Does the “House” always win or will “Rings” rule them all?
Welcome to Rings of the Dragon, a new Wonder series where we recap new episodes of the Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon (HOTD) and the Lord of the Rings prequel series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (TROP). And just for fun, we also determine which show wins the week. With points! Assigned arbitrarily!
But first, some housekeeping. With 5 episodes between the two shows already out there, we will play catch-up for this first ROTD entry. We’ll then do one episode per show per week moving forward. Cool? Cool. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD, obviously. LFG.
HOTD Episode 1: “The Heirs of the Dragon”
We begin the series with some pomp and circumstance to determine the next heir to the Iron Throne, setting up the show as a succession drama, but with dragons. Viserys I Targaryen is chosen as the next king. Because the alternative, Rhaenys Targaryen, is a woman.
We also get a quick reminder that this is a prequel to Game of Thrones, happening almost 200 years before Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Jon Snow’s aunt, and Mother of Dragons is born. +1 point for the succinct introduction to the series before jumping right into a shot of a Targaryen princess on a freaking dragon.
We follow Viserys’ firstborn, Rhaenyra Targaryen, in a quick series of scenes that introduce us to characters like her super pregnant mother (Aemma), her father’s small council, her cool but troublesome uncle (Daemon Targaryen), her bestie (Alicent Hightower), and her mount, the she-dragon Syrax.
We’re also re-introduced to familiar Game of Thrones scenes like sassy small council alignment meetings, random butts and boobies, and gnarly deaths and dismemberments. +2 points for the snappy pacing.
With the lay of the land established, the drama and the violence are turned up a notch with a jousting tournament to celebrate the birth of the king’s new child. The actual childbirth happens concurrent to the savage lance battles. And just when you think things are really messed up, in typical Game of Thrones fashion, things then get super fucked up.
As the knights wage war in the tournament, Queen Aemma fights for her life in her childbirth battlefield. She tragically loses—no thanks to her husband who chooses to sacrifice her life to save their new baby boy, who dies anyway. With a dead queen, a dead baby and a problematic current heir, the succession drama goes full throttle. +3 points for the gruesome yet beautiful symmetry between the tournament and the childbirth scenes.
Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King, pimps out his daughter, Alicent, to newly single Viserys. Daemon says awful things during a drunk sex orgy. Viserys names Rhaenyra as his new heir. In a somewhat touching scene, he finally sees her daughter as more than just “not a boy.” And then he tells her, “By the way, ice zombies are coming.”
It’s a solid, thrilling start for the house that dragons built.
HOTD: 6, TROP: 0.
HOTD Episode 2: “The Rogue Prince”
We just got the Targaryen’s insignia to open the first episode, but we got a full opening credits with the familiar Game of Thrones theme here. It’s not as epic as the original, but it’s still pretty sweet. +1 point for that.
The Rogue Prince opens with a grisly scene on the beach, reminding us that the Crabfeeder exists. This causes more friction within King Viserys’ small council and prompts Rhaenyra to propose a Rhaenyra-led show of force. The princess is told “no,” of course. She butts heads with Otto, Rhaenys, Daemon and her own father later in the episode. +3 points for the princess showing everyone that she is a force to be reckoned with.
Alicent spends some quality time with Viserys and Rhaenyra separately, setting up a deliciously awkward scene between the three later on.
Similar to how Alicent was low-key offered to the king by her own father, Laena Velaryon is also served to Viserys by her parents, Rhaenys and Corlys Velaryon. Laena is 12 years old. Parents of the Year.
All the drama surrounding Old Man Targaryen’s next bride is disrupted by news of Daemon stealing a dragon egg and squatting in Dragonstone. The prince has gone rogue. This sends Otto and a small army to confront the Squatter Prince and his gold cloaks. All the macho posturing is then disrupted by Daemon’s dragon, Caraxes, first, and then by the arrival of Rhaenyra and Syrax. +3 points for all the dragon-based disruptions and the tense niece-uncle confrontation.
Viserys announces that he is to marry Alicent, shocking everyone, most especially Rhaenyra. Corlys, who just served up his 12-year old daughter to the old ass king, says this is absurd. +1 point for dramatic walkouts.
The episode concludes by taking us back to the Crabfeeder as we listen to Corlys plotting with Daemon about going behind the king and taking on the dreaded feeder of crabs. +2 points for teasing a showdown between the rogue Targaryen prince and the prince-admiral of the Triarchy. PRINCEBOWL!
HOTD: 16, TROP: 0.
TROP Episode 1: “A Shadow of the Past”
Let’s take a break from dragons and check in on our other contender. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power begins with a quiet, innocent scene with kids and the warm, charming bond between siblings. And then the show chucks us into a wild battle between orcs and elves and, um, dragons. So we’re not taking a break from dragons after all.
We get a brief glimpse of Sauron as the whole war is summarized by Galadriel, a younger version of the character we know from the movies and books, and the first protagonist of the series that we encounter. There are many.
We catch up with Galadriel centuries after the war ended. She is hunting Sauron because the evil sorcerer killed her brother. +10 points for an epic start, Sauron and VENGEANCE.
We then meet Nori and the rest of the Harfoots, ancestors to the Hobbits. She dreams of exploring the world beyond their quaint little camp.
We also meet a younger version of Elrond who was played by Agent Smith in the movies. He dreams of not letting Galadriel have any fun with her mission of vengeance.
Rounding out the rest of the main characters are Arondir the elf cop, his human lover and the village healer, Bronwyn, and Bronwyn’s punk son, Theo. +3 points for introducing us to a ton of characters without overwhelming us with information.
With the war officially declared over, and the orcs considered no longer a threat, the elves are shipping out. But not all of them. As Arondir tries to say goodbye to Bronwyn, they are entangled in a slimy mystery. And as Galadriel is about to go back home to the Undying Lands of Valinor on a boat as a reward for being a war hero, she decides that she’s not done hunting Sauron and yeets herself into the waters. +3 points for Galadriel being a stubborn, unstoppable force of nature.
Meanwhile, everyone watches a meteor as it streaks across the sky. Not ominous at all.
The meteor lands very close to the Harfoots’ camp, so Nori investigates. The meteor isn’t actually a piece of space rock, though. It is, in fact, a man. Or maybe a meteor in the form of a man? What are the rules? +1 point for an intriguing cliffhanger that gets resolved immediately because the second episode was released along with this one.
HOTD: 18, TROP: 17.
TROP Episode 2: “Adrift”
Like the second episode of HOTD, the second episode of TROP gives us actual opening credits for the first time in the series. It’s not as epic as HOTD’s, but it’s something.
Galadriel opens the episode as she tries to swim back to Middle-earth, probably questioning her decision to wait until the very last second to change her mind about her quest for revenge instead of doing it when she was still on dry land.
Nori and friend Poppy investigate the man who fell from the sky. They take him away from his crater and take care of him like a lost puppy. He commands the elements and talks to fireflies. He’s a weirdo with magical powers who will most likely help fight Sauron. Or he’s actually Sauron, isn’t he? +2 points for a fun mystery.
Arondir and Bronwyn split up as they investigate their slimy mystery further.
Galadriel meets new friends in the middle of the sea. All but one get eaten by a giant sea monster. Halbrand, her new friend, saves her from drowning. He’s Sauron in disguise, isn’t he? +2 points for a thrilling sea massacre.
Elrond sets off to assist the great Elven smith Celebrimbor (lol) in building a new forge by asking his old friend, Dwarf Prince Durin IV, for help. But it turns out that Durin is pissed because Elrond ghosted him for 20 years, so the Dwarf prince challenged the half-elf to a rock-breaking contest.
They make up, thanks to the prodding of Durin’s wife, Disa. This section of the episode doesn’t quite fit into the rest of the story threads running. -1 point for the first possible chink in the show’s entertainment armor.
Bronwyn tells the men in her village about the danger they’re facing, but they brush her off. Theo mistakes an orc for mice. The orc tries to kill the kid and his mother in a fun, frantic struggle, but Bronwyn manages to cut its head off. She then presents the orc’s head to the rest of the villagers to convince them to get the hell out of Dodge. +5 points for that boss move.
Meanwhile, Bronwyn’s boyfriend, Elf Cop, gets captured. Also, Theo dicks around with an obviously evil sword. He’s going to be possessed by Sauron, isn’t he?
The second episode and the initial salvo of The Rings of Power end with Galadriel still adrift at sea, being found by someone in silhouette. +2 points for an electric start of the series with compelling mysteries and impressive visuals. If the rest of the series maintains this level of quality, the show might just be worth its ridiculous budget.
HOTD: 18, TROP: 27.
HOTD Episode 3: “Second of His Name”
Back to the House of the Dragon. We jump three years. Daemon and the Sea Snake are at war with the Crabfeeder. PRINCEBOWL has commenced! Meanwhile, back in King’s Landing, Viserys and Alicent are now married with one child, Aegon, and another on the way. Rhaenyra feels like no one is there for her. Not her father, not her former best friend and current stepmother. +1 point for colorful family dynamics.
To celebrate Aegon’s second nameday, the Targaryens go on a hunting trip. With the rest of the realm, including a sleazy Lannister. As everyone is busy getting drunk, stuffing their faces with cake and killing forest fauna, Rhaenyra, the Realm’s Delight, is busy not getting set up for marriage.
Viserys deals with all the politicking related to his daughter’s future and happiness by getting drunk and murdering Bambi’s dad.
Like all of us with parents and nosy relatives, Rhaenyra must deal with the seemingly never ending question: “You have come of age, when are you getting married?” +3 points for being super relatable.
She deals with it by running away and murdering Pumbaa. Hakuna matata, fool! She walks back to camp covered in blood and dripping with swagger.
Viserys reassures Rhaenyra that she is still his heir, even though he has a son now. +3 points for family reconciliations after blood is spilled.
We end the episode by checking back on PRINCEBOWL! After a violent clash between the two princes’ armies, Daemon comes out on top. He kills the Crabfeeder off-screen. Kind of anti-climactic, but a dragon is involved, so it’s still fine. +3 points for all of this happening with Daemon not saying a single word, adding to his cool factor. He’s so cool.
With the final tally being HOTD: 28, TROP: 27, noting that HOTD is one episode ahead of TROP, HOTD wins the inaugural Rings of the Dragon battle! But not really. We’ll see you again next week, fantasy fans!
Art Alexandra Lara