When it comes to modern fantasy, two juggernauts seem to have taken center stage - The Lord of the Rings and the more recent Game of Thrones. Despite being about as separate in style and tone as can possibly be, both have captured the hearts and minds of fantasy fandom and have become iconic symbols of entertainment as a whole.
LOTR's epic scenes are often visual spectacles rarely matched to this day. Meanwhile, Thrones' more raw, nuanced, and historically-inspired tale has made for one of the richest, most gripping TV shows in modern times. Both stories have served their own purpose and excelled in very different ways. It's difficult to compare these two - being a film trilogy vs a TV show alone makes this a bit of an "apples and oranges" situation.
Still, being the iconic symbols of fantasy that each has become, it's tough for many to resist comparing the two, especially with a LOTR show in the works for Amazon. So let's journey to Middle Earth and Westeros as we cover 5 things that each of these epics do better.
10 GOT: Multiple Perspectives
Considering The Lord of the Rings contains an abundance of characters - 9 people of the Fellowship alone - it's odd that the story largely revolves around Frodo and Aragorn. The films in particular contain very little shifting to other characters who could present some unique perspectives, such as Boromir, Elrond, Arwen, or even Gandalf.
One of the many ways Game of Thrones contains a sense of complexity that keeps us engaged is its vast array of diverse characters. We get to see things through the eyes of many, and follow their own unique backgounds, stories, and perspectives within the chaotic world they find themselves in. This adds a ton of depth and a unique dynamic to an already rich story.
9 LOTR: Gorgeous Set Design And Visual Effects
Sure, it isn't really fair to knock the visuals of Benioff and Weiss' rendition of Game of Thrones too hard; and for the limitations of television, they're actually very impressive. Still, ultimately, LOTR reigns supreme when it comes to the spectacle of the environments and the special effects - which nicely blend live-action and cg. And mind you, Peter Jackson's creation also predates Thrones by nearly a decade.
Even disregarding the insane battle scenes - the stunning visuals and creativity of many of the diverse set pieces, such as Minas Tirith, Helms Deep, Moria, etc. are simply unmatched. Thrones has its share of these too, of course, like King's Landing and the Citidel - but they tend to lean on a more typical, gritty realism for most.
8 GOT: Darker And More Realistic
GOT largely stands out for its particularly dark, gritty, and realistic angle; not just in terms of its setting, but in the tragic, often gruesome events that play out. Overall, the show contains a palpably dark tone that viewers respond to. Its grim, borderline nihilistic bent is really the antithesis of LOTR in many ways. The betrayals, the countless deaths, and endless wars and strife; it all makes for a more dynamic and gripping tale, as it reflects our own history.
Indeed, many of the events, like the Red Wedding, were inspired by actual grim moments in human history - particularly Medieval. Our heroes are often put through the wringer - just ask Ned Stark. Yet, it's these qualities that make us more engaged and empathetic to their causes.
7 LOTR: Optimism
Though G.R.R.M and the GOT showrunners captivate audiences with its more emotional, realistically gloomy narrative, there's still a place for a more flowery, optimistic brand of fantasy. This is where LOTR truly thrives. Sure, you've got hordes of ferocious orcs, large monster spiders, and the dark skies of Mordor. Yet, these elements take on a more cartoony vibe, and aren't as emphasized as our moral heroes and sunny landscapes.
Its emphasis on comradery, strength, and persistence in the face of danger and adversity makes for an inspirational tale. Coupled with its colorful fantasy environments, the films provide us with a sort of blissful avenue of escape. Hey, real life can be brutal enough as it is, right?
6 GOT: Cooler Fantasy Elements (Dragons And Zombies!)
Yes, there are plenty of wizard spells and evil glowing eyes to marvel at in Jackson's epic film trilogy. Yet, G.R.R.M and the GOT showrunners have injected a colorful and unique blend of awesome fantasy elements in their epic. Rather than rely on tropes like druids, elves, and magical crystal balls, Game of Thrones feels like its own, distinct entity in the fantasy landscape and usually avoids cliches.
They play with ideas that aren't often utilized, or are at least less conventional in modern fantasy. Just how many stories have you seen that contain dragons, ice zombies, giants, fire-summoning witch cults, tree gods, and shadow babies all in one epic tale? It even contains its own race with the Children of the Forest.
5 LOTR: Crafting Languages
This entry focuses on the authors of their respective books moreso than the show/film creators - but even within the LOTR films, Jackson injects entire scenes of spoken Elvish and even bits of the "Dark Tongue of Mordor."
The most impressive aspect of the LOTR source material is that J.R.R Tolkien, being a linguist, actually created his own language - and not just one, but multiple languages/dialects! Props to Martin for creating a masterful, dynamic epic, of course, but even he can't say that - claiming to only craft a handful of fictional Dothraki and Valyrian phrases.
4 GOT: More Dynamic Characters
What George R.R. Martin lacks in fictional linguistics, he more than makes up for in creating interesting, 3-dimensional characters, as do Benioff and Weiss.
Thrones is often carried by the strength of its palette of unique characters, each with their own distinct qualities, struggles, preferences, and limitations (often physical). Unlike LOTR, whose righteous protagonists seem to have few struggles or flaws, GOT has an array of morally grey and deeply flawed people. Even many of the "good guys" are essentially anti-heroes, making for more gripping and relatable characters, and thus, a more interesting story.
3 LOTR: Classic Tale Of Good Vs Evil
Though nuanced tales of historical fiction blended with fantasy can be interesting, sometimes viewers just need a feel-good story of good vs evil. This is why, say, the original Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon, and it's why The Lord of the Rings endures for many.
The film trilogy superbly captures that inspirational tale of humankind taking on malevolent forces. It's a timeless mythological trope that people have always related and responded to.
2 GOT: World-Building (Religion And Culture)
Though the landscapes of LOTR certainly look stunning and invoke the imagination, GOT injects depth by laying out more of the history and culture behind many of the environments. It's one that parallels the intricacies of human history more than mythology.
The varieties of religion alone convey this sense of richness in Westeros and Essos culture - from the First Men's Old Gods of the Forest and Andal Faith of the Seven, to the Essos Lord of Light and Iron Islands' Drowned God.
The various environments - from King's Landing to Qarth to the icy North all show a world that's in-depth, unique, and ever-changing. The often run-down grittiness conveys a "lived in" feeling similar to the original Star Wars. The breadth of history Martin has fleshed-out with the Targaryens, First Men, Andals, and the countless nations of Essos is breathtaking.
1 LOTR: The Battle Scenes
When it comes to LOTR, it's usually the massive, gorgeous battle scenes that stick with people. It's not surprising why - Helms Deep and the Battle for Minas Tirith, in particular, are magnificent feats in cinema. The amount of detail which incorporates live-action and flashy special effects mix superbly and make for enthralling battle scenes.
Thrones certainly has its moments on this front, especially for TV standards - Blackwater Bay, Battle of the Bastards, anyone? Yet ultimately, they don't hold a candle to the epic masterpieces that make up many of the LOTR battle scenes.