December 4, 2023

The Rings of Power: a review of Amazon’s $500 M series

Amazon Prime’s Rings of Power series launched on Sept. 1

WARNING: Contains minor spoilers for the Rings of Power series.

Amazon Prime’s Rings of Power series launched on Sept. 1 and has received mixed reviews since. The show was given a 500-million-dollar budget, and is a passion project of Jeff Bezos, executive chairman of Amazon.

Rings of Power is a prequel to both the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies by J. R. R. Tolkien. It details events of Middle Earth’s “second age,” which take places thousands of years before the other movies. While there are some returning characters such as Elrond and Galadriel, the show isn’t based off any of Tolkein’s own work.

As a whole, Rings of Power is an ambitious show that juggles four plot lines.

The first we see is of young Galadriel, who has a conversation with her brother about good and evil in the world. From there, Galadriel details a brief history of the elves and Middle Earth, setting the stage and tone of the series. She tells the audience about how the Elves fought back the Dark Lord of the first age, Morgoth. We also learn that during this struggle her brother died.

There’s a time skip to present day. We find a hot-headed Galadriel is still hunting for orcs long after their demise, but she is forced to end her search when her crew tells her they’ve had enough. Far from the wise elf lord we see in The Lord of the Rings, Galadriel is essentially dragged back to the elven capital of Lindon kicking and screaming.

From there, she is “banished” back to the lands in the west, to leave Middle Earth forever and go back to her home in Undying Lands, where some of the Elves originally come from. Elrond plays a small part in assuring her this is what she must do. Galadriel is cast out of Middle Earth, and finds herself faced with a decision at the gates of the Undying Lands.

In the second plotline, the show jumps to a small forest clearing. After hiding from “Big Folk” hunters, a bunch of creatures called “Harfoots,” jump out of the brush, trees, and camouflage. The area springs to life, we’re introduced to Nori Brandybuck, ancestor of the hobbit Merry from The Lord of the Rings. The Harfoots don’t do much other than exist, and we get a look into how they live their lives and their culture. At the end of the first episode, a mysterious man simply named “The Stranger” falls from the sky. Nori makes it her mission to befriend the man and discover why he fell from the sky.

The third plotline begins following an elf named Arondir through a patrol through a human village. Arondir is a part of a small group of elves that’s kept watch over the Southlands of Middle Earth for years. There is a small village at the foot of a valley, Tirharad, that they’ve watched over in particular. This is due to the fact that the ancestors of the present day residents supported Morgoth in the war against the elves. The men of the village resent the elves and Arondir for their constant patrols and watch. 

During his patrol, Arondir also checks in with the village healer, Bronwyn. Despite that, we learn Arondir and Bronwyn have developed feelings for each other before Arondir returns to the Elven watch tower.

Coming back to the tower, Arondir learns that the Elven force in the region is to be disbanded. Their watch is done. Conflicted, Arondir ultimately decides to stay in Tirihad. As he’s returning to Bronwyn, they are met by a man who’s having trouble with his cow. It’s producing black goo instead of Milk, which prompts Arondir and Bronwyn to check out the village next to Tirihad. The episode ends as they see its fate.

The fourth plot begins at the tail-end of episode one. We see Elrond struggling with feelings of duty and friendship as he has a brief conversation with the elf king Gil-galad. They debate whether or not sending Galadriel away from Middle Earth was the right decision. The king insists it was, while Elrond is uncertain.

In episode two, we see Elrond’s plot really begin as the smith Celebrimbor comes to him with a request. He needs a team of dwarves to build him a tower, and sends Elrond to appeal to Prince Durin in Khazad Dum on the elves’ behalf. The dwarf prince is a personal friend of Elrond, but rejects him when he tries to enter their kingdom. Confused, but knowing that the dwarves won’t change their minds, Elrond demands to have a contest with Durin so that he can to speak with him. We get to see into the realm of the dwarves, and Elrond slowly begins rekindling his friendship with Durin.

Each episode of Rings of Power is over an episode long. It moves painfully slow at times, and it’s hard to get invested into some of the characters. This has been the cause of lots of controversy surrounding the show. There have been racist and misogynistic remarks directed towards some of the actors and characters of the show, which is unfair criticism the show has received.

Additionally, the show makes more and more sense with subsequent rewatches. There’s lots of foreshadowing hidden in plain sight, events and reveals that happen in the final episode are being alluded to in the first. Additionally, certain conversations and tones can have drastic shifts as we gain more and more context to them.

Despite criticisms of characters and pacing, the settings of Rings of Power are gorgeous. In the early episodes, the settings really make the world feel alive. The setting is something that the characters are actively interacting with, rather than just standing around while they talk.

However, because of the high budget of the show, there are certain characters and scenes that just look garish and kind of weird. There’s also a lot of random gore and body parts that it seems like they spent the money on just because they could.

The show’s actors have also done a phenomenal job with an otherwise decent script. Robert Aramayo as, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Daniel Weyman and Owain Arthur have all put on masterful performances as Elrond, Galadriel, Arondir, “The Stranger” and Prince Durin respectively.

The show aired its last episode Oct. 15. 

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