Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power (Season 1)
The highly anticipated series starts slow and improves with each episode
J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” essentially jumpstarted modern fantasy stories. The film adaptations by Peter Jackson proved incredibly successful, bringing a gritty lens to the otherwise prancing novels. However, Jackson became too enmeshed within the world of Middle-Earth, as evidenced by his elongated take on “The Hobbit” novel. Thus, the first visual adaptation of “Lord of the Rings” has come from a mind other thank Jackson’s with the prequel series: The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power (2022-).
Rings of Power takes place thousands of years before the original novels, essentially encompassing the ten-minute prologue at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). The evil Sauron and his master Morgoth have been defeated, but Sauron has managed to go on the run. For many years Galadriel (Morfydd Clarke) has hunted him without luck. Many in Middle-Earth have grown at peace with his disappearance and are complacent. However, something is clearly afoot; we have a mysterious Stranger (Daniel Weyman) fall from the sky on a tribe of Harfoots (precursors to Hobbits); dark presences threaten the rural villages of the Southlands, and tensions between dwarves and elves reach a delicate degree.
Rings of Power is the first project ever from duo Patrick McKay and John D. Payne. The rookie pair does evidence a certain rustiness when crafting their story, struggling to make viewers latch on to characters and for storylines to intrigue. In fact, if it weren’t for the “Lord of the Rings” IP, the first few episodes would not have demanded much loyalty from return viewers. We spend too long with the Harfoot storyline, which feels too childish and inconsequential compared to the higher stakes elsewhere. Likewise, many of the characters are too stoic and self-serious to be empathetic for viewers. This leads to a certain cold distance in the first episodes, which may have sadly turned away some viewers. However, as the series progresses, McKay and Payne begin to learn from mistakes and take advantage of their set-up.
Rings of Power loiters around for half a season, but once it decides to get moving it proves quite intriguing. A skirmish scene with orcs will bring echoes of the great battle sequences in Jackson’s films, and a developing mystery and intrigue of where Sauron is takes a firm grip. Likewise, the charm of the relatively unknown, but talented, cast also works its magic. Clarke as Galadriel is able to shine some complexity behind her scowl, and a friendship between Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) becomes quite affecting. Overall, the series and its characters appear to be in an upward trajectory, as the writers and cast comes to grips with the massive property they are tackling.
Rings of Power was marketed as the most expensive TV series ever and this is evident with the production value seen on screen. The first two episodes, directed by J.A. Bayona, help establish a distinct visual aesthetic that future series directors carry on. Bayona’s cinematic touch helps differentiate the series from Jackson’s own work, while still giving the series an epic feel. Rings of Power certainly does deliver cinematic proportions brought onto the small screen, even more so than similar series Game of Thrones (2011-2019), you almost feel frustrated that you can’t enjoy each episode on a movie screen.
In the end, Rings of Power is a mixed bag, but one with an upward and encouraging trajectory towards its end. Newcomers McKay and Payne struggle with their set-up and spend too much time wandering aimlessly with rather bland storylines, but towards its final episodes, Rings of Power picks up and delivers some truly exciting material. The cast along with its writers are all on a learning curve, and get better as the season progresses, one only hopes that this momentum is kept in the future.