We’re living in a great time for fantasy content. It began with the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and has continued across to television with big, blockbuster series such as Game of Thrones, The Witcher, Wheel of Time, House of the Dragon, and now more Tolkien content in the form of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
The Lord of the Rings films are some of the best book to film adaptations around, even though they change a lot of the story, cutting out characters, moving things around, and throwing in new plot. They understood that making a good adaptation doesn’t mean creating a one-to-one translation but being true to the spirit of the story that they’re trying to tell. And when you have a book as detailed and intricate as The Lord of the Rings it can be easy to create something good from it. Perhaps this is also why The Hobbit failed to expand itself well into three films; because there simply wasn’t enough there to build upon thanks to the shortness, and simplicity of the book.
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When it comes to The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power it seems that the creators had a huge amount of freedom, yet also had their hands tied in a lot of ways. After buying the rights to The Lord of the Rings from the Tolkien Estate, Amazon were able to use the appendices to the books to create their new show. However, they couldn’t access the wider world that Tolkien had created through things like The Silmarillion, even though there are bits of cross-over in the appendices. They were also not able to have it as part of the same adaptation as the Peter Jackson films, even though they’d be filming in similar locations, and using similar production design. It became something of a tightrope walk. So with that in mind, what did the show become?
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is set thousands of years before the events depicted in The Lord of the Rings, and the new series covers a pretty major series of events in the history of Middle-Earth, the titular Rings of Power. Everyone who watched the movies knows about the One Ring, and at the beginning of the film you briefly see the others (with the elven rings popping back up later on being worn by some major characters), but for the most part the One Ring is the main focus. This new series will tell the story about the other rings, about how they came into being, and why they were an important part of Sauron’s rise to power.
But this is not a simple story to tell, and that becomes immediately clear when the story begins even further back in time, as we see a world different from the one we know, before there was even a sun in the sky. Witnessing the destruction of the Trees of Valinor, we get insight into why the elves came to Middle-Earth, and the wars that wages between the forces of the light, and the servants of Morgoth. After this introduction we join Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), an elf general hunting Sauron across Middle-Earth, looking for confirmation of his death. When she’s told by her high king that her mission has come to an end, that Sauron is defeated, she’s sent to travel home and leave Middle-Earth forever. However, she believes that Sauron still lives, and dives into the sea, determined to return and complete her mission.
Whilst journeying on the ocean, Galadriel meets Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a shipwrecked smith, and the two of them end up in the land of Númenór, where they try to convince the Queen Regent to agree to return to Middle-Earth with them with an army to help retake the Southlands, Halbrand’s home, which has been besieged by a darkness.
In the Southlands, we’re introduced to the humans that call it home, a small village under the watchful eye of a detachment of elven rangers sent to keep an eye on the descendants of the people who once served Morgoth. One of these elves, Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) has fallen in love with a human woman during his time there, and refuses to believe that all of the men of that land have evil in their hearts. But when strange, dark events begin to occur around the village it becomes clear that something evil has its sights upon the Southlands.
We also meet a young Elrond (Robert Aramayo), who is ordered by his king to assist the Elven smith Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) with his latest endeavour; a task that will send Elrond into the kingdoms of the Dwarves to seek their help. There is also a travelling community of Harfoots, the ancestors of Hobbits, who exist in a simple life living off the land, travelling from place to place. But when a mysterious Stranger (Daniel Weyman) falls from the sky in a comet made of fire, the young Harfoot Nori (Markella Kavenagh) finds hersef getting caught up in a dangerous adventure.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is an ambitious series, one with several plots, and dozens of characters, that are all existing at the same time, weaving in and out of each other, building towards huge events. And that’s what much of this first season is about, building. The series may be called The Rings of Power but don’t expect it to start there. There is a lot of groundwork to be laid before the talk of making rings even comes up. Thankfully, the series has enough to do, with many engaging and interesting characters that you forget that the show is supposed to be about the rings, and you just get swept up in this grand, expansive story.
The series has received some criticism that it has changed the events of the world somewhat, either condensing timelines down, or changing things outright. Whilst I’m sure these factors matter to some people, for the most part it tends to serve the story well here. Events need to make sense, and whilst the appendices explain history like a text book, where years, and even centuries can happen between certain parts of the story, it would make for pretty poor television. You’d either have to see the human cast go and be replaced every few episodes, or would have to condense things a little. And it feels like the show made the right choice, although there could be big gaps between seasons in the future. Considering how little detail the appendices give, the writers on the series have done a wonderful job at fleshing out the characters and events, and have brought a lot of life to the story in some wonderful ways.
Some story highlights include the friendship between Elrond and Durin (Owain Arthur), which reflects some of the downfalls of being friends with a person who will live forever. The anger that Durin shows for Elrond, who’s been gone for decades is understandable, and the love that the two of them show towards each other feels like two brothers, willing to do anything to help the other. Some of the best scenes in the series involve the Dwarves, and it feels like the first time we’ve really gotten to see this race well in the franchise on screen.
As one would expect from a series that has this much money being spent on it, and one that’s trying to evoke the feel of the Jackson films, it looks beautiful throughout, with some absolutely stunning visuals that might be some of the best seen on TV. The flashbacks to the war with Morgoth are jaw-dropping, the landscapes the characters inhabit are stunning, and the sets, props, and costumes all feel real and lived-in. The music, provided by the wonderful Bear McCreary, evokes the work of Howard Shore from the films, and captures much of the majesty and beauty that the film soundtracks had.
There are criticisms out there that the series is bad because it centres some female characters, that there are Black elves, dwarfs, and hobbits, and that Tolkien has ‘gone woke’. I can’t help but find such accusations to be ridiculous, considering the kind of messages that Tolkien had in his works, and all of the depictions here feel true to those works. Galadriel is a frighteningly good warrior because she was in the source material. And people of colour exist in this Middle-Earth because everyone deserves to be included in stories. The series has received unjust criticism, especially when it does so well considering the immense challenge that it faced.
Amazon spent a lot on this series, and you can see where that money has gone. Filled with incredible visuals, the series is visually stunning to watch. It’s visuals are backed up with strong writing, and engaging and compelling characters that you end up wanting to spend more time with, and even episodes that last more than an hour never quite feel long enough. With more series on the way, it’s a wonderfully good time to return to Middle-Earth and go off on an adventure.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now streaming on Amazon Prime.