The year 2020 of the pre-pandemic age.
That January, before the world turned into the chaotic mess, Amazon revealed the full title of their Tolkien-inspired show–The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Since that announcement, much has transpired–for good and evil. Here follows the review of episodes one through three of The Rings of Power by Alexandra, first of her name, one-time trick-or-treating Galadriel, and major Tolkien nerd.
It arrived on Thursday, September 1–the season premiere. It is yet undecided if this chronicle should be the bane of my issue, a happy addition, or a tolerable exploration of Middle-earth preceding the birth of my High King crush, Aragorn. I cannot yet say whether this foray into the realm of the most expensive television season ever is precious to me. So before my sentiments fade into the recesses of my mind, making way for arguably more important information, I will beguile you with my critique.
Without further ado, let’s delve in, but not too deeply–we don’t want to awaken any trolls…internet trolls, that is. And I’m only going to say this once, so read closely:
THUS FOLLOWS MASSIVE SPOILERS
You’ve been warned–don’t @ me.
Episode One – “A Shadow of the Past”
The jump back into the world of elves, dwarves, men, and little folk began much like 2001’s Fellowship of the Ring–with narration by Galadriel. With the premiere episode of The Rings of Power, we got a full 17 minutes of footage and backstory about the future Lady of Light and what it was like when Morgoth was the head baddie. For those unfamiliar with Tolkien’s The Silmarillion–a sort of LotR prequel–Morgoth is so evil that Sauron is his underling. So, yeah, it’s a bad sitch. To provide context, The Silmarillion deals with the First Age and the initial fight “against the great Enemy.”
From the get-go, well, actually, in the credits, Amazon informs us the show is “based on The Lord of the Rings and appendices by J.R.R. Tolkien,” which I appreciate. The phrase “based on” gives showrunners wiggle room and instructs viewers not to assume what they’re about to see will meet their high literary expectations. As a die-hard with much love for Peter Jackson’s majestic three-peat masterpiece, I went into The Rings of Power with eyes wide open.
There was much action, fighting, and sorrow to behold in the first episode. We learn of Galadriel’s vendetta against Morgoth and all the forces of darkness as she seeks revenge for the death of her older brother and others lost over the centuries of war.
But aside from battle, we are introduced to some new things:
- Snow trolls;
- Galadriel as the rebellious thorn in King Gil-Galad’s side (and close friends with Elrond, her future son-in-law);
- And harfoots, which are one of the three breeds of hobbits.
Palpable racism and prejudice are returning elements. These elements were portrayed in the OG trilogy mostly between elves and dwarves. But, as we all know, Legolas and Gimli ended up setting aside their differences and becoming BFFs. Also, coupling between humans and elves is A) frowned upon [i.e., racism and prejudice], and B) allegedly “ends poorly,” with a character implying the female counterpart and mixed offspring typically die in childbirth.
This last detail struck me as strange, as Elrond Half-elven is alive and kicking, albeit slightly looked down on (his grandfather was a human who wed an elvish princess). Now, the dialogue regarding such a melting pot concern was directed at Arondir, an elf soldier stationed in Middle-earth. Arondir has a thing for a human woman named Bronwyn. There are heavy overtones they’ve acted on their mutual feelings because of some *tension,* but also because, of course, Bronwyn has a teenage son whose skin is a convenient mixture of the elf’s and the human’s, AND his overgrown hair is ALWAYS covering his ears…methinks, there is something slightly pointy afoot, or an-ear.
At this time, I’d like to address my gripes. As a passionate, decades-long fan of The Lord of the Rings, I am compelled to point out some things that were surely intentional and perhaps ill-advised and others that I think were not intended. So, just as something happened to the Ring of Power that it did not intend, maybe some things occurred in The Rings of Power that showrunners did not intend.
Similarities to GoT
Let’s get this one out of the way first, as it is especially grievous to me, considering the earlier release of the Game of Thrones prequel show on HBO–House of the Dragon.
In my opinion, the sweeping map views in Rings are strikingly akin to the long opening of Game of Thrones. Amazon could have maintained the look of actual maps from the feature-length films, but alas, they dove headfirst into the computer-generated maps that bring about recollections of Winterfell and King’s Landing.
Grey Worm & Arondir–Are they one and the same?
Arondir, the heartsick-for-human elf soldier, is almost a carbon copy of Grey Worm from GoT. Awkward, stoic, and mission-driven, this elf looks like Grey Worm too–close-cropped hair, practically expressionless face, same skin tone–and, honestly, carries himself in a very similar manner.
A man has no face..or he has two
And, we have the actor who portrayed a young Ned Stark playing a young Elrond Half-elven. Of course, acting is a job, and you take the jobs you can get, but I find this suspect when added to the other GoT coincidences and similarities.
Mirroring the OG Trilogy
Okay, here, we’re looking at echoed scenes and copied dialogue.
Sword-climbing & Stair-sliding
I think we all remember the scene from 2002’s The Two Towers when Legolas skated down a stone staircase at Helm’s Deep on an Uruk Hai shield–a crude Pavise or Wall Shield. Such skater boy vibes. Well, with that image in mind, plus Legolas running up the cave troll’s chain in Fellowship of the Ring during their Moria tomb battle, imagine this:
Galadriel and her company of elf soldiers in the far northern reaches of Middle-earth fighting a snow troll in a dark tomb-like setting. Then, Galadriel runs up a companion’s long sword blade to dispatch the foe (see video below).
Galadriel’s theatrics are slightly over-the-top, like her predecessor’s future scene. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, just a subtle mimicry of existing direction and acting.
Then, toward the end of the episode, Bronwyn’s son, Theo, of mysterious parentage, is mesmerizingly holding a broken sword’s hilt, which is very clearly an evil weapon. (P.S. The name “Theo” is one letter away from being “Theon,” as in, Theon Greyjoy of GoT notoriety.)
As he runs his finger up the severed blade’s edge, he–*gasp*–cuts his finger. This is almost a carbon copy of Boromir’s “it’s still sharp” experience with the shards of Narsil. The only difference is that the boy isn’t embarrassed, nor is his action observed by a reading ranger.
As for the dialogue, copying was blatant, which leads me to believe it was intentional. But we cannot assume that someone, even script writers, always do things designedly.
Early in the episode, an elf asks, “What devilry is this?” which harkens to Boromir’s question posed to Gandalf the Grey in Dwarrowdelf: “What is this new devilry?” All I can imagine is the writers hoped we’d fan-girl/boy over the mirrored phrasing. Other dialogue mimicry exists, but I think one example suffices for now.
This section is uber brief because I only have one glaring annoyance, which lies with the harfoots.
Their extremely primitive nature and practically deathwish-esque naivety drove me crazy. I didn’t find them endearing like the sheltered hobbits of LotR, but somewhat overdone in their simplicity. And the main harfoot–Nori–is annorying. Yes, I amended the word annoying to be more fitting to the character.
Nori’s eagerness for bigger and better and her defiance of all rules are not cute attributes but irksome, in my opinion. I pray that as the season progresses, so too does Nori’s character–in all ways.
There have also been some online comparisons between Nori and Frodo. I can’t deny their comparable physical appearances. However, everything else about these two characters is separated by an expanse exceeding the breadth of the Sundering Seas.
After viewing the season premiere, I can confidently say several aspects garnered my appreciation.
With yet another phenomenal main title theme, Howard Shore’s return to Middle-earth has lit the proverbial beacon. Howard has no chill. He goes hard, setting the stage for fellow composer Bear McCreary to bring the rural countryside, ethereal elven realms, jewel-ridden depths, and blackened heart of evil to life. Taking note of Shore’s previous voyages to Middle-earth, McCreary’s compositions for The Rings of Power do not disappoint.
The casting of Morfydd Clark to follow in the hallowed footsteps of Cate Blanchett’s radiant Galadriel was well done, even though I think I would’ve been a shoo-in had anyone seen my Galadriel get-up from Halloween 2002. But alas the photograph eludes me still.
Location, location, location
And the show was filmed in New Zealand, which is the closest we’ll ever get to Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The diverse and otherworldly landscape of a two-island country belongs to a dream, a dream of shining swords, hearty pints, the fastest horses (eat your heart out Faster Horses), and the most amazing long hair, which our young Elrond is missing, but I won’t get into that.
As you can see, I have many thoughts on this particular blog topic. So many that I didn’t even get to covering episodes two or three. For today, I leave you with these words regarding the premiere: The Rings of Power is watchable and even enjoyable. But, as my rule of thumb goes–I can’t make a proper assessment until after consuming at least three episodes. So, I will withhold my unbridled opinion until after sharing my thoughts on the two following episodes, “Adrift” and “Adar.”
Coming up next:
Monday, September 19
You guessed it–my thoughts on Rings episodes two & three
One response to “Organized Rambling: The Rings of Power”
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