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Lord of the Rings vs Game of Thrones: Battle of the Prequels

An orc attacks in The Rings of Power
An orc attacks in The Rings of Power   -   Copyright  AP/Amazon Studios
By Jonny Walfisz

Fans of sword and sorcery fantasies are eagerly expecting an autumn filled with magic, mystery and drama. Prequel shows for 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Game of Thrones' are just around the corner.

The Game of Thrones prequel ‘House of the Dragon’ will premiere on HBO on August 21, while the Lord of the Rings prequel ‘The Rings of Power’ will be released on Amazon Prime on September 2.

Last night, the 'House of the Dragon' premiere had the cast in their gladrags on the LA red carpet.

Other than structurally similar titles, what else will these two shows share?

Ollie Upton/HBO
Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, “The Sea Snake”Ollie Upton/HBO

Deep lore dives

When Amazon first announced it was working on a Lord of the Rings series, there was speculation that it would be a remake of the original trilogy that was brought to life in Peter Jackson’s award winning films.

But while Amazon was able to get the rights to the franchise, the studio could not secure the rights to the closely related events depicted in 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings'.

Instead, the writers have created a prequel that charts the history of Middle Earth, based on the appendices of the novels as well as tales and songs J.R.R. Tolkein wrote.

The story of 'The Rings of Power' takes place 1,000 years before the third age of Middle Earth, ie: when Frodo and Bilbo were about. It follows the rise to power of Sauron, the main antagonist of the original novels.

AP/Amazon Studios
A shot from the upcoming Lord of the Rings: The Rings of PowerAP/Amazon Studios

The writers of 'House of the Dragon' had a simpler brief for their prequel. 

Original book author George R.R. Martin wrote the novel ‘Fire & Blood’ in between Game of Thrones books, in order to give more backstory on House Targaryen.

Set just 200 years before the events of 'Game of Thrones', 'House of the Dragon' will introduce viewers to a time when Westeros was ruled by the Targaryen family, prior the downfall that Daenerys spends the original series trying to restore.

Weighty expectations

Expectation are high for both shows, which have eye-watering budgets.

'The Rings of Power' comes after Amazon bought the rights to the series for close to €250 million. That’s just for the rights without a cent going toward production. With location shooting in New Zealand and a dedicated team of designers and animators, the budget for the series was expected to run between €100-150 million, but has been reported as costing up to €465 million. By the time all five series have been made, it is likely to become the most expensive show in history, exceeding €1 billion.

Ollie Upton/HBO/Warner Media
Emma D’Arcy as "Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen" and Matt Smith as "Prince Daemon Targaryen"Ollie Upton/HBO/Warner Media

'The House of Dragon' budget looks comparatively paltry at under €20 million per episode. The 10-episode series is expected to cost between €150-200 million, which has mostly been spent on creating incredible sets and location filming to bring an older Westeros to life.

Both shows also have to meet the expectations of fans frustrated by where the last instalments of the franchises left them.

'The Hobbit' films, while financially successful, were far less critically acclaimed than the acclaimed and beloved 'Lord of the Rings' films, which cleaned up Oscars in 2004.

More than 10 million people were tuning into each episode of the final season of 'Game of Thrones'. But many would agree that the show's denouement was a bit of a damp squib, with fans criticising the decisions made by showrunners untethered to R.R. Martin's pre-written material.

Established actors vs new names

One of the ways the two shows will differ is casting. 'House of the Dragon' has opted for a similar strategy to its predecessor, employing some of the biggest names in the UK film and TV industry.

Helming the show is Matt Smith, best known for playing the 11th Doctor in 'Doctor Who' and Prince Phillip in the first two series of 'The Crown'. Joining Smith are other industry mainstays such as Paddy Considine and Rhys Ifans, as well as some newer names like Emma D'Arcy, who plays Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, Smith’s rival for the Iron Throne.

AP/Amazon Studios
Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Queen Regent Míriel in a scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.AP/Amazon Studios

By comparison, 'The Rings of Power' is banking on lesser-known performers. Morfydd Clark will play Galadriel, who was previously brought to life by Cate Blanchett. The Welsh actor has had roles in 'Dracula' and 'His Dark Materials', but this is definitely the biggest vehicle for her talents so far.

Both shows have worked to improve casting heterogeneity, opting for more racial diversity compared to  previous iterations.

By the end of this Autumn, which show will be crowned the ‘Euronews Winner of the Fantasy Prequel Series’?

You’ll have to wait and see. But for now, R.R. Martin is less than fussed about the competition. “I hope both shows succeed,” he told The Independent.

“I’m competitive enough. I hope we succeed more. If they win six Emmys, and I hope they do, I hope we win seven. But nonetheless, it’s good for fantasy. I love fantasy. I love science fiction. I want more shows on television,” he added.