I have a confession to make: I am a fan of the Ewoks in The Return Of The Jedi. I always have been and I always will be. I suppose it’s partly because I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy and Endor’s diminutive inhabitants are designed to appeal to kids.
It’s also partly a matter of taste. I like rooting for the little guy. I also grew up reading The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings and watching Willow and in each of these stories, the little guy faces down impossible odds, just like the Ewoks did in their guerilla warfare against The Empire.
This makes me a natural fan of the Harfoot nomads in The Rings Of Power, regardless of their crueler customs. I like Nori and Poppy and this little band of (mostly) jolly travelers. And I’m very, very curious about the mysterious Stranger and his identity. After the show’s fifth episode, he’s more mysterious than ever.
We see him and Nori bonding, with her teaching him bits and pieces of her culture, telling him about the migration and its dangers. He’s learning to speak and points to himself, indicating that he’s a danger—after all, he’s one of the big people.
She tells him no, he’s a friend. He’s helping. And help he does—but that doesn’t mean he’s not a danger. As the Harfoots are making their way through a particularly spooky forest, they’re attacked by a trio of wolves (the wolves look so weird in this show) and the Stranger intervenes, throwing one of the charging beasts to the ground. He then slaps the earth with his arm, sending out a shockwave that blasts the wolves backward. They beat a quick retreat.
The Stranger’s arm is badly bruised, but he’s ingratiated himself with the tribe now that they know he’s willing to help protect them and has the means to do so. Nori comes to tell him this and finds him with his arm in a pool of water. Ice is forming along it and he appears to be in a trance. He’s speaking a strange language and the words grow more and more intense. Nori, rather foolishly, puts her hand on his arm and the ice begins to spread to her hand. She yells and pleads with him, terrified, as he chants louder and louder, entirely oblivious of her presence.
Finally, the ice shatters and Nori rips her hand free, turns tail and runs. The Stranger looks a little mystified. His hand and arm appear to be healed. This casts him in a more ominous light, but I’m still not onboard with the Sauron theory. I think magic is a frightening and mysterious power and Nori simply put herself in a situation she shouldn’t have. He didn’t do anything to her. She put her hand on him and the ice spread, but that wasn’t his intention. He clearly cares for his little companions and has put himself in harm’s way to save them.
Which brings us to these scary looking characters:
I’ve heard that these are priestesses of Melkor (aka Morgoth) and part of some cult that pays homage to Sauron. If true, it appears he’s sent them to go investigate the comet and find whoever landed in it. This ties back to the theory that Sauron and Gandalf got in a tussle and Sauron was the victor, casting the Wizard to the earth in a ball of fire, his memories temporarily lost or jumbled. He’s sent his servants out to find the Istari and presumably capture him. This could also work if it was a different Wizard, like one of the two Blue Wizards we never encounter in The Lord Of The Rings.
In any case, it appears some very scary hunters will now be pursuing the slow-moving Harfoot caravan, which is exciting and exactly the kind of thing that creates meaningful tension in a show. Basically, this whole storyline is going really well. I like and care about Nori and Poppy and the Stranger and I’m very curious where all of this goes.
And that’s about the only part of this show I’m still enjoying other than Elrond and Durin’s friendship, which remains a highlight of The Rings Of Power, even if basically everything about Mithril is a bit . . . off.
It turns that Elrond wasn’t sent to the dwarves just to ask them for help building Celebrimbor’s forge. The elven High King, Gil-Galad, was actually playing a deeper game, a subterfuge—hoping that Elrond would learn about Mithril and report back to him.
This is . . . extremely convoluted! If Gil-Galad and Celebrimbor already knew about Mithril, why not tell Elrond and have him inquire? The reason they need the precious ore—not just desire it—is apparently because the elves are losing their collective mojo. Some kind of rot has set in and soon, they either need to leave Middle-earth entirely, or find some way to keep their inner elf-light alive.
Mithril is the answer to this puzzle, it seems—though it’s not entirely clear how it all works (it’s magic!) Gil-Galad continues to cement his place as one of the show’s biggest jerks but urging Elrond to break his vow to Durin after lying to him about his real mission. Instead, Elrond fesses up to Durin and they have a nice, heartfelt conversation like adults.
Bronwyn, Girlboss Of The Southlands
Honestly, I don’t know what to say about this subplot. It’s gotten really bad, which is a shame. It had real potential. Bronwyn as a healer might make a pretty cool adventuring party member with Arondir as the elven archer and maybe Theo tagging along as the budding rogue. But . . .
Theo is a deeply obnoxious character at this point. The less we see of him the better. I guess it’s interesting that the sword hilt he found is actually a key, but I think it would have been cool just to be a magic sword.
Why are they making Bronwyn the leader of the Southlands all of a sudden? What experience or qualifications does a healer woman have leading soldiers to war? Why is she giving speeches about standing and fighting? Why is she telling this small gathering of villagers stuff like “I know I’m not the king you’ve been waiting for”? No crap, lady. You’re not a fighter or a leader of any kind. You got lucky and killed a single orc one time. It took Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin an entire trilogy before they came back to the Shire and took on the mantle of leaders of their people who had to fight back against the oppression of Saruman. But here in The Rings Of Power there’s no time for actual character development!
Granted, half the people left to go bend the knee to Adar (who the old dude mistakes for Sauron, as though anyone outside of ancient elves would know who Sauron was after he’s been in hiding for thousands of years). Adar, meanwhile, is quickly becoming a cartoon villain. He makes an orc show his arm in the sun and it crackles and burns—orcs are now vampires, apparently. He also makes the old guy kill the younger guy because nothing binds an oath as well as blood. Bwahahaha!
Arondir is, uh, just mostly standing around except for when he discovers the sword hilt is actually a key. Still, it’s a relief that Adar gave him his bow and arrows back last week. He’ll have a better time defending the townsfolk heavily armed.
All told, this storyline exemplifies the pacing problem with Rings Of Power. The show leaps forward in great, wobbly strides, giving us the first signs of orcs in one episode and then having us already headed toward all-out war with a fresh new master-villain. We skip past all the interesting character development that might have occurred with an actual story in place, and leap headlong into the conflict.
These are the exact same problems we have, though on a grander scale, over in Númenor . . . .
Galadriel, Great Galloping Girlboss Of Númenor
Did you know that Galadriel can singlehandedly swordfight against five inexperienced sailors and barely take a scratch?
She totally can. Yas queen!
Look, I won’t pick on Galadriel too much in this review. I’ve made my opinions known about the character. She remains insufferable and irritating, overly serious and dull, and entirely wrong for this show but whatever. The problems with her story go well beyond the elf.
Númenor is just a total mess. Again, the pacing is all over the place. In almost no time, Galadriel has convinced the elves not just to help her out but to commit five ships and five hundred men to go with her to the Southlands where she’ll crown their rightful king who she just happened to meet on a shipwreck when she was swimming across the ocean after changing her mind about going to Valinor, who were then both rescued by Elendil, the guy who eventually leads the faithful Númenoreans off their doomed island and founds Gondor.
Yes, Galadriel and her new pal Halbrand, the King of the Southlands, are rescued by Aragorn’s great-great-great-etc-grandpa in the middle of the ocean and within days of her coming home with him has convinced the Queen Regent, Miriel, to go to war with an unknown foe she’s heard about from one guy she barely knows.
Terrific, terrific stuff here, Amazon.
Yeah, when you type it out it really does sound absurd, doesn’t it? The sheer level of coincidence involved is galling.
And despite all that momentum, we’ve spent very little time actually getting to know these people or the place itself. Númenor is Generic Fantasy Metropolis incarnate. Very pretty, sure, but it lacks the feeling of a real place. There’s a scene of a guy rowing his boat down one of the city’s channels and what I was reminded of most was some of the more elaborate Las Vegas casinos I’ve been to. Númenor feels like a Las Vegas casino, all razzle dazzle and plastic.
Its characters are just as shallow. Isildur has spent every second onscreen in some kind of argument with his friends and family and I’m not sure why. He seems like a pretty nice guy but boy are people constantly upset with him. When he let’s a rope slip during training he’s not only dismissed from the navy entirely, his two best friends are kicked out also. In a sane world, this might result in them being very upset at the prick who kicked them all out. In the lunatic world of Rings Of Power it means we get two straight episodes of these guys being really really angry at Isildur. Elendil is mad at his son also, refusing to let him go to the Southlands.
So Isildur stows away and is almost burnt to death when Pharazon’s son Kemen sets the ship on fire. He’s against the war (which is understandable) and decides the best way to handle that is to, uh, burn Númenor’s fleet.
Honestly, I’m getting frustrated just talking about all of this. The entire Númenor subplot is painful to watch. The characters are constantly bickering. Nobody but Halbrand is likable and he’s mostly just a cliché. Isildur is fine but he’s basically a blank slate—neither good nor bad, remarkably unremarkable, he can be whatever you want him to be, which seems mostly to be whipping boy for everyone else’s inexplicable ire.
All told, this episode mostly just spun its wheels. The Harfoot plotline moved ahead nicely, but everything else lurched to a stop—after rushing forward for the last few episodes. Now we have three left and I can’t imagine a satisfying conclusion that will make everyone super excited for Season 2, but I could be wrong. I’ll have a more detailed write-up on the many failings of the Númenorean plotline soon.