Posted on September 23, 2022

Slowly but surely, a story is starting to coalesce, but The Rings of Power is still taking way more time explaining setups than it is moving the action along. We open with Nori and the Stranger sitting and eating snails while he demonstrates his newly learned vocabulary and she helps him expand on it by explaining a bit more of the Harfoot lifestyle and migratory pattern. They have an easy friendship and Markella Kavanaugh and Daniel Weyman are great together in their scenes. “We winter in Old Forest and mid-summer we make for Norfield Glen to snail while the snailing’s good,” she explains. “At the first brush of the oak leaves, we head to The Grove, a whole orchard popping with fall apples, plums, apricots, carrots.” It’s purely expository but it’s charmingly rendered and we think the show has to stop every now and then and have someone explain the peculiarities of life on Middle Earth and the various distinct cultures in it. He questions her when she mentions perils on the trail. She explains them as the dangers that can leave a person dead, such as big folk, wolves, fog, wind, rain, and various manner of trolls. He gets agitated at the thought that he is a peril and mentions (or mimes) the fireflies he killed. She assures him that he is good and he repeats the phrase with quite a bit of doubt and hesitation. They head back to her family and Poppy, who are making they way far behind the caravan. With some prodding, Poppy agrees to entertain them and make the trek easier with her mother’s “walking song” as they try to keep up with the caravan. Some of the verses sound like they could be describing the trek of Frodo and Sam to Mordor, millennia later:

The sun is fast falling beneath trees of stone
The light in the tower no longer my home
Past eyes of pale fire, black sand for my bed
I trade all I’ve known for the unknown ahead

This is incredibly charming and we’d like to see the show lean into more of these extremely Tolkienesque moments if for no other reason than the charm and whimsy differentiate it from other fantasy franchises. Lorenzo burst out laughing in delight at this scene and said “My God, it’s so different from House of the Dragon, isn’t it?” Tolkien created entire cultures and he demonstrated their richness through language and song. Characters in Tolkien are constantly launching into song; something we occasionally saw in the Jackson films. It’s also nice to take a break from the grandeur of Numenor and the elves and learn a little more about the culture that will eventually give us Frodo. The Harfoot migration is a surprisingly long one and it starts to make sense why they’re so scared of outsiders and so strict about sticking to the path and staying with the group. Nori remains fascinated by her Stranger, who often stares up at the night sky.

Back in Rhovanian, three mysterious women investigate the crater left by the Stranger’s impact. They are dressed in armor or what looks like ceremonial clothing and they give off a warrior-priestess vibe. One is in armor but has human ears, which would imply a Númenoran, but other than that, we can’t tell you who or what they are. Whatever they’re involved with, it can’t be good.

Adar stands in the forest of the Southlands, looking up at the sun. He is approached by an orc underling doing his best to avoid the light, who tells him that “the tunnel is complete.” He asks the orc to expose his skin to the sun and it bubbles and burns like he’s a vampire. Adar says he wishes his orc could feel the sun as he does and mentions that he will miss the sun when it’s gone.  At the watchtower, Bronwyn, addresses the Southlanders and informs them of Adar’s demands that they surrender the tower and swear fealty to him. She rallies them to consider staying and fighting. We’re big proponents off using costume design to single out characters of importance, but standing over the crowd, Bronwyn’s sleeveless teal dress looks a little too obvious when no one else in the Southlands are dressed in any color, let alone showing any skin. “I know I’m not the king you have awaited,” she tells them, “but if you choose to stand with me and fight, this tower will no longer be a reminder of our frailty but a symbol of our strength.” The men of Middle Earth are ashamed of their past, but feel bound to it. Waldreg makes a counter-argument and takes a significant number of people with him to do as Adar commands. “He’s not your deliverance,” Arondir warns them. “And you think that you are, ELF?” Waldreg sneers racistly. “I’ll say this for our ancestors,” he preaches to the crowd. “They lived.” He implores Theo to go with him, but he surprised us by choosing to stay.

In Númenor, the ships are being loaded for the journey to Middle Earth in a pretty dazzling display of digital effects. It’s always fun to see those Amazon dollars up on the screen, but we have to admit, at this point in the story, we sure wish they’d spend the money on a killer battle scene or adventure of some sort. We’re five episodes in and while there have been many dazzling sights, everything so far has been about architecture or clothing or landscapes. Let’s see some more magic and battles and weird creatures, please. Elendil gives Isildur a hard time and hasn’t assigned him to anything since he pledged to protect the Queen on her journey. “I thought you were going West,” Elendil sneers. Isildur says he wants to do something “worthy of Númenor” first, which only prompts further sneering from his father. Eventually, we get to the point of Elendil’s anger. “While you were feigning fidelity to the traditions of this isle, these men were living them.” He’s offended that his son would want a glory-seeking position for ambitious reasons without having served the city in Sea Guard or Queen’s Guard or Merchants Guild. “This is about uniforms,” Isildur scoffs, but to Elendil, it’s about being a person worthy of the kind of position Isildur wants.

The people of Númenor accost Pharazon angrily about the Queen-Regent’s plan to unite with the Elves and sail to Middle Earth. Eärien is in the crowd shouting him down and for the life of us we can’t understand why she’d think the Queen’s top advisor would stop to talk to her specifically. Then again, almost everything about her remains unexplained (down to her thoughts and motivations), but the show keeps focusing on her. Kemen pulls her aside and she tells him that the alliance with Galadriel is a huge mistake and that he has to stop it. This urgency seems very sudden and the only reason for it we can tell is that she doesn’t want her father to go. It could just be plain racism on her part, but without any information to go on, we’re just sitting her guessing as to why characters are acting the way that they do. The show is leaning hard into the idea that it’s the various mistrust among the races of Middle Earth that is producing a scenario where Sauron could gain control of it, so if they’re willing to make two otherwise unobjectionable characters like Kemen and Eärien into Elf-haters, that could be interesting, but it needs to be explained a little better.

Meanwhile, Halbrand seems to have gotten a job at the smithy’s, where he demonstrates enough skill to impress the legendary craftsmen of Numenor. We should stop here and note that, while Numenor itself is impressively rendered on this show, they did a disservice to Tolkien’s vision of the fabled land by making all of its inhabitants look and act so basic. They’re supposed to all be much taller and more impressive than normal humans and considered themselves above the men of Middle Earth, which makes the idea of a Southlander gaining guild employment there seem a little off to us. Tolkien had racial ideas that might not always work so well in a modern telling of his stories, but the Elves and Numenorans really shouldn’t look so much like, say, the people of the Southlands. Peter Jackson understood this and cast unusually attractive people to play his elves and conventionally heroic-looking men to play characters like Isildur and Elendil in the prologue, not to mention Aragorn, who is their descendent. Anyway, Halbrand is summoned to an audience with the Queen and Galadriel. Miriel addresses him as Lord Halbrand, throws in the word “fellowship,” and mentions his return to the Southlands. He is confused and the Queen immediately picks up on the fact that Galadriel wildly overstated his commitment to their expedition. “I have no doubt, in time, he will do his part,” Galadriel intervenes before Halbrand can object. Miriel is more than a little annoyed at the idea that she’s staked her reign on a plan that may not be entirely baked. She’s summoned by her father and leaves the two of them alone, which is when we find out that Halbrand was the one who informed on Galadriel, allowing Miriel to be waiting for her when she tried to see the king. That’s why he’s free and why he has a guild badge. “I have just convinced Numenor to send five ships and five hundred men to aid your people and place a crown upon your head,” she tells him. When she puts it like that, it sure does lend credence to the theory that he’s actually Sauron and she’s been manipulated into helping him. She suggests that he used her instead of the other way around, but she doesn’t seem to realize she may have stumbled on a horrifying truth. He rips off his pendant and stalks off.

The Brandyfoots and Poppy are making their way through some fairly desolate woods when they spot some wolf tracks. Malva notes to Sadoc that these woods have never been so bare and that “the big fella” must be the reason why. Mistrust of others defines every single race and community in this word. As pretty as it all is, Middle Earth really is a disaster waiting to happen. She urges him to “take their wheels and leave them,” which immediately puts the lie to the Harfoot credo that no one walks alone or gets left behind, although we suppose bringing a gigantic stranger with weird powers along might spur some Harfoots to abandon their principles. We wonder if this is supposed to be indicative of a rot happening within the Harfoot community or if they’re really that hypocritical about it. There’s a good argument to be made that every community depicted – Numenor, the Harfoots, the Southlanders, the Elves of Lindon and the Dwarves of Khazad-dum – is dealing with its own rot. Nori and Poppy come upon Malva in the woods to warn her about the wolf when a pack of them appear and chase them. As they hide in a tree and all looks lost, the Stranger arrives and emits some sort of power that forces them all away. They run off. We should note that a figure like Sauron would more easily be able to command the wolves and that they’d likely show deference to him instead of trying to attack him.

In Númenor, Galadriel trains some of the guard, including Isildur’s buddies Valandil and Ontamo, on how to kill orcs, on Elendil’s suggestion. She asks the swordsmen to come at her and Elendil announces that anyone who lands a blow on her will be promoted to lieutenant. It’s a fun scene (possibly because the show is so lacking in any action right now), although we think the fight choreography was a little slow and awkward. Despite the accusations by some viewers that the show has made Galadriel a Mary Sue, the Elves are legendary swordsmen and swordswomen and Galadriel has always been written as one of the most accomplished and powerful elves in all of Middle Earth. Galadriel the Badass may take some getting used to, but of all the creative interpretations on this show, this is one of the most textually supported. Galadriel has always been a lot, even if Tolkien didn’t necessarily place a sword in her hand. Valandil manages to land a blow and gets promoted to lieutenant on the spot. Halbrand picks up a fallen sword and makes some fancy moves with it, which Galadriel immediately notes as unusual for a smith’s aide.

Kemen goes to see Pharazon to beg his father to put a stop to Miriel’s alliance with Galadriel. “You all but singlehandedly prevented our last king from dragging us back to the old ways,” he observes, adding, “My father would sooner die than take orders from an elf.” So we guess they’re going with the “Kemen and Eärien are racists” thing, although we suspect it’s more complicated than that. Pharazon explains that “When all this is ended, elves will take order from us” and that if they help the men of Middle Earth in the war and give them a king, “contemplate if you can how that might benefit us.” He clearly thinks of Halbrand as Númenor’s puppet and the coming war as a chance for Númenor to take control of all men in Middle Earth and expand Númenor’s power and wealth. Miriel goes to see her father, who’s ranting about the kingdom being in danger. She tells him that they’re restoring their connection with the elves and that she’s going to Middle Earth. “Don’t go to Middle Earth,” he tells her in a moment of clarity. “All that awaits you there… darkness.” It doesn’t seem likely that Tar-Palantir, who lost his throne for love of the elves, is telling her this because he’s racist.

Nori excitedly tells Stranger that everyone is buzzing about his rescue from the wolves and that she’s never seen them accept an outsider like this. Stranger’s arm is badly burned and he is muttering some sort of spell over it, which is turning the water to ice. Remember when Galadriel and the elves visited that Sauron stronghold in the first episode and she said that the place was so evil it had stolen the warmth from their torches? We’re just saying. The story has already established a link between cold and evil. As the ice creeps up his arm, Nori rather stupidly grabs hold of it and the ice starts enveloping her. The Stranger is in a trance, his invocation getting more and more intense until Nori gets violently thrown by the spell. She runs away from him in terror. His arm is healed, but the trees seem to bend toward him. He has become a peril.

In Lindon, Gil-Galad is hosting Prince Durin, Celebrimbor, Elrond and some unnamed, silent Elf women (along with some unnamed, silent, Elf women servants in full face coverings, which implies a rather unlikely sexism at play in this community) for a grand dinner. The Elf king goes on about how he has heard that the formerly quiet Khazad-dûm’s furnaces are “burning like the eyes of Aulë himself” and asks the reason for the increase in activity. We don’t find it particularly on point or consistent that the legendary Gil-Galad would be this clumsy in his accusations and we don’t quite understand the show’s insistence on making him look like such an unsteady leader, although a lot of this could be due to Benjamin Walker’s casting, which hasn’t really panned out so far. Durin responds with his own accusations of Elven military activity increasing. Elrond tries to cool the situation down but Durin interrupts to ask where they got the stone for the massive table at which they’re setting, going on to say that it’s only used by Dwarves for the most sacred of purposes, like monuments and tombs. Gil-Galad immediately apologizes and announces he will have the table sent back to Khazad-dûm with him. “It’s good to know there’s some honor left among the elves,” Durin replies, getting one last dig in. Gil-Galad underestimated how shrewd Dwarves can be. After dinner, as the silent female servants clear the table and the silent and unnamed women at the table have been sent away, Elrond confronts Gil-Galad for having lied to him about the true nature of his trip to Khazad-dûm. Gil-Galad asks him to recite the details of The Song of the Roots of Hithaeglir, an elven myth about a tree, some Silmarils, a Balrog, an elf and a lightning strike combining to create mithril. Hithaeiglir is the Sindarin word for the Misty Mountains, where Khazad-dûm is located. This is, so far as we can tell, a myth created for the show. We’ve been trying to keep an open mind so far, but a story about a Balrog and some Silmarils creating mithril sounds a little too much like Tolkien fan fiction to us. This world is full of myths and legends that fade with time and get forgotten, but it seems a little weird that there has been an elven myth about the Misty Mountains containing “A power as pure and light as good and as strong and unyielding as evil,” for millennia and no one has ever examined or sought to find out if it was true. He shows Elrond the great tree of Lindon, which is showing the rot seen earlier, and mentions rather nonchalantly Galadriel has returned from Valinor, which Elrond doesn’t react to. It seems a little odd that no one has mentioned that they’ve known about Galadriel’s return for some time now. Gil-Galad tells him that the light of the Eldar is fading; a phrase that isn’t as figurative as it sounds. Elves do possess a quality of light that is sometimes literal (as seen in any Liv Tyler Arwen scene or Cate Blanchett Galadriel scene in the Jackson films) and this light, which originates from the legendary trees of Valinor, is implied to be part of what sustains their immortality. Think of Arwen in the Jackson films fading as the power of Sauron grows stronger. He asks Elrond to break his oath to Durin, which is a massive violation of elven ethics. If the Elves abandon Middle Earth, the king tells him, the armies of darkness will march and take it over, leading not just to the end of the Elves, but the end of all people. Celebrimbor admits to Elrond that he lied to him, but insists that he has “tested” mithril and that “massive quantities” of it hold the key to the elves’ salvation. This is all sounding less and less likely with each insistence. At the very least, he should be asking what the giant forge in Eregion is for. Celebrimbor goes on to tell Elrond that he was there the night his father Eärendil set sail in the heavens and claims that he took on the task, “Because he was the only one who could do it.” This all feels incredibly manipulative.

Isildur takes Valandir and Ontamo away from their pre-launch carousing to ask them to get him on the expedition, now that Valandir has been made lieutenant. As whiny and annoying as he is, and as interminable as these scenes are, remember that Isildur will eventually come in possession of the One Ring, take it to Mount Doom, and succumb to its temptations. Making him a self-centered brat who constantly asks for more than he deserves is actually a pretty good take. He tells Valandir he can have a gut shot and a head shot, which he gladly takes, but he still won’t get him on the expedition. Isildur tries to stow away on one of the ships, but Kemen is on the same ship sabotaging it, which leads to a Brat vs. Brat showdown that isn’t exactly epic. They fight with a lit lantern while oil pours out of the barrels, which ends exactly how you’d think: a huge fire leading to an even bigger explosion. Elendil helps pull them both out of the water (Are there any other people in this massive city other than the same six or so who keep running into each other?) and Isildur covers for Kemen, who pays him back by telling Elendil that his son saved his life. “We still have three ships,” Galadriel assures a vacillating Miriel, who asks about Halbrand again. “He awaits our departure,” Galadriel covers smoothly. “I’m sure he does,” Pharazon replies. Miriel wants them all in her office first thing in the morning. Galadriel goes to make her case one more time to Halbrand. He tells her she doesn’t know what he did to end up on that raft. “Sometimes to find the light, we must first touch the darkness,” she tells him. We suspect these words will haunt her for the rest of her life.  Halbrand demands to know why she keeps fighting and she says it’s because she can’t stop.   She tells hm about the mutiny against her, Elrond’s betrayal, and her banishment by Gil-Galad, going on to say that they all turned on her because  “They could no longer distinguish me from the evil I was fighting.” We suspect these words will come back to haunt her too. She leaves his pendant with him and tells him that this is how he will finally earn peace.


In the Southlands, Waldreg bows and scrapes to Adar and announces that he pledges his loyalty to him, Sauron. Adar reacts with fury at the name. “You are Sauron, are you not?” Waldreg asks. “I’ll serve you, then, whoever you are,” he cries out as Adar attacks him.  Adar orders him to slit Rowan’s throat and it looks like the quisling does it without much hesitation. Back at the watchtower, Arondir gives some archery lessons to Theo, who resists his attempts at reaching out. He unloads on the elf for watching their every move all these years and demands to know why he’d choose to die with them here. Arondir tells him that he’s come to admire and respect humans. Theo reveals the blade to Arondir, which surprises us. We thought he’d be hiding that for at least the rest of the season. Arondir recognizes the blade and reveals a (very convenient) previously covered carving of the blade in the watchtower wall, slicing a man in half, over a giant inhuman skull. Arondir says the blade is a key to whatever power the enemy used to enslave the ancestors of the Southlanders. Bronwyn, quite reasonably, loses faith at the news that the enemy knows they have it. “We’re destined for darkness,” she says, as she contemplates giving up. He tries to convince her not to lose faith but she’s unmoved. She tells him that when Adar’s forces march upon them, “this tower will fall.” They both look up at the tower as little lightbulbs appear over their heads. Meanwhile, Adar and his army are on the march. It’s giving Helm’s Deep and we don’t even mind.

On the trek back to Khazad-dûm, Durin reveals that he made up the offense about the stone table and Elrond reveals everything he’s learned about Gil-Galad’s and Celebrimbor’s obsession with mithril. Durin is delighted that the entire fate of the Elven race rests solely in his hands and makes Elrond say so several times. He agrees without further question to give the elves everything they want and while we think this is largely in line with how Tolkien considered friendships to be powerful enough to save the world, we have a lot of reasons to doubt the wisdom of this turn of events.

Back in Númenor, Halbrand is suddenly all in and serving us the full Return of the King drag, suiting up in some pretty sweet armor. Eärien is distressed watching her smiling brother Isildur, who got his post thanks to Kemen, march off. Do we know why she’s upset? Not at all. They gave her multiple scenes to state her case and it has yet to be explained. Isildur finds out from his father that he’s assigned to stable duty but doesn’t have time to pout about it because Galadriel embarks in full armor, throwing off that Elven light and dazzling all who see her. We guess she can turn it on and off like a switch. As the ships exit the harbor in their glory while the music soars, Galadriel and Halbrand grasp hands in (dare we say it) fellowship, and oh, he has got to be Sauron, right? Things are starting to move a little, but we’ll be pissed if we spend an entire episode with Galadriel and Halbrand at sea. Will they get to the watchtower in time to help the Southlanders? Are all of these stories even happening on the same timeline? Let’s hope for some answers and actions, now that we’ve seen everyone’s houses and clothes.

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