This The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power review contains spoilers.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episodes 1 and 2
So The Rings of Power has finally arrived! As we mentioned in our spoiler-free review, the series is stunningly beautiful, the set, costume, and visual effects work is impeccable, the acting is great, and it all has the feel of a tale with an epic scope. The only drawback to these first two episodes is that, inevitably, they’re largely devoted to set-up. They need to explain the most important events from the history of the First Age, since this series is set during the Second Age of Tolkien’s invented mythology, and introduce the characters and peoples we will be following in this show.
As a result episode 1 in particular, and to a lesser extent episode 2, is all about world-building. We meet five different cultures from four different peoples over the course of these two episodes; Ñoldorian Elves, Silvan Elves, (Wo)Men of the Southlands, Harfoots, and Dwarves. Each are distinguished by height (of course), ears, costume, and accent – Elves speak in what’s officially known as Received Pronunciation, or unofficially as “posh English accent”, Dwarves follow John Rhys Davies’ example from The Lord of the Rings and have Scottish accents, Harfoots all have Southern Irish accents, and confusingly, Men from the Southlands have Northern English accents, presumably inspired by the Starks of Winterfell.
The Ñoldorian Elves – Galadriel (Morfyyd Clark), Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker), and Elrond (Robert Aramayo) – are probably the closest to what we were all expecting. Since Elves don’t age, these are literally the same characters we meet hundreds of years later in The Lord of the Rings, so naturally their clothing, accents, culture and so on more or less match what we know from the later stories.
The Silvan Elves are a bit more interesting. Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and his companions are a colonizing force, occupying the Southlands. They express views often common among colonizing powers, believing they have conquered these people for their own good, that they are inherently better than the Men they rule, and so on. Arondir is directly referred to as a soldier, and he has a uniform, a commanding officer, and talks about being “stationed” there, so that all in all these Elves give off more of an earthy, Ancient Roman vibe than we’re used to seeing from these usually ethereal creatures. It’s a refreshing change and opens up some really interesting story possibilities, especially since Arondir is in love with the Human woman.
The Dwarves that we meet in episode 2 are much more similar to the Dwarves we know from the later stories, but here we get to see their great kingdom of Khazad-dûm – later known as Moria – at its height. We are introduced to some new Dwarf rituals, and it’s exciting to see what we’ve only known as deserted halls at the height of their power (and surprisingly green!). The reveal of exactly why Durin (Owain Arthur) is so cross with Elrond is also a nice touch. Elrond, who has actively chosen to live as an Elf (his brother chose to live and die as a mortal) didn’t think about how long 20 years is for a Dwarf, so he missed Durin’s wedding and the birth of his children, and that is what’s upset him. It’s unexpected and rather touching, and a reminder of the differences between these different peoples and cultures.
The least familiar group are, of course, the Harfoots, as although we’re familiar with their later descendants the Hobbits, we’ve never actually met Harfoots before. The design of these people is very clever, as it echoes the more fairy-like qualities of Harfoots and Hobbits that Tolkien wrote about. They can disappear quickly, and humans don’t usually see them; they walk barefoot and are very quiet. They have a quality of old British folklore about them, encompassing aspects of elves and fairies and spirits not covered by Tolkien’s High Elves.
The Harfoots we meet in The Rings of Power have some significant differences from Tolkien’s Hobbits and their various relatives. Rather than being fond of comfort and luxury, they are wandering nomads. We see them disappearing into holes in trees and rocks that are a long way removed from the clean, warm, comfortable Bag End. And so the series has designed them to look like fairies. They have rougher clothing, and their hair is full of bits of tree and plant so they can camouflage themselves quickly. They are almost reminiscent of Ewoks, or of a children’s cartoon gnome. They manage to stay just the right side of twee, though, and the costumes are just natural and down to earth enough to feel “real.”
It’s lovely to see more female Harfoots and Dwarves in this series, since both were almost entirely absent from the novels and the films that adapted them. Prince Durin and his wife Disa’s relationship brings some very welcome humor to the story. Following two young female Harfoots, rather than four young male ones, also helps to further separate their story from that of the later Hobbits we know so well.
Episode 2 has more action than episode 1, with the sea serpent and Orc attack sequences kicking off the adventure part of the story, even while we are still getting to know this world through the Dwarves. The sea serpent attack is a great example of the sort of thing that, while the scene is invented for the series, feels like something that would happen in Tolkien’s stories (and as different as the world of Narnia is, the fact that there’s a well-known sea serpent passage in his friend C.S. Lewis’ books doesn’t hurt!). It doesn’t contradict anything, it makes sense within that world.
Episode 1 has the stronger climax, though, with Galadriel’s leap off the boat to Valinor and that very Game of Thrones-like comet with a mysterious man inside. In Tolkien’s timeline, the way to Valinor was not cut off from non-Elven sailors until the Númenoreans attacked during the Second Age, and the visualization of it here is interesting. It certainly gives the impression of moving to a different world, not just a geographical journey, which makes sense for a journey to the Undying Lands.
Ironically it is another image reminiscent of Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, though Narnians sail to East and the rising sun, whereas the Elves are supposed to be heading West, into the sunset. The ritual during which veiled women strip the warriors of their armor is rather odd, but Galadriel’s choice, a single tear running down her cheek, is a moving and emotional moment. Episode 2’s climax is perfectly serviceable and emphasizes the coming threat, but it doesn’t quite have the emotional or anticipatory impact of episode 1’s.
But back to the mysterious man from the comet – who is he? Sauron seems the most likely candidate, but both Tolkien’s lore and Galadriel’s conviction that he was “still out there” before the comet fell to Middle-earth seem to suggest he might not be. The Wizards – the Maiar – won’t arrive in Middle-earth for thousands of years according to Tolkien’s history. But the series is already compressing millennia of that history into one human’s lifetime for this adaptation, so who’s to say they won’t introduce one of the Wizards early?
If so, the most likely options would seem to be the two Blue Wizards, Alatar and Pallando. Although the timeline in The Lord of the Rings puts their arrival on Middle-earth in the Third Age with the other three (Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast), Christopher Tolkien’s book on his father’s early and unfinished drafts and writing process, The Peoples of Middle-earth, has them arriving during the Second Age, which would put them in just the right place for this series. The only catch is that they supposedly arrived together.
Considering the connection between this mysterious man and the Harfoots, we can’t help but harbor a sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, this might be Gandalf, though it would greatly upset those who prefer more accuracy to the source material if it is. And by the way did you notice how he wraps himself in a grey-ish blanket…
As the opening episodes of a new series, these work very well. Information and exposition is doled out at a pace the audience can handle – and we’re about to get a bit more of it as we meet the Númenoreans in Episode 3! There is so much to enjoy here, not to mention it’s seriously beautiful to look at, and as the pace distinctly picks up in episode 2 we can be confident that it will continue to do so through the next few episodes as well. Overall, we’re intrigued and excited about watching the next episode, and that’s exactly what the early episodes of a new show should do.
New episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiere Fridays on Prime Video.