As ever, I’m late to the party. People have been forensically examining and breaking down each episode of Rings Of Power since it came out, so what could I have to say that hasn’t been said? Well, this is the internet so it doesn’t matter, I get to have an opinion either way. Actually, at this point I’m not sure who I’m even arguing against, but I guess I’m just setting this review up, in a weird sort of way.
To further set the scene, I’m a huge Lord Of The Rings fan. Greatest trilogy in cinema as far as I’m concerned. And it’s aged well too. In the twenty odd years since those movies came out they still hold up today. Then along comes Amazon Prime Video, with their boatloads of cash, enticing the Tolkien estate to let them do a TV show.
Interestingly, the showrunners that got the gig had never run a show before. They’d written on shows but never been in charge. And this show in particular, by the looks of things, was more like running a blockbuster movie, given how lavish the sets and costumes were (Numenor in particular, looked stunning). Quite the undertaking, but we’ll come back to that.
In terms of story, this takes place way before events of the original trilogy that we know and love. Essentially showing us Sauron’s rise to power and the forging of the rings of power (which really shouldn’t be any kind of spoiler, given the title of the show). And so, there are various groups and people that you would come to expect: elves, with a young Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo), both on various quests. There’s dwarves, with a young Prince Balin (Owain Arthur) as the focus. The dwarf that becomes Lord of Khazad-dûm, aka Moria (you know, the place where Gandalf fought the Balrog). We also have harfoots, predecessors of hobbits, led by the adventurous Nori (Markella Kavenagh) who encounters a strange wizard-like figure (Daniel Weyman). Wonder who he could be?
Then there’s humans from the Southlands (the place that becomes Mordor via powerpoint presentation).
They’re led in a vague and not entirely convincing way by busty human wench Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and brooding elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova). They face off against some orcs led by one of the early Uruk-hai, a lovely fellow named Adar (the excellent Joseph Mawle).
Oh, then we also have superior, er, humans, I guess, in the form of Numenoreans. There’s quite a few of those. Horse daddy, aka Elendil (Lloyd Owen). He has a son called Isildur (Maxim Baldry), remember him? The lovely chap who refused to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom and meant we needed a trilogy of movies to fix his mess. Anyway, he’s a bit younger in this, but equally annoying. There’s others in Numenor, but I’m getting tired of listing this gargantuan cast. Oh, also, we have Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), apparent King of the Southlands but we meet him as part of Galadriel’s story. He has anger management issues and loves to spend his time in the blacksmiths in Numenor, forging stuff. Wonder who he could be?
So as you might be able to gather, this TV show throws A LOT at us, right from the off. It’s a little overwhelming. As a result of trying to jump between four or five storylines from the get-go, we don’t really get to know too many of the characters for quite some time. This does test the patience of viewers, and I remember many complaining on twitter that, in the first few episodes, not a lot was actually happening.
Plus the showrunners thought it a good idea to try and keep some mystery as to who certain characters were. The trouble is, we know who we’re likely to see turning up: namely, Sauron at some point. Which just leaves us guessing which of this giant line-up of characters is Sauron. And the internet being the internet, meant this quickly became a meme.
And memes are the last thing you want in this very serious sort of fantasy world, where the stakes are high and everyone tends to talk about doom and destiny and prophecies. But we are where we are.
Sauron guessing games and the merry-go-round nature of the multiple stories aside, there were things to love in this first season. I don’t want to make it all criticism, because the showrunners did give us some good stuff. Balin and Elrond’s relationship developed as the season went on, and for me was one of the highlights. The Galadriel and Halbrand relationship also developed closer to the end of the season, as did Nori and the Stranger.
I guess none of this came as much of a surprise. The biggest surprise for me was probably the addition of Adar to this world. In Peter Jackson’s trilogy we don’t get to spend much time with the orcs, nor with anyone that leads them. But here, Adar, a fallen elf turned to the ‘dark side’, was one of the most interesting and nuanced characters I’d seen shown in Middle Earth. I want a lot more from him in the next four seasons (five are planned, I believe).
So there are things that bugged and frustrated me with this season. Some dialogue and callback moments to the original trilogy felt clunky at times, and unearned. But, by the finale, there was also a lot to love. It had HUGE expectation placed upon it, perhaps too much for any creator or storyteller, maybe more so than any Star Wars movie that came out in recent years (although maybe that’s on a par, given how much hate Rian Johnson got for The Last Jedi). So for them to deliver something half decent, is perhaps some kind of success. Whatever your thoughts on this first season are, for me I want to see the next one. So that’s a positive.
I give this first season a low 4/5 stars.