On 25 April 2015, a Mw 7.8 earthquake struck central Nepal, killing more than 8,700 people. An earthquake of this magnitude has long been anticipated in Nepal and the neighbouring northern Indian state of Bihar, which straddle the active Himalayan frontal fault system. Drawing on field research undertaken before the earthquake, this paper traces the progress made in earthquake risk reduction efforts at the national scale in Nepal and at the sub-national scale in Bihar. With their contrasting ‘governance landscapes’, we examine the political and institutional context and power relations among different stakeholder groups, as well as the interests and political will motivating earthquake risk reduction. Nepal is a post-conflict country, with a weak legislative and institutional setting for earthquake risk reduction, and a multitude of different stakeholders (government, multi and bi-lateral donors, UN organisations, and national and international NGOs) engaged in the disaster risk reduction process. Bihar, by comparison, has a strong, hierarchical, sub-national government system with minimal influence of non-government stakeholders in earthquake risk reduction. While Nepal appears to have progressed further in strengthening earthquake resilience, the institutional structures in Bihar are stronger and could potentially support more sustainable resilience building in the long-term. The role of individual ‘champions’ in both instances (in Nepal among a national NGO, donors and multilateral agencies, and in Bihar within the government) has been instrumental in shaping the earthquake risk reduction agenda and initiatives.