Review: ‘The Rings of Power’ premiere shows promise, despite a shaky start

Now available to stream on Amazon Prime, “The Lord of the Rings” prequel series will explore the creation of the One Ring.

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The first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” have been released on Amazon Prime. (Photo by Ben Rothstein, courtesy of Prime Video)

Ferris Elaraby, Contributing Writer

Spoiler warning: This article may include spoilers for “The Rings of Power.”

If Amazon’s newly released TV show “The Rings of Power” aims to break the mold of Peter Jackson’s seminal “The Lord of the Rings” films and stand on its own, then the first two episodes seem to be making little headway.

“The Lord of the Rings” prequel show takes place thousands of years before the events of “The Hobbit,” and follows four plotlines. The main plot follows Galadriel, an Elven warrior princess hellbent on seeking out Sauron, the original trilogy’s primary antagonist, to avenge her brother’s death. Meanwhile, her good friend Elrond, a rising politician, teams with legendary smith Celebrimbor to create “something of real power.” How ambiguous.

In another plotline, viewers are introduced to the somewhat familiar sight of Harfoots, a proto-Hobbit race that is far more nomadic than its future counterpart. Nori, against the judgment of her Harfoot family, finds and aids a mysterious man with magical capabilities. Lastly, Elven soldier Arondir and human healer Bronwyn share a secretive romantic connection as they investigate an Orc resurgence.

The biggest problem with the “The Rings of Power” premiere is a general feeling of imbalance. The plotlines and characters range from riveting to mildly entertaining, from somewhat original to utterly uninspired, from compelling to nearly lifeless. Even the pacing of the first two episodes reflects this lack of balance, as each episode spends way too much time on one plotline and not nearly enough on the others. It’s unclear if “The Rings of Power” is playing it safe by sticking to many of the same character dynamics that “The Lord of the Rings” fans are familiar with, or if it hopes to subvert these expectations.

The only real consistency so far seems to be in the show’s visuals. The masterful blend of practical and digital effects makes itself evident through the detailed set design, gruesome monsters and mesmerizing landscapes. If nothing else does it for them, viewers can at least enjoy looking at “The Rings of Power.”

The most interesting characters in “The Rings of Power” so far are definitely Galadriel and Elrond. Although they are already established characters in the original trilogy, their inclusion in the show doesn’t seem to merely fulfill a certain level of fan service, but instead explains how their characters came to be what audiences are familiar with. These younger versions of Galadriel and Elrond are different enough from their future selves to tease compelling transformations, yet not too different that they’re unrecognizable. 

Unsurprisingly, the premiere’s highlight is Galadriel. Instead of being presented as the gentle Woodland Elf queen in “The Lord of the Rings,” this younger Galadriel is presented as a reckless army commander gone rogue. The premiere does a great job of exploring the character’s morality as she struggles to balance the light and the dark after her brother’s death. She’s constantly reminded that her conquest against Sauron is not born out of heroism, but rather out of revenge.

Galadriel’s murky moral code makes all the more sense given that “The Lord of the Rings” also briefly presented her with a similar inner struggle. The premiere’s greatest success by far is in setting up Galadriel’s character arc. Seeing the character transform from a stubborn, revenge-driven warrior into the tranquil Lady of the Woods is sure to be a compelling journey.

Elrond, on the other hand, seems to be set up for an inverse arc from Galadriel. He’s portrayed as a stern, emotionally reserved Elf of high political power in “The Lord of the Rings.” Yet, his introduction in “The Rings of Power” sees him writing flowery speeches while calmly sitting in a serene corner of the forest. 

This younger, more chipper Elrond is far more emotionally open, as seen in his heart-to-heart with Galadriel, and in his geeking out over Elven and Dwarven smithing lore. Of course, this Elrond is not entirely different from his future self, as the premiere showcases his rising political career, which could very well harden him into the Elrond that fans know and love.

The least exciting part of the premiere involves Arondir and Bronwyn’s relationship — a relationship that feels not believable in the slightest. Aside from some emotionless glances and a few monotonal verbal exchanges, there’s very little interaction between the two and much less to actually indicate that they care about each other. Despite the complete lack of romantic chemistry, it’s still clear that the show wants viewers to see these characters as having a meaningful romantic connection, which makes for a frustrating watching experience. If Arondir and Bronywn’s relationship is to be the driving force of their plotline, there’s very little hope this segment of the show will pan out to be anything worthwhile.

The Harfoot plotline has a bit more to offer, mainly due to its central character Nori. Her arc definitely has potential, as she struggles to balance her deep desire for adventure with her obligations to her insular Harfoot family. However, the show somewhat fails to answer why Nori feels this need for adventure, as the viewer has no basis for her discontent with Harfoot life at this point in the series. Where Bilbo Baggins, for instance, received dirty looks from other Hobbits and was mostly left to his own devices, Nori actually seems to be pretty well liked in the community, and merely receives a half-hearted slap on the wrist for venturing out of Harfoot territory. 

This all just makes it a bit harder to sympathize with this otherwise enjoyable character, which is extremely unfortunate. Markella Kavenagh gives an endearing and heartfelt performance, highlighted by her monologue in the second episode. However, this is undermined by the show not presenting why Nori wants what she wants, which is critical in setting up any compelling character.

Of course, all these criticisms of “The Rings of Power” are solely based on the first two episodes, so any final judgments on the show are off the table. However, the show’s premiere falters in setting up the story and getting the ball rolling. Some of the characters are bland, many of the same concepts and dynamics have been recycled, and the pacing is all over the place. However, the first two episodes do provide some promise of compelling character arcs. The main concern with “The Rings of Power” is whether or not it can subvert the tried and true concepts it set up in its first two episodes.

Contact at Ferris Elaraby at [email protected]