paganism.  It’s fascinating and treated with subtlety, and they show a lot of reasons why he would apart from just loneliness and separation from others of his own faith.  Right now, that’s what I most want to see played out over the week.  So, point to Vikings.

"There is one thign we say to Death:
'Not Today.'"
The Prestige
The Prestige is which show delivers the goods.  Essentially it’s judging which exotic dancer manages to flash its gussets better.  While on the Point to Game of Thrones.

Sorry, Vikings.  I love you, but you don’t have Dragons or Zomibes.  And while I’m delighted by your frequent use of the mythology I hold most dear, there’s still only so much you’re going to do on a lesser budget with only so many characters.  That said, Vikings is quite enjoyable to watch, both in terms of visuals and story.  I’m always glad to see what Floki is up to, and I need more Lagertha like I need my shower in the morning.

But in the end, Game of Thrones is more magnificent and will probably last longer.  It’s also more memetic.  You see “House Lannister” shirts all over the place, or shirts with a squid that read “We do not Sow” and I’ve heard my neighbors shouting “THE KING IN THE NORTH!” at all hours of the night.  So, this Point goes to Game of Thrones.

As you’ve noticed, now the points are even.  In the end, they’re both great shows.  Vikings is personal and fun, whereas Game of Thrones is big and Epic and Flashy.  Both deliver different things and have different reasons to exist.  I’d say watch both of them, you’ve got nothing to lose.  But if you have to choose which to watch as it airs, watch Vikings, because it needs viewers.  Even if it does have a second season.  


  1. I think that Vikings is better because Mr.KKK said so.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I agree with all your points but in my opinion Vikings is slightly better! :)

  4. Vikings, hands down is better in my opinion. Better plot, stronger exposition, and deeper character development. Far more grit without the gratuitous soft porn angle which GoT throws at us. Watching Vikings on HD I can almost smell the unwashed stench of dirt and blood.

  5. Ive watched two seasons of both Game of Thrones and
    Vikings and Vikings honestly one my vote.