August and September of this year saw the premiere of two epic fantasy shows based on the works of two of the most popular fantasy writers of all time — JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin. While House of the Dragon which aired on HBO is a spinoff from the hugely successful series Game of Thrones and based on George RR Martin’s novel Fire & Blood, The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power which aired on Amazon PrimeVideo, is based on JRR Tolkien’s epic work The Lord of the Rings and its appendices.
Both have now completed 8 episodes at the time of writing this article. In fact, the first season of Rings of Power itself has come to an end with today’s finale whereas two more episodes of House of the Dragon are yet to be aired. Both have garnered a huge viewership and have been well appreciated by the critics.
In fact, it was quite a rare occurrence to see two epic fantasy series go head to head in the manner these two have done for all these weeks, so comparisons have obviously been made between the two. Having watched both the shows from the first episode, I must say that House of the Dragon is vastly superior to Rings of Power and that should be viewed as a huge win for HBO over Amazon, which had purchased the rights for LOTR from JRR Tolkien’s estate and Warner Bros to make the most expensive TV show of all time.
Now, let me delve deeper into why I think House of the Dragon is a much better show than Rings of Power. Firstly, it had experienced folks running the show at the top. George RR Martin himself is one of the co-creators of the show. Miguel Sapochnik, one of the showrunners directed two of the best episodes on Game of Thrones — Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards. Rings of Power on the other hand had two literally unknown people as showrunners — JD Payne and Patrick McKay. Their only known work prior was either unproduced or uncredited. Their inexperience was quite telling in some of their interviews when they were questioned about some of the criticisms the show faced from fans of Tolkien and LOTR.
Secondly, the casting was done superbly for House of the Dragon. And more importantly, the acting was top notch. Paddy Considine with his portrayal of Viserys Targaryen has already emerged as one of the frontrunners for this year’s Emmys. His performance especially in the last episode was brilliant and goosebumps inducing. The highest praise came from George RR Martin himself who stated that Paddy Considine portrayed Viserys far better than how the author described him in his novel.
Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen has been exceptionally brilliant as well. Even the young Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen stole the show in the few episodes she appeared in.
Although both House of the Dragon and Rings of Power have tried to improvise from the novels that they were based upon and have a more diverse cast, Rings of Power has overdone it and faced a severe backlash from the fans for the same reason. Moreover, Rings of Power has been criticised for not being aligned with the works of Tolkien. Even the world’s richest man, the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk tweeted on the matter.
Another thing that I liked about House of the Dragon is that the link with Game of Thrones has been beautifully preserved. The opening credits carries the same music by Ramin Djawadi which meant that skipping the intro was never an option while watching the show :) Moreover, going over some of the references to the House of the Dragon characters in Game of Thrones makes one appreciate the show even more. For example, Maester Aemon mentions Prince Daemon beating up a messenger which is why they use the ravens in Game of Thrones. That incident is featured in House of the Dragon. Similarly, in one of the scenes featuring Stannis Baratheon and his daughter Shireen, they talk about the Dance of the Dragons — a civil war between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her half brother Aegon. There are many more such links between the two shows.
On the contrary, Rings of Power looks completely standalone. One can neither relate it with Peter Jackson’s epic LOTR trilogy nor Tolkien’s LOTR books. Most of the characters are newly written for the show and of the ones that derive their origin from Tolkien such as Galadriel, Elrond, Sauron, among others, they have not found acceptance among the fans who have criticised them.
It’s not a surprise that House of the Dragon has consistently created more interest and garnered more viewership than Rings of Power. The only survey which showed that Rings of Power had obtained a higher viewership was completely based on HBO Max vs PrimeVideo numbers. Let’s not forget that House of the Dragon airs on HBO’s cable channel as well. These numbers weren’t included in the survey.
One of my favourite podcasts — Business Wars by Wondery has a season on streaming wars wherein the battle of supremacy between Netflix, Blockbuster, and HBO is beautifully described. While Amazon isn’t part of that season, I’m curious to know if this battle between these two fantasy series will eventually be made into a season. But for now, there is no doubt that HBO has won the first round in this battle against Amazon.