“The night is dark and full of terrors,” especially now that HBO’s long running show, Game of Thrones, has come to a conclusion. The series finale premiered on May 19th to an audience of 13.6 viewers, capping the show off at a total of 8 seasons, 73 episodes, and 176 on-screen character deaths. The Emmy award winning series first premiered on HBO back in April of 2011. The first five seasons adapt author George R.R. Martin’s books in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, with the last three moving beyond Martin’s published work. Though many characters appear (and die) throughout the show, the main plot centers around three powerful houses in Westeros, the Lannisters, Starks, and the Targarians, in their fight for the Iron Throne and dominion over the Seven Kingdoms.
Both the show and the books are full of all things grimdark, with the many houses declaring war on each other, grey character morality, and satisfying revenge. Now that Game of Thrones’ “watch has ended,” you might be looking for something to fill the void the turbulent series has left behind. While these options are not exclusively considered fantasy, they are most definitely grimdark.
Here is a list of shows filled with dark characters and dark worlds that you might enjoy after watching Game of Thrones.
The first entry in this list strays away from the medieval and fantasy style of Game of Thrones in favor of modern Japanese animation. Death Note, based on a manga of the same name, is a popular anime in both Japan and the U.S. The show follows high school student Light Yagami as he finds a powerful supernatural item known as a ‘death note,’ a book that grants him the ability to kill a person by writing their name in its pages. The ‘death note’ belongs to a Shinigami named Ryuk, a death god who has become bored by life in his realm and is looking for a way to be entertained. Light ultimately makes a deal with Ryuk, where he gets to use the death note, thus becoming a form of entertainment for the Shinigami. Taking up the mantle of Kira (Japanes transliteration of ‘killer’) in an effort to cleanse the world of crime by causing mass executions of criminals. His actions soon attract the attention of an elite law task force led by a detective named L, whose goal is to find and put a stop to Kira.
This anime is dark and gritty, combining both thriller and horror aspects to create the world Light and Ryuk inhabit. The colors of the anime, for the most part, are very muted, with whites, greys, blacks, and browns becoming the main palate for the show. Pops of color however are used to emphasise the distinction between “good” and “evil”, with Light often appearing in shades of red, and L appearing in a blue. The character of Light is also an interesting example of grey morality. Light gradually develops a God complex over the course of the anime as the power of the death note goes to his head, his ultimate goal being to create a utopia without violence. Though he believes that his motives are for the good of the world, as crime rates rapidly decline once he beings using the death note, he himself becomes the biggest criminal of them all by using it.
Next on the list is a show that is much more similar to that of Game of Thrones. Penny Dreadful is an American-British series that originally ran on Showtime (it can now be streamed on Netflix). The series consists of three seasons and contains versions of literature’s greatest characters such as Dr. Frankenstein, his Monster, and Dorian Grey, and appearances of famous monsters like vampires, werewolves, and witches. Taking place in 1891 London, the central story revolves around Vanessa Ives, a troubled woman, who struggles with her own, very real demons. A dark force known only as “The Master” is after her in order to complete a prophetic ritual. The title is derived from the 19th century British publications of the same name, that showcased sensational and lurid stories.
As with the Victorian literature that the show draws from, the London that is used as the setting is filled with shadows and death, and you can never be certain what you will find after turning a dark corner. The grim atmosphere is intensified by the show’s characters, as all of them can be viewed as anti heroes in their own right. Ethan, an American cowboy and potential suitor for Vanessa, struggles with his own darkness. A beast lies within him and it is hungry for any blood it can find, and to his credit, Ethan does his best to cage his darkside, though it leads you to wonder if he carries the guilt of his sins with him. Lord Malcolm Murry is another interesting subject. He acts as a father figure towards Vanessa, Ethan, and even Frankenstein, though he is truly concerned with his own hidden motives by assisting Vanessa. The good Dr. Frankenstien is a morally grey character as well, as he previously abandoned his very first creation, the original Monster, and turned to morphine as a way to cope with his sins, as well as committing several other atrocities over the course of the series for the sake of helping another.
Third up on the list is a show that is out of this world; literally. The Expanse is an American sci-fi series originally distributed by the aptly named SyFy channel. The sci-fi show is based on the novels of the same name by author James S. A. Corey (beginning with Leviathan Wakes). The series takes place in a future where humanity has ventured out into the Solar System, colonizing Mars, the asteroid belt, and several moons, splitting into three factions–Earth, Mars, and the Belt. The central story revolves around a differing cast of characters: UN Security Council member Chrisjen Avasarala, detective Josephus Miller, and Captain James Holden and his crew. Forming an unlikely band of antiheroes, the show follows these characters as they inadvertently find themselves at the center of a conspiracy which threatens the System’s fragile peace, the class balance, and the survival of humanity. The Expanse ran for 3 seasons on SyFy before it was dropped network. All was not lost however, as Amazon Prime Video has picked up the series, renewing it for a fourth season that will be premiering later in 2019.
Since its premiere, The Expanse has been referred to as “Game of Thrones in space.” This observation most likely stems from the overarching similarities between the two shows, such as violence and the ideology that “anyone can die.” Another angle that aligns it with Thrones are the many antiheroic characters. Many of these characters, such as Captain Holden, do not have a clear moral alignment, causing audiences to cheer for them one minute and seriously question their judgement the next. The three factions could double for the various houses within the Thrones universe. Earth, Mars, and the Belt exist in a delicate balance of peace, and it would only take one event to catapult the factions into war. And as with the houses in Game of Thrones, viewers might be more inclined to root for one more than another, while also leave audiences to ponder which of the factions is the true villain. Though The Expanse and GOT share many of the same aspects, the one that shines the brightest is the grey morality. The antiheroes in The Expanse are nothing more than Grimdark space rogues, doing everything they can to survive in the vastness of the galaxy.
This list’s fourth and final entry is another cinematic spectacle from HBO. Though it has never become “the next Game of Thrones,” Westworld has left audiences captivated, and completely confused. The two, going on three, season series is a sci-fi western, roughly based on the 1973 film of the same name. The main plot of the show takes place in Westworld, a technologically advanced ‘vacation world’ similar to a theme park. It is here that guests may choose to play on the side of good by donning a white hat, or the side of deviance with a black hat. All of the citizens that reside in Westworld are highly advanced robots called “hosts,” who offer different story lines that guests are able to play while visiting. Though the hosts are meant to be incapable of causing intentional harm, a small group of them begin to retain memories from previous encounters with guests, allowing them to begin learning that the world they live in is a lie.
While you might have to choose between a black or white hat to enter Westworld, grey is the true color of morality when it comes to the various humans and robots in the show. Dr. Robert Ford is an intriguing character to apply this to. Being one of the founders of Westworld he is one of the few people who realize how human the hosts can be to some. However, Ford is often quick to tell his staff not to treat them as humans in anyway, even going on to perform dehumanizing acts on them himself. Similar to Light in Death Note, Ford sees himself as somewhat of a god, as he helped create all of the hosts and he has the power to determine what they say or do by introducing new narratives to the park. The narrative he attempts to introduce however may have ulterior motives behind it.
Go on, get your post-Game of Thrones fix
Whether it’s Japanese death gods or robotic cowboys, these shows are sure to excite and pull you into their turbulent worlds. Grey morality not only adds significant depth to a character, but it also challenges the viewer to decide whether they lean more towards evil or good. Though winter came and went, Game of Thrones will still live on to challenge our own moral decisions, and the shows on this list will do the same. Grimdark can be found in all kinds of places, not exclusively in a world with knights and fire breathing dragons, as more often than not, we can find it in places similar to our own.