The Rings of Power vs. House of the Dragon: The Tale of Two Fantasy Epics
2022 is the year of fantasy television with four major series premieres slated this year: House of the Dragon on HBO Go, The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime Video, The Witcher: Blood Origin on Netflix, and The Sandman on Netflix. Each series delivers something new to fans, making its own space in this growing genre of high-budget television. Game of Thrones walked so these shows could run, and we’re of the opinion that the more fantasy shows, the better.
But with multiple fantasy shows on air simultaneously, competition is inevitable. And the two shows pitted against each other in the ring are GOT’s prequel show House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings’ prequel show The Rings of Power. The two outshine others in terms of scope—and budget—and despite the vast differences in plot and themes, they share similar challenges. How they overcome those challenges will determine their success.
Let’s break that down.
The Source Material
House of the Dragon is based on the fictional history book Fire & Blood written by George R.R. Martin as additional material for his main series A Song of Ice and Fire. Unlike Game of Thrones and its sequels, Fire & Blood is not a novel in the strictest sense of the word. It’s essentially a history book about the Targaryens that conquered Westeros. Rife with politics, battles, and dragons, Fire & Blood makes for an exciting recounting of history, and its textbook-like format might just be its greatest strength. Readers and viewers can easily look up how this story will end, but the way the book was written leaves plenty of gaps for television storytelling. The book tells us the events, but not the perspectives, motives, and emotions of the moment. It’s essentially a screenwriter’s dream. In this, House of the Dragon has the upper hand.
Meanwhile, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power draws heavily upon J. R. R. Tolkien’s works The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. The show will bring to screen four major events of Middle-earth’s Second Age: the forging of the Rings of Power, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the fall of Numenor, and the last alliance of Elves and Men. All of these events are referred to as legend in Tolkien’s work, but none actually narrate the stories of this time except for the fall of Numenor in The Silmarillion’s poems. The last section of The Silmarillion only summarizes the rings of power and the last alliance. The new show is taking many creative liberties with Tolkien’s work, with entirely new characters and plot lines. So much so that fans are crying out that the new show might as well be fan fiction. Fan fiction gets a bad reputation when most screen adaptations would technically fall into this category. But when dealing with Tolkien, creative liberties might have to take a backseat to the demands of a century-old fandom.
Fandoms are a force of nature, and lucky for both shows, the fandoms of Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings are, for the most part, excited to see the show. The GOT fandom is younger and smaller as the books were first released in the ‘90s, and the show grew its fan base exponentially after its eight-season run. While the books featured Daenerys Targaryen as a main character, the show cemented her as a pop culture figure thanks to the extraordinary visuals of her dragons. An entire show about dragons and Targaryens was the next logical step for HBO as fans hungered for more fire and blood. And ironically, fans of the violent GOT series are not nearly as rabid as the fans of LOTR.
When a piece of fiction has been in circulation since the ‘30s, almost an entire century ago, then it’s expected that Middle-earth would amass a fiercely loyal fan base. After some time, it’s not surprising when fans start to feel a sense of ownership of Tolkien’s work, especially when Tolkien isn’t here to defend it himself. Just a quick search on YouTube and you’ll find the “purists” tearing the show apart before its even released, affronted by everything from the show’s people-of-color casting to its costume choices. Still, initial reviews of the show from some fans and critics claim that it’s a spectacular piece of visual work. But it will need to be more than that if the show hopes to win over the puritans of the LOTR fandom.
Both shows stand on the shoulders of giants, but the expectations of each show are very different. For one, Game of Thrones season eight ended in a disaster, with almost every critic and fan despairing over the rushed writing that ruined beloved characters. Game of the Thrones ran out of source material in season six as GRRM still hasn’t finished the novels, so creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss essentially wrote their own fan fiction until season eight. The disappointing series ending doesn’t take away from the brilliant television GOT delivered for eight seasons, but it did end the franchise on a low note. With that, fans have low expectations for the new series, and it’s a bar that House of the Dragon can easily fly over.
The Rings of Power has the opposite problem: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films were brilliantly done, so the bar is set extraordinarily high. There are great expectations for the show, and producers can hardly blame fans for being skeptical. With the huge legacy left behind by Tolkien, the Oscar-winning original trilogy, and the award-winning Hobbit trilogy, The Rings of Power has a mountain to climb. In the world of fantasy, there’s nothing bigger or better than Tolkien. GOT wouldn’t exist without LOTR. This is the giant of all giants.
Based on Google Trends, more people are searching for House of the Dragon content over The Rings of Power. It could be because of marketing, legacy, excitement—who knows. But based on everything we’ve laid out, House of the Dragon has it easy by comparison. Game of Thrones season eight paved the way for House of the Dragon, and the show’s insular plot about a civil war and family dynamics will make it faster to connect to.
Meanwhile, The Rings of Power has the harder challenge. The story will follow beings of power trying to save the world from pure evil. The stakes are higher, and thanks to fans, the bar is higher too. The Rings of Power has its work cut out for them. There is no doubt that House of the Dragon has the potential to be a fantasy epic, but if Amazon pulls it off, The Rings of Power could take the crown as best fantasy show of all time.