Watch This! English-language movies and tv series list

Dear students,

here is a list of movies and tv. series you might find enjoyable, and useful for your English language learning. The main genres are horror, crime & thriller, romance, sci-fi. There are also cross-genre films and series in the relaxing and social issue categories.

Be Afraid (Horror _+ Dystopia movies and tv series)

Get Out

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Funny, scary, and thought-provoking, Get Out seamlessly weaves its social critiques into a brilliantly effective and entertaining horror/comedy thrill ride.

Early on in “Get Out,” Chris, a talented young photographer (played by British actor Daniel Kaluuya) is getting ready to spend a weekend with the family of his beautiful girlfriend Rose (“Girls” co-star Allison Williams). Packing his “cozy clothes,” he asks, “Do they know I’m black?” — a question she finds laughably outdated. Her dad, after all, would have voted for Obama three times if he could have. But even before they arrive at the house, Chris begins to comprehend that Rose’s lily-white suburb holds terrible secrets.

At first, Chris believes his discomfort to be just an affirmation of what he already expects from wealthy, self-identified liberal white people. Rose’s family — led by her parents Dean and Missy (played with just the right amount of creepy warmth by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) — call Chris “my man!” and speak enthusiastically of Jesse Owens and Tiger Woods.

Chris has clearly seen it all before, that privileged condescension from people whose only regular interaction outside their race is with the people who serve them. But in this case, the relationship Dean and Missy have with their docile black maid and groundskeeper has a more ominous energy. And when a lone black guest shows up at a family party, the man’s similarly odd behavior raises Chris’s suspicions that something seriously weird is going on in this pumpkin spice latte, Gilmore Girls” town. In time, a conspicuously locked door is unlocked, bad people start doing bad things and Chris finds himself desperately trying to heed the film’s titular warning — “Get Out!” (full review, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon).

The Handmaid’s Tale

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Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale presents a feminist dystopia for modern American times. The story occurs after a fundamentalist military coup in America, when environmental damage has decimated fertility rates with the result that childbearing women have become an exceptional minority. Gilead’s new male-led government forces fertile women to work as child-bearing handmaids for the nation’s governors. The discipline of the new state is enforced violently, and the surrogate-mother ‘handmaids’ are really slaves. The Republic of Gilead sweeps away the freedoms of liberal America, and strict religious belief, patriarchy and violent punishment become the ‘new normal’. Terrifically well-acted, thrilling, and moving, the series is highly relevant to the new-old politics of Trump era America. Reviews from the Guardian here, indiewire here, and Detroit Free Press here.

Intrigue yourself (crime and thriller  movies and tv series)

Killing Eve

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s spy thriller could be the best show of 2018. Grey’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh gets to show that she can do awkward hero shtick as well as a mainstream soap stalwart. Jodie Comer is excellent as the cold-blooded assassin whom Oh has to track down. Their relationship as hunter and hunted is the main draw as Waller-Bridge easily transitions to life behind the camera. She brings her fantastically puerile sense of humour to bear, as well as building nail-biting suspense. Reviews from The Guardian here and Vulture here.

Sharp Objects

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Sharp Objects, a Missouri-set whodunit concerning the brutal murder of two young women in an American small rural town called Wind Gap, is based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, author of the equally thrilling novel Gone Girl.

The series’ antihero, Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) is a troubled journalist, and part of the mystery of the story is the unravelling of her complicated secrets. As we watch Camille return to the claustrophobic community in which she grew up to report on a girl who’s gone missing and another who’s been murdered, the series investigates how race and patriarchy are central to Wind Gap’s power structures and traditions. The pretense of being a genteel white community, complete with a Confederate flag–filled celebration of the area’s Civil War history, informs what’s tolerated and what’s not in Wind Gap, from the high school football team’s tendencies toward rape to the unacknowledged segregation that shapes the town.

An effective thriller that keeps the viewer guessing right through till the last episode, the series offers punchy social commentary for Trump Era America. Reviews from Buzzfeed here and Vulture here.

The Wire

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“The greatest ever cop show that isn’t actually a cop show”. David simon’s complex crime drama follows the thread of a single police investigation, from the perspectives of both law-enforcement officials and the criminals they’re pursuing. Focused on the city’s illegal drug trade it’s waterfront corruption in the second, and then the press and the court system and politicians in the third and fourth series.  The Wire is a dense, Dickensian drama about “those on both sides on the law caught up in the whirlpool of an entropic, near-suicidal society where dark reality is fast outpacing hope”. The series makes Baltimore “something like a central character”, showing us “a city in its death throes, fighting to hang on to its very soul”. Synopsis partially  abridged from the Guardian review (read here). Funny, thrilling and moving, the series gives a complex social critique of Obama era America.

The Deuce

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Produced by Maggie Gyllenhal and some of the team who produced, directed and wrote The Wire (David Simon, George Pelecanos), The Deuce is a 1970’s New York-set examination of the rise of America’s porn industry from street based hustling and brothels to the beginnings of the porn film industry. “A gritty, grimy (but rarely grim) tapestry of pimps and hoes, cops and pornographers, feminists and misogynists, crusaders and deadbeats”, the Deuce vividly portray the world of Manhattan’s streets, bars, brothels and police to examine the intermingling of sexual power and financial power. Great character performances from Franco as twin brothers Vince and Frankie, Gyllenhal as single mother Eileen, who progresses from streetwalking to filmaking, the pimps, Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe), Rodney (Cliff “Method Man” Smith) and C.C. (Gary Carr), and the sex workers, including fresh-off-the-bus Lori (Emily Meade) and the clever and inquisitive Darlene (Dominique Fishback). Read the Vanity Fair review here, the Guardian review here, and the Hollywood Reporter review here.

Bodyguard

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Set in present-day London, Jed Mecurio’s series Bodyguard centers on British military veteran David Budd (Richard Madden) who, after returning home from Afghanistan, struggles to adapt to “normal” everyday life while working as a protection officer for the London Metropolitan Police Service. Separated from his wife, Vicky, Budd begins to question his self-worth until he’s assigned to protect a controversial politician, Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes).

Having witnessed the horrors of war firsthand, Budd is staunchly against Britain’s military campaign in the Middle East, while Montague’s seeks to advance her own political career by promoting a crackdown on terrorism and civil liberities (such as internet privacy). Their conflict is deliciously dramatic due to their attraction for each other. Bodyguard is an exciting and moving thriller that thoughtfully engages with terrorism, government corruption, and post-traumatic stress disorder in six punchy hour-long episodes. Guardian review here.

Line of Duty

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Line of Duty (series 4) sets off at a scorching pace into the murky shadowland where crime, punishment, ambition and corruption mingle treacherously. Detective Roz Huntley (played by Thandie Newton) is a fascinatingly complex character, and its hard to know whether to admire her courage, tenancity and quick wits, or shudder at the ice flowing through her veins. Part of the fascination lies in her confrontation with the masculine world of London’s police, where motherhood is career-death,  older male colleagues try to trade patronage for sexual favours, and male officers underestimate women because of their gender.

Huntley investigates a series of violent crimes against women and quickly identifies a likely culprit, winning the praises of senior colleagues. However all is not what it seems and the cat and mouse chase between the detective and the team of investigators who suspect her of framing the arrested young man is thrilling and compelling. Guardian review here.

Relax (easy-watching movies and tv series)

Friends

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Everyone knows this one I think, so I won’t explain more than this: a bunch of attractive and likeable young Americans hang out and flirt in a coffee bar and their apartments. Funny scripts and great comic timing  (especially Rachel) make this a satisfying comfort-watch.

The Big Bang Theory

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This nerdy and geeky Friends-like sit-com has been hugely popular in America. The broad comedy trades in nerdy-geeky stereotypes; Penny is a ditsy aspiring actress, Leonard a nervous neurotic, and Sheldon is a fussy know-it-all with a possible undiagnosed Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Howard is poorly dressed and perpetually horny, while Rajesh Koothrappali is embarrassingly shy. But the show does more provide cheap laughs, providing satisfying plotlines and character development over the long (12 year) term, like Sheldon becoming disenchanted with theoretical physics, and Leonard and Penny falling in love and getting married, and all of the main characters becoming more fully fleshed and flawed, while remaining funny.

Parks and Recreation

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Critics write that the cast is phenomenal, the writing inventive and genuinely funny. This hugely popular American sit-com garnered particularly positive reviews from series 2-7. In series 3, eternally optimistic government employee Leslie Knope (Poehler) sets her sights on a new goal: revitalizing the town of Pawnee by throwing a harvest festival. Meanwhile, there’s love in the air for just about everyone in the cast: Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) begins dating health-conscious city manager Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe); April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) enter into a whirlwind romance; and Leslie falls for Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), despite the fact that as coworkers, they aren’t allowed to date. Reviews from Slant Magazine here, and the New York Daily News here.

Chinese Burn

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A punky and fiesty comedy about three Chinese friends  living in London. Punky, feisty would-be actor Jackie (Yennis Cheung); the struggling Elizabeth (Shin-Fei Chen) trying to compensate low self-confidence with a string of disappointing affairs, and the kooky, naive Fufu (Yuyu Rau) – who’s from a wealthy family and newly arrived in the city, in awe of all its attractions. The series challenges stereotypical views about Chinese youth from its beginning voiceover: ‘Chinese girls …sweet, innocent, submissive Chinese girls. Conservative and virginal. good at maths, ping-pong and looking after men… (long pause)  “Screw that”!

Fresh Off the Boat

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“11-year-old, American-born Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang), his two brothers, and his grandmother are being transplanted from Washington, D.C., to Orlando by his Taiwanese-born parents, Louis (Randall Park) and Jessica (Constance Wu), because Louis has opened a struggling steakhouse there.

Eddie is so alienated by the dominant white culture that the only way he can relate to it is through hip-hop and other signifiers of black culture. “If you’re an outsider,” an older Eddie voice-overs, “hip-hop is your anthem.”

Fresh Off the Boat blows up the idea of a racial binary to contend instead with something more complicated: a world where Asian, white, and black identities are constantly rubbing up against each other”. Synopsis partially  abridged from the Slate review (read here). The New Yorker also has a review here.

Girls

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Girls, a female point of view comedy, portrays “four friends, adrift in a modern New York of unpaid internships and bad sex on dirty sofas”. The show’s main charactars are white New Yorkers from educated backgrounds. Hannah, whose professor parents have cut her off from their financial support; her responsible friend Marnie; her irresponsible buddy Jessa; and Jessa’s innocent cousin Shoshanna. Funny and realistic, the series brings a refreshing honesty to stories of post-college romance, friendship and growing up. Season one review from Grantland here. and from San Fransisco Gate here.

Feel (romance/anti-romance/soap opera movies and tv series)

Fleabag

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Classic British humour gets a feminist and ballsy update in Phoebe Waller-Bridges black and baudy comedy. Fleabag (played by Waller-Bridges)  introduces herself “as a woman in control of her own story: an urbane singleton living in London, who beds whom she chooses, dropping wisecracks in the midst of the act”. The charactar’s funny-tragic narrative involves her mourning over the death of her best friend and trying to fill the void with sex whilst breaking up with her boyfriend, being unable to connect with her father and sister and conflicting with her manipulative stepmother.

The show is “smutty-giggly, caustic, observant about the ugliness of both sexes, and occasionally surreal”. Its also deeply moving as the protagonist tries to work through her grief and self-loathing and find the capacity to connect with another person. Synopsis partially  abridged from the Telegraph review (read here). The New Yorker also has a review (read here).

Poldark

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“Ross Poldark is the protagonist of a beloved series of historical novels  by English author Winston Graham. The character is a kind of anti-establishment brooder who returns home to Cornwall after the American Revolutionary War to a meager inheritance and to the distressing news that the woman he loves is marrying another. His betrothed, Elizabeth (Heida Reed), fearing him killed, is now engaged to his cousin, Francis (Kyle Soller), and Poldark’s father is also dead, his only legacy an ill-maintained estate house and a struggling tin mine. This is hardly anything to base a living on, but the stubborn Poldark perseveres through all manner of challenges, aided by the destitute waif Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson)”.

An 18th century historical romance full of heroic sacrifice, romantic affairs and class conflict, Poldark’s coastal Cornwall and its actors (Aiden Turner, Heida Reed and Eleanor Tomlinson) look beautiful, while the series provides a thrilling and moving account of rural life within a melodramatic format. Synopsis partially  abridged from the Boston Globe review (read here). Reviews from the Guardian here, and Hollywood Reporter here.

Downton Abbey

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Chocolate box comfort-viewing for those who like to fantasize about upper-class British lives and their superiority to those of the lower sorts. A melodrama of masters, mistresses and servants, full of silly romantic and gossipy plotlines. Does a good job of presenting British love for the aristocracy, rising middle classes, and values of respectability and dignity during the early 20th century.  Great for learning how to pronounce received English (the accent that Britain’s southern wealthy elite speak with), and for listening to the Yorkshire accent used by most of the show’s servant-class. Easy-watching good fun for those that like grand houses and expensive frocks.

Vanity Fair

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Based on William Thakeray’s famous (1848) satirical  novel this recent ITV version portrays its social-climbing anti-heroine Becky Sharp as charming, cunning and calculating. Vanity Fair shows a sumptouus world of undeserved wealth and luxury, and encourages the viewer to root for its protagonist who will use her youth and beauty by any means in order to escape the miserable prospects of an unmarried woman lacking money, connections (guanxi) and prospects. Part comic satire of the pretensions of 19th century English society, part reflection on our current times, this version of Vanity Fair is pretty and witty and (to some degree) wise. A review and an interview with Michael Palin from Radio Times here and here, and a review from the Guardian here.

Wonder (Sci-fi movies and tv series)

Westworld

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A sci-fi drama set in an Wild West theme park, Westworld is a reinvented American frontier Western for postmodern times.

The “Westworld” theme park  has “hosts” – very life-like androids – which guests pay top dollar to interact with. Guests can do whatever they wish to hosts without fear of repercussion, for they are just robots, just as enslaved people were regarded as objects in frontier times. Hosts follow a pre-programmed script, cannot harm guests, and have their memories wiped clean after each story so they can be used again in the next.  However, the hosts are very sophisticated androids, capable of great intelligence and the full range of human experience from, for example, grief and dying through to lust and the love of a parent for her or his child. Over time, they begin to recall memories and reflect on their experience, despite being reprogrammed after each story.

Westworld is in part the story of the hosts’ struggle towards consciousness and what that means for human-host relations. That storyline raises philosphical questions about what it means to be human in an age of artificial intelligence and capitalism, and, conversely, what artificial intelligence and capitalism mean for our understanding of human nature and social relations.

All of the series’s complex philosophical-political questions come wrapped in thrilling and intriguing narratives set in the three worlds of the Wild West park, the laboratory and the “real’ world outside. Great writing, directing and performances, and an adrenelin-shot storyline make series one and two entertaining and thought provoking rides for modern and future times. Reviews from New Republic and Pop Matters and Den of Geek here, here, and here.

Humans

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Humans (seasons 1-3) is a “mature, high-octane thriller offering emotional intrigue and thought-provoking suspense that should prove irresistible to sci-fi fans while remaining accessible enough to lure in genre agnostics”.

Humans is set in a near future London “where strikingly realistic-looking androids called synths are increasingly being called on to perform menial or degrading work, from home care to housekeeping to prostitution”.

In season one, Joe brings  a “synth” called Anita — later known as Mia (Gemma Chan) — into the family home, with repercussions that change their lives forever. As Toby, Sophie and Joe become enamored with Anita, Mattie and Laura realize something is amiss. Meanwhile, Niska, a conscious synth, seeks help from her human brother Leo  after an incident places their unusual family in danger; and Pete, a police officer investigating Niska’s actions, is shocked when his partner Karen reveals her secret past. Elsewhere, retired scientist George struggles to keep his aging synth Odi from being decommissioned; and Laura and Mattie assist Leo as he tries to uncover the truth behind his father’s work. Reviews of season one from Culturefly here, and of season two from Hollywood Reporter here.

Black Mirror

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To what extent could the pressures of social media distort a society? In Charlie Brooker’s darkly comedic Black Mirror stories (the black mirror the shiny surface of our devices), the answer tends to be ‘to a great extent indeed’. Brooker combines farce within an effective thriller format to reflect on British society in the age of information technology. This series is not for the feint-hearted as the subject matter is sometimes highly vulgar, but does a thrilling and moving job of making its audience reflect on our immersion in the world of social media. Reviews from Vogue and the New York Review of Books here and here.

Empathise (social issue movies and tv series)

Broken

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Sean Bean is mesmerising as Father Michael Kerrigan, a small-town priest trying to spare his flock from the horrors of gambling addiction, sexual abuse and police brutality. And Muna Otaru is brilliantly stong and tender as Helen Oyenusi, the mother of a mentally damaged son, a women who, as Father Kerrigan suggests would have made a far better priest than he. A tender exploration of working class lives in the UK today, Broken is ultimately heart-warming in the fashion of Its a Wonderful Life – the movie that inspired writer-director Jimmy McGovern.If you like privilege-worshipping shows like Downton Abbey you will hate this. If you can’t stand them, then Jimmy McGovern’s Broken may just be your cup of tea. Guardian review here.

The Night Of

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“Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) plays Nasir Khan, a Pakistani-American college student from Queens who impulsively borrows his dad’s cab so that he can attend a party in Manhattan. A young woman named Andrea (Sofia Black-D’Elia) gets into the cab, and because she’s pretty and teasing and troubled, he drives her to her Upper West Side apartment, spends a debauched night with her, and wakes up to find her dead beside him, drenched in blood from stab wounds. Did he kill her? Although nearly everyone assumes he did — why wouldn’t they, since he fled the scene with the bloody knife in his pocket? — we just don’t know.”

The Night Of “is hypnotic, like reading a fat crime novel filled with memorable characters and atmospheric details”.

Synopsis abridged from the Vulture review (read the full review here).

New York Times review here.

12 Years a Slave

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“Based on the 19th-century memoir of Solomon Northup (adapted here by screenwriter John Ridley), 12 Years a Slave follows the tribulations of an educated carpenter, musician and family man from New York state who, in 1841, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south – a shockingly common phenomenon. Stripped of his past, his identity and even (in the eyes of the law) his humanity, the renamed “Platt” becomes the property of plantation owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose comparatively benign and sympathetic demeanour belies his slaver status. But after incurring the ire of sadistic farmhand Tibeats (Paul Dano), “Platt” is sold down the river to Epps (Michael Fassbender), a broiling cauldron of psychotic rage whose desire for slave girl Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) appears to be pushing him ever further into an abyss of uncontrollable cruelty.”

Critic Mark kermode writes that “if you have any interest in cinema – or, for that matter, in art, economics, politics, drama, literature or history – then you need to watch 12 Years a Slave”.

Brilliantly directed with great performances, this film is a key part of the recent re-historicising of America slavery and race-relations. Whether it does a good job of engaging with that history has been questioned by some critics (see the Screenrant review here.)

Synopsis abridged from the Guardian review (full review here).

The Hate U Give

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Amanda Stenberg plays Starr Carter, a teenage girl living with her parents and two brothers in the tough (fictional) neighbourhood of Garden Heights. Her father Maverick is a former gang member turned community leader keen to impress on his children both the importance of black pride and the dangers that being a person of colour in an institutionally biased nation brings. Starr is a high-performing student at an elite and mostly white high school. When she becomes involved in a police shooting she learns just how difficult it is to negotitate her way through the different worlds of Garden Heights and the elite school.  Great teen movie engaged with the issues of the “Black Lives Matters” campaign, based on a bestselling book by Angie Thomas.

Ladybird

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American high school life isn’t Chinese zhong xue life, but it is interesting. Greta Gerwig’s rites of passage story stars Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird, a final year student looking foward to escaping from her staid homeotown of Sacramento. Lady Bird is”decked with a messy blood-red dye job, a smattering of acne and thrift-shop chic sensibilities, she is thoughtful and impulsive, sharp and naïve in equal measure. Lady Bird at one point declares that “the learning part of high school is over.” And, yet, there is still much to be absorbed when it comes to losing one’s virginity, cheating on quizzes, settling for being in the chorus of a drama club production, ditching a guy who clearly has no special feelings for you, breaking up and making up with your bosom buddy and finding out that smoking and drinking are not all that they’re cracked up to be”.

Synopsis abridged from Susan Wlonszcyzyna’s review on Roger Ebert.com (read the full review here).

Big Mouth

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Like Lady Bird, Big Mouth is a coming-of-age story, but one that focusses on the last year of middle school rather than the last year of high school. Jen Chaney from Vulture writes that she “can’t say enough about how explicitly and sensitively Big Mouth depicts adolescent sexual exploration. These characters reside right in that freakish spot where adulthood and childhood overlap. On one hand, they are grown-ups with grown-up desires and the ability to conceive children if they acted on those desires. On the other, they are still babies who are too anxious about the act of making babies to actually get anywhere near attempting it. (In one particularly sweet touch, Andrew is still very much attached to a tiny pillow he’s had since infancy, one he nicknames Pilbo Baggins.) There are a lot of jokes about penises and vaginas and weird sex acts in this show. A LOT. But there’s also a surprising amount of poignancy”.  So, a funny and moving window into the world of growing up in contemporary America.

Synopsis abridged from the Vulture review (read the full review here).

Indulge your Fantasies and Nostalgia (Historical movies and series)

Game of Thrones

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Based on the much-loved novels of George R.R. Martin (A Song of Fire and Ice series), the series is a medieval fantasy about power struggles among the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Westeros, an imaginary land that bears some resemblance in geography, technology and population to King Arthur’s Britain and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The climate appears vaguely supernatural — there is much talk of generation-long winters — and though the dragons and demonic White Walkers of yore are now believed extinct, the northern border is still protected by a great wall on which men of the Night’s Watch stand guard against Wildings and other fell creatures.

Game of Thrones is a seven part series of “political and psychological intrigue bristling with vivid characters, cross-hatched with tantalizing plotlines and seasoned with a splash of fantasy and quite a lot of sex and violence”.

Synopsis abridged from the L.A. Times review. Empire review here.

 

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