What to Watch: The Game of Thrones Premiere or The Walking Dead Finale?

walkingdeadvsgameofthronesThis coming Sunday presents a dreadful dilemma for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and perambulating corpses: the season premiere of Game of Thrones and the season finale of The Walking Dead both air at 9 o’clock. Luckily, we live in an age of miracles like the DVR, so the decision over which to watch isn’t as drastic as it would have been years ago. But both shows are viewing-party-worthy events, and so an agonizing choice must still be made: do I watch the Game of Thrones premiere first and save The Walking Dead finale for later, or vice versa?


Game of Thrones is the HBO fantasy series based on the Song of Ice and Fire series of novels by George R.R. Martin. Set in the kingdom of Westeros and its neighboring realms, the story follows a diverse group of characters as they plot, fight, have sex, jockey for power, or just try to survive in an often-brutal world. It contains copious blood, sex, swordplay, acerbic wit, constantly-shifting allegiances, a touch of magic, three baby dragons, and an army of zombies (here called “wights”). The main characters, or the closest thing to it in such a wide ensemble, are the Stark family, whose members have been scattered across the land as they battle the ruling House Lannister. The biggest question of the last season was, “Where are my dragons?”

The Walking Dead is the AMC sci-fi/horror series based on the comic book series of the same name written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Set in post-zombie-apocalyptic Georgia, the story follows a diverse group of characters as they plot, fight, have sex, hallucinate, and just try to survive in an often-brutal world. It contains copious blood, gunplay, angst, constantly-shifting motivations, occasional sex, moments of dark humor, one baby person, and a horde of zombies (here called “walkers”). The main characters are the group of survivors led by former sheriff Rick Grimes, currently inhabiting an old prison and preparing to battle another group from the town of Woodbury. The biggest question of the last season was, “Where’s Carl?”

Faithfulness to the Sources

Game of Thrones hews pretty closely to the story in the books, although it does reorder some events, scrap or combine some of the more minor characters, and create a few new scenes. This has led to some great improvements, like the Arya-and-Tywin arc from last season, though it’s also given us Ros the Expository Prostitute. Readers of the books may know where things are going, but can still be surprised by how they’ll get there. The Walking Dead includes many of the  characters and situations from the books, but at this point it’s basically its own thing. Pretty much anything could happen in the Walking Dead finale.

Willingness to Kill Off Lead Characters

Both series have cultivated a sense that nobody is safe—even main characters can be killed at any time.

The Walking Dead’s season has been building to an all-out battle between the prison survivors and the Woodbury group, which means this Sunday’s finale will probably come with a body count. Rick likely won’t be killed off quite yet, though there’s no guarantee he’ll make it through the episode without a scratch—and his comic book counterpart did wind up getting injured pretty seriously by the Governor. Daryl’s such a fan favorite that he’s probably safe for another season, too, and the show’s probably not going to kill Carl or baby Judith, either. But the rest of the cast? Old one-legged Hershel? Carol? Beth, whose name I had to look up? Geeky Milton practically told the Governor he sabotaged his war plans, so I wouldn’t be too devastated not to see him next season. Glenn and Maggie just got engaged in the last episode, which is like announcing you’re only three days from retirement, or—in this show—being black and having lines. Speaking of which, Tyreese is probably in trouble, too.

Game of Thrones, on the other hand, is only just starting its new storylines. When last season left off—which was what, a hundred years ago? I was so much younger then—the main characters were dealing with the aftermath of the Battle of Blackwater. Things were looking pretty good for Team Lannister, though less so personally for Tyrion, a.k.a. the best character on TV ever. All his power’s gone and he’s got a big ol’ gash across his face now, but considering his loving sister and/or royally sadistic nephew tried to have him killed, things certainly could have been worse. Robb Stark was continuing to kick ass and take names out in the field, though his undefended home of Winterfell just got crushed, and his marriage to Talisa Maegyr completely broke the deal he made with House Frey, which you know is going to have some repercussions because Lord Walder is a dick. The Khaleesi, Daenerys Targaryen, has her dragons back as well as all the loot plundered from Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ house, so she’s looking ready to start some ruckus. Meanwhile, in the North, Jon Snow’s gone undercover with the Wildlings while the rest of the Night’s Watch were last seen fleeing from AN ARMY OF ZOMBIES.

Final Analysis

So, which to watch this Sunday, the finale or the premiere? If you’re even considering the question, it means you’ve already committed about fifteen hours to The Walking Dead this year. You’ve stuck with it through Rick’s hallucinations, through the deaths of Lori and Oscar and Axel and Merle and our dearly, dearly departed T-Dog (may he have pages and pages of dialogue in Heaven). You’ve waited patiently for Michonne to develop a personality beyond “having a sword,” and pondered what might be in the prison’s water supply that allowed Hershel and Glenn to heal so damn quickly. You’ve suffered with Andrea. Just one more hour, and it’s all done. But then if you’re into Game of Thrones, it means you’ve been without your fix since last June. Nine months and three weeks, and now you can’t look up without seeing ads telling you, “It’s back! It’s back! The show’s back!”

All I can say is thank God for the DVR, truly the greatest invention in human history. Because dragons, dammit. It’s been almost ten months, and I need me some Thrones! But then immediately after, I’ve got to see what happened with Walking Dead. And if you go the other way, don’t tell me nothin’.

Which will you watch this Sunday??

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