Both the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, The Rings of Power, as well as the prequel to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, are set to release in 2022, but House of the Dragon has a glaring advantage over its Middle Earth counterpart. Both shows will be set in their respective fantasy worlds and will undoubtedly draw comparisons throughout their run-time. Unfortunately for Rings of Power, it’s looking more and more likely that House of the Dragon has a head start.
It’s no secret that Tolkien’s Middle Earth remains the primary instigator for what has now become the established norm for the fantasy genre, with Game of Thrones no exception. As such, the two franchises are natural competitors to one another, and with Rings of Power already divisive in many aspects, viewers are preemptively weary. Although House of the Dragon is coming off the back of a controversial Game of Thrones ending, this could work to its advantage as it distances itself from its predecessor in many ways, and shines uniquely from Rings of Power in one particularly beneficial way.
Some of the best and most compelling characters in Game of Thrones were so-called “grey” characters, individuals who were morally ambiguous, and could not be definitively categorized by the concepts of good or bad. In other words, they ultimately felt human in their motivation and action, opposed to written to suit a specific cause. Littlefinger and Jaime come to mind, which is why it was especially damaging when this three-dimensional aspect to their characters was seemingly lost in the later seasons. The story of the Targaryen Civil War, however, differs greatly from Game of Thrones in the sense that the whole era is overtly morally grey from all angles, and since it is the setting for House of the Dragon, a blessing for the show’s narrative. Compared to the often black and white morality depicted in the Lord of the Rings series, this more nuanced approach could pay dividends down the line.
Not only do House of the Dragon’s protagonists have the potential to be broadly grey characters that the audience will have to engage with and think about to choose who they support, but the plot at large does too. Therefore, viewers will have to decide for themselves who they do and do not like, since the more simplistic good and bad labels are absent. Additionally, the political divisions within the story will likely also remain labelless, allowing for much greater audience engagement with the narrative being told. Rings of Power already has its controversies, as a result of its reveal trailer, but now its entire narrative is threatened by House of the Dragon’s propensity for great moral subtlety and realism.
While Rings of Power is looking to take what Game of Thrones did right and expand it tenfold, Rings of Power seemingly leans on the fantasy storytelling trope of good against evil, the foundation of the story of The Lord of the Rings. While grey characters may be present, the overall narrative is sure to avoid it, and while alone this is not an inherently bad thing, the narrative may fall short when it is inevitably compared to that of House of the Dragon. With the younger selves of Lord of the Rings characters returning in Rings of Power, the inference can be made that the style of character and thus the story will not deviate too far from what has been seen in Middle Earth before.
With all that being said, there is no reason to believe one show will be inherently better than the other. They are both sure to deliver in many ways and with the anticipation for each of them growing every day, audiences can look forward to simply getting to enjoy not just one fantasy epic running at a time, but two of them. Nevertheless, while both shows are sure to tell independently compelling stories, House of the Dragon certainly retains its advantage of grey character and storytelling over Rings of Power, especially given that the Dark Lord himself is set to return.