The following article contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Do not read until you have seen episodes one to six …
One elf to kill them all …
Well, well, well. Have you got your breath back yet?
We began this fantastic episode with Adar (Joseph Mawle), aided by the turncoat Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) charging into the watchtower, only to realise it was a trap and Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) was waiting for them.
When Game of Thrones was in its pomp, there was a long-running internet gag about Ramsay Bolton needing just 20 good men, rather than an army, to win any battle. Over in Middle-earth, you just need one good elf. He’s got some talent, and yes, lots of things went conveniently right, but it thankfully stopped short of Legolas surfing down an oliphaunt’s trunk levels of daftness.
Of course, defeating Adar was never going to be easy, and the rest of the attack was in two waves – but not before the elf and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) shared a quick kiss. First came the humans disguised as orcs, who proved no match for their old neighbours, although that sequence featured one of the very best moments of the episode. Arondir’s fight with that giant orc was gripping, and for the first time this series I started to think one of the main characters wasn’t going to make it. But Bronwyn arrived to save her love.
The Southlanders’ celebrations were short-lived, with a double whammy of realising they had mainly been killing their former kin and then a volley of orcish arrows. Bronwyn caught one in the shoulder, and, again, I wasn’t entirely sure she was going to make it.
Up to the hilt
The resistance didn’t last long, and pretty soon Adar was randomly killing folk in his search for the sword hilt. Unfortunately Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) knew where it was and folded. Talk about timing, though – it was just as the Númenóreans arrived on horseback. A thrilling sequence with brilliant choreography and camerawork put us right among the action.
The episode’s best scene, however, was yet to come, and featured a now-captured Adar being questioned by Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). The Dutch angles here conjuring just the right amount of unease as Adar explained his motives and Galadriel revealed herself to be every bit as twisted.
As the episode came to a close, we saw Waldreg – we forgot all about him, didn’t we? – take the hilt and return to the watchtower to turn the key. And just like that – with the most impressive CGI I’ve ever seen – Mount Doom erupted and Mordor was created before our very eyes. Life in Middle-earth will never be the same again.
All told, not the most convincing episode to add to my Halbrand is Sauron case file. But it’s far from devastating. Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) de-horsed Adar with style and very nearly killed him (two hero points), but I think his question about whether the fallen elf remembers him can be taken two ways. Yes, he could have been wronged by Adar previously, but … as Sauron is possibly already at large here, hiding in another body, I believe he was checking to see if his old lieutenant recognised him.
I’m not convinced Halbrand stopped Galadriel killing Adar to save her, either, and the way he walked off when asked who he is could be telling. But now he’s the king of the Southlands, accepted all too easily by the people he abandoned all those years before. This week’s most stinking line of dialogue goes to Bronwyn, who asked: “Is it true? Are you the king we were promised?” when faced with returning Halbrand. No one talks like that, surely?
After a promising start, this series has been dragging its big hairy feet. World-building takes time, but even so, it was taking far too long for very little to happen. All that changed here, as storylines crashed into one another in truly nailbiting fashion.
I loved the arrival of the Númenóreans on horseback – the director Charlotte Brändström said she was inspired by the battle tactics of mounted Ukrainian cossacks – and it was difficult not to think of the rohirrim riding in to save the day at Helm’s Deep from The Two Towers. Galadriel and Halbrand chasing Adar was also thrilling.
Tonally, the series has been hard to pin down so far – it can feel as if one minute the harfoots will be wandering around all whimsical, and the next, someone will be getting their throat slashed – but this was more even on that score (though I fear Bronwyn having her wound seared shut might have been too much for some).
Ultimately, I think this was a reward for those who have kept faith – this was the level I was expecting the series to reach when the story got going. For those with more of a negative view than my own, it should be enough to persuade them to come back.
Notes and observations
Arondir’s explanation of planting seeds before battle was a neat callback to the episode’s opening, in which Adar placed a handful of seeds in the soil before the orcs attacked the watchtower. It also got me thinking of this woman in Ukraine earlier this year, handing a Russian soldier a packet of sunflower seeds.
When Theo asked Bronwyn to recite the comforting words she used to utter when he was scared as a child, I was expecting something a little snappier than: “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.” What’s wrong with “There, there”?
On the subject of Isildur’s mum, who was mentioned several times in this episode … Elendil was married to a Númenórean woman, but Tolkien never mentioned her name.
We can surely forgive Theo for showing Adar where the sword hilt was, but that was some terrible hiding by Arondir.
What is the loss Theo spoke of? We still haven’t had an answer about the identity of his father, which I think will be important in the coming seasons. There’s more to this lad than a bad haircut and a scar on his arm, mark my words.
Speaking at a Q&A in London earlier this week, showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay explained they got the idea of Mount Doom’s creation from the geologist father of one of the show’s writers. He told them it would be possible to make a volcano erupt if enough steam pressure was involved. Never let it be said that The Rings of Power isn’t realistic.
At the same Q&A, they let slip that Brändström, who directed this and next week’s episode seven, will return to series two to direct four episodes.
What did you think? Was the battle all you were hoping for? Have your say below …