Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers for the “House of the Dragon” season finale.
The two giant fantasy series that premiered within weeks of each other shared massive scope and scale. In terms of pacing, however, “House of the Dragon” moved by leaps and bounds – sometimes literally in its multi-year time jumps – while “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” moved at a relative crawl.
The “Dragon” season finale that premiered on October 23, subtitled “The Black Queen,” kind of came full circle to that first season – sometimes uneven, but always interesting. Having been told by her mother before she died in childbirth in the first that having children was the queens’ battleground, Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) endured another gruesome delivery of a stillborn child, amid preparations and planning for the battle to come.
Still, if Rhaenyra’s husband and uncle (this is the incest-laden world of “Game of Thrones,” after all), Daemon (Matt Smith), was willing to unleash hell on the new King Aegon. and his minions – saying, “Dreams didn’t make us kings. Dragons did” – Rhaenyra at first seemed willing to pursue a more cautious approach.
“I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ashes and bones,” she told him and his advisers.
Diplomacy, however, required reaching out to other realms, with Rhaenyra sending her sons as messengers via dragon to seek to rally support for her cause. This led to the long-awaited climax, with a demonstration of dragon dogfighting (at one point it looked a bit like the Millennium Falcon in action) and the brutal death of Rhaenyra’s son.
The last look of hatred and resolve from the princess-who-should-be-queen cemented the idea that the Second Season will be devoted to the war between the rival factions, a conflict likely to be governed by the attitude of Daemon without taking prisoners.
After a bit of a slow start, “House of the Dragon” picked up momentum over the course of the season, spanning an entire generation with its leaps forward, which proved a bit disorienting at the time. The net effect, however, was compelling and offered enough big attention-grabbing moments for the show to be both a ratings success and a regular trending topic, securing a place in the cultural zeitgeist that “The Rings of Power” rarely seemed to achieve on Amazon Prime.
Some of that could come from the equity accrued by both “Game of Thrones” — despite all that grumbling about its ending — and HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.
The time jumps served another purpose by establishing additional characters, an area where the series initially felt lacking. That includes Ewan Mitchell as the eyepatch-wearing Aemond Targaryen, whose bad streak played a pivotal role in the finale, while also demonstrating that flying dragons and truly taming them aren’t necessarily the same thing.
While not a direct competition between “Dragon” and “Rings”, the parallels between them and the timing of their release made comparisons virtually inevitable. Moreover, the early seasons basically served as lengthy prologues for the epic battles to come.
Neither was perfect, but the final episodes of “House of the Dragon” have cemented the distance between them and done a great job of whetting audiences’ appetites for what’s next.
Within the show, the game of thrones will continue. But based on its opening salvo, mark “House of the Dragon” a victory for the old guard.