A lot happens in this week’s episode of The Rings of Power. Some of it is redundant, but all in all the show continues to gather steam, and does a particularly good job in “Partings” with developing themes of hope, help, and facing difficult choices.
Nori teaches the Stranger words, including “peril,” a thing that can kill you. The Stranger suggests he is a peril, but Nori assures him that killing the fireflies was an accident and that he is good because he is here to help. Getting underway, the group asks Poppy to sing her mother’s walking song. Three mysterious figures in white observe the crater where the Stranger fell to earth.
Bronwyn tells the villagers about the message from the enemy and asks them to stand and fight. Waldreg urges them to bow instead, reminding them of how their ancestors survived. Half the villagers leave Ostirith with him.
Isildur begs his father for a place in the expedition, but Elendil tells him all the others have earned their places by serving Númenor. Meanwhile, Eärien begs Kemen to convince his father to stop the expedition.
While gathering mushrooms in a forest, Malva (Thusitha Jayasundera), Nori, and Poppy are chased by wolves. They are cornered, but the Stranger arrives and uses his power to throw the beasts back. His arm is injured in doing so.
Elendil asks Galdriel to give his recruits a lesson in swordplay. She outmaneuvers all of them easily while giving pointers on how to fight orcs. Valandil manages to nick her sleeve, earning himself a promotion to lieutenant.
Pharazôn tells Kemen that he intends to raise men above the elves by helping the Southlanders and giving them a king who will be in Númenor’s debt. Míriel’s father begs her not to go to Middle-earth and tells her she will find only darkness there.
Nori observes the stranger doing something with his injury in a pool. Ice grows around his arm and she grabs it, trying to help him. But he is unaware of her and the ice grows on her arm as well until suddenly she is thrown backwards. He moves to help her, but she runs away.
Elrond navigates tension between Durin and Gil-Galad as the elven High-King asks questions about mining in Khazad-dûm. Afterwards, he confronts Gil-Galad. The High King references an elven myth about a battle between an elven warrior and a balrog, the result of which was the the infusion of the power of one of the silmarils into the mountain depths. Elrond holds to the oath he swore to Durin, but Gil-Galad tells him that the light of the eldar is fading, and that he needs the ore and the power within it to save the elves.
Kemen climbs aboard a ship with the intention of burning it, but finds Isildur hiding onboard as a stowaway. They fight, and the lantern is broken and knocked into kegs of oil. Isildur swims to the docks, having saved an unconscious Kemen. He lies to his father about where he found Kemen.
Elendil, Pharazôn, and Míriel debate whether the people are ready to follow the Queen Regent to war. She tells them she will make her decision in the morning, and that Halbrand must be there.
Celebrimbor apologizes for lying to Elrond about the mithril, and assures Elrond that vast quantities of its light are the only thing that can save the elves.
Galadriel apologies to Halbrand and begs him for his help. He tells her that if the Númenóreans knew what he has done to survive they would reject him, and so would she. She tells him about her brother and admits that she keeps fighting because she cannot stop. She tells Halbrand that her closest friend conspired with her King to have her exiled because they could no longer see a difference between her and the evil she was fighting.
Waldreg pledges his loyalty to Adar. When he asks if Adar is Sauron, Adar attacks him, before making Waldreg kill Rowan to seal the oath in blood.
Arondir gives Theo pointers on using a bow and arrow. Theo is hostile towards him at first, but then relents, and shows Arondir the evil blade. Arondir realizes he has seen it before, and tells Bronwyn that it is a key made by the enemy, though he doesn’t know what it does, exactly. Bronwyn decides that the only way to survive is to surrender and swear fealty, telling Arondir that the elves were right to watch her people. She tells him that if they stand against the enemy they will be killed, and the tower will fall. They both seem to be struck by an idea, looking up at the tower together.
Elrond tells Durin the truth about Gil-Galad’s desire for mithril. The dwarf is hurt at first, but when Elrond explains why the elves want the ore, he relents, seeming to enjoy the idea of having the fate of the entire race in his hands. They set off together towards Khazad-dûm, as Gil-Galad watches them in the distance.
Halbrand is summoned to Míriel’s council. He leaves the bag with his crest behind, then returns and snatches it up. Later, he sits on horseback in new armor beside the Queen Regent as the people bid farewell to the soldiers. A stricken Eärien watches Isildur depart. The boats set sail towards Middle-earth.
This episode is called “Partings,” but it really ought to be called “Choices.” Each important character is asked, in this episode, to make a difficult choice about what kind of person they will be, and what fate they are willing to face as a result of choosing the path of responsibility, service, and Good. And what’s really incredible is the script manages to make each character’s dilemma completely different and distinct, and yet the theme fits each one in turn. From the Stranger, grappling with the consequences of using his power, to Halbrand, who is being asked to face his past and take up a huge mantle of responsibility, to Isildur’s struggle to define himself—even Bronwyn and Waldreg have different motivations for considering swearing fealty to the orc leader.
And at the center of it all, you have Galadriel. The one character who isn’t struggling with choice, the one character whose problem is the exact opposite—she doesn’t have the capacity to stop herself from fighting, even if that turned out to be the right choice to make.
I appreciated that the show finally addressed this problem in a meaningful way. Aside from her one conversation with Elrond in the first episode, Galadriel’s behavior isn’t really questioned by the narrative. Plenty of other characters confront her about it, but because the viewer knows that she is right about the threat of Sauron, it’s hard to give those complaints much weight. Sure, Galadriel is abrasive and stubborn, sure she could use a little more tact, but everyone else is refusing to see the threat that we know she is right about, so really, everyone kind of deserves it.
In this episode, however, we finally see her recognize and apologize for something she’s done. Certainly, she still believes her goal is correct, but in the scene between her and Halbrand she admits to using him to further her own end and shares her trauma with him. When confronted by Gil-Galad or Elrond, she stubbornly held out the fact that she is right about Sauron to deflect from her internal pain. Now, finally, we see her acknowledge that both can be true, that her aims may be correct but that she is also driven by something else, something darker, than being the only one who sees that the threat is near.
The problem with Galadriel’s character is that all her trauma happened off-screen. We don’t get to see how the trauma of the war changed her as a person, and indeed, we don’t get to see how the trauma of the war affected any of the elves who fought in it. Arondir has a few moments—I especially appreciated when he admired Theo for finding the bravery to stand against the Shadow at only fourteen, when it took Arondir over two hundred—but most of the genuine pain we see from the elves is in other places. We see the grief held by those who lost loved ones in the war, we see the struggle of Gil-Galad to bolster a fading people, but we don’t really see what the war was like for the elves. To be fair, it is a difficult thing to illustrate. But so much of the plot, and the character of Galadriel, hinges on this trauma. We need to see it in a clearer manner than the show has currently been able to offer us.
Still, there are some moments in this episode that get closer to showing us a full person in Galadriel. I really enjoyed the sparring scene, and the fact that you can see a friendship developing between her and Elendil. The callback in Episode One to Finrod’s line about having to touch the darkness was really cheesy, but I think it worked well in Episode Five. Galadriel’s ability to extend mercy and forgiveness to Halbrand for the things he might have done in his past comes not from being a good and pure elf, but from having touched the darkness herself. In this moment, we see that she, too, has regrets. That despite the way she behaves, she is not fully confident in everything she has done, every choice she has made.
Halbrand still doesn’t really interest me, but the action in the Southlands does a lot of work to support his character. Watching what is happening to Bronwyn and her people, watching Waldreg murder Rowan, watching Theo decide to do the right thing and tell Arondir about the evil balde—these moments created connection and empathy that extended to Halbrand, bosltered by the way the episode is edited. I really appreciate how the show has managed both to address the evil that was perpetrated by men serving Morgoth but also to show that these people are not just monsters. They are human beings, mostly peasants and farmers who don’t have the power of places like Lindon or Númenor to protect them. The are flawed humans, yes, but also ones who have been put into an impossible position, facing a terrible enemy, seemingly on their own.
Showing how even Bronwyn’s strength falters in the face of what feels like impossible odds gives us context, and empathy, for those who came before her. Arondir is similarly affected—he doesn’t judge her, even as he holds fast in trying to convince her that the path she is considering cannot be taken, both for her sake and for the world’s.
We have spent far too much time in Númenor. Last week, Míriel’s struggle to decide whether or not to help Galadriel was beautiful and moving, and advanced the story well, but this week it was just redundant. It was clearly a plot move as well—the story needed her decisions to rest on Halbrand’s, in order to drive Galadriel’s struggle with him. Unfortunately, this muddies Míriel’s story, and makes the episode drag. Everything that occurs in Númenor really could have been condensed down into one episode. It is a pacing issue that hampers the show in a lot of places.
I would also say that the show is falling down in its depiction of Isildur. The writers have stated their intention to portray him as a tragic figure rather than a foolish one, but so far he mostly just seems foolish. Baldry brings a distinct charm to his portrayal of the character, but without being given a deeper understanding of what exactly he is struggling with, it’s hard to see more in the character than what his friends and father complain about. Which is too bad, really. There is definitely something very moving in the idea of a character who can’t seem to find a sense of direction in a culture that is defined by purpose and service. Perhaps if the show allowed us to know Isildur more through his own words rather than those of others, we might have a better sense of what his actual struggle is, besides wanting to go West (for reasons that have not been explained) and having been, as Valandil accuses, handed all his opportunities in life.
Similarly, the character of Eärien was created for the show but they really haven’t done anything with her—we know she has worked very hard to be accepted to the drafter’s guild, but other than that all we see is that she is opposed to the war for unknown reasons. I’d really like to see the show actually give her something more to do in her own right.
The other theme of this episode is that of helping. The Stranger is able to help Nori and her family, and to save her from the wolves, but the same power he uses to help also hurts Nori accidentally. Galadriel has been pleading with Míriel and Halbrand for several episodes now. Arondir is attempting to stand with the Southlanders, who have no way of knowing that the aid of Númenor is on its way to them and who are suspicious of the elf in their midst. Then there are the complicated issues facing Elrond, whose attempts at loyalty to both his friend and his people place him in a difficult position. Gil-Galad and Celebrimbor plead for Elrond’s help to save the elven race, and ultimately Elrond must do the same with Durin.
I really loved how the show crafted the struggle Elrond faces in this episode, and where The Rings of Power falls down with Galadriel and Isildur, it does much better with Elrond. The conversations he has with Celebrimbor, with Gil-Galad, and even with Durin show us how difficult the young elf finds his position in life. We can see, without being told, that the human part of his heritage does affect how the other elves view him and the authority he carries among them. We also see how the memory of his father is used against Elrond. Celebrimbor has now evoked Eärendil’s name twice in order to pressure Elrond into doing as Celebrimbor wishes, manipulating Elrond with memories the older elf has of his friendship with Eärendil.
There is more suspense in Elrond’s scenes than in the rest of the show combined, I think. I was on the edge of my seat as Gil-Galad and Celebrimbor pressured Elrond to break his vow. Elrond’s speech to Gil-Galad about the meaning of their oaths was really moving, much more powerful than Gil-Galad’s hamfisted reply about how hope works. I feel like the show is telling us a lot about Gil-Galad here—he may be High King of the elves, but he doesn’t have the same presence and gravitas of, say, Elrond himself in The Lord of the Rings. In fact, he’s kind of a smarmousar. And Celebrimbor’s kind of creepy too. Which is a pretty cool choice for the show to make.
Anyway, I was terribly worried that Elrond might break his oath, and so, so relieved when instead he turned to his friend and told him the truth. As I said last week, Owain Arthur is an incredible actor, and he elevates every scene he is in. There is such a warmth and softness to his portrayal of Durin, and much of that is delivered through reactionary shots and dialogue, such as when Elrond revealed the truth to Durin about the elves’ desire for mithril. Watching the change Druin’s expression—from disappointed but not surprised, to angry, to surprised and curious, to sad, and finally to resigned and even a little pleased—was like an acting masterclass. And again, that is from behind three hours’ worth of prosthetics.
His chemistry with Robert Aramayo really makes you feel the age and strength of the friendship between Elrond and Durin. And I absolutely loved the way he played the scene over dinner, and how it was later revealed that Durin had tricked Elrond into giving up the table. I suppose Gil-Galad overheard that revelation. Somehow I doubt that he will understand that the subterfuge wasn’t only from a desire to get one over on the elves—it was also a test, to see how Gil-Galad would respond.
And, finally, there are the Harfoots. Not that much happens, plot-wise, with Nori and her family this week. But what we do have is more worldbuilding about who the Harfoots are, and hints of what they are going to become. The show is doing an incredible job crafting the Harfoots as the ancestors of the Hobbits, laying little seeds and references that the viewer can put together and compare to what they know of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. What’s really fascinating is how well the show does with this when it falls flat in so many other places. Lindon fails to distinguish itself as anything other than a sort of pre-Rivendell, relying on the same visual language that Jackson used to show the decline of the elves. Númenor’s warriors leave the white-stoned city in a series of shots very similar to when the warriors of Gondor rode out to retake Osgiliath The Two Towers. But with the Harfoots, we see a culture that is very different, that will have to evolve a lot to become what the Hobbits of the Shire know. And yet the roots, the potentiality, is beautifully recognizable.
There is perhaps no better example of this than in the walking song Poppy’s mother used to sing, that Poppy sings for us this week in “Partings.” In it, we find the familiar lines that Gandalf will one day use in reference to Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir to that little punk Isildur. “Not all who wander are lost.”
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried.
Sylas K Barret, weeping: That’s right, Nori. Gandalf is here to help.