Everyone loves a good political drama. Full of carefully planned maneuvering, hidden agendas, and conversations held in a whisper, there’s plenty to enjoy. Two shows stand above the rest, though, when it comes to sheer quality: HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s House of Cards.
Both feature charismatic lead characters caught in their own intricate webs of lies and deception. But is one better than the other? Does the thrilling action of Game of Thrones make it the superior show? Or does Kevin Spacey’s role-of-a-lifetime performance in House of Cards take the cake? There’s only one way to find out.
Game of Thrones
Summary: [Spoilers for every season/book coming.] As the show that’s become famous for inciting a nigh-militant spoiler-free TV culture, Game of Thrones has more twists and turns than a hedge maze. All it takes is one glance at the 2,500-plus word guide to not posting spoilers in the show’s sub-Reddit to understand just how crazy it’s become. It’s a true testament to how the series is constantly throwing its viewers for a loop, with everything from the Red Wedding to the fact that quite literally no character is free from the risk of death.
Spoiler risks aside, it’s an addictive drama that lends itself perfectly to binge-watching. The second the credits role, it’s hard not to hit “next,” as it constantly has viewers wondering what horrible things George R.R. Martin has in store for his characters next.
Pros: An almost compulsive devotion to nudity, dragons, sword fights, Sean Bean, Sean Bean’s head, quasi-medieval society, Jamie Lannister, Jamie Lannister’s hand, dragons, Hodor, Peter Dinklage slapping people, dragons, low-budget CGI in Season 1 that slowly improves as the show gains popularity, and dragons.
Cons: Joffrey, beheadings, every character you’ve ever loved being brutally murdered in a single episode, a fanatical commitment to making sure virtually every character is miserable all the time, Sean Bean’s head, and sometimes, there aren’t dragons.
House of Cards
Summary: [More spoilers ahead!] As Netflix’s first foray into an original drama, the company has completely knocked it out of the park. Kevin Spacey plays the iconic Frank Underwood, a congressional representative climbing the political ladder after being slighted by the president following the election. Underwood spends a solid 40% of the show talking directly to the camera in a sort of monologue-y fourth wall sort of way, making for a storytelling format that’s equal parts awkward and entertaining.
The show is buoyed by incredible performances from Spacey and his TV wife, Robin Wright, as they plot and scheme to a magnitude that would make the MacBeths jealous. All that makes for a show that Netflix basically begs you to hole up for three days watching, thanks to the steaming service’s decision to release every episode of each season all at once.
Pros: Spacey being married to Buttercup from The Princess Bride, demonstrating that it’s actually super easy to deceive your way into becoming president, monologues (so many monologues), Spacey’s fake Southern accent, compelling political drama, Spacey exercising on a rowing machine, Spacey doing anything.
Cons: Spacey doesn’t say “as you wish” even once to his TV wife, Spacey breaking his rowing machine, the complete destruction of your faith in our modern political system, your friends will stop liking you when you disappear for a week because you had to finish the latest season, and there are never any dragons.
It’s difficult to crown just one winner when two shows are this thoroughly entertaining. Both broke new ground on their respective channels, and both continue to only get better with each subsequent season. This, of course, leads us to the real winner of this throw-down: dragons. Always dragons.