House of the Dragon vs Rings of Power — which is better? We debate!

Caraxes the red dragon from House of the Dragon.
(Image credit: HBO/Sky)

When it was officially announced that House of the Dragon and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power would premiere just a few weeks apart, an epic showdown was set. Which fantasy series would prevail? Rule them all, if you will.

Now that House of the Dragon has concluded its first season, a couple weeks after The Rings of Power wrapped things up, we here at What to Watch are making our cases for which fantasy series’ first season we preferred more before turning it over to you, our readers, to cast your votes.

Of course there’s room for both epic fantasy series to be enjoyed by any and all viewers (they air on different days after all), but let’s have some fun and see where everyone stands on two of the biggest TV shows of the year.

Martin Shore, writer: The Rings of Power is my winner

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in The Rings of Power

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in The Rings of Power (Image credit: Matt Grace/Prime Video)

As a huge fantasy fan, choosing between House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power was no easy task, though ultimately I have decided to side with the latter. Whilst I’d say I think House of the Dragon is technically the better show, when both were airing, I was always just slightly more excited to find out what was going to happen in the next installment of The Rings of Power because I just had more fun watching it. 

Amazon’s take on J. R.R. Tolkien’s Second Age might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was mine. Working with the source material they had access to, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay captured a similar sort of vibe that enchanted me the first time I visited Middle-earth. 

Much was made about the show’s colossal budget, and it’s easy to see where it went. Its world is beautifully realized with some of the best visuals on TV in a very long time.

It was then populated with characters who I really warmed to; specifically Morfydd Clark’s version of Galadriel, Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and his formidable wife Disa (Sophia Nomvete), Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Ismael Cruz Córdova’s Arondir were stand-outs. 

No, the show isn’t perfect, suffering as it does with pacing issues and some clumsy dialogue throughout, but I never really felt put off at any point. Taken in its entirety, I found this first season to be a really compelling watch and a strong enough foundation to work from.

Sean Marland, writer: House of the Dragon in a league of its own

Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon

Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon (Image credit: Ollie Upton / HBO)

If you want a set of kettlebells or a brand new video game delivered to your doorstep within 24 hours, then Amazon is the place to go. But if you’re after a finely wrought and visually spectacular TV drama, then HBO is undoubtedly your best bet. 

It’s for that very reason that despite spending millions of dollars and plundering the back catalog of one of history’s most popular authors, The Rings of Power was always bound to come off second best in this fantasy face-off. In the words of a famous character from another great HBO series: "If you come at the King, you best not miss." 

It’s not that Prime Video’s odyssey through Middle-Earth’s history was bad, but it was painfully boring during the early stages — stretched like butter across too much bread — and contained none of the light touches that made Peter Jackson’s film trilogy so popular. The last couple of episodes were great, but we were hoping for more than something to be tolerated until it got good.

Meanwhile, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones spin-off series started like an express train fueled by dragonfire and Westeros Easter eggs, basking in organic internet buzz fueled by a show attracting a bigger audience every week, paving the way for the spectacular finale. 

The result was must-see TV that was littered with subtle political maneuverings, captivating female stories, stand-out set pieces and even another Red Wedding. Dracarys!

Michael Balderston, US editor: The Rings of Power edges it

The Rings of Power first teaser image of the Elvish capital of Lindon

(Image credit: Prime Video)

If you had asked me which series I was more excited for before either aired, I would have said House of the Dragon by a pretty safe margin. I loved Game of Thrones during its original run and was excited for the franchise to get some redemption after the disappointing conclusion (more how it was handled then the story choices, to be fair). 

House of the Dragon did not disappoint; it was well acted, well made and it took its time in reaching the tipping point in the last few episodes; much like the original Game of Thrones did in its first season. But I couldn’t shake a "been there, done that" feeling while watching House of the Dragon and its machinations. The Rings of Power, on the other hand, felt fresh.

Taking the story thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings presented an exciting world that while familiar, was something that had not been seen on screen before. Each season was basically a prologue to set the stage for what's to come, but I found the journey of the creation of Mordor and the reveal of who is Sauron and the Stranger to be more enjoyable (not least of which because I didn’t have to figure out what new actor is playing what character with time jumps every two episodes).

Also, I have to admit that I enjoyed the (somewhat) lighter tone that Rings of Power had. It leaned more into humor (does anyone in HotD ever laugh?) and, even as Sauron is sure to build his power, has that spirit of hope that the movie trilogy had.

I’m excited to see where each series goes, but forced to pick an early favorite, I’m going with The Rings of Power.

It's your turn now. Which fantasy series do you prefer so far: House of the Dragon of The Rings of Power? Cast your vote directly below.

All of House of the Dragon season 1 can be streamed on HBO Max in the US and Sky TV and NOW TV in the UK. The Rings of Power season 1 is available in its entirety on Prime Video.

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.

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