Recap: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ Episode 1 and 2
Amazon Prime’s prequel to 'The Lord of the Rings' arrives at last, with the series’ first two episodes re-introducing creator J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
Few prequel stories in recent years have been as hotly anticipated by fans as 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.'
Developed by J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay for Amazon Prime, and set thousands of years before the events described in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, the show’s first season will run eight episodes. We’ll be recapping each of them for you, starting with episode 1: "A Shadow of the Past," and episode 2: "Adrift."
“Nothing is evil in the beginning. And there was a time when the world was so young, there had not yet been a sunrise. But even then there was light.”
The show opens with a young Galadriel (played by Amelie Child-Villiers) having just crafted a paper boat. But her heart breaks when a gang of other children pelt it with stones and sink the swan-shaped craft. To cheer her up, her older brother Finrod (Will Fletcher) tells her that a ship floats, while a stone cannot, because the stone sees only downward, while the ship gazes upward “fixed upon the light that guides her.”
In the following montage sequence, we learn that the elves, immortal in their shining land of Valinor, once had no word for death. But the wicked Morgoth destroyed the light of their home. The elves then went to war, crossing the Sundering Seas to Middle-earth.
The war left Middle-Earth in ruins, and lasted centuries, giving the Elves many names for death. Eventually, Morgoth was defeated. But his orcs spread across Middle-earth, growing greater in number under his disciple Sauron. Sauron killed Finrod, and marked his body with his sigil.
As the story continues in the present day, the adult Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), wielding her brother’s dagger, has been hunting Sauron across the world; traveling as far as Forodwaith, the Northernmost Waste, where she finds the remains of orcs who’d meddled in sorcery.
In a scene reminiscent of 'The Fellowship of the Ring’s cave-troll encounter, Galadriel and her soldiers run afoul of a snow-troll, whom she neatly defeats with some expert swordsmanship. But her troops tell her that after countless years of searching they’ve had enough, and lay down their swords.
Galadriel returns to Lindon, the Elves’ home in Middle-Earth, where she reunites with her friend Elrond (Robert Aramayo), an optimistic young politician (as portrayed by Hugo Weaving in the 'Rings' films). Elrond convinces Galadriel to comply with the wish of their High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) to declare the war is over by ceasing to hunt Sauron, whom the elves believe dead, and retiring to their native land of Valinor.
Meanwhile, in another part of Middle-earth, we’re introduced to the nomadic Hobbit tribe of Harfoots (or “hair foot”), each of which speaks with an Irish accent. Among them are wise elder Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry), Largo and Marigold Brandyfoot (Dylan Smith and Sara Zwangobani), their restless, adventure-seeking daughter Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and her long-suffering friend Poppy (Megan Richards).
In the Southlands, a.k.a. the Lands of Men, we meet Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a healer and single mother to the teenaged Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) in the town of Tirharad. Bronwyn’s in the midst of an undeclared, forbidden romance with Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), an elf soldier tasked with watching over her land, populated as it is by the descendants of Morgoth’s allies.
With the war now over, however, Arondir is told his duty has ended. But, unbeknownst to both Arondir and Bronwyn, Theo has come to possess a broken sword that bears the sigil of Sauron.
As Arondir begins telling Bronwyn he must leave her, the two learn that the nearby village of Horden has been destroyed. Galadriel boards the elf ship bound for Valinor. But, at the last second, before passing into the undying lands, she snatches her brother’s dagger and dives into the sea.
As she does so, a meteor soars across the skies of Middle-Earth, crashing down near the Harfoots’ encampment. Nori investigates, and finds, in the center of the fiery crash site, a mysterious bearded man (Daniel Weyman).
Episode 2 opens with Nori convincing Poppy to help her rescue the bearded stranger, a giant by Harfoot measure, whom she believes she was meant to save.
Exploring the ruins of Horden, Bronwyn and Arondir can find no bodies or wounded, but instead a large, man-made tunnel beneath the town. While Bronwyn runs home to warn her own village of the attack, Arondir enters the tunnel, only to find himself grabbed by a horde of beastly hands.
In Eregion, Realm of the Elven-Smiths, the master builder Lord Celebrinbor (Charles Edwards) tells his guest Elrond he wishes to fill the world with beauty, by devising something of “real power.” He shows Elrond his plans for a tower, hosting a forge, “more powerful than any ever built.”
“The things we could use it to create could transform Middle-earth,” he says. Elrond suggests asking the dwarves for help, as the dwarf prince Durin IV is an old friend. He and Celebrinbor journey to the dwarves’ home in Khazad-Dum.
But instead of the warm reception he expects, Elrond is greeted with spite by Durin (Owain Arthur), and forced to compete with him in a rock-smashing competition. It turns out Durin holds a grudge against Elrond for not visiting him in twenty years, thus missing his wedding and the births of his two children. Thankfully, his wife Disa (Sophia Nomvete) smooths things over between the two old friends. Durin then speaks with his father, the dwarf king Durin III (Peter Mullan), on Elrond’s behalf.
Half a world away, Galadriel is fished out of the sea by a raft, its meager crew the survivors of a shipwreck. But they’re immediately attacked by a sea monster, and she’s forced overboard once more. Fortunately, she’s rescued by the raft’s sole survivor, a surly human named Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) who’s been chased from his homeland by orcs.
Speaking of orcs, a lone orc attacks Theo, but Bronwyn decapitates it, and uses its head to convince the townsfolk to flee Tirharad. Nori, still keeping her newfound friend’s arrival a secret from the other Harfoots, learns the stranger can speak to fireflies, and that he appears to be searching for a new constellation in the sky.
Battling a fierce ocean storm, Galdriel almost drowns, but she’s rescued by Halbrand. The next morning, the two are greeted by a mysterious figure atop the deck of a tall ship.
Condensing thousands of years of Middle-Earth history as detailed by Tolkien in 'The Lord of the Rings’ appendices into one era and narrative, 'The Rings of Power' has more balls to juggle than any 'Star Wars,' 'Star Trek,' or 'Harry Potter' prequel. The fact that it does so and still manages to convince us it has a story worth telling and characters worth rooting for more than makes up for any overly long stretches of exposition in these first two episodes.
The show’s record-breaking budget is evident on screen, with sets and vistas that rival even those of the beloved 'Lord of the Rings' films. 'The Rings of Power' doesn’t shy away from fan service, certain scenes recall Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) arrival in 'The Fellowship of the Ring' and the One Ring’s possession of Gollum (Andy Serkis), with even the Ents (living trees) making a cameo appearance.
But there’s enough variation on old themes, including elf-human romance and elf-dwarf tensions, coupled with fresh storylines and characters (played by a welcomely diverse cast), that even fans burned out on Middle-earth by the critically derided 'Hobbit' film trilogy will enjoy this return trip to Tolkien’s imagination.
We’re looking forward to sharing the journey with you!