Spoiler Alert: This article is a recap of Episode 3 ofThe Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power. Please watch the episode before reading, currently streaming on Prime Video.
It is as I feared. The showrunners of The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power (TRoP) are indeed condensing JRR Tolkien’s 3,000-year-old Second Age into just a handful of years in which all the action happens. Episode 3, called Adar, goes a long way towards finally establishing the show’s timeline by introducing the kingdom of Númenor into the mix. And this is important, because, unlike many other things related to Middle-earth in the Second Age, the story of Númenor is one of the more fully fleshed out ones in Tolkien’s mythology. In fact, Númenor could be said to be the story of the Second Age, with the Sauron-Elves strife coming a close second.
It is in Middle-earth, though, that the episode begins, as Arondir, who we saw was captured by the mysterious Orc diggers in Episode 2, regains consciousness in the den of the Orcs. Remember those vanished people of Hordern? They’re here, along with other captured humans, as well as Arondir’s fellow Elf-guards from the watchtower! The Orcs are making them dig through the southlands. The Orcs, better…um…designed than in the LoTR films, can’t stand the sunlight, so they direct proceedings from under the shade. And they’re all working for a mysterious someone called Adar.
The scene now shifts to the Sundering Seas, where Galadriel wakes in the hold of the Númenórean ship that rescued her and Halbrand at the end of Episode 2. Then we meet the ship’s captain, the serious and stately Elendil, who tells his charges that they will soon be home. And so, we are introduced to Númenor in all it’s breathtaking glory. The story of Númenor’s glory and downfall has always been a favourite of mine, and the great island, shaped like a five-pointed star, “the westernmost of all mortal lands”—as Galadriel tells an awestruck Halbrand—is truly gorgeous. Remember, it is these same Númenóreans, under Elendil, that will one day establish the kingdom of Gondor in Middle-earth.
Númenor was Tolkien’s attempt at integrating the myth of Atlantis into his legendarium, and TRoP’s version is certainly stunning, and, thanks to Tolkien’s works, feels lived in. Although we get mostly scene-setting in the show, it is now amply clear that we are dealing with the great kingdom’s decadent endtimes: the world peopled by notable Númenóreans like Elendil and his son Isildur, Tar-Miriel the Queen Regent and Pharazôn, her Chancellor. As Galadriel finds out, this is a Númenor that feels only hatred for the Elves, their once allies and friends in the struggle against Morgoth in the First Age.
The pathos of this sundering of the two races is especially evident later in the episode, when Galadriel goes to Elendil’s city. She is pleased to be in Elendil’s library, and the two of them gaze at a large painting depicting Elrond and his brother Elros. At the beginning of the Second Age, the brothers, who were both Half-Elven by birth, were given a choice by the Valar to become either Man or Elf: Elros chose to become a human, and the first king of Númenor, and Elrond chose to remain an Elf. That was 3,000 years in the show’s past, and to mortal Elendil, the painting depicts a legendary moment, while to the immortal Galadriel, it was only yesterday. “Remarkable,” says Elendil. I feel you Elendil.
It is in this library, or House of Lore as the show calls it, that Galadriel finally decodes the mystery of Sauron’s ‘sigil’. It is no sigil after all, but a map of Mordor. She also realizes that Halbrand is not the scruffy ruffian he makes out to be—and he does a fair bit of scruffy ruffian-ing in this episode—but a king in exile. King of the same benighted Southlanders who are now being burrowed into oblivion by the Orcs. Galadriel is old enough to know that it isn’t mere chance that the two have been brought together.
The one thing that TRoP has successfully established by now is its ability to craft a distinct mood for each of its locales. While Númenor is on a grand scale, the Elf chain-gang is a decidedly gritty and dangerous place. The Orcs are a murderous rabble, but the Elves aren’t giving in so easily. They rebel, kill a bunch of Orcs, fight a warg, and Arondir’s captain nearly gets away, only to be feathered with arrows. The Orcs decide to bring Arondir to Adar.
Meanwhile, not so far away, the Harfoots are preparing for their annual autumn migration with one last Beltane-like pagan rumple in the forests of Rhovanion. Nori decides to raid Sadoc Burrow’s manuscripts for a star-chart to help The Stranger find his way back to wherever he came from. Later, when the tribe are gathered around their campfire, remembering the fallen Harfoots in migrations past—a very moving scene—The Stranger crashes their party, and Nori’s cover is blown. The Brandyfoots are condemned to bring up the rear of the migrating caravan as a result. With Nori’s father’s broken foot, they are almost certain to be left behind by the tribe, but The Stranger offers to help. “Friend,” he says, looking at Nori, and I’m now convinced that The Stranger is a Wizard, probably even the most famous Wizard of them all.
To sum up, this episode acts as yet another pilot, and with the introduction of Numenor and Adar and his Orc army, all the moving parts of the story have finally been introduced. The remaining five episodes, then, is where all the action will take place. There’s much to like about the show: its unhurried, painstaking world-building, its distinct plotlines, its cinematography and its mostly good original stories. But there are clankers still: the very un-Tolkienish dialogue, the spotty CGI, the one-note Galadriel, the still unconvincing Harfoot storyline and the decision to compress the timeline. However, the show has made me both curious for the rest for the season and has driven me back to Tolkien’s books. So, it’s a win.
-It was very moving to be introduced to both Elendil and Isildur, both of whom have such a huge role to play in the history of Middle-Earth in the Second and Third Age. Also, I’m very curious about the sword that Tar-Miriel gives Elendil. Is it Narsil, the most famous of all swords, the sword that will one day be carried by Aragorn as Andúril?
-Why does Elendil spend time on the western shores of Númenor, where Isildur too longs to go? My guess is that they’re waiting for a sign from either the Elves of Valinor, the estranged friends of the Númenóreans, or for Elendil’s father Amandil, who, if you have read The Silmarillion, had left on a secret mission.
-In The Silmarillion, Miriel’s father—the locked-up king in the show—is Tar-Palantir, the Númenórean king who repented the Elf-hating ways of his people and sought to re-establish friendship with the Elves and the Valar. That ended ultimately in failure. I wonder how the show will spin that tale?
-Who is Adar? He’s clearly one of the Big Bads of the show, but he is also an original character. My guess is that he is a fallen Elf who had taken up/corrupted by Morgoth/Sauron in the First Age. After all, remember that Morgoth first created the Orcs by kidnapping Elves and twisting them into his monstrous minions.
-No Elves of Eregion or Dwarves of Khazad-Dûm in this episode. But they’re sure to reappear in Episode 4.
-Finally, I still can’t shake the disappointment of seeing the show-runners condensing the Second Age storyline. Celebrimbor and the Dwarves struck up their friendship thousands of years before the time of Miriel and Elendil inNúmenor. And Sauron as Annatar still hasn’t shown up in Eregion, so the Rings of Power are still far in the future.
-Middle-earth race relations: all the humans are extremely racist…towards Elves. All non-Elves are also extremely isolationist, be it the pompous Númenóreans or the tribal Harfoots. The only ones willing to see the bigger picture are the Elves, Elendil and Nori.