Got questions about 'House of the Dragon' and 'Rings of Power'? We have answers

You're about to see a lot of swords and sorcery on your TV screens.

August and September bring the premieres of two highly anticipated fantasy epics that have been years in the making and are fighting for eyeballs and water-cooler conversation: HBO's "Game of Thrones" spinoff "House of the Dragon," and Amazon's "Lord of the Rings" prequel "The Rings of Power." 

These series represent an astronomical amount of money and time spent, all in the hopes of creating another pop-culture sensation like the original "Thrones," which aired its final episode in 2019. 

Don't know your Númenor from your Essos, or your Velaryons from your Harfoots? Don't worry, we answer the biggest questions you have about TV's summer of fantasy.

Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra in "Game of Thrones" prequel series "House of the Dragon" and Benjamin Walker as High King Gil-galad in Amazon's "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."
Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra in "Game of Thrones" prequel series "House of the Dragon" and Benjamin Walker as High King Gil-galad in Amazon's "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."

Why are 'House of the Dragon' and 'Rings of Power' coming out at the same time?

It's all a matter of good old-fashioned business rivalry. Amazon has been working on the "Rings" adaptation for half a decade, and finally announced this year that the series would premiere Sept. 2. Although, thanks to a simultaneous global rollout, it will actually premiere in the U.S. at 9 p.m. EDT/6 PDT on Sept. 1 with two episodes, and subsequent installments will release 9 p.m. PDT on Thursdays and 12 a.m. EDT on Fridays. HBO has similarly spent years trying to find the successor to its mega-hit "Thrones," looking for another signature show from author George R.R. Martin's fantasy world. The network developed multiple projects and announced in 2019 that "Dragon" was the one that would be moving forward. Earlier this year, HBO announced the Aug. 21 premiere date, beating "Rings" to the market by just under two weeks.

What is HBO's 'House of the Dragon' actually about?

Set a few hundred years before "Thrones," "Dragon" is about the Targaryen dynasty, aka the ancestors of Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen from the original series. Based on Martin's encyclopedialike "Fire & Blood" book, "Dragon" tells the story of one specific struggle for power during the Targaryens' reign. When the king has only a daughter, should that daughter or the king's brother inherit the throne?

The producers have already let slip that the first season will include a significant time jump, so some characters will be played by both younger and older actors this year. Also there will be 17 dragons poking their scaly heads in at various points, as the Targaryen family famously had the fire-breathing beasts at their command.

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What about Amazon's 'Rings of Power'?

The Amazon series is based on a small amount of material written by J.R.R. Tolkien that describes Middle-earth's "Second Age." The "Third Age" is the time period we saw in the "Rings" and "Hobbit" films and books, and the "First Age" is covered extensively in the author's encyclopedialike tome "The Silmarillion."

This period in Middle-earth, some 4,000 years before "The Hobbit," includes the forging of the rings of power – from which the series gets its name and that film fans remember was explained in voice-over at the beginning of "The Fellowship of the Ring." But the series will also include stories about the Atlantis-like kingdom of Númenor, tales of elves and dwarves (including some characters from the films, because elves live thousands of years) and the hobbitlike Harfoots (there are no actual hobbits in the show, though). Sauron, the big bad of the films who forged the One Ring of Power, also has a prominent role to play (although it's unclear how or when he might show up in the series).

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Are any of the original actors going to be in the new series?

No. While "Rings" has some characters from the films, including Galadriel (originally played by Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (originally played by Hugo Weaving), Amazon has cast new (and younger) actors in the roles (Morfydd Clark and Robert Aramayo).

"Dragon" doesn't have any character overlap, and thus no repeat actors. But one of the creators and producers, Miguel Sapochnik, worked extensively on the original series.

Did 'Rings of Power' really cost $500 million?

Fantasy epics like "Dragon" and "Rings" are not cheap in any scenario, but "Rings" has an extra expense in its budget. Amazon had to shell out a reported $250 million just to obtain the rights, a unusually massive price point in Hollywood (HBO did not run into this problem with additional "Thrones" content). Factor in the huge costs of production, and estimates put the total cost for "Rings" somewhere around half a billion dollars.

Which series will win the battle for fantasy show supremacy?

It's unclear! "Thrones" was not an instant hit when it debuted on HBO in 2011, but became the network's biggest hit and a pop-culture sensation. The "Rings" and "Hobbit" films have made billions at the worldwide box office. But it's been three years since "Thrones" dominated the zeitgeist and eight since the final (and poorly received) "Hobbit" film was released. What the appetite is for continuations of either of these worlds is hard to measure in 2022. While ratings will reveal how many fans tune into "Dragon" (which HBO expects to be far fewer than the peak of "Thrones"), streaming services like Amazon do not share their internal numbers. Whether "Rings" draws enough eyeballs to justify its unprecedented cost will be hard to tell from the outside.

Tom Sturridge as Dream in Netflix's "The Sandman."
Tom Sturridge as Dream in Netflix's "The Sandman."

Are there other fantasy series joining the party?

Yes, and you can already watch some of them. Netflix premiered the long-in-the-making adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" last week, a glossy, expensive-looking fantasy drama based on Gaiman's celebrated comic series. Amazon hedged its bets, fantasy-wise, debuting "The Wheel of Time" last year, a series based on the books byRobert Jordan. Other major fantasy competitors include Netflix's "The Witcher" and "Shadow and Bone"; more "Thrones" spinoffs in development at HBO, including one about Kit Harington's Jon Snow; and forthcoming "Willow," "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" and "Eragon" series on Disney+. 

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What if I don't like fantasy? Should I watch?

Probably not! If you tried "Thrones" or the other "Rings" films, it's unlikely these new projects, which aim to recapture fans of the originals, will be so different as to convert you. But there are many, many other TV shows for you to enjoy while your friends and family travel to far off fantasy kingdoms. 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'House of the Dragon,' 'Rings of Power': Burning questions, answered