The Rings of Power and the House of the Dragon: Politics and Adventure
In 2001, The Fellowship of the Ring debuted in theaters, ushering in the beginning of a new era of visual fantasy. Ten years later, in 2011, the fantasy world changed again when the television film adaptation of game of thrones debuted on HBO. These two properties set the tone for visual fantasy storytelling.
Without The Lord of the Rings films, it could be argued that there would not be game of thrones. Without game of thronesit’s irrefutable that we wouldn’t have today’s fanciful combo power rings and Dragon House.
And yet, in 2022, the two shows debuted within weeks of each other and are halfway through their first seasons. Although they occupy the same genre of fantasy storytelling, they are as much alike as they are different. For this reason, they are, in a way, mirror projections of each other, offering two unique experiences for the spectators, which can be reduced to two themes that define them: politics and adventure.
A fantastic backbone
Both of these shows are based on high fantasy and adhere to the core tenets of the genre. Mystical and mythical lands, where the rules that govern our world do not exist or are flexible, guide these basic elements of fantasy.
power rings occupies the familiar landscape of Middle-earth, taking advantage of the goodwill and effort that Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings trilogy set. The show replicates many of Jackson’s established motifs, including visual design, sets, character appearances, costumes, and more. It’s the same for Dragon Housewhich pays homage to its television predecessor by taking us back to Westeros in a visually familiar way.
As both shows are prequels, they have the freedom to expand on the storytelling in a number of ways, but they’re also bound by the visual constraints established by their predecessors. Whereas power rings can travel to new regions of Middle-earth, they must maintain a mastery of the foundations built by Jackson. It is the same for Dragon Housewhich does it even more openly than power rings. It’s partly because power rings is owned and produced by a different production company (Amazon) than The Lord of the Rings (Warner Bros.) was complicating the parts of the story it can and cannot tell.
This is not the case for Dragon House, which doesn’t have to adhere to some of these pre-existing conditional design frameworks. He can jump into a design of his own, and because the story takes place almost two hundred years before game of thrones, he has the latitude to explain “well, some things have changed during this time”. But, the crux of how these shows excel isn’t how they compare to their predecessors, but the lenses through which they’re told.
Politics and adventure driving the plot
Dragon House is a political thriller. power rings is an action-adventure. Shaping a thematic element of a show like Dragon House politics doesn’t mean it’s like The west wing (although in many ways it is). This means that the show is told through dialogue, character interaction, and the things that happen because of what the characters say and do. It’s politics by characters plotting for their own gain or plotting against someone they see as an enemy. That’s what made game of thrones so engaging and interesting.
We’ve praised the creator of this world, George RR Martin, many times for his masterful control over the subversion of expectations. Just when you think someone is the mythical hero destined to defeat the enemy, they die – looking at you, Robb Stark. This is where the Dragon House differs from power rings, for example. They both have patient, developed, and thoughtful scenes of character dialogue exchange, but Dragon House operates in a different realm in terms of exposure and dialogue.
Consider that during the first half of the season, Dragon House only had two action scenes – the tournament and Daemon’s charge against the Crabfeeder’s army. The tournament scenes are relatively small compared to Daemon’s loadout, but ultimately that’s it for the climactic scenes. The rest of the show grabs you in its grip through intriguing characters, stories, and political machinations.
Until episode 4 of power rings“The Great Wave” we didn’t get too many scenes of political interaction, where there are clear storylines between the characters, or in this case, the building of alliances. power rings, from the outset, established that Galadriel and her hopeful supporting alliance are fixated on one goal, to ensure the defeat of the lingering threat of Sauron.
We have clear lines between good and evil. Clear adventure lines. How we get to that endpoint that we already know is what’s exciting – the same thing works for Dragon House. We know the end of this story (The Mother of Dragons), but we don’t know how we will get there. The big difference is that where power rings acts as an adventure story, Dragon House is political where the enemy is not clear. There is no common threat other than the threat of the throne itself.
power rings focuses intensely on being an action-adventure series. By leveraging what the audience already knows of what Sauron will become, we’re led down a path where the audience knows the conclusion, but our characters don’t.
The show also goes to great lengths to deliver panoramic shots of beautiful landscapes, wide shots of remarkable sets, and paintings on an enormous canvas. The mirror inverse of this is Dragon Housewhich keeps the audience close to the frame, close to the figures, and only occasionally stepping back for canvas-scale shots.
The free mirror
While the shows may differ in their approach to storytelling and the type of story they tell, they are also remarkably similar. And because of that, the shows are both in the spotlight of social conversation. While early season broadcast figures suggest that Dragon House beats its competitor, there is also a lot of positive praise for both.
There’s an easy argument to make power rings is the boldest production, tackling a time period created by JRR Tolkien that spans thousands of years, with only minimal detail given the time period. From a production budget standpoint, it’s the clear monster in the room (supposed cost of $1 billion). And, some have said it’s the most beautiful show ever put on screen to date.
How these shows succeed or not depends on the audience and social engagement. Producing each is a huge financial gamble, and the two competing shows are actually a good thing. We talk about them, and we talk about fantasy!
If there’s a casualty in this battle, it won’t be either of these shows. This is perhaps the now forgotten but excellent, wheel of time, another Amazon production. Even though only one season aired, Amazon threw its weight behind it. The second season is in production and the third season has been greenlit. But, after the fantastic time these other shows are having, will audiences be able to return to another realm – especially one that many missed the first time around?