A Powerful Beginning To Amazon’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Show

Powerful elven warriors setting off on epic quests of revenge. Bustling dwarven cities hewn into stone. Diminutive halflings—called Harfoots—hiding from the big people as they wander about the land. Snow trolls and leviathans and fearsome orcs plucked from the pages of legend.

This is the world of the Second Age introduced to us in the first two episodes of The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power.

Amazon’s new live-action fantasy epic draws from Tolkien’s appendices to The Lord Of The Rings and extrapolates from there. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay and their team of writers have certainly taken many creative liberties in bringing this story to life, but Tolkien’s own notes and writings from this time were filled with plenty of holes and contradictions, making this an exciting timeline to play around with for an adaptation.

It’s not a perfect two-part series premiere—even as someone who’s taking a fairly relaxed approach to this ‘expensive fan-fiction’ like myself finds some of the changes irksome—but mostly I found The Rings Of Power to be a magnificent return to Middle-earth. If you want a spoiler-free review, I’ve written one here. This will go into more detail about the characters, events and will contain plenty of spoilers about the two-part Series Premiere.

Let’s start with the elves, perhaps the weakest link in this chain so far.

Galadriel and the Elves

Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) has been set up, for better or worse, as the central protagonist at the center of this massive, diverse cast. But this is a Galadriel very different from the one we met in Lord Of The Rings played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett as an austere and ancient queen among elves.

Galadriel here is pluckier and angrier, a warrior on a dark quest, reluctant to heed the advice of her fellow elves or turn back even when all seems futile. I like this version of Galadriel even if it doesn’t quite ring true. She would already be many thousands of years old by the time this story begins, and would be given great respect and deference by her peers, including Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and the High King, Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) who, despite his rank, is still younger than Galadriel, having been born in Middle-earth rather than Valinor.

I think the reason the show’s creators are making her come across as younger and more hot-headed than she likely would have been at this point is to give her character more of an arc. It’s boring to have Galadriel start out as the austere and wise figure she is in Lord Of The Rings. Better to make her younger and burning with passion. But then one has to wonder, why not simply make a new elven warrior princess and have her take on this role rather than Galadriel?

In any case, Galadriel has been following in her brother’s footsteps. Finrod (Will Fletcher) is her elder sibling, and a mentor from her earliest days in Valinor. He was killed by Sauron and she took up his quest to seek out the evil that threatens Middle-earth and her people—and continues to hunt long after the last orc has seemingly vanished from the land.

Her and a company of elves make their way to an ancient fortress in the frozen north where she finds a symbol of the enemy still burning amid the ice and cold. They also encounter an ice troll that Galadriel dispatches handily with her blade. When all is said and done, she wants to press further into the frozen wastes, but her companions tell her she’s going to have to go alone. They will return to the elven capitol, Lindon, without her if they must.

Upon returning, the entire company is honored by the High King and given passage form the Grey Havens to Valinor, a gift Galadriel is eager to turn down, her quest to find Sauron far from complete.

There are a few things that bother me about Galadriel’s storyline in these two episodes. The fight against the Snow Troll was cheesy, over-the-top action fare that was too reminiscent of The Hobbit trilogy’s excesses. I understand, a little action is needed to keep audiences from growing bored, but I’d prefer a grittier and more down-to-earth style.

Worse was the lore tinkering. Gil-Galad could not have sent Galadriel back to Valinor. She had already turned down the voyage after the defeat of Morgoth at the end of the Second Age, choosing instead to stay and build a kingdom in Middle-earth—and because Sauron was not yet defeated. Gil-Galad would not have the power to send her back at this point, which makes everything that follows on the golden ship a bit odd.

I also think Galadriel should be taller (if they can make the Harfoots small they can make the elves tall!) and wonder where her husband, Celeborn, is supposed to be, but these are minor quibbles. I genuinely like Clark’s portrayal of Galadriel overall, and find claims that she’s a Mary Sue or a Karen quite silly.

Elrond is the other main elven character in The Rings Of Power and he, too, is strikingly different than the half-elven lord he becomes by the time Frodo and his companions meet him for the first time in Rivendell. The younger Elrond is a politician and diplomat, a savvy advisor to Gil-Galad and a speech-writer. In these opening hours we learn about his long friendship with Galadriel, his usefulness to the High King and get a glimpse at the prejudice he faces as a half-elf, snubbed by the pure-blood elven lords.

He’s also sent to Eregion with the famous elven smith, Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards).

Celebrimbor wants to craft items of true power as part of an effort to Make Middle-earth Great Again (MMeGA). He is an ambitious craftsman who dreams of creating something as beautiful as Fëanor’s Silmarils, jewels made from the light of the Two Trees of Valinor so beautiful they very nearly bewitched and turned the heart of Morgoth himself.

In order to forges his creation—which has yet to be named, though we can safely assume it is the rings of power—Celebrimbor needs a forge constructed, and he wants the work done by the following spring (though this seems hasty for long-lived elves).

Without a workforce, Celebrimbor needs the industrious Elrond’s help, and true to form the half-elf has a plan. He and Celebrimbor pay the dwarves of Khazad-dûm a visit, hoping to enlist the master-craftsmen’s help in the forge’s building.

But once they arrive, it appears that Elrond’s friend Durin has other ideas.

Durin and the Dwarves

Elrond tells Celebrimbor he can expect more than a warm welcome in the hall of the mountain king. There will be a grand welcome feast. Pork and beer and song.

But when they arrive, the doors of Khazad-dûm are shut in their faces and the elves are told to go away in no uncertain terms. Elrond invokes a right of challenge and is allowed inside. We find ourselves wandering in awe beside the elven diplomat. These were the dark and foreboding caverns of the Mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings. Now, thousands of years earlier, they are a bustling subterranean metropolis, filled with the clang of hammers and the wealth of dwarven civilization at its peak (I realize that any reference to ‘summits’ or ‘zeniths’ or ‘peaks’ are inherently ironic when describing a society that lives below ground, but you get my point).

Durin (Owain Arthur) greets Elrond as ‘The Elf’ and spurns his old friend’s greeting. Some bad blood has festered here, though we’re not sure what. The challenge, we discover, is one of endurance. Durin versus Elrond, each with a hammer, must cleave through as many boulders as they can before giving up. The dwarves cheer along, rooting for their prince and having a jolly good time.

The dwarves, I should add, are simply phenomenal here. There are both male and female dwarves. The latter have little wisps of facial hair, but the former have great, long bushy beards often hanging to the ground. Everything about Khazad-dûm and its inhabitants is so lovingly crafted, it’s quite the spectacle. The dwarves chanting Khazad! Dûm! over and over again, their faces covered in soot, their eyes twinkling. The crack of the hammers.

Finally, Elrond yields and asks Durin if he’ll at least walk him to the exit. Along the way, they converse and Durin finally reveals why he’s so angry. It’s been twenty years since Elrond last visited—“Only twenty years?” the elf exclaims, much to the irritation of his stocky companion—and in this blip of time for an immortal elf, a lifetime has passed for Durin. He’s angry that Elrond didn’t come to his wedding, that he hasn’t met his wife and children.

And so Elrond sets about mending this oversight, insisting that he apologize not just to Durin but to his family as well.

They arrive at Durin’s cozy apartments and the dwarven prince tells him that he must be brief and “absolutely no staying for dinner!”

“Oh, this must be Elrond!” exclaims his wife, Disa (Sohpia Momvete) when she sees the pair of them. “You’re staying for dinner!”

It’s a nice moment of comic relief and a lovely introduction to Durin’s family. His children arrive and we don’t see their faces as they come traipsing out in dwarven helms the size of their bodies. Disa quickly notices the tension in the air and plays peacemaker, and slowly Durin’s anger dwindles.

Elrond notices a tree growing in a single shaft of light—the sapling he gave Durin as a gift many years ago. “He tends to it like it’s his third child,” Disa chortles.

Disa also explains her own craft, a sort of divining for where to carve into the stone—and where not to. This, and Durin’s later meeting with his father Durin IV, hints at Moria’s eventual doom: Mithril, the precious metal the dwarves find in great quantity in their deep digging, and which the elves covet. Alas, they dig too deep and what awaits them will spell the end for Khazad-dûm.

Nori and the Harfoots

My very favorite characters in The Lord Of The Rings were the four hobbits who set out on the long journey to Mordor and comprised nearly half the Fellowship of the Ring: Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, and Peregrin “Pippin” Took.

So it’s no wonder that my favorite characters in The Rings Of Power are their distant ancestors, the nomadic Harfoots wandering about Middle-earth, free but in constant danger of wolves and giants (humans).

The Harfoot protagonist is a youth called Nori (Markella Kavenagh) who dreams of adventure and lives by her own rules. When a strange comet blazes across the sky and comes crashing down just outside her peoples’ camp, she goes to investigate and finds a fiery crater with a giant at its center:

There are many theories about who the strange man Nori discovers could be. The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is a mysterious figure, an amnesiac, incapable of speech but able to draw runes with a stick—and later, command fireflies to form symbols in the sky. I wrote about the various theories over The Stranger’s identity, and while I think it’s deeply unlikely this is Sauron or any other antagonist, I do think it’s a magic user. At one point I thought it was likely one of the Blue Wizards, but now I’m all but convinced this is Gandalf, who has come to Middle-earth in the Second Age and will leave again before returning in the Third Age.

I believe that Gandalf—perhaps called Olórin or even some other name in The Rings Of Power—will help guide the Harfoots to safety, and that this early encounter with the little people will be the very reason that thousands of years later he continues to visit the Shire and befriend the small folk who live there. Perhaps fate draws him to the ancestors of the hobbits, because the hobbits will be the key to Sauron’s downfall thousands of years later.

In any case, I love the Harfoots and their adorable Irish accents. Their leader, Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) is a wise old halfling with knowledge of the sky and stars. Poppy (Megan Richards) is Nori’s best friend, and in some ways her voice of reason. These and many more live in a traveling camp that they can easily camouflage should danger approach.

I never thought I could find any other halflings as wonderful as those of the Shire (the Nelwins of Willow are basically the same community) but the wandering Harfoots have won my heart.

Arondir and Bronwyn

Far to the south, the shadows stretch long over the village of Tir-Harad. Here, the same men and women who once fought alongside Sauron against the elves remain a suspicious and hardscrabble folk.

Elves watch over them from their high towers, sentinels in a dark land that has, over time, grown more verdant, its fields no longer fallow.

I’ll admit, the idea that Gil-Galad has, himself, sent out elven soldiers to patrol over the realms of men for thousands of years seems very un-Tolkien-like to me, but I like the world that’s created here. The people of Tir-Harad are querulous and hostile. Meanwhile, the grey-eyed archer Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) is a steely soldier, watching over the villagers with a solemnity we don’t see in the golden forests Lothlorien or song-filled halls of Rivendell.

Arondir has fallen in love, it turns out, with a human healer named Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) who lives outside the village with her grouchy son, Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin). Their love is of the forbidden type, and is frowned on by Arondir’s elven compatriots and the men and women of the village.

The elves soon leave Tir-Harad after tidings from Lindon bring an end to the days of war (again, it is unlikely that elven hierarchy would work this way, and any elves watching over the land that eventually comes to be known as Mordor would be doing so of their own volition rather than at the behest of the High King, but the show takes many liberties and this is a minor one). Arondir remains and seeks out Bronwyn, though it’s unclear if he intends to stay or invite her to come with him or simply say his farewells.

There’s no time for that. A man comes by with a sick cow whose milk comes out black as oil. The cow had wandered off to the east and returned sickly. So Arondir and Bronwyn set out to find the cause of the strange illness and eventually come to a village in ruins, great rifts in the earth cleaving the town, its buildings afire.

Not a single human corpse to be found.

Arondir enters one of the tunnels dug beneath the village, and Bronwyn sets off to warn her own people of the danger.

Meanwhile, Theo and another youth sneak into a barn’s basement where many old treasures are hid and steal a broken Morgul blade. Later, when a drop of his blood touches the blade, we see it smoke and flame and begin to grow. The same symbol that Galadriel found far in the frozen north in her hunt for Sauron is marked on the blade.

Arondir makes his way through the tunnels and encounters some kind of monster (it’s an orc, but that’s not made clear). He tries to get away, or at least find a position where he can fight the thing rather than in the cramped tunnels, but as he waits above a pool, clawed hands appear behind him and drag him off—to where, we never find out.

Bronwyn makes straight to the inn where she tells of the burned village and tunnels dug into the earth, but the villagers shrug off her worries. They’re not about to run off from their homes because of a little sinkhole. Besides, they don’t trust the healer—she has a crush on an elf, after all.

Back at her home, Bronwyn finds Theo hiding in a cupboard. He tells her to run for help, but she hides in a closet instead as a masked monstrosity makes its way up from the floor. It finds her but Theo stabs it in the back and and a fearsome fight breaks out. The two manage to kill the creature but only barely, and Theo takes a few good hits in the process before his mother lops its head off, bringing it back to the village to prove that danger is on the way.

The next time we see any of them—as dark and foreboding music thrums about us—the villagers are trudging off in a line from their homes and Bronwyn and Theo have packed their things—Morgul blade and all—and are off to find safety if they can.

I have to give props to the show here and to its special effects department. The orc is an astonishing creation, at once terrifying (especially for what we know of as kind of the canon fodder of Middle-earth) and beautifully—hideously—crafted.

Halbrand and the Humans

At last we come full circle, back to Galadriel, who leaps from her golden ship and renounces Valinor once more, choosing instead to swim back to Middle-earth and face whatever evil she believes still lingers there, the words of her brother echoing in her head. “Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness,” he tells her when she asks how she can know the difference between the light and its reflection in the water.

So she swims and soon comes across a raft of humans in pretty bad shape. Their ship was destroyed by a Wyrm—a gargantuan creature that soon shows back up, just as her rescuers realize she’s an elf rather than a human and she’s shoved back into the water. It’s a fortunately timed shove, and she swims hard away from the raft which is soon destroyed by the sea monster.

Only one of these humans survives. Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) is a roguish figure, handsome and rugged but apparently also self-serving, choosing to save his own skin rather than that of his companions.

Off the bat, Galadriel and Halbrand are at odds. He wants none of her sympathy for his lost home, destroyed—he reveals—by orcs. She tells him that to simply list the names of those she’s lost would take longer than his lifetime. But she’s instantly intrigued by his tales of orcs which, to her surprise, have shown up not in the north as she suspected, but in the south. She demands he take her to their last known location, but he fires back that he has his own plans.

Then the storm comes. The tranquil waters are replaced with heaving waves, and as Galadriel ties herself to the raft, lightning strikes, casting her into the sea weighted down by a beam. As she sinks, we see Halbrand, pulling himself down into the deep along the rope Galadriel is tied to. He spies her dagger and cuts her free, saving her at the last moment. They clamber back onto the raft and fall into an exhausted slumber.

Later, we see a ship pull up alongside the raft and see the silhouette of a mysterious figure looking down on them. We’ll find out who this might be next week. We’ll also likely learn a bit more about The Stranger and where Arondir has been taken.


As I noted in my spoiler-free review, I thought this was a brilliant start to The Rings Of Power. It’s a bit slow at times, and much of these first two episodes is spent introducing characters and the world they inhabit, but even the slower pacing I found mostly delightful. I’m just happy to be back in Middle-earth—even if it’s a somewhat different version of Middle-earth than Peter Jackson’s films and doesn’t stick exactly to the letter of Tolkien’s writings. I think the show does a terrific job of capturing the feel of Tolkien’s work and presents the same themes of friendship, courage and honor that he included in his books and notes.

It’s also a beautifully shot show, with enormous production value and a gorgeous original score composed by Bear McCreary, with the title them written by Howard Shore, the composer for Lord of the Rings.

Director J.A. Bayona and his team of choreographers, special effects artists and writers, along with showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, have crafted something truly special here. I watched each episode twice before writing this and enjoyed it even more the second time—in glorious 4K, which my screeners did not offer, unfortunately.

I’ve heard complaints about the casting but I thought every actor did a remarkable job, and complaints about a clunky script and stiff dialogue seem more than a little off the mark to me. This felt very Tolkienesque in every way, and even if they didn’t quite nail every line of dialogue, well, neither did Tolkien. His writing could be a little stiff and his dialogue a little stilted, too. For me, it works.

I’ll be reviewing episode 3 after it airs this coming Friday here on this blog. What did you think of the show? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.

Here’s my video review:

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Further Rings Of Power Reading From Yours Truly:

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2022/09/04/the-rings-of-power-series-premiere-recap-and-review-the-good-the-bad-and-the-khazad-dm/