This late August and early September saw the return of epic medieval fantasy series to the center stage. Fittingly, both are spinoff prequels to more famous predecessor productions. HBO’s “House of the Dragon” builds in the historical backstory serving as background to their epic 8-season cash cow “Game of Thrones”. Amazon Prime Video in the meantime has fielded “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”, itself making a narrative out of the mythical history of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, particularly as seen in the legendary film trilogy from New Line Cinema. Both shows already have two episodes out, and from these some casual impressions on the series can be made.

“House of the Dragon” looks back on the earlier history of Westeros as depicted in George RR Martin’s universe, in turn adapted as “Game of Thrones”. Fittingly, HBO sees fit to bring back many old hands in the production including composer Ramin Djawadi who game us the iconic “GoT” theme. The setting is the Seven Kingdoms during the reign of Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine). After his wife and infant son die in childbirth, he names his sole surviving daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) as heir to the Iron Throne. This upsets Viserys’ brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), who has ambitions to inherit. But some more problems complicate this fragile situation.

The Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), sets his daughter Alicent (Emily Carey) to seduce the widowed Viserys. When the King announces his intention to remarry to Alicent, lines are drawn and alliances made. If Alicent could bear Viserys a son in marriage, Rhaenyra’s position as heir would be endangered. To those who have read Martin’s source book “Fire and Blood”, that is exactly what happens, leading to the Targaryen Civil War called the Dance of the Dragons.

“The Rings of Power” on the other hand looks at the story behind some of the more senior supporting characters in base “Lord of the Rings”. Fans of the movie might recall the mighty dignity offered by Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett as Elven monarchs Elrond and Galadriel respectively. “Rings of Power” shows us these two as their younger, less “perfect” selves (Robert Aramayo and Morfydd Clark), as they make their way across Middle-Earth in the centuries after the transition from the First to Second Ages. The original Dark Lord Morgoth has been defeated and banished, but his second-in-command Sauron remains at large and resolved to finish his predecessor’s plans.

But as Sauron hides and bides his time, life on Middle-Earth goes on. Tensions arise between elves and men, as the former sees the latter as tainted due to their ancestors fighting for Sauron. Those humans who did fight for good currently live in their island kingdom of Numenor, ruled by Queen Miriel (Cynthia Adlai-Robinson). In parallel to Aragorn and Arwen, the elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz) is in love with Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a human healer and single mother. Political games also abound courtesy of Elf High King Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) and Dwarf Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) of Khazad-dum.

One notable common production aesthetic between “House of the Dragon” and “The Rings of Power” is how relatively “clean” everything looks. The settings of “Game of Thrones” and “LOTR” looks rather weathered and dusty in comparison. It is understandable seeing as both series are showing their respective settings in arguably their past golden ages, where everything just becomes worse from that point. Visual-wise, both shows can be considered improvements. “HOD” can be said to have made the near-identical dragons from “Thrones” into distinctive individual creatures. “Rings” choosing to shoot in New Zealand like the original films also works wonders for how their locations look onscreen.

That being said, there is still some ways to go in terms of episodes before both series really get into the meat of their stories. The factions that will fight the Dance of the Dragons have yet to form. Sauron has yet to deceive the Elves into helping him forge the titular Rings of Power (even before he makes THE One Ring). Longtime fans for either Martin or Tolkien would have already gone over the details in the original print media, so TV fans will have to wait until the respective shows can catch up.

“House of the Dragon” airs Sundays on HBO. “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” will premiere a new episode weekly as well on Prime Video, with the September 1 dual-episode premiere being a special case of sorts.

Image courtesy of The Wrap