Game of Thrones is a series that needs no introduction. One doesn’t need to look further than the meteoric rise in popularity the series faced in the mid-2010’s to note the heights of the production. According to HBO, the series (for a time) averaged over 40 million viewers per episode, a record-breaking high. Of course, just as famous as the rise is Game of Thrones’ fall, as the final season left many viewers scratching their heads and pounding on their TV screens. But were you aware of the series that shared a similar fate far before production on Game of Thrones even began? With a rise and fall that mirrors its fantasy counterpart, many may not be aware of BBC and HBO’s shared venture of Rome, a 2005 historical drama set during the reign of Julius Caesar. Boasting two seasons and an untimely cancellation, the question remains- would Game of Thrones even exist today were it not for Rome?
Rome wasn’t built in a day- and neither was Westeros
Both shows were graced with extraordinarily high budgets. Both Game of Thrones and Rome cost HBO approximately $100 million per season to produce. That being said, if only the debut seasons were to be measured, Rome actually possessed a higher budget than Game of Thrones, with Game of Thrones only reaching $100 million per season later on in its life cycle.
While the high budget of GoT could be argued as one of the causes of its success, Rome’s high budget eventually was its downfall. Creator of Rome Bruno Heller stated in an interview that “[the Game of Thrones team] learned a lot from a business commercial sense, what not to do. The mistakes we made are the mistakes Game of Thrones learned from.”
Did Rome pave the way? Or just fall where Game of Thrones flew?
The origins of Game of Thrones and Rome are, of course, vastly disparate. Rome, whilst taking creative liberties, broadly follows the understood historical canon of the ancient Roman empire (and republic) whilst GoT based off of the long-running book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The first novel in this series was published in 1996, a good 15 years before the debut of the first season of the HBO hit. With Game of Thrones, itself already being a spin off from the book series, it’s no surprise that the TV show went on to inspire everything from replica dragon eggs to official stamps to holiday destinations and even an official slot game.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the extent to which Rome paved the way, but its importance can’t be understated. Some staff and actors who featured in the production of Rome even went on to work in the series following the second and final season of the historical drama. It might seem like a coincidence that’s a little bit too uncanny- two high-budget, violent, graphic, sprawling epics featuring huge casts and both produced by HBO max.
Whilst this is true, some have pointed out the fundamental flaw in comparing the two in this manner. Rome was, at its core, a different show, and shouldn’t be seen as a failed trial run. Firstly, the ahistorical nature of Game of Thrones meant that it was able to capture the suspense of viewers with greater ease, as they didn’t know what to expect. Rome, meanwhile, followed a generally understood timeline of historical events. This may seem like a small detail, however, the sudden and jarring deaths of characters became a staple in Game of Thrones.
Rome most certainly did leave its mark on the world and could easily be seen as a spiritual predecessor – it depends on your perspective. But one thing is for certain- if you liked Game of Thrones and were, like so many others, left unsatisfied by the ending and itching for more content, Rome is a hidden gem of a series that you should definitely be checking out. Whether this be for its shared characteristics with Game of Thrones, or through its own merits is up to you.