Sunday nights are chock full of good television, but let's be honest, they're all about "Mad Men" (10 p.m. ET on AMC) and "Game of Thrones" (9 p.m. ET on HBO). Whatever other on-screen developments occur elsewhere that night, many TV fans spend half of their Mondays with all things Westeros-Draper on the brain.
So I can't be the only one to have noticed just how alike the AMC and HBO dramas are, especially this season, and it's not just because both shows have startlingly similar roster of characters (which you can see in the slide show below). Both even feature a very entertaining wily older man/resourceful young girl duos (Arya Stark/Tywin Lannister on "Game of Thrones" and Roger Sterling/Sally Draper on "Mad Men"). But the similarities go deep, actually.
Both shows feature perfectly constructed costumes and elaborate sets meant to transport us to other worlds -- and they do so successfully, week after week. But these fine cable dramas are so much more than the sum of their exceptional production values: They're complex and realistically contradictory explorations of the games people play to get ahead or to just hang on to what they've got.
Both "Mad Men" and "Game of Thrones" spend a lot of time meditating on the nature and use of power -- how those who don't have it try to get it, the wise and unwise ways in which those in authority wield it, how those with lower status fight to preserve a scrap of autonomy, and how people can give the impression of having control even when they're unsure of where they stand. To be a character on either drama is to face constant flux and change -- not all of which is bad, mind you.
The '60s of "Mad Men" are a bit less bloody than Westeros -- we've yet to see anyone's guts on the floor on this AMC show -- but for the men and women of that kingdom and for the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, to count on things staying the same is to court disaster. Of course, the big difference between the shows is that "Mad Men" is often the story of Don Draper while "Game of Thrones" is more the story of the migration of power, but even on the AMC show, power appears to be migrating away from the man who started the show with everything (or so we thought).
And the foreboding atmosphere pervading "Mad Men," where the sense of fear and decay grows by the week, is every bit as menacing as the unsettled mood of Westeros at war. On both shows, it's hard to escape the feeling that something truly awful is coming, something much worse than losing an account or even seeing a loyal retainer beheaded. There's a sense, on both dramas, that an old order and a traditional way of life are going away, and that's exciting and terrifying, sometimes simultaneously. A sense of unease and possibility courses through both "Mad Men" and "Game of Thrones," and it's impossible to predict who will benefit from the passing of the torch and who will pay dearly. As a character on "The Wire" once said, "Deserve got nothing to do with it."
At least these people -- some of them, anyway -- are facing the future wit and wine (or highballs). Both "Mad Men" and "Game of Thrones" get dark, but they both can be damn funny as well. Let's face it: Half the reason we tune in is to hear Roger Sterling's latest witticism and see Tyrion sarcastically tell off (and ideally slap) his royal nephew.
There are many other similarities between the shows, especially when it comes to their fascinating characters. Check out the parallels below, and feel free to add your own in comments.
Tywin Lannister & Bert Cooper
Old lions still in the game. Don't underestimate them.
Bran Stark & Sally Draper
Intelligent, resourceful children subjected to terrible trials. Home life not ideal.
Sansa Stark & Joan Harris
Red-headed women disappointed by ambitious, abusive men.
Tyrion Lannister & Peggy Olson
Smart, thoughtful people working hard in an unforgiving, discriminatory environment. These two are among TV's most layered, complex characters (and is it just me or do they even look like they could be related?).
Theon Greyjoy & Pete Campbell
Resentful aristocrats with serious family baggage and a constant need to assert their manhood. They can be impetuous, spoiled brats, but we often pity them as well.
Cersei Baratheon & Betty Francis
Bitter, wealthy, blonde mothers of three with serious narcissism issues.
Daenerys Targaryen & Lane Pryce
Strangers in a strange land in search of new destinies. Quite the scrappers.
Bronn & Ken Cosgrove
Relatively normal people just doing a job and getting paid.
Ygritte & Megan Draper
Determined young women from north of the border.
Jon Snow & Michael Ginsberg
Well-intentioned, sometimes awkward young men with unusual roots. I can't imagine not rooting for them as they try to find their place in the world.
Sandor "The Hound" Clegane & Stan Rizzo
Gruff, but more or less decent guys. Not exactly enlightened, but you'd want them to have your back in a crisis.
Petyr Baelish & Harry Crane
Well-to-do but often classless operators. A little douchey at times, honestly. Nice threads, though.
Hodor & Trudy Campbell
Characters who just make me happy. And if it came down to a fight, they would absolutely win, one way or another.
Renly Baratheon & Sal Romano
Gay guys I want to hang with again. Soon.
Varys & Roger Sterling
Calculating, well-established power players who are frequently amusing and always up for some office politics. Invite them to your cocktail parties, but don't necessarily trust them.
Joffrey Baratheon & Greg Harris
Jackasses I want to see beheaded. <em>Really</em> soon.