The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been a dialogue-heavy show for the first five episodes. There have been small bouts of quick action here and there, true, but the lengthy episodes have largely been dedicated to exposition and character development thus far. That changed in episode six, aptly titled Udûn, which is the most action-packed, and best, episode to date.
Unlike previous episodes, which bounced around Middle-earth numerous times in any given episode, Udûn takes place almost entirely within the Southlands and sees Arondir as the episode’s sole point of view character. Yes, characters like Galadriel, Bronwyn and Halbrand do have parts to play, but we see most of the events of this episode through his elven eyes. Adar has come and the tiny villagers must hold him off and fight for their lands. Unknown to both Adar and the Southlanders, the Númenóreans ride to their aid. I like how while the Southlanders are being besieged during the nighttime, the Númenórean cavalry charges ahead at daybreak, showcasing the distance they must travel.
The episode had strong parallels to the Battle of Helm’s Deep from The Two Towers. A superior force of Orcs, or Uruks as we may start calling them now, pins down a group of non-combatants, composed of elders, women and men. The odds are stacked against them, but they’re fighting for their lands and their lives, whereas Adar and his company are fighting for power, or so it seems. It’s a pretty intense conflict, with the orcs once again being terrifying and fearsomely strong. Just one was giving Arondir a hard time and the practical effects give them a tangibility not seen in The Hobbit. Black blood sprays and gushes and one scene, in particular, harkens to the horror genre. It’s wildly entertaining and well shot and since the orcs are scary now, there’s a sense of dread and fear in the air.
Adar’s plan comes to light in this episode. He gives the recovered sword hilt to Waldreg and tells him to go to the old watchtower, all while he seemingly flees the conflict and lures Galadriel and Halbrand away. Adar is captured, but not before being confronted by Halbrand, who asks Adar if he recognizes him. Adar states he doesn’t and asks if he had killed someone Halbrand loved in the past. I very much don’t think this is the case. More on that in a second.
Galadriel orders Halbrand to keep Adar alive for questioning and we learn that Adar was the first orc (he prefers Uruk) during the First Age. Experimentations on elves would eventually create the Orc race, which is why Adar (which means father in Elvish) sees his followers as kin as opposed to slaves, as Galadriel calls them. Filmed using a lot of Dutch angles to create a sense of uneasiness, he reveals that he grew weary and frustrated that Sauron would experiment on his orcs without concern, so he “killed” Sauron and initiated the contingency plan himself to give the orcs a home where they can travel without fear of the sun. Caring for orcs is a new concept for Middle-earth, as they were generally seen as canon fodder for the heroes to kill without having any conflicts morally. While not much has changed in that department, it is interesting to know that there is at least one who does care so much about the orcs and is trying to help them. Makes Adar seem more tragic as opposed to evil while also making Galadriel’s revenge quest seem slightly more heinous. Adar also clings onto his Elvish traditions, as evident by him planting seeds before battle, something Arondir tells Bronwyn. Upon Galadriel and Halbrand’s departure from the barn, Adar, with a bit more concern this time in his tone, asks Halbrand who he is. Halbrand refuses to answer. Sidenote, but Sauron’s experimentations involve the Unseen World, which will eventually result in the Ringwraiths through the use of the Nine Rings.
Halbrand is later revealed to Bronwyn and the Southlanders to be their King, returned from exile. The timing of this couldn’t be better, or worse depending on what’s to come. The odds of Halbrand being Sauron jumped up quite a bit this episode I’d say. Adar can say he killed Sauron all he wants, but we know this isn’t the case. We also know Sauron is a shapeshifter, so he could be using the face of Halbrand to hide his true face. With Adar thinking he killed Sauron, he begins to question who Halbrand really is and doubt creeps in. Being declared King of the Southlands (Mordor) mere minutes before Waldreg triggers the eruption of Mount Doom is certainly something that almost guarantees this revelation. The explosion itself was spectacular and rivaled blockbuster disaster movies, even if it was only a few minutes long. But I did like the buildup, watching the water flow, earth shake and pressure build and break through the water. I like that the orc tunnels we saw weren’t just for transportation, but also funnels from the river to the volcano.
I do wonder how so many characters will survive though. Galadriel faces the volcanic plum head-on but we know she survives, but the pyroclastic flow from a volcano can get as hot as 800 degrees celsius. Maybe we have to suspend disbelief, but I’m not sure how that’s going to fly. And in case you were wondering, Udûn is actually just another name for Utumno, which is Morgoth’s fortress from the First Age and is what the orcs chant as the volcano erupts. They’re chanting the return of their dark lair essentially.
In the end, episode six was an action packed episode that still made sure to include important character development. It showcased that this show is capable of very engaging action sequences with plenty of spectacle and is the promise of what this show will be able to do in seasons to come when armies clash and major events happen. Focusing on one location worked well for the show, as it had a tight focus and a clear objective. This episode could have easily been a finale or penultimate, but we still have two episodes left, so I wonder where this show will go next after gaining so much momentum. Check in next week to find out!
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