Committing to a brand new series is tricky business. There are a lot of unknowns: Will you love it? Hate it? Will you become completely addicted, spending every Wednesday evening glued to your viewing screen of choice? (C'mon, we've all done it.)
But after some advanced viewing of History's latest historical drama, Knightfall, we can swear on the Holy Grail that this is one that's worth your time.
Knightfall stars a bulked-up Tom Cullen as Landry, a Templar knight caught between his faith, a doomed brotherhood, and the increasingly secular world around him. Around him is everything you've been missing since the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale: Medieval battles of epic magnitude? Check. Political intrigue? Absolutely. The perfect balance of myth and history? Hell yeah.
But just in case you're still not ready to make the commitment, here's everything you need to know about Knightfall: plot details, the main players, and how Cullen got so jacked underneath all that chainmail armor. Oh, and there's this: Knightfall premieres December 6 on History.
Founded in the 12th century, the Knights of the Templar were a wealthy, powerful, and mysterious Catholic order charged with protecting European travelers visiting sites in the Holy Land and carrying out military operations.
Knightfall's series premiere picks up in 1291 during the Fall of Acre, which marked the destruction of the last Templar refuge in the Holy Land. The defeat ultimately forced the order to move its base of operation to France, and marked the loss of the mythical Holy Grail. In Acre, we first meet Landry (Cullen) and his fellow brothers, who barely escape the bloodshed with their lives.
Fast-forward 15 years, and we find Landry and the order at their new headquarters in Paris. Under the protection of Pope Boniface VIII (Jim Carter) and still manipulating the obstinate but easily persuaded French King Philip IV (Ed Stoppard), the Templars are safe in their new stronghold. As they soon realize, though, the battle has come to them: William de Nogaret (Julian Ovenden), the king's atheist lawyer, has sinister machinations in mind. Meanwhile, some knights are clamoring for a new quest to reclaim the Grail.
When we first meet Landry at the beginning of episode one, "he's a cocky, brash, maverick young knight who...feels safe because he believes that he has God on his side," says Cullen, who disciplined his body and mind to take on the role. But during the Fall of Acre, Landry loses everything—the Holy Land, the battle, and most devastatingly, the Holy Grail.
Fifteen years later in Paris, "he is like a caged animal" pulled apart by contradictions, Cullen says. Though loyal to his brothers, he's living a lie—though he is technically a monk, he's having an affair with the most powerful woman in France. And while he is "the most fearless warrior in the Templar, he is starting to have a sense of his own mortality," Cullen says.
A television series steeped in history is nothing without a skilled company of actors to bring that history to life on-screen. Thankfully, the team behind Knightfall assembled a group of actors to take on the challenge of transforming dusty old names from the Middle Ages into compelling, three-dimensional characaters.
You'll probably recognize Jim Carter, who stars as the affable yet politically minded Pope Boniface VIII, from his long and distinguished career in film and television; just a few of his notable projects include Shakespeare in Love, Downtown Abbey, and The Golden Compass. Ed Stoppard, whose work you might remember from The Pianist and Brideshead Revisited, shines as the ambitious King Philip IV.
Those somewhat newer to the small screen include Bobby Schofield as Parsifal, a peasant farmer who gets caught up with the Knights of the Templar after a tragic loss, and Sabrina Bartlett as Princess Isabella, the tenacious young daughter of King Philip IV.
The Knights of the Templar were the deadliest warriors of the Middle Ages—the "special forces of their time," says Knightfall stunt coordinator Cédric Proust.
To achieve the bulked-up build of a veteran medieval warrior, Cullen went through an “insane” (his words) three-month training program that transformed his body into the “biggest and strongest” he's ever been. "It was super-setting push and pull, and it would take about an hour and a half every day, just to get through [all the sets]," Cullen says. "It was nuts."
But it wasn't all supersets—Cullen and his fellow actors also boxed, practiced sword combat, and rode horses to prepare for the battles on-screen.
"It was the most fun," says Cullen. "I've always been fit, but to get big and strong like that was a real fun journey and challenge to go on."