Warning: Spoilers for The Winter King episodes 1 and 2 below!
Parallels are already being drawn between and , but the former has one advantage that HBO's fantasy saga famously lacked. The legend of King Arthur has been explored many times on the big and small screens, from 1981's fantasy epic to BBC's . Many of those adaptations lean into the magical elements of the story, though occasionally, outings like 2004's movie starring Clive Owen stripped those elements away. MGM+'s is taking a similar approach.
is based on Bernard Cornwell's , a trilogy of books that merged the legend with some historical fact.
famously overtook George R.R. Martin's source material at the end of season 5, and while later series have their defenders, the overall quality of the storytelling took a noticeable hit. In comparison,
Of course, being based on the legend of King Arthur means already has certain beats the story must hit, but with the novels in place, the showrunners can avoid the issues that plagued later seasons. More than that, there's even room for various expansions and spinoffs if the show proves to be a big success for MGM, with later seasons being able to explore tangents based on the original legend. Characters such as Merlin, Nimue or Lancelot could earn their own shows too, but in the end, Cornwell's
Few could have predicted the meteoric success of , which helped usher in a new era of fantasy shows on television. The show's vast cast of characters, worldbuilding and cinematic sheen paved the way for the likes of or , but another part of its legacy is how disappointing its ending proved to many. Starting with the sixth season, the show began diving into original material would both tried to stay true to Martin's world while subverting expectations.
Sadly, this approach resulted in a truncated story that felt like it rushed to the end. Many of the big reveals felt like fan service, while beloved characters were killed seemingly just to streamline the narrative. More than anything, the lack of Martin's guiding hand exposed some of the flaws that were already an issue on . Again, has the benefit of the showrunners knowing the beginning, middle and end of Arthur's journey, and they won't have to do any of the desperate scrambling or shortcut storytelling that marred final years.
' success was a lightening in a bottle cultural moment, and one that few shows ever achieve. Still, there have been most other hit fantasy series since it debuted, but the question remains about how well will fare. during the second episode, which suitably established the stakes for the first season. The show has a talented ensemble and has received broadly positive reviews, but that's not enough to guarantee it will be a success either.
Part of ' success during its early years was that it was something of a slow burn, and it took several seasons until it built to large-scale battles. is taking a similar approach thus far, but audience expectations have changed in the years since, so if they'll have the patience for a narrative that slowly unfolds - no doubt with the occasional shocking murder - remains to be seen.
On the surface, absolutely has the potential to become a fantasy hit, but viewers might be a little burnt out on the genre. More specifically, they could be a little jaded of the Arthur legend, as Guy Ritchie's blockbuster specularly failed to kick off a planned franchise in 2017, while even David Lowery's fantastic went largely unseen a few years later. It will be easier to see what the future holds for after the first season has wrapped up.