Editor’s Note: This story contains spoilers about 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, though, “House of the Dragon” moved at leaps and bounds – sometimes literally in its multi-year time jumps – while “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” loped along at a relative crawl.
The “Dragon” season finale that premiered October 23, subtitled “The Black Queen,” in a sense brought this first season – at times uneven, but always interesting – full circle. Having been told by her mother before she died in childbirth in the premiere that having children was the battlefield of queens, 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 ready to unleash hell upon the newly crowned King Aegon and his minions – saying, “Dreams didn’t make us kings. Dragons did” – Rhaenyra at first seemed to want to pursue a more cautious approach.
“I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ash and bone,” she told him and her advisers.
Diplomacy, however, required reaching out to the other kingdoms, with Rhaenyra dispatching her sons as messengers via dragon in seeking to rally support to her cause. That led to the much-anticipated climax, with a demonstration of aerial dragon combat (at one point, it looked a little like the Millennium Falcon in action) and the brutal death of Rhaenyra’s son.
The princess-who-would-be-queen’s final look of hatred and resolve cemented the idea that the second season will be devoted to war between the rival factions, a conflict likely to be ruled by Daemon’s take-no-prisoners attitude.
After a somewhat slow start, “House of the Dragon” picked up steam over the course of the season, spanning an entire generation with its jumps forward, which proved a trifle disorienting at the time. The net effect, though, was compelling and offered enough big, attention-getting moments to make the show both a ratings success and a regular trending topic, achieving a place in the cultural zeitgeist that “The Rings of Power” seldom appeared to reach on Amazon Prime.
Part of that might stem from the equity built up by both “Game of Thrones” – all that grousing about its ending notwithstanding – and HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.
The time jumps did serve another purpose by establishing additional characters, an area where the series felt initially deficient. That includes Ewan Mitchell as the eye-patch-wearing Aemond Targaryen, whose nasty streak played a pivotal role in the finale, while demonstrating that flying dragons and truly taming them aren’t necessarily one in the same.
Although it wasn’t a direct competition between “Dragon” and “Rings,” the parallels between them and the timing of their release made comparisons virtually inevitable. In addition, the first seasons both essentially served as long prologues for the epic battles that lie ahead.
Neither was perfect, but the final few episodes of “House of the Dragon” reinforced the distance between them and did a fine job of whetting the audience’s appetite for what comes next.
Within the show, the game of thrones will continue. But based on its opening salvo, score “House of the Dragon” as a victory for the old guard.