Here’s your essential guide to summer’s 3 big fantasy shows

The forecast for the end of summer is humid weather, trips to the beach, and dragons. 

Three epic fantasy juggernauts are premiering in the coming weeks. There’s the long-awaited TV adaptation of geek king Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”  on Netflix, the “Game of Thrones” spinoff series “House of the Dragon” on HBO, and Prime Video has its notoriously big budget “Lord of the Rings” TV show, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”

Here’s what you need to know about each one.

“The Sandman”

The plot follows Dream, aka Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), who is one of the “endless,” which are basically deities. He controls dreams while other members of the “endless” include Death, Desire, etc. When he gets imprisoned for a century, this causes a slew of problems he must fix. 

Tom Sturridge as Dream, aka Morpheus, in “The Sandman.”

The world: The show starts in 1916 London before moving into the present day. It also includes scenes in a fantastical dream-world realm that has an ornate palace, lush greenery, and a dragon. So, the vibe is urban fantasy, not unlike “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Supernatural” or Gaiman’s other show “Good Omens”  – magical characters mixing with the mundane in the modern world, with scenes in more fantastical places. The costumes range from regular street clothes to billowing black coats.

The adventure: After his century-long stint of imprisonment, Dream’s realm has fallen into disarray, and he must restore order. So, he has to venture out into the world and reclaim the items that will help him restore his power, including a ruby gem and a sand pouch. Naturally, there are lots of colorful characters for him to encounter, such as Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie). 

Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer in "The Sandman" leaning over a table in a  red robe.
Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer in “The Sandman.”
Tom Sturridge as Dream,  leaning over Mason Alexander Park as Desire in "The Sandman."
Tom Sturridge as Dream, Mason Alexander Park as Desire in “The Sandman.”
Cassie Clare as Mazikee in "The Sandman."
Cassie Clare as Mazikee in “The Sandman.”

The sex factor: While this isn’t an especially steamy show, and there are numerous episodes sans sex, there is some steam. It’s a series for adult audiences. 

The lore: this is based on a cult hit comic series of the same name by Neil Gaiman, published between 1989-1996. Hollywood has been trying to adapt it for years (at one point, a film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in the works), but this show is the first successful screen adaptation. The series is not too confusing, even if you skip the comics. The show explains its lore in a manner that’s more straightforward than shows like “Westworld” and “The Witcher.” If you can hack it with those, you’ll be fine. 

Premiere date: August 5 on Netflix

“House  of the Dragon”

Set 200 years before the events of “Game of Thrones,” this tells the story of a civil war in House Targaryen (Daenerys and Jon Snow’s ancestors). Expect lots of dragons, silver hair, and incest. But while Daenerys’ three dragons were a novelty in “GoT,” in this show – as the  title suggests –  there are dragons everywhere, since  the Targaryens  are at  the height of their power, whereas they had declined by the era of “GoT.” 

The world: The world is similar to “Game of Thrones,” so this is a pseudo-medieval setting (but with fictional regions such as Westeros) with all the trappings of  that era, including a steep gap between nobility and commoners, and monarchy. Unlike real history, there’s also lots of dragons. 

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in "House of the Dragon." He stands in a room with his hands on a sword stuck in the ground.
Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in “House of the Dragon.” He’s the king’s brother, and one of the people in line for the Throne.
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

The adventure: As the trailer reveals, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) wants his daughter Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) to be his successor, which is controversial, since many people aren’t happy with the idea of a  woman on the throne. The King’s brother, Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), is also in line for the throne, and Rhaenery’s stepmother, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) also wants her

sons on it. So, similar to “GOT,” everyone wants to sit on the uncomfortable pointy chair, and there’s lots of scheming about it– but this time, they’re all Targaryens. Don’t forget that madness runs in their blood – as said in the books and the original show, “Every time a new Targaryen is born, the gods toss the coin in the air.”

The sex factor: Showrunner Miguel Sapochnik has said that there will be less sex than there was in “GoT” but the show also “won’t ignore” sexual violence. Also, similar to “GOT”, which featured incest between twins Jaime and Cersei Lannister, you can expect this show’s romances to keep it in the family. Rhaenery and Daemon are uncle and niece….and eventually they’re romantically involved. 

Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, left, and Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryn, right, look at each other on a beach.
Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, left, and Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryn, right. They’re uncle and niece, and eventually they have a romance.

The lore: This is based on George R.R. Martin’s book “Fire & Blood.” Unlike “Game of Thrones,” this isn’t based on a novel. It’s written as if it’s a history book about this fictional world. In theory, this could make the show easier to understand even if you haven’t read the source material, because the show’s writers have a lot more leeway to fill in dialogue and character’s personalities and motivations. 

Premiere date: Aug 21 on HBO

and HBO Max.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power” 

Set thousands of years before the events of “The Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy, this series follows an ensemble cast of humans, elves, and dwarves (no hobbits, but their ancestor species harfoots will appear). While many characters are new, including the Dwarf Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete) and the silvan Elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), there will be some familiar characters too, including younger versions of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark in the show; Cate Blanchett in the movies), Elrond (Robert Aramayo in the show, Hugo Weaving in the films) and Annatar, aka Sauron (before he was a fiery eyeball in a tower) played by Anson Boon). Aragorn’s ancestor Isildur (Maxim Baldry), who was mentioned briefly in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” will also be in the show (he’s the man who cut the Ring off of Sauron’s hand, before he met a tragic end). 

 Robert Aramayo as Elrond crouches in a green field.
Robert Aramayo as Elrond.
Credit: Ben Rothstein/Prime Vide
Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."
Morfydd Clark as Galadriel.
Credit: Ben Rothstein/Prime Vide
Charlie Vickers as mysterious new  character Halbrand looks pensive standing in a room.
Charlie Vickers as mysterious new character Halbrand.

The world: this is the epic fantasy world of Middle Earth, with sweeping natural landscapes, and costumes that fit a pseudo-medieval setting, like suits of armor, tunics, and gowns. There will be parts of it that are familiar to viewers of the “LOTR” and “The Hobbit” films, and also new locations, such as the island kingdom of Numenor (which is sunken into the sea by the time Frodo is born) and the Khazad-dûm (the underground kingdom of Dwarves that later become the  Mines of Moria, abandoned and in ruins when Frodo and his Fellowship pass through it).

The adventure: This series begins in a time of relative peace, and follows its ensemble cast of humans, elves, dwarves, as they face Sauron’s ascension and the forging of the Rings of Power. It will also show political intrigue in the rise and fall of the island kingdom of Númenor (ruled by Aragorn’s ancestors). 

Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Queen Regent Míriel  wearing a crown looking serious in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."
Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Queen Regent Míriel in “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
 Morfydd Clark as Galadriel and Lloyd Owen  as Elendil stand huddled in a dim room.
Morfydd Clark as Galadriel and Lloyd Owen as Elendil.
Credit: Matt Grace/Prime Video
Orcs growling and holding torches menacingly.
Orcs in “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
Credit: Matt Grace/Prime Video

The sex factor: Tolkien’s worlds are notoriously sexless, with Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) and Arwen (Liv Tyler) just doing chaste kissing in the movies. The show will reportedly not have sex scenes, and will be appropriate for audiences as young as 12, just like the films. There will still be romance though – similar to Aragorn and Arwen, the elf Arondir has a forbidden love with a human, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi). 

The lore: The show will be pulling largely from the appendices that Tolkein put at the end of “The Return of the King, and it will also draw from “The Silmarillion,” his collection of mythic stories that was published posthumously by his son. You probably don’t have to read those or watch “The Hobbit” films, but a passing familiarity with the “Lord of the Rings” movies would help.

Premiere date: Sept 2 on Prime Video.