The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Premiere Sets the Stage for an Epic Adventure

S1E1, “A Shadow of the Past” and S1E2, “Adrift”

Galadriel and the other elves standing on wooden ship looking up at the sky
Ben Rothstein / Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

The following contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiere, S1E1, “A Shadow of the Past” (written by J. D. Payne & Patrick McKay, and directed by J.A. Bayona) and S1E2, “Adrift” (written by Gennifer Hutchison, and directed by J.A. Bayona)

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is Amazon’s new flagship series. With incredible production values, an enormous budget (the series is rumored to have cost the company over a billion dollars to make), a beloved IP, and some really interesting and creative people behind the scenes, the series has the epic feel that behooves the source material. The show has been one of the most anticipated new series of the season since it was announced. And with the legion of bad faith “fans” coming out in force in an attempt to bring it down, it seems the very basic plot of evil brewing anew while good people turn their backs is one we really do need to learn.

With that said, the series isn’t perfect. Some of the characters have limited development and it seems like the idea of the series as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings story that we all know threatens to limit both the scope and the drama. The Rings of Power premiere also has to do a lot of work to do to set up the world, and there are some aspects of the series that don’t quite mesh yet, but all in all the series is a confident and worthy series and series creator Patrick McKay’s vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world is one that I’m definitely interested in revisiting.

The series has a hard task out of the gate: it has to set up the story in a way that is understandable to new fans, orient casual fans to the differences from the world in the Peter Jackson films, and do it all without completely alienating the hardcore Tolkien fans. I personally fall firmly in the middle camp and plan to discuss the show based on how well I feel it connects to the films and how well it sets up the world on its own terms. There will be no deep dive lore discussion here unless it is established in the show—I intentionally avoided reading The Silmarilion so I would be able to come into the lore of the show pretty clean. Through The Rings of Power premiere, I feel like the creative team does a good job of splitting these differences, but it is clear that people from each camp have a lot of feelings about what they have seen.

Three Harfoots stand looking with a lantern in the center
Photo Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

To set things up and at least for these two episodes, we focus on a beloved character from the future of Middle Earth, the inimitable elven warrior, Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). Clark’s performance is outstanding, with a real emphasis on the youth and impulsiveness of the ancient elf. Clark imbues the character with a sense of otherness that really establishes her nature as a creature apart from Middle Earth, cut off from so much of what makes her who she is. Clark’s interpretation of Galadriel is a great place for the show to focus its attention, as she is among the most dynamic and interesting of the characters we have met so far, and her story is the guiding force throughout The Rings of Power premiere.

“A Shadow of the Past” begins and ends with pivotal points along Galadriel’s journey. In the prologue, we learn of the elves leaving the undying lands of Valinor and engaging the darkness in Middle Earth. Galadriel’s brother is killed in the war between the elves and the dark lord Morgarath and she becomes obsessed with finding and eliminating the evil Sauron. The episode does a great job of establishing this fiery and war-like version of Galadriel. She takes down an ice troll with beautiful ruthlessness. But Galadriel’s fellow elves turn on her—she is too driven and near madness in her quest. (We also get a lot of “this all takes centuries” talk to establish the long lives of the elves, but not all of that seems clear or relevant to the story.)

Eventually, after finding evidence that Sauron is still alive and rebuilding, and after her soldiers turn against her, Galadriel and her army are called back home. Once there the entire group is given the “honor” of a trip across the seas back to Valinor, to live forever in paradise. But Galadriel is consumed with darkness and hatred for her brother’s killer and you can see that she is conflicted about every choice she has to make. Clark plays the deepening division between the character and her kin with a subtlety that makes it very effective. Eventually, she goes along with the plan, but it is clear she does not want to go. And so, at the very last moment, as the ship is about to cross into Valinor, Galadriel gives in to her nature, grabs her dagger, and decides to return to the world of men.

Galadriel's head sticking out of the water with a ruined ship in the background
Ben Rothstein / Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

In “Adrift” much of the focus moves to other characters, but Galadriel’s long sea journey back from the barrier to Valinor provides the episode’s title and its most intriguing addition: her companion on the journey back, Halbrand (Charlie Vickers). Halbrand is a new character created just for the series and as such, there is a lot more mystery about him than there is about the other characters. We know both Elrond and Durin’s eventual fates, we know that the Harfoot clan will eventually morph into the Hobbits, and we know that the world of the humans we meet in the Southlands has a… dark future. But this new character could be good or evil, friend or foe, or lover, (and he could turn out to be someone else we already know in disguise), but the mystery makes him more interesting. And the scenes between Vickers and Clark have an antagonistic charm that is not often seen in this story.

The tragic love story is also not really seen in the other aspects of the Tolkien universe, but we seem to be getting one of those as well by creating two new characters to give one. The love story between Arwen and Aragorn was somehow both central to The Lord of the Rings and yet always felt sidelined, we were told the love was forbidden and Arwen was wrong for it, but never really got to feel it. Here the love story is between Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), an elf assigned to watch over the village of Tirharad in the Southlands, and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) a human healer.

The lovers spend most of the Rings of Power premiere staring longingly at each other, and their relationship has a sort of sexual charge that starts to make you wonder if Bronwyn’s son Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) might actually know his father after all. (Though there are other hints that a different character is likely the father.) Eventually, they are torn out of their reverie by two conflicting developments. First, Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker), the elven king of Lindor, has decided that the threats of Sauron and Morgarath are over and pulled the elves out of their posts. Secondly, Arondir and Bronwyn decide to check out what is causing death and destruction to fields and livestock and discover that orcs have destroyed a nearby village. This leaves Arondir captured and Bronwyn and Theo on the run—after she shows her skills killing an orc and her son shows his corruption by being drawn into the thrall of one of Sauron’s relics.

Dwarf Prince Durin standing with his arms at his sides in triumph
Photo Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

It seems likely that The Rings of Power will eventually become the story of the creation of the titular rings, and the plotline with Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), and the Dwarven Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) seems most likely to progress in that direction first. Aramayo does really well with a difficult character, not only needing to live up to the legendary Hugo Weaving’s iconic take on the role but also trying to take a character who is canonically a bit of a boring jerk and make the audience actually understand him. We get several scenes of Elrond as a backroom politician but we also get to see him in a new, much warmer, light. He obviously cares for and about Galadriel, and his interactions with Durin show that his aloof nature is not one he intends, it is just a natural offshoot of who he is.

The relationship between Elrond and Durin feels a bit like a retread of the dynamic between Legolas and Gimli that the franchise has been chasing forever, but it is necessary to get the players together. Owain Arthur also plays Durin a bit harsher and sadder than we usually see from the actors playing the mountain dwellers. The other aspects of Durin’s life, his relationship with his father, King Durin III (Peter Mullan), and his children really establish the differences in the character and what makes him tick. The most essential addition that contributes to this is his wife Disa (Sophia Nomvete). Nomvete and Arthur have an easy rapport and the relationship is a new one for the viewers, helping to make the whole plot more interesting. Eventually, it seems likely Elrond will succeed in hooking Celebrimbor up with the dwarves, which will be both great and disastrous. But for now, the pieces are still being set.

In the last major plotline, we meet the Harfoot clan and our “Hobbitlike” stand-in, Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh). Most of our time with the clan is spent setting up the many ways they are similar to Hobbits and the few ways they are different. The biggest difference is that they are migratory, though they already have the insular and self-protective disdain for the wider world that will define their descendants. And Nori, like Bilbo and Frodo (both before her and after her… prequels are weird), is the one who is not like the others, looking for adventure and meaning in life.

Nori discovers a large man inside a crashed meteor and nurses him back to health. Apparently, the man isn’t who most of us who don’t know the details of the lore thought he was, so the entire plot remains a mystery to me. But the mysteries we are left with at the end of The Rings of Power Episodes 1 & 2 have me excited to see what answers the series has in store.

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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