For any fantasy fans who’ve watched and re-watched all their favourite series to death, exciting news: there are some brand new shows hitting the small screen over the coming months.
If you need a fix as soon as possible, the BBC will be airing The Last Kingdom this Thursday. Although grounded in reality, and therefore not strictly ‘fantasy’, anyone seeking some sword and shield action shouldn’t be disappointed. The show is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, and attempts to translate a Game of Thrones atmosphere into Saxon England. There will be plenty of bloody battles as we follow Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), an Anglo-Saxon raised by Vikings, as he fights for King Alfred the Great. The first episode premiered on BBC America last Saturday to positive reviews. Despite the persistent comparisons with GoT, there won’t be any dragons, but everything else, from sex scenes to sword fights, is present.
Also coming up in the immediate future is Jekyll and Hyde, which starts this Sunday on ITV. In the Guardian, producer Charlie Higson described the series as ‘Downton Abbey with monsters’, which makes for an interesting combination at the very least. Not a strict retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original book, this reconstruction follows Dr. Jekyll’s grandson, who appears to suffer from similar “personality issues”. The trailer looks deliciously twisted, with Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons) taking on what has to be one of the most challenging and dynamic lead roles imaginable. Should he pull it off, it could be a career-defining turn, and let’s just say he won’t make your eyes bleed either. Just bear in mind that when Higson says ‘monsters’, don’t expect sexy vampires or werewolves – unless you find a man with a lobster claw for a hand seductive.
If your New Year’s resolution is to find a fresh fantasy show to get obsessed with – classic resolution, by the way – ITV is also set to release Beowulf in early January. Very loosely based on the infamous poem from the dark ages, this production is bound to satisfy anyone thirsting for some medievalism. Beowulf will be played by Keiran Bew (Da Vinci’s Demons), who has, rather fittingly, won ‘duelling’ titles according to Wikipedia. Yay, fighting! The set looks pretty epic, including a life-size village complete with houses and a troll pit – how does one go about renting the troll pit for alcohol-heavy parties? Sadly, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan looking for something similar, this may not satisfy as it’s pre-watershed. This means you won’t be seeing any nudity or bleeding eyeballs, but you also won’t have to usher any kids out of the room while you’re watching it. Additionally, without being able to throw a pair of boobs in to spice things up, there will be plenty of action and, if the early trailers are anything to go by, some on-point CGI creatures.
Finally, if you like your fantasy telly full-blown, you can’t get more immersive and big-budget than MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles. Premiering on 5 January 2016 in the US, this is an adaption of the Shannara book trilogy penned by Terry Brook in the 80s. With Jonathan Liebesman on the directing team, this is destined to be a visually ambitious production – some of his previous work includes Ninja Turtles and Wrath of the Titans. It’s likely aimed at the young adult market with three handsome teenagers as the protagonists, and it’ll probably contain more than a smattering of romance. The trailers promise some scary-looking creatures and aesthetically it looks phenomenal – although it does have a whiff of the Hunger Games about it.
Additionally, The Bastard Executioner has been brought out on FX in the US, and I’m sure it’ll swim across to the UK soon. Again, this is a medieval-fest with magical elements. It’s set in the 14th century and follows Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones) as he takes on another man’s identity as a ‘journeyman executioner’ – whatever that means. It’s bound to be bloody and gory, although to say the US reviews are mixed is an understatement.
The Frankenstein Chronicles is also coming to ITV Encore in November, starring Sean Bean, and it looks dark as hell and super creepy. Even if it ends up being too weird to be enjoyable, at least it’s a new show to place bets on how many episodes will elapse before Sean Bean dies.
All this amounts to an exciting few months of epic fantasy TV, with something for all tastes and ages. The success of Game of Thrones has encouraged a greater enthusiasm for the genre and given all these productions bigger budgets to play with. The days of cheap looking CGI, battles consisting of three men and sets made out of cardboard might well be over.