People don't seem to like each other much in Westeros, not even those married to each other. Perhaps especially not those married to each other. HBO's "House of the Dragon" has nearly as much shouting as "The Bear" but without the delicious food (except for a quick glimpse of a lemon cake that Rhaenyra doesn't even eat, only steals the garnish from). There's backstabbing, regular stabbing, treachery and misery.
Given the timing and both shows' epic aims, it's inevitable that the "Game of Thrones" prequel has been compared to Amazon Prime Video's "The Rings of Power." The shows premiered within days of each other, and both are steeped in fantasy. "The Rings of Power" lacks those dragons – but also, lacks the sexual violence that has come to define Westeros. And it has likewise failed to attract the huge viewership of HBO's show, with demand for viewing "The Rings of Power" falling by 13% this week.
But the "Lord of the Rings" tale has some things "House of the Dragon" does not, including devoted friendships based on trust — and a foundational belief in female characters' agency.
Set thousands of years before the beloved tales of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," the series introduces new characters in somewhat familiar settings. Middle-earth is here, though we're seeing different sides of it – and we're introduced to the Hobbits' ancestors, the Harfoots. One of the three breeds of hobbits in Middle-earth, along with Stoors and Fallohides, the Harfoots are gatherers who move with the seasons and do a delightful job of matching the scenery with their camouflaged hats and mossy-roofed wagons.
Although things don't always go smoothly, "The Rings of Power" is to cooperating as "House of the Dragon" is to conniving.
Our main Harfoot, the likeable Markella Kavenagh as Nori, takes a mysterious stranger under her wing, a man (maybe) much too large to truly be under the small creature's protection. Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), here a fierce warrior years before the elf we know from Tolkien, strikes up several unusual friendships including with Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), the mysterious man she's thrown together with at sea, and Elendil (Lloyd Owen), the Númenor captain who brings her to land. Nazanin Boniadi as human healer and single mother Bronwyn and Ismael Cruz Córdova as Arondir, a stalwart elf, provide the romance in this fantasy, a burning and frowned-upon love that seems as fraught as Bronwyn's Orc-tunneled village.
Meanwhile, in the dwarves' underground mines, elf Elrond (Robert Aramayo) hangs with his old friend (once his buddy forgives him) the dwarf prince Durin (the charming Owain Arthur with a heavy beard). As Polygon puts it, "What's better than this? Guys bein' dwarves." But Elrond is there not just for the drinking, rock-breaking, reminiscing and mole-tail stew. The elves need to build a forge in Eregion, and Elrond has convinced his friend to help. Although things don't always go smoothly, "The Rings of Power" is to cooperating as "House of the Dragon" is to conniving.
It's a stirring moment, all the more powerful for its rarity: the female characters standing together, the men standing behind them.
So far, "The Rings of Power" seems to believe women, making it distinct from its dragon rival and others. Galadriel is initially sent away from the kingdom where they've come to hate elves, but once the queen regent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) gets a sign in the form of blossoms falling from a tree, she quickly turns around and pledges her island's support behind the female elf. Not only that, but she says she will accompany Galadriel herself back to Middle-earth to investigate the evil the elf swears is spreading. It's a stirring moment, all the more powerful for its rarity: the female characters standing together, the men, including quietly intense Elendil (whose name literally means "Elf-friend"), standing behind them.
The Harfoots know that adventure is more fun with others and that you survive best in groups. That was a central tenet in Tolkien's work (and in his life): the idea of friendship. It's heartening to see it repeated it here with new adventures and new and different allies. As the Hobbit Merry says, "You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin — to the bitter end." That's not always a luxury given to female characters. But so far all of us, even women, we've got a friend in "The Rings of Power."