- 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.
If Alloyed makes anything clear about The Rings of Power, it’s that Amazon and the showrunners are committed to playing the long game in telling the story of Middle-earth’s Second Age. This may inevitably feel less satisfying on a weekly basis, and there are certainly episodes that have been less enjoyable than others, but the first season has been a great feat of storytelling and its finale provides an entertaining hour of television. There isn’t much character growth to be seen – with a notable exception or two – but the plot progresses nicely and it features some intriguing questions for the next season.
I’ve never been great at predicting plot twists in television (you can go back and read my previous reviews for evidence of that), and I’m not one to peruse internet message boards for conversations on those kinds of things, but the reveals of the Stranger and Halbrand’s true nature truly left me in shock. Obviously the Stranger’s identity was a season-long mystery and was likely to be revealed sooner or later, and episode director Wayne Che Yip produced a nice fake-out in the beginning with the aliens believing he was Sauron.
But by revealing his nature as an Istari (aka a Wizard), the show provides a great parallel to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by establishing Gandalf’s long-standing affection for the Hobbits. And I’m as surprised as anyone as I found myself choking up when Nori said goodbye to the Harfoots and set out on her own. It’s been written almost explicitly since the beginning that Nori is an adventurer who yearns for the world at large, so seeing her leave wasn’t unexpected but shows a sense of inner growth nevertheless. I don’t know if we’ll see anyone else from the Harfoot tribe in subsequent seasons, but I’m excited to see what kinds of adventures Nori finds herself in going forward.
Rightfully, the bulk of the episode sees Galadriel and her reunion with Elrond, Celebrimbor, and the Elves as they try to devise a way to utilize the small bit of mithril that Elrond has. But the more Halbrand volunteers to help, the more suspicious Galadriel becomes. The writing throughout the show for Galadriel has been strong since the beginning, and Morfydd Clark has been equally captivating. It’s refreshing to see a female leader that’s more than capable of handling herself in difficult situations, and Galdriel’s confrontation of Halbrand/Sauron was a great bit of characterization. The subsequent scenes as she confronts her past decisions was a nice way of showing her insecurity as she realizes she may be responsible for the downfall of Middle-earth. I’ve often wondered how the Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring came to be so secluded, and this is a solid early hint at how it could happen.
The production elements of Rings of Power have been nothing but spectacular all season, and Alloyed saw the show really flex its muscles in unexpected ways. The visual effects as the Stranger was confronted by Sauron’s acolytes was a highlight, and the cinematography during Galadriel’s dream sequences reinforces that the show is meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The same can be said of the sequence where the Elves’ rings are forged and put together.
Notably missing this week are Durin, Isildur, Arondir, and Bronwyn, though I don’t know that they would have contributed to the themes of Alloyed. I’m not sure what takeaway we’re supposed to have from the Númenórean storyline here – or why the show decided to dedicate time to having the king’s portrait drawn – but I have no choice but to trust in the show’s long-term goals. Last week dealt with overtones of religious faith and salvation, and this week deals equally with the ideas of hope and regret. There’s hope for Nori and the Stranger, as they set out to discover themselves; there’s hope for the rest of the Harfoots as well, as they seek a new place to settle once again. Galadriel and the Elves find renewed hope as they find a way to save their race, but Galadriel undoubtedly will live with a sense of regret going forward as she has to live with letting Sauron go and setting the stage for his reign.
From its onset, The Rings of Power was touted as a grand experiment for the TV medium. Would the gift of a massive budget that most shows could only dream of, along with the inherently rich source material, guarantee success? I’m still not sure how much of my enjoyment of the show stems from my long-standing love of Tolkien, but the show has proven adept at writing dynamic characters and setting up high drama worth getting invested in. Though I do have a bone to pick with Rings of Power’s marketing department when it was announced that a Balrog would appear in the show; technically they weren’t incorrect, but a two-second appearance at the end of an episode is more of a tease than anything.
I’ve always been a crusader against shows with unnecessary episode lengths, but even though each episode this season has been over an hour, I haven’t felt the fatigue that comes with other shows of similar length. Another question would be how much the show would be able to step out of the massive shadows of Peter Jackson’s films, and it’s safe to say that though The Rings of Power may have a similar visual style, its storytelling clearly sets itself apart. Now that the show has firmly established its world and the characters within it in a confident first season, I remain as excited as ever to see that confidence grow in subsequent seasons.
Season One grade: A-