They’re both cable TV shows going into their fifth seasons based on beloved source material. They’re both dark, dire ensemble dramas with supernatural elements that mercilessly kill off favorite characters, and are hugely popular with record-setting ratings and passionate fandoms. But only one—HBO’s Game of Thrones or AMC’s The Walking Dead—can be crowned the better show.
Which will win? Here’s a case for both, then I’ll turn this over to you, the EW reader jury.
Why Game of Thrones should win: There’s a reason Game of Thrones has more Emmy nominations this year than any other series on TV—and The Walking Dead gets, like, nods for sound editing. Thrones has elevated George R.R. Martin’s near-impossible-to-produce novels onto a level of cinematic storytelling that’s utterly unique to the TV landscape. Thrones’ writing and acting, in particular, often rank up there with all-time best TV dramas.
Character wise, there’s nobody on TWD that compares to the likes of Tyrion Lannister or Arya Stark, and certainly no action sequence that rivals the battle of the Blackwater or Castle Black. The ambitious global disaster premise of TWD feels hamstrung by its basic cable budget—who wants to spend a whole season on a boring farm or a prison when you can spend it in King’s Landing and The Wall and Slaver’s Bay and the Riverlands? Likewise, TWD’s revolving door of showrunners has often made it feel like it’s creatively lurching in different directions with every season. Plus, as brutal as Thrones is about killing off characters, at least there’s some hope – TWD seemingly has no light at the end of its long dark zombie-filled tunnel.
And really: How many times can you watch some sweaty survivor stab a walker? Thrones has zombies plus White Walkers plus direwolves plus dragons.
Why The Walking Dead should win: In case you haven’t looked at the ratings, TWD has already won—it’s the highest-rated show on TV, by far. And who cares what the old folks at the TV Academy like; they thought the first season of Showtime’s Homeland was better than the epic fourth season of AMC’s Breaking Bad, and apparently don’t even know who Tatiana Maslany is.
TWD presents a post-apocalyptic vision of humanity on a death march that’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It also elevates the overworked and typically cheesy zombie genre into high drama. Unlike Thrones, you can actually follow this story without having a map, glossary, and character list handy. And there are more characters on TWD that you actually like—Rick’s gang are hardly saints, but they’re not (mostly) murderous sociopaths either. Sure, Thrones has more fantasy creatures, but since when is more better? Tyrion on trial doesn’t even seem like it’s on the same show as Bran fighting skeleton creatures. The Walking Dead, however, has a tense, focused story that’s hitting more evocative notes under new showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
Oh, one more thing: Norman Reedus.
UPDATE: Round 2 is now live: TV Fight Club: ‘The Sopranos’ vs. ‘Breaking Bad’