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(Review) The Rings of Power, S1 E3: "Adar"
Amazon Prime's Lord of the Rings series reveals its true potential in this stunning third episode
“[T]he Númenoreans began to hunger for the undying city that they saw from afar, and the desire for everlasting life, to escape from death and the ending of delight, grew strong upon them; and ever as their power and glory grew greater their unquiet increased. For though the Valar had rewarded the Dúnedain with long life, they could not take from them the weariness of the world that comes at last, and they died, even their kings of the seed of Eärendil; and the span of their lives was brief in the eyes of the Eldar. Thus it was that a shadow fell upon them: in which maybe the will of Morgoth was at work that still moved in the world. And the Númenoreans began to murmer, at first in their hearts, and then in open words, against the Doom of Men, and most of all against the Ban which forbade them to sail into the West.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
In my previous review of the two-episode premiere of Amazon Prime’s ambitious new streaming series The Rings of Power, my feelings were decidedly mixed. While suitably entertaining, I felt that the opening episodes failed to convey that ineffable quality that pervades Tolkien’s work and which Peter Jackson’s film adaptations captured so well.
I was also disappointed by what I perceived as the unnecessary oversimplification of the lore of Tolkien’s remarkable legendarium. I was worried that future episodes would use the unavoidable time compression of the story as an excuse to take drastic liberties, and ignore key characters and plot moments from the source material.
To my great relief, the third episode, entitled “Adar”, has largely dispelled my concerns. After a somewhat disappointing start, The Rings of Power has revealed its true potential as a reimagining of the Second Age of Middle-earth with appeal for dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien enthusiasts and casual fans alike.
The episode continues to balance multiple storylines, but for many viewers the highlight will undoubtedly be the island kingdom of Númenor. So much of the success of this series hinged on getting Númenor right and I’m very pleased to say that the creative team succeeded. The top-notch visual effects really get a chance to shine in this episode; the Númenorean capital city of Armenelos is jaw-droppingly beautiful! It also feels like a real, lived-in environment, down to little details like older elven-style architecture in the process of being bricked over with a distinctive Númenorean aesthetic. We meet the key character of Elendil (distant ancestor of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings) who is played masterfully by actor Lloyd Owen. The political situation in Númenor is tense. Faithfulness to the angelic Valar is rejected by much of society and friendship with the elves is scorned. Clearly, the arrival of Galadriel and the Southlander Halbrand to the island realm has set in motion a chain of events that will lead to the eventual downfall of Númenor in later seasons.
Speaking of Halbrand, he gets some standout scenes in this episode and speculation abounds among fans as to his true identity. Personally, I’m hoping he turns out to be the future king of the Oathbreakers, the Dead Men of Dunharrow as seen in The Return of the King.
Meanwhile back in the Southlands (future Mordor) the elf Arondir has been enslaved by orcs under the service of a mysterious figure known as “Adar.” Interestingly, the name means “father” in the elven language Sindarin. While this could be an alias for Sauron, I find this unlikely. My personal theory is that Adar will be revealed to be one of the original proto-orcs, elves who were mutilated and corrupted by Morgoth in the Elder Days.
Arondir slays an unconvincing CGI monster but fails to escape from the orcs, who are appropriately vile and much more convincingly realized with practical effects.
The Harfoot hobbits are without a doubt the weakest element of the episode. Every time the narrative cut to them I began to lose interest. Even the mysterious “Stranger” fails to salvage these segments.
Aside from missteps with the Harfoots, episode three of The Rings of Power fully cemented my investment in this series and assuaged many of my concerns about the story and lore. I think that if fans view this series primarily as a reimagining based on the works of Tolkien rather than as a straightforward adaptation of The Silmarillion, they may be able to put aside misgivings and enjoy some entertaining fantasy television. I’m certainly looking forward to future episodes and will continue to share my thoughts here on Missio Dei.
P.S. If you’re interested in a more complete deep-dive into the themes and layers of this episode, check out the latest installment of The Secrets of Middle-earth on the Catholic podcast network StarQuest. I’ll be joining a panel of Tolkien enthusiasts to discuss The Rings of Power every week until the season finale!