- Creators: JD Payne, Patrick McKay
- Starring: Morfydd Clark, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Markella Kavenagh, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Daniel Weyman
Warning: Reviews of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1 will contain spoilers.
After what feels like an age of hand-wringing and debate, it’s great to see The Rings of Power get down to business and chop some heads off for a change. Udûn brings a handful of the show’s storylines crashing together for an episode that feels both epic in scale and intimate in its character moments. In truth, there was no avoiding the events of this week’s episode, and it’s good that Payne and McKay had the good sense not to stray away from the action to another storyline, even for a minute.
The episode kicks off with a tease of what’s to come when Adar’s army comes to raid the watchtower (I’m confident that place had a name but can’t for the life of me find it) and finds nothing but a series of booby traps. Maybe it’s hyperbolic to say that the action scenes were as good as some of the smaller action scenes in the films (nothing like Helms Deep or the battle of Gondor), but the action choreography gets the spotlight here and it does not disappoint. The episode starts out small and ratchets up the scale with not one but two assaults on the small village that the refugees had fled to. Adar proves himself a worthy adversary with an emotional gut-punch as the victims of the first wave are revealed.
I had begun to worry about Arondir and how his characterization had been a little lacking so far. What does he stand for? What’s his goal? Why should we care about him, besides his love for Bronwyn, which has gone on the back burner lately. This episode still doesn’t answer some of those questions, but his romantic scene with Nazanin Boniadi (who gives another excellent performance, as well as a great moment of ass kicking, this week) is just one more reason to stay invested in this side of Middle-earth. Clearly Bronwyn will live to see another episode, but if Udûn would have been her last, it would have made for a fitting exit. Arondir also gets a nice moment to rally the troops before Adar’s battalion raids the village; it’s an interesting contrast that the show underplays, that an elf can lead a group of men effectively, whereas the Númenórean’s mistrust of the elves could lead to their downfall. If nothing else, the episode also effectively puts to bed the divisions between elves and men that has taken up the bulk of the show’s conflict so far.
Another great understated moment comes again in the lead-up to the battle that director Charlotte Brändström captures nicely: a wordless montage of the villagers as they fret about what’s to come. Too often with stories in Middle-earth, we get wrapped up in the journeys of heroes and saving the world but the common folk are only portrayed as byproducts of the chaos, but Brändström goes out of the way to show them as real people that could lose it all.
Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the pointedly recurring quote in the episode, first uttered by Adar and then by Bronwyn. Was it meant to imply some unspoken bond between them, or was there a larger theme at play within the episode? Rather, I think it’s supposed to show the differences between the two. Whereas Joseph Mawle’s reading of it is menacing and comes before his army sets out to destroy the villagers, Nazanin Boniadi gives the quote a feeling of warmth and humanity. We’re also given some crucial backstory on Adar, as he was an elf that was corrupted by Morgoth’s evil.
We already knew, especially in the show’s first episode, that The Rings of Power could handle big battle scenes, whether they be with CGI creations like a troll or large armies. Udûn shows that Payne and McKay can craft an entire episode centered around several action set pieces and, as the episode’s finale implies, bigger things are set to come on the horizon.
Episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will be released on Amazon Prime Video each Friday