It’s an interesting time for fantasy fans, with two major series airing at the same time. There have been a lot of comparisons between them, and speculation on which would “win”. Of course, there’s no particular reason to see these shows as competitors since a lot of people, like me, will watch both. They’re similar in that they’re both prequels to popular franchises: Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.
But there are differences. And as I noted in the post title, I find myself enjoying The Rings of Power more than House of the Dragon, leading me to wonder why.
It’s isn’t because Rings leans into the battle between good and evil while House is grittier with everyone shades of grey on the ethical scale. I’m sure there are plenty of people who do prefer Tolkien’s more Manichean take, while others prefer the grimdark one. I’m a fan of both types of stories, and enjoyed Game of Thrones a great deal, and see its moral complexity as more realistic than the simple good vs evil duality.
Some of it might be that the stakes seem higher in Rings. House looks like it’s just going to be about who gets to sit on the Iron Thrown, while in Rings the fate of the world hangs in the balance. House tries to tap into those broader stakes a little bit with the reference to the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy, but it really just calls attention to the fact that we’ve already seen that song, and this isn’t it.
A big part of might be the scope of the tale and the diversity of the characters. In House we’re seeing royalty and a bunch of nobles, while in Rings we’re also seeing royalty, but of many different kingdoms and races (species?), along with a mix of more regular people, particularly with the proto-Hobbits, Silvan elf soldiers, and southland humans.
It also helps that there are characters moving around in Rings, giving us glimpses of the wider world. Of course, the world of Second Age Middle Earth is different enough from the Third Age version to make that enticing, one of the benefits of having your prequel be millenia earlier rather than only a couple of centuries as in House. Maybe House will eventually contrive storylines that show us the broader world, but right now it feels a bit claustrophobic to me with the focus almost exclusively on King’s Landing, with occasional scenes in Dragonstone and the relatively brief battle sequence in the third episode.
There are also plenty of enticing mysteries in Rings. Who and what is the meteor guy? Who is Halbrand? Who is Adar? Are any of them Sauron? And if not, where is Sauron? In what form is he going to show up in the story? (Readers of the source material, the appendices at the back of the Return of the Ring and The Silmarillion, have an idea of what to look for, but the show so far has managed to keep even hardcore Tolkien fans guessing.)
A final big difference is that I’m finding plenty of characters in Rings to sympathize with. Seeing Galadriel in a warrior phase is a lot of fun, and it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Arondir and his compatriots. While in House, I feel some sympathy for Alicent, I really don’t care who among the others succeed or fail, at least not yet. I was primed to give Daemon some sympathy because Matt Smith, but the show seems to go out of its way to show his self entitled jerkiness.
Overall House of the Dragon seems like Dynasty in a feaux medieval setting with dragons. The dragons help, but honestly I’m getting bored.
I might be an outlier. House seems to be getting better reviews than Rings. Although a large part of the discrepancy may be due to the review bombing taking place against Rings.
Some of the bombers seem genuinely upset about the discrepancies between the show and the source material. Although a lot of those discrepancies are inevitable. The source for Rings was meant to be a background history, so it has events spread out over millenia. Similar to the Foundation TV show, it seems like adjustments had to made to tell an engaging story, at least unless it was going to be told only from the elves’ point of view.
But that’s not what seems to be upsetting most of the bombers. The bigger issue is, horror of horrors, the show cast non-white people as dwarves, elves, and humans. The argument being that’s not what Tolkien had in mind. And maybe it isn’t. Tolkien was writing his tales in early to mid twentieth century England.
Given that Middle Earth is meant to be a lost age long before the ethnic geography we’re familiar with, I think a mix of skin colors is a totally legitimate interpretation. But white supremacists have to make sure we all know they’re upset. And it’s not like House doesn’t also have black characters mixed in as well. But in that case, we still have the author alive to verify he’s onboard with it.
Anyway, I plan to continue watching both, although there’s a danger I could lose interest in House if it doesn’t make the story more interesting.
Are you watching either of the shows? If so, what do you think of them?