History vs fantasy. Highlanders vs dragons. Time travel vs death-defying fire priests. It’s time for…
Outlander vs Game of Thrones! (the TV shows)
To begin, let me first point out that I have read neither of these books so I am coming at this review completely as a tv viewer.
And let me add that I have hugely enjoyed both of these shows. I had to catch up on seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones before watching the rest of the series in real time, and I’ve been watching Outlander as it comes out on Netflix.
While history plays into both Outlander and Game of Thrones, Outlander is a historical fiction romance and Game of Thrones is a fantasy series.
Outlander begins in post-Second World War England and takes us back to 18th century Scotland. Game of Thrones is apparently inspired by the War of the Roses, which was a fight for the English crown between two prominent families in the 15th century. By virtue of watching these shows, you’ll pick up on some historical information based on costuming and technology alone.
Besides their historical elements, both of these shows feature fantastical elements as well. The Outlander heroine’s adventures begin with her time travelling to the past. Game of Thrones features (some) sorcery, dragons, and ice monsters, although those fantastical elements are not common in that world.
Other similarities between Outlander and Game of Thrones: the heavy violence and the explicit sex. I personally discovered Outlander after having watched a few seasons of Game of Thrones and within a few episodes said to myself of Outlander, “This is just Game of Thrones set in Scotland!”
So with so many things making these shows similar, what sets them apart from the other? In short, one is a love-story and the other is a politics game.
Outlander tells the story of Claire Randall/Beecham/Fraser of 1940s England and Jamie Fraser of 1730s Scotland and their love story, which takes them on a series of adventures through the Scottish highlands, France, Central America and the USA.
In my case, I came for the promise of Scottish awesomeness and stayed for the roller-coaster ride that was the bad luck that followed these lovers everywhere – the English are currently trying to take over Scotland, Jamie is an outlaw, and one specific English officer has a vendetta against him AND is the ancestor of Claire’s husband from the 20th century. Oh, yeah, did I mention Claire has a husband looking for her back in the 20th century? Have I hooked you, yet?
Besides a twisted plot that has us wondering about Claire’s life back in the 20th century, the future of a Scotland headed towards the devastating Battle of Culloden in less than ten years (I’ll just send you to a quick Wikipedia page, here), and how this love story is going to end, Outlander provides its audience with an inside look at life in various historical contexts.
Spoiling settings here: We get to see life in the Scottish highlands before the English took over and learn about the differences between the Scottish and English cultures. We get an inside look at life as a French noble, we visit the central American slave trade, we see life on a cotton farm and in the backwoods of the USA. Add that Claire is seeing a history unfold before her that she already has a grasp of and therefore challenges Jamie in a variety of ways and you’ve got a show about history, love, adventure, perspective, empathy, and morality.
That’s not to say there aren’t low points in the show. I personally wasn’t much of a fan of season 3, but season 4 picked up again and I’m looking forward to the 5th season.
Game of Thrones was a much bigger phenomenon than Outlander, and I think that’s simply because it’s less about a love story and more about the politics of a world headed toward a boiling point. Game of Thrones casts its net wider, following a cast of dozens of characters and their interactions with each other and their political landscape. Because the story focusses on a larger picture rather than on a certain set of people, no character is safe – anybody can be killed by anybody, which provides a little extra suspense.
What is this political landscape that Game of Thrones follows? Several years before the opening of the show, there was a huge rebellion that resulted in the fleeing of the (arguably evil) royal family and the crowning of a new king. In the first season of the show, said new king dies in a hunting accident (super lame) and thus begins the fight over the crown.
The show questions loyalty vs power, force vs persuasion, right vs wrong, what it takes to live with yourself vs what it takes to live. You have characters that seem meek, others that are ruthless, more that must be considered evil, others that you can’t help but respect. There are spies, warriors and rebels. There’s witchcraft, conflicting religions, and war tactics.
Game of Thrones features a whole new world, yet it is so relatable because of the political games and the conflict between humans. Yes, there are certain romantic plots throughout the show, but they are just one of many elements to cover.
As the show progresses, however, a larger problem builds – the fact that the long night is coming, which is a years-long winter that brings with it ice monsters/zombies that will likely kill the entire continent, rendering their fight for the crown moot.
I’ll let you know now – if you don’t know already – some of the mid-seasons get a little bit tedious (this is where the tv show ran out of books to adapt), the second last season is a whirlwind of activity, and the final season is a bit of a disappointment.
Knowing that, Outlander has a little bit of a leg-up on Game of Thrones by virtue of its still possibly having a satisfactory ending. Besides that, however, I think I’m more of a fan of Outlander because the history nerd in me enjoys finding historical moments that I recognize, and I like getting to know and investing in a small set of characters.
Both of these shows are well done, however and are worth the watch. Maybe watch Game of Thrones with a buddy, though – it definitely beats Outlander in cover-your-eyes-violence.
What do you think? Have you watched both of these shows? Which is better? Outlander or Game of Thrones?