The 100 is to Game of Thrones what Fallout is to Skyrim. If you like one, you’ll probably enjoy the other.
Popping up on many of these lists is a little post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama named The 100, ostensibly a David next to such Goliaths as The Walking Dead and Outlander, but — I would argue — the best of the lot to actually scratch your Game of Thrones-specific itch.
As a fan of both shows, I can certainly acknowledge their different scopes (and budgets). But when it comes to well-written, action-packed stories with compelling characters and sky-high stakes, I believe the two series are practically neck-and-neck; The 100 and Game of Thrones are two of my absolute favorite shows airing on television right now, and any Game of Thrones fans hesitant about checking out a ‘smaller’ show like The 100 might benefit from reading more about how the two series compare.
Credit: Kiss My Wonder Woman
The 100 airs on The CW network in the United States and on E4 in the U.K., and all four seasons are available to stream on Netflix.
Strikingly relevant to the current state of the world, The 100 takes place 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse has wiped out most life on Earth. In space, descendants of the original survivors realize that they’re running out of air, and have no choice but to return to the surface 100 years ahead of schedule. They soon find, however, that the ground is already inhabited by so-called ‘Grounders’ whose ancestors never left the planet behind.
What follows is a gruesome, gritty battle for the survival of the human species with no clear ‘good’ and ‘bad’ side. Multi-layered conflicts and power struggles play out between the various factions of Grounders, Skypeople and ‘others,’ as well as between family members and former friends and lovers as alliances shift and change. Instead of playing for a throne, the characters of The 100 are battling for the ground itself, struggling to hold onto their humanity as the choices they have to make become more and more impossible.
At first glance a Lord of the Flies-inspired ‘teen show’ about young criminals enjoying their newfound independence on a seemingly abandoned Earth, fans of Game of Thrones might be forgiven for giving it a cursory glance and a pass, especially because the pilot episode — while intriguing — is far from reflective of the quality and tone of the series as a whole.
The show takes a few episodes to find its footing: not until episodes 4-5 will viewers begin to truly understand the scope and emotional devastation that the show is capable of, but once it hits you, it really hits you. Safe to say that The 100 has more than one Ned Stark-esque twist, and several symbolic Red Weddings over the course of its four seasons.
As Game of Thrones fans know, however, gore and death means nothing if the story is not grounded in complex, engaging characters that mature and harden before our eyes. Where Game of Thrones has such unforgettable players as Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Jaime Lannister, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark and Theon Greyjoy, The 100 has Clarke Griffin, Octavia Blake, Bellamy Blake, Abby Griffin, Raven Reyes and John Murphy (to mention only a few).
Each character is the hero of his or her own story, and each character believes that the means justify their respective ends.
Credit: It Starts at Midnight
The influences of Lost and Battlestar Galactica should be immediately evident at the start of the series, but the more you watch, the more Thrones DNA you’ll find mixed in there, too.
There are differences, of course. The stigma surrounding network TV means that The 100 isn’t afforded the attention and scope of similar cable and streaming series (and even there, Game of Thrones is in a league of its own!), and the CW series isn’t drawing on thousands of pages of pre-existing source material, having to make up the story as it goes along (although the two shows do employ the same language creator to build ‘real’ made-up languages for their characters to speak).
Game of Thrones builds on its own eons-old mythology, and focuses mainly on older characters more weary of the world; The 100 is all-around smaller, younger, wilder and more frantic, although the traumas pile up equally quickly for both sets of characters, and the latter series is expanding its world and building its mythology at a rapid rate to catch up. The 100 also manages to be intensely dark, bloody and devastating in a way that definitely doesn’t feel CW-esque, the characters and world becoming less glossy and more beat-up, bloody and broken episode by episode.
There are no dragons in The 100, nor prophecies and destinies. But what it lacks in magic, The 100 makes up for in humanity, with a markedly diverse cast of characters.
Sexuality, race and gender are presented as non-issues in this world, for better or worse: in the words of Arya Stark, “anyone can be killed” and many are, frequently too soon and without warning. Like Game of Thrones, The 100 has had its share of controversies, going too far in its brutality and perpetuating tropes that permeate the media landscape at large. It has faced deserved backlash, and gone back to the drawing board, improving and striving to be better, bigger, and more valuable to contemporary viewers.
And just as anyone can die on The 100, anyone can also live, as equals on the bloodied, radioactive playing field. Some characters rise to prominence while others fall — the tide is ever-shifting, and unlike in Game of Thrones, plot moves quickly on The 100 from day 1.
Non-white straight males are afforded an unquestioned power and agency in this narrative that isn’t possible in a show like Game of Thrones, which is to a certain degree shaped by the same prejudices of our current reality. The 100, having done away with society as we know it and most of the prejudices that came with it, has no such limitations.
In fact, heading into season 5, The 100 only has one white straight male left standing, which is pretty extraordinary for any genre series. There are several characters on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, persons of color in leading roles and a commitment to subverting the ‘strong female character’ trope unlike what you’ll find on most other shows of its kind. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Always. But what The 100 does well, it does really, really well.
One thing you want from your sci-fi and fantasy is believability — the more outlandish the world, the more acutely realistic do the characters’ emotional inner worlds need to be. And, like Game of Thrones, The 100 combines excellent, cutting writing with a brilliant cast, seemingly hand-picked for future stardom, fully embodying and realizing the characters that carry the story.
Between Lindsey Morgan’s Raven, Richard Harmon’s Murphy, Paige Turco’s Abby, Eliza Taylor’s Clarke, Bob Morley’s Bellamy, Chris Larkin’s Monty, Devon Bostick’s Jasper, Henry Ian Cusick’s Kane and many, many others, The 100 populates its world with empathetic, well-rounded characters — and that’s not even mentioning the wealth of recurring cast members like Alycia Debnam-Carey, Dichen Lachman, Michael Beach, Adina Porter, Luisa D’Oliveira and Sachin Sahel, all of whom give it their absolute all regardless of how much screen time they are afforded.
Like Game of Thrones, The 100 constructs a fantastical world you believe could be real — set in the future rather than the past, with a smaller budget and beholden to more network restrictions (though fewer than you might assume) — but no less gritty, painful, hopeful, and harrowing to watch. The cinematography and music gets better and better each season, to the point where the aesthetics match pretty closely to something you might see in Westeros (the season 4 episode “Die All, Die Merrily” stands out as particularly spectacular).
You will come to care about characters that are violently ripped away from you, you will watch friendships and relationships crumble and break, you will watch broken humans pick themselves up from devastation and find a way to carry on, and you will cheer in the carefully doled-out moments of true hope and happiness that the series provides.
We’ve got more than a year to wait until Game of Thrones returns, and there’s plenty of time to binge a variety of shows and, hopefully, find one that you like almost as much. I suggest you start with The 100, a hidden gem of a sci-fi drama that deserves much more attention than it’s getting.
The 100 seasons 1-4 is on Netflix now, and the series returns in early 2018.