An Unexpected Journey
(This is a spoiler-FREE review)
I wouldn’t consider myself a die hard fan of Lord of the Rings, but I have certainly enjoyed the films that have released particularly when it comes to Peter Jackson’s original trilogy. The story is timeless, the effects were revolutionary, and the themes still resonate with people this day. The attachment fans have with The Lord of the Rings property is unlike any fandom I have seen before and when it comes to Rings of Power I have heard varying mixed opinions due to the stray from the source material. As simply a fan of the movies and original trilogy, I went into the show fairly open-minded and excited to see what they could do with some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s material. Fortunately, I was blown away with what they have done with this show and am excited to see more after this first season. It is welcoming to existing and new fans alike, invests you in the world and story, and sets up events that will certainly be epic in the seasons to come. While certainly not perfect when it comes to pacing, The Rings of Power is a worthy addition to the growing multitude of streaming shows and remains one that should be watched and enjoyed.
Set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the series chronicles the events of Middle-earth’s Second Age as the rise the Dark Lord Sauron looms, alliances are forged and broken in the struggle between light and darkness, and the titular Rings of Power are formed. The series follows a multitude of characters including elves Galadriel and Elrond, dwarven kingdom of the Mines of Moiria, the Harfoots (distant ancestors of the Hobbits), the island kingdom of Numenor, and the men of Northlands as each wrestles with the impending conflict of the return of Sauron and his powerful orc army.
The series has a lot of ground and storylines to cover across its eight, hourish long episodes and for the most parts it succeeds. The show imbues the balance of films like The Two Towers and The Return of the King, that have multiple different storylines and characters but all serving a similar purpose. Each of the characters are instantly engaging and investing making it easier to switch between the stories because each one you get provides some interesting developments and intrigue to follow along. The story overall does suffer in pacing in the middle episodes, a sin common amongst many streaming shows, but never does so at the cost of the overall investment in the world.
J.R.R Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth is recognized and acclaimed by many, and watching this show with sweeping landscape shots and filming occurring on location attempts to capture that same awe and wonder. The Rings of Power has been noted to be one of the most expensive shows ever made, and that quality does not go unnoticed. The show intends to invoke the same feel and surroundings of The Lord of the Rings, and for the most part it succeeds particularly during jaw-dropping battle sequences involving orcs invading or the impending doom of a flood. Each of these sequences grabs the audience in, forgoing CGI effects in areas where possible to solicit a visceral and expansive experience.
With the stories, the ones that work the best tend to be Galadriel’s quest on the island kingdom Numenor, Elrond’s rekindling friendship with his dwarven friend Durin, and the Northlands efforts to stay the orcs advancements. Morfydd Clark’s performance as Galadriel is excellent, imbuing this character with an insatiable thirst for vengeance and determination in the wake of her brother’s death. Her determination can blind her at times, making for an interesting character study particularly as she comes across other characters but as one of the primary leads of the show, her journey is worth investing in. Elrond, played by Robert Aramayo has an equally charming personality that makes his quest endearing to watch, similarly the Northlands characters of Arondir and Bronwyn show clear lines of good and evil with very little room for needlessly “grey” morality characters.
While not all of the characters gain valuable insight or character development, this first season is more concerned with the overall narrative and momentum as opposed to being mostly character driven. We do get a good feel for all of the characters and key players here, but the show doesn’t dig too dip into the psyche’s and motivations leaving more to be desired. The biggest thing done with the characters is speculation and intrigue, particularly as the mystery of “who/where is Sauron” becomes a point of tension particularly in the latter half of the episodes or what exactly “The Stranger” is. With some of the major plot points set in motion already by the season’s ends and the titular rings of power starting to make their debut, I am hoping to see more from the character standpoint moving forward.
Much has been said about how much this show deviates from J.R.R Tolkien’s original work, however as someone who was more a peripheral fan of the source material I didn’t feel like any major injustices were done to characters to established lore. I enjoyed many of the directions the show took with characters as it kept the themes of good and evil perfectly intake while also raising some interesting questions moving forward. It’s undoubtedly hard to adapt something that is so beloved by fans while also appealing to a wider audience, however I feel that there is something here for everyone to like. If you’re a Tolkien purist, then nothing that is to be created now or in the future regarding this material may ever fully satisfy you which is a sentiment I can certainly share when it comes to the Harry Potter franchise.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has a great first season that properly establishes its main characters, builds good mysteries, and invests us in a ever expansive world. It does the best it can to juggle many different storylines, contain thrilling action and jaw dropping cinematography, and provide firm lines of good and evil that it’s hard not to become invested by the time the season ends. While the characterization does leave more to be desired, with an anticipated 4-5 more seasons, I am sure there is plenty of room for those gaps to be filled moving forward. I recommend checking out this show, whether you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or not, as the fantasy and excitement is something that shouldn’t be missed.