Kult of Athena


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Marco Polo: The Game of Thrones of the East

Noble house takes on noble house in a no-holds barred blood feud for the control of the realm.

Rebels in a distant court devise intricate plots and schemes to overthrow their mighty ruler and bring an end to his reign, once and for all.

A young foreigner with a mysterious past, and unknown future, takes his place as an unsuspecting hero and rises to the rank of one of the mightiest rulers in all of history.

Sound familiar? One of HBO’s best shows right? Dragons, elf children, resurrections, and strange gods?


It’s historical fiction. It’s as dazzling in its plot twists as anything by Martin, and it’s available to all you Netflix n' Chillers right now.

Its name is “Marco Polo.”

What Is Marco Polo Even About?
We’ve all heard about the intrepid adventures of one of the greatest explorers in history, Marco Polo. But, what this show has done is developed a story around one of his greatest experiences: his time in the court of one of the greatest kings in all of history, the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan.

I don’t want to ruin anything for you (in fact, there is so much packed into two seasons, I actually couldn’t) but after Marco’s father displeases the Great Khan, Marco is given as tribute and recompense (unbeknownst to Marco) and things kick off from there.

Having just finished their second season (of which I have watched and loved every episode), I can confidently say that Marco Polo is every bit as intriguing as Game of Thrones, and offers just as many incredible characters, plots, cruelties, battles, duels, weapons, love scenes, and of course, what we all look for in a cable show now….


Who Are the Main Characters of Marco Polo?:
Ever seen “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” There’s some of that in there!

Ever wanted to watch two enormous grizzly bears fight to the death with curved Mongolian sabers? You got it!

Ever thought, “Jesus, it’s all a bunch of white people on TV, with no people of color calling the shots!” Well, I think there are MAY BE TWO white people on the whole show, and they play minor (yes, I’m talking to you, Marco) roles.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a brief look at some of the best players this masterpiece has to offer and see if we can change your mind:

Marco Polo:

Alright, let’s get ½ of the white guys out of the way right off the bat (Marco's dad is the other). Marco Polo goes from Venetian delivery boy to Hand of the King (or Hand of the Kublai) in quick order. 

He is trained by a bad ass Chinese blind monk (we’ll get to him in a moment) named 100 Eyes, and, in proper interloper fashion, dips his Italian pen in some restricted Mongol ink which gets him into some serious trouble.

Will white people never learn?

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
John Snow (of course) and Robb Stark

Kublai Khan:

Warrior, philosopher, husband, father, ruler, family man, comedian – Kublai, even after doing some DESPICABLE things, is one character on this show you can’t help but LOVE. Even when you’re not rooting for him, you kind of are in the back of your mind b/c he takes ZERO shit and mans up – even on the battlefield (even though he’s kind of a big fella).

I won’t go into it too much, but, SPOILER ALERT, in the course of carving out and expanding his kingdom he takes out MOST of his family members. I mean, who wouldn’t right?

Take a look:

If nothing else, you should love Kublai Khan for little lines, like:

“Your skin brings to mind fine parchment, or the rose petals I use to clean my ass.”

Game of Thrones Counterpart: 
Robert Baratheon (young and old), The Mountain, Tywinn Lannister, and Varys. 

100 Eyes:

100 Eyes could be one of the biggest draws of this show. Shaolin Monk-turned-Mongol-servant, 100 Eyes learns the hard way that disobedience has its price, and loyalty – at least in the court of Kublai – has a future. His fighting prowess is unmatched. His temple (that’s right, Kublai builds him his own temple in his court) is incredibly intricate and totally boss, and his help to the military is invaluable.

Again, I don't won’t give too much away about his exploits, but let’s just say he’s the fucking Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He’s “El Duche” from Boondock Saints. He’s the guy you want – even though he’s blind – when things just HAVE TO go your way.

Aside from Kublai, he’s easily the best character on the show, which is why Netflix gave him his own spin off special, aptly named "100 Eyes."

Take a look:

"100 EYES"

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
Thoros of Mir and The Red Viper of Dorne


He’s the snake in the court. The schemer. With safety, you cannot take him with you or leave him behind. He is the foil to all the great plans of the Khan of Khans, and just a terrific villain all around.

His origins are tragic. His exploits are completely sordid, and he puts some actions in motion that almost topples the whole thing. And, all the while, you just can’t look away!

Without Ahmad, and his SERIOUS family issues, this show loses almost all of its intrigue and some of the most amazing plot twists there are in any series on television.

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
Littlefinger, Cersei Lannister, and Qyburn   

Empress Chabi:
In a brutal man’s world like the medieval court of the Great Kublai Khan, Empress Chabi ABSOLUTELY holds her own. She is the wolf mother you just don’t see coming but you have to respect. She – like most unsung great women of history – controls the court of the Khan, and makes him PAY when he doesn’t listen to her.

She too takes ZERO shit, and will not hesitate to kill ANYONE who stands in the way of her happiness, her family, and her Khan’s power. She is the goddess of all things domestic in the empire of the Khan, and to cross her means a big scary Mongol coming to your yert in the middle of the night to utterly end your crap.

Game of Thrones Counterpart: 
The Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell, Margery Tyrell, and Cersei Lannister

Remember at the very beginning of this post I promised you some Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? 

Well, I’ll have no one say I can’t deliver!

Michelle Yeoh – Yu Shu Lien from CTHD, and one of the top ladies on my “Broadswords” list – stars on Marco Polo as “Lotus,” the beautiful and deadly love interest to 100 Eyes, and absolutely poisonous thorn in the side of the power-hungry Khan.

She wants to see China freed of the yolk of Kublai and the Mongols, and will do ANYTHING to make that happen. Is she the deadly force that will topple Marco’s ambition? His Khan’s power? And everything the Mongols have worked for? Possibly. But maybe she's something more.

Watch the show. You will not – I promise – be disappointed with anything she does (except 1 thing, sorry).

Game of Thrones Counterpart: Arya Stark, Berric Dondarion, and Brienne of Tarth.

Final Thoughts:
Whether you’re a fan of history, a fan of cinema, a fan of the sword and battles, or just struggling to find GREAT television, you should totally give Marco Polo the binge watching it deserves. HBO and mainstream cable might have Game of Thrones to help them collect their laurels, but epics like this show you that human struggles are not confined to one race, one kingdom, or one timeline.

I would put Marco Polo up against any period piece on the market, and would be completely confident that anyone would rate it the Khan of Khans of TV.