Despite a slow start, The Rings of Power will have you hooked.
No one can deny that The Lord of the Rings is a genre-defining piece of work, with JRR Tolkien’s literary epic setting the bar for imagination and world-building in the fantasy genre for years to come. Since 1954, the lore of Middle-earth has become the obsession of many (myself included), and now finally, eight years after Peter Jackson’s last Hobbit movie, another entry to the beloved franchise is hitting our screens – Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power.
Telling the story of the Second Age, set thousands of years before the events of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, The Rings of Power is a TV series that brings to life the backstory of the ‘One Ring to rule them all’, and explains how Sauron, the ultimate villain of the saga, solidified his position as the most threatening force in Middle-earth.
Packed with stunning costumes, powerful performances, and plenty of familiar characters, there is a lot to love about the first two episodes of The Rings of Power. On an aesthetic level, it is a totally worthy addition to Tolkien’s stunning work, but storytelling-wise, does The Rings of Power really live up to the high standards we all expect from this IP? Well, the answer to that particular question is: it’s complicated.
If you are a Lord of the Rings fanatic (such as myself) who has read The Silmarillion and knows far too much about the First and Second Age of Middle-earth, be warned – you are going to have to let go of the canon while watching The Rings of Power.
You have to accept Amazon’s fantasy drama series for what it is: a show using Tolkien’s work as a guideline, not a straight adaptation. The Rings of Power condenses events and characters of the Second Age, which in Tolkien’s notes span for over three thousand years, into an overlapping timeline.
Details such as Ungoliant (aka the galaxy-sized spider), and all of Morgoth’s evil doings were mostly skipped over in the first episode, despite Galadriel’s voiceover in the opening scene of the series, giving us exposition to the past events that led to the current state of the world. If anything, the lack of in-depth lore from the start of the show is a sign of what is to come, and fully reminds us that The Rings of Power is its own entity that new fans of the IP can easily follow.
However, Amazon’s narrative decision couldn’t completely save The Rings of Power’s beginning from pacing issues. Despite the timeline of the Second Age condensing, there was still the feeling of the show being unfocused and disjointed. From the get-go, we meet four storylines with different characters taking place in different settings across the aged hand-drawn map of Middle-earth.
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Firstly, there are the Harfoot Hobbits who meet a mysterious man known only as The Stranger. Then there is Galadriel on her mission to eradicate all evil. We have Elrond and the dwarven prince Durin IV starting a new collaboration. And finally, there is the forbidden love between the elf Arondir and the human woman Bronwyn born from the East.
All these stories are exciting in their own right, but there is nothing truly tying these protagonists together yet. This is primarily because, unfortunately, Sauron just isn’t the big bad that we know from The Lord of The Rings. He isn’t set up as the ‘common enemy’… at least not right now. In The Rings of Power, we are told that the world is still getting over Morgoth (Sauron’s master and the original Dark Lord), and evil itself is thought by everyone to just be a bad memory. The world is calm, and there is peace.
While some odd things are happening, such as cows producing black milk, there is no intimidating force or antagonist to keep us captivated because, let’s be honest, no one but Galadriel, who holds a personal grudge against Sauron for killing her brother, is taking The Dark Lord seriously. And why should they? Where is the threat of danger yet? The answer is: nowhere in episode 1, really.
Instead of building up the plot and contextualising the immense power of Sauron, episode 1 of The Rings of Power indulges in establishing its timeline, new characters, and travelling around Tolkien’s map. Now you could complain about my above point, and highlight the fact that world-building is important for any fantasy venture, and while you are right, tension and a story’s hook shouldn’t be forgotten in the process of doing so.
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As mentioned above, Rings of Power doesn’t introduce Sauron with magnitude; the world feels far too calm during the pilot episode, resulting at points in the show feeling, dare I say, dull at times? OK, now that my rant is over, let’s talk about the positives with The Rings of Power because at the end of the day, I was still excited about what this series has to offer for all of us Tolkien fans.
As much as I have critiques for episode 1, I can honestly say that episode 2 of The Rings of Power got me hooked. In the second episode, action, thrills, and a bit of horror keep you on the edge of your seat at all times. And finally, after an hour or so of waiting, we have enough tension to keep us watching with or without the overt threat of Sauron. Mysteries are popped up, Orcs make an appearance, and characters start to progress with their goals instead of relaying to us all their backstories.
It should also be said that the new characters Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), and Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) are surprisingly the standouts of the series so far, again, especially in episode 2. They are the storyline with the most urgency and action. They actually get the ball rolling in terms of unsettling the norm by exposing to their village that orcs and evil forces aren’t a forgotten memory like many believed. The chemistry and acting of the trio are also fantastic, and it is easy to fall into feelings of immersion thanks to the talented cast ensemble.
Similarly, Morfydd Clark as Galadriel has been a surprise hit, capturing the majesty, nobility, but also the pain associated with one of the wisest characters in Tolkien’s world – now turned badass warrior. Clark builds on the Galadriel that we know without destroying the personality, demeanour and character of Cate Blanchett from Peter Jackson’s trilogy. In short, the beloved character lives up to expectations while also feeling fresh and new.
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Then there is also the fact that the entirety of The Rings of Power is visually stunning so far. From the Dwarfish kingdom of Khazad-dûm, to the sprawling green hills and elegant Elf city of Lindon, Amazon has managed to create a fantastical wonder. Middle-earth has never looked grander or better than it does now.
All in all, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t love The Rings of Power or that I’m not incredibly excited to see where it goes, especially after episode 2 raised the stakes, and now storylines are moving along full steam ahead. But equally, I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that I was also a tad disappointed by the series’ pacing issues or that I’m not a bit worried about the approach to how Amazon will continue to condense the Second Age timeline.
So far, thousands of years have melded into one, and while it is understandable for adaptation reasons, I’m still nervous as a Tolkien fan about how far removed the show will become from the original story due to that decision (where is Celeborn?). But I am also terribly excited to dive into episode 3 and discover where Amazon intends to take this beloved IP next.
Episodes 1 and 2 of The Rings of Power hit Amazon Prime on September 2, 2022.