FX's 'Shogun' just gave Disney Plus and Hulu their 'Game of Thrones' — it's that good

Hiroyuki Sanada as Lord Yoshii Toranaga in FX's "Shōgun"
(Image credit: FX Networks)

"Shōgun" has been one of my most anticipated shows of the year. From just the trailer, it immediately felt like it could replace the hole left in my TV-watching heart by the end of "Game of Thrones." I said that "["Shōgun"] promises plenty of violence, political machinations and men (and women) talking in rooms, all of which were what made "Game of Thrones" great."

How to watch Shōgun

"Shōgun" airs on FX on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The first two episodes are currently available to stream on both Hulu and Disney Plus.
• U.S. — Watch on FX via Sling Blue or on Hulu and Disney Plus
• U.K.Disney Plus
• Watch anywhere — try ExpressVPN 100% risk-free

And when the early reviews started coming in — a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes — my hype didn't exactly die down. I've watched the first two episodes and I can confirm that yes, this show has lived up to the hype. It's the spiritual successor to "Game of Thrones." Or rather, at least the early seasons of Game of Thrones before episodes became more about epic battle scenes.

Specifically, the show nails the very themes and motifs that made "Game of Thrones" such compelling TV. The verbal jousting that's enthralling as any combat, the violence and sex interspersed throughout, though admittedly "Shōgun" cannot compete with the prolific sex scenes littered throughout "Thrones" (nor should it). This show feels like you could easily have characters from each story swapped with each other and neither show would miss a beat.

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

(Image credit: Future)

Spoilers for episodes 1-2 of "Shōgun" beyond this point

'Shōgun' is a more mental than physical show, but don't let it fool you

Of course, this show also has its own distinct elements, including exploring the complexities of 17th-century feudal Japan and its political machinations. And while that last part even feels reminiscent of its HBO spiritual predecessor, it's frankly even possible that George R.R. Martin was influenced by the 1975 novel this show is based on or the historical events it comes.

From watching the trailer, you'd think "Shōgun" has the potential to be a bloodbath. And to be fair, I think there are some truly epic battle scenes to come. But it's a slow burn, with the first two episodes feeling like water rising to just below the boiling point rather than a tsunami of action. That said, we do still get flashes of violence, like when a townsperson brutally gets their head chopped off out of nowhere in a moment that caused my wife to gasp.

"Thrones" was similar in this aspect. Yes, we got everything from nearly epic hour-long battles or brawling in the streets, but it was also a lot of verbal jousting. A lot of machinations behind the scenes playing out in clandestine meetings that only we are privy to. 

"Shōgun" nails that same combination. Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) is seemingly in Osaka to await his execution as a council of regents plots his demise through legal means. Yet the whole time he's working in the background, frankly even pulling the strings. He's spying on his men, constantly aware of what is going on, and it's this that allows him to seize on the opportunity that the arrival of Pilot John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) provides him to throw a wrench in his enemy's plans. 

And when they do finally realize they can help each other, the meeting is electric. Japan's isolation keeps even an intelligent politician like Toranaga blind to the politics of the world at large seeping into Japan, namely the desire of the European powers to colonize the surrounding lands. Once Blackthorn exposes this secret plan by the Catholic Portuguese priests and their various masters, you can tell that Toranaga is already thinking three steps ahead about what comes next.

Conclusion: 'Shōgun' is a slow burn through two episodes but it's already paying off

That thinking ahead is paid off at the end of episode 2 in spectacular fashion. An assassin works their way through the Toranaga compound in Osaka and kills many in a brutally efficient fashion. But Toranaga is already thinking ahead and knows this possibility is coming, predicting exactly when and where the assassin will strike. 

Yes, the first two episodes aren't exactly action-packed, but that makes the moments of action land so well.

Did that involve the sacrifice of some members of his household? Perhaps, but it worked and that's what matters. You can't win a chess match without sacrificing pawns, and "Shōgun" can certainly be described as a chess match played out in a fictionalized version of real-life events.

Yes, the first two episodes aren't exactly action-packed, but that makes the moments of action land so well. By having us see the different factions conspiring to seize the power vacuum left by the death of the Taiko — there are at least three different people or groups vying to seize control, with several of them intertwined with one another — we get a sense of the stakes and the tension bubbling just below the surface. So when violence actually strikes, it hits with the precision of an assassin's dagger to wonderful effect.

Let me be clear — "Shōgun" is its own story and its own creation (well, it's an adaption, but I digress). But if you've been waiting for the next "Game of Thrones" then this FX show is the prince that was promised.

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Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.