I want to start this off by saying that I am loving House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power so far. I really thought that either one of them, or both of them, would end up disappointing… but, both of them have proven in their first two episodes that they are not messing around.  I’m doing this as a bit of fun to compare the two and pick them apart, to see which series has been the more successful one right out of the gate.  It wasn’t a mistake that HBO and Amazon Prime scheduled their two most anticipated, high-profile fantasy prequel series based on beloved franchises two weeks apart from each other.  So, this is all in the name of a little friendly competition.


The rules are simple: I will be giving a point to each series based on a different category and at the end, whichever one has racked up the most points, is the victor!  The categories will be: World-Building, The Bounce Back (or How The Show Has Overcome the Troubles of its Predecessors), Production Value, Characters, Story, and Overall Watchability.  


Okay, so let’s get started with World-Building.  Both of these shows are based on the beloved writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin and they both have the distinction of taking from lesser-known works by the two.  House of the Dragon is an adaptation of a 786 novel called Fire & Blood, whereas The Rings of Power is taking a page from the vast appendices of Tolkien and expanding upon them.  Both of these series so far seem to be taking a lot of inspiration from their precursors Game of Thrones and The Lord of The Rings & Hobbit films, while also carving out their own unique vision and style.  


With House of the Dragon, I’m loving that the show is taking a more intimate, scaled-back approach… at least compared to Thrones.  We are focusing less on the entirety of Westeros, and primarily on the Targaryen bloodline and their home of Dragonstone.  We haven’t seen the show expand its reach beyond that, though I’m sure we will as the series progresses.  I’m also a huge fan of how showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapotchnik have tied House of the Dragon to Thrones through its beginning scene setting the time and place to Viserys’ speech at the end of episode one.  It’s already starting to connect the two shows seamlessly.


But, in the first two episodes of The Rings of Power, we have already scoured Middle Earth to the lands of the Dwarves, Elves, Humans, and Harfoots, many of which were unseen up on the screen until this point… We have traveled seas, mountain ranges, caves, and plains… Been dropped into the throes of enormous battles, and come across a multitude of strange beings and fantastical creatures… and that’s just in two hours’ time. 

The world-building and scope are unlike anything I’ve seen on television before… Despite maybe what Game of Thrones was able to accomplish.  We can see Peter Jackson’s DNA in the show, but also that of Tolkien, and the illustrators who brought Middle Earth to life on the page. And for all of that, I have to give a point to The Rings of Power for World-Building and feeling as truly as epic, as it does.  While House of the Dragon is killing it in that department as well, it is in a much more modest way compared to Rings. 



Next up, we have The Bounce Back.  Now, I had to add this category in because these shows are also similar… In that, they are both immediately following wildly divisive and by some, maligned projects.  And I wanted to make sure I gave credit to the show that has been able to bounce back the best, from the missteps of its predecessor.  With House of the Dragon, Season 8 of Thrones premiered just 3 years ago in 2019.  And while there are some apologists out there, most fans can agree that the final season was infuriating, at least.  The fact that House of the Dragon has been able to premiere to such wide acclaim after such a short period of breathing room between the two shows, is a testament to how great it is so far.  


With The Rings of Power, I would say that even though The Hobbit films are considered wholly forgettable and they never should have stretched that story out to three installments, they are less widely derided than Thrones’ final season.  And because The Hobbit is but a footnote compared to the lasting impact of The Lord of the Rings, I don’t think this new show is facing as big of an uphill battle as House of the Dragon is. 

And lastly, both of these shows have made the wise decision to be prequels… To all of the content that has come before them. So, they don’t have to run into the messy task of trying to rewrite and mend the flaws of the previous filmmakers and writers. But, because Season 8 of Thrones is still a gaping open wound and House of the Dragon, has all, but made us forget that it exists… it gets a point for the better Bounce Back.



Our next category is Production Value, determined by the show’s technical merits. This is an extremely difficult one because both of these shows are the definition of prestige television.  House of the Dragon has all of the staples of Thrones with incredible costume and production design, at times gritty and other times gorgeous cinematography, the brilliant return of composer Ramin Djawadi and of course… a plethora of dragons. 

Now, I might be in the minority here… But, even though I think the design of the dragons is fantastic… I’m not completely sold on the effects work yet.  The scene with Daemon and his Dragon Caraxes in episode one, definitely came off like actor Matt Smith was working against a green screen with a prop, instead of actually with Blood Wyrm.  Yes, this is being nit-picky. But, the Dragon effects in Thrones feel a little more detailed and believable than what we’ve gotten in this prequel series so far.


And then we have The Rings of Power which is considered to be the most expensive television project of all time… With a reported budget ballooning to 715 million (including the purchased rights to Tolkien’s work).  And every cent used towards the production was put to good use.  This is easily the most cinematic television show I have ever seen. And as I said in my review, it deserves to be seen on the big screen.  The attention to detail is extraordinary, the set design expansive, the art direction so well-thought-out and inspired, the creature designs are mind-blowing, the score by Bear McCreary with a theme from original composer Howard Shore gave me chills and the special and practical effects are nearly flawless.  So for Production Value, I have to go with The Rings of Power, although they are both so impressive in that category. 



Next up, we have Characters.  With House of the Dragon, I was taken aback by how quickly I came around to all of the lead players.  In Thrones, although there were a select few characters that I fell in love with, most of them were all deplorable.  And even though they were fascinating to watch, it was hard to connect with them. 

But, in Dragon, we have the compelling family dynamics of King Viserys, Prince Daemon, and Princess Rhaneara.  Though Daemon is obviously the more villainous of the three, his adoration for his brother and niece is clear.  Viserys, though flawed, is one of the few Kings’ of Westeros to actually have a decent head on his shoulders.  And Rhaenyra is proving to be a valiant and strong-willed heroine.  With the added bonus of a time jump promised in future episodes, where we get to see this cast grow over a long period of time… I am 100% sold on these characters and this cast.


With The Rings of Power, we have a much larger ensemble, with a myriad of different races in separate settings.  When there is such an extensive cast, it makes it more difficult to connect with each and every character.  I do have to admit, that there are a few I haven’t completely warmed to yet… But, the potential is there.  Add in the benefit of starring two characters we fell in love with in the original Trilogy, Galadriel and Elrond. And the promise of being introduced to characters is only hinted at in the films… and you get palpable excitement for the ensemble and what they are going to bring to the table.  So, for Characters… I’m going with a tie on this one, as both series in the first two episodes have done a commendable job of introducing the cast and making us care about them. 



The next category is Story.  In House of the Dragon, the family dynamics as I mentioned prior, have given way to another fight for the throne.  The threat of the all-consuming winter is upon these characters. And the race to make sure a Targaryen is in power during that time is set into motion.  Just as in Game of Thrones, the story is set up like a game of chess and every move is calculated, causing immense tension.  I cannot wait to see how this family saga plays out… And the board has already been set for a wild ride.  


In The Rings of Power, we are placed on Middle Earth at a time when evil is thought to have been eradicated.  But, that of course, could not be farther from the truth.  Sauron is out there and just waiting to spread his tyranny on the lands.  I am really excited to see how the show bridges the gap between itself and Peter Jackson’s films. But, the lack of a central quest and a clear focus is already pervading the series a bit.  With The Rings of Power, it is definitely a wait-and-see moment if the showrunners are going to be able to craft a compelling story that its already great characters can be involved in.  So for me, I think the clear winner in this department is House of the Dragon.  



And last but not least, is Overall Watchability.  With Game of Thrones, it could be an incredibly bleak and difficult series to watch. But, they were always able to keep us coming back for more with shocking twists and turns, and cliffhangers like no other show has been able to pull off before.  House of the Dragon has also proven to be quite dark already, but there’s something about it that feels less grim.  The political intrigue is alive and well, along with the copious amounts of sex and violence that we have come to expect from this franchise, which certainly keeps us on our toes.  Both episodes have ended with a bang and a concise direction moving forward… Making it impossible to not yearn to see what happens next.


The Rings of Power is a much more palatable series and suitable for younger audiences to enjoy.  There’s nothing here, at least so far, that doesn’t extend past the realm of a PG-13 rating. So, many families will be able to watch this together.  With incredible world-building, unadulterated creativity, and fantastical elements on display… There’s reason enough to keep tuning in to see what new and exciting surprises the showrunners have in store. And the thought of being able to return to Middle Earth week after week… Is something that I never thought I would get to experience in my lifetime. 

But, the show lacks a clear hook and as I said prior, the story hasn’t been totally defined yet.  I have no doubt in my mind that the plot will eventually thicken. But, as of right now, the entertainment value hasn’t entirely been cultivated yet.  So, for Overall Watchability, House of the Dragon gets the point for how each episode has left me yearning for more.


So, that means that House of the Dragon narrowly beats out The Rings of Power (4 points to 3 points) as the better series so far.  I think this really boils down to House of the Dragon excelling in plot and character development so quickly, and The Rings of Power proving to concentrate more on being a technical achievement, above all else.  Either way, both shows have just started to reveal their cards and I am truly excited to see where they go as their seasons progress.  HBO and Amazon Prime have both outdone themselves here and should be proud.

House of the Dragon premieres Sundays on HBO. The Rings of Power premieres Fridays on Amazon Prime.

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