The journey begins: Thoughts on Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (S1, E1-2)

(courtesy Imp Awards)

We live in a fast age.

Want same day delivery? You got it! A plane that zips you from A to B in a hour or so? Of course! Food ordered and handed to you in mere minutes? Well, why the hell not?

It’s all very convenient and who among us doesn’t take advantage of the speed and efficiency but sometimes it’s good to simply down, immerse yourself in something and luxuriate in what it all means and where it might, deliciously slowly, take you.

Such an opportunity is offered by The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, newly arrived with the first two episodes in hand on Prime Video, which spirits us thousands of years before the epic events of The Lord of the Rings films and their precursor, The Hobbit, to Middle-Earth’s Second Age where life is peaceful again after near-cataclysmic war, precipitated by Morgoth, devastated the kingdoms of men and Elves in the First Age.

It would all be an idyllic butter commercial of bucolic peace and blissful happiness were it not for the fact that his former lieutenant, Sauron, who goes on to make Middle-Earth a hell’s own place to be a few millennia hence, is thought to be wandering out somewhere out there – waves hand expansively with no real certainty of where he is – by a few souls who fear evil has not been totally vanquished.

People like Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) who, a considerable amount of time before she became the angelically posed elder stateswoman of Lothlórien, is a kickass warrior, and ironically as the commander of an Elven brigade, not a great follower of orders from her ruler, the High King of the Elves based at Lindon, Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) who is convinced that Sauron lives still and is coming back for another bite at the evil enslavement cherry.

She is clearly mired in grief, even centuries later, at the loss of her beloved elder brother Finrod (Will Fletcher) who died during Morgoth’s wars, but even allowing for the way that kind of sustained pain and loss can addle perspective and good judgement, she is convinced that she is right and that the King’s declaration that peace is now at hand is a tad too premature.

Even Elrond (Robert Aramayo) – he and Galadriel have a friendship spanning thousands of years and its highly enjoyable seeing them in their younger, more impressionable days – thinks that she should simply give up her quixotic quest, accept the King’s generous gift (quite what it is is a spoiler and must be left to the watching of The Rings of Power) – and get on with life which is now peachy keen and chilled. (He is also friends with the Dwarven Prince Durin IV, played by Owain Arthur, a friendship which is controversial and mired in more than a little misunderstanding and hurt.)

Or perhaps not …

Because just as the High King of the Elves is issuing an edict declaring war is over, there’s evidence emerging out in the lands of men that things may not be quite so peaceful after all.

That’s not something immediately troubling Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), a Silvan Elf stationed at one of the main forts the race has built up and down Middle-Earth to keep a watch out for evil, a sensible strategy that is coming to an end with the High King’s edict, which pleases almost all men who really don’t like the Elves at all, who’s in love with an apothecarist named Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi).

They can’t admit they love each other because all interracial hell would break loose but their fates become intertwined anyway when a startlingly bleak discovery brings home the fact that evil may not having quite the holiday everyone thought it was.

Throw into the pot the fact that a weird meteorite has fallen to earth containing a very tall strange man, known simply as The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) who may or may not be Gandalf or Sauron or ???, discovered by a feisty, wholly untraditional Harfoot (Hobbit ancestors) girl, Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), who cares for him even if her bestie Poppy (Megan Richards) thinks that may not be the wisest course of action.

While all of these plot threads might indicate a LOT is happening, and let’s be honest, it is, The Rings of Power unspools it all in a gorgeously meditative fashion, allowing us to not only bathe in the highly welcome return to Middle-Earth which is a world-building treat in itself but to feel the slow drumbeat of tension and concern as certain in-tune people, and yes this even begins to include the prescient Elven King, begin to realise that evil is coming back slowly and steadily and all may not be well unless good people, Elves and Dwarves act and act quickly.

Of course with only two of the eight-episode run released – the series releases weekly up to 14 October – it’s early days yet in the march to war, a march that we know from experience is going to take a good long while to reach its dramatic conclusion.

Having said that, The Rings of Power, reportedly the most expensive TV or streaming series ever produced, does a superb job of balancing the what-ifs with the here-and-now, demonstrating the age-old truth that people (and Elves and Dwarves) will only ever see what they want to see, and that if the truth doesn’t fit the narrative that makes them comfortable, that they will simply grab the version of events that suits them.

That is very much the case in The Rings of Power‘s first two episodes, although you suspect that as the episodes mount that the reality of evil’s slow and slimy march to the foreground will become impossible to ignore, as Bronwyn, and her evil-fascinated son Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin), discover in one very dramatic scene that makes it clear that what Galdariel and others suspect is afoot, is indeed makes its vile presence increasingly felt.

Quite apart from its rich, slowly-unfurled storytelling, its fulsome chatracterisation and its gift for bringing forth Tolkien’s rich and sublimely wondrous mythology – the series is drawn from primarily from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings – what makes The Rings of Power such a feast for the eyes is the expansive cinematography which is every bit as enticing as it was back when The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released in the Noughites.

Filmed in New Zealand, which is let’s face it Middle-Earth now and for all time, the series make use of dramatic locations to great effect while also laying down upon them wondrously golden, fragilely beautiful Elven cities such as the coastal splendour of Eregion, and the awe-inspiring majesty of the legendary Dwarven Khazad-dûm which is at the height of its power and wealth, two of many locations which gives The Rings of Power a spectacularly visual cinematic quality to match it vaulting narrative depth and breadth.

Granted we are only two episodes in, with six more to come in the first season, and four seasons thereafter, but already The Rings of Power is shaping up to be one of those epic viewing experiences that more than justifies the hype and which offers the promise of this trip to Middle-Earth being every bit as rewarding and immersively thrilling as the earlier trilogies have been, and likely inspiring devotion every bit as deep as that which has gone before.

There’s a lot of mythology and a huge number of characters to wrap your head around, and so, it’s worth checking out this great article from Vulture to get up to speed.

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