There Are Slow Burns, And There Is ‘The Rings Of Power’

The Rings of Power is more than halfway through its first season now, and has been the subject of debate among fans for various reasons. Thankfully, we seem to be mostly moved past the “black dwarves?? Women warrior elves??” initial controversies that held absolutely no weight. But what’s left is now to discuss the actual meat of the show, or the lack thereof.

I recently caused a good amount of people to start yelling at me when I tweeted that I felt that The Rings of Power felt like a “non-event” each week. What I meant by that is that is each week yes, I’ll watch it, at some point, but it’s not exactly something I’m counting down the days to, nor does it seem to be the hot thing that everyone is discussing on the internet or in person the next day.

It’s true that not every show needs to be an event, but it’s extremely clear that Amazon was trying to make this their own Game of Thrones with that level of cultural impact, and I’m just not sure it’s accomplishing that goal. It does not help that there is now essentially a second Game of Thrones airing each week at the same time, House of the Dragon, which I would argue does a better job of being “event” viewing.

One pushback I get is that I’m just not appreciating the “slow burn” of The Rings of Power, but there are slow burns, and there is whatever is going on here, and yes, I do believe there is such a thing as “too slow.”

A theory as to why this is happening is that the creators of the series (first-time showrunners, it should be noted) were clearly given a blank check by Amazon where they knew there was going to be investment for something like four or five seasons in total. I think that may have translated into a lack of urgency in the early period here, which seems like not just a little bit of set-up, but an entire season’s worth of it. We know where this is going, the forging of the Rings of Power and a face-off against Sauron, but we’re going to have to wait 40 hours for the entire saga to unfold, and I think viewing the series as one giant arc like that is creating some pacing problems at the outset here.

Since we have no real choice but to compare it to its current rival, House of the Dragon, I’d argue that series understands what it takes to be a TV show that is technically both a slow burn, we can see long-simmering conflicts about who will take the throne and a rivalry between former best friends, but also a show that knows how to make gripping episodes week-to-week. There are many positive adjectives I’d use to describe Rings of Power, gorgeous, detailed, well-cast, but “gripping” is not one of them right now. Last week, for instance, we saw close to zero movement across almost all the major storylines, and that’s not the first time that’s happened.

This is not to say Rings of Power can’t improve over time. I’m reminded of one of my favorite series, The Expanse, which struggled with early adaptation issues and pacing in season 1, but blossomed into becoming an all-time great sci-fi series in later seasons. But The Rings of Power seems almost cursed by its sprawling, greenlit 40 hour arc, four times the length of the entire original LOTR trilogy, which I also imagine would not have been nearly as good if it was bloated and stretched that much. Something is missing here, and I hope future seasons can find it.

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Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.