I’m so disappointed in Amazon’s The Rings Of Power.
I genuinely thought it got off to an incredible start, introducing us to a breathtaking Middle-earth, alive with glittering elven cities and magic. Sure, the first two episodes didn’t give us much time to really get to know any of the characters, but I chocked this up to stage-setting. This was all setup, and the good, meaty character development would come later.
Alas, we find ourselves still waiting for anything to happen that we actually care about. Let’s run over the events of Episode 4, The Great Wave, before discussing some of the big, structural and narrative problems The Rings Of Power is currently facing.
Again, the following criticism applies to most of the show but the orcs are exempt: The orcs on this show may just be the very best thing about it.
Let’s start with the main storyline and go from there.
Galadriel Vs Númenor
How do you solve a problem like Galadriel? She’s a real headache for the powers that be in Númenor, an island kingdom that hates the elves passionately for reasons. Yes, some reasons are given in this episode but they’re not very good ones and the conflict feels rushed and contrived.
Galadriel continues to act like an impatient, petulant human teenager. Her lack of the most basic diplomacy skills get her locked up by an exasperated Miriel, at which point Halbrand scoffs and rolls his eyes and compares her to a horse charging at everything. Last week Elendil compared her to his kids, now another human is comparing her to a horse. One of the oldest, wisest and most powerful elves in all of Middle-earth.
She gets locked up mostly because she’s very, very eager to speak to Miriel’s father, the old king who was deposed for his love of elves. Elves that play virtually no role whatsoever in the day-to-day politics of this place and haven’t for centuries. Clearly something the populace should be very concerned with. When Ar-Pharazon and some guards come to take her to a ship where she’ll be sent back to her people (what she originally wanted so desperately!) she fights the guards and throws them into her cell.
It is, I should add, one of the silliest, most laughable fights you will ever see in a big-budget TV show. Its only saving grace is that it’s over so fast. Halbrand tells Pharazon not to join in the fighting; he’ll spill the beans on where Galadriel is headed next. Valuable intel on an island. Or something.
Meanwhile, Isildur’s friends get mad at him because he purposefully screws up to get kicked off the ship he’s on and they get kicked off also. Isildur has big dreams and stuff. He hears a woman’s voice calling to him. Other than that . . . who is this kid and why do we care? I mean, I know who Isildur is in the big scheme of things but this show has given us exactly zero reasons to care about his character. They’ve spent a tiny bit more time developing his sister, Eärien, a character invented for the show. But I’m equally nonplussed and uninterested in her character.
Maybe there’s just too much going on without anything of consequence going on. More on that in a bit.
Anyways, Galadriel discovers that the old king is really old. He’s on his deathbed. He can’t help her. Miriel is there with a bunch of guards (watch out, guards, Galadriel might shove you!) and the next day she escorts her to the ship to have her sent back to the elves.
But then the petals of the great tree start falling and that’s a sign from the gods that they made the wrong choice and so, through no skill or diplomacy of her own, Galadriel is welcomed back and Miriel commits to helping her in her cause, which I guess is to go fight orcs to save a much of miserable, grumbling, unwashed peasants we already despise. Which brings us to . . .
I was going to start rooting for Adar (Joseph Mawle) until he decided to let Arondir go so that he could “take a message to the humans.” Mawle is excellent in the role so far, and I love the idea of a dark elf leading the orcs. If Sauron and Melkor can both fall from grace, surely some elves can, too.
But sending off a well-armed elven archer to bring a message to a mostly defenseless tower filled with farmers and peasants makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Arondir is almost certainly worth more than all those people combined, and why he’d be sent away with his bow and arrows is beyond me.
Good thing he’s set free, though! He shows up to save Theo from the orcs just in the nick of time! Then he and Theo and Bronwyn run away through the forest as the orcs chase in slow-motion. I’ll grant you, this is a beautifully shot scene and it has some of the nicest music of the entire show playing over it, but if Adar hadn’t released Arondir none of this would be happening. Maybe it would have made more sense for Arondir to escape last week and then spy on Adar this week and then sneak out and bring a warning back to the humans and find Theo on the way, instead of being set free.
We get more of Theo with the Morgul blade and the old codger from the village, Waldreg, who appears to be a Darkfriend. (That’s what they call humans who follow Sauron in this, right?) But again, the best part is the orcs. The orcs look great. They even have some customs and rituals with their dead that grant them another layer of humanity here, which is a nice touch.
In The Halls Of The Mountain King
Meanwhile, in Khazad-dûm, Elrond has returned to speak with Durin once more and because he is a keen-eyed elf, notices that the dwarves are hiding something from him. So he does some lip-reading and soon discovers their secret: Mithril.
This is all a bit of a strange framing of things. In the actual lore, the city of Eregion (where Celebrimbor is preparing to build his mighty forge) wasn’t founded until the dwarves began mining the precious metal. The elves set up shop so near Khazad-dûm specifically because of their love of Mithril, which they used in their own creations.
Durin is hiding the discovery from Elrond because it requires more dangerous digs (why Elrond would care is less clear) and this is illustrated when there’s a cave-in and several dwarven miners are almost (but not quite) killed. This is apparently a very big deal and During goes to his father full of regrets and apologies for continuing to dig for the stuff without his permission.
But honestly, why would dwarves consider a mining accident that big of a deal? This must come with the territory. Even the most skilled delvers of the deep surely encounter a cave-in or accident from time to time. The real reason Mithril is a problem is that the dwarves dig too deep and unearth an ancient evil, though this occurs well into the Third Age.
I’m speaking, of course, of the Balrog, Durin’s Bane, who the dwarves waken from its long slumber in TA 1980. The Balrog is a Maiar spirit similar to Gandalf and Saruman who was corrupted by Melkor/Morgoth and ended up fighting alongside him in the War of the Jewels. It fled at the end of the First Age and essentially went into a five-thousand-year hibernation. After it slew Durin VI and drove the dwarves out of Khazad-dûm, the creature remained in the old dwarven kingdom until one day a certain Fellowship made their way into the Mines of Moria and the Balrog and Gandalf met on the stone bridge.
In any case, we know there will be a Balrog in this show because they’ve shown one:
Given that they’re playing pretty fast and loose with the timeline, awaking the Balrog a few thousand years too early is par for the course, and I can’t say I even care that much. It’s more exciting than most of what we’ve seen so far and right now I’m just hoping to be entertained. This is just fan-fiction, after all.
Here are the big problems I’m having with this show right now, in no particular order:
I don’t care about any of the characters. This is a pretty big problem. Mostly, I find myself wanting to care about the characters but then I can’t because the show doesn’t give me any reason to. Some I actively dislike, like Galadriel, but most I just have no feelings about whatsoever. Theo gets chased by orcs in Episode 4 and I don’t care if he escapes or is captured or killed. I like Disa and Durin and Elrond but the mine collapse bit seemed really silly. Mines do that. They collapse. The danger of mining for Mithril was never mine collapses, it’s balrogs.
The Númenoreans are all deeply unpleasant people and I’m fine if their island sinks under a great wave. Elendil is dull. Isildur is boring and in this episode he spends the bulk of his time arguing with his friends, which brings me to point #2 . . . .
Everyone is arguing and bickering all the time. This seems to be the way almost every scene in The Rings Of Power is constructed. We barely know Isildur and his sailor buddies, so why do we care that they’re mad at him? Halbrand gets into a scrap with some guildsmen. Who cares? His plan to steal a guild token was stupid. Why are these people so rude to him anyways? They hate elves also. Why? Why do they hate elves? Why do we care that Miriel and the rest argue with Galadriel? Why spend so much time on this?
Even the Harfoots—who are supposed to be a bit of pleasantness—end up arguing over the Stranger and turn out to be massive jerks. Everyone is just arguing and bickering constantly at this point. Why? Sure, there were some arguments in The Lord Of The Rings but there were also many moments of fondness and friendship and so forth. These seem absent in Rings Of Power. Even among family members, like Elendil and his children, it’s just a constant dreary argument.
All the stuff with the elves and Númenoreans seems really manufactured. The reasons Miriel gives Galadriel for the hostilities are contrived at best. Then, when the tree petals fall, and everyone starts whistling a different tune all of a sudden that also feels contrived. It’s all extremely tedious.
The stakes just don’t seem important. Okay, Sauron is returning. Cool. The Southlands are in trouble! I don’t like anyone in the Southlands so I don’t care. There are orcs now, but it seems like the orcs and the people of the Southlands would all get along pretty well. Galadriel keeps referring to Halbrand as the King of the Southlands. Is his kingdom really called The Southlands? Seriously?
We get Adar who is basically an evil elf, and he’s probably my favorite of the new characters just because at least he’s evil and that’s more fun than all these nominally good people who just argue all the time. But he’s having his orcs dig a trench. Who cares about that? And I guess they’re looking for the Morgul blade, which is a cool weapon, but it seems like they could just storm the poorly protected humans and take it if they wanted.
We’re four hours into this show now and all this stuff has happened and none of it matters. Galadriel has basically raised an army at this point to . . . go to the Southlands and fight orcs to save people we don’t like? Somehow this show manages to be extremely slow and still jump ahead with the plot in jarring ways.
I’ve mentioned that the time-jumps in House of the Dragon can be a bit jarring but at least they make sense. This show doesn’t have time-jumps but it’s like it manages to be on fast-forward and slow-motion at the same time. It’s slow and tedious and boring but Galadriel has made it all the way from the frozen north to the edge of Valinor to Númenor in the span of three episodes and by the end of the fourth has commissioned a war party to go with her to the Southlands, where presumably we’ll get a big battle in an episode or two.
That’s a lot of plot development with very little character development. It’s rushed and slow as hell all at the same time, because this is a show about grand, sweeping spectacle but very, very little in the way of substance.
I’m feeling more than a little bummed out right now, folks. I saw a lot of potential in this show in its first two episodes, with some truly brilliant world-building and special effects, a gorgeous soundtrack, and enough Tolkienesque touches with the Harfoots and dwarves that I thought we were off to a pretty damn good start.
Things slipped in Episode 3—the weird slow-motion horse riding scene and that uncanny smile; the sloppy writing and pacing issues—and now have slipped further in Episode 4. Galadriel continues to be insufferable and grating. The story rushes forward toward war in the most inane manner possible, while dragging its feet in every other imaginable way. We have yet to really gain any affection for any of the characters, though I want to like Arondir and Nori (though no Harfoots were around in this episode) and Disa (who can really sing!) and Adar (because I’m about to start rooting for the bad guys).
Here’s my video review of this episode: