The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones: A False Equivalence Worth Millions


Earlier this month, it was reported that Amazon acquired TV rights to The Lord of the Rings for an astonishing sum. Still more astonishing however, was the decree under which this deal was closed. Amazon fat cats Price and Bezos specifically cite Preacher, American Gods, and of course, Game of Thrones, as models for globe-shaking, attention-mongering shows with a difference.

HBO meanwhile continues down an unprecedented path, with Entertainment Weekly recently reporting that no less than five Game of Thrones prequels are in development. A sweeping bid for television dominance, though the boy king Casey Bloys is apparently desperate to see Martin’s currently beloved megahit be the next Dark Souls or Call of Duty — television may not be used to franchise burnout via oversaturation, possibly because we as viewers are conditioned to have the Friends on in the background in spite of whatever it is they say.

Now, we all felt those Hobbit movies could’ve used some weight, even a pinch of the darkness that made the original trilogy work better than those cartoons of old, and evidently someone listened. Because what does chasing the Game of Thrones money really mean? Could be the gory revision of The Lord of the Rings recently seen fizzling with the “loot box”-plagued Middle-earth games, but it might not be so simple.

HBO and Amazon could not be more dissimilar as networks. Game of Thrones fits the former like a glove, though its arrival came as a shock in 2011. A fantasy novel on the network of endless gangsters, endless nihilistic half-hours, and endless old, famous men making faces? Well, if one adapts any fantasy novel, it should be A Game of Thrones, which, judging only by the show’s first season, plays its fantasy lightly, preferring instead the habits of medieval drama. Once staged and photographed with the sensibilities of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, the shocker twist ending sealed its future success.

I can’t help but emphasize how its gradual approach to the fantasy elements was its true foundation. It was a show about, chronologically, violence, boobs, mythical monsters, baby dragons, actual monsters, actual dragons. Once the order came down for a new Lord of the Rings, the first, or at least the loudest thought rounding the Internet was Tom Bombadil.

Game of Thrones sits sensibly alongside Deadwood and The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, dark and generic examples of their genres, but The Lord of the Rings is only generic now by function of being classic. It’s got way too much high fantasy out of the gate. And if this new series is a prequel, does that mean The Silmarillion?

Consistently, Amazon’s original programming is eclectic to the point of error. They don’t have the fantasy show, the western, the gangster show. They tried four times at period Americana, they had bizarre dramedies about tennis, classical music. They love Philip K. Dick — not even Asimov? Clarke? — and their flagship is an ankled transgender… dramadey. They have a niche flavor, experimental and indie-feeling, and hopefully a Game of Thrones-sized flagship replacement will keep that part of its ecosystem alive. Granted, the movie biz inflation erased the $40 million movie, which arguably moved to television.

The Young Lord of the Rings may instead prove to be more of the same, as its pedigree, while more storied, is entirely different from yes, very similarly themed Game of Thrones. “Worldwide phenomenon” is a tough success story to replicate, especially given the hit and miss rate of the replication approach. Though Amazon doesn’t seem interested in another Amazon-style hit, they may have secured one for roughly $250 million. The Lord of the Rings has a built-in audience now from both book and movie, but its old elven language may not guarantee the runaway success we saw when the “Red Wedding” and “You Know Nothing, Jon Snow” entered into our cultural lexicon for the first time.

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