Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!
Note from Briana: As many of our readers will know, Amazon released their take on Middle-earth’s Second Age, The Rings of Power, in 2022. One of the first controversies surrounding the show was the depiction of Galadriel as a soldier. Today’s guest poster has written extensively about the portrayal of Galadriel in The Rings of Power, so we are including some excerpts from longer posts here and hope you will click through to Substack to read the essays in full. The first excerpt here is from “The Sunne in Splendour: A Character Defense of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power:”
Many skilled artists have contributed their talents to depicting this Elven lady in paintings, portraits and other forms of art. But for nearly 20 years, Cate Blanchett’s regal, ethereal and distant portrayal had been the gold standard for cinematic portrayals, and had become nearly synonymous with how people saw the character. Even a more political and badass depiction in The Hobbit trilogy didn’t shake this perception of Galadriel as an almost Marian figure. So when Vanity Fair, in our first ever serious look at The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power in February 2022, depicted Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in a full suit of mid-15th century plate armor and described her as “Commander of the Northern Armies…as angry and brash as she is clever” a certain segment of the internet predictably erupted. To them, this was just one more indication that Amazon was intent on turning this character into nothing more than a vehicle for a woke, feminist agenda. This group of online folks was never large, but it was loud. And once the show aired they received reinforcements, for the character of Galadriel that was depicted here was a far cry from the serene vision of grace and wisdom that Blanchett showed. If you ask people to describe this version of Galadriel, you’re most likely to hear a whole host of unflattering adjectives: proud, petulant, childish, stupid, incompetent, ruthless, arrogant, brash, single-minded, genocidal, psychotic…I could go on. And, miracle of miracles, this line of thought has united both the online left and right, with commentary ranging from alt-right fanatic Nerdrotic calling her “Guyladriel” to politically liberal critic Grace Randolph being the first to refer to her as a “Mary Sue” and “Karen.”
But Morfydd’s Galadriel did not lack defenders either. Like Gimli threatening to fight 200 Rohirrim over a perceived slight to his Lady, or Richard of Gloucester riding to the rescue of his brother’s vanguard at the Battle of Tewkesbury, far more people have stood up for this interpretation of Galadriel ever since that Vanity Fair article. Their arguments, based on a willingness to keep an open mind, an engagement with everything that Tolkien wrote about the character as seen in his wider legendarium, and actually watching the show rather than some rage-baiting, hatemongering video on Youtube, have long rested on stronger footing than those of the other side. I am proud to be one of these people, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because this cause has inspired me to learn even more about Tolkien, his world and his ideals. I have come a very long way from my first Twitter thread defending Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel back on September 4 last year, and I will doubtless continue to journey. To everyone who has paved the way before me, I thank you, and hope that this essay will be a worthy contribution to this cause.
Much as is the case when trying to learn about Galadriel’s character, The Silmarillion at least initially doesn’t give us much information about her physical appearance or attributes. For that, we have to turn to Unfinished Tales, where we read the following: “Her mother-name was Nerwen (Man-Maiden) and she grew to be tall even beyond the measure of the women of the Noldor. She was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth.” We learn even more in Letter 348, where Tolkien wrote to Mrs. Catherine Findlay: “She was then of Amazon disposition and bound up her hair as a crown when taking part in athletic feats.” So, it’s clear that Galadriel in her youth was a far cry from a static, regal sorceress, but was an athlete, a tomboy, and exceptionally physically powerful even for an Elven lady. And Elven ladies are already fast and strong, to a degree that we could describe as superhuman. In Morgoth’s Ring, the tenth volume of the History of Middle Earth, we read that “there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals.” A sentiment that is repeated in the more recent compendium The Nature of Middle Earth.
Some people will argue that this doesn’t necessarily translate to Galadriel actually being a warrior, or having a martial spirit. True, and for that we need to look at the phrase “Amazon disposition.” Tolkien wasn’t just using this as a word for a strong, athletic woman, although Galadriel would certainly count. No, he was using this for an actual warrior woman. Only two other women in his entire legendarium are described using this word, and in both cases they are explicitly warriors. In the essay on the Druedain from Unfinished Tales, we read of Haleth of the Edain that she was “a renowned Amazon with a picked bodyguard of women.” The Silmarillion goes into more detail, telling the story of how when Haleth’s people were attacked by orcs and her father and brother were slain by them, she took up arms and led the defense for seven days until they were relieved by the Sons of Feanor. And in the Book of Lost Tales, we read of Measse, one of the first Vala conceived by Tolkien, who is described as a “war goddess” and an “Amazon of the bloody arms.” Tolkien, let us remember, was a philologist, a student of language, words and their uses. When he refers to Galadriel, Haleth and Measse as Amazons, he had a very specific reason for doing so, and it wasn’t physical appearance; Galadriel was a Noldorin elf, Haleth a mortal woman, and Measse a demigod. Something else links these three women. And since in two of those cases that purpose is to illustrate their martial characteristics, it stands to reason that the third instance would be a warrior as well.
Though I had no initial plans to watch The Rings of Power, I ended up viewing season one with a friend. I went in with an open mind, knowing that most of the material would be created solely for the show and not based directly on Tolkien’s stories. Even so, I found myself uninterested in most of the characters, bored by the slow pacing, and confused by the gaps in logic and plot. That such a big show would have such poor writing truly baffled me. The main concern of the showrunners seemed to be to tease viewers with potential characters who might be Sauron in disguise–to the detriment of developed character and and story building. Below are my thoughts about various aspects of the show, in more detail.
Poor Character Building
I had difficulty connecting with RoP from the start because I simply did not care for any of the characters. Because the show chooses to follow several different narratives (that will presumably converge, eventually), most of the characters, when first introduced do not receive enough screen time for viewers to understand who they are, what makes them tick, or why we should root for them. Bronwyn and Arondir, for instance, are reduced to a couple who awkwardly lock eyes from time to time. But I have no idea what Bronwyn’s station in the village is (some sort of healer who makes enough money to wear blue dye when no one else in the Southlands does?), how she met Arondir, or why she cares for him. I still remain uncertain how she ended up the leader of the village when she did not seem to have any standing among her people before the orcs arrived. I really didn’t care if she and Arondir lived or died, and my opinion did not change as the season progressed because viewers only ever receive a few snippets of background information on the two. Yawn. The Southlands portions of the show were some of the most boring.
The Harfoots, meanwhile, have their own character inconsistencies. The show sets them up to be rugged and loyal, chanting, “Nobody goes off trail! Nobody walks alone.” And then they read the book of the dead–all the Harfoots they left behind because they could not be bothered to lend a hand to their friends and neighbors. Why they all tear up at this is unclear. Are they weeping for their own cruelty? Apparently not because when Nori’s father Largo has trouble walking, the Harfoots leave not only him but also his entire family to perish in the wastelands, with never a second thought. But wait! That’s not good enough! The Brandyfoots are viewed as a danger to the group, so some decide that even allowing the group to attempt to migrate is folly. There are calls to take their cart wheels away so they are forced to be left behind and presumably starve or be eaten by wolves. All this makes it really weird for Largo to end the season with a rousing speech about how loyalty and support is what makes Harfoots Harfoots. They have no loyalty, Largo! They wanted to kill you!
And let us not forget the sudden change of heart the Harfoots need to have to welcome and appreciate the Stranger, before lovingly waving good-bye to him and Nori as they set off together. The whole season showed that the Harfoots only care about the Stranger when he helps them, and are willing to turn on him as soon as he makes a mistake. And then his being tangentially involved in Sadoc’s death and the near deaths of three other Harfoots is what makes all the Harfoots appreciate him in the end? I would think they would be chasing him away with sticks and cursing his name (if he had one). I am left wondering if the showrunners are trying to make me admire the Harfoots for their ruggedness, or feel horror and disgust at their callousness.
But while the Harfoots are a perplexing group, I truly did not know what to think about Galadriel. Her introduction shows the famed Commander of the North leading a ragtag band into the freezing cold past their strength and past their orders. She’s fully prepared for them all to die so she can get revenge. Why is she a leader, again? She has zero leadership qualities! Which is exemplified again when she visits Numenor and, instead of politely introducing herself to the court, she insults the whole country before demanding they form an army to follow her into Middle-earth. Please keep in mind that, at this point, they have no evidence that orcs are stirring in the Southlands and not the faintest idea of where Sauron is, so there’s no real tangible enemy she can even ask them to fight. But why all the rudeness? Galadriel may be hot-headed, but she is from a noble family, she is part of Gil-galad’s court, and she is supposed to be a leader of an army–and she has no concept of diplomacy. This makes her later speech about the need for humility all the more bizarre. She doesn’t have any. I kind of hated her, which is not, I think, what the showrunners were hoping for, since she was marketed as the main protagonist.
And why is the show so invested in suggesting that Galadriel is morally gray and could turn evil at any moment, with the right nudge? Is it for drama? Is it because modern audiences are assumed to find actually good characters unrealistic? What am I supposed to think of Galadriel when she spends seven episodes seeking Sauron and then, when she finds him, she lets him go to save her own reputation? I suspect I am supposed to find it all thrilling because one just never knows what Galadriel will do next! Maybe she will even have a little romance with Halbrand! (Ewwwww.) But having a character flail all around the place is not how one makes a character realistically three-dimensional.
Who were some of the only bearable characters? Elrond, Durin, and Disa–not only because their camaraderie is endearing, but because, tonally, they make the most sense. Their characters do not bounce all around, with the showrunners trying to make me like them at some points, and then having them “touch the darkness” randomly just to keep things interesting. If they were going for the vibe that, “Everyone in this show is morally gray and complex!” they failed. A mess is not complexity.
I have no idea what is supposed to happening with the politics in this show, but I have a feeling I’m not supposed to care. I’m supposed to just go along with the spectacle. For example, how did Bronwyn become a leader for her village? Why did Adar just let Arondir go instead of coming up with a plan actually worthy of a villainous mastermind? Why did Numenor decide to go to war in Middle-earth when Galadriel cannot promise them they will even find an enemy there? Seriously, she finds a symbol that references (in the vaguest possible way) a place on a map and a whole island nation that allegedly hates Elves decides it is a good use of public funds to follow a random Elf, sail there, and see what is up? And who is Pharazon? I know who he is in the books, and I know the show finally indicated he is the Queen Regent’s cousin, but why is he running all over the island making speeches? What is his actual job? I don’t know, but he’s probably not good at it since he decided a bunch of strangers should be allowed to sit alone in the dying king’s bedroom and draw him. And is he the one who left all the military ships unguarded, to be blown up by a teenage discontent with no actual skill in espionage? Numenor needs to get it together.
This show has some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. The awkward, meant-to-be-inspirational bits are bad enough, like the constant calls that, “The sea is always right!” (Worst catchphrase ever.) Or Finrod’s memorably sage advice that, “Rocks look downward.” (No, they don’t.) But then we have gems like, “Give me the meat, and give it to me raw!” (I don’t know. This sounds nasty?)
The writing also often fails to work tonally or in context. For instance, when Theo asks his mother to say what he used to tell her when he had bad dreams, she answers, “In the end, the shadow is but a small and passing thing. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Find the light and the shadow will not find you.” Apparently, the need to reference Sam’s words in LotR overcame the need for a mother to give a realistic answer like, “Shh. It’s okay. I’m here.” Which is what one might suppose a mother would say to a child with a nightmare!
And then there is the big reveal when Halbrand asks what drives Galadriel to seek Sauron when all others have given up. This was the moment when it was all supposed to come together, when viewers really started to understand Galadriel and her quest. The answer? “I cannot stop.” It almost felt like the writers didn’t know what to say, so they went with vagueness.
I can say definitely that the cringey dialogue is one of the worst aspects of the show. The writers so clearly thought they were channeling their inner Tolkien to write catchy snippets that would inspire and sound deep and, like many who reach for the heights, they fell unusually low.
Some have indicated to me that the show is a “slow burn” and it’s worth it to wait and have it all start to come together in the end. I find that strategy odd because I was so bored and uninterested by the first two episodes, I wanted to stop watching altogether. I only managed to get through the season because of pressure from a friend. I had zero interest in the characters, since there were too many of them to be developed adequately at the start and, when I tried to sum up the episodes, I was left with random assortments like, “Galadriel floats a boat. The Harfoots walk around. Elrond smashes a rock with an axe.” Good stuff.
The focus on the show seems to be not on plot or character development, but with teasing viewers about character identities and withholding information just for the sake of creating mystery. For instance, the driving force of season one seems to be the questions, “Who is the Stranger?” and, “Which character is Sauron?” and the creators play that up, with characters periodically accusing one another of being Sauron only to be told they are wrong. These puzzles take up more energy than actually developing the characters or the logic of the plotline.
Other random information is also withheld, seemingly just for the purpose of making viewers wonder about it so the showrunners can triumphantly pull out the answers later. This is presumably why we still have no clue about what happened to Theo’s father or why Galadriel randomly announces several episodes in that she has been married this entire time, but her husband is missing and presumed dead. Viewers know Celeborn isn’t dead. They’re just supposed to wonder when he’ll pop up.
Though it has its moments of suspense, Tolkien’s writing is very straightforward, and he never spends time trying to trick readers into thinking characters are not who they thought, or leaving out information just so people can speculate about it. Deliberately misleading viewers just to shock them is admittedly a valid strategy, especially in the age of the internet, when fans can immediately go online to try to puzzle out the mysteries together. It is, however, arguably not Tolkien-esque. Perhaps more importantly, however, the question, “Which character is really Sauron?” does not seem pressing enough to spend an entire season on, to the detriment of actual character and plot development.
Uninspired Allusions to Peter Jackson’s Trilogy
I am not entirely sure what viewers are supposed to get from the numerous, indeed, overwhelming, numbers of allusions to Peter Jackson’s LotR. They do not often seem to be thematically important. For instance, why should I particularly think of Arwen riding to the Ford of Bruinen when Galadriel is riding a horse? Should the Numenorean charge recall Rohan’s charge? It would make more sense to tie them to Gondor, no? I found the allusions tiresome, as I do not want to play “spot the reference” when trying to immerse myself in a secondary world.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the show, for fans of Tolkien at least, will undoubtedly be the decision to make the Elves’ immortal souls fade away unless they can bathe in the light of mithril (said, in the show, to contain the light of one of the Silmarils). This plot point has a lot of logical problems, of course. How did the light of a Silmaril imbue a bunch of random ore? How does that work, precisely? And how much mithril is needed to save everyone? (Answer: three rings’ worth will do because handwavy magic??) If the Elves need the light of a Silmaril, why can’t they just stand outside when Earendil passes by in the night sky? He has one in his ship, after all! And why is this even happening in the first place? How on earth did the trees of Lindon decide to die and indicate the “rise of evil” when, at that point, Sauron is apparently still stuck in the middle of the ocean and maybe/maybe not considering a simple life as a peasant blacksmith? Maybe the leaves should have decided to die at a more pressing time like, I don’t know, when Morgoth was taking over Middle-earth?
The real problem with this plot point is, of course, that no power that is not Eru (the One) should be able to kill an immortal soul. And the power of the Valar should not be able to save a soul. (The Silmarils contain the light of the Trees of Valinor, which were made by the Valar.) It simply is not consistent with Tolkien’s worldview to suggest that a soul can be made or unmade by anyone who is not the God of that world. Honestly, I found the suggestion to be shocking, considering how the showrunners were assuring everyone that they are huge Tolkien fans, and considering how many Tolkien scholars were gathered before the show’s release to Tweet out their approval of this new vision of Tolkien’s world.
I understand the show is almost entirely fan fiction since the rights to the material concerning the Second Ages are limited. I was not expecting the show to be the work of a Tolkien purist. But this whole idea seems rather wild, even for an adaptation. Even if we go with a vaguer explanation about the need to reclaim the light of Valinor to stop the Elves diminishing, I cannot see how implying that an external source can change one’s internal state would ever be thematically consistent with Tolkien’s vision of good and evil. Is it supposed to be like a reverse of the One Ring? As the One Ring tempts one with power until one is corrupted and chooses evil, the Silmaril light inspires one until they start following the Valar again? Maybe? But I think the show needs to develop this further since the entire Silmarillion is about how the light of the Silmarils tempted Sauron to invade Valinor and then lead the Elves to centuries of warfare as they attempted to reclaim the jewels, and turned on their own kin in order to possess them. Clearly just being in the presence of a Silmaril does not inspire one solely to goodness.
If we really want to get into the nitty gritty of the show, there was plenty to baffle and annoy me. One thing that really struck me was the inconsistency of how Elves experience time. Tolkien wrote that an Elf year is 144 sun years. The show references the idea that time passes differently for Elves when Durin chastises Elrond for not visiting in 20 years, even if that seems like nothing to an Elf. At other times, however, the show forgets this and has Arondir speaking of 70-some years in the Southlands as a long time, when really that would probably seem like six months or so to him. He also speaks of his youth 200 years ago like that’s a long time.
Then there are the strange moments that make no sense. Galadriel, Commander of the Army of the North, chases an enemy to retrieve a powerful object–only to give it away to a random Elf without looking at it or asking questions. The orcs release Arondir for no reason, after killing a bunch of Elves over a tree, as if the showrunners were not sure how to have him escape. Pharazon lets strangers sit in the king’s bedroom without supervision, even though previously no one was allowed to see the king at all for any reason. Miriel reverses her entire worldview in about ten seconds because some leaves fall off a tree–and the anti-Elf sentiment in Numenor that literally caused the removal of the previous ruler immediately vanishes as they all agree to go fight in a foreign land for people they have never seen and know nothing about. A sword is a key that turns a rock that breaks a dam that causes a volcano? (Sorry, I got lost there.) Internal logic in a story is important to me, but I saw very little of it here.
A Few Things I Liked
As many have said, the CGI looks great. I also enjoyed Elrond, Durin, and Disa. Nori is a fun character, even if the Harfoots seem cruel. And I thought it was a fair choice to make the Elves seem more supernatural/superhuman with some of the fighting skills shown by Galadriel and Ardonir. I also liked the attempt to make the orcs seem more nuanced, with Adar’s insistence that they have souls and deserve a home. (I’m not sure where the show is going with this, though, since it’s hard for viewers to sympathize with orcs creating a home by killing everyone in the Southlands and literally forming Mordor. Expansion on this point is needed.) I also thought pretty much all the actors did an excellent job, even when the material given to them was poor.
Rings of Power fails for me, not as a Tolkien adaptation, but as a show. I understood going in that the creators only had the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and would be making up almost the entirety of the show. I was not expecting a purist adaptation of Tolkien. However, the lack of character backstories, the flip-flopping of characters from good to evil, the slow pacing, and the logical inconsistencies and baffling politics, would make me rate any show poorly–even if it had nothing to do with Tolkien. I did not enjoy watching Rings of Power, and the show sadly is unlikely to be part of a new beloved fandom for me.
If you’ve been following my blog or my tweets, you’ll know I’ve been somewhat on the fence about The Rings of Power throughout season 1. It has some amazing moments . . . and then a lot of weird or confusing ones. I plan to do one final review of episode 8/the season as a whole, but in this post, I want to focus on what might be the longest contributing factor to my disappointment with the series: the confusion the writers seem to have over the themes they are trying to convey. Here are some inconsistencies I noticed and questions I still have (in no particular order).
1. What is up with the flip flopping of Elendil’s faith?
Viewers agreed that the writers pretending Isildur died in episode 7 when anyone who knows anything about Tolkien must be aware he’s not dead was a bizarre choice. The explanation everyone came up with to make it make sense was that it’s for character development: it’s the catalyst that moves Elendil from being a staunch supporter of Galadriel/the Elves and aiding Middle-earth to questioning the role of Númenor and demanding his people just go home.
So it’s bizarre that in episode 8 that Elendil and Miriel have an entire conversation about how being one of the Faithful is hard and sometimes high prices must be paid to do the right thing. And Elendil recommits to his decision to aid Galadriel and Middle-earth. Whatever doubt he had seems to have lasted about two minutes of screen time. So what are his beliefs? And why are the writers still pretending Isildur is dead? (I hope, if nothing else, Isildur has something important he’s doing alone in Middle-earth in season 2!)
2. And is helping Galadriel the correct thing to do or not?
Elendil recommits to the idea that he made the moral decision when he chose to pull Galadriel out of the sea instead of leaving her there to die. Helping the Elves is the right thing. Following Galadriel is the right thing.
Yet the point of the entirety of season 1 boils down to: Galadriel has good intentions, but her decisions lead directly to Sauron’s coming back into power. If Elendil had let Galadriel (and Halbrand, obviously) die in the water, season 1 wouldn’t have happened. Even if Halbrand had survived or been reincarnated, but he hadn’t been with Galadriel, he might not have regained power, as he directly credits Galadriel with allowing him to believe in himself to pursue his ambitions and giving him access to specific resources, like the Elves of Eregion.
3. But Galadriel has already rejected evil and dominion over Middle-earth?
So this all comes to a head when Galadriel realizes Halbrand is Sauron and confronts him, and he gets into her head and proposes. (I’m so confused the writers doubled down on this Galadriel/Sauron romance, but here we are.) And because the Rings of Power writers love callbacks to Peter Jackson’s works, they write a whole scene mirroring Galadriel’s rejection of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Sauron gives her the option of having dominion over Middle-earth, being terrible as the sea, etc. And she says no.
That’s right. Here, in the Second Age, Galadriel says no to Sauron and the exact type of power she would get from Sauron’s Ring in the Third Age. Her rejection of Sauron’s work has already happened. So why must she reject it again in the Third Age and say that then she has passed the test?
I suppose one could argue she doesn’t pass the test entirely because she still goes ahead with the forging of the three Elven Rings, which was largely Sauron’s idea, but . . . meh. I think the writers got too excited paralleling Peter Jackson and undermined their own message here.
4. Are the three Elven rings actually slightly evil???
And this leads me to the question of whether the Elven rings are actually evil, at least a little. Obviously, Sauron has a hand aiding Celebrimbor in the book, but Rings of Power suggests that the power used to create the rings might be a forbidden one. Adar, Sauron, and Celebrimbor talks about having a power over flesh and powers of the Unseen World. Those phrases by themselves don’t necessarily have to imply the power is evil, but the show certainly wants me to think they are, by associating them specifically with Sauron and then showing images of Elves who were tortured and mutilated in the pursuit of this power. I think the show went too far with suggesting that whatever was used to create the rings is itself bad; it’s not just that Sauron can corrupt the rings depending on whether or not he’s personally involved in their creation.
5. What exactly is causing the decay of the trees in Lindon?
This is still unclear to me. Gil-galad implies it’s some vague sense of evil in the world, especially as the decay is happening faster now that Mount Doom has been woken up. But, um, why? This is as wishy-washy as Peter Jackson’s version of Arwen fading as the One Ring becomes more powerful. It just makes no sense.
6. If the Elves don’t need mithril anymore, how are the Dwarves getting their redemption arc?
I, along with many viewers, was disappointed in episode 7 when it turned out that the plot line that Elves need mithril not to fade was not, in fact, a lie made up by Sauron but actually true.
But then I, and other fans, pivoted again and said, “Ok, well the mithril thing helps the characterization of the Dwarves because now they will mine for mithril to help the Elves, not out of pure greed, so they will be compassionate and not a one-dimensional race simply obsessed with treasure.”
This theory no longer works if the Elves don’t need mithril, so are the Dwarves just going back to digging out of ambition and greed?
7. What is Gandalf’s purpose in the Second Age?
I called early on that the Stranger is Gandalf, and I kind of like his character (plus the actor is great), but I have no idea what he is doing in this show. Gandalf is not mentioned as being involved in the matters of the Second Age at all in Tolkien’s work. So the writers are going to have to get clever to create a plot line where 1) Gandalf is actually important, since Nori keeps highlighting that he’s super important and it was clearly her destiny to help him achieve this awesome thing and 2) he’s not actually involved with the main plot of the show. I have no idea how this is going to work.
After watching six episodes of The Rings of Power and being generally unmoved by what is clearly meant to be an epic and sweeping tale, I believe I am finally invested in this show and its characters. While the majority of viewers seem to have been amazed by episode 6 and felt episode 7 fell flat, I feel exactly the opposite: the focus on friendship and hope in this installment has truly drawn me in. I can at last say I actually like The Rings of Power.
This isn’t to say the episode was perfect. I am disappointed the thing about mithril being able to heal the Elves seems not to be a fabrication from Annatar, as many fans were hoping (or, there’s at least some truth to it, considering the mithril healed the diseased leaf from Lindon). This entire plot line is bizarre, from the implication there’s a Silmaril involved to the timeline that the Elves are going to fade by spring. The only interesting facet is that it opens the door to portray the Dwarves as selfless rather than greedy; they won’t dig for the mithril because they’re treasure-obsessed but because they want to help the Elves.
Implying Isildur is dead was also an interesting choice, since pretty much everyone must know he’s not. I assume this is for character development, such as moving Elendil from being in favor of aiding Middle-earth to regretting the mission. And I guess something interesting will happen to Isildur while he’s missing from the main narrative, but it was a little hard to feel *too* bad for Elendil since we all know Isildur is not dead!
However, the character development in general in this episode really helped win over my heart. I like Theo more. I can even believe he’d hug Arondir, when I’m not sure I would have been sold on that before. The Harfoots became more interesting, as well. I loved seeing some of them rally and realize perhaps they should help the Stranger, who tried so hard to help them even when things didn’t turn out the way he intended. Sadoc, of course, has some of the best lines. Elrond and Disa and Durin continue to be stars, and the scenes between Durin and his father (also Durin lol) were fabulous. Galadriel is still a bit of a miss for me because I don’t think she’s coming across as fearsome or awe-inspiring. (So it fell flat for me when Theo joked about being unable to imagine her dancing because I have no issue imagining that at all.)
Annoyingly, I am also beginning to see why people think Halbrand is Sauron, though I’ve been hoping the entire time he is not and that Sauron has actually been off screen.
So sign me up for episode 8 (and the rest of the seasons) because I’m finally truly excited!
I seem to be in the minority here, but I didn’t love episode 6 of The Rings of Power. I understand the positives that left a lot of viewers thinking this was the best episode yet: It was cohesive, following just the Southlanders and the Númenóreans as their plot lines converged. It was meant to be pretty epic, with a battle and some big reveals from Adar. And, of course, the ending.
The problem is that the show just isn’t really making me feel as much as I hoped it would. I can see what the show wants me to feel. I am supposed to be in awe of Galadriel, to be afraid for the Southlanders who have never fought before and now must defend themselves against a large army, to root for the love between Arondir and Bronwyn, to see the wonder (and, uh, squalor) of Middle-earth through the eyes of Isildur. But I just don’t. I haven’t perfectly pinpointed why I don’t, but I think it’s a combination of the fact that 1) I can see how the story is crafted, which takes me out of it and 2) there hasn’t been enough build-up for some of the characters.
Seeing the craft means I can see what the writers are going for in each scene, but it also means I am thrown out of the story by all the homages to Peter Jackson’s work. I can’t become immersed in the story if I am thinking, “Ah, this scene is like Arwen riding her horse,” or, “Oh, like when the Rohirrim rode over the hill to Helm’s Deep.” It’s distracting. I also am sometimes thrown out by the references to actual Tolkien. When Bronwyn gave Theo her motivational speech about the shadow being a small and passing thing, with light and high beauty forever beyond its reach, I didn’t even really think of Sam Gamgee; I thought that was a completely bizarre thing for a mother to say to a small child who had a nightmare! I cannot believe someone wrote that into the script.
As for build-up for characters . . . I think focusing this episode on the Southlands was meant to help with that, and I liked seeing more of Bronwyn and Theo, but I still am baffled by the romance between Bronwyn and Arondir. When Arondir suggested getting a little house together after everything was over, I think I might have been more surprised than Bronwyn herself. Do they even know they like each other??? And now he’s basically proposing??? I know this is a great ship for a lot of people, but I haven’t been able to get invested in it.
Adar is a stand out, however, and I do love his scenes. It was also great of the writers to explore a bit of the problem of orcs with the dialogue between him and Galadriel. I hope he’s not actually dead because right now he’s one of the best parts of the entire series.
I am still watching the show. I hope I will love the last two episodes. It’s been interesting to see this take on Middle-earth, but it’s just not compelling to me.
I’ve been on the fence with my feelings on Amazon Prime’s “The Rings of Power” series. I’ve been straightforward that, skeptical as I am about how much the writers needs to make up plot-wise, I’d probably like the show if it kept to the spirit of Tolkien. After watching episode 5, however, I don’t know how optimistic I can continue to be about the show. This is definitely the worst episode so far (in my opinion, of course), from the illogical plot to poor dialogue and motivations for the characters.
I will admit 1) the show is still breathtaking and I love seeing Middle-earth on screen and 2) the show has its moments. There’s a reason I haven’t thrown up my hands and stopped watching entirely, and that’s because there are certainly characters and scenes that have been able to arrest my attention. Adar is a dark and compellingly complex villain, for instance, and I love the relationship between Elrond and Durin. And Elrond in general, to be honest. I wasn’t sure about his portrayal initially, but I do love the emphasis on his kindness, and he does seem wise where others sometimes are not. Episode 5 also made me laugh out loud a couple times, with the table scene and with Waldreg’s being utterly baffled that Adar is apparently not Sauron.
But I didn’t love the episode.
The big issues, as many other people have been complaining about, is the completely bizarre plot line about mithril supposedly containing the light of a Silmaril and the Elves needing mithril so they can “saturate” themselves in the light of the Valar before spring, lest they diminish and dwindle away to nothing. What? This obviously makes no sense in terms of what Tolkien actually wrote about the Silmarils, mithril, Elves, etc. And the scenes were made even odder by the fact that Gil-galad and Celebrimbor both apparently know that the Dwarves have found mithril but seem weirdly fixated on having Elrond admit it’s true. Someone on Twitter suggested to me that what they really want is for Elrond to find out details about mithril, which makes slightly more sense, but Gil-galad definitely had a weird fixation with trying to get Elrond to say, “Yes the Dwarves have mithril,” when he already knows they do regardless of what Elrond says. Also I don’t understand how the mechanics of this is supposed to work. How much mithril do the Elves need to “saturate” themselves?
The running theory, of course, is that this completely bonkers plot isn’t true. Perhaps Sauron is already in Eregion, off-screen, and he has put this idea into Celebrimbor’s head, and Celebrimbor has put it in Gil-galad’s head. So the Elves believe mithril contains the light of a Silmaril and they need mithril to stave off the evil that is decaying the tree in Lindon, but it’s all a falsehood and this will be nicely cleared up by the end of the series.
I honestly hope this is the case, but it wouldn’t completely save the show for me. I really dislike the idea that the show has been written in such a way that fans are left thinking for weeks that it has completely ignored Tolkien’s lore and being annoyed about it. That is, it’s not an enjoyable experience to see something that seems horrifyingly against canon in episode 5 and see everyone being upset about it and discussing to have it (possibly) all cleared up, three weeks later, in episode 8. I’d enjoy the show much more if I felt confident the entire time that it was trying to be faithful to Tolkien. Right now my confidence has been shaken.
Other than that, I was annoyed by some minor things in this episode. Galadriel still isn’t a standout character for me, and I wish she’d been given better dialogue and stronger characterization. For instance, Halbrand finally fully confronts her about what her deal is being obsessed with hunting down Sauron and when Galadriel really digs deep, when she says it’s not just about her brother and that there’s something more and greater at stake, her explanation for why she keeps fighting is . . . she just can’t stop. I don’t think I’ve ever heard something so underwhelming. Isn’t the whole question WHY she can’t stop?
I was also a bit baffled by the Harfoots here. Again, there were some nice moments. I liked seeing the Stranger talk with Nori and test out the idea of whether he’s a peril or whether he’s good. And I really like the walking song. I want to listen to it over and over. EXCEPT . . . the song makes no sense for the Harfoots. The line, “Not all who wonder or wander are lost,” is lovely and ties into The Lord of the Rings, of course, but how is this a song the Harfoots would sing? They have made it exceptionally clear that wondering is frowned upon and makes you a weirdo and that you are not allowed to do any wandering that is not approved by the group in the context of their official migrations. No one goes off path, you know.
So, unfortunately, I just think the show is badly written. Gorgeous visuals and strong scenes here and there keep me just hooked enough I keep watching to hope things get better, but the show as a whole is letting me down right now. I don’t know if the final three episodes can save it for me or not.
The third episode of The Rings of Power picks up some threads of mystery that watchers have been avidly discussing since the first two installments, and I was interested to see exactly how much was answered. There are still people convinced, for instance, that Halbrand is Sauron, even though the show says pretty plainly he’s some disinherited king of the Southlands, which was my theory. He’s clearly being set up as some sort of parallel to Aragorn, though I also like the theory he’ll end up as one of the Nazgul. Maybe he’ll take one of the Rings to try to save his people, but it backfires, etc. I don’t buy the running theories that Sauron is actually more than one person, so presumably Adar AND Halbrand? (Or Celebrimbor, according to some people, which I find delightfully hilarious.)
But beyond getting some answers, did I like this episode? The answer is a resounding yes! I missed some of the characters from the first two (like Elrond, Celebrimbor, Durin, and Disa), but I liked Arondir much more than I have previously. He shows more range, and you can see that he cared for the other Elves he had been working with in the Watchtower, which was not a sense I’d actually gotten before in the show. too bad they’re dead now. It would have been even more gut-wrenching if their relationship had been build up previously.
This episode also crushed my vision of the Harfoots, however. We see them chanting, “No one goes off path, and nobody walks alone.” But apparently this is not a promise they will stick by one another. It’s a threat that they won’t! If you’re slow, you get left behind. Cue a ceremony remembering all those left behind i past migrations, only some for legitimate reasons, and then the decision to basically ditch the Brandyfoots rather than have someone help pull the cart. It’s dark.
Numenor was definitely a highlight of the show. It’s gorgeous. We get to meat Elendil and Isildur and see hints of what’s to come. Miriel is aggravating but seems to know more than she is letting on. I’m not sure I love that Galadriel is here. So much of her plot seems to be the showrunners trying to make other stuff happen that she’s just the vehicle for. Here it’s getting more information about Sauron and Halbrand from the Hall of Lore. I hope her plot gets better as the show goes on.
I’ve said that episode 3 would be the real test of how much I liked the show and whether I’d be willing to pay for a month of Prime to finish the season, and I think the answer is yes. I don’t love it as much as the movies, and there are choices I certainly find odd, but it’s growing on me and I want to see what happens next.
The announcement that Amazon would be creating a sort of prequel to the Lord of the Rings films was met with a fair bit of controversy. Some fans were skeptical that a mega corporation could do justice to a beloved work. Others feared the rumors that the show was to be a competitor to Game of Thrones, with the same level of violence and sex. I had many reservations of my own, and was largely determined to ignore the show if it turned out a disappointment–not really difficult since I don’t pay for Prime! However, as many early reviews seem promising, and as many Tolkien scholars seem to think the show attempts to capture the spirit of Tolkien’s work, I find myself getting more excited about the show–even though I still don’t have Prime. Why? Because The Rings of Power has the world talking about Tolkien again!
The Rings of Power admittedly does seem to me like it will be some sort of Tolkien fan fiction. Although the show is supposed to depict the Second Age of Middle-Earth, the showrunners do not have the rights to the books that contain the bulk of Tolkien’s writings on this time period–The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-Earth. Instead, they have to rely on the references and summaries contained in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both set in the Third Age of Middle-Earth. In other words, the showrunners have an outline and rather have to make up the rest. I have longed for a TV series adaptation of The Silmarillion for years, so it is a bit of a disappointment that not all the events and characters may able to be represented in detail as Tolkien described them. And yet–the show has people interested in the Second Age. It has new readers opening up The Silmarillion. It has reignited a fandom.
Of course, for many of us, the Tolkien fandom never did go away. But one has to admit that, typically, enthusing wildly about Tolkien in public may or may not garner an equally enthusiastic response. When acquaintances get to talking about books, I always say that Tolkien is my favorite author in a too-casual kind of way, to gauge their response. No point in scaring people off by waxing poetically about how Tolkien’s works changed my life, right? Not until they have signaled that they might feel the same. But things are different now. Everyone is talking about Tolkien again. Or, if they are not, bringing up this new show everyone seems to be interested in is a good place to get people started talking.
Indeed, several of my friends and acquaintances in the past week or so have brought up Rings of Power themselves, even though they are not Tolkien fans. Some of their descriptions of what they think happened in The Lord of the Rings and how they think this new show relates to The Lord of the Rings are delightfully absurd, in a way that suggests that they actually have little or no interest in Tolkien and probably could not distinguish his work from any other author’s. I think that’s great! They are not avid Tolkien fans yet. But they are dipping their toes in. They see something that interests them. If we are fortunate, the Tolkien fandom will grow!
But it is not only entirely new fans who are learning more about Tolkien. Many avid Tolkien fans for various reasons are familiar mostly with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Some Tolkien fans likely thought that was all Tolkien ever wrote. But The Rings of Power has created an enthusiasm for the Second Age. People are asking about how best to read The Silmarillion, and cracking it open for the first time. Reading groups and book discussions are being formed. Articles are being written to explain Tolkien’s legendarium. A part of Tolkien’s history that, for too long, was spoken of as inaccessible for the average reader is being made accessible.
So, of course, I’m excited for The Rings of Power–even though I have not watched it yet. The release marks a boom of interest in Tolkien. Articles. Discussions. Reviews. Merchandise–if we are lucky! The Tolkien fandom never went away. But it is always special to be able to share it with so many enthusiastic people at the same time. I will be using this moment to talk about Tolkien as much as I can.
Although there were only 8 voters, this is the post that won my Twitter poll when I asked what I should write about relating to The Rings of Power. So here they are: some of my rambling thoughts on how Galadriel has been portrayed in The Rings of Power so far. (All RoP content on the blog is tagged with “Rings of Power,” if you want to see more!)
Is the RoP Galadriel “Faithful” to Tolkien’s Work?
If you’re a casual Tolkien fan, the first thing to note is that there is no “definitive” version of Galadriel before her appearance in The Lord of the Rings in the Third Age. Tolkien left several versions of how he envisioned her and her story earlier in her life, and they are sometimes contradictory. So there’s no real way to say what the “canon” version of Galadriel in the Second Age would be.
But Does It Bother You She’s a Warrior in the Show???
There are a couple references to the fact that Galadriel competed in great feats of athletics in her youth, and Tolkien once describes her as “Amazonian,” and fans have pointed to these quotes as justification for the fact Galadriel is a warrior in the show, the Commander of the Northern Armies. To which I say . . . meh. I think her great athleticism would describe why she would be a good warrior if she were a warrior, but one can be athletic, muscular, strong, etc. without being a soldier. Obviously.
I don’t 100% hate this interpretation of her character, however. The showrunners clearly draw on the fact the Elves fought Morgoth for a very long time, and Galadriel would have seen the loss, in addition to the loss of her brother. She would have seen how evil Morgoth and Sauron were, and it is canon she felt obliged to see the eradication of this evil through. So who’s to say she didn’t pick up a sword at one point in her life in order to help hasten the defeat of her enemies?
Tolkien doesn’t specifically describe her as spending the Second Age doing wise Elvish mystical acts either, so really anything the showrunners came up with would have been made up. My reaction to her being a soldier is kind of just to shrug at this point.
What Actually Bothers Me about Galadriel
My real problem so far is that absolutely no other character in the show seems to respect her. Galadriel is supposed to be incredibly wise and powerful, plus she comes from a highly respected Elf family. People should be as impressed with and as in awe with her as they are in The Lord of the Rings.
Instead, the show opens with young Galadriel appearing as some sort of outcast mocked by the Elf children, then moves on to show her troops mutinying and refusing to follow her orders. She next appears in Lindon, where Elrond emphasizes their friendship and obviously likes her as a person but also seems to think she’s delusional that Sauron is still alive and stupid for defying Gil-galad. And Gil-galad also implies she’s a fool. Next, we see her on the boat to Valinor, where the other Elves clearly think she’s crazy for not being excited to go to Valinor and clinging to her knife, and then we see her jump off the boat when she clearly is too far from any land to actually swim anywhere without dying.
Tolkien certainly characterizes Galadriel as rash and proud in her youth, as she chose to leave Valinor in the first place and was interested in ruling a realm of her own, so the hotheadness the show is leaning into makes sense. But at no point do I really feel that Galadriel is majestic and wise; her hunt for Sauron comes across as some crazed personal vendetta rather than something she’s pursuing because she’s farsighted and wise and can see the evil that’s hidden while others cannot.
It’s very probable the writers are aiming for Galadriel to have some sort of character arc where she becomes more like the stately Galadriel we know in The Lord of the Rings, but I’m not really asking for her to act stoic and wise and unperturbed at all times. I’m asking for other characters to respect her instead of clearly believing she’s a fool.
Spoiler Warning for the First Two Episodes of The Rings of Power
Introduction: The Stranger
After the first two episodes of The Rings of Power, one of the major mysteries for viewers is the identity of a character currently known only as “the Stranger” (or, well, “Meteor Man” as a joke among fans). He comes to Middle-earth in a meteor, crashes, and is found by the Harfoot Nori. He seems to have no memory of his own name or other mundane things like what food is or how to eat, and he only gives Nori (and viewers) a glimpse of his purpose/plans when he shows Nori and Poppy a constellation; Nori guesses he wants to go somewhere on Middle-earth where he can see it.
So . . . who is he?
My personal guess is Gandalf, though he’d probably go by the name Olórin in the Second Age.
Why the Clues Suggest the Stranger Is Gandalf
Nori and Poppy clearly establish for viewers that the Stranger is not of any the races they are familiar with: Men, Elves, Dwarves, or Harfoots. He survived crashing from a meteor and possesses some type of magic, and the Harfoots describe him as “giant,” apparently meaning he’s taller even than the Big Folk they’re used to seeing. This would imply the Stranger is probably one of the Maiar.
And there are several hints that he’s specifically Gandalf:
Gandalf has a particular affinity for heat and light, displayed in his love of fireworks in LotR, and the Stranger seems to control the fire around him after the meteor crash.
Nori talks about how she believes she was “meant to find him,” a line reminiscent of when Gandalf tells Frodo in LotR that Frodo was “meant” to find the One Ring.
The scene where the Stranger speaks to the fireflies calls to mind the scene where Gandalf speaks to a moth in LotR.
Gandalf has a soft spot for and interest in Hobbits that no one else in Middle-earth seems to, so the writers could be creating a situation where his love for them originates with the Harfoots saving him upon his arrival in Middle-earth.
But Is Gandalf in Middle-earth in the Second Age?
Both the Valar and the Maiar are spiritual beings and can take various physical forms as they choose (though Sauron eventually cannot assume a beautiful shape), and according to some writings from Tolkien, it’s possible Gandalf was in Middle-earth earlier than the Third Age, simply not in a form that anyone recognized him in. (Which may explain why the Stranger is described as “giant,” when Gandalf in the Third Age is never described as notably tall.)
See the quotes from tweets below:
Could the Stranger Be One of the Other Istari?
Sure, he could be. I’ve seen fans hoping it’s Radagast or one of the Blue Wizards, but I think this would be a bit strange considering all the connections to Gandalf that I pointed out above. The only connection I really see to Radagast is that he’s good with animals, and the Stranger spoke to fireflies, but that’s a bit tenuous. And we don’t know much about the Blue Wizards in general, so I don’t know what clues would point to one of them.
But Could It Be Sauron???
I don’t think this theory makes sense. I’ve seen people suggest the Stranger is Sauron because early in the first episode, Galadriel says one of Sauron’s old hideouts is a place so evil that it sucks the heat from the Elves’ torches — and then fires around the Stranger aren’t actually hot, so it’s as if the heat is being sucked away. This is an interesting point, but I don’t think it’s enough.
There’s no reason Sauron would be in a meteor. Certainly it’s kind of ridiculous anyone is in a meteor, but I can see it as a weird way of transportation between Valinor and Middle-earth. There’s no reason I can think of at all that Sauron would have been in a meteor when the whole premise of the show seems to be that Sauron is hidden away in Middle-earth actively building an orc army and planning world domination.
I also don’t think it works narratively for Sauron to be the Stranger. Tolkien’s work is generally not about crazy plot twists. So, even though this point of the plot was created entirely by the showrunners and not by Tolkien himself, I take it at face value when Nori says the Stranger is important and she feels she was meant to help him. I believe, because of this, that the Stranger is someone good, and these Second Age Hobbits are not accidentally enabling Sauron.
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