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Game of Thrones or Les Misérables – Which one should you watch?

David Oyelowo plays Javert, a relentless policeman who believes Valjean was born a criminal. Pic credit: PBS
David Oyelowo plays Javert, a relentless policeman who believes Valjean was born a criminal. Pic credit: PBS

Tonight, one great television series ends and one begins, but which one should you watch? The answer is both!

If you are vested in HBO’s sumptuous Game of Thrones, by all means, watch in real time tonight as the resolution of the great good versus evil culminates in a deadly all-or-nothing face-off between the armies of the dead (Wights, the reanimated corpses lead by White Walkers) and the armies of humankind.

It will also prove that the human forces for good will triumph over the corrupt, morally bankrupt and craven players of the series that made the show such a delight to watch.

However, you must also record Les Misérables on PBS Masterpiece, also airing tonight.

This is classic literature that plays on similar big picture good versus evil themes and much more.

Like Game of Thrones, Les Misérables is a tale of redemption, inequities of wealth and the excessive overreach of authoritarian power determined mostly by one’s stature and ability to use money to skate through difficult situations.

Both shows overlap and parallel modern themes that we see playing out in the news today including police brutality, needed prison and sentencing reform, corrupt governments and politicians and wealthy people afforded a different set of rules than average people to skew life favorably for their progeny.

These are both stories for the times eternal, not just the settings they happen to be told from in time. Though wildly different in cast, characters and locales, they resonate with so many people.

Though fictional drama, the premises for both ring true to the viewer in an authentic and profound way. This is when television is at its best in content and programming.

If you are the vested Game of Thrones viewer, you will relish PBS’ Les Misérables for the run, and if you know or care little about Game of Thrones, then by all means watch Les Misérables in real time and make it a goal to dive in and catch up on HBO’s crown jewel of programming not seen since The Sopranos aired on the network.

They are both excellent and worthy of your precious time.

What is Les Misérables?

This is a loosely historically based novel by French author Victor Hugo, set in the 19th-century Paris against the events that occurred in the 1840s, a turbulent half-century of French history, post-French Revolution. The story is of poverty, war, political revolution, eternal love, and redemption and is considered to be s true classic novel.

It is adapted by the accomplished Welsh-born screenwriter Andrew Davies. His work includes House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair, Daniel Deronda, Doctor Zhivago, Bleak House, Mr. Selfridge and more.

At the past Television Critics’ Association press tour, Davies was on a panel and admitted that Les Mis was one classic that he had never read until the idea to rework it for Masterpiece was presented.

He said, “I never read it. It was brought to me by Simon Vaughan from Lookout Point, who said, ‘This is a great title. I could sell it all over the world.'”

“‘And it’s a good story. Why don’t you read it?’ So I did read it, and I thought it was a terrific story that just resonated so much with the world we live in today, particularly. I thought I’d just want to have a go at this…I’ve faced down many great books in my life.”

He added, “I thought, you know, ‘I mean, this is just another great book. I’ll just do it the way I see it,’ which is the way I always do it.”

Dominic West (The Wire) stars as lead character Jean Valjean, a convict that experiences the most extreme lows and highs of success and reversals of fortune. Out of hunger and for stealing a loaf of bread he gets 19 years of prison. His nemesis is French policeman Javert (David Oyelowo).

The casting of Valjean (Dominic West) and Javert were critical to the production, and with regards to it, actor David Oyelowo (Javert) said it was always Javert they had him in mind for.

“It was always Javert. And for the exact reasoning behind the question is why it was attractive to me because we have seen the reverse of that dynamic numerous times, as you say, Oyelowo said.

“And the truth of the matter is, you know, contrary to some popular belief, not every black man living in Europe in the early 1800s was some kind of slave or subservient in some way. Napoleon had black generals in his army. And, again, little known fact. But I am always looking for ways to shake things up for myself.”

“And so what was actually of more interest to me was I had had the opportunity to play a number of virtuous, good men in my career, and I was kind of fascinated by this character who is so obsessed in his pursuit of another human being, down to what he deems to be his own moral compass in a sense.”

Explaining how he interpreted the police authority, Javert, Oyelowo said, “He is not, in his own mind, a villain. In fact, he is the hero of his own story. And that’s kind of what fascinates me about Javert, is that, in relation to Jean Valjean, I’m the righteous one.”

“I’m the one doing God’s work. I’m the one who is the law keeper, the law abider. And that was a very fascinating thing for me to get to play, knowing, as David the actor and the fan of the book, that that’s not necessarily how everyone else would perceive it.”

Additional cast includes Lily Collins as the fated Fantine; Josh O’Connor as the wealthy Marius, Erin Kellyman as Eponine, and Academy Award-winner Olivia Colman as the evil Thenardiers.

What is Game of Thrones Season 8 about?

Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones: Last Watch documentary premieres in May. Pic credit: HBO

This is the swan song for the TV run of George R.R. Martin’s rich series of novels of life in Westeros and how each kingdom will fare in the end.

Based on what we have seen thus far, the evil and morally bankrupt players have cooked their own gooses… so to speak. The righteous leaders, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, along with the wronged Stark family from the North, will be the victors if the White Walker Night King’s army does not wipe them all out.

It has been over a year and a half since we held our breath at the end of Season 7, where Jon and Daenerys Targaryen have consummated their attraction (they had sex not knowing they may be closely related) while Bran Stark and now scholar Sam realize Jon Snow is Aegon Targaryen…and the Stark sisters Arya and Sansa dispatch Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger.

Queen Cersei (whose biggest sins are arrogance, pride and incest) sees her brother/lover Jaime leave her side. And all the while, the Night King is on the march and has breached the Wall.

It is now time to settle scores, pay the piper and see where the innate character (good or bad) of key players will either save them or set them up for imminent doom.

Les Misérables comes to life over six episodes, airing from April 14 (with two episodes) to May 19, at 9/8c (check local listings for time and channel in your area) on PBS.

Game of Thrones returns for its final season on Sunday, April 14 at 9/8c  (and on the West Coast, fans can watch it at 6 p.m. PST on HBO Now or HBO Go).

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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