Winter is indeed upon us, as “Game of Thrones” has just wrapped its truncated seventh season with a jaw-dropping finale that moves plenty of pieces (most of them terrifying, ice-cold, and dragon-aided) into place for a game-changer of a final season…that won’t come until sometime in 2018. It’s the Long Night, all over again (and, if those gently falling snowflakes during some of the finale’s last moments are any indication, fans of the HBO series aren’t the only ones headed for a chilling, unforgiving few months).
In order to keep diehard viewers sated until its last episodes hit the small screen, here are some ideas for films that might help ease the pain, from classic Westerns to underseen historical dramas, all with that special “Thrones” touch (murderous, political, bloody, and at least partially beholden to mythical beasts).
Here are eight films to watch — not all at once, there’s plenty of time — while you wait for the final season of the fantastical series to bow. Some spoilers ahead.
“The Magnificent Seven”
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The penultimate episode of the latest “Game of Thrones” season, “Beyond the Wall,” will likely go down in the show’s history as “the one where the Night King kills Viserion the dragon and then brings him back to life as a terrifying ice beast.” But the entry actually kicked off with something much more small-scale (and miles more enjoyable): the dispatching of a motley crew of heroes, bent on bringing back proof of the White Walkers.
The plan itself is hare-brained as hell — travel beyond the Wall, find a wight, bring him back to show Cersei what a monster really looks like — but the execution is as pleasurable as things get on the blood-thirsty series. For another spin on a band of outcasts heading off to fight a shared baddie, John Sturges’ Western classic “The Magnificent Seven” offers up similar charms, bolstered by memorable characters, another wild plan, and plenty of gun-slinging action. Inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese classic “Seven Samurai,” the film was recently re-made by Antoine Fuqua, featuring an all-star cast that included Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Peter Sarsgaard. Between that trio of features, there’s hours upon hours of non-“Game of Thrones” buddy-adventure (plus blood!) to keep anyone happy.
While the decadent days of Lannister royalty seem to be coming to a brutal, protracted end (no matter what Cersei thinks the future may hold, we suspect it won’t be the confutation of her family’s ruling, baby or not), Cersei continues to rattle around King’s Landing, plotting against her enemies and reminiscing about better days gone by. Sofia Coppola’s glamorous and inventive 2006 drama tracks the rise and fall of the eponymous young queen (Kirsten Dunst) as her love for life comes to horrific end during the rise of the French Revolution. All the decadence of the ruling class is merry fun, but it also unfurls while long-held resentments simmer mostly off-screen, making Marie’s adoration for the finer things in life look more ridiculous by the minute (Cersei, is that you?). As the film zips along to its bloody end, Marie’s inability to understand her subjects (and herself) pushes the drama towards the inevitable.
Now that one of Dany’s beloved dragon-children has been converted to the dark side (the ice side? whichever, really), this 1981 Walt Disney feature is more essential than ever. While it may have been amusing to watch a young wizard battle a wild dragon during earlier seasons, now that Viserion has become a tool in the Night King’s ever-growing arsenal (and not just a charming, if large child of Dany), it’s positively chilling now. After the horrific last sequence of the finale, it’s clear that whatever battles remain between the living and the dead, all three dragons will play a major part in them, and that may all lead to a dragon-centric battle in which not everyone (dragon or otherwise) comes out alive. What better time to watch a film entirely dedicated to offing such a mythical beast? Bolstered by strong effects work from ILM and a mature storyline (yes, there is nudity) that doesn’t quite fit the prescribed Disney mold, it’s a telling and rich story about dragons. Now more than ever!
“Kingdom of Heaven”
20th Century Fox
Ridley Scott’s 2005 historical drama is set during the Crusades, and offers up enough sword-centric clashes to make “Game of Thrones” fans temporarily stop dissecting the thrills of battle-heavy episodes like “The Spoils of Water” and last season’s “Battle of the Bastards.” Like the most wide-ranging of “Game of Thrones” war spectacles, “Kingdom of Heaven” hinges on the horrors of battles that are fought by wholly unequal foes, with different battle styles and weapons unfurling with terrifying regularity. There’s also plenty of political intrigue and some good old-fashioned back-stabbing, much of it centered around Eva Green as a sophisticated queen who finds her own motivations and allegiances changing as war rages on, seemingly without end.
Saoirse Ronan gives a Faceless Man-worthy performance in Joe Wright’s 2011 actioner as a young girl trained to kill by the only man she trusts (in this case, her father). While the young-assassin-gone-wild themes of both Hanna’s story and that of young Arya Stark are obvious, Wright’s film also offers up some tricky moral quandaries for its young heroine, the kind the Arya is increasingly forced to face as her lone wolf lifestyle is steadily changing post-reunion with her brother and sister. While Hanna’s brief forays into normalcy are derailed by a wide-ranging plot against both her and her father, Arya is coming to grips with a world that might actually be better for both her and the rest of the Starks if she’s able to show off her killer new skill set. Things panned out pretty well for the Stark family at the end of Season 7, with Arya showing off her most brutal of instincts to startling effect, but will that theme continue in the final season? “Hanna” might offer some telling tips.
Any series about fates, furies, political machinations, and tremendous monsters owes plenty to the legend of Excalibur, and John Boorman’s 1981 epic fantasy is still one of the best cinematic approximations of the sprawling mythos.
Even the most hardened schemes hatched by Cersei and Dany are no match for the works of Catherine de’ Medici (Virna Lisi) in Patrice Chéreau’s 1994 French period drama. While the film is named for her daughter (played by Isabelle Adjani), it’s Lisi who presides over the entire affair with an iron fist and a daring political mind that doesn’t care who she destroys in her quest to keep control over France (no wonder she won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her work). While Margot is shipped off for a marriage of convenience (which predictably leads to a passionate, and wholly ill-fated affairs with a handsome soldier), Catherine continues to giddily pull all kinds of murderous strings. There’s bloody uprisings and personal poisonings, double-crossings and plenty of broken oaths — and Lisi is at the center of all of it, the maddest of all mad queens.
Filmmaker Neil Marshall has a pair of “Game of Thrones” episodes under his belt — bangers “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall” — and his skill at directing absolutely brutal battle sequences is on full display in both. He was already hacking away at those talents in his 2010 historical action-drama, which involves the disappearance of the Roman Empire’s Ninth Legion during the early part of the second century. To say that the Michael Fassbender-starring feature is savage is a tremendous understatement, as “Centurion” makes barbaric battling the center of nearly every frame. This is a war film, emphasis on the war and little else, the kind of grisly stuff that even “GOT” occasionally shies away from. “Centurion” doesn’t.