From left: Dragon Houseband member Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma Darcy); The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of PowerGaladriel (Morphed Clark).
Image illustration: eagle; Images courtesy of HBO and Prime Video
Fictional TV in the fall of 2022 feels like an A/B test. Two options are put before us, both appearing weekly through September and October: HBO’s Game of thrones spin off Dragon HouseOption A offers a powerful and bloody extension of a familiar fantasy world, where brutal interpersonal violence and petty power struggles are sometimes interrupted by the screaming of dragons and the threat of large-scale catastrophe. rings of strengthOption B is positively warm in comparison. There is still violence and evil, but its magical landscape is full of doers. Characters in Middle-earth can be friends; On the contrary, any friendship in King’s Landing is just a betrayal that hasn’t happened yet. Middle-earth believes in redemption. Westeros believes in an absurd embrace of the struggle to the death. dim or grandiose. sarcastic or vulgar. You are Can Watching both, of course, but it’s hard to get rid of Flick sense of switch light In the transition from one to another.
But under every Luigi-Waluigi volume, it’s amazing how similar the two projects are. Both are born from the same franchise engine: extend, extend, tap, and continue. Both rely on similar solutions to find their central preludes: Faced with the question of how to continue after a massive story reaches its final conclusion, they are cast backwards. If you can’t go on explaining what’s going to happen next, your best option is to step back and explain what came before – no matter how inevitably you’re trapped by the existence of the original thing, and don’t care that “how Galadriel became Galadriel” is probably a great ground for a Galadriel To explore it in therapy but it’s hard to turn into a surprising story. (Difficult but not impossible. We live in an age Cruella but also The best of Saul on demand.)
It’s not just that they’re both introductions, though. Like doubtful Fantastic monsters Before them, they are basically encyclopedia entries turned into TV series. Dragon House stems from particular piece From George RR Martin fire and blood A history book written from within Ice and Fire Song The universe has been told from the point of view of an academic Westerosi trying to organize the various primary documents. rings of strength comes from Appendix For JRR Tolkien return of the king, which is also found via textual explanation collected as part of a fictional archive. It’s even rarer than Martin’s textbook – much of the Tolkien supplement is a bulleted timeline of events spanning several millennia. “C. 500 Sauron begins to stir again in Middle-earth,” one reads. “750 Eregion founded by Noldor,” another notes.
for Dragon Housethis textbook of history – and the compression of the original series only a few generations apart – makes up a short leash, generating a tight, full-fledged story Incest family drama and battle lines that cross the same area over and over again. At the same time, the show is always rushing to get to a good part in the future, jump Next to Several years of the story Once. There is no time for delay in character development or the immediate consequences of major events. Everything important has to be cramed into one funeral scene or one argument between enemies. The view seems restricted but it is also stretchy.
rings of strength It works almost the other way around: bordered on short and yet looks like the king of infinite space. At their best, Tolkien’s succinct timeline entries serve as keyholes, and rings of strength Creates a glimpse through to discover whole little worlds on the other side of the door. But the series is too fond of Tolkien’s trivia and centuries of myth, and misses an essential sense of urgency. It feels like an open world video game, always inviting the player to go after side quests rather than get stuck on the main story line. With the exception of the open world game, it would be better to provide closure for side quests; There is no closing for all slashes and pops in rings of strength – Only more evil, still looming.
Together, the two series give the impression that television fiction is a gold rush, a boomtown – two Huge adaptations appearing at the same time, each attracting millions of eyeballs and aggressive and unforgiving marketing campaigns. They join a growing pile of titles of similar scope and magical leanings (although none too large): wheel of timeAnd the the magicianAnd the Its dark matterAnd the Shadow and bonesAnd the stranger from homeAnd the hypnoticAnd the We see. I tend to throw WestworldBut I can hear Roman from party downstairs He scolds me about hard science fiction. However, on TV, this is where a lot of the big bets and big money happen!
And even in the moments when the show is like rings of strength Feel the fun, the genre as a whole is starting to feel the magic, the magic is everywhere but there is no intoxicating drop to drink. Dragon House It is such a stretch by heart Game of thrones It seems almost silly to call it a different name. (Who made the decision on the topic of the opening credits, it seems? We came to the same conclusion.) Targaryens have a nominally better blonde wig. Technically, there may be fewer cases of sexual violence, but now there are multiple Painful birth scenes. Dragon House It is, in essence, more than that Game of thrones – just us rings of strength With its visual style, color palette and (beautiful, tender) Result, deliberately operating from the rules of the game Peter Jackson. Both series are presented as shiny new gems in the flowing pantheon, and they are! As their first seasons come to an end, it’s painfully clear that they are conservative plays, efforts to make and remake things that were already successful and present to audiences again, like last night’s roast chicken turned into today’s chicken salad.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m in love with chicken salad. There is always a place for it, and television, with its seasonal structures and years-long productions, is a particularly suitable medium for familiar things returning in slightly new iterations. still, Dragon House And the rings of strength It’s like seamless replicas rather than exciting new reworks. This feeling of A/B testing comes from their cultural closeness but also because the offerings shine with shellac that is unmistakable for mass market testing.
My teenage self, her thick plastic spectacles buried deeply in the pages of sturdy paperbacks with dragons in front, was looking up and shaking her head sadly, horrified to find that she had turned her nose down at such generous offerings of her favourites. Type. (And she’ll be baffled when she finds out that one of the shows was created by the same bookstore website where she bought all those dragon paperbacks.) Does it really matter that these two series are also meticulously tested to deliver what audiences want to offer next? What the audience wants?
Like a teenager who yearns for Harfoot in rings of strength (The presence of which indicates that somewhere along the line, a marketing professional has pointed out that any of them Lord of the rings The title requires someone from Hobbit-y), I suspect it would be much better to take a broader look at what is possible within the genre. The current palette of fantasy television seems empty because its visual and thematic vocabulary is outdated, even in its most stressful and mind-blowing multibillion-dollar iterations. Fantasy and literary genre with more exciting perspectives Already exists. It’s taken decades, but the first TV adaptation of Octavia Butler’s work is coming later this fall. There have been plans for years to adapt to the blockbuster NK Jemisin Season 5 A trilogy plus the works of Nnedi Okorafor, watching buckets of money pour into boring, safe, pre-built worlds makes one wish the same urgency went to non-dragon-based visions of fantasy television. (Or at least a few different dragons: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons Having Sex With Dragons in the skyand then their knights do that too and it creates huge issues of approval and personal drama, and yes, that part would be inappropriate, but – where who – which TV program?)
Until any of these projects are created, though, what we’re left with is rings of strength And the Dragon Houseand both They have a completely opposite problem to their budgets and ambitions. Their a priori ability is to constrain storytelling, but, worse still, it is an upper limit to their imagination. Fantasies should be forward-looking dreams of different worlds. Current TV options know only how to look back.