By Janie Walenda
In an era of fandom outrage and over-analysis, “Rings of Power” has been analyzed and criticized before its debut more than any show. Tolkien fans are known for their knowledge and protectiveness of the lore. Therefore, the community was discouraged by the news that Amazon was producing and writing a Tolkien-inspired show with a new story instead of using his works.
But now that the first two episodes have debuted, is it as disrespectful to Tolkien’s writing as fans feared? Or is “Rings of Power” the perfect fantasy show?
To give a brief overview of Tolkien lore and how the show is using it: Tolkien wrote three main ages into the history of Middle Earth. The stories of the First Age comprise his book “The Silmarillion” and the Third Age covers the events of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
But Tolkien wrote little about the Second Age. So it makes sense that Amazon chose to place their series during the Second Age. However, because Amazon doesn’t have the rights to “The Silmarillion,” they cannot reference it. The problem is that “Rings of Power” takes place in Middle Earth after centuries of fighting. After the whole families of Elrond and Galadriel have been destroyed over the Silmarils, the show can hardly mention these events. Galadriel’s big brother, Finrod, is a well-beloved character from Tolkien’s vast repertoire, yet “Rings of Power” cannot mention him by name, which may become a stumbling block for the show.
While doubts remain about whether the show can live up to Tolkien’s writing, it most definitely lived up to Peter Jackson’s filmography. It may not have the same attention to detail as the “Lord of the Rings” films, but it understands how important the sense of wonder and grandeur was to the success of the trilogy.
“Rings of Power” is unabashedly a fantasy show and thrills in composing shots of gorgeous scenery and finding new and inventive ways to use its scenery and characters. From the jaw-dropping transition, to the opening battle, to the reveal of the Harfoot’s precursor to the Shire, I spent the entire first episode enthralled with the expansion of Middle Earth. The second episode ups the ante with the reveal of the Dwarves’ living place and the tense, horror-esque reveal of the Orcs.
Almost every technical aspect of this show is perfect, including the costuming, which makes the Elves’ short hair particularly jarring. While I’ve heard some good theories about why that may be, I still maintain that the Elves’ long hair is iconic in Tolkien’s fiction, and leaving it out would be like making a Hobbit tall or the Dwarves clean-shaven.
As strong as the aesthetics are in “Rings of Power,” the characters and plot are relatively weak. The characters are still interesting and engaging, and the plot has enough momentum and intrigue to keep me hooked, but there’s not a lot of substance to either of them. I don’t know much about most of the characters besides the general tropes they fill. While there isn’t much to fault within the first two episodes, I’m not confident about how the show will continue and if the plot and character arcs will ultimately be satisfying.
The clear highlight of the two episodes, in my opinion, is our visit to the Dwarves. Not only are the two most likable characters, Durin and Disa, introduced to us, but we also see a beautifully warm side to Elrond, leading to some of the show’s most heartwarming and compelling scenes. The fallout of Elrond and Durin and the exploration of the effect the Elves’ immortality has on their relationships is extremely well done, and I am excited to see these characters in future episodes.
My biggest complaint about the show so far is Galadriel. This is no slight to Morfydd Clark, who wonderfully channels Cate Blanchett’s iconic performance in “Lord of the Rings” without directly copying her, but instead an issue with the writing.
Galadriel is one of Middle Earth’s most powerful players, not for her military prowess but for her wisdom and political power. She doesn’t often engage in battle, but when she does, she is a force to behold. To see her characterized here as a stereotypical female underdog protagonist is extremely disappointing. I would rather have her introduced as a respected political leader and show her prowess in battle later in the season.
I will say that I like the exploration of her struggle to let the horrors she’s experienced go, because that feels like a storyline that reflects Tolkien’s experience in World War I. I wish that in a show that is inventive in its fantasy, they had been a bit more creative in writing a female main character.
If the show continues to build on the foundation of the first two episodes, I think “Rings of Power” will be a great success. Despite its problems with the lore, it manages to overcome them by creating such an engaging and joyful watching experience.
Is it quite as good as “Lord of the Rings”? Of course not. But is it just as enjoyable? So far, my answer is yes.
“Rings of Power” is now streaming weekly on Amazon Prime
Janie Walenda is a sophomore Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation, and cold brew.