Travis Fimmel, left, and Clive Standen star in <i>Vikings</i>.

Travis Fimmel, left, and Clive Standen star in Vikings.

Is it possible that young people really can't tell fact from fiction? Just because there is a TV show called Vikings, doesn't mean that Vikings ever existed. Conversely, if you can fight for four seasons over The Seven Kingdoms, there's a good chance they exist somewhere between Malta and New Zealand, but not in Bali, right?

Don Draper is fictional, but we believe in advertising. Dragons and dogs both require a lot of training. Aren't they both … you know, at dragon and puppy school, when we aren't watching them?

The desire to explain away the phenomenon of Game of Thrones runs deep in critics. On the simplest level, the sex, language and violence account for a huge audience that has failed to engage with the Real Housewives franchise. The rough freedom, in dramatic terms, from a predictable world of Wi-Fi and sewerage, is also hugely appealing.

Filthy, tired, hungry amputees have better sex in Game of Thrones than we do, after a nice holiday involving Katu and drinks full of umbrellas. Fantasy fiction involves great sex between warrior men and women who possess spooky powers.

Game of Thrones has returned with more violence, great plot twists and even unlikely high romantic ideals from the dwarf quarter than we could ever wish from ''true'' historic drama.

Leaving Don Draper out of the mix, simply because he can use a toilet and a phone, these are people who we've never met who simply don't, won't, and never have or will exist.

Vikings (SBS, Monday, 8.35pm) delivers hotter guys, more battle scars and a comparable amount of violence and sex. Quite possibly, as the Norsemen invade England, young viewers can't distinguish Wessex from Kings Landing.

In terms of historical accuracy this might not be important. Apparently, Game of Thrones fans are as indignant about the lack of faithfulness to the text as historians are about shortfalls in Norse history in Vikings. (Back on the stylish suave side of the fence, a few advertising dinosaurs will take issue with the size of Madison Avenue corner offices in 1969, but we are nitpicking.)

As Game of Thrones and Mad Men are fast-tracked with such urgency that people leave work early on Monday to pick up non-existent children, we know that these imaginary worlds are of huge importance to fans. (That Selling Houses Australia out-rates both these dramas is a confusing statistic, which says more about our obsession with bricks and mortar than anything else.)

So why are we watching? Vikings and Thrones are essentially the stories of clans and tribes. Families are almost an afterthought in Mad Men, yet Don Draper's capacity for heroics and cruelty in equal measure is epic.

There are great female leads in all these shows, but their sharp tongues and stupendous breasts always take back seat to the male heroes' journeys.

Don Draper, Jon Snow and Ragnar Lothbrok are fatally flawed men, who mostly stray from the path of righteousness when their genital GPS fails them.

It is when all hope seems lost and grey clouds cluster, and most mere mortals fold, that they find an extra gear and rise to the occasion. In Don's case, it is just a new business pitch, but anyone who has worked in advertising can spot the dragons in the boardroom.

Perhaps we're digging too deep. We're watching for the sex and violence. And the dragons. And the desktop lamps. As Selling Houses Australia offers none of these, perhaps its success is the only genuine mystery.