Prime Video’s billion-dollar extension of Tolkien’s universe gets off to a rollicking, worldbuilding start.
Welcome to The Spool’s new weekly recaps of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. If you’re spoiler-averse, please be aware that this is a full breakdown of the first two episodes, and there will be spoilers. Please read responsibly.
“Where there is love, it is never truly dark.”
For some of us, there has been a Hobbit-sized hole in our hearts since the credits rolled on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies eight years ago. And while it’s always a treat to spend more time in
New Zealand Middle Earth, the Hobbit movies lacked the true life-or-death, all-or-nothing scope that Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now, Amazon is betting their entire streaming budget on the Tolkien stans with their opulent fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Luckily for them, the bet pays off. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have created a dense, lore-heavy narrative with a vast cast of characters and some truly stunning visuals. And while true scholars of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion will find Easter eggs galore, the lore is not so dense that a greenhorn won’t be able to follow along.
While the sets and locations are a true feast for the eyes, the real accomplishment here is in creating a character-driven narrative with such a large ensemble cast, and the first two episodes are barely scratching the surface of the entire cast list, so it looks as though we are in for a jam-packed series. Hopefully, they continue the momentum set in these first two episodes, condensed here into one recap. Again, if you are worried about spoilers, read no further.
We begin in the fabled isle of Valinor, home of the Elves, where there was no word for death. As in The Lord of the Rings, we begin with a voiceover from Galadriel, but rather than Cate Blanchett’s silky-yet-inscrutable tone, it is the voice of a younger, sharper, and altogether harder Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). After seeing baby elf Galadriel getting life advice from her unnamed older brother (Will Fletcher), whom she adores. We learn via voiceover about Valinor and how the no-good, very evil lord Morgoth wreaked such havoc on Valinor that the elves pursued him to a strange, wild land called Middle Earth. If the elves found Middle Earth odd, I wonder what they’d think of Florida.
After Morgoth was defeated in the War of Wrath (or was he?), the elves decided to set up camp and keep an eye on Middle Earth until they were confident the thread had passed under the watchful eye of High King of the Elves Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker, sporting a luxurious mullet wig) Sadly, Galadriel’s brother also perished in the great battle, prompting her to take up his sword and continue to hunt down Morgoth’s right-hand man, a little lad some call Sauron.
This is not the weird, mysterious Galadriel we all know and love from Lord of the Rings, nor is it the weird, horny Galadriel we all know and love from The Hobbit. This Galadriel is GI Jane-ing her way into the northern wastes, a severe taskmaster with her underlings, and a cool hand with a sword.
After discovering the frozen stronghold Sauron and his orcs used as a rest stop, Galadriel is denied any future wandering by King Gil-Galad, who “honors” her with a one-way ticket back to Valinor. Her best bud Elrond (Robert Aramayo) thinks she should consider a voyage home a gift. But Galadriel points out that if she takes her grief, rage, and thirst for revenge back to the undying lands, she will be burdened with them forever. I guess the elves don’t believe in therapy?
After some needling from Elrond, she agrees to go, but they both know her heart isn’t in it. So much so that, when she sees the light of her home again, she grabs her brother’s blade and jumps ship, deciding she’d rather swim back to Middle Earth than languish in the undying lands.
Now faced with crossing the entirety of The Sundering Sea on her own, she gets swimming, eventually getting picked up by shipwreck survivor Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a cagey and roguish type we don’t know much about. After barely making it through a storm, their raft is found by a ship, but we don’t see what kind of ship or who is on board. Best of luck to both of them!
Meanwhile, Gil-Galad has given young Elrond some busy work in assisting the famed Elf Smith Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), who looks so much like Elrond that I have to wonder if Elrond ever considered a 23 and Me kit. Celebrimbor wants to make something for more than just beauty and is undertaking “a new project of great import” – but first, he needs to build a specific forge in a very specific place, which must be completed by Spring. Oh, is that all?
Celebrimbor laments that they just don’t have the kind of workforce that would get the job done. But Elrond has the great idea of looping in the Dwarves since nobody builds as skillfully Dwarves do, and they certainly have the numbers and knowledge to get the job done. Celebrimbor, nerding out over Dwarven craftsmanship, is fully on board with the plan.
One thing that’s always stuck out about both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is that we never get to see the Dwarf-lords at the height of their powers; we never get to see their halls resplendent and filled with life. The Rings of Power course-corrects this, giving the viewers a glimpse at the Dwarf stronghold Khazad-dûm in its full resplendent glory. Knowing that the halls will eventually darken and crumble makes this peek at Moira in its heyday even more poignant.
Regrettably, Dwarf prince Durin (Owain Arthur) is so hurt by his friend Elrond’s twenty-year absence that he won’t even speak to him until he’s bested Elrond in a public display of strength. Seeing the writing on the wall, Elrond agrees to the contest and even goes so far as to let Prince Durin win so that he can wheedle an audience with Durin on his way out the door. Elrond, already a politician, talks his way back into a somewhat-less-strained relationship with Durin, thanks mainly to Durin’s gorgeous wife, Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete), a joyful and wise woman with a sensible head on her shoulders.
While Durin doesn’t make any promises, he agrees to take Elrond’s proposal to his father (Peter Mullan), also called Durin. I’m sure this won’t get confusing at all! King Durin is less concerned with helping the elves build a forge than with something in a box that glows all iridescent, like a certain Arkenstone we are all trying to forget.
While Elrond is shadowing Celebrimbor and Galadriel is still swimming her way back to Middle Earth, the rest of the elves have gotten notice from King Gil-Galad that they’re pulling up stakes and leaving their outposts for the citadel, news that doesn’t sit incredibly well with Silvan Elf Soldier Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) who has spent nearly eighty years stationed in the southern outposts, and has caught feelings for a local healer Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi).
It isn’t just the love he feels for Bronwyn that makes Arondir reluctant to leave (despite the locals treating him like garbage every chance they get), but a suspicion that something Very Bad is happening in the eastern Southlands. Animals that graze there become sick, crops die, and the land yields nothing but weeds. Arondir and Bronwyn investigate and discover that the village where Brownyn was born has been razed, with no survivors and no bodies left behind. Something has tunneled under the village, and Arondir sends Bronwyn back to warn her people while he follows where the tunnels lead.
While Bronwyn is with Arondir, her tween son Theo is poking around in someone’s barn and discovers a broken sword with a distinctive mark, a mark that we’ve seen in the Northern Fortress and carved into the flesh of Galadriel’s brother. It’s the mark of that Sauron, naturally, and the blade seems to have taken a strange hold on Theo.
After the sword slurps up some of his blood (there’s no other way to put it) an uninvited guest shows up. Theo hides, and Bronwyn arrives just in time to scamper into a closet before the tunnel architect arrives. It’s an orc! Or a Walker from The Walking Dead, you be the judge. Bronwyn and Theo take him down together, and Bronwyn uses the orc’s head to urge her people to make for the Elven tower before the Elves are gone, leaving them defenseless.
If you’re worried that this is a Hobbit-free series, you’re technically correct. While the little homebodies who know how to live the good life have yet to be established, there are proto-Hobbits called Hardfeet. Unlike the Hobbits we all know and love, these halflings are nomads with a Traveler-like community. We mainly focus on young Halflings Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), who has a taste for adventure and an unquenchable curiosity. Her best friend, Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards), stands in as her more sensible accomplice, the Merry to Nori’s Pip.
It’s Nori and Poppy who, after seeing a meteor crash near their campsite, are quick to investigate. What they discover in the small crater isn’t a rock, but a big naked Joseph Mawle! He wakes long enough to look wild and terrified (and maybe a bit wizard-like?) before passing out again. Typical Maiar!
Nori feels not only a kinship with the enormous stranger but a responsibility towards him. She hides him somewhere where he can recuperate away from the eyes of her people, bringing him snails to eat and teaching him to speak while he tries to get Nori to read the runes he’s been scratching into rock since he woke up. Mawle, who some folks might remember as Uncle Benjen Stark on Game of Thrones, is listed in the credits as “Adar” but anyone trying to tell me that this is not Gandalf is getting a sassy gay “Save it, Patty Hearst!” from me. You don’t cast someone that tall, bearded, and draped in gray just to have him be some guy. He arrived in a literal comet, just some guy would never.
While “Not” Gandalf and Nori are beginning to communicate through fireflies, he becomes distressed by something which causes all of the fireflies to drop dead suddenly, and Nori and Poppy are equally scared. What freaked them out? Will Arondir catch up with the tunnel orcs or Bronwyn first? Will the Durins (father and son) pull a fast one on Elrond? Why is Celebrimbor so fun to say? How much trouble will Galadriel be when Gil-Galad finds out she bailed on his orders? Tune in next time, same Ring time, same Ring channel.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power airs new episodes weekly on Prime Video.