‘Rome’ if you want to: HBO show fills ‘Game of Thrones’ void

Ryan Pait

It’s officially December, and that means winter is coming.

“Game of Thrones” fans will know the significance of those words, but they’ll also know something else: “Game of Thrones” doesn’t actually return until spring of next year.

Working from the series’ past premiere dates, that means that new episodes are still more than 100 days away.

So what’s a fan to do?

Check out its forerunner, of course.

HBO has made its name over the years on its high-quality TV offerings, and “Game of Thrones” isn’t its first epically-scaled drama.

That distinction goes to “Rome,” which aired on HBO between 2005 and 2007.

Set between 49 B.C. and 31 B.C., “Rome” chronicles the rise and fall of power players such as Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and Gaius Octavian.

These are the people that played the game of thrones before there even was one.

So what’s so great about a series that sounds like a history lesson?

Like “Game of Thrones,” “Rome” features a ridiculously talented cast, gorgeous sets and cinematography, and an involving narrative. And like “Game of Thrones,” it feels epic in every sense of the word.

While it sounds like it could be a giant history lesson, “Rome” never feels like one. The setting is far enough removed from modern times that it feels almost fantastical, just like Westeros in “Game of Thrones.”

Sure, you may pick up a few things about Roman history along the way. But “Rome” is smart enough to never become a History Channel special.

Besides its major historical characters, “Rome” also spends a lot of its time with supporting, fictionalized characters — characters who are often just as interesting and fun as the big ones.

There’s Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo (Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson), two Roman soldiers who initially butt heads and later become best friends forever. It’s one of TV’s best bromances. Their rise and fall in the ranks of the Roman aristocracy comprises a major part of the series.

Particular notice must also be given to Polly Walker, who plays Atia of the Julii. As the niece of Caesar (Ciarán Hinds) and mother to Octavian and Octavia, she’s a woman of influence. But she’s also limited because she’s a woman in a man’s world.

Eager to preserve both herself and her family by any means possible, she’s one of the series’ most fascinating and complex characters.

It also helps that Walker is an absolute hoot as Atia, providing stellar comic relief but then delivering the dramatic goods when called for. Fans of Cersei on “Game of Thrones” will love her.

Besides its memorable characters, “Rome” is also dramatically powerful. There are large-scale battles, harrowing assassinations and historic seductions. “Rome” succeeds in nailing its smaller, intimate moments as well.

It’s this keen balance that “Rome” strikes that makes it fantastic. It also helps that the series consists of only 22 episodes, meaning that each one delivers something entertaining.

Big, bold and exceptional, “Rome” is the perfect fix if you find yourself pining for some “Game of Thrones” goodness.

“Rome” is available to watch on HBO Go, iTunes, Amazon and Blu-Ray/DVD.