If you like 'Game of Thrones,' give 'Outlander' a try

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outlander-starz-game-of-thrones.jpgThere are millions of fans of author Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series who are chomping at the bit to see their beloved books brought to life on Starz in August. But for those of you who haven't read the books (yet), we hope you'll give this epic new adventure-fantasy series a try, particularly if you're a fan of HBO's "Game of Thrones."

"Outlander" is not "the anti-'Game of Thrones,'" or "'Game of Thrones' for ladies" or "Game of Thrones" new competition. There is room on TV (and in our hearts) for both, so if you're missing "GoT" while you await its fifth season, "Outlander" is a terrific series to add to your viewing schedule, both for the similarities and the differences between the two.

On one hand, "Outlander" and "Game of Thrones" share some DNA. They are both genre programs based on lengthy, worldwide best-selling books series, set against rolling Medieval-esque backdrops and rife with adventure, intrigue and action.

In fact, viewers who sometimes find "Game of Thrones" plethora of characters and plotlines to be overwhelming might prefer "Outlander" in that regard. Its story arc is just as sweeping and grand, but the focus is on less than a dozen characters, as opposed to the over 100 characters that populate the "Game of Thrones" landscape.

nikolaj-coster-waldau-game-of-thrones-hbo.jpgOne of my personal quibbles with the "Game of Thrones" books (and therefore sometimes the show) is that I wish it could spend more time with my favorite characters and less time with the characters who I maybe don't care about as much. I'm sure there are "GoT" fans who don't feel that way and actually love how many characters and storylines are going on at once, but it's an aspect in which I prefer "Outlander" to "Game of Thrones."

Another aspect in which I think "Outlander" outstrips "GoT" is the relationship between the two main characters, Jamie and Claire. I hesitate to use the word "romance," because I think that both conjurs up an image of a "bodice-ripper" novel and does an injustice to the relationship.

"Outlander" is not "Fifty Shades of Grey" in the Scottish Highlands. The sex is just one aspect of the Claire-Jamie relationship, and referring to the books as "bodice-rippers" is, frankly, inaccurate. The books are an action-adventure fantasy series that have some sex scenes in them, not Harlequin romance novels that have just enough action to keep them above the "porn without plot" classification.

But the Claire-Jamie relationship is a focus of the books, and I like that about the "Outlander" series. It's an adult relationship with adult themes -- love, tragedy, anger, intimacy, hardship. Gabaldon builds a beautiful foundation with Jamie and Claire and then explores the relationship over decades. It's really the best part about the books for me and it's the type of relationship that you don't see in "Game of Thrones" -- which is fine. That's not what author George R.R. Martin is going for. But it's something I like about "Outlander."

I'm sure people will say that that makes the "Outlander" series more geared towards women, but that's both a sad comment and a hopefully untrue one. There were those who wondered if women would like "Game of Thrones" and they obviously do, so I think we'll find that men will enjoy "Outlander." It's not about a "man show" versus a "woman show," it's about viewers wanting quality television and both "Game of Thrones" and "Outlander" fit the bill.

Finally, I do have a suggestion for would-be viewers who haven't read the books. When "Game of Thrones" premiered on HBO, I'll confess that that was the first I had ever heard of the series. So I picked up the first book and read along with the season, which was a very enjoyable way to watch the show. I think viewers would also enjoy doing that with "Outlander."

Having seen the first six episodes, I've found it's fun to compare the show to the book, both in what they keep very much the same and what the show changes from the books. We'll be doing that here weekly at Zap2it, so you could even read along with us.

Now, if you're like me with "Game of Thrones," once you read book one, you won't be able to stop and you'll plunge ahead in the "Outlander" series. It will be worth your while. Several of us at Zap2it who have read the books think the first four actually get increasingly better.

We're firmly in the camp of "read the books," both for "Outlander" and "Game of Thrones," because they're good books, but whether you choose to or not, "Outlander" is the next great fantasy series coming television and "Game of Thrones" fans should check it out.

"Outlander" premieres online Saturday, Aug. 2 and on TV Saturday, Aug. 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Starz.
Photo/Video credit: Starz