‘The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power’ Episodes 1 & 2 Review: Spectacular, Packs Lore And Fan Service, And Brimming With Cautious Promise
“The world is changed. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” For many, like yours truly, these words spoken by Galadriel were an usher into the staggering world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Whether you’re an LOTR movie fan or a lover of Tolkien’s writing, or both, September is a treat. Prime Video’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power tells the stories of the Second Age of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of The Lord Of The Rings. In the Second Age, Elves, Dwarves, and Men were first deceived by Sauron, who used to be the commander of the armies of the OG Dark Lord (but now vanquished), Morgoth (Melkor). His many deceptions led to do the downfall of the island of Númenor and its people, and his biggest deception of course was the forging of the One Ring.
My anticipation for this series was high, mingled with nervous excitement and fear. The beloved Peter Jackson films are not an easy act to follow. But you know what’s harder? Capturing the First and Second Ages of Middle-earth on screen in a way that would make everyone happy. The fandom is fiercely protective of the lore, and the Second Age, being the least fleshed out, leaves a lot to interpretation which might not always work for Tolkien purists. However, I am happy to report that this “mission, quest, thing,” helmed by showrunners and Tolkien lovers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, and joined by directors and executive producers Wayne Che Yip, J.A. Bayona, and Charlotte Brändström, feels like a promising start. It looks spectacular and worth the price tag per episode (some $8 million, is it?), has made some great casting choices and is making a brave attempt to balance its bold interpretations with love for the lore and the film trilogy.
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The Rings Of Power is, without a doubt, a stunningly mounted spectacle
Amazon really put their money where their mouth is with this one. The first two episodes take us from the icy Northern Waste of Forodwaith (Utumno!) that Galadriel is scaling on her mission, to the land of forever spring in Lindon where the High-King Of Noldor Gil-galad is and where we meet Elrond for the first time. We see Eregion, where the Elven smiths and their lord, Celebrimbor, will go on to forge the rings of power. We feast our eyes on Khazad-Dûm, the underground Dwarven capital at the height of its glory before the ravages of time, greed, and fiery evil destroy it. Each of these sets is breathtaking and will elicit an “Ohhh!” with little details that fans are going to love. I laughed when Elrond couldn’t get past the doors of Khazad-Dûm despite being a mellon!
The Harfoot settlement, very evidently the rudimentary versions of the cosy hobbit holes they will eventually evolve into, is ingenious and delightful. The fleeting glimpse of Valinor, the sight of The Two Trees, the scene with the Sundering Seas… it’s quite the trip for readers to see these places come alive in such spellbinding fashion. The wider expanse of Tirharad, in the Southlands, is perhaps the only one that feels a little less familiar, possibly because that storyline is a non-canonical one. However, it does look fantastic, which has gotten me even more excited to fully see the island of Númenor, another fascination for us book fans.
Also Read: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Dialect Coach About Building On Tolkien’s Works For A Rich Auditory Experience
The costumes, hair, and makeup deserve a shoutout too; the detailing is impressive. I love Gil-galad’s crown and Disa’s look. I noticed little things like how most characters wear brooches, and once again, things like jewellery and weapons, become important symbols of the character’s identities, and interconnected fates. (For example, not many knew that the ring worn by Aragorn in LOTR is the Ring of Barahir, passed down for generations in the Númenoreans but originally belonging to Galadriel’s brother Finrod.) We do see some orc in Episode 2, and OMG the practical orcs are a far, far improvement from the CGI orcs that we don’t talk about!
Let’s also give credit to Bear McCreary’s enthralling score. I’ve been listening to it quite a bit since it dropped but with the accompanying scenes, it really does bring you back to Middle-earth. The hauntingly beautiful score pays homage to what was accomplished by Howard Shore but has its own mark. The Khazad-Dûm score SLAPS!
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True to the lore, with lots of fan service. And yet, this different Middle-earth might take some time to warm up to…
It’s a tricky beginning because the show can’t exactly talk about what happened or even refer to names and events of the First Age. So we get scenes like the mound of slain elves and men depicting the fifth battle in the Wars Of Beleriand, the Nirnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears). And a quick montage of key events, from the Darkening of Valinor and the Oath of Feänor that brought the Noldor from Valinor to Middle-earth, to Galadriel’s brother Finrod’s death in a battle with Sauron. Tolkien’s meticulous maps are effectively used to switch to stories of the different realms. I do think the writers did a decent job of introducing Galadriel’s motivations—both personal and as a Commander of the Northern Armies of High-King Gil-galad—to pursue the enemy without burdening the audience with too much lore.
Elrond gets an opening scene that’s a sweet nod to Frodo’s introduction in Fellowship Of The Ring. It’s another stunning shot of green beautiful lit with golden light that instantly makes the ‘Concerning Hobbits’ theme play in your head. It’s perhaps a hint that this is the beginning of a new phase in his existence, his peace disturbed. Elrond says that he has seen his fair share of despair, but when you see his friendship with Galadriel and Durin, and the ambitious politician’s hitherto untainted enthusiasm and optimism of youth, it’s clearly an Elrond we haven’t seen before.
Also Read: The Rings Of Power Showrunner J.D. Payne On Warrior Galadriel, Building On Female Friendships From Tolkien’s Work
As someone who has read The Silmarillion and is aware that elves weren’t always a boring, indifferent, pacifist lot, I am on board for this swashbuckling version of Galadriel and this optimistic version of Elrond. It’s because I know where these characters are coming from and what is about to happen that might turn them into the versions that we see in the LOTR trilogy. However, I do feel that for the movie fans, who have seen elves in the trilogy films in slow-mo and surrounded by gleaming light, it might be a tad difficult to accept this switch. Even someone as stately as Elven King Gil-galad, who radiates an aura of melancholy and indifference, typical of immortal beings and familiar to movie fans, there’s something too human about these elves. Could it be because in the Second Age, elves were still prone to follies that would be more common in Men, and their hope hadn’t given way to indifference just yet?
Arondir, a Silvan Elf, who looks more human soldier than elf, is another character that might cause some disillusionment for the movie fans. However, by the sheer virtue of being a non-canonical character living in a pre-Sauron Mordor and his relationship with a human, Bronwyn, their arc intrigues me the most. Could it also be because we saw elves through the lenses of hobbits in LOTR that they appeared almost… otherworldly?
This problem doesn’t exist with the Dwarves and the Harfoots. I instantly warmed up to them because they seem very much similar to a Gimli or a Frodo and Sam. But also because they look adorable, and their conversations do feel more organic thanks to the non-clunky dialogue, something that is difficult to achieve with the elves. I am already a Durin and Disa stan and curious to see the relationship between Nori Brandyfoot and The Stranger (Blue Wizard? Non-canonical character?) The race of Men, though, the one most easily deceived by Sauron and therefore the most intriguing and relatable, are yet to be seen beyond Bronwyn, Theo, and Halbrand, so I will hold off my judgement on that yet.
Does The Rings Of Power work well as a standalone series?
Honestly, it is too early to say. The first two episodes lay the groundwork for what The Rings Of Power is going to be for the next five seasons. And there’s lots of ground to cover, even with the compression of the timelines. Book fans will see the lore and it is naturally going to be easier for them to love what the show has to offer. Movie fans will see the nods to Fellowship of the Ring. Whether it is Galadriel and her company battling a troll inside a cave, and one of her soldiers saying, “What devilry is this?” to Elrond’s introductory shot in Lindon reminds one strongly of Frodo’s in the Shire. When the Harfoots go all the way off camp in search of berries, it’s hard not to think of our four favourite hobbits discovering mushrooms off the road. However, this is a new age, an unfamiliar Middle-earth, and a whole different personality for beloved characters that’ll take strictly movie fans some time to warm up to.
Also Read: Nazanin Boniadi’s Schiaparelli Dress For The Lord Of Rings: The Rings Of Power Has A Sauron Connection
I do see scope for bringing so many new fans into the fold with this series. But for an audience that is coming in with high expectations, the first two episodes of Rings Of Power might yet have to prove their worth. The show is visually spectacular, undoubtedly, and unlike anything seen before. However, the grip isn’t as powerful just yet. Yes, the Harfoots are lovely, and the Dwarves are wholesome. And I already have a minor crush on young Elrond. But even I am still waiting for warrior Galadriel and the whole Arondir and Bronwyn tracks to engage me beyond mere fascination and intrigue. I have a feeling that once we get to Númenor where a proper game of thrones is being played, and Sauron starts his deception games, that’s where The Rings Of Power might be able to make a real pitch to its audiences by reeling them in. Oh, and more of those beautiful orcs, please. That should do the trick.
I also have immense faith in the actors and I am even more inclined to endorse the casting choices. I am enjoying Robert Aramayo as young Elrond and Charles Edwards as Celebrimbor, the latter nailing the ‘descendent of Feänor who is about to fuck something up’ vibe rather well. Morfydd Clark as Galadriel often renders me silenced in awe of her screen presence. The Harfoots are precious, mostly because Markella Kavenagh is charming as Nori Brandyfoot, and her scenes with The Stranger really play off well. She’s like a mix of Frodo and Sam! Owain Arthur and Sophia Nomvete as Durin and Disa have my heart, and Ismael Cruz Córdova and Nazanin Boniadi as Arondir and Bronwyn have good chemistry, but I’d like to see more.
Damn, these guys really did make a series out of just appendices, huh? The first two episodes of The Rings of Power allay some of the doubts and misgivings that I had as a Tolkien fan. Mainly, were its deviations from the lore put to good use to tell an engaging story while not sundering the fans from the non-fans? So far, it looks promising and willing to take risks with the liberties it takes, which I am going to maintain a healthy scepticism about. I mean, Peter Jackson made extensive changes and managed to give us something truly engaging and amazing. It would be great if The Rings Of Power can pull that off as well, hopefully over the next 8 episodes.
But one thing is for sure, The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power looks incredible and shows bold ambition in its storytelling, brimming with promise. Definitely a treat for every Tolkien nerd and LOTR fan who cannot wait to see what’s next.
The Rings Of Power stars Morfydd Clark, Robert Aramyo, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Owain Arthur, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Charles Edwards, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Lloyd Owen, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, Daniel Weyman, and Sara Zwangobani. It premieres with the first two episodes airing on September 2, followed by new episodes every week, on Prime Video.