Well, we’re finally here. Season one of Amazon’s mega-budget fantasy project, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has come to an end. And thankfully, it sticks the landing. The season was not without some issues, but overall I liked the journey quite a bit. The ending of this episode makes me yearn for season two that much more, as we get a lot of answers and payoff in this finale. So here’s the review for the season finale, as well as some thoughts on the season as a whole. Despite enjoying the episode, it did highlight some issues of the season at large, which I’ll address in this article as well.
The episode opens up with the Stranger walking into what will become Mirkwood and he’s eventually confronted by the three mystics, who kneel before him and declare their loyalty to Lord Sauron. Now as soon as this happened, I immediately thought “BS” and knew I had lost my bet with Fred. The framing, the delivery, it didn’t have that “oh snap!” kind of feel to it, which was a bit anti-climactic. But it makes sense, as The Stranger very much isn’t Sauron; the three Mystics got it wrong and ended up following one of the Istari, or Wizards, instead. Oops. While he’s never named in this episode, the show does strongly imply he’s Gandalf by the end of the episode. When Nori decides to join The Stranger on his quest, he tells her the direction they must head in by figuring out the scent trail, stating “when in doubt, always follow your nose”, which is exactly what Gandalf tells Merry in Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. But the door is also open for this being a common phrase of the wizards, as the duo head east to Rhûn, which is where Tolkien writes that the Blue Wizards went to weaken Sauron’s forces. But having a duo set forth on a clear path makes me more confident in this arc going forward than how it was presented this season.
Speaking of Sauron, we do get his actual reveal in this episode. If you know Tolkien’s lore, the signs were starting to build up over the episodes, but this one laid it on thick if you understand. Galadriel and Halbrand complete their six-day non-stop journey from the Southlands to Eregion in order for Halbrand to get elvish medicine. But that was probably a complete farce just so Halbrand to get inside the elven realm. Yes, Halbrand is Sauron, he has been this whole time. And just like the lore, he gets really chummy with Celebrimbor very quickly. He helps Celebrimbor with the task of trying to smelt the Mithril deposit into something that could harness great power in order to save the elves. Halbrand states that his knowledge is a “gift“. Later, when Celebrimbor drops the Mithril into the smelted dagger of silver and gold, the ore deposit makes a thin black slit in a circular vat of melted metals, looking exactly like the eye of Sauron for a moment. During a vision sequence with Galadriel and Halbrand, set in previous locations from the season, Sauron reveals he wanted Galadriel by his side to essentially “save” Middle-earth, stating he would make her would “a queen, fair as the sea and the Sun, stronger than the foundations of the earth”, which echoes Galadriel’s own speech in Fellowship, where she tells Frodo that taking the one would make her a “have a queen, not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn.” Basically, Galadriel was on a dark path and if she kept going, it likely would not have ended well for anyone and that tiny bit of darkness stayed in her, despite her later being known as the Lady of Light.
The Rings of Power has been driven heavily by its mystery box plots and episode eight, Alloyed, finally answers them. But it also felt like it was rushing to unbox them in this episode, while previous episodes could have been called slow. Galadriel also grew very suspicious of Halbrand, who was a trusted ally of hers up until his arrival at Eregion after Celebrimbor mentions the power of the Unseen World, something she knows Sauron has been experimenting with due to her investigations back in episode one. I do like how Sauron’s manipulation was so easy, as Galadriel did not question this guy at all, which in turn makes her look more the fool. Sidenote but, Galadriel instructs an elf to dig up the lineage of the Southlanders to unearth Halbrand’s identity and it’s revealed that the King’s line died out over 1000 years ago. But if it was recorded, why were the Southlanders chanting for his return in episode six?
Alloyed also finally gave us some rings of power. Despite the revelation that Halbrand is Sauron, the forging of the rings goes ahead and the elves are presented with three rings that, in theory, will allow them to combat the dark and stay in Middle-earth. Since Halbrand is revealed, I do wonder how Sauron will get involved with the forging of the seven and the nine, which he has a more direct hand in creating. My guess is that he’ll shapeshift into a new form, but wouldn’t the elves be super on their guard for strangers offering help considering what they know? We’ll see what happens but I’m not sure if revealing Sauron to the elves makes a lot of sense at this point. But I do feel like the struggle with the rings should have been more present this season, with more of Celebrimbor struggling and Gil-galad breathing down his neck and less of Theo, Bronwyn and Arondir. I think would have resulted in a tighter season with a sense of urgency and purpose.
That trio was absent from this episode and the episode was all the better for it. If we remove their part in the season, not much really changes. They were ultimately the point of view for the battle in the Southlands, but that’s basically why they were written. You can also remove the sword hilt from the narrative and just say that the volcano woke up with the rise of evil. So I’m hoping that season two will heavily scale back or even remove them from the story. It seems that the Harfoots will be removed from the second season, barring Nori, which should result in a more focused plotline, rather than being distracted by the culture of the Harfoots.
Unlike Theo and company, Durin and the dwarven plotline were absent and while their presence was missed, it didn’t feel like their story should have been included considering the weight of the other stories. Considering how much stronger the canon characters are than the non-canon ones, I hope we see more of the likes of Elrond and Durin in season two, as the dwarven arc was the highlight of the season to be sure.
We catch up a bit with the Númenor plot as well, with Queen Míriel returning home to find her father, the King, has passed. But before his death, King Palantir mistakes Eärien for his own daughter and opens the secret passage to the palantír in his tower. I wonder what this is setting up and if it ties into my potentially spoilery theory. Still, no reveal about Isildur’s whereabouts at this point though, which surprised me. But we do see Ar-Pharazôn lurking in the shadows, clearly distraught over the death of the king but also that the king had to die at all. Crucial setup for later.
Episode eight of The Rings of Power was full of revelations while leaving some things slightly ambiguous. When the episode concluded, with an awesome shot of Halbrand walking to Mount Doom likely sometime after the forging of the rings, I instantly wanted the second season. But I also looked back on the first season and saw ways that it could have been improved. The Rings of Power is now the bar for production design on TV and the show was well-acted, but I do think the writing was an inconsistent aspect of the season, despite the talent involved in the writers’ room. I hope season two has a tighter pace and a more direct story, with less mystery and less exposition. Regardless, I enjoyed this first season, and I hope the show releases on physical media as an extended edition (which may remedy some of my criticisms) and am excited for the second season. Thanks for reading everyone!