Top 8 Gritty Historical TV Shows Similar to 'Vikings'
What Are Some Good TV Shows Like 'Vikings'?
The plot of Vikings revolves around Pagans who have been terrorizing England and France for a while with their relentless invasions. And we, sitting comfortably on our couches, love every moment of it.
Is Vikings a Good Show?
Some people call this show Game of Thrones-lite. As it turns out, the series is just as good as GOT, even toppling it in some areas. The first season was an achievement by the History channel in showing audiences that they could pull off a legitimate drama series rather than their usual docudramas. Since then, the storytelling and production values have only gone up. As epic as the narrative has become, the show is still grounded in realism. This is easily one of the best historical costume dramas that has aired in recent years.
Being a huge fan of this show, I’ve compiled a list of some other shows similar to Vikings. Let’s take a look.
The Best Series Similar to 'Vikings'
- Game of Thrones
- Marco Polo
- Black Sails
- The Borgias
- The Last Kingdom
- The Bastard Executioner
- Penny Dreadful
1. Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones has proved that you don’t need to be historically accurate or have a story based on real life to feel authentic. The world of Westeros is just as beautiful as they come. The seven houses are on a quest to hold on to the power they already have, expand their influence, and possibly get to the Iron Throne. The result is corruption, chaos, despair—a total collapse. In a world where no one can be trusted, there is another bigger threat that looms round the corner. That threat is thousands of White Walkers, undead creatures that can easily overrun Westeros. This winter might just be the last one Westeros will ever see. Are they prepared for the final battle?
There are a lot of questions here, most of which have already been answered in the last 5 seasons. If you somehow still haven’t gotten a chance to watch this show, go ahead and do it.
With just the right mix of violence, humor, nudity and heart, Game of Thrones has cemented its place as one of the best shows like Vikings. It doesn’t happen very often, but every season of this show feels like a 10-hour-long action movie instead of a TV show. You pull for the heroes despite knowing that there is no chance they’re coming out unscathed. It’s filled with realism, and to some extent, pessimism. But I won’t blame you if you can’t wait for the next season.
If you enjoy Game of Thrones, be sure to take a look at this list of similar shows for recommendations.
Despite what Internet memes tell you, Ned has never said "Brace yourselves" in the series.
Should You Recommend 'Vikings' to a 'Game of Thrones' Fan?
Game of Thrones is one of the most popular TV shows out there right now. You may know someone who is looking for something to watch between seasons. Would a fan of that show enjoy Vikings?
I feel there is a strong chance they would. Vikings was clearly made in the wake of HBO's massively successful series. The world of Vikings has a similar scope to that of GOT, even though it is not quite as ambitious in the narrative department. It similarly focuses on political intrigue within a medieval setting. Some fans may find that aspect more appealing here since Vikings is based on actual history. One thing this show beats Game of Thrones in is the stronger emphasis on the depiction of battles and swordplay. This show has less gratuitous sex and violence on a account of being on cable television, which may be a plus for folks who are put off by that material in GOT.
2. Marco Polo
The plot revolves around Marco Polo, a Venetian explorer who gets entangled in the power struggle and politics of the Mongol Empire.
13th century China is perfectly depicted on screen. While the show might not be historically accurate in terms of events and dates, it is intriguing. Everything from the acting to directing has been executed pretty well. I think that they made a wise choice in having the characters speak English. Their main audience are Americans—people who are not very patient with subtitles. People often speak in native languages as well, making for a nice flow of different languages.
Those complaining that it’s not historically accurate don’t know what they’re talking about. Even scholars feel that Polo never visited the places he claimed to. We'll never know for sure. Instead of focusing on the flaws and comparing it with shows like Vikings and Game of Thrones, enjoy a rare peek into rich Asian history.
The actors playing Ariq and Kaidu, Baljinnyamyn Amarsaikhan and Rick Yune respectively, are the only actors on the cast who are actually Mongolian.
3. Black Sails
The last couple of years have proved that people dig historical dramas. They don't have to be accurate or even real. As long as they allow us to escape from the real world, they’re pretty much guaranteed to succeed. Airing on Starz, Black Sails is one such offering, ready to suck you into its dangerous and beautiful world.
Both Vikings and Black Sails have a lot in common. They both involve relentless marauders who come out of nowhere, rob and murder people, and disappear quickly.
The plot revolves around the Captain Flint and his crew as they plunder ships and wreak havoc on the ocean. I think Starz has outdone themselves here. Pirates, gore, sex, and tons of high-voltage drama—Black Sails has everything you need to fill the Vikings-shaped hole in your heart.
Throughout the first three seasons, the show has done remarkably well, never derailing from an overarching storyline. As far as looks go, it has always stayed one step ahead of other historical dramas. Black Sails is as gorgeous as they come. It winds up looking a tad flashy at times, but who cares? We are here to have some fun.
If you end up enjoying this one, check out a list of similar shows for further recommendations.
Rome is a historical drama set during the first century B.C. It covers the last days of the Roman Republic before it transitioned to an autocratic empire. The transition is sketched from the standpoint of Octavian Augustus, Lucius Vorenus, Titus Pullo, and a couple of other important characters. Again, it’s not historically accurate by any stretch, and it doesn’t have to be.
I would say that Rome is perhaps the greatest historical drama HBO has ever produced. I’m not counting Game of Thrones here since that show is fictional. Yes, there are some fictional elements here as well, but it stays true to the history for the most part.
Being on HBO allowed the people behind the show to flex their creative muscles as much as they could. You can see it in the amazing production quality. Of course, there is profanity, rough sex, a lot of nude scenes, and violence. Your usual HBO stuff. Keep children away.
The script is intelligent and realistic, with some profanity, violence, and decadence thrown in. Unlike most portrayals of Rome, it doesn't shy away from showing the ugly side of an otherwise glorious empire. We see Ancient Rome filled with drunkards, brawlers, womanizers, prostitutes, adulterers, fornication, and loads of sexual acts. It's an honest depiction of the decadence and wickedness in the best manner possible.
As a huge Vikings fan, the only thing I didn't like here was the lack of fighting. Rome is more narrative-oriented. Don’t fret. There is a lot to chew on. This show was good enough to make it on a list of the best HBO series you should watch.
The show was originally planned to run for five seasons. It was cancelled halfway into writing the second season. As a result, roughly 15 years of history had to be condensed into eight episodes.
The Genre of Historical Period Pieces
If there is one connection between all of these series, it is that they all fit into the genre of historical dramas. The common trait in this category of dramas, aside from being set in the past, is the high production values. You can expect lavish costumes, art direction, and cinematography. In fact, a common reason for cancellations is studios no longer being willing to pay for production costs.
The narratives of these shows can widely vary but you can expect the society of the times to be examined as well as narratives driven by the political maneuvering of characters. These series are frequently seen on premium networks, although some do appear on cable television. Because they are often on subscription channels, they have more leeway with depictions of violence and sexual content.
While based on history, and occasionally being quite faithful, there are usually many creative liberties taken for the sake of making entertainment. While these shows should not be taken at face value, they do have the benefit of making viewers interested in learning about the actual history they cover.
Here are some additional shows that fit in the genre of historical dramas:
- Hell on Wheels
- The Americans
- The Tudors
5. The Borgias
Ever since HBO aired Rome, I used to think that it was impossible to topple its production value and quality. I knew I was wrong as soon as I watched a few episodes of The Borgias.
The plot revolves around the Borgia family, who are brought to power after the death of Pope Innocent VIII. Things spiral out of control as soon as Rodrigo, along with his family, get the hang of things.
Despite a few hiccups, The Borgias is a pretty fascinating piece of TV entertainment. It can be summed up as beautiful. Everything from the costumes, houses, and hair styles are perfectly in line with the medieval era. Nothing is out of place. The plot and pacing are impeccable.
This is much more than your usual soap opera. I’d say it’s more similar to shows like Vikings and Rome. Everything is perfectly executed.
If you’re looking for some great historical TV shows like Vikings, The Borgias should be your best bet. It was able to make it on a list of the best Showtime series to watch.
The series was initially planned to be a film but director Neil Jordan couldn't get funding for it. He got funding from Showtime to make a series. The show was eventually cancelled due to high production costs.
6. The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom is one of the few historical shows that actually gets most of the facts correct. It’s on BBC after all—a network that’s usually pretty accurate and detailed with its shows. I’m not sure how much you care about it, but if accuracy is what you’re looking for, The Last Kingdom is not going to disappoint.
The plot revolves around Uhtred, who gets abducted by the Vikings. They take him in as a slave. He ends up being raised as one of the pagans. Things get complicated when he returns back to his homeland to get the land back from his uncle. He must adjust to this new Saxon lifestyle and fight against the very same people who raised him.
There is a lot of drama and action here. The first season was amazing and there is more on the way.
7. The Bastard Executioner
The Bastard Executioner comes from Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter. Taking place in early 14th century, the plot revolves around Wilkin Brattle (played by Lee Jones), a former knight who decides that he has had enough of war. The war, unfortunately, hasn’t had enough of him yet. He must pick up the sword again and lead his people on a path to vengeance. The result is chaos and a lot of high-voltage drama. The only law of this land is kill or be killed.
8. Penny Dreadful
Victorian London—a place where demonic creatures roam around the streets in disguise. A place where you need people like Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, and Vanessa to keep supernatural threats at bay. When fog starts creeping through this strange place, no one is safe. These three must work together to prevent chaos.
As far as the plot goes, I can't really give much away. It’s better if you watch this show not knowing what to expect. It looks gorgeous all the way through. We have had other shows and movies set in the Victorian era, but nothing comes close to the beauty that Penny Dreadful displays on screen.
I’m afraid that the blood-soaked action sequences are going to put some people off. If you can stomach some gore, go for this show.
Which Is the Best Gritty Historical Drama?
Which of These Series Do You Think Is the Best?
Some other shows to consider are:
- Da Vinci’s Demons
- Peaky Blinders
- Robin Hood
These shows didn’t make the list, but they are just as good as those mentioned above.
Did I miss out on any other good shows like Vikings? Let me know in the comments section.