February 9, 2018

Game of Thrones versus Outlander

At the People's Choice Awards last January, HBO's Game of Thrones lost both the Favorite Premium Sci-Fi/Fantasy Series and Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Actress to Starz's Outlander.

Which series do you prefer?

<< caution spoilers ahead >>

Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones (GOT) is epic. There is no doubt about it. I fell in love with this series during the first terrifying moments of season 1 episode 1.

(I haven't read the books (yet) so my observations are based purely on the show.)

It's a complicated story with a lot of complicated characters. That's the simplest way to put it. In fact, there are so many characters—the story begins with nine different families—it's difficult to pick a favorite. Even though, not unlike a daily soap opera, an episode may focus on a cross-section of the cast, allowing the viewer the opportunity to form a tangible attachment. It may be difficult to pick a favorite character, but it is not challenging to pick a least favorite. << clears throat >> Cersei Lannister.

With such a vast number of players fighting for the Iron Throne, death is inevitable, and GOT features some truly, horrific (and unexpected) deaths. Is anyone thinking about Season 3's Red Wedding? Martin has taken Stephen King's "kill your darlings" advice to heart. This phrase, originally coined by William Faulkner, means either letting go of the parts that don't advance the story or killing characters your audience has grown to love.

The GOT family tree is also (unsurprisingly) complicated. I found this lovely graphic on pinterest.ca.

The basic premise for GOT is dispute over the Iron Throne. The Baratheons had stolen it from the Targaryens. The Targaryens want it back, but so do the other Baratheon brothers, the Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Starks... with those not directly vying for the crown aligning themselves with those who are. It's an elaborate game. Strategic, like chess, but with potentially fatal results. The characters have differing motives—power, peace, unity, honor, protection—for pursuing the fight. It's the classic medieval quest, a prolonged and perilous journey filled with misadventure and hard choices. And dragons and a massive undead army.

GOT is set in the fictional Westeros. Martin has created a truly fantastic world. Fans take the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros very seriously. In my search for a map, I found many versions—hand drawn, vintage, comparative, Google-style—before finally selecting this graphic by Kitkat Pecson.

The title sequence is brilliant as well, with a three-dimensional (moving) map featuring different locations—depending on the episode—that foreshadows the next party of the story.

Overall, the show is magic. It's like watching a story come to life... which it is.


Diana Gabaldon's Outlander is an equally epic story. I discovered the series on Netflix and was instantly obsessed.

I actually stopped watching it for about a week to get my addiction under control.

The show and the books (I've read 1-4 so far) are fantastic. The show's casting was as close to perfection as I've ever seen. In my mind, no one could have depicted Claire, Jamie, and Frank/Jack as captivatingly. As a story, Outlander is simply marvellous—historically accurate with the ultimate in love triangles—a twentieth century woman trapped in the eighteen century with a love in both time periods.

The cast of Outlander is much smaller. The leads Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser are definitely my favorites.

Claire Randall is a strong, intelligent woman who doesn't mince words or hold back punches. Jamie Fraser—the embodiment of a braw Highlander—is brave and reckless, and possesses an intelligent mind capable of seeing beyond the present reality. And did I say damn sexy? I now understand swooning. Every woman wants to be loved like Jamie loves Claire.

"Don't be afraid. There's the two of us now."

Outlander is fantasy, but it injects enough realism—historical content, logical actions—that you feel the story itself could be possible. You can put yourself in the character's shoes—you can immerse yourself in their world.

The premise of Outlander is time travel. While on vacation in Scotland, Claire Randall accidentally travels 200 years into the past leaving her husband Frank alone and bewildered in the twentieth century. She lands in 1743 in the middle of a skirmish between the British Army and a band of Scottish Highlanders. The Highlanders save her from a British officer with nefarious intents. Upon discovering she has time travelled, she works on a plan to get home. Returning to her own time is hardly an easy feat. Claire must rely on her knowledge of eighteenth century Scotland—good thing Frank is a historian—and her wits to survive among the Highlanders. Both the British and the Scots are suspicious of her sudden appearance. Marriage to Jamie Fraser protects her from the British Army. Then, the unexpected occurs—she falls in love with Jamie. When faced with the choice of staying with Jamie or returning to Frank, she chooses Jamie.

Unlike GOT whose main focus is continuously on the game, each season (book) of Outlander moves in different directions—storyline and physical location.

The Comparison

Believability. Game of Thrones begins like a war-focused historical drama in the fictional world Martin built. The dragons, magic, and undead army make it a complete fantasy. Outlander takes place in (mainly) existing locations and follows true historical events. Once you reconcile with the time travel, the rest of the story is fairly credible.

Story. The game in Game of Thrones keeps expanding—adding exotic locations and characters with incredible back stories. A single location or character could provide enough material for a standalone story. Outlander's story is more grounded and focuses on the two main characters regardless of external circumstances.

Characters. Game of Thrones includes a tangled web of characters—heroes and villains. The story follows each character and their relationships with the other characters. Characters face challenges and adversity—with betrayal and brutal violence. There are too many 'main' characters to count. Outlander has clear main characters who also face their share of life-changing situations. With fewer characters to follow, the audience has a more intimate experience.

Chemistry. Love or hate. Both Game of Thrones and Outlander sizzle with the sheer amplitude of chemistry between their characters.

Pacing. Game of Thrones has an abundance of fast-paced action. The characters move from one significant event—battle, revelation, plot twist—to the next with lightning speed. In contrast, Outlander moves at a much slower pace, switching intermittently between action and drama—with no holds barred in its fight scenes.

The Conclusion

Clearly, both shows rate high on the epic scale. Game of Thrones is intricately plotted—including unexpected twists and neat conclusions—and doesn't shy away from the taboo. With GOT, you get action, romance, adventure, mystery. Add in the complicated family trees and the extraordinary world of Westeros... and you find a story bigger than life itself. Outlander includes paradoxical elements—time travel itself opens the flood gates of contradiction—that eventually make sense. It's more than a love story, containing a fair amount of action and (mis)adventure. You become invested, immersed in Outlander's characters, and their fate evokes strong emotion.

Both authors have created literary magic—I am amazed and inspired to create magic of my own. It's not a matter of which concept is better. The important thing is to read / watch / create fantasy. Believe in fairy tales and happily-ever-afters. I do.

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