This article contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episodes 1 and 2.
There’s much to love about The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. From its sweeping visuals that bring every corner of Middle-earth to life to its expansive story that weaves together half a dozen major plots and twice that many central characters, it’s a series that feels magical from its opening frames and stands (at least thus far) as a worthy companion and prologue to Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But although this sprawling fantasy epic features many moving pieces, the heart of the story centers on a very familiar face: A younger version of the immortal elf Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), who sacrifices her chance to return to the heavenly plane of Valinor to hunt down the Dark Lord Sauron, get justice for her dead brother, and finally rid the world of evil. Though she initially seems a far cry from the (literally) shining elder stateswoman played by Cate Blanchett we meet in Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the story of The Rings of Power takes place thousands of years before she ever arrives in Lothlorien, and will ultimately prove the crucible in which that Galadriel—the woman who leads the White Council and finds the strength to turn down the One Ring—is forged.
In a television landscape where women in high fantasy series often find themselves being brutalized, degraded, and otherwise oppressed by the men and patriarchal systems around them—looking at you, House of the Dragon—The Rings of Power’s wide array of capable and confident female characters stands out. In this onscreen version of Middle-earth, women are everywhere. Gone are the days when Eowyn of Rohan had to essentially carry the hopes of an entire gender on her back by herself—here there are plenty of female characters in every sort of role and across every race, from men and elves to harfoots and dwarves. Even some of the orcs are reportedly going to be female. What a difference a couple of decades makes.
But even in the midst of this increased female representation, Galadriel’s fierce demeanor and unapologetic attitude feel like a breath of fresh air. Fiery, determined, and a legendary warrior in her own right, she picks up a sword by choice and refuses to put it down again until her work is done. (Ultimately holding on to it for so long, in fact, that she’s no longer entirely sure what her identity is without it.) Her presence offers a welcome, necessary female perspective on the fight for Middle-earth that this franchise has long struggled to include, and she has all the agency that her sisters in far too many other fantasy epics lack. Thus far, she’s a heroine that’s easy to root for, whose quest to prove that the realm is not yet safe from Sauron is given a bit of extra weight by the fact that everyone watching along at home is already well aware that she is right.
Granted, The Rings of Power does play a bit fast and loose with some elements of Galadriel’s origin story—in J.R.R. Tolkien’s texts she doesn’t choose to stay in Middle-earth to avenge her brother, and if we’re going to be technical about it, she probably should have at least met if not married her future husband Celeborn by this point. But the series’ decision to focus on a more multi-dimensional, humanized version of Galadriel is poised to pay dividends as the story continues, as the show draws a clear emotional throughline from the woman who leaps from a ship bound for the Undying Lands and sacrifices her own chance at peace to the one who will one day help Frodo Baggins on his journey to Mordor, adding new and thrilling dimensions to her character along the way.
Given her relative youth—at least compared with the onscreen version that The Rings of Power viewers are most likely to be familiar with thanks to Blanchett’s portrayal—it makes a certain amount of sense that this Galadriel is a much more emotional figure who lacks the control and serenity of her older self. This is a woman who is not just grieving the brother she lost but who is deeply, righteously furious—at both the monster who killed him and those who won’t take the threat Sauron still poses to their world seriously. The rage that seems to simmer just under the surface of almost everything she does is fascinating to watch, whether it stems from her deep-rooted (and traditionally unfeminine) desire for vengeance or her larger frustration over the fact that her concerns are going increasingly unheard or dismissed.
Female characters are so infrequently allowed to be loudly and openly angry in the same ways that men are, and there’s something deeply cathartic about watching Galadriel refuse to be quiet, stifle her emotions, or pretend to feel something she doesn’t. She is a woman with a storm inside her and though we’ve seen that she will eventually grow past this trauma and find some sort of inner equilibrium, that day is likely thousands of years in the future and her journey toward it will likely turn out to be a key part of this show in the seasons to come.
In the meantime, it’s really fun to watch a more temperamental, unpredictable version of this character, who will fling herself across a mountain or into the sea with little regard for the consequences or her own life. It’s unfortunate that, for whatever reason, a certain segment of fandom has decided to be angry about Galadriel’s central position in this story, calling her a Mary Sue and demeaning her status as a legendary fighter, as though Tolkien himself didn’t describe her as an Amazonian warrior in her own right or name her specifically as one of Sauron’s greatest adversaries. (And not for nothing but these are probably all the same people who didn’t blink an eye at Orlando Bloom’s Legolas performing all manner of battle acrobatics so I wonder what the difference could be here? Who can say?)
This is a shame, not just because misogyny is always gross but because such assumptions overlook the very real story The Rings of Power is telling, one that gives us an entirely new window into one of the most iconic figures in Tolkien’s world, allowing her to become more of a truly three-dimensional character and less an ethereal symbol of a lost and dying realm. This Galadriel is absolutely a woman worth following to whatever end.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power streams Fridays on Prime Video.