Welcome to our guide to Rings of Power as seen through the lens of an amateur Tolkien scholar. While I’m trying to remain true to the canon, I’m also throwing in some interpretations of Tolkien’s work based on my own readings and thinkings. Sorry I fell so far behind but believe it or not, these take quite a while to write. I promise to be caught up by Tuesday however. Part 1, Part 2
AND THERE SHALL BE GREAT SPOILERS. Continue at your own peril!
As set up in the first two episodes, we’re basically following four different storylines. Here’s the official Amazon map (minus legends) to show you where everyone is.
Galadriel and Halbrand are off to the left, floating towards Numenor
Nori, Poppy and the Harfoots are harboring a man who fell to middle earth in a meteor up in Rhovanion.
Sylvan elves and humans are fighting a new orc incursion down in what will someday be Mordor.
Elrond the wise is off hanging with his cousin Celebrimbor and his old buddy Durin IV to build a massive smithing tower over in Eregion.
As evidenced by this episode, we’ll be focusing on two or three plotlines in each episode and this time out its Numenor, Meteor Man and a brief trip to future Morder.
Let’s start with the latter. The episode opens with Arondir, our Sylvan elf warrior, in a very bad place indeed, somewhere between Shawshank Redemption and Papillon. He’s been conscripted to an Elvish chain gang under the watchful eyes of some cruel orcs who are under the command of someone…or something…named Arad – hence the title of this episode. Those with a little Elvish knowledge know this means “Father” in Sindarin so some revelations may be about to come.
Morgoth/Sauron/Orcs putting elves to work is canon from the Great Wars of the First Age when many elves were enslaved and even corrupted, a very grievous thing. Tolkien’s concept of orcs varied a lot over his life, and he could never quite decide what their original was – whether they were corrupted elves and men or bred separately from some horrible experiment. Due to his Christian beliefs, Tolkien had a hard time believing that any living thing was truly unsavable, so the nature of Orcs – all out bad guys – troubled him.
In any case, no matter what else may follow, Rings of Power is a triumph in one way: it has restored Orcs to their place as truly nasty pieces of work; fans of Ugluk and Grishnakh will find much to enjoy. RoP has also ditched the extremely regrettable CGI orcs of the Hobbit trilogy – Orcs as people in makeup are far scarier and more effective and the horror movie-like scenes of orcs stalking and fighting are among the best in the show. It also restores the orc’s hatred of light – although maybe a bit more extreme than Tolkien intended. In canon, t7hey just didn’t like the sunlight but could move about in it – they didn’t just start smoking like Gary Oldman in Dracula like they do here.
At any rate, Arondir isn’t being stalked, he’s being beaten, and finds some of his fellow Elves from the garrison down in future Morder on the same chain gang. Their task: digging a tunnel, probably to destroy another human town. It’s a lot of work when they could just travel by night, but tackle me down to MacGuffin City!
Amidst the tunneling, they must destroy a beautiful old tree – one of the most grievous sins in all of Tolkien’s work, and a theme he returns to many times. (Morgoth poisoning the trees, Saruman’s tree cutting at Isengard and in the Shire; the destruction of the holly trees outside Moria.)
Following Arondir’s bold stance, a rebellion is hatched, allowing Cruz to engage in some heroic slow motion leaping. Alas, the orcs are too strong, and at the very end of the episode he is brought before Adar, played by Joseph Mawle who played Uncle Benjin in Game of Thrones. That’s the fellow who disappears in the very first scene of GoT and reappears briefly seven seasons in! There are few familiar faces in RoP, but this is a kind of “stunt casting” that works well. Mawle has a ghostly, unhuman allure that fits the role well.
And who is Adar? We’ll return to that.
Meanwhile our two other main plots are unfolding briskly! Let’s go to the Harfoots first. The tribe is about to set off on a migration – they appear to be mostly foragers without agriculture so a nomadic lifestyle is called for. However Nori is set on figuring out what the stars Meteor Man was pointing to last episode mean…to do that she has to get to Sadoc’s Big Book of Facts. All of this results in a series of events that we’ve seen perhaps 8,624 times before: Nori sneaks into Sadoc’s wagon, but nearly gets caught as Sadic blusters about, and oh she cut it close, then gets the paper to Meteor Man who is so thrilled to have it that he promptly sets fire to it, because he’s a clumsy Blue Wizard, and then he blunders into a town meetings and blah blah blah. I must be honest, I found all this floundering and fire setting to be about on the level of an episode of the Big Bang theory and couldn’t be less interested in these goings on. These aren’t even tropes – they are cliches.
Once this giant man is discovered, the Harfoots government takes a strong stance against the addition of a giant, clumsy, perhaps wizard to their migration, and the Brandyfoots are banished to the end of the caravan. As we all know, you don’t need to outrun the lion, just the slowest wildebeest and what with dad’s busted ankle this is a near death sentence for the broken Brandyfoots. However at the last minute it appears that the giant man has a diverse skill set besides killing fireflies, setting papers on fire and mumbling incoherently: he can also push a wagon because he’s big and strong. Perhaps the Brandyfoots will survive the great migration after all.
Meanwhile, the juiciest plot of all is unfolding in Númenor. When last we saw Galadrial and Halbrand they were near death but rescued at sea. It turns out their rescuer is Elendil, the greatest of the Edain of the second age. Elendil looms large in the legendarium of LoTR and it’s a thrill to finally see him doing all this walking and talking and holding swords and chastising Isuldur stuff.
Also a thrill is the entrance to Númenor. Like their Gondorin descendents, Númenorians absolutely adore carving giant statues into stone, and the art direction for the city of Armenelos is truly spectacular – as I’ve mentioned before, one thing Rings of Power doesn’t stint on is art direction, and seeing places so fully realized is a tug to the heart for this Tolkien lover.
Galariel and Halbrand are brought before the queen regent Miriel, and her advisor Pharazon. Here Galadriel proves that she is no diplomat, demanding ships to return to Middle Earth right this minute because she’s got orcs to fight and time is wasting.
I was a bit disappointed by this scene. I know there must be conflict conflict conflict, as taught in all screenwriting classes, but you’d think Galadriel would be a little smarter and forge an alliance with the queen of Númenor instead of being an arrogant ass. She knows all the history of the land and how it got there! Halbrand is a lot sharper on this matter and suggests a compromise.
Galadriel is consigned to Elendil’s care, and this is a good thing because (shhhhhh) it turns out he’s an elf friend. Learning that there is a Hall of Lore, Elendil and Galadriel go on a breezy horseback ride along the beach that gives off serious “Eat, Pray, Lothlorien” vibes.
However their trip to the hall of lore is fruitful, introducing Elros, brother of Elrond, and some intel that reveals that the sigil that has so vexed Galadriel is really a map of Morder, including Mount Doom. The orcs are coming, and it’s up to her to stop them!
Meanwhile, Halbrand …well Halbrand. JEEBUS where to begin! I’ll admit when we first laid eyes on him, Halbrand seemed to be a fit valourous adventurer firmly in the Tuor/Beren/Aragorn (and Elendil) mold. But not all that glitters is gold! He is a real man of mystery. As he enters Armenelos, he spies a forge and immediately wants to fill out a job application.
This is about as obvious a suggestion that (SPOILERS) Halbrand is Sauron as you could make. Sauron is gonna forge (well mold really) some rings, get it? It’s so obvious that it has to be a red herring but…we’ll see?
Being based on a beloved 70 year old classic and all, there is a lack of suspense about some matters in Rings of Power, so the showrunners have added mysteries: who is Adar? Who is Meteor Man? Who is Halbrand? Where is Sauron? Lots of clues and false trails abound on all these, as we shall see.
While Galadriel and Elendil are off on their research project, Halbrand is prowling the city and stealing a guild badge from some local rednecks…which results in a classic alley beatdown…delivered by Halbrand in brutal, bone-breaking fashion. Not only a snoopy wanna be smithy, but a drunken master of fighting styles. Just who the heck is Halbrand? He is showing many signs of not being a very nice fellow at all.
Confronting Halbrand back in the local slammer, Galadriel clocks him as the king of the men of the Southland…those who fought for Morgoth. “I am not the hero you seek,” he tells her, but Galadriel points out that both their families were responsible for the war, and fighting the new Sauron threat might redeem them both. Nice callback there.
Meanwhile, back on the streets of Armenelos, we meet some other important characters: Elendil’s son, Isildur and his sister Earien. Isildur is canon and one of the most important characters in all of this. Eärien isn’t but…no one can say for sure if Elendil had daughters, As Tolkien himself noted, history mostly talks about men, and we don’t even know who Elendil’s wife was. At least her name is well formed: it’s Quenya for “Daughter of the Sea.”
Now, here I was terribly afraid that the introduction of Earien would lead to some Anarion erasure. I’m going to get to all the discrepancies in the notes, but in LotR Elendil has two sons, Isildur and Anarion – their names correspond to Moon and Sun, basically, and one founds Minas Ithil (later Minas Morgul) and the other Minas Anar (later Minas Tirith.) Anarion has less to do with the legendarium than Isildur because….well, he just doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be an intriguing character on his own.
The introduction of Eärien suggests more drama in the Elf-Friend family, but thankfully, the as yet unseen Anarion is mentioned in a later scene.
And here we come to the Second Great Whoa of this episode. Isildur and Eärien are engaging in japery with their teen buddies that is very much like something out of the OC. In a later scene, Isildur is trying to get out of graduating from boating school which really annoys Elendil, and was missing only a whiny mope about Taachi station. This tedious family squabble ends when Eärien comes running up exclaiming that she just got into engineering school – and it’s all total cringe. I like broody moody Isildur, but I honestly couldn’t care less about his troubles in sailing school or this “OC: Numenor” plotline.
The bit about the guilds is pretty much canon though. We learn in the other writings about Númenor that guilds were a very important part of life, so the idea that apprenticeship and membership was an important part of city life is very accurate.
As the episode ends we learn two more important things: Miriel’s father is alive in a tower, and she knows that Galadriel’s arrival means bad tidings for Númenor. In the final scene, Arondir is being taken before a hazily glimpsed Adar…who we will learn more about in a future episode.
RANDOM RUNES: (VERY VERY SERIOUS SPOILERS)
- The compression of the Second Age timeline that the show will use comes into focus here. In the Tale of the Years, Sauron forges his rings centuries before the fall of Númenor. Many many centuries: about 1600, leading to a whole War of the ELves and Sauron that goes on until 3319 when Numenor falls! It’s understandable that a tv show covering 1600+ years might be a stretch so this compression is unavoidable.
- However, the actual events that will lead to the fall of Númenor are scrambled quite a bit. In the books her father, Tar-Palantir, Miriel’s father, is indeed an Elf friend, but unrest over elf-man-Valar relations leads to a civil war in Numenor. Miriel should have ruled as queen but her COUSIN, Pharazon leads the rebellion, marrying Miriel against her will and ruling as Ar-Pharazon the Golden. It just so happens that Sauron is being kept prisoner on Nunemor at this time and leads Pharazon to some very black deeds that will have dire consequences for everyone. . In Rings of Power, Pharazon is Miriel’s advisor – Hand of the king you might say – but we’re going to learn more of his position in the next few episodes. Not sure how this is all going to play out, but Halbrand as Sauron would be the right man in the right place to make mischief – but if he were Sauron, surely he would be playing along with all of this to entrap everyone. As many red herrings as we’re being thrown, I think we can safely rule out Halbrand as Sauron.
- One thing that is in The Lord of the Rings: growing anti-Elf sentiment among the Numenoreans. For centuries, Elves would sail from Tol Eressea, an island not in Valinor but the normal world, and there was trade of goods and ideas. Gradually this relationship is supplanted by suspicion and closed borders – however Númenorean rage is mostly aimed at the VALAR and their eternal life. For you see, Númenor was founded by Elros, a half elven king who chose to live as a mortal man. You can see how dying while your friends dont’ might lead to tensions.
- Who is Meteor Man? Still unknown.
- Who is Adar? We’ll find out soon enough!
- Bear McCreary’s score continues to be the MVP.