IRL: House of Dragon and Rings of Power First Episodes Review

This blog is my gaming diary, first and foremost, but sometimes I write an IRL piece for the important stuff. LotR and GoT new series, as my personal top high fantasy settings, surely deserve one.

Normally I wait for the whole season of this kind of series to binge-watch them in one sit, but in this case a question had to be answered: are these good in my own opinion, and will I watch them at all further? TL;DR: yes, both. Let’s elaborate (oh, and mild spoiler alert).

House of Dragon

Let’s start with an easier one. A story told about Westeros, 170 years prior to GoT events, is exploring the misadventures of royal house Targaryen as its focus.

It is Game of Thrones, to and fro – written and supervised by G.R.R. Martin himself, so no wonder it keeps all the known elements: brutality, the idea that true middle age life is not a picnic, the treachery and all. The visuals are exactly that, so the picture does look like as its predecessor. I liked the cast a lot, although Rhys Efans does not shine yet enough – as he did in all his previous roles. My personal cast highlights are both the king and his brother – both too convincing in their roles.

The thing that drastically differs this series from the GoT itself is its scale. Game of Thrones was prominent by its epicness, portraying events throughout both continents, moving the armies and people, tectonic movements on a political map where every next episode could swap the allies and enemies and turn the armies, not just certain people, against each other. This was reflected even in the opening sequence, as camera flew over iconic clockwork castles all over the world.

Here – it’s a chamber conflict so far. We have a king of united Westeros, a small number of his relatives with claims to the throne, and a vague enemy of Essos – the Free Cities, so far acting through their proxy, a mysteirous pirate-y force of Crabfeeder. All in all – only three powers to clash, and for GoT it doesn’t feel enough at all. Moreover, even if Daemon – the rogue and violent king’s brother – gets access to the navy, thus cracking the kingdom’s forces in half, it still does not make the scale more epic. Lords of Westeros seem content with the king, and you can’t fight with navy on the land, besides, the king has all the dragons but one.

The final thing is: we do know that House of Targaryen will be standing no matter what for 170 years more, till Jaime Lannister runs a blade through its last – mad – king and ends their rule. So the outcome and further development is very predictable even for those who did not read the novel (I did not): the king will die (cause good kings don’t live long in this setting), his brother will die (because he’s a major villain so far), and the princess would take the throne as they made it a THING in the first episodes, no female ruler precedents so far.

That all said – the predictable development of the events and the unsufficient number of warring and scheming parties – the series tells a very good story, a convincing personal drama (I shed my share of tears at certain moments, if you watched, you’ll know), brilliantly shaped and played characters and crystal clear motives. Combined with the iconic visuals, it’s rightfully a member in the family and is interesting to watch and learn what comes next. The only thing is: it won’t be about the outcome, but rather HOW they get there, the process, not the destination.

Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power

Well, this one is more chaotic, and brought utmost concerns upon trailer releases. As a fan of Tolkien’s works since school (I read The Hobbit in elementary school, and LotR/Silmarillion in middle school for the first time), I was very concerned about what they will cobble up. I was totally ready that this would be a total disgrace, and I would just wave it away, claim it an abomination, not a rightful part of Middle Earth cinematic adaptations, and forget about it like it never happened, without a rant or something. To my surprise, I genuinely liked the first two episodes and now eagerly waiting for more episodes to come.

What was good about the first two episodes series?

First of all, the visuals. The Hobbit trilogy was an upgrade from LotR itself, adding some stunning lights and colors in contrast to the War of the Ring’s gray-and-green color scheme. Rings of Power takes it up to eleven, and it’s super beautiful to watch – even if they filmed just the scenery, the cities and the wilder lands are simply an eye candy, each worth a screenshot and a wallpaper. Bonus points for showing maps, which give a great understanding where the events happen – you can easily spot the location of the elven kingdom Eregion in connection to Khazad Dum/Moria, or the prominent square mountain ridge, the borders of future Mordor when the camera flies towards human-populated Southlands.

Second, the lore. As far as I remember (Silmarillion and LotR appendices are hard to digest and remember, being basically history book chronicles rather than fiction), no major flaws in lore so far. The series embraces the piece of plot how Celembrimbor, the elven smith, forged the rings of power, and throroughly disguised Sauron helped him in this endeavor, in the end secretly forging the One Ring “to rule them all” upon learning the power forging techniques. The whole thing took maybe a page in appendices and Silmarillion itself, if not less, so it’s hard NOT to follow the canon, and you can elaborate and add characters and side arcs as much as you please – as long as they existed in the current timeline.

Third, the people of Middle Earth. Humans, the forest hobbit clan (Harfoots) and dwarves perfectly match the vibe and lore of the books and previous movies, I can’t say a single bad thing about them. These three folks, their characters, their settlements and their lifestyles are super convincing, give a throrough insight of the societies in the days of yore, and are totally in the vein of the universe. I’m also intrigued about the man that arrived as a comet to the hobbit camp – most likely, it’s one of the five wizards, sent to thwart Sauron’s threat. The two blue wizards were called Alatar and Pallando, and they operated in the far South and East, so there was no appearance in the books and films. The word of god (Tolkien) stated that they might have failed in their mission, giving in to Sauron like Saruman did, and may have been the originators of the dangerous cults that outlived his reign, but at the time of the series they should of course be well meaning and powerful. In any case, I long to see them in their prime – and at all.

Now, onward to the biggest flaws of the series which sadly confirmed my suspicions and did not fix them at all. First of all, the interracial cast. Let me state very clearly, that it’s not a racist concern – it’s a miscast concern. The Middle Earth world states the parallels and the looks of its folks very clearly (I’m too lazy to look for quotes, but there are plenty), and even by when the movies came out, the certain expectations and character/race appearances became canon. The trilogies were praised by following the expectations and canonical looks of folks and characters as one of their strongest points. How they devised a black elf, a hobbit or a dwarf out of the blue – single random examples in the middle of otherwise white kin! – I don’t know.

As for people – humans, that is – it’s an ironic failure as well. You see, the Southlands – the lands to the East and South of future Mordor – are explicitly described to be the lands of African and Middle Eastern parallels of our own planet. In the War of the Ring, the LotR trilogy, they were sided with Sauron, both by pact and enslavement – which is portrayed during siege of Gondor… remember the elephant charge? So, the current series creators highlighted the humans of these lands as orc invasion victims, as one the major arcs, the events actually happen in this particular part of the world… and neither of these humans is middle eastern or black (except for a small boy who is strongly hinted to be a son of this single black elf)! If you wanted an interracial cast so badly – this is exactly where you needed to put it, and that would fit lore, canon and fans’ expectations like a glove. Moreover, there’s precious little information about these societies, lifestyles, and all in the books and films, so investigating them would be so welcome. Nope, let’s make Far East/South your common medieval Europe. Why on Earth (or Middle Earth), no one knows.

That said, I’ve no beef or grudge with the black actors’ acting as is: Disa the dwarven princess is yet to pronounce herself as a character, but so far is very likeable, the hobbits elders are super sweet, and Arondir the black elf is… the most elvish in the series.

And so we have come to the greatest flaw of the series: the elves. The thing with Tolkien’s elves (and all other elves designed after his works – in WoW, HoMM, FFXIV etc.) – is that they’re graceful, beautiful, and must simply radiate the godlike aura, the beings of wisdom, knowledge, magic and utmost power. The choice of actors is… strange. Many elves’ faces – Galadriel’s lieutenant, Celebrimbor and young Elrond being the most prominent examples – look like they were extracted from the womb with the help of tongs by their heads, and not too gently too. The ears are pointed… to an extent, but knobby and ugly. And I understand that the series make up crew might have been hardcore fans of Steve Harrington from The Stranger Things, but by Valar mercy, just two long haired wigs in stock for the entire elven cast? All in all, they don’t look and feel like elves at all – rather humans in elven gear at a comic con. They radiate nothing, just walking here and there and being… well, soooo mundane.

Again, the acting itself is not that bad – Elrond in dwarven halls almost makes you forget about his miscast and make up flaws, but in general they look and move boring to a flaw – mundane. The contrast is even bigger as the crew really outdid themselves in creating the most beatiful elven sites we’ve ever seen so far. And Arondir – the black elf – despite his Divergent-style buzzcut and being a single black elf in the universe… just because, is strangely the most elven elf of them all – because he has that otherworldly vibe which is vital and expected from the elves.

Yet with all the cast and make up crew flaws, the series is totally worth watching. I’m enjoying the stunning scenery, the character development and chemistry, the deep dive into a non-explored era and lore arcs, and all in all the whole thing. I’m intrigued to see the development of the series, and what comes next. And as I said, the miscast actors are trying their best and succeeding in their craft, and by the end or earlier we’ll take them as a given… but I think these casting and make up flaws would still never be forgiven or accepted as a true cinematic part of Middle Earth, and the series is unlikely to be revisited and rewatched when it ends – during LotR/Hobbit marathons. If you decide to play with canonical portrayal of the characters so loosely, whatever the reasons, then don’t expect it to be carved in stone – in the hearts of fans.

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