As Season 3 of the Seven Kingdoms epic comes rampaging out of the starting gate like a ravenous direwolf in search of fresh meat, you could be forgiven for thinking that, like the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones has no serious competition in TVLand.
Think again. Lurking in the shallow waters of the History Channel is Vikings, already renewed for a second season after only five episodes and at 5 million viewers, knocking GoT’s Season 3 premiere average of 4.4 million solidly out of Valhalla.
But those are just numbers. Characters and story are also important. Lining the two up, shoulder to shoulder, how do they compare?
#1 The Hero
Picking one hero for Game of Thrones is bound to be controversial, but let’s go with Rob, who (at the moment anyway) is likeliest to win a place for his backside on the coveted Iron Throne. Pitted against him is Ragnar Lodbrok, Viking legend and instigator of the great push West which resulted in the first European settlements on American soil. Lodbrok’s weighty role in history is only eclipsed by the fact that he is played by Australian hot totty, and ex-Calvin Klein underwear model Travis Fimmel. Rob on the other hand, while a cunning tactician and doughty leader is played by Richard Madden, who gets great notices for his acting, but not for looking gorgeous in a pair of briefs.
Verdict: unless Madden lets us see more of his abs, a win for Vikings
#2 The Heroine
Again, Game of Thrones with its massive cast offers several choices, but Daenerys Targaryen, last of her line and dragon whisperer is the frontrunner in the show’s ladystakes. Emilia Clarke is very comely as the silver tressed exile, but so is Katheryn Winnick as Ragnar’s wife and shield maiden Lagertha. Both are independent women – Danaerys is busy assembling an army for her return to Westeros, Lagertha is a member of Ragnar’s elite raiding team – but in terms of putting her spear where her mouth is, Lagertha, who deals with would-be rapists by slicing them into prosciutto, probably has the edge. To quote Winnick (herself a karate blackbelt) her favourite scene as Lagertha is the one where she gets to bonk Ragnar over the head with her shield. Not your average housewife then.
Verdict: Daenerys needs to get her sword action on. Another win for Vikings.
#3 The Evil King and Queen
Since Joffrey isn’t old enough to vote yet, chief baddie in the GoT camp has to be Tywin Lannister, ably supported by his daughter, Cersei, who would bathe in babies’ blood if she thought it would help her keep that youthful glow. In the Viking corner we have Earl Haraldson and Siggy, his slightly mad wife. Haraldson, played with gloomy relish by Gabriel Byrne, abducts, kidnaps, tortures and betrays like a man possessed (which he is) soundly defeating Tywin, who only manages to be unpleasant to his son, the dwarf Tyrion. That said, Siggi is no match for the scheming Cersei, who beds her own brother and when he’s not available, her cousin, while doting on her slimy offspring, the murderous Joffrey (who she would probably also bed if the opportunity..ahem…arose).
Verdict: Game of Thrones edges ahead of Vikings, thanks to Cersei.
#4 The Dwarf
Vikings might not have a real dwarf, like the acerbic, intelligent Tyrion, but it does have Svein, Earl Haraldson’s diminutive assassin. Irish actor David Pearse can’t compete with Peter Dinklage’s charm, but he plays Svein with enough deadeyed menace that if you were to hand the two of them an axe each and have them battle it out, my money would be on the Scandinavian (well he is a bit taller too). Sadly, Svein departs the show in the most recent episode, making the point somewhat moot.
Verdict: However chilling Svein is, he’s dead. Also, Tyrion has all the best lines in GoT, making his scenes one of the main reasons for watching. Game of Thrones wins.
#5 The Dragons
Game of Thrones has no less than three dragons, handily coming in a different color each so you can easily tell them apart. They were too small to be much fun in Season 2, but they’re growing rapidly and so is their appetite, opening up the exciting possibility that one of them will develop a taste for two-legged prey. Also they breathe fire. Viking’s dragon, while handsome, can’t muster so much as a spark.
Verdict: GoT wins easily and sneaks into the lead…
#6 The RumpyPumpy
Famous for its sex scenes, Game of Thrones would seem like an easy winner here. Cersei, as mentioned above, has a penchant for boffing members of her own family, young pretender Renly preferred his wife’s brother to his actual wife, fire-witch Melisandre persuaded the dour Stannis Baratheon out of his tightly laced breeks and ward of the Starks, Theon Greyjoy, hardly ever has his on. And that’s not counting the regular outbreaks of prostitution, rape and fondling. But even with the bar set this high, Vikings isn’t out of the game. Ragnar and Lagertha might bonk with less eyepopping frequency than their Westeros counterparts, but when they do lock and load, it’s with enough ferocity to reduce the sturdiest bedstead to splinters. And if that’s not titillating enough, they like company, pausing mid-shag to invite virtuous ex-monk Athelstane to join in (and he refuses – is he MAD?!).
Verdict: the sex might be less plentiful in Vikings, but it’s noisier. A draw.
#7 The Reality Factor
The most fundamental difference between the shows is this: Game of Thrones is fiction, Vikings (despite the occasional quibble) is not. To many viewers, this won’t matter, but for me it’s crucial. Game of Thrones is entertaining, but however much we root for some characters and boo others, however gripping we find the plot turns and twists, it’s just the product of a storyteller(albeit a very fine one)’s mind. Vikings also tells a story, but this is a story about people who shaped history. Ragnar Lodbrok and his kind raided and pillaged, but they also settled and explored. Their legacy survives today – not only in place names and archeological artefacts, but also in our DNA.
Verdict: ‘based on a true story’ is always a crowd pleaser. Vikings scores a bonus point.
The final score: it’s a tie! But don’t let that be the decider – if you like one show over the other, go ahead and tell us in the comments.