I’m about to say something very controversial yet very brave: I have never seen Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I haven’t seen The Hobbit films, and I have never read the books. Despite my previous lack of interest in Tolkien and his sprawling fantasy world, Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power quickly became one of my favorite TV series of this year. The season finale, which finally revealed long-awaited answers and changed the power structure of Middle-earth forever, still worked wonders for me, even though I have no context for what’s to come.
Throughout the season, The Rings of Power smartly utilized its characters and its scope to tell a fairly contained story about impending doom, while not relying too heavily on the expectations set by the source material. Though complaints about the series reached from its slow pacing to its lack of consistent travel time, I can’t help but wonder if my own lack of knowledge of this world made those complaints feel insignificant, or even nonsensical.
Because while a majority of viewers have seen Lord of the Rings and are familiar with this world, it required some hand-holding to get me up to speed within the first few episodes, which the series graciously accommodated for. Every moment was new to me, so absorbing the series’ double-episode premiere felt like it was over much too quickly rather than moving at a snail’s pace. It slowly unfolded Tolkien’s world before me, and I found myself feeling completely in-tune with the series from the jump, never having to venture to Google to understand what was happening or where things were taking place.
Other than its accessibility, the most successful aspect of The Rings of Power is its ability to build characters that feel likable, flawed, and wholly realized, which grounded most of the finale’s shocking revelations. The extent of my outside knowledge of Sauron is that he’s super evil and eventually becomes a floating, fiery eye, so the reveal within the series worked more on Sauron’s connection to Galadriel than any expectations of who he becomes. Because, when stripping away the decades of lore and hours of film dedicated to this villain, the reveal is more about Galadriel than anything else. It’s about her misguided trust of a stranger, her hurt ego at being outsmarted by her greatest enemy, her former admiration for the man she had no idea killed her brother.
While Halbrand was very obviously the series’ Big Bad (something the heavy-handed outdoor market scene and subsequent alley brawl on Numenor during Episode 3 solidified for me), the extent to which he had planned all the dominoes to fall in his favor was surprisingly satisfying, especially knowing that Season 2 will feature Galadriel fighting harder than ever against whatever he may be doing next.
It was fascinating, of course, to watch as Halbrand attempted to manipulate Galadriel by preying on her own elvish arrogance (something Durin accused Elrond of harboring throughout the season as well), but it was more interesting to see how Galadriel reacted afterwards. Her choice to allow the rings to be manufactured, to play into Sauron’s hand for the good of both herself and her people, solidified her as one of Rings of Power’s most interesting characters—and my own personal favorite. She is complex, she’s arrogant, she’s strong, and she is now hell-bent on defeating Sauron even more than she was before; what’s not to love?
Like the Sauron reveal, the revelation that the Stranger is actually the Wise Wizard worked for me as well, similarly in the context of those he was surrounded by rather than what the original trilogy suggests. While I found the Harfoots incredibly hard to root for (especially Sadoc, whose death felt more deserved than actually upsetting), Nori was a stand-out character, and the way she helped the Stranger understand the goodness within him was touching. Gandalf gaining his power, his name (almost), and his ability to speak through the ultimate act of kindness by saving Nori and her family was the perfect introduction to Sauron’s foil.
Beyond that, Rings of Power’s commitment to its characters and their relationships kept a steady anchor on the series’ numerous storylines, allowing for an easy entry point into this world. Instead of needing to understand the complex relationship between the elves and the dwarves, Rings of Power boils those power dynamics down to Elrond and Durin’s friendship, highlighting both the joy and turmoil caused by their reunion. Similarly, the relationship between Bronwyn and Arondir communicated so much not only about the strained history between humans and the elves, but also about the Southlands themselves, making it all the more devastating to watch them be swallowed up and turned into Mordor. Even Bronwyn’s son Theo was able to showcase how people can easily become seduced by the power Morgoth and Sauron’s side offers, and how kindness and compassion from the side of good can easily sway the darkness away. Even more so, the trust between Elendil and his queen allowed the series to showcase the complex politics of Numenor, and the harrowing consequences of a war that has just barely begun.
Throughout the season, Rings of Power’s most devastating blows came in the form of the smallest moments: Queen Míriel being unable to see the black flags signifying her father’s death; Poppy briefly running away from Nori because she can’t bear to say goodbye; Elrond holding Galadriel’s mistake in his hands but not revealing it; Durin’s father telling him to leave his ceremonial chestplate where he threw it to the ground. The fact that the finale featured no large, unwieldy fight scenes (besides the brief moment in which Galdalf turned those servants of Sauron into butterflies—is that an original trilogy thing?) solidified that the series’ biggest stakes are the ones taking place within the moment, not what may happen years down the canonical road.
In many ways, Rings of Power feels like a fantasy series of olde, one where the people within it genuinely care for each other, and a pointed betrayal sends shockwaves through the entire series because it doesn’t happen every single week. It reminds me of shows like BBC’s Merlin, especially in its unapologetic earnestness. The show’s ability to feature unflinching hope even in the face of mortal danger feels radical in comparison to most contemporary fantasy series. Which, more than anything, feels like the most universal aspect of the show. Even though I have no connection to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, I do understand hope, friendship, connection, and hardship—all themes that themselves feel more important within The Rings of Power than a single reveal or Easter egg.
While we might not see The Rings of Power Season 2 for at least two years, I now have plenty of time to dive into Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s work to sate my Middle-earth appetite. So no, I haven’t seen The Lord of the Rings, but The Rings of Power has made me a convert.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert;.
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