The White Queen (10-part mini-series)
Based on the Phillipa Gregory historical fiction novels, The Cousins War, the story is set during the War of the Roses – an on-going war between the royal houses of York and Lancaster (whose symbols were white and red roses, respectively) in 15th Century England. There’s a lot of beheading and a lot of sex and everyone wants to be king, so it’s probably where George R.R. got a lot of his inspiration. What makes the series great is how it’s told from the point of view of three different women each vying for the power to control the throne. The one-off series was nominated for three Golden Globes including Best Mini-Series, Best Actress for Rebecca Ferguson in her role as the White Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and Best Supporting Actress for Janet McTeer, in her role as her scheming mother (so basically all the ones that count).
Vikings (2 seasons)
You may come out of this being turned on by men with plaited beards. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just something you should be open to. It’s inspired by Old Norse poetry about the legendary Norse hero Ragnar Lothbrok (which apparently means ‘Ragnar Hairy Breeches’) and his ascendance from farmer to a leader of warriors who had a penchant for raiding France and England. Fun fact – Ragnar is played by Australian actor/Calvin Klein model Travis Fimmel. It’s also been renewed for a third season.
The Tudors (4 seasons)
Henry VIII had a big appetite for the ladies. So much so that he had six wives and created a whole new religion (he probably got it from his granddad – the War of the Roses’ King Henry IV). ‘The Tudors‘ follows Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry as he makes his way through his wives hoping for an heir (Bonus: Anne Boleyn is played by Natalie Dormer aka Margaery Tyrell), starts wars and disses the Pope. This series should give you your fill on sexy times, as the one thing that really sticks out in my mind from season one has nothing to do with the storyline but everything to do with this scene with Mary Boleyn:
King Henry VIII: You’ve been at the French Court for two years. Tell me, what French graces have you learned?
Mary Boleyn: [while kneeling before him] With Your Majesty’s permission…?
King Henry VIII: Granted.
Mary Boleyn: [Unlaces the King’s breaches… ]
Michael Hirst, the show’s creator told the New York Times, “Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history… And we wanted people to watch it.” So that makes sense. Moving on, Sam Neill is great as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the King’s chief advisor, oh and Superman (Henry Cavill) is the King’s bestie, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.
The Borgias (3 Seasons)
A bit like The Tudors, but in this case it’s the Pope (Jeremy Irons) and his son who have dismounted from the moral high horse to found a Papal dynasty. But aren’t church dudes not allowed to have wives/children? Well, that’s kind of the point. The Borgias have bribed and sold off positions of power to get voted in, and that pissed off a lot of the other cardinals who are now plotting against them and forming alliances with French kings. Apparently, The Godfather was based on the story of the Borgias, and we all know how things worked out for the Corleones. Another draw card is the show was created and directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire).
Rome (2 seasons)
HBO’s first foray into big budget, historical drama/fantasy production, Rome charts the end of the Roman Republic mostly through the lives of Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, but also by following Julius Caesar and other power players of the time. Unfortunately, the series was cut short to only two seasons and is a bit of a speed-read of history, but it was originally meant to expand into Egypt and include the rise of Jesus Christ in Palestine over five seasons – which I think we can all agree would have been really cool. Keep an eye out for Indira Varma, who plays Ellaria Sand in GoT aka Oberyn Martell’s paramour.
Deadwood (3 Seasons)
Littlefinger did say chaos is a ladder, and the theme of Deadwood is how people come together in chaos, creating order around a symbol, which in this case is gold. It’s set in 1870s South Dakota, following the growth of Deadwood from a camp to a town, and features historical figures like Calamity Jane. It’s also got great ominous trailers featuring awesome sound-bites from the show’s speeches (just like GoT).
Reign (1 Season)
Mary, Queen of Scots had a lot going on – being Queen of Scotland, getting kicked off the throne, trying to reinstate Catholicism to England, trying to claim the English throne off Queen Elizabeth I – but before all that fascinating stuff she went to live with her betrothed, the Dauphin of France, which is the period Reign delves into. In her review for The AV Club, Genevieve Valentine described it as “an alternate-universe fanfiction than anything pretending to approach history.” Others compared it to Gossip Girl, so maybe if you’re after some deep dissection of history, don’t watch this. If you love the idea of Hart of Dixie in period costume though, this is your jam. It’s also been renewed for a second season.