Recap of the First Two Episodes of ‘Rings of Power’ Fans of ‘Lord of the Rings’ can exhale a sigh of relief.
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read further unless you’ve seen the first two episodes of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” which is now available on Amazon Prime Video.
That sound you just heard isn’t drums, deep drums, or the roar of a Balrog. It was actually a collective sigh of relief from countless “Lord of the Rings” fans who had just finished watching “The Rings of Power” and realised that it is, in fact, a compelling expansion of the Middle-earth mythos. The first two episodes, titled “Shadows of the Past” and “Adrift,” debuted tonight, with the remaining six airing weekly. All things considered, the Second Age of Middle-earth is fairly technologically advanced, but it appears they haven’t yet developed the ability to drop an entire season of prestige television at once.
“Shadows of the Past” begins with a prologue narrated by Galadriel, as did the films, but this one is even longer and more detailed than the first. Morfydd Clark plays the role rather than Cate Blanchett, and she’s still in her battle-hardened warrior phase as she sets the scene. Middle-earth is attempting to recover from a disastrous war with Morgoth, a godlike being from whom all evil springs, and his chief lieutenant, none other than Sauron himself. The forces of good eventually triumphed, but not without suffering terrible losses, including Galadriel’s own brother.
She then leaps into the fray, leading a group of other elves as they scout for any remaining traces of Sauron and/or his orcs — and eventually discovering his sigil in a snowy cave. Galadriel regards this as irrefutable proof that their adversary is still alive, while her exhausted subordinates, who are quick to point out that their excursion was supposed to have ended long ago, insist that the marking could be decades or even centuries old.
So they return to the Elvish city of Lindon, where Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) await to congratulate the group on a mission that they believe has demonstrated that they no longer need to fear pesky old Sauron. Galadriel and her companions are to sail to the mystical Undying Lands and live the rest of their lives as all elves should. But Galadriel, who is starting to resemble Middle-Cassandra, earth’s doesn’t want that; it’s as if she can feel the threat in her bones. It’s no surprise, then, that she jumps off the boat just as she’s about to cross the threshold into the Undying Lands, leaving herself at sea.
Those familiar with her work in “Saint Maud” or “The Personal History of David Copperfield” will not be surprised, but Clark proves to be a worthy successor to Blanchett (or predecessor, as it were). She delivers lines like, “This place is so evil our torches give off no warmth” and “We had no word for death, for we thought our joys would be endless” with all the weight they deserve; it’s almost enough to make you wonder why Galadriel has taken so long to be at the forefront of a series like this.
Throughout the first two episodes, characters are divided into two camps: those who believe the past has been forgotten and those who believe Sauron has not been defeated completely. The latter group appears to be correct, which is both surprising and unfortunate. This includes not only Galadriel, but also Arondir (Cruz Córdova), whose 79-year tenure at an important elvish outpost has understandably made him wary of whatever is still out there. Gil-galad and Elrond are certain that their foe has vanished forever, but Galadriel believes otherwise — and is determined to prove it. Her countrymen are furious, and one could be forgiven for thinking that sending her to the Undying Lands isn’t so much a reward as it is a means of getting rid of her. She’s a brilliant warrior and fearless leader, but she’s also arrogant and stubborn — but that doesn’t make her wrong.
She is not, however, the only intriguing character in “The Rings of Power.” Arondir, the show’s Legolas, is notable not only for his Galadriel-like certainty that the current peace will not last, but also for his forbidden love affair with a human woman named Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi). He thinks he’s stopping by her humble abode to see her one last time after being relieved of his duty, but the two end up venturing to a nearby village after a farmer asks her to look at his cow, which is secreting something resembling blood rather than milk from its udders. Surprisingly, the village has been ransacked — and it appears that orcs are to blame, especially when one shows up in her home and nearly kills the child. If only Arondir could find another elf with whom he could eventually team up to face this looming threat…
Despite its foreboding tone, “The Rings of Power” isn’t all doom and gloom. The way “Lord of the Rings” balances high stakes with pastoral levity is part of what makes it so popular. That comes primarily from the hobbits, as embodied by Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) in “The Rings of Power,” whose wish for something grander than her modest village is granted when a comet streaks across the sky at the end of the first episode. She and her less daring companion arrive first and discover that a person has landed with it.
This concludes our introduction to Middle-second earth’s age, and we’re glad we didn’t have to wait a week to learn more. J.A. Bayona directed both “Shadows of the Past” and the untitled second episode, and his work on “The Impossible” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” clearly prepared him for the heft and scope of Middle-earth.
“Adrift” is The Dwarf Episode to me, not because it only features our mining friends, but because the first one didn’t feature them at all — the nerve! Here we see Khazad-dûm in all its former glory, the glory that Gimli extolled before realising it had become nothing more than a tomb. Elrond asks Lord Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) to travel from Eregion to Khazad-dûm in the hopes of convincing his friend Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) to help them with their secretive project, the true purpose of which would be a mystery if the series wasn’t literally named after it. Keep an eye out for Celebrimbor in the coming episodes; even though he hasn’t gotten much screen time yet, he’s likely to be one of the most important characters in the entire series.
Though the dwarvish capital is magnificent, it is not particularly welcoming. Elrond is forced to invoke a rite that will grant him an audience with Durin if he can defeat him in a rock-breaking contest; if he forfeits, he will be banished forever. Elrond does lose — after all, dwarves excel at breaking rocks — but while being escorted out of Khazad-dûm by Durin, he successfully charms his old friend, whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to in decades. This turned out to be the source of Elrond’s rudeness: Durin was upset that Elrond didn’t attend his wedding or congratulate him on the birth of his children. Elrond, as astute as he is charming, sincerely apologises and requests the opportunity to apologise to his friend’s wife, which Durin agrees to as long as Elrond departs immediately afterwards.
You can probably guess where this is going. Disa (Sophia Nomvete), Durin’s delightful better half, is a gracious host who insists on her guest staying for dinner, allowing Elrond to finally ask Durin for help on the project he and Celebrimbor are working on. Durin reluctantly agrees, and the two take the idea to his father, King Durin III (Peter Mullan), whose scepticism casts doubt on the entire affair.
In another episode, Nori tries to nurse Comet Man (not his real name) back to health while dealing with a language barrier and the fact that he’s disoriented and insane. (In the credits, he’s referred to as The Stranger and is played by Daniel Weyman.) It’s at this point that astute viewers will begin to wonder if there’s a link between the strange fellow who survived a falling star and the all-powerful antagonist everyone seems so concerned about, but it’s not for your humble correspondent to speculate on such matters.
“True creation necessitates sacrifice,” says Celebrimbor early in the second episode. Though it is unlikely that this was the intention, the line feels like a summary of the entire series. It may take some time to fully comprehend Amazon’s $1 billion investment in its “Lord of the Rings” show, but at least you can see where the money went. It’s difficult to think of a single television show that has ever felt as vast and, yes, epic as “Game of Thrones.” “The Rings of Power” does not feel insignificant in comparison to the films, nor does it feel unworthy of them. We can bemoan the fact that everything these days appears to be an expanded universe, but we can also be happy when they’re good.