HBO’s House Of The Dragon and Amazon’s Rings Of Power are two very different shows – the only resemblance, really, is the fantasy setting. Still, it’s fun to compare, contrast, and play up the rivalry between the two, and House Of The Dragon has proved superior, thus far.
Rings of Power is visually striking, and some of the side-plots are actually pretty intriguing; it’s not the flaming disaster some Tolkien fans were expecting. But when it comes to the writing and character development, House of the Dragon reigns supreme – it’s flying in circles around Rings, shooting flames at its high-budget competitor.
The difference is highlighted by the opening scene of episode 4 of House of the Dragon, which shows Princess Rhaenyra enduring the process of choosing a suitor, mocking the little boys and crusty fossils that show up to claim her hand. It’s a very simple scene, but one that shows the strength of the writing, as we get a good sense of the personality of every character who appears on screen, even if they only appear for a moment.
In contrast, Rings of Power has struggled to communicate who its main players really are; so far, most feel like hollow archetypes, wandering around a beautiful, empty world. Much of the dialogue reheats tired fantasy tropes, stern leaders speaking of broken alliances, rising darkness, and ancient prophecies.
To be fair, Tolkien’s dialogue was never the highlight of his books, but Amazon is clinging to a scant few pages of source material, and has free reign on many of the plotlines, and all of the dialogue; it doesn’t have to be so stiff.
House of the Dragon is telling a story about people trapped within the hierarchical structures that empower them, inbred royals in golden cages, forced to make strategic moves to keep their cage from being cracked open by rivals. Much of the tension stems from the fact we know there’s a major succession crisis on the horizon, about to explode in dragon fire, but it’s the little moments that fuel the show, the family drama and palace intrigue.