Return to Middle Earth, this time on the small screen, in LotR: The Rings of Power. Set during the Second Age, Rings of Power follows an ensemble of new and familiar characters as a new evil rises in the wake of Morgoth’s defeat. Massive in scope, grand in spectacle and insane in production costs, this is a triumphant leap back into Tolkien’s writings.
Firstly, I want to touch on the scale of the series. Any Lord of the Rings content we’ve got in the past has always felt massive in scope. The sheer size of Middle Earth is felt in both of Peter Jackson’s trilogies, and I can safely say that’s also the case here. Every single episode of Rings of Power is grand in terms of its sprawling narrative and incredible visuals. It may not seem like a crucial factor in enjoying a series, but when it comes to LotR, it’s an essential element in ensuring it feels like we are in Middle Earth. I can confirm that, at least to me, this all feels like LotR content. Everything in this world, from the characters and themes to the vast landscapes feels beautifully familiar, and as a fan of the franchise, that’s huge in enhancing my overall enjoyment. The choice to film in New Zealand, where all other LotR content was filmed, only strengthens that connection through the use of stunning scenery.
Now, we have to talk about the visual effects. When you hear each episode of this season cost Amazon roughly $50 million to make, you’d be right in wondering… “how?”. When you finally watch an episode, it becomes abundantly clear where that money went – the visuals. Whether you like or dislike Rings of Power, there’s no questioning the fact that it’s one of the most stunning and visually appealing TV shows ever put to screen. Breathtaking is honestly and understatement. Virtually every single shot across the nine episode run is incredible to look at. Every dollar is visible on screen, from the near-flawless CGI and intricate costuming to the lavish sets and grand set-pieces. Episode after episode I was left awestruck by some of the gorgeous scenery and how massive some of the cities feel. Gone is the famous use of highly-detailed miniatures, but when the VFX are this perfect there’s really no complaints to be had. The costuming across the board, especially for the orcs, is fantastic. VFX are great for those large-scale shots and landscapes, but when it comes to these smaller-scale elements the use of costumes and makeup is crucial.
Style is one thing, and we’ve established the visuals are next-level, but what about the substance? What about the story? This is what all the online discourse pertaining to the series is revolving around – whether it be a matter of accuracy to Tolkien’s writing or a lack of urgency. I’m on the complete opposite end of the spectrum – I was thoroughly and deeply engaged in most of every character arc. From Arondir’s (Ismael Cruz Cordova) treacherous journey to Galadriel’s (Morfydd Clark) emotion-driven quest, there’s huge strides made within every episode to keep you invested in everything going on. Plus, a slower pace doesn’t bother me as long as there’s meaningful character development, and there’s plenty of that in here. There’s intent behind every decision made in the narrative, all building towards the grandest moments and biggest revelations of the season. I even didn’t mind the presence of the Harfoots. Sure, their journey through the season doesn’t amount to much, but they also don’t suck up much screen time. If anything, my only narrative-related gripe is that the finale wraps things up a little hastily, but it was still a thoroughly engaging and rewarding endpoint.
Tension is ripe throughout this entire season. The slower pace makes way for the brilliant building of suspense and letting the season’s greatest mysteries gain traction in the lead-up to the finale. What I love most is that every single episode is packed to the brim. Considering these episodes are all longer than an hour, the fact that they’re all overflowing with awesome content and not just padded for runtime is a testament to the writing. Whenever I thought the season had reached a peak, they’d come out with another episode that just blew me away. Every week I walked away with a dumb grin on my face and boundless excitement for the next episode. The epic scale and ambition of the narrative is not for show, it’s all brilliantly executed and sets up not only the events of this season, but for all the seasons to come. Epic. That’s the key word here. This style of storytelling feels epic, catering to that LotR vibe we know and love. The writing, combined with the visuals and the score, all lead to this being one mesmerising piece of storytelling.
One thing I will touch on is the debate and out-of-control outrage at the fact that the timeline of the series isn’t 100% aligned with Tolkien’s writings. Here’s my view. If the changes made, such as taking characters out of one era and moving them to the next, or condensing key moments from hundreds/thousands of years down to maybe ten years, are done so for the sake of telling a stronger story, then I’m all for it. The fact of the matter is, this was never going to be a story that took place over thousands of years, especially when you’d only have two or three recurring characters. Basically, people like to complain, and when you have a series as phenomenal as this, they’ll find any reason to focus their hate on it.
In true LotR fashion, this is not an action-packed affair. There’s not a huge action set-piece within every episode, but when it is time for some action, boy does it go big. The few action sequences there are throughout the season are fun, entertaining and memorable in their own unique way. One episode in particular (if you’ve seen it, you know) features some of the darkest, grittiest and most epic action the franchise has seen. Now, it doesn’t get close to the scope and awesomeness of the Battle of Helm’s Deep or the Siege of Minas Tirith, but for a LotR TV series it’s massive. I love that it takes its time to build to its big moments rather than just throwing flashy combat at us in every episode. It’s a series that focuses on the narrative first, allowing the story to dictate when there’s to be an action sequence and resulting in arcs that flow naturally. On top of this, the action isn’t all ‘safe’, there’s a slight edginess that I’m liking, one that is certainly going to get stronger as time goes on.
The series is also jam-packed with strong performances, more than I can cover here without going on and on. Firstly, Morfydd Clark’s performance as Galadriel grew on me more and more as the series progressed. From the beginning of the season, she plays a very hardened version of Galadriel who isn’t too expressive of her emotions, making it hard to connect with the character. With time I feel she opened up to the role and showed off a more vulnerable side, which made her a somewhat more interesting character. Elsewhere, I loved both Robert Aramayo’s performance as Elrond and Owain Arthur’s performance as Prince Durin III. These two go hand in hand as the most entertaining pairing of the series. Their chemistry is brilliant and makes way for some key emotional beats and plenty of hilarious moments. The likes of Ismael Cruz Cordova’s Arondir, Charlie Vickers’ Halbrand and Lloyd Owen’s Elendil are all great in their own ways, contributing to their respective arcs and making them some of the more engaging of the season.
In the end, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a spectacular continuation of the franchise, giving us insight into an era of Middle Earth that’s never been put to screen. Grand in scale and ambitious in scope, this series sticks the landing and delivers a season jam-packed with thrilling action, gripping tension, engaging characters and thoroughly fulfilling story arcs. Not to mention the absolutely breathtaking visuals. Yes, I’m a fan of the LotR films, and yes, I loved nearly every minute of this series. Aside from a bit of a rushed finale, there’s not much I’d change about this series. All I know is that I can’t wait to jump right back into Middle Earth with season two.