The first 2 episodes of The Rings of Power have finally premiered, but do they hold up as a series opener for the beloved franchise?
“We had no word for death, we thought our joys would be unending. We thought our light would never dim.”
This line is how the first episode of the new Amazon Prime series Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power opens. The series comes from showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, and brings J.R.R. Tolkien’s fabled Second Age to life, thousands of years before Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
The show also takes Lord of the Rings fans back to Middle-earth for the first time since the Hobbit trilogy in the early 2010s. But it is a journey worth taking?
SPOILER WARNING for The Rings of Power Episodes 1…
Middle-Earth is an exciting place once more
Many Lord of the Rings fans were skeptical about the series, due to the subpar reception that The Hobbit trilogy received. But rest assured, this series is looking to be more akin to Peter Jackson’s work than anything else.
The series opens with backstory, which could be passed off as exposition but feels like an epic history in the world of Middle-Earth, fit with clips of claustrophobic battles, and stunning and haunting visuals. Since this story may be brand new to a lot of fans – not as many of them have read the Silmarillion – the series takes its first episode to mainly indulge you in the history and atmosphere of this new world. And what a world it is.
As we jump about this world’s map, Middle-Earth feels like a fully varied place again. It’s dangerous, it’s charming, it’s regal, it’s rural. When it comes to stories that hinge on their environments, it’s definitely this franchise, and this show seems to fully recognize that.
This is emphasized by clever use of both practical and CGI effects, building settings that feel beautifully grand but also real and intimate. We may never get the exact feeling that we did while watching the fellowship roam the hills of New Zealand, but we can appreciate that The Rings of Power is definitely trying.
The Rings of Power paves the way for Sauron
This show creates a perfectly tense atmosphere, following the rise to power that big bad Sauron makes, which is the history that the story is seemingly planning to take. For now, this evil takes place in the shadows, a symbol here, an evil sword found under the floorboards there (what is going to happen with Theo?) but it feels like we are building to something truly catastrophic.
Granted, this tension is somewhat undercut by the fact that we know that Sauron is coming back, so the characters back-and-forth on whether or not the danger comes from him is made slightly less interesting.
But even the final moments of the episode, including the honestly breath-taking boat ride that elven warriors take and the exciting danger of some young hobbits finding a man on a meteor, are filled with mystery and foreboding.
The small number of fights we get aren’t anything super-special yet,- and include some odd splashing on the camera moments – as the show is simply laying the groundwork for now. But they are done somewhat well, such as a fight with a mountain troll at the very beginning of the episode.
The Rings of Power works as an ensemble piece
Rather than focusing on one main character or journey, this episode feels like a chess game, with multiple different pieces adding to the overall plot. One cup we must raise to the episode is that there are a lot of female-centric sub-plots, which is refreshing after the boy’s club of the last two trilogies.
The Ring of Power brings back all of Middle Earth’s inhabitants; humans, elves, hobbits, and dwarves, generally with one or two characters to represent the group as a whole.
You have Galadriel the warrior elf (Morfydd Clark), who is probably the most compelling character as of now, since she is desperate to find and battle Sauron, who killed her brother. The hobbits (helmed by Markella Kavenagh) are just as charming and quirky as ever, which is apparent from the very moment they appear on screen.
It is sadly the humans who feel the weakest out of everyone in this series. None of their characters jump out yet, the atmosphere generally feels mean-spirited, and the acting and dialect can be stilted. One human child states to another about his dad abandoning him, and the line feels so forced that it’s almost cringe-inducing.
The performances of the show in general haven’t shown anything ground-breaking yet, but obviously there’s still time.
Is The Rings of Power looking to be as good as the original?
As far as first episodes go, The Rings of Power has succeeded in drawing us back into Middle-Earth.
There is clearly enough tension and interesting characters to carry the series, and the episode makes sure to end on a note that will leave you wanting more.
I guess you could say that this series is building to something… Power-ful.
The Rings of Power Episode 3 premieres on Amazon Prime on September 9.