CULT CORNER: 'ROME' died so 'Game of Thrones' could live
By Meghan O'Keefe // April 20, 2016 // 2:00pm
When we talk about streaming culture, we’re usually enthusing about what’s new, but one of the best things about streaming is how it’s made old and obscure cult hits available to a new generation. Presenting Cult Corner: your weekly look into hidden gems and long-lost curiosities that you can find on streaming.
Rome is the show that died so Game of Thrones could live.
HBO launched the epic “sword-and-sandals” drama in 2005. It was one of a handful of prestige dramas being prepped to catch viewers who might leave the service after the impending end of The Sopranos. Unfortunately for HBO — and for Rome — the Bruno Heller show was expensive, complex, and wholly ahead of its time. It was a show that lent itself to encores and binge-watches. It pitted larger-than-life icons against rowdy commoners and pushed sex into almost every exposition scene. It offered up brutal scenes of torture, warring noble houses, and one gross little incest storyline. It was, essentially, a rougher Game of Thrones — but without the magic. People didn’t quite get it.
Rome leaned heavily on the kind of complicated plots that work well enough onscreen, but that go down even better if they include dragons, White Walkers, and a splash of mysticism. Otherwise, it all just seems a tiny bit too ridiculous, right? It’s almost as if the fantasy elements of Game of Thrones excuse these narrative indulgences. These odd coincidences, perfectly lined up moments of fate…they just make more sense if you have a God of Light or ancient prophecy behind them. Nevermind the fact that not everyone is up on their history of the Julii enough to fully feel the show’s use of irony or foreshadowing.
Rome served as a thematic set up for Game of Thrones, but the connections don’t stop there. From a purely business point of view, Rome‘s production was clearly used as a template for Game of Thrones. Right after the first show was canceled, Game of Thrones went into development with a — believe it or not — much smaller budget. The new fantasy series would pirate Rome‘s cast and production staff. Rome stars James Purefoy and Kevin McKidd have gone on the record saying that they wouldn’t join former colleagues Ciaran Hinds, Indira Varma, or Tobias Menzies on the hit series because they honestly believe Rome was cancelled to set up Game of Thrones‘ success.
Today Rome is an exquisite little curiosity. It’s a show that swung for the fences and came up a tiny bit too short. It exists now as a cult favorite and as a footnote in the history of Game of Thrones‘ success. Oddly, though, Game of Thrones isn’t the only show it inspired. Later, Bruno Heller would take the template of Rome and lay it on top of a fantasy world of his own: Gotham.
[Where to Stream Rome]