Brow Beat

HBO Is Desperately Hoping You’ll Keep Watching HBO

Clockwise from the top left are stills of Aaron Paul in Westworld, Emma Thompson in Years & Years, Jeremy Irons in Watchmen, and James McAvoy in His Dark Materials.
The shows are dark, and full of A-listers. HBO

Game of Thrones is finally over, leaving enraged HBO customers all over the globe with an urgent question: What series should we watch for the next eight years until it completely dominates the cultural and political conversation, then slowly fall out of love with and come to hate, until an unsatisfying series finale prompts one last global paroxysm of rage and entitlement and we all move on to another show, older but no wiser. Fortunately, HBO has some suggestions! Here are some of the network’s contenders for the Game of Thrones throne—but be careful: When you play the game of Game of Thrones thrones, you win, or HBO loses a bunch of subscribers.

Westworld

Westworld was a movie about robot cowboys. The first seasons of HBO’s Westworld were also about robot cowboys. The third season, in which Aaron Paul plays a criminal-for-hire who takes assignments like “Assassination” or “Smash and Grab” from a TaskRabbit-like smartphone app in a city that’s half Her and half Minority Report, does not appear to be particularly robot cowboy–adjacent. It also looks like a lot of fun! As the arrival of a robot cowgirl at the end of the trailer reminds us, though, this is still a show called Westworld, so sooner or later it’s going to be about robot cowboys again, ideally with no warning, in the middle of the series finale. That’s pretty much the Game of Thrones sweet spot, but with two seasons already out in the wild, there might not be enough time for Westworld to pull off a sweeping romance/messy breakup with its audience.

Years & Years

This BBC One show will be coming to HBO in June, and it seems like it’s arriving at exactly the right cultural moment. To the extent dystopian fictions talk about the origins of their particular dystopia at all, they often point to a sudden, cataclysmic event, like the assassinations in The Handmaid’s Tale or the election of Richard Nixon. But we’ve all gotten a taste of the early days of dystopia now, and Years & Years looks like it’s trying to speak to that experience: a slow-motion collapse in which every day the news is a little less believable and a little bit worse. Queer as Folk creator and Doctor Who resurrectionist Russell T. Davies wrote the series; Emma Thompson and Rory Kinnear star, so this has a lot of potential to be worth watching. But although Years & Years might be a reason to hang on to HBO over the summer, it’s still just a miniseries: A true heir to the Game of Thrones throne would need to run for, well, years & years.

1st & Ten

For some reason, HBO’s streaming app doesn’t yet include access to 1st & Ten, which ran on the network between 1984 and 1991. Lavishly rereleasing a sitcom from the 1980s in which Delta Burke takes over a professional football team may seem like a poor replacement for Game of Thrones at first glance, but don’t count it out: There are 80 full episodes ready to go, and nothing says prestige television lately like O.J. Simpson.

Watchmen

The Game of Thrones series finale pissed off the show’s fans like nothing since Lost, so it’s natural HBO would look to Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof for a way forward. Lindelof has made The Leftovers since then, though, and it had a well-received finale, so it might be a mistake to bet on recreating that Lost magic. On the other hand, an engaged fan base complaining online about all the things the TV show got wrong was an essential part of the Game of Thrones success story, and although evidence is still inconclusive, there is some reason to believe that comic book fans also enjoy yelling at people online. If they didn’t get it all out of their system over the Zack Snyder feature adaptation, this spinoff could be a contender.

His Dark Materials

On its face, this is an extremely promising Game of Thrones replacement: It’s a fantasy epic based on a popular series of books with plenty of dimly lit battles to encourage people to learn more about calibrating their televisions. Better still, unlike George R.R. Martin, Philip Pullman has actually finished writing his books, even if the ending is destined to be just as popular as Daenerys liberating King’s Landing. But there’s a major red flag here, because this isn’t the first time someone’s tried to replace their massively popular fantasy epic with an adaptation of His Dark Materials:

Well, maybe this time will be different!