After its sluggish start, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has given us a strong third episode with only a few missteps along the way, and the themes of cooperation and fellowship in the face of evil begin to take shape. And there are sailors, which are always fun, and a lot of talk about the stars.
Arondir is dragged into an orc encampment. He hears one of them say “For Adar,” before he is chained and thrown into a pit, where he finds other prisoners, including his companions from the watchtower. They are set to dig by the orcs, who remain out of the sunlight. The elves wonder to hear orcs using the elvish word “adar.”
Galadriel awakens on a ship. She meets the Captain, Elendil (Lloyd Owen) and watches as the ship sails into harbor in Númenor, where elves are no longer welcome. They are escorted to meet the Queen Regent, Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and her advisor Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle) where Galadriel gives the Queen Regent her full title and demands passage back to Middle-earth. Her companion, giving his name as Halbrand, smoothes things over, asking to remain as guests while Míriel and her advisors consider the matter.
Training on ship, Isildur (Maxim Baldry) is distracted from his work by strange whispers. His attention is drawn back by a friend, before another trainee makes a mistake and is nearly lost overboard. On land, a friend lectures Isildur about his daydreaming before being met by Isildur’s sister, Eärien (Ema Horvath).
Revion (Simon Merrells) instructs his men to take the first opportunity to see over the edge of the pit they are digging to plot their escape to warn their people. When the elves refuse to cut down an old tree blocking the way, an orc leader kills one of them. Arion volunteers to cut down the tree, climbing up to see the vista beyond the pit.
Míriel questions Elendil about his decision to bring an elf to Númenor, and asks if he is an elf friend. He professes his loyalty to Númenor and claims that he was only trying to do what is right. Míriel charges him with keeping Galadriel out of trouble.
Galadriel avoids the guards and contemplates stealing a boat, but is interrupted by Elendil. She is hostile to him until he speaks to her in Elvish, explaining that there are still some in Númenor who are faithful to the elves. They travel to the Hall of Law, where Elendil tells her how the old king was deposed for his loyalty to the elves, and she remembers that Númenor was founded by Elrond’s half brother, Elros. She discovers that the sigil she found in Sauron’s lair is actually a map showing the Southlands.
Halbrand tries to get a job working as a smith, but is turned away. He makes friends with some of the Númenorans by buying them drinks, then robs one of them. Confronted, he begs them not to beat him. As soon as they do he snaps, decimating the lot until soldiers come to arrest him.
The Harfoots celebrate the evening before their migration, and Nori steals a page from Sadoc’s book that shows the stars the stranger illustrated for her. The Harfoots remember those left behind on previous migrations as the stranger finds the page Nori stole for him. He accidentally sets it on fire and stumbles into camp, scaring the Harfoots, who hide. He calls for Nori.
Nori is scolded for breaking Harfoot law, and her family is told they will be at the back of the line during the migration. Her mother Marigold (Sara Zwangobani) scolds her for thinking that she’s special, and Nori insists that she isn’t, but the stranger is.
Elendil sits with his children, and is surprised to learn that Isildur is considering deferring his sea trial. They mention his brother, and Elendil scolds the boy. He learns that Eärien has had her guild application accepted, thanks to Isildur’s encouragement.
Galadriel finds Halbrand in his cell, and shows him a scroll she found in the Hall of Law—it bears the symbol of the King of the Southlands. She deduces that Halbrand is the rightful King, and he tells her that the King forged an alliance with Morgoth. She tells him that they are both bound to Sauron through oaths sworn by their kin, and urges him to return to lead his people and help her fight Sauron.
Míriel ascends to a tower, where she tells her father that the moment they feared has come, and an elf has arrived.
Nori and her family struggle to keep up with the other Harfoot caravans, hampered by Largo’s injury, and pause to rest. Poppy stops with them, despite Nori’s urgings. Suddenly the stranger arrives, saying the word “friend,” and Nori realizes that with his help they can keep up with the others. “He helps us, and we help him.”
The elves use the orcs’ fear of sunlight to stage their escape. The orcs try to pull them in but Arondir fights them off, and then pins the warg they send out in the roots of the big tree. Some elves are killed, but Revion frees himself and Arondir kills the warg just before it can reach him. Running after Revion, Arondir reaches the top of the pit just in time to see Revion fall to orc arrows, and then is dragged back down to the earth.
One orc instructs the others to “Bring him to Adar,” and an ominous figure approaches.
I have some quibbles about the fact that the Harfoots leave behind anyone who can’t keep up when they travel. Any kind of ableism, even fantasy ableism, needs more time and care than the show has room for with its large cast and many converging plotlines. We are told that staying hidden and secret is how the Harfoots survive, but without any clear explanation of where this practice comes from or what the consequences of other approaches look like, it doesn’t make sense that these good, kindly people just leave anyone injured or disabled, old or infirm, behind. The list in the book of those left behind mostly gives reasons like “wolves” or “landslides,” which is a bit different than “couldn’t pull his caravan fast enough because he was injured helping with communal work.” It is a very small group of people, too, too small to risk losing anyone else. Unless that’s how they got to be such a small number to begin with? It does seem as though Sadoc Burrows is the only elder in the group.
That being said, though, I do like the themes that the show is trying to build with this set up. The Harfoots, ancestors of the farm and town dwelling Hobbits of The Lord of the Rings, clearly care deeply for each other, as we see in the ceremony to honor and remember those lost in their travels. Unfortunately, the way of life they deem necessary to lead does not support strong, lasting bonds—but with Nori, we are starting to see that change. She points out to her people that survival without friendship and connection are not worth anything, and in the end her compassion and desire for that connection brings her family the very salvation they need—a big strong giant to pull their caravan when her father, due to his injury, cannot.
I’m not ashamed to admit that the ceremony remembering the lost Harfoots, with its chorus of “we wait for you” and the revelation that Poppy’s entire family was lost in a previous migration, fully brought tears to my eyes. Sadoc’s oratory was lightly reminiscent of Bilbo’s birthday speech, which was a nice touch. And the entire scene, beginning with deep sadness, moving into comedy with Gandalf (I mean, this is Gandalf, right?) and his clumsy arrival, and then finishing with the important theme of fate and fellowship, was basically perfect, narratively speaking. Nori’s speech to her mother about how she recognizes that she, a little Harfoot in a big world, isn’t special, but how the strange man is, struck fully into the heart of what the hobbits are—we’ve had similar speeches from the four heroes of Hobbiton.
But perhaps the cleverest moment of all in this episode, and in the entire show so far, is this possible origin story of Gandalf’s love for hobbits: The entire reason the wizard keeps returning to Hobbiton over the course of his life is because they (or their ancestors) were the first beings he met when he came to Middle-earth. The reason why, when some dwarves need an ally, he thinks of hobbits. Why, when Frodo offers to take the ring to Mordor, Gandalf is saddened but not in the least surprised. He fell from the sky and immediately imprinted upon them like a baby bird—it is not only a paternal affection we see in him, but that much of who he is due to effectively being raised by Harfoots. And by Nori in particular. Other Wizards were sent to Earth besides Gandalf, but Saruman turned evil and Radagast got distracted by little animals. The other two disappeared. Only Gandalf stayed on the task he was set on, to reassure and protect the peoples of Middle-earth and aid in their defeat of Sauron.
All because of a little “insignificant” Harfoot girl who stuck her nose where everyone, even her best friend, said it didn’t belong.
In other news, I knew from the moment we met him that Arondir was going to be one of my favorite characters, and I was right. Portraying elves can be difficult for actors because of their aloof and otherworldly stoicism, but Córdova does so much with a few facial expressions and fewer words. Despite these restrictions, his onscreen presence is palpable, and you feel you know Arondir’s emotions just from seeing his eyes. When he sees his fellow elven companions in the orc camp, when he watches his friend die from the slice in his neck and Revion by orc arrows, you feel his pain. When he touches the tree and speaks to it before beginning to cut it down, you don’t know what he is saying, and yet you feel the connection between the two.
And then there is the fight scene, which is the first good action scene in the show so far and it is incredible. The way the elves move, their leaps and poses, are reminiscent of what Peter Jackson did, but the CGI work for such things has come a long way, and where Legolas’ computer-enhanced movements often looked odd or clunky, these were anything but. You believe Arondir can just naturally jump like that, his landings lighter than any human’s body could be. The way the elves used their chains, skillfully manipulating them like they’re doing the battle ropes at a CrossFit gym, the way they pivot and use their enemies’ clumsier center of gravity against them—it was all perfect. I’m so impressed. And what’s more, the whole sequence was filmed so well that I could actually see and follow everything that was happening. The pacing created a beautifully suspenseful experience, culminating in the hope that Revion would escape and the despair of seeing him shot and killed. (And a special shout out to Merrells, who is only on screen for a few scenes but also carries off the Elvish presence and body language beautifully well. I was very upset when he died.)
I hope that the show will explain the origin of orcs at some point. Knowing their ancestry as the descendants of elves tortured and corrupted by Morgoth adds an interesting dynamic to the exchange about the tree. The conflict over its destruction is more a clash of cultures than anything else—elves love trees, they talk to them and sometimes wake them up and turn them into Ents, while orcs exist solely to destroy other living things. The elves aren’t wrong that going around the tree would be faster—the orcs’ insistence on doing it from a malicious desire to inflict pain on the elves and to destroy green and growing things.
There is also the interesting detail of the meaning of the Elvish word “Adar,” used by the orcs to describe their master and also as the title of the episode. Fans may remember hearing the same word uttered by Arwen, and its meaning: “father.” I suppose the very use of the term does suggest that the next episode is going to get into that relationship with some depth.
It’s a pity that Galadriel and Halbrand’s sections still don’t live up to the rest of the episode. Personally, if I was the showrunner presented with these scripts, I would have cut the entire plotline with her almost sailing back to Valinor (or not Valinor? That was unclear) and all the time she spent at sea. Instead, I’d have had her consider Gil-Galad’s orders and Elrond’s advice to return, then make the discovery about the sigil being a map while she was still in Lindon. Find a more interesting reason for her to run into Halbrand and to sail to Númenor.
Really, I just want her to have more agency—even when she is making choices, it still feels like she’s being swept along by the plot without much willpower of her own, and I think even the writers are aware of it—the show tries to hang a lantern on it with Galadriel’s little speech at the end of the episode, where she tells Halbrand that they were brought together by something greater than fate or destiny. But it falls pretty flat. I remain hopeful that they will both grow on me as the show progresses—we get a little more personality from Galadriel in this episode, and Halbrand’s interactions with both her are starting to become more engaging—but unfortunately they just don’t keep my interest the way the rest of the characters do.
To be fair, Gandalf has always been my favorite character of The Lord of the Rings. So far, this remains true in The Rings of Power. Just a cute little baby duckling of a wizard who doesn’t really understand how fire works and has weirdly impressive abs. Can I keep him, Mum?
Sylas K Barrett did not say anything about the costuming in this review, but everything in Númenor is stunning, especially the armor and embroidery on Elendil’s outfit, and Míriel’s headpiece. Also, its nice to have Galadriel in real clothes again.