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‘The Rings of Power’ Challenges But Does Not Betray Its Source

You may know the plot, but you don’t know these characters.
Rings Of Power Premiere
Amazon Prime
By  · Published on August 31st, 2022

Middle-earth Explained is our new ongoing series, where we delve into the latest Lord of the Rings-related shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry reviews The Rings of Power premiere, the new half-billion-dollar Amazon Prime series.

These days, whenever a new entry arrives in a beloved franchise, a lot of anxiety seems to trail behind. We’re a little too precious regarding our faves; we have too many opinions about what does and does not belong in these stories. The noise around releases threatens to suffocate the joy that comes with them. We must resist our darkest impulses within and without and take the stories as they’re presented. What came before remains. What exists today cannot destroy the past. Whether we’re talking about J.R.R. Tolkien’s books or Peter Jackson’s beloved films (which were once reviled by Tolkien’s son Christopher), they still thrive on your shelves and in your memories. The Rings of Power is not your enemy.

This defensive introduction may speak more to my own apprehension than it does to anyone else’s. I spend too much time online. I see the vitriol streaming from the gutters; knives sharpened well before one frame ever appeared. They tend to drown the excitement of others out, dragging attention to their desperate need. And no matter how good The Rings of Power may be, their pre-determined hatred will not cease. All we can do is bellow a little louder and proclaim love in the face of darkness. So, strap in, cuz The Rings of Power is everything a fantasy geek like me wants on TV.

The anxiety first kicked off when Amazon purchased the rights to The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King), The Hobbit, and their appendices. There is an alternate reality where we were served another run-through of the story Jackson already captured. Such a universe must be incredibly drab, and no one in our realm truly wanted that, right? Instead, showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne narrowed their focus to the material in the back of the books, the appendices that detailed Middle-earth’s Second Age.

The Lord of the Rings primarily takes place during the Third Age, a few millennia after the events depicted in Rings of Power. Most of your favorite characters do not appear in the Amazon series. However, you will recognize some essentials. The premiere episode centers on Galadriel, previously played by Cate Blanchett, currently played by Morfydd Clark. Her elven Lady of the Light is more warrior than oracle. She carries on her deceased brother’s mission to rid Middle-earth of Sauron’s reign, the dark wizard who will eventually attempt to rule with the One Ring.

Rings of Power begins in a time of peace similar to the one Frodo Baggins grew up inside. The Second Age has already completed its great war with evil, vanquishing the demonic foe Morgoth. While rumors surround his right-hand man Sauron’s survival, most Middle-earth occupants prefer to think him long dead. Only Galadriel feels his slow crawl back to relevance.

Thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, we already know most of what happens narratively. At least in terms of big events. The Second Age starts with Morgoth’s downfall and ends with Sauron’s defeat by the Last Alliance of elves and men (the opening prologue seen in The Fellowship of the Ring). In zeroing in on the appendices, Rings of Power requires tremendous character exploration and extrapolation. McKay and Payne are up to the task.

Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel is a bit of a shock at first. Her brother’s death has poisoned her heart, and anger flows through her speech and actions. She’s as righteous as we’ve seen her, but this Galadriel brings her righteousness into the battlefield. Purists might recoil from the depiction, but there’s nothing in Rings of Power that outright contradicts the character on the page. We cannot expect the Galadriel of the Second Age to be the Galadriel of the Third Age. She’s lived lifetimes, and we wouldn’t damn ourselves to be the same person we were when we were twelve or twenty.

Clark contains as much watchability as Cate Blanchett. She commands every character’s attention and ours with theirs. Clark rides that emotional knife’s edge as Galadriel steps into consequences she cannot possibly imagine. We’re watching an education, a series of lessons that will eventually place her in the Lothlórien woods. The path from the Second Age to the Third Age is visible, but it’s probably not as straightforward as expected. There are mighty falls and unexpected tumbles. It could be painful for some to see Galadriel stumble, but it’s a grand reminder that elves demand hard lessons as much as Hobbits.

Rings of Power is not the Galadriel show. As with The Lord of the Rings, McKay and Payne lay a large canvas. The first two episodes jump from the Southlands to Khazad-dûm, where the Mines of Moria fell prey to the Balrog. Populating these spots on the map are several unfamiliar characters. Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) replicate the forbidden love between elf and human as seen between Aragorn and Arwen, but gender-reversed. We meet no Hobbits, but we encounter their Harfoot ancestors, Nori (​​Markella Kavenagh) and Poppy (Megan Richards). They exude Sam and Frodo’s energy, with their innocence immediately tested by episode two.

Their trial comes when a mysterious stranger (Daniel Weyman) crashlands on the outskirts of the Harfoot’s migrating village. Intense speculation already swirls around the character’s identity, and while the premiere doesn’t come out and say it, you get a pretty good idea of who or what he might be. His presence is as challenging to longtime fans as anything else in the series. Your enthusiasm for it is determined by your ability to remain open-minded as Rings of Power makes its intentions known throughout the season.

The show makes it easy for you to set aside your rules and regulations. Amazon dropped nearly $500 million on these eight episodes, and it actually looks like it. No celebrity salaries were padded. It’s all up there on the screen, gloriously so.

Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne are playing with your toys. Do you want to be the kid who rips them back and marches home to their lonely bedroom? Or, would you have more fun sharing, or better yet, recognizing that they’re not your toys? These were gifts given to us by J.R.R. Tolkien. Rings of Power is an invitation to return to Middle-earth, to witness new friends discover Tolkien’s world, and radically expand the Orc-obsessed network.

At the very least, The Rings of Power premiere does not look or feel like any other television show. Watching it within minutes of experiencing the latest House of the Dragon only confirms this notion. The first two episodes lean into fable as much as they do history and mythology. Morality is at its core. The wars outside the body are the direct result of those inside. Beware the belief that you’re above anyone else. Beware the desire for power. Listen to Professor Tolkein. Rings of Power certainly did.

The Rings of Power premiere starts streaming on Amazon Prime on 9/1.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)