We’ve known for a while that a God of War TV series was coming, but now that it’s officially been picked up by Amazon, we can continue to know that it vaguely exists and very little else. However, we can speculate about it again. I have many opinions about the show, some that come down to personal preferences, some that are minor hopes or fears, but they are all encompassed by one overarching view that shapes every opinion I have about the show: there needs to be nothing like the games.
The last two God of Wars, and especially Ragnarok, already see themselves as TV shows. Instead of the full-blooded hack ‘n’ slash action of previous entries, they are slower, more methodical affairs. They have lots of walks and talks like they’re a Sorkin show, try to make sharp references to contemporary issues, and even have a one-shot camera gimmick. Being “prestige” in gaming is looking like a TV show, so it’s no surprise that God of War is following in The Last of Us’ footsteps. After the former redefined what it meant to be a Sony game, the latter reinvented itself. Now, with the former’s show airing next month, the latter is hot on their heels.
However, God of War has far more freedom than The Last of Us. The Last of Us is a single story built around two characters, and while God of War has a similar focus on Kratos (and more recently Atreus), it casts a wider net. In his younger and more violent days, Kratos has fought against the Greek pantheon. Now, as an older and wiser father, he was fought in the Norse realms – a reluctant battle, a battle of defense and protection, not revenge.
Like the more narratively respected and recent story, the TV show will be about the Norse pantheon. But a like-for-like remake feels like a waste. We know what God of War is like as a game, and we also know that it’s a lot of walking through the snow while action-packed (if repetitive) battles interrupt the exposition being spoken to you. The characters in God of War are rich, and the game does not make them dry. The show needs to expand beyond what we’ve seen to give us a lot more heart.
Moreover, there is no easy way to cut this – the history of games is far behind film and TV. The Last of Us and God of War may well be the top (although I could name a few other contenders as well), but that doesn’t mean they translate easily to TV. Even in story-driven games, the narrative is there to support the gameplay, and just watching actors act out the scenes we’ve played out isn’t entertaining. That would cause huge pacing problems, in addition to the ones Ragnarok already suffers from. The stories are good, don’t get me wrong. Better than a lot of television, although they can’t compete with the prestige offerings as they can when our hands are on the thumbsticks. But the shape of them must be adapted, instead of one to one recreation.
Exactly how God of War works may come down, once again, to The Last of Us. By the time God of War starts filming, HBO’s TLOU show will have aired, digested and critically evaluated. We know it’s just going to be a retelling of the game – the slightly indulgent inclusion of game creator Neil Druckmann as director and the focused, linear nature of the games guarantees that. I’m tired of how I feel about it for TLOU. I’m familiar with The Last of Us, so I want to see something new, but I’m aware that others won’t be, so I understand wanting to be loyal. It’s a lot like when your favorite book is made into a movie like that.
If TLOU’s beat for best retelling works, that’s probably what we’ll get in God of War. But if this loyalty fails to take advantage of the power of television while also deterring players who have seen it all before, God of War may be forced to think differently. Halo’s adaptation took a new look rather than copying the games, and that led to mixed results. The Last of Us has an even higher profile, and just like in games, it could set the course for other sequels for a decade.
I expect TLOU to be a success and I also expect that I will watch it considering that it could have done more with the world of the source material. God of War has a much broader mythology than TLOU, and it would be a shame if it was left on the cutting room floor. There’s so much of God of War we haven’t seen thanks to the tight focus on Kratos and Atreus, plus the obvious need for regular gameplay. TV is a medium that can best provide that depth (over a feature film that would need a similarly tight focus), and I hope the show takes advantage of it when it arrives.
Next: Streamers are sick of games, and there’s no easy answer