The following article contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Do not read until you have seen episodes one to three …
All quiet on the Westlands front
It’s been a funny old week in Middle-earth. I was aware earlier in the year that the trailer for RoP, which first featured the diverse cast, well and truly angered the very worst people, but hadn’t realised to what extent that narrative would hang over the series. It is now impossible to view it without thinking along political lines (are elves leftwing now?) or wondering what sort of reaction a character or storyline might provoke in people I wish it were possible to ignore. Hat tip to the original LotR cast and Amazon for releasing strong statements this week. The very fact they had to do so shames us all.
Apples and pears
We opened almost where we left off last week, with elven dreamboat Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), now captured by the orcs. Turns out those cockney savages have been busy, imprisoning maybe hundreds of people, former members of Arondir’s elven watch among them. Why they need a whole camp full of workers will become clearer as the series goes on, but I’d say it’s pretty nailed on that they’re constructing Mordor, ready for Sauron’s return. (Look at a map of the Southlands – it’s pretty much where Mordor turns out to be.)
We get a good taste of orc personality – they don’t make for great foremen and need sunblock – and see the elves attempt to escape, which ends in tragedy. And finally, we see Adar for the first time (albeit blurrily). His name, which apparently roughly translates as “Father”, suggests he’s lord of the orcs – whether he turns out to be Sauron in human form, another entirely different character or merely a decoy remains to be seen.
As the captured elves know, Sauron is out there, hiding. In the books, in his guise as Annatar, he spent time among the elves, gaining their trust and sharing knowledge before manipulating Celebrimbor into forging the rings – the eponymous bling of the TV title. Of course, the series has to reinvent that plot, as, aside from any rights reasons, they can’t have a character called Annatar rolling around without immediately giving the game away. So, he or she will be hiding. Be vigilant.
To the island kingdom for the first time on screen, where we met Elendil (Lloyd Owen) and his children Isildur (Maxim Baldry) and Eärien (Ema Horvath). We quickly learn that while the island was a gift from the Valar to reward men for standing alongside the elves in their war with Morgoth, Númenóreans now despise elves, leaving Galadriel in great danger.
She is then granted an audience with the hostile Queen-Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle). “Name thyself,” demands terrible Míriel. “Galadriel of the Noldor, daughter of the Golden House of Finarfin, commander of the northern armies of the High King Gil-galad,” comes our heroine’s response. I bet Míriel wishes she never asked. Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), meanwhile, seems taken aback. Is he impressed? Or did he know of that mouthful of a title already?
It is finally agreed that Halbrand and Galadriel will stay for a few days, but they can’t resist getting into trouble. We do, at least, get to find out a bit more about the noble sea captain Elendil. Plus he gets a fancy new blade, and with Galadriel, cracks the code of that sigil. It wasn’t a secret emblem, but a map.
Halbrand, though … what is it with this guy? Last week he says his people have no king and leaves his companions to drown; this week, he’s stealing, eyeing up blacksmiths and breaking arms in back alleys. I have my suspicions about this Southlander, so I’ll come right out and say it. I think he’s Sauron in human form, not, as Galadriel now thinks, the heir to a throne in the Southlands and the man to unite the tribes of the south under one banner (Aragorn, much?).
I know we get a glimpse of Adar as the episode closes, but I think that’s a red herring. Ultimately, Sauron’s alter ego is probably going to form a giant plot point of the show. Halbrand, showing up as he did, all good-looking and rugged, was my favourite fit, particularly considering his chemistry with Galadriel, the person who hates Sauron more than anyone. Halbrand’s interest in befriending blacksmiths also adds fuel to this particular fire. But, maybe he is just after a weapon in order to escape? Or, possibly less likely, maybe he has a genuine interest in flux and smelting?
A mixed episode, all told. At times painfully slow and uneventful; at others, action-packed and intense. The scenes of the elves being held by the orcs and their near escape were standouts, and it was a joy to see Númenor in all its splendour, but I could really have lived without the slow-motion horse riding and harfoot caravans, which felt like glossy, whimsical padding. I know the harfoots are there for light relief among the political wrangling, but, just like the Brandyfoots with their busted caravan, this storyline needs to pick up the pace. Hopefully now they are all aware of The Stranger, that can happen.
Largely, I like what’s happening, but it just takes a bit too long to do so. That said, think back to the first 90 minutes of The Fellowship of the Ring, or all those songs in The Return of the King. If you’re looking for rip-roaring action, perhaps Tolkien adaptations are not for you.
A few losses this week, namely watchwarden Revion (Simon Merrells) and Arondir’s mate Médhor (Augustus Prew). Fans of the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy might recognise Prew – he played Ali, angry son of Rachel Weisz’s character Rachel.
Notes and observations
Fans of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles may recognise Lloyd Owen, who plays Elendil here – he starred as Dr Jones Sr in eight episodes of the show, which ran between 1992 and 1993. He also appeared in Monarch of the Glen.
That sword Elendil is given by Míriel is, you guessed it, Narsil, forged in the First Age by dwarven smith Telchar of Nogrod. In a few years time, the sword (in a broken state) will be the one Isildur uses to cut the Ruling ring from Sauron’s finger.
Thinking about the construction of Mordor, I am hoping for a DIY SOS-style run through the build, complete with a full hour dedicated to how Sauron crafted the Black Gate. Given the pace of the series so far, I wouldn’t rule it out.
The actor playing Adar (not 100% just yet, although it looked very like him) is Joseph Mawle. We last saw him as Benjen Stark in Game of Thrones, riding in to rescue Jon Snow after he had fallen into that icy water and missed his dragon taxi back to Winterfell.
Interesting to note that if you fall behind in a harfoot migration, you are left behind. They might be cute, but they are ruthless.
Eärien has been accepted to the builders’ guild. Nice to see Ucas operating in Middle-earth.
Mana Hira Davis, who played one of Halbrand’s assailants in the alley, is a New Zealand stuntman who performed stunts and played various soldiers and an Uruk-hai in Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
What did you think? Any more idea who The Stranger is? And Halbrand? Have your say below …