Posted on October 07, 2022

Galadriel comes to in a devastated wasteland that used to be the village of Tirharad. A burning horse gallops past her as she calls out for Elendil and Halbrand. She comes upon Theo and tells him to stay by her side as they navigate the destruction. There are more people alive than we’d have figured, given how the previous episode ended. Isildur is trying to get Valandil free of some wreckage when Miriel comes upon them. Together, they free him and discover the body of Ontamo. It’s a blunt reminder that these characters are facing tremendous loss, but it ultimately doesn’t pay off because Ontamo will wind up being the only confirmed death in the entire episode. They rescue some villagers from inside a burning building when the roof collapses on Isildur, seemingly killing him. Given his rather prominent role in the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s safe to say that Isildur will re-appear at some point down the line.

Meanwhile, the Brandyfoots, Poppy and the Stranger catch up with the rest of the caravan at the Grove, only to find that it hasn’t escaped the destruction caused by the creation of Mount Doom. Of course some of the Harfoots think the Stranger’s presence has something to do with their string of bad luck. Sadoc notes that his great-grand used to tell him of mountains to the south that spit fire and rock, but that they only awaken when “evil is rising.”  Despite their apparent mistrust of the Stranger, his confrontation with the wolves last episode earned him some supporters, and Sadoc and the other Harfoots urge Nori to ask him to do something about the dead fruit trees and devastation. Poppy and Nori try to wave them off because they know every time the Stranger exhibits his power, there’s blowback on them, but Sadoc asks him anyway. The Stranger prays over a burnt tree, crying over its pain and apparent death and uttering the Quenya words  for “renew,” “heal, “flower,” and “live.” “Trees don’t talk,” Malva scoffs. “Some do,” Sadoc replies, clearly thinking of the Ents. It’s evident from a lot of what Sadoc says that he’s fairly knowledgeable about the world outside of Harfoot life, not just it’s environs, but its history. The crowd of Harfoots marvel at the power coursing through the tree and remark that it’s working. Dilly Brandyfoot is about as smart as the rest of her family and walks right up to the tree even as it’s clear the stranger is in the middle of some sort of spell or fit. She almost gets crushed by a falling branch, but Nori manages to save her. For some reason, this causes everyone to agree that the Stranger should leave.

In Khazad-dûm, Elrond is trying to negotiate with King Durin. In exchange for access to their mithril mine, the elves offer to furnish the Dwarf community with game, grain and tinder from the Elven forests of Eriador for a period of five hundred years. These would be prize offerings for a community of underground dwellers. The King asks why they should trust any elf. Elrond replies that they shouldn’t; only that they should trust him, “for I am no common elf, but Elrond Half-Elven,” attempting to play down his own heritage to make common cause. “I see in Elves that which they cannot see in themselves,” he tells the Dwarf king. In other words, he’s code-switching. He kneels before him and begs for his aid. King Durin asks to be left alone with his son. He tells him of the story that the Dwarves’ creator Aulë crafted them out of rock and fire; the first to make them yearn for the eternal and the second to help them understand that “all things must one day be consumed and fade away to ash.” He says he will not risk Dwarven lives to help the elves cheat death. We think the elves’ immortality being a point of envy for all the other races in Middle Earth is a pretty good one upon which to hang the story, but the King’s objections are practical as well. “We do not dig in earth that can’t support it,” he warns his son. On a certain level, he’s correct about this. The mining of mithril will eventually doom the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm and turn the glorious Dwarven realm into the tomb that the Fellowship eventually stumbles into. Prince Durin is furious. The King counters that the fate of the elves was decided long ago by “minds much wiser, much farther-seeing than our own. Defy their will, and this entire kingdom might fall.” Whether he’s talking about Sauron or the Balrog, he’s also not entirely wrong that much darker forces are at work here; an indication that he knows a lot more about what’s going on than he’s saying. Disa, getting some time in on the family weapons forge, shares her husband’s fury and briefly argues that they should disobey the king before her husband shuts her down on that front. Durin tearfully breaks the news to Elrond. Or rather, he tears up in front of Elrond, who doesn’t need to be told why. Robert Aramayo does a good job of showing how kind Elrond could be, even in the face of devastating news. “We do not say goodbye,” he tells Durin, who tearfully says the Elven word “Namárië.” Elrond tells them it means to go towards goodness. He leaves Durin the mithril shard, which the Prince helpfully throws at the rotten leaf. The proximity to the evidently magical ore causes the leaf’s rot to fade away and restore it to health. Durin tearfully (seriously, he’s a very weepy dwarf) calls after Elrond, apparently having seen enough to defy his father the king.

Back in the Southlands, Theo asks Galadriel why this all happened. She explains (to the viewer as much to him) that Adar and the orcs created this situation to provide themselves with a sunless homeland. Theo says they should take it back and Galadriel, clearly feeling defeated, tells him that they don’t have the gas for it. He tries to reach her dagger, but she subdues him and tells him he has to accept the situation. He says she’s acting like this is all her fault, which she affirms to him. He notes that everyone he knows is probably dead, naming Arondir among them first. “What cannot be known hollows the mind,” she tells him. “Fill it not with guesswork.” He asks her if she’s killed a lot of orcs and is pleased to hear that she has. Evidently in a very preachy mood, she warns him that “It darkens the heart to call dark deeds good.” He’s clearly in awe of her and she’s covering her own feelings of guilt by attempting to fulfill a mentor role, although it almost feels like a default position for her; like she’s going through the motions while trying to process the situation. She tells him that every soldier must be mindful of keeping darkness out of their hearts. “Am I a soldier, then?” he asks her. She gives him her sword in response. Morfydd Clark and Tyroe Muhafidin have a wonderful rapport and chemistry together and we’re surprised by how much we’re enjoying their interactions.

Elendil is watching over a line of Southlanders and Numenoreans making for higher land and scanning the crowd for his son. The Queen and Valandil arrive and make it clear that Isildur didn’t make it. Later, it becomes clear that Miriel has been blinded by the impact from the cave-in that seemingly killed Isildur. Elendil is nearly paralyzed by horror and grief, but she orders him to continue on. Remember that her father Tar-Palantir told her that darkness waited for her in Middle Earth. We’d say he nailed that one.

Sadoc gives the Stranger instructions on how to find the big people, directing him to walk through Greenwood the Great, a forest which will one day be known as Mirkwood, home to Legolas and also a whole bunch of nasty spiders. He also gives the Stranger a map of his stars. All of the Harfoots come out to say goodbye to him and Nori gives him one of the few apples left in the orchard. Everyone looks sad and regretful, which is strange, because no one’s forcing them to exile the big fella. The worst thing he did was cause the branch of a dead tree to fall off. Speaking of which, as he leaves, a small flower blooms in the ruined tree, which feels like a callback to the flower blooming in the White Tree of Gondor in Jackson’s Return of the King. Nori later tells Marigold that she now understands that she’s “just a Harfoot,” and shouldn’t concern herself with things larger than her. Marigold feels bad seeing her daughter so crushed.

Theo asks Galadriel if she ever lost someone close. She mentions her brother Finrod and, to our mild surprise, her husband Celeborn, who has not been mentioned before now, not even when she and Elrond had that talk about the people she’s lost. According to Tolkien, they’ve been married since the First Age and also he’s not dead, no matter what she currently thinks. “We met in a glade of flowers,” she muses in remembrance. “I was dancing and he saw me there.” He apparently went off to the war and never returned. Unless the show’s creators are willing to deviate considerably from the source material, Celeborn is going to show up at some point. Theo tells her that what happened to the Southlands isn’t her fault, it’s his. He gave the hilt to Adar – and evidently made the connection that this is what caused the dams to fail and the mountain to explode, although that’s quite a leap to make, even if it is true. “I gave power to the enemy,” he says. “Do not take the burden of this day upon your shoulders,” she tells him. “You may not be able to put it down again.” He asks her how he can let something like this go. She essentially tells him to trust in a higher power, which sounds like a pretty empty sentiment at the moment; something Galadriel all but confirms almost as soon as she says it. Tolkien is very good about exploring and depicting the despair of the defeated or about-to-be defeated, so this all feels very on point, if perhaps a little bit of a drag after the eye-popping action of the previous episode. They are almost discovered by a party of orcs because Theo stupidly tried to unsheath his new sword at the sight of them and they heard it. After they leave, she tells Theo that they move at first light. “What light?” he asks.

Durin and Elrond are mining the mithril themselves, which doesn’t seem like much of a plan in the long term. They spend a few minutes bonding, with Durin almost revealing his secret name to Elrond and honestly, it’s kind of hard not to think they’re deliberately giving the relationship a homoromantic undertone without actually crossing that line. Every one of their scenes together seem designed to spur on ships and fan art. Even so, Robert Aramayo and Owain Arthur are fun together and it’s to the show’s credit that they avoided turning this relationship into a Legolas/Gimli redux. It definitely has its own flavor and the overly sentimental Durin is offering a different sort of take on a Tolkien Dwarf. They discover an enormous lode of mithril leading all the way down to the depths of the mountain. The King shows up (Because why wouldn’t he?) and has Elrond expelled from Khazad-dûm.  He proceeds tells his son the story of when he was born and how weak and sick he was as an infant and how he held him by the fire every night until he got stronger. He says that he foresaw in his infant’s son’s face the great visage of an old Dwarven king. Look, these character interactions and long discussions of good and evil, light and darkness, have their place in setting up this world, but this is all feeling like the story stalling just as it picked up. We’re getting antsy and we don’t really feel like hearing about Dwarves with daddy issues right now, especially since we had to suffer through a “Númenoreans with daddy issues” storyline in earlier episodes. Anyway, Prince Durin calls Elrond his brother and says that his father profanes the crown that he wears. The king rips the crest off his son’s chest, effectively disowning him.

Back at The Grove, Nori wakes up to find it in full bloom, with no sign of the damage from the eruption. Everyone in the camp agrees that the Stranger saved them, but no one seems to feel bad about exiling him. Poppy sings a song about the “King of the Frog Fishies,” who turns a Harfoot maiden into a snail. “Old Bolgerbuck, he caught her/So juicy and so sweet,” which is a callback to Gollum (who was once a pre-Hobbit not unlike a Harfoot) singing the same “juicy and sweet” phrase in Jackson’s The Two Towers. Her singing is interrupted when she finds a big person’s set of footprints by the river and we see the three priestess/sorceress women who have been tracking the Stranger, whom the credits refer to as The Nomad, The Dweller, and The Ascetic. At night, Nori and Poppy spy them under the tree the Stranger prayed over. The Dweller plucks the flower created by the Stranger and uses it to intuit which direction he went in. Nori jumps out of hiding and tells them he went in the opposite direction, bless her dumb little Harfoot heart. In response, they destroy the entire encampment within seconds. Whatever these ladies are, it’s not good, that’s for sure.

Back in the Númenorean camp in the Southlands, Isildur’s horse won’t be calmed down. Elendil sets him free. He says bitterly to Valandil that he should have left the elf in the sea where he found her. Galadriel and Theo arrive in the camp and he is eventually reunited with his mother and Arondir, who he hugs upon seeing him (awww). The encampment is full of the grievously wounded and dying. Elendil informs Miriel that they can be ready to leave Middle Earth within the hour, evidently considering all of the wounded and homeless Southlanders not worth their time, although they are leaving a garrison behind to help settle them somewhere. Galadriel approaches and Elendil can barely look at her. She kneels in sorrow before the queen. “No one kneels in Númenor,” Miriel reminds her. “You are not in Númenor,” Galadriel responds regretfully, taking full blame for everything that’s happened. Elendil clearly doesn’t want to hear it. Miriel feels the tears on Galadriel’s cheeks. “Do not spend your pity on me, Elf,” she says. “Save it for our enemies, for they do not know what they have begun.” Miriel stands and vows that Númenor will return. Galadriel counters that the elves will be ready. Elendil is very not happy.

In the Grove, Largo makes an impassioned speech to the clan. He tells them all that they don’t slay dragons or mine jewels, but they stay true to each other no matter how bad things get, “with our hearts even bigger than our feet.” Nori makes to leave the camp and announces that she’s going to help the Stranger. Poppy announces she’s coming and surprisingly, Marigold declares she is as well, apparently feeling bad that she crushed Nori’s dreams of being special. In a turnabout that’s kinda-sorta earned, Malva suggests that Sadoc go with them. The unlikely foursome of Harfoots go off to find the Stranger.

Miriel leaves on her ship and Bronwyn tells Galadriel that the villagers will settle in an “old Númenorean settlement” called Pelargir. She also mentions that Halbrand is alive, which no one saw fit to mention before now. He’s badly wounded and Galadriel says he needs elvish medicine to survive. Halbrand says he won’t abandon these lands. If he really is Sauron, then he sure is committing to the bit. They leave to ride off to Lindon, even though he didn’t look well enough to stand just a second before. The villagers bow to him and shout “Strength to the king!” Theo offers to give Galdriel her sword back but she calls him “soldier” and tells him to keep it. He calls her “commander” and raises his new sword to shout “Strength to the Southlands!”

Disa tells a crestfallen Durin that none of this is his fault and then launches into some seriously dark invective about his father, calling him old, feeble and suspicious. “One day this will be your kingdom; yours – and mine. And together we will rule this mountain and all others before our time is done. That mithril belongs to us. To you and me.” She sounds alarmingly power hungry. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the shaft, a Balrog awakens (an absolute Xerox copy of the Jackson trilogy version).

Back in the sunless part of the Southlands, the orcs and Waldreg are hailing Adar as the lord of the Southlands. “That is a name and a place that no longer exists,” he tells them.When Waldreg asks him what they should call it, the name Mordor burns across the screen. It’s cute, but not quite the shocking reveal they were hoping for. Like a lot of this episode, it spent time on things that the viewer already knows or figured out. While there was some narrative forward moment, much of this episode felt like wheel-spinning after last week’s stunner. And it looks likely that we’re going to end the first season not even knowing who Sauron is or even if he’s appeared in the story so far. As much as we’ve enjoyed the world-building this season, they seriously need to pick up the pace on an actual plot.


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