An epic battle is about to be waged and it’s not between warring houses or mythical creatures.
It’s the fight between mega TV franchises, and it’s going to mean a very exhausting few months for audiences who are being asked to deeply invest in not one but four huge genre series, which between them have cost something in the region of a billion dollars.
The main event is the showdown between a game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragonand a Lord of the Rings prequel, The Rings of Power.
And if you think the media are hyping up this TV war, consider this: at this time last year, Amazon announced it would premiere The Rings of Power on September 2, 2022. It gave everyone 13 months’ notice. Then HBO swooped in and picked August 21 as the date for House of the Dragonas though spoiling for a fight.
The two shows will air their finales in the same week. That’s a deliberate choice – and not everyone may emerge victorious. It’s going to be a sh**fight.
It’s like if Marvel and Warner Bros decided to release an Avengers and Justice League movie on the same day.
Both shows are gambling huge money on the pulling power of two established brands with rusted-on fans. But will audiences commit to two very demanding, complex fantasy shows?
Or will fans decide they prefer elves over dragons, or scheme royals over the rise of Sauron, and reserve the other little time they have every week for something entirely different, maybe a workplace comedy? Each series is wooing the same pool of fans.
The fact they both happen to be high fantasy shows would’ve been unthinkable 25 years ago, when the genre was considered a nerds-only niche.
And yet the biggest cultural flashpoints in this relatively young century have been fantasy ones. Harry Potter is a juggernaut of books, movies, theme parks, merchandise and stage shows. game of Thrones has dominated the TV zeitgeist in a way that nothing else has to the same degree of obsession, including The Sopranos other Breaking Bad.
Part of that is because game of Thrones came along at a time of increased online pop cultural discourse, when TV recaps and Reddit were on the rise, which fueled the level of fervour around the show. The series spawned an online industry.
But it’s also because fantasy epics are now mainstream and every studio and streamer wants one, or two or three or four or five. And they’re willing to pay for it.
The Rings of Power has the honor of being the most expensive TV series ever made. In addition to the $US250 million Amazon paid for the rights to JRR Tolkien’s Second Age, the production budget was reportedly $US465 million. At eight episodes, that’s $US58 million per episode.
Keep in mind that The Rings of Power doesn’t have any big name actors who would be commanding large paycheques, so that money is going almost entirely into the production, splashing big on the world-building.
When that first trailer dropped during Comic-Con, you couldn’t argue that it didn’t at least look spectacular.
House of the Dragonwhich will stream in Australia on Binge and Foxtel*, is comparatively paltry, coming in between $US150 million to $US200 million for the 10-episode season, which equates to under $US20 million per episode.
Fantasy shows don’t come cheap, especially when there are 17 dragons involved.
In the middle of all these are two scrappiers though no less ambitious contenders in the wings, The Sandmana long-awaited adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s legendary comics, and Andora Star Wars streaming series.
Such is the insanely timed state of things that a Star Wars TV show is not even the second most anticipated upcoming streaming series.
Which is probably why this morning Disney blinked, saw the unhinged landscape and went, “Yeah, nah, we don’t want in on that,” and pushed Andor‘s release by three weeks into late September. Wise choice.
Disney would have done Andor no favors if it had kept its original August 31 premiere date, sandwiched between House of the Dragon other The Rings of Power. It’s not high fantasy but sci-fi is a very close genre cousin.
By moving it to September 21, Andor will drop three episodes at once and it’ll have a bit of clear air. Disney will be hoping that fans will have made theirs House of the Dragon other The Rings of Power choices and settled in, ready to consider a third option.
And Netflix also has a horse in the race, The Sandmanwhich is releasing on August 5. Netflix would be hoping that The Sandman is releasing early enough to avoid the main fray.
The Sandman is a high-stakes story about Dream, the being responsible for our subconscious state, who is captured and held captive for a century, unleashing chaos across the realms.
It’s not the most accessible narrative and the title has been in various stages of production since the 1990s, having landed across the desks of several filmmakers and onscreen talent, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Roger Avary and Terry Gilliam.
It’s only now, after the runaway commercial successes of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogies and the original game of Thrones series that TV executives even have the confidence to greenlight and fund a show based on a relatively esoteric comic series. The Sandman reportedly cost $US165 million to make.
Decision-makers have witnessed the appetite for genre art and they want to tap into that audience desire by throwing lots and lots of money behind these works.
Everyone is trying to find the next game of Thronesincluding game of Thrones. HBO is feverishly hoping House of the Dragon will be able to recapture the same obsessive fandom as the original series.
Of course, game of Thrones only happened because of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.
Like Jaime and Cersei, it’s all very incestuous. Also like Jaime and Cersei, everyone is about to head into battle. Wonder whose head is going to be crushed by a caving ceiling.
The Sandman is on Netflix from August 5, House of the Dragon is on Binge and Foxtel from August 21, The Rings of Power is on Amazon Prime Video from September 2 and Andor is on Disney+ from September 21.
*Binge and Foxtel are majority owned by News Corp, publisher of this website