It’s been something of an interesting journey for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The rumoured almost one billion-dollar production has been met with skepticism (from yours truly), uncertainty and even hate from all sectors of the fandom. While I won’t understand hating something so passionately before it even debuts, I do know why fans have been so skeptical over the series. The Rings of Power is being fronted by two untested showrunners with one IMDb credit to their name prior to landing this gig and they’re essentially adapting footnotes of a book, as opposed to a completed narrative. There’s also the fact that Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings are considered to be near-perfect films and are beloved by so many fans, so the show has had something of an uphill battle. But despite this, many fans, including myself have also been hopeful that the show would be able to deliver on its many promises. So, how do I feel now that I’ve seen the first two episodes? Let’s find out.
The Rings of Power features stories and characters spread out across thousands of miles. The anchor for this tale is arguably Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel, who unlike Cate Blanchette’s serene but terrifying stoic leader, is a brash warrior commander. She’s been hunting down the remnants of Morgoth’s armies since the War of Wrath concluded and is convinced further evil still lies out there in the form of Sauron. But she can’t find hard evidence to prove her claim, which alienates her from her fellow elves. The show bounces between her tale to the Harfoots (precursors to the hobbits) and a mysterious stranger who crash lands on earth from the sky; the elves and humans in the Southlands such as Arrondir, Bronwyn and Theo, the elves of Lindon-led by Gil-galad and anchored by Elrond, and the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm (best known to Lord of the Rings fans as Moria), where we find the likes of Durin IV and Dissa. That’s a lot to take in, and it’s not even counting in Númenor, who aren’t present in the first two episodes but will play a huge role in the overall story to come. It’s a lot to keep track of, but the show does a good job of balancing these stories.
So let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Rings of Power definitely looks and feels like the most expensive TV show ever made. With sweeping vistas, stunning backdrops and impressive costume design, it was easy to forget that this was a pair of TV show episodes and not a film. The production and art design are stellar and I wish I could go to the cinema to see this every week. I’ve been a bit critical of the production of The House of the Dragon and its overuse of CGI and while there’s plenty of that in Rings of Power, the effects from Weta and ILM blend quite seamlessly with the practical photography. It quite literally dwarves (heh) all other productions on television. It also feels in line with Jackson’s films, while also doing its own thing. Sauron, who shows up but for the briefest of moments, is instantly recognizable despite some tweaks to his design. I also really enjoyed the music from Bear McCreary, who channels Howard Shore’s iconic score while very much doing his own thing with the music. It’s epic, but also humble at times.
Language was a big part of Tolkien’s passion. He created language and was aware of dialects and speech patterns based on geography and creed. Rings of Power actually taps into this by making the dialogue almost poetic and metaphorical for a good chunk of the runtime. It definitely won’t be for everyone, as sometimes it seems characters are talking about nothing or that sentences go on longer than needed, but for those looking for a more authentic Tolkien script, the show’s dialogue actually taps into this quite well I found. I particularly liked Celebrimbor’s anecdote about Fëanor’s hammer and the Silmarils. It should be noted that the first episode leans heavily into exposition and may be slow for some viewers, especially those unfamiliar with Middle-earth. Episode two does pick it up in terms of pacing and I hope that the rest of the season builds on that momentum.
A sense of darkness and dread lingers over all of the stories set across Middle-earth. Galadriel continues to hunt for orcs but finds no direct clues to their whereabouts. Elf king Gil-galad believes the threat to be over and sends Galadriel to the Gray Havens as a reward for her servitude, a gift she naturally rejects at the last minute. Elsewhere, Harfoot leader Sadoc Burrows notices strangeness in the stars and in their migration pattern, which starts to spook him, while lands end up poisoned in the South and it’s not too long before a village is burned and we see our first orc up close. Unlike The Hobbit, which used CG orcs, Rings of Power uses practical effects for its orcs, who are utterly terrifying. A neat touch was the use of a bone helmet to shield the orc from the sun-I very much appreciate that attention to detail.
There’s a mix of original characters written by Tolkien, such as Elrond, Gil-galad and Galadriel and original characters created by the Rings of Power team, such as Nori, Arrondir and Halbrand. I’m intrigued by almost all of them but I didn’t fall in love with any of them the way I did when watching Fellowship of the Ring, where I think it’s safe to say we all became fans of the hobbits and Gandalf almost right away. But this is a TV series and it is taking its time so I don’t expect the characters to grab hold as quick. I’m invested largely in Galadriel’s story and, surprisingly, the Harfoot’s story surrounding the amnesiac stranger (calling it now, he’s Sauron), but I’m still curious to see where the Southlands story arc goes. Of all the characters in the show, my favourite is probably the combination of Durin IV and Dissa, who squabble like the old married couple they are. I legitimately laughed out loud. I do hope characters like Arrondir and Bronwyn can as well, as their story does seem interesting and we’ll see how the Númenoreans fair next week (the plotline I’m most intrigued for).
In a world where Game of Thrones was written to be the anti-Tolkien in a way, full of morally dubious characters and scheming politics, Rings of Power keeps things simple. This is a tale of good versus evil, light versus dark, and hope versus despair. In that sense, it may seem simple in 2022. I say it’s a nice change of pace and one of the strengths of the show is that it doesn’t attempt to modernize itself narratively. I’m very much on board can’t wait for episode three, but do hope the series keeps it locked firmly on the Sauron plot and doesn’t deviate too much from it. So far, everything has been in direct or indirect service of this and that’s great, but treading too far would be risky. As a wishlist note, I do hope this show gets released on physical media and in keeping with the Jackson films, gets an extended cut version.