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Photo: ‘The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power’ Episode 8
So ends the first season of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’: Amazon’s massive, eight-episode, $715 million dollar endeavor to kick off their own ‘Game of Thrones’ level, signature fantasy series for Amazon Prime. Few first seasons of television have ever faced such an outsized confluence of global fan expectations, critical scrutiny, and prodigious financial investment. These pressures increase when considering the relatively tepid reception of Amazon’s last major foray into large-scale fantasy TV in ‘The Wheel of Time’. With so much riding on the success of this unprecedented prequel series, anything less than a global phenomenon would likely be considered an abject failure. And while the jury is undoubtedly still out on that front, Season 1 of ‘Rings of Power’ is still a technological marvel that balances heart, humor, awe, and horror, across the gorgeous, gargantuan canvas of Tolkienian lore – all in all, making it a worthy return to Middle Earth.
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An Unexpected Journey
First-time showrunners and show creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, have chosen to set their prequel series in the Second Age of Middle Earth, thousands of years before the events of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of The Rings’ books/movies. The multi-narrative, globe-spanning, ensemble approach that Payne and McKay employ in framing the show’s story, is one of its strongest, and most identifiable qualities. As in all of Tolkien’s tales, the journey incorporates the different perspectives of the various races that exist in Middle Earth: Elves, Men, Dwarves, Wizards, and Harfoots (an itinerant tribe of beings who eventually become the better-known Hobbits) among them. ‘Rings of Power’, is specifically interested in detailing the origins of the growing evil forces these cultures will be forced to unite against in the near future. But notably, the show is also concerned with displaying just how close so many of our favorite characters came to succumbing to the seductive power of Sauron and his burgeoning empire of shadow.
The Harfoots & The Stranger
One of the show’s main storylines that gets significant resolution and clarification in Season 1, Episode 8 titled, ‘Alloyed’, is the charming adventure of Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), her tribe of diminutive nomads The Harfoots, and their mysterious companion known only as The Stranger (Daniel Weyman). This enigmatic character entered the show when he, quite literally, fell to Middle Earth from the night sky back in Season 1 Episode 1 ‘A Shadow of the Past’. Leading up to the finale, a huge amount of fan speculation had been bubbling around the fact that the show had thus far, withheld the true identity of this primordial Bearded being from above. The first half of the episode falsely confirms that The Stranger has been the Dark Lord Sauron reborn, all along. This reveal is ultimately a red herring, designed to throw the audience off the scent of Sauron’s true identity, just before the future lord of Mordor is officially unmasked later on in the finale.
Using a clever self-referential storytelling device, the show addresses The Stranger’s concealed identity by giving Daniel Weyman a handful of recognizable lines from the Peter Jackson directed ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy to utter on screen such as, “When in doubt Elanor Brandyfoot, always follow your nose”. This pointed quotation serves to all but confirm that he is, in fact, the one and only, Gandalf the Grey. With this mystery ostensibly solved, Nori Harfoot decides to continue in the great Tolkienian tradition of little folk wandering off into great adventures alongside sagacious Wizards, by leaving the Harfoots to set off with The Stranger, aka Gandalf. This leads to a heartbreaking farewell scene between Nori and her eternally loyal friend Poppy (Megan Richards), which evoked Sam and Frodo’s tearful parting at The Grey Havens in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’.
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‘The Rings of Power’ – Fellowship
‘Rings of Power’ flourishes when it is actively delivering on one of Tolkien’s fundamental themes, which is the notion of Fellowship. The unlikely brotherhood, shared between Elrond Half-Elven (Robert Aramayo) and the dwarven Prince Durin of Khazad-dum, (Owain Arthur) is built on a mixture of mirthful competition and occasionally devastating moments of emotional intimacy. Additively, any scene centered around the trio of Elrond, Durin, and Durin’s rambunctious wife Disa (Sophia Nomvete), never fails to add some much-needed levity and humor to any given episode.
Another standout relationship in Season 1, is the tender bond of friendship that binds Elrond and Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) together. Getting to see how deep the connection between these two immortal characters truly goes, is an immensely fulfilling phenomenon for long-time fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Aramayo and Clark utterly inhabit these characters. Their carefully pitched portrayals of these Elven heroes, ends up elucidating even the most dedicated of fans, on the interior motivations of these seemingly infallible beings, and what truly led them to becoming who they are when we meet them in ‘The Lord of The Rings’. The quality writing, combined with the refined character work being done by the consistently stellar cast, gives the show a human dimension that keeps the personal and emotional stakes of the story, front, and center.
I See You
The equally unlikely Human/Elf duo of Galadriel and Halbrand played by Charlie Vickers, provided the narrative backbone of the entire series in Season 1. Like The Stranger, Halbrand’s true identity, as well as his allegiances, were opaque during the first seven episodes. But in this week’s episode directed by Wayne Yip, Galadriel’s suspicions are aroused, leading her to confront Halbrand in a darkly surreal, mind-invasion sequence that forces him at long last, to speak his true name clearly to her: Sauron. The scene puts a devastating cap on Galadriel’s Season 1 arc. At this moment, she must confront the unshakable reality, that by continuing to forge ahead on her relentless crusade of revenge for her brother’s death, she has inadvertently aided and abetted the rise of the very enemy she swore to destroy. This ominous confrontation also sets the stage for the Armies of Numenor to return to Middle Earth, and fight alongside Galadriel against Sauron and his legions of Mordor in future seasons.
Three Rings for The Elven Kings
The final episode of this inaugural season of television also features the creation of the initial three, titular, Rings of Power. The great Elven craftsman Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), along with Elrond and Galadriel, (aided by the deviously useful council of Sauron still posing as Halbrand), forges these three rings of power by combining the miraculous dwarven ore of Mithiril with an alloy of heavenly silver and gold from the Elven paradise of Valinor. The foreboding forging of these powerful pieces of enchanted jewelry, visually and tonally, end up strongly echoing the prologue of ‘The Fellowship of The Ring.’ The swirling cauldron of fire where Celebrimbor mixes the ring’s fundamental elements, takes on the unmistakable shape of the fiery eye of Sauron. This scene felt distinctly like a moment of the original sin committed by the Elves; one for which even characters with the purest intentions like Elrond, could not resist the dark allure of.
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The Road Goes Ever, On and On
The sheer breadth of storytelling that ‘Rings of Power’ manages to put on screen is the series’ most dazzling formal quality. From the depths of the Misty Mountains, to the hallowed shores of Numenor, to the recently-scorched hellscape of the land Mordor, the show is simply unparalleled in terms of the scale of its world creation in the television space. But endlessly detailed worlds can only hold our attention only for so long if the characters that live in them fail to resonate with us. Luckily, this season delivered a varied cast of characters, worthy of love, disdain, and fascination for the fans.
It is admittedly difficult not to take a somewhat cynical outlook on this show. On the surface ‘Rings of Power’ could appear to be little more than yet another soulless adaptation of classic intellectual property, buoyed by an obscene visual effects budget, and funded by a monolithic corporation for one of the many, creatively indistinguishable streaming services. But whether the show works or not, one cannot claim that its creation was anything less than an earnest act of unbridled passion by Payne, McKay, and everyone else involved in its earliest conception. ‘Rings’ sincere spirit of adventure, and its fastidious dedication to nailing the look and feel of Tolkien’s dizzyingly detailed world, is beyond reprehension. Season 1 of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’, sets the crucial events of Middle Earth’s Second age in motion, debuted and re-introduced a bountiful cast of interesting characters, and hit the proverbial, aesthetic bullseye in its realization of Tolkien’s world. Tough to ask for much more than that from a Lord of The Rings TV show.
Created by: J.D. Payne, Patrick Mckay.
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Charlie Vickers, Robert Aramayo, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Owain Arthur, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Nazanin Boniadi, Tyrone Muhafidin, Megan Richards, Daniel Weyman.
Directed By: J.A. Bayona, Charlotte Brandstrom, Wayne Yip.
Music by: Bear McCreary.
By Dillon Goss-Carpenter
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Dillon is a writer, and a lover of storytelling and creativity across all mediums. He studied Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz, where he became a voracious consumer and ponderer of the creative arts. He has a background in screenwriting, as well as freelance film theory and pop culture journalism. Dillon connected to the inclusive, empowering mission statement of The Hollywood Insider, because of his shared belief in the power of storytelling, and its facility to engender empathy and understanding, as well as entertain. He believes in finding joy and purpose through making, watching, discussing, and dissecting the diverse collection of creative media that inspires him. He has particular interest in stories that come from largely unheard, historically excluded perspectives.