Game of Thrones is expensive to produce, and it’s also expensive to watch.
The HBO fantasy epic franchise, which returns for its penultimate seventh season Sunday, costs a reported US$10 million or more to create a single episode.
A monthly subscription to HBO Canada/The Movie Network sets back households a bit north of $20. Of course, that’s in addition to all the other viewing, internet and phone options that likely are on a customer’s bill.
The United States may be going through a rough patch right now, but at least they have more options when it comes to checking on whether winter is coming. HBO Now is a distinct streaming service that offers the premium channel's programming for US$15 a month, no cable or satellite provider required.
In Canada, Bell Media’s CraveTV streaming product offers a menu of HBO programming, but there isn’t even one old episode of Game of Thrones available. The business model seems pretty clear, but it also may help explain why the series is regularly the most pirated thing on the internet whenever a new season appears.
So, what’s a law-abiding, nickel-pinching fan to do?
Be patient; maybe someone will give you a gift card around the time the show appears on iTunes. And there’s eventually a box set on DVD or Blu-ray. Note that either of these options make devotees highly susceptible to plot spoilers so, if that’s a concern, it’s best to stay off social media and away from public spaces for a few months.
More realistically, why not try to find a reasonable substitute for a bit? The Last Kingdom is a series on Netflix, but it is not nearly as well known as hits on the service like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black.
Based on a collection of novels by Bernard Cornwell known as The Saxon Stories, The Last Kingdom is a fictionalized version of the history of England in the ninth century. Careful viewers will note the absence of dragons, a Game of Thrones staple.
But the tone of the series and the ambition of the creators should be appreciated by fans of that other show. The Last Kingdom clearly has something less than an HBO-level budget, but there are many scenes that still look fantastic on a big-screen TV.
Other aspects of The Last Kingdom may also appeal to Game of Thrones diehards going through withdrawal. There are intertwining family sagas, none more complicated than the backstory of lead character Uhtred of Bebbanburg, an outstanding warrior played by Alexander Dreymon. There are huge battles, including a particularly stunning staging in season 2. And instead of heartless ice creatures, the Anglo-Saxons have to worry about attacks from Viking Danes.
If you get hooked, a logical question would be “When is season 3 arriving?” Dreymon told an interviewer in June that he would know in “the next couple of months” whether the story would continue. Cornwell, as quoted in the Express, said “we’ll know soon.”
They may be in the dark about their show, but it is a fact that Game of Thrones will wrap up with the next season. Barring any wallet-friendly developments, be prepared to go through this exercise again in 2019.