Dragons, family drama, politics and a lot of incest competed with orcs, elves, dwarves and sorcerers in October. If you asked the average fantasy entertainment fan back in 2003 to choose between “Lord of the Rings” and a show about white-haired divas, they might have hit you with some mean Elvish.
However, it’s become pretty clear that HBO Max’s “House of the Dragon” has overcome Amazon Prime TV’s “The Rings of Power,” with both audience and critic ratings favoring the “Game of Thrones” prequel. IMDB rates the former at 8.6/10 and the latter at 6.9/10, but the biggest disparity comes with audience scores, with Rotten Tomatoes audience ratings finding “House of the Dragon Dragon” flying high at 84% and “The Rings of Power” melting at a low 34%.
Individually, “House of the Dragon” is exceptional in every way that most “Game of Thrones” seasons were. The 10 episodes were filled with drama, suspense and action with notable performances from every cast member. Though losing some excitement and pace during the middle two episodes, the show had a storyline that was packed and enticing, even if it only covered around one-sixth of its source material — the novel “Fire and Blood” by George R.R. Martin.
Set 170 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, the story follows the inter-family war between the Greens led by Alicent Hightower and the Blacks led by Rhaenyra Targaryen. The audience follows these two characters as they grow away from each other and begin a feud ending in a civil war to decide who is the rightful ruler of Westeros.
“The Rings of Power” follows Galadriel — a high elf we see much of in “Lord of The Rings” and “The Hobbit” — as she hunts down Sauron across Middle Earth. The show is visually spectacular and clearly beats “House of the Dragon” in terms of cinematography and visual effects.
The acting performances are great as well, with Welsh actress Morfydd Clark portraying a young, brash Galadriel in her self-destructing quest for the Dark Lord. The show also follows fan favorite Elrond, who appears in all of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films, along with newcomers Halbran and Arondier, characters original to the show.
So what distinguishes the two shows? Why does the HBO Max show find its audience reviews to be so much better? It all boils down to the complexity, structure and the source material.
“House of the Dragon” is a show for everyone, though you wouldn’t want your 4-year-old child watching it. It shows emotions present in everyday life, but also packs in the action and fantasy most fans love to divulge in.
There is no need to watch “Game of Thrones” in order to understand the show or its lore. It’s easy to follow and is not reliant on any other things from the “A Song of Ice and Fire” universe. You can throw the show on at night before bed, watch it with your friends and family, or watch it on the bus, with absolutely no research required to understand any arcs or storylines.
“The Rings of Power” fails to be this concise. Complexity is not forbidden or looked down upon and the immense amount of lore in Tolkein’s universe is exciting to explore. However, the show thrusts us into following four different characters in an unexplained part of the “Lord of the Rings” story.
While “House of the Dragon” is simple in its characters, story arcs and timeline, “The Rings of Power” almost seems a little too distant from the other Tolkein works we have received. It requires a bit of research and an above-average Tolkeinologist to fully understand.
This is the problem with the structure as well. “House of the Dragon” follows one story in one line: each side character has dialogue and scenes with every other side character and it’s a closed story that follows one 25-year-long journey. Its time jumps and casting changes make sense and actually add excitement to the story.
“The Rings of Power” have four, long running arcs following four different groups of characters. This causes pacing issues in the first half of the series, where we don’t see much progression in either Elrond’s journey or a group of Hobbit characters and their mysterious friend. The second half definitely pieces itself together, but it fails to make up for slow narration and makes the series a little less interesting than it should be.
Lastly, the “House of the Dragon’s” lore-accurate adaptation and “The Rings of Power’s” failure to mimic Tolkein’s story has influenced both fans’ acceptance of the show, with one group praising it and the other hating it.
“House of the Dragon” perfectly adapts “Fire and Blood,” a prequel novel to the “Game of Thrones” series. Because the novel is written like an anthology, the show follows one part of the Targaryen saga and does not change anything written in the first 200 pages.
“The Rings of Power” is based on the appendices of the “Lord of the Rings” books — yes, a $500 million production is actually based on character descriptions, not an actual story.
The reason for this is because Amazon does not have rights to a prequel book written by J. R.R. Tolkein called the “Silmarillion,” which details the entire history of his universe. The copyright issues led screenwriters to make creative decisions that don’t match Tolkein’s book, engraving much of the “Lord of the Rings” fanbase.
Without any spoilers, many of the characters in “The Rings of Power” should not be present during its timeline and several characters were changed. Though this might not be too serious for the average watcher, it makes “House of the Dragon” seem like a perfect adaptation, while “The Rings of Power” appears to be $500 million fanfiction.
Again, “The Rings of Power” is beautiful. Arrondir, a show original character, might have the best story arc and Galadriel’s character is exciting to explore, but the show is simply outclassed by its flame-breathing competitor.
Both shows will have multiple seasons, keeping fantasy fans rich in content for years. For now, “House of the Dragon” takes the battle: let’s see who wins the war.