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A Tolkien Nerd’s Rings of Power Recap Ep. 7: Where is the design?

Celeborn twitter is about to go nuts.

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Morfydd Clark (Galadriel), Tyroe Muhafidin (Theo)
Nazanin Boniadi (Bronwyn), Morfydd Clark (Galadriel)

Welcome to my continuing recaps of The Rings of Power, now streaming on Amazon. You can find my previous recaps here.

For Episode 7, “The Eye” I’m going to do something different. It’s going to be shorter because I’m in the middle of New York Comic Con and don’t have time to do all the research I normally need for these.

Also, the episode, directed by Charlotte Brandstrom and written by Jason Cahill (Halt and Catch Fire, The Sopranos) is just so good you need to let it unfold. Who cares if its in the books or not. This is good storytelling.

This outing opens with a shot of an eye – not Sauron’s burning one, but a red, ash encrusted one. It’s Galadriel’s and she’s waking up from the firestorm at the end of Episode 6 that created the land of Mordor. The episode’s action shifts between the survivors of that horror struggling to regroup; the Harfeet recovering from their own devastating disaster; and Elrond and Durin IV dealing with Durin III’s refusal to save the Elves by letting them mine for mithril.

With this episode, we finally dig down to the core of loss and sadness at the heart of Tolkien’s work. My favorite passage from Lord of the Rings – the gloom of a fatalist – was from the chapter “The Field of Cormallen” after Frodo and Sam have accomplished their mission – but the world is not suddenly made better.

‘I am glad that you are here with me,’ said Frodo. ‘Here at the end of all things, Sam.’

‘Yes, I am with you, Master,’ said Sam, laying Frodo’s wounded hand gently to his breast. ‘And you’re with me. And the journey’s finished. But after coming all that way I don’t want to give up yet. It’s not like me, somehow, if you understand.’

‘Maybe not, Sam,’ said Frodo; ‘but it’s like things are in the world. Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape.’

Sam sensibly replies to Frodo’s Morrisey-worthy statement by suggesting they get away from the burning fires of Mount Doom, ever the realist.

But for Tolkien’s, that is how things are the world, the fatal condition of birth, the noble struggle to fight darkness and find strength.

To put it in TV terms, The SIlmarillion makes the Red Wedding look like a pleasant morning at the kindergarten. There’s a whole chapter about a battle called “Unnumbered Tears” and the very few of the Elves who survive the wars of the First Age are hard pressed to survive the wars of the Second. There’s a reason why Galadriel and Elrond are our viewpoint characters here, and I’ll leave it at that.

Morfydd Clark (Galadriel), Tyroe Muhafidin (Theo)

As the episode begins, Galadriel’s company finds themselves in a red hellscape of burning horses and moaning children. (Yes yes, I know not even an Elf of Valinor could have survived this volcanic blast but this is fantasy, okay?) In the midst of the ruin, an unlikely duo team to survive: Galadriel and Theo, who fears he has lost both Bronwyn and father figure (or even real father) Arondir. Galadriel’s thirst for vengeance is finally given its context: the loss she experienced in the First Age –  unspoken because of rights issues, but known to us, the betrayals and cruelty of Fëanor and his sons…the waste of it all. She’s suddenly weary of it all, yearning for a place where her rage doesn’t exist.

Theo blames himself for giving Arad the blade hilt, but Galadriel urges him not to. “Do not be eager to take on the burden of this day. You may find it difficult to put down again,” she counsels, obviously referring to her own obsessions. When Theo asks how to accept his actions she replies “There are powers beyond darkness at work in this world. Perhaps on days such as this we have little choice but to trust to their designs and surrender our own.”

This is a direct echo of the most famous quote from the movie version of Lord of the Rings, a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo, which is also in the books.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Believe me, I’ve quoted this to myself (and anyone who will listen) many times over the last six years.

Galadriel’s mention of a design is also an echo of an earlier conversation between Gandalf and Frodo in LotR, when Gandalf is talking about the chance of Bilbo finding the One Ring in the tunnels of the misty mountains.

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring and not by its maker.”

The idea of a benevolent force in the universe intervening with seemingly random events to form a pattern is a common belief of most humans at some point in their lives, and a principle that Tolkien applied many times in LotR and the rest of his works. But despite this eucatastrophic belief, at this moment in The Rings of Power, Theo is not having it.

“My home is gone – where is the design in that?” he asks Galadriel to which she can only say “I can not yet see,” and hang her head.

If the showrunners are as big Tolkien nerds as they say – and honestly, I can’t really doubt that they are – this exchange will pay off eventually. Tolkien is about faith, and Theo and Galadriel’s is being tested…and will be tested even more.

But now, in the dark sorrow of “The Eye” there is only a ruined land, a riderless horse, grievous wounds, and one of the main cast members missing and presumed dead in the ashes. And another one is seemingly permanently disabled. The Numenoreans are returning home, but leaving a garrison to help the Southlanders find a new home – which as it happens is…a Numenorean outpost? Pelargir! This is canon- Numenor already had lots of outposts in Middle Earth so all the hemming and hawing about going there seemed a little weird but…hey we’re past that now!

Just who is in this garrison and what they will face is left to the final episode of this season.

Markella Kavenagh (Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot), Lenny Henry (Sadoc Burrows),

Meanwhile, the Harfoots continue their journey only to run into the Three Creepy people following The Stranger. Maybe these are Maiar, Blue Wizards meant to help?

Unfortunately when Nori confronts them, instead of offering a helping hand, these three weirdos burn all the Harfoots wagons and belongings and then disappear in a flash. What the f–???

They are bad people. Still no idea who they are from the legendarium though! For rather flimsy reasons, Nori, Poppy, Sadoc and Marigold form a party to go off and find the missing Stranger. I said it was flimsy, but I like the idea of four Hobbits on a quest.

Finally, Elrond and Durin. I won’t go into details here but to say that Elrond displays his statesmanship very well, only to be cast out of Moria with his bindle.

It is literally a bindle and I love it.

Robert Aramayo as Elrond has really grown on me, and Sophia Nomvete as Disa continues to absolutely kill it – especially with a scene where she’s casually forging shit on an anvil to blow off steam. There’s still some awkward dialog here and there, but these characters are growing on me a LOT.

In the event, it turns out that mithril is truly able to heal the rot of Sauron, and Durin IV decides to keep digging for it, against his father’s wishes. As the episodes ends, this plan has been halted, but the digging has opened a cavern to something very, very different. It’s not much of a spoiler to say they may have awaken something fell at the root of the mountain, perhaps something that rhymes with walrog.

Peter Mullan (King Durin III), Robert Aramayo (Elrond), Owain Arthur (Prince Durin IV)

This was another strong episode, and flaws and all, I’m on board.

There is but one episode left in this season, and Season 2 just started filming in London (New Zealand proving to be too expensive even for Amazon.) Alas, it may be two years before the next season, and the introduction of Cirdan, Anarion and (maybe???) Glorfindel.

ALSO: Galadriel FINALLY mentions Celeborn and it is a bit of a shocker. And definitely misdirection. I expect Celeborn twitter to absolutely go nucking futs as soon as this episode streams. 

Until then, I await the final episode impatiently.


Since this is such a short episode, here are some links to good Tolkien commentary and news that I have come across. There is a lot of it, and I haven’t even gotten into the endless YouTube explainer videos.

  • Here’s the first big interview post debut with showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne and a very very veiled peak at Season Two. ‘The Rings of Power’ Showrunners Break Silence on Backlash, Sauron and Season 2
  • Bear McCreary’s musical score is absolutely amazing, and he insisted on writing every minute of it himself, at great cost to his health and his relationships. Here’s a guide to its many themes, which are so detailed and deliberate that they have been used as prima facie evidence that Halbrand is Sauron.
  • Here’s McCreary’s own account of the making of the score.
  • In my first review of the show, so many weeks ago, I predicted the cliched distribution of accents – fey Irish Hobbits, feisty Scottish Dwarves, cockney Orcs – would get some criticism. It hasn’t really become a thing (because discrimination by accent isn’t as obvious as by other traits) but The Guardian took it on with ‘Irish people have faced centuries of discrimination’: why are Lord of the Rings’ accents so offensively bad?
  • There are several Reddits devoted to Tolkien and Rings of Power. The most “Pro” RoP is /LOTR-on-prime, which gives endless discussion about all these things, but mostly who is Sauron. By far the most useful to me though is a series of posts by Darren Grey called the “Tolkien Compatibility Index” which analyzes each episode against the legendarium in great detail – including stuff from HoME that I’d forgotten. I’m actually indebted to this series for some of my observations here, and it is definitely worth reading to see how the showrunners have adapted Tolkien’s basic material to make a TV show. Link to Episode 6 here, which has a link to the rest of the series.

 

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. I do like the confirmation (through the mention of Pelargir) that there are already Numenorean settlements in Middle-earth. Long Daer and Umbar are likely already established colonies.

    Of course Celeborn is still alive (though daughter Celebrian seems to not yet exist). Likewise, Isildur’s apparent death rings about as false as Aragorn’s little tumble off a cliff.

    Miriel’s blindness was a surprise. I expected Galadriel to treat her condition. If it persists then I can see where it’s likely heading, especially if her father Tar-Palantir dies before the fleet returns to Numenor. I foresee a controversial (but canonical) alliance between Miriel and Cousin Pharazon.

  2. Btw, I suspect that the three Mystics might be Variags from Khand as they are rumored to be from a people who we have never seen before on screen.

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