This Rings of Power review contains spoilers.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 3
The Rings of Power episode 3 largely continues in the same vein as episodes 1 and 2. It’s stunningly beautiful (Orcs excepted), well acted, and continues to feel very much like part of the world we saw in Peter Jackson’s movies based on Tolkien’s works. But it is also rather slow-paced and weighed down by the need for substantial amounts of exposition.
Episode 3 introduces us to the last of the major cultures we will be following through this story – Númenor. We spend a lot of time in Númenor and with the Númenoreans early on in the episode, which helps us to get to grips with yet another new place and new characters, though it can leave viewers wondering just what’s going on elsewhere in the story. Like everything else in this series, the island kingdom looks fantastic. The gigantic faces in the rocks are a really nice touch, obviously inspired partly by the real life Mount Rushmore, but also by the gigantic monuments we saw in The Lord of the Rings that were built by their descendants, the Gondorians.
The Númenoreans themselves are an interesting group. All of them except for Elendil’s daughter Eärien are Tolkien characters (not new characters written for the series), though the show has added a couple of titles to make their position clear – Míriel becoming officially “Regent” while her father spends his time up in a tower, and Pharazôn is referred to as “Chancellor Pharazôn.” Although Míriel’s dislike and fear of “the Elf” is a bit strange, as Míriel’s father was a big fan of Elves, otherwise this story seems to be following Tolkien’s outline more closely than anything else we’ve seen in the series (and, interestingly, it’s using a bit more information gleaned from The Silmarillion – we’ve written in the past about the complicated legal situation there). For fans who enjoy seeing screen adaptations that stay closer to the books, this will almost certainly be their favourite storyline.
We get a bit more information about new character Halbrand as well, though there is still plenty that is mysterious about him. The area that the show is calling “The Southlands” is the place that will eventually become Mordor (and the revelation that Sauron’s “sigil” is actually a map of Mordor is rather neat). So if Halbrand is a King in exile from that place, who is he?
He doesn’t seem to be a Númenorean. Even the “Southlands” are possibly a bit too far north for him to be one of the Haradrim, who were colonised by the Númenoreans during the Second Age and who lived further south. He might be an Easterling, the people who lived northeast of Mordor. Much later, the only Ringwraith whose human name we know, Khamûl, would come from there, and perhaps that is where Bronwyn and the other refugees are fleeing. Both the Haradrim and the Easterlings would end up fighting for Sauron in the Third Age, either as allies or conquered peoples. Or perhaps this is a new human culture invented for the show, to explain who was living in Mordor before they were displaced by Sauron.
It takes the episode a while to check in with the Harfoots, but when it does, we learn a bit more about their culture as well – and it is brutal! Apparently, the Harfoots are extremely ableist and although they proudly proclaim “nobody walks alone,” anyone who cannot walk gets abandoned as one of the “left behind.” All the “left behind” they are commemorating were killed in a variety of ways (wolves, an avalanche, bees), but the implication of the final scene with the Brandyfoots and their sheer panic at suffering a leg injury seems to suggest pretty strongly that any injury that prevents one from walking results in exile and, eventually, death – like the unfortunate Harfoot who got stuck in snow and was abandoned.
The speech Lenny Henry’s Sadoc Burrows gives about those who “fell behind” because “in life we could not wait for them,” talking about carrying them in hearts and memories, sounds a lot like sending thoughts and prayers in the wake of a tragedy without actually doing anything to prevent it happening again. They also have a very strict law that anyone who breaks any of their rules is “de-caravanned,” to which everyone reacts with horror. When the Brandyfoots get sent to the back of the caravan, Nori’s mum tells her, “You may as well have stamped our name in the book of the left behinds,” so they don’t even place someone stronger at the back to make sure everyone is OK – it’s keep up or die. The Harfoots may look cute, but my goodness, they are a brutal people.
Luckily our heroine Nori has a more empathetic approach, asking “Without friends what are we surviving for?” But we don’t get much more information about her new friend the Stranger, a character we are mentally referring to as Possibly-Gandalf at this point, as that seems more and more likely to be the case. He is too kind to be Sauron or Saruman, too alone to be one of the Blue Wizards, and too “important,” according to Nori, to be Radagast (sorry, Radagast!). But we do see his deepening relationship with Nori and her family, and indeed “friend” is the first clear word we hear him speak.
The title of the episode, “Adar,” refers to the name the Orcs give the mysterious bad guy Arondir is taken to right at the end. Seeing Elves enslaved is a new direction for the series, as we are used to seeing them appear powerful, ethereal, in command of all they survey. Seeing them suffer like this definitely brings them down to (Middle-)earth a bit and makes them more relatable, though we are reminded they are Elves when they pull some rather cool-looking moves using their own chains as weapons against their captors. If Orcs are “corrupted” Elves, then presumably what we are seeing is that process in action.
As for Adar himself, the name is Sindarin (Elvish) for “father” and it isn’t one of Sauron’s (many) known aliases, so this might be a new character created for the series. Watchwarden Revion thinks it is Sauron himself, as “successor” to Morgoth, so that is also a distinct possibility. Since his blurry appearance was the cliffhanger that ended the episode, hopefully we’ll find out one way or the other next week.
One of the tools the series is using to great effect to keep us grounded in this ever-expanding fantasy world is the musical score. Bear McCreary’s use of musical cues to tell us something about where we are and what’s going on is a fantastic way of reminding anyone who has seen the Jackson movies of where they are, and even giving little hints of what we might expect from the storyline. There are echoes of Howard Shore’s scores for the Orc and Mordor-focused sections of the films in McCreary’s score for scenes featuring the Orcs, for example, and set in the land that will become Mordor. There are hints of Shore’s score for Minas Tirith when we first meet the Númenoreans, indicating that these are the ancestors of the people who would later become the Gondorians.
Most interestingly of all, there are hints of Mordor/Shelob-like music when Halbrand beats up his attackers, and Halbrand’s plea to them, “please don’t do this,” definitely sounds more like he doesn’t want to hurt them than he’s concerned about them hurting him. We know very little about most of the Men who became the Ringwraiths and no names aside from Khamûl the Easterling, but we do know that their captain founded the evil kingdom of Angmar in the north of Middle-earth and became known as the Witch-King of Angmar. What we don’t know is whether he was a human king before he was given a Ring of Power and corrupted…
If Halbrand does turn out to be a bad guy we know, that makes his developing relationship with Galadriel very interesting – and on that subject, we would like to know, where is her husband Celeborn? In Tolkien’s lore, they are married but spending some time apart during this period, but whether they are separated in the show, or not married yet, hasn’t been confirmed. There’s definitely the tiniest bit of Unresolved Sexual Tension between Galadriel and Halbrand – Galadriel is very unlikely to enter into a relationship with a human but it would still be handy to know whether she is married or not.
And so, by the end of episode 3, we are still left with far more questions than we have answers. We’re settling into following four main storylines, divided by geography Game of Thrones style – Galadriel and the Númenoreans; Arondir and The Southlands; Elrond, Celebrimbor, and the Dwarves; and the Harfoots and their mysterious stranger. But the Harfoots storyline has advanced only very little in this episode, and the same is true of the Southlands storyline. We didn’t see Elrond, Celebrimbor, and the Dwarves at all.
Slow pacing while we get to know new characters is not entirely a bad thing, but this is getting perhaps a little bit too slow. On the other hand, considering The Lord of the Rings spends several chapters following the hobbits walking across the Shire, walking through some woods, and chilling out with Tom Bombadil, before they eventually meet Aragorn and the story really gets going, maybe we should just consider this an homage to Tolkien. Hopefully, now that all the major stories, players, and geographical locations have been introduced, the series will pick up the pace a bit in episode 4, and we can start to get more of a sense of where all of this is going.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is out now on Prime Video.