Game of Thrones vs. The Walking Dead: Which is better?
It’s that time of year again where Walking Dead fever makes way for Game of Thrones fever. The two haven’t overlapped this year, as a result of a delayed Game of Thrones premiere date, but fans of both shows still love to heatedly debate which one they’d rather watch should the two shows air simultaneously.
While we could be grateful that two excellent pieces of television exist at the same time, and that the golden age of television has allowed for this, we’re going to go the other way. Instead, we’ll put Game of Thrones up against The Walking Dead in a battle to determine which of the two US behemoths is really the better series.
Ratings: The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead comes out on top if we’re talking television ratings. The most recent season in the US scored an incredible average of 18 million total viewers, with 11.5 million adults in the 18-49 age range and 11.3 million in the 25-54 range. The series reachest more modest ratings in the UK on FOX, with the shocking season six finale breaking FOX records to broadcast to 859,000.
On the other hand, Game of Thrones‘ most recent season (season five) scored some of the show’s biggest ever ratings in the US but only managed a season average of 6.88 million viewers. This is far below The Walking Dead in the US, however UK ratings for Game of Thrones outshine those of its competitor, with the season five finale going out to 1.34 million fans on Sky Atlantic.
Ratings don’t tell the whole story, however. In the States, The Walking Dead airs on AMC. This is a basic cable channel, which is accessible to more households than Thrones on HBO (a premium cable channel). It thus makes sense for The Walking Dead‘s ratings to be higher, but may not be able to make up the entire difference.
Awards: Game of Thrones
Which series is thought higher of by critics? Game of Thrones wins the Awards category hands down. In its five season tenure, Game of Thrones has been nominated for a whopping 510 awards and won a total of 190 of them. These include 86 Emmy Award nominations, including five consecutive Outstanding Drama Series nominations, and 26 wins. Last year, the series set an Emmy record by winning 12 awards from 24 nominations.
The Walking Dead has not fared nearly so well among award givers, its six seasons being nominated for only 97 awards and winning just 26 of them. These include 13 Emmy nominations and two wins, exclusively for the make-up, sound editing, visual effects and stunt coordination categories. It has never won a Golden Globe (one nomination) while Game of Thrones has four Golden Globe wins.
Stories: Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is very tightly-plotted. It comes in part from its basis on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, and the fact showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss know Martin’s ending to the series and are always actively working towards it. There are few loose ends, despite a multitude of interweaving, complex storylines and far too many characters.
The Walking Dead also bases its storylines on existing material, that of the comics written by Robert Kirkman. However, the story simply isn’t that multi-dimensional. The characters are survivors of a zombie apocalypse, they do what they have to to survive – which includes visiting various safe places, allying with other groups and a shit ton of fighting scenes. It is described best as a character study, or a study of humanity, rather than a story-driven narrative. For this reason, I believe Game of Thrones is the clear winner in regards to plot.
Characters: The Walking Dead
Here’s a controversial one: I am going to go for The Walking Dead as a winner over Game of Thrones. My reasoning for this is thus: The Walking Dead often spends time exploring its characters in a way that the overcrowded Game of Thrones simply cannot, sometimes dedicating entire episodes to their backstories and always delivering satisfying character development (before the inevitable death of that character). The Walking Dead never contains as many complicated, interweaving storylines as Game of Thrones – and it makes up for that by examining its characters in far greater depth than its rival. The Walking Dead‘s premise is simple, and a season’s plot can usually be summarised in one sentence. The reason for its continuing longevity – and the reason it is able to retain impressively high ratings season after season while Thrones is steadily declining – is because the series is not about a zombie apocalypse, it is about the characters. A high cast turnover rate makes ever season seem like a new show. It’s refreshing. On a bonus note, fans can pretty much name all of the Walking Dead characters at any one time.
A common complaint about Game of Thrones is there is simply too much going on, and average viewers can’t remember half of the less important characters. There are a few characters that are completely adored for their character development – Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark spring to mind – with Tyrion Lannister being beloved for his place as an intelligent, witty underdog. However, they are few and far between in a story that also contains Quaithe, Mero and Tycho Nestoris (no points for those who recognise Tycho as Mark Gatiss).
World-building: Game of Thrones
The Walking Dead is a surprisingly developed world for all the changes the apocalypse has brought – in the most recent series self-sufficient communities have been built and in the comics the groups are basically recreating society from scratch. It is based upon our own world – although albeit a world where zombies have never been heard of before – and it really is believable as a potential post-apocalyptic future in a way that others of its genre have not been able to achieve. It’s such a well developed world that spin-off Fear The Walking Dead has arrived and has been able to flourish, currently with a sixteen episode second season part underway.
In a normal comparison, The Walking Dead would probably win, but in this competition it’s against Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones, which honestly can compare to Tolkien’s Middle Earth in its levels of world-building. It’s incredibly difficult for fantasy to mimic realism – there are so many nuances to consider, including languages, spirituality, cultural habits. Game of Thrones leaves few stones unturned. It has created a very different world to the one in which we live, and yet we relate to the characters – even characters that are able to weald dragons to win a potential war. It must have been an incredibly difficult task, but the results are astonishing. Game of Thrones‘ ability to world build are unparalleled in television.
Overall winner: Game of Thrones.
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