Game of Thrones is without a doubt HBO’s most popular show ever. By “telling human stories in a fantasy world,” Game of Thrones has become the obsession of fantasy enthusiasts and laymen alike. The new season is finally here, but the week long wait between episodes can feel just as painful as the yearlong gap between seasons. We’re supposed to see Melisandre’s true form and just wait until next week??? If Thrones fans are going to maintain even the slightest bit of chill (which they are not exactly known for), they’re going to need something to fill their evenings as they wait to find out whether or not Jon Snow will rise again.
Enter Rome. A swords and sandals epic of the highest order, Rome was the very expensive jewel in HBO’s crown from 2005-2007. Covering the tumultuous period in which Rome transitioned from Republic to Empire, the series let viewers experience this war-torn time through the perspective of two Roman soldiers, Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). While it was canceled after two seasons and rumors of a film have so far led nowhere, HBO GO and Now have made the series more accessible than ever. While we wait to see Sansa take control of the North, Rome has more than enough similarities to Game of Thrones (and merits of its own) to warrant a binge watch.
While everyone loves the dragons and giants, part of the appeal of Game of Thrones is the scheming and courtly machinations that occur off of the battlefield. Kings ascend and descend quickly, political marriages are brokered and broken, and the scheming never, ever stops. Similarly, Rome shows the wheeling and dealing required to keep an expanding empire afloat. As the senate explodes and divides between backing Julius Caesar (Ciarán Hinds), man of the people, and Pompey Magnus (Kenneth Cranham), champion of the patricians, one cannot help but see the Lannisters, Starks, Baratheons, and Targaryens in the details.
Additionally, before there was Cersei Lannister (onscreen), there was Atia of the Julii (Polly Walker). Ruthlessly ambitious, Atia will do whatever it takes to survive the ever-shifting power struggle, even if it means marrying off her daughter to make uncomfortable alliances and setting her cold and calculating son, Octavian (Max Pirkis and then Simon Woods) to be the Caesar’s successor. Octavian may not be as sadistic as Joffrey, but there are shades of Lannister in his offhand cruelty and singleminded focus on ruling.
Grounded Character Moments
In a similar vein, character development and good writing are not sacrificed for a thirst for blood. Thrones fans know that some of the quieter moments, like Jaime and Brienne in the bath and Oberyn Martell visiting Tyrion in prison are also some of the show’s strongest. In a world of ice and fire, these scenes keep the fans coming back.
Similarly, Rome does the smaller, human moments well. Whether it’s Servilia of the Junii (Lindsey Duncan) getting her revenge on Atia — “Atia of the Junii, I call for justice” is not easily forgotten — or Vorenus being reunited with his children, there’s always a humanity in the midst of all of the politics and bloodshed. The core friendship between Vorenus and Pullo is also a reason to check in, as they move from uneasy comrades to true brothers in arms.
Action To Spare
Still, there’s plenty of blood spilled as well. Whether they’re fighting as a legion or overthrowing dictators (Beware the ides of March), Rome certainly did its fair share to pave the way to the can’t-look-away violence of Game of Thrones. Pullo’s first season fight in the gladiator arena is well choreographed and shot, rivaling similar scenes from Westeros. Again, it shows Rome‘s ability to make even the most thrilling and violent moments service the story and character development well.
(Yes, I know what you’re wondering. There’s a lot of boobs, too. Mark Antony (James Purefoy) gets around.)
Game Of Thrones Crossovers
Another perk for Thrones fans is the appearance of some familiar actors on the sets of Rome. The most familiar face is definitely Julius Caesar himself, played by Ciarán Hinds. Thrones fans will recognize him as Mance Rayder, the King Beyond The Wall. Hinds brings a more refined ferocity to the role of Caesar, though.
Vorenus’s wife, Niobe, is played by Indira Varma, Ellaria Sand herself. While she may not take as much violent revenge as she does in Dorne, Varma and McKidd’s complicated relationship is both tragic and compelling. Additionally, Tobias Menzies is the Brutus to Hinds’ Caesar, taking on a bigger role than he did as the bumbling Edmure Tully.
If Game of Thrones wants to keep bringing on actors previously on Rome, can they please find a spot for Ray Stevenson and Polly Walker?
Yes, I know Westeros is not a real place. However, it does borrow a lot from crazy moments in history. The Red Wedding is ripped from Scotland’s Black Bull Dinner, and the Lannisters are as ambitious (though way more into incest) as England’s Plantagenets, known throughout history as “The Devil’s Brood.” Plus, the fans treat the source material with all the reverence of real history, so it’s not much of a stretch.
Similarly, Rome chronicles the rise and fall of Gaius Julius Caesar, the death of the Republic, and the rise of the Empire under Gaius Octavian Caesar. The show walks a fine line between historical accuracy and creative liberties, focusing more on capturing the feel of the era instead of slavishly sticking to historical accuracy. For example, they play a little fast and loose with who actually fathered the son of Cleopatra (Lyndsey Marshal), instead making a stronger narrative choice.
While it may have ended before its time, Rome still remains an influential show, and fans of Thrones owe it a debt of gratitude. While it may have left many stories unfinished, the ones that Rome got to tell are worth revisiting.