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The Rings of Power Episode 5 review: Bad fan fiction

‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ continues on its blundering journey, pointlessly changing JRR Tolkien's stories along the way

Robert Aramayo as Elrond in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power'
Robert Aramayo as Elrond in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' (Courtesy Prime Video)

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Spoiler Alert: This article is a recap of Episode 5 of The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power. Please watch the first five episodes before reading, currently streaming on Prime Video.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has, over the five episodes of Season 1, has put me through the emotional wringer. At first it was the joy of seeing Middle-earth again, not to mention beloved characters such as Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo). But thereafter, it has left me incredulous, disheartened, uncaring and finally bored. Over the first two episodes, the Harfoots story had been the most cringey, but that has now grown to be the most important plot strand in the series. The other original storyline concocted for the show, that of the Southlands (basically Mordor before Sauron) started off as the most interesting and has now devolved into the second worst plot. The worst, and which gets worse with every passing episode, is the laughably bad Númenor story, with Galadriel the most underwritten and irritating character I’ve ever come across in television.

All told, The Rings of Power is one gigantic mess. To begin with there’s the pacing. In Episode 4, ‘The Great Wave’, the various plots barely advanced (the Harfoots were absent from that episode) after the promise of Episode 3 (‘Adar’). In Episode 5, ‘Partings’, everything seems to be happening all at once, building up to a big battle, presumably in next week’s episode. 

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‘Partings’ was basically about contrived tension, and the retconning of JRR Tolkien’s works to fit in some ridiculous original ideas (the Elves and mithril, but more on that later). The only storyline that is working at this point, is the Harfoots one, and there, the tension centres around the identity of the Stranger (Daniel Weyman). In Episode 3, we saw him pitching in to help Nori’s (Markella Kavenagh) caravan during the Harfoots migration. And in this episode he’s continuing to do so, learning more about the Harfoots, being tutored by Nori, and, at one point, using both strength and magical powers to defend the caravan against three wolves. It’s unclear where the Harfoots are migrating to, but from what little I can tell from the map, they seem to be heading down towards the Southlands. 

A trio of sinister looking priests dressed in white seem to be on the Stranger’s tail. The credits name them as The Nomad (Edith Poor), The Ascetic (Kali Kopae) and The Dweller (Bridie Sisson). Some people have speculated online that they may be priests of the cult of Morgoth (the original Dark Lord), but I’ll be happy if The Dweller turns out to be Annatar/Sauron. The Stranger remains a mysterious enigma, though my bet’s still on him being Gandalf, or at least a Wizard.

Also Read: The Rings of Power Eps 1 & 2 review: Stunning but flawed

Speaking of the Southlands, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) tells the assembled exiles in the Elves’ watchtower of Ostirith of Adar’s offer of peace if the people swear fealty to him. Immediately half of them leave to meet the orcs, led by the villainous Waldreg. He thinks Adar (Joseph Mawle) is Sauron, to which Adar takes great exception. He then gets Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) to ceremonially murder young Rowan (Ian Blackburn). Adar, who, as a fallen Elf had shown so much promise, is fast becoming a cartoon villain. 

Back at the Elf tower, Bronwyn’s irritating son Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) shows Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordoba) the mysterious sword. Arondir says that it’s a monstrous key, an engraving of which he shows the people. But a key to what? No one knows. Meanwhile, Adar’s orc army marches on Ostirith.

And now (deep breath) to Númenor. Galadriel is continuing to act as a warmongering, headstrong, unwise Elf. Isildur (Maxim Baldry) continues to be unable to speak to anyone without conflict. In this episode Isildur’s first conflict is with Elendil (Lloyd Owen), who refuses to induct him into the Middle-earth expeditionary force because he considers him flaky. Later, Isildur makes up with his furious friends from the previous episode, Valandil (Alex Tarrant) and Ontamo (Anthony Crum), after he lets Valandil punch him twice. In between, he watches while Galadriel ‘trains’ Valandil and other young volunteers in one of those terrible movie cliché ways, where everyone is a bumbling fool, except the trainer, who is smug.

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Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) steadfastly refuses to have anything to do with Galadriel’s efforts to crown him as king of the Southlanders. Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) is having second thoughts after her decision to sail to Middle-earth proves unpopular, while both Pharazôn’s (Trystan Gravelle) son Kemen (Leon Wadham) and Isildur’s daughter Eärien (Ema Horvath) are against the war. Both of them are turning out to be really irritating characters, with Kemen in fact going so far as to destroy two of the five ships of the expeditionary force. Isildur catches him in the act, but inexplicably, tells no one about it.

It's all very tiresome. Neither Númenor, nor it’s people, resemble a real place or a nation (remember, Númenor, at this point, is supposed to be a wise and strong realm comparable to any of the Elven realms of the First Age). Instead, it looks like any other vaguely medieval fantasy realm from any other fantasy TV show. After much pointlessness, the force finally sets off, with Halbrand on board, as well as Isildur. Míriel too is going to war, though her father, the old king Tar-Palantir (Ken Blackburn), warns her not to do so. He ominously talks of a ‘darkness’ in Middle-earth.

In every episode, showrunners Patrick McKay and John D. Payne invent a new controversial deviation from Tolkien-canon, by interpreting the word ‘adaptation’ very generously. If in the previous episode, it was the bit about the Palantiri, in this episode, it is about the origins of the ore mithril. For that, we travel back to Elven high king Gil-galad’s (Benjamin Walker) realm in Lindon. Durin IV (Owain Arthur) is being hosted by Gil-galad, Elrond and Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) to celebrate the alliance of the Dwarves and the Elves. 

Gil-galad and Durin are extremely suspicious of each other, and later, Gil-galad tries to get Elrond to break his oath of secrecy (that he made to Durin in the previous episode) regarding mithril. When Elrond rightly refuses, Gil-galad first throws racist shade by calling Elrond ‘half-elven’ very pointedly and then reveals that the Elves of Middle-earth are fading away. Showing him the diseased sacred tree of Lindon, Gil-galad tells Elrond that the Elves need the light of Valinor to remain healthy in Middle -earth. The only way that elves can tap into to the light while in Middle-earth is through mithril.

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According to the story, the last Silmaril of Fëanor had been stuck in a tree on top of a peak in the Misty Mountains. There, an Elf and a Balrog fought over it. The Elf poured his “light” into the tree to preserve it, while the Balrog lashed it with his hatred and fiery whip. While they fought, lightning struck the tree, and this transformed the Silmaril, the Elf’s light and the Balrog’s dark to create an ore, mithril, which possesses each of these qualities. Celebrimbor later tells Elrond that mithril is full of light and that the Elves need to find a way to saturate all of their kind in that light to prevent the waning.

It's a tall tale, and Elrond isn’t fully convinced. But he comes clean to Durin about it, and being an all-round good guy, Durin takes Elrond with him back to Khazad-Dûm to speak to his father about allowing the Elves access. 

The final shot of the episode, where three Numenorean ships sail for Middle-earth (Isildur has been conscripted), sets up next week’s battle. It’s a long long way across the sea to Middle-earth, and then another long overland journey to Mordor (the Southlands), so normally the Númenóreans wouldn’t arrive in time to save Ostirith. But this is a run-of-the-mill fantasy TV show, so I suppose they will.

Some observations:

-Mithril. This is the most useless way of laying down a justification for the eventual creation of the rings of power. In Tolkien lore, mithril is found in the Misty Mountains, but it existed in Numenor and probably Valinor as well. As a plot device, it is used just twice. The first is that mithril is the reason why the Dwarves mine ever deeper into the Misty Mountains, until, in their greed, they unleash the sleeping Balrog, Durin’s Bane in the Third Age. Second, Frodo’s mithril coat, a gift from Bilbo (who had been gifted it earlier by the Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield), crucially saves his life twice during the quest to destroy Sauron’s One Ring. The Rings of Poweris stretching things to the extreme to suggest that mithril has powers beyond its strength and suppleness. 

Besides, the fates of all three Silmarils is well known. One sails the sky with Eärendil, and shines as Eärendil’s Star, one was cast into the sea, and the final fell into a fiery pit. Unless the show reveals later that this new legend is a lie told by Sauron to snare the Elves into making the rings of power, it’s pretty lame. It’s one thing to adapt the works of Tolkien, but this—like the missing Palantiri and Galadriel’s entire character arc (if you can even call it that)—is just bad fan fiction. 

-Adar’s plan. Early in the episode, Adar enjoys the light of the sun, before telling his orc lieutenant that the sunlight will soon be gone. What he possibly means is that he will find a way to shroud the Southlands in darkness, blotting out the sunlight and giving the orcs greater ease of movement. How will that happen, I wonder. Maybe Theo’s key, or the orc’s tunneling, or both, will trigger a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Doom. Orodruin, as the volcano is called, has already been named by Bronwyn earlier in the season. Southlanders have villages, ranging from south-west Mordor (where Ostirith lies), all the way to Orodruin. 

-I have a feeling that the Númenórean force will actually be defeated by Adar. Ontamo boasts to his fiancée in this episode that he thinks Númenor would have won the Southlands before he even sets foot on Middle-earth. He seems, therefore, destined to die. I also think something terrible will happen to Míriel, allowing Pharazôn to become king of Númenor. Pharazôn has plans, as he tells his stupid son: a Middle-earth empire, tribute, resources. 

-The show continues to do a massive disservice to Galadriel. It’s one thing to chart her progress from headstrong Elf warrior to wise and ethereal Elf queen. That is a character arc. The show’s Galadriel is however stuck being some kind of rage-filled zealot.

-I’m liking the Harfoot storyline more and more, but I’m a little unnerved by the casual cruelty of their ways during migration, where a lagging caravan family can just be left behind, and have the wheels removed from their wagon for good measure! 

Meanwhile, the Stranger and Nori’s relationship is coming along nicely, and I definitely want to know more about the mysterious ‘creepy three’ who are on the Stranger’s tail. 

-Finally, what I’m rooting for, more than anything else at this point, is for Halbrand to become one of Sauron’s ringwraiths, the Nazgûl. Heck, why stop there. I want him to become the Nazgûl: the Witch King himself. 

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