Two shows, two epic fantasy universes, two streaming rivals spending entirely too much money on each of them. And yet while both may be performing well enough so far, a few episodes in, one seems like more of a hit than the other. And it’s HBO’s House of the Dragon coming out on top over Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
While critics have scored both shows about the same, fans have not, with House of the Dragon viewership reportedly higher (as hard as it is to track these streamers), and fan-submitted scores much, much higher as well.
There has absolutely been both sexism and racism that each show and their casts have had to face. Both shows feature badass women as their leads, Rhaenyra and Galadriel. Both shows have attempted to make a normally white fantasy setting more diverse by casting black actors. House of the Dragon has the black Velaryon noble house and its dragonriders, Rings of Power has black elves, dwarves and queens. But House of the Dragon’s fan ratings are miles above Rings of Powers. And I think there’s something to that, given that both shows have championed diversity similarly, and received similar pushback. It cannot explain the reception gap, or the entirety of Rings’ “review bombing.”
At baseline, House of the Dragon is simply the better show, at least in these early episodes so far. Rings of Power has cast an ultra-wide net, giving us locations and characters all across the map and building a long, low overall story arc. It has a nebulous villain, Sauron, but in the meantime has to deal with sifting through an incredible amount of entrenched Tolkien history, and it’s had trouble crafting worthy characters within that space so far.
House of the Dragon, meanwhile, sets up its conflict very clearly and very quickly, a good old fashioned power struggle for the crown, the core part of the original Game of Thrones series, but here, on a smaller scale. It has immediately established a host of great characters like Rhaenyra, whom you’re obviously rooting for, and Otto Hightower, who is as hateable as any Lannister or Bolton already. And it’s done a great job with “grey” characters like Matt Smith’s Daemon. No need for a whole season of setup, the action is here and now, these characters are compelling from the jump, and I just don’t think that’s true about Rings of Power.