Opinion: The golden age of fantasy television is finally upon us

OPINION: I remember when my love of dragons made it harder to make friends, not easier. 

But then for a beautiful few years, Game of Thrones became the world's universal pop culture language.  Even when it got kinda bad, we all just bonded over that. 

As someone who grew up with a lingering sense of shame that all my favourite books dependably had the word 'chronicle' somewhere in the title, this was a wonderful thing. 

But now the iron throne of television is empty and I don't know how to strike up conversation with strangers in my office anymore. Thankfully Game of Thrones provided the perfect business case and studios are suddenly spending billions to bring other iconic fantasy books to the small screen.

Let's take a look at some of the frontrunners to replace GOT and ask the big questions - what are they about, when can we see them and, crucially, will they be shit?

The Witcher.
The Witcher. Photo credit: Netflix

The Witcher

Made by: Netflix
When is it coming: 2019

Will it be shit?

Initially I thought so but I'm steadily becoming more optimistic as we near release date. 

Based on Polish books which inspired the immensely popular video game series, The Witcher is the story of monster hunter Geralt (Henry Cavill) plying his trade in a fantasy version of Europe. It definitely seems campy at first glance but it's a surprisingly grounded story.

Geralt isn't a chosen one saving the universe. He's just a glorified exterminator doing a dirty, thankless job for people who usually hate him. While some fantasy relies on classic tales of supreme good vs ultimate evil, there's a moral complexity to the Witcher which make the world relatable regardless of how fantastical its set dressing. 

The one ring.
The one ring. Photo credit: New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings

Made by: Amazon
When can I watch it: Possibly next year but probably 2021

But will it be shit? 

Honestly I'm a little worried it could be. Even after Amazon allocated a toe-curling billion dollars to the series I haven't mustered much enthusiasm for my return to Middle-earth. 

Tolkein inspired so much of modern fantasy that in 2019 I think his world could easily fall victim to all the cliches it created. We're in a post-Game of Thrones universe now so they'll need to do something fairly major to modernise the show.  But since it takes place thousands of years before the events of the films, when Middle-earth was way more high fantasy (think Rivendell but everywhere all the time) it's hard to see how they'll manage it. 

Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones. Photo credit: HBO

Game of Thrones spin-off(s)

Made by: HBO
When can I watch them? Shooting is underway on the first one, so probably 2020 

One of them will be shit, surely?

You're right but probably not all of them, statistically. 

Obviously the heir to Game of Thrones is most likely to be more Game of Thrones. While GRR Martin himself says three of the original five planned spinoffs are 'progressing nicely', the one we have the clearest picture of and seems to be arriving first is tentatively titled The Long Night. It will tell the story of the forest children glimpsed in season six,  the creation of the white walkers, and probably the creation of the Wall. 

It remains to be seen if the show runners can wash the bad taste of season eight out of audiences' mouths but let's be honest, we're all gonna watch regardless.

His Dark Materials.
His Dark Materials. Photo credit: BBC

His Dark Materials

Made by: BBC/HBO
When's it coming? Filming has finished, so hopefully 2019

Didn't this already come out?

No, you're thinking of the film in 2007 which ended abruptly and left a whole bunch of pissed off fans pining for a sequel which never came. 

Thankfully, over a decade later, we're getting our wish form the dream team of HBO and BBC. Based on Phillip Pullman's fantastic young adult series about a parallel world where human souls live outside our bodies in animal form, this production has strong source material and a stacked cast, including James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda. There's so far no reason to think this won't be at the very least, extremely entertaining. There's talking armoured polar bears fighting for god's sake, what more do you want? 

Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time. Photo credit: Orbit Books

The Wheel of Time

Made by: Amazon
When can I watch it? 2020 (earliest)

Seriously though, will it be shit?

Yeesh, this one is tricky. 

After Tolkien, this series by Robert Jordan is probably the most intricate fantasy world ever created. This sprawling, apocalyptic tale of an ancient hero reborn attempting to stave off armageddon is the most ambitious project on our list. The books took decades and thousands of pages to finish, Jordan didn't even live to pen the last volume, it was finished by another writer before release. 

It'll be an incredible achievement if they pull this off but Amazon are obviously confident, Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) is already attached to one of the lead roles and production is rumoured to get underway this year.  

Finn Hogan is the host of NerdsPLUS, Newshub's pop-culture discussion podcast.