Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #7: “Simply Let the Work Proceed” (Episode 8 “Alloyed”)


So I won’t spend this entire post saying “I told you so” (okay, just the once). Though my Halbrand = Sauron argument wasn’t necessarily the most articulate or persuasive, I do feel validated to have perceived which way the wind was blowing. It’s interesting to learn that Charlie Vickers found out who he was really playing around the third or fourth episode, because I think that’s around when my suspicions started, particularly with Halbrand’s very astute advice to Galadriel on how to manipulate people. So ultimately, I don’t think this twist came out of nowhere. As I said in the post linked above, it’s been clear since the first line of the series that they are engaging with the theme of originally good beings falling and being corrupted, and the phase of Sauron’s ostensible “repentance” fits within this framework. As I also predicted, the deeply silly and frustrating plot surrounding the dying tree of Lindon and the magical mithril glow turned out to be legit and not fabricated by Sauron, thereby leaving Sauron free to appear elsewhere in the story. However, I was also totally prepared to eat my words. Sauron already at work in Eregion would have made sense of the mithril story, and as I freely admitted, there are several ways in which the Halbrand being Sauron does not satisfy. (Why was he on that raft in the middle of the ocean? What has he been doing since Adar “killed” him? Why did he save Galadriel from drowning?) I no longer hate the idea as much as I did earlier in the season, but neither do I totally love it. I’ll try to work through my reasons below.

First of all, I completely agree with Corey Olsen that Halbrand as the King of the Dead was just way too cool a theory. The anti-Strider parallels would have totally fit this shady King of the Southlands, who swears fealty to the Last Alliance with the best of intentions but fails when it comes to the final test. That would have been wonderful and I hope we still get that character in the future (though I’m not sure if anything the writers do can top the fanon in this respect — have they missed their chance?). Secondly, I worry that Charlie Vickers, who did his best to sell Sauron’s menacing turn in this episode, was cast more for those very Striderish qualities than as a future Annatar. I suppose Vickers qualifies as a “hot Sauron,” but not in the way I would have imagined. He feels more like the rogue, wandering ranger than the seductive Lord of Gifts. I certainly want and expect a transformed Sauron in season 2, but I do fear that in order to sell us on Halbrand they may have handicapped the character in future seasons. Maybe I’m not giving Vickers enough credit, and I am definitely interested to see his approach. I really hope he can pull it off: One of the things that’s excited me most about this project is the opportunity to explore Sauron as a character rather than just as an idea, an archetype, the personification evil manifested as a flaming eye in a tower.

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Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #6: “Too Dim to See” (Episode 7 “The Eye”)

After the relative bafflement of episode 5 and the relative high of episode 6, I am back to my default position with Rings of Power (ROP) with episode 7: I liked it much better on rewatch. Yet again, the things I disliked (and there were a few) softened when I knew they were coming and I was able to better appreciate the parts that worked. One thing that really crystalized for me in “The Eye” is a persistent obviousness, a lack of subtlety, that at times undermines the potential greatness of this series. I really feel for the writers here. They must by necessity serve two wildly different and even contradictory audiences and impulses. One is the general audience who knows little to nothing about the books. Anecdotal evidence has shown that most non-Tolkien fans have had no problem with plot devices that fans have found close to intolerable (the mithril story being the biggest so far). Bear McCreary pointed out on twitter that even some folks who have seen the movies multiple times still have no idea of the significance of characters like Isildur, and so might be very worried about his fate. Fair enough. Those folks deserve to enjoy this story. I do not want Tolkien Gateway: The Series.

To the extent that the show is serving this audience, I can grit my teeth and forgive decisions that otherwise drive me crazy. Choices that seem thunderingly obvious to me may not be obvious to the majority of viewers. The Southands = Mordor title card felt entirely unnecessary to me. I’m trying to imagine the hypothetical viewer who knows the name Mordor (and so knows the story well enough to have an emotional reaction to that name) and yet hasn’t figured the significance of the volcanic eruption from the previous episode. However, I have been assured that such people exist. So that’s fine. Some things must be spelled out in a way that I find grating, I can look past that. The thing that really bugs me about it isn’t that not all viewers know as much as I do. To blame them for their lack of knowledge would be the worst kind of smug gatekeeping. Every fan is new at some point in their lives. What really bugs me is the aesthetics of it, the lack of artistry. The clunky title card overlay. The desire to tell the audience: “This is how you should feel,” without finding a way to communicate that within the story itself. In case the spewing volcano, red sunless sky, and ash-covered wasteland weren’t enough, let us make no mistake that you know that this is the Bad Place. It’s consistent with a trend of hand-holding in pop culture which is by no means limited to RoP.

Other significant moments in this episode followed a similar pattern, and we’ll get to some of them below: Otherwise strong and nuanced scenes are immediately undercut by hamfisted teases, references, or reveals. I sense a pattern here, and it seems to have to do with trust. At the risk of Crit Fic, and acknowledging that I could be completely off-based in my armchair analysis here, I feel a lack of trust in the intelligence of the audience and in the clarity of the writing. The transformation of the Southlands into Mordor, the ambition of the Dwarves leading to their own destruction, the complex history of Galadriel and Celeborn… all of these are excellent and worthy ideas for a Tolkien TV series, and we’ll get to each of them in turn. Their presence in the narrative suggests deep reading and thinking about Tolkien’s themes and how to bring them to the screen. Some storylines this season, most notably Adar and the Orcs, have even transcended their origins as mere adaptation and contributed something new and exciting to the Tolkien corpus. But in many cases, the writing has sabotaged itself by driving home its point with a hammer rather than letting it sit and grow in the mind. The bummer of it is, these moments also undermine the excellent work of the actors. The intensity of Adar, the wistfulness of Galadriel, and the passion of Disa were done a disservice by the writers’ need to make sure I get it.

And trust me: We get it. Because they are also serving an audience of fans here, and, not to be too smug about it, but it’s a smart audience. I enjoy a clever Easter Egg, but they alone are not enough. I would rather have a good story that makes sense than a clever nod to the lore any day. Is every fan going to get every subtle nod they throw in without the hand-holding? No, definitely not. But that’s what we’re here for: to make podcasts and YouTube shows and to write blogs and tweet threads explaining these subtleties to each other. It is not the job of the writers’ room to make sure that every single idea comes across to everyone. I don’t object to exposition for the benefit of the audience. This series should be clear and easy to follow, not a convoluted attempt to replicate the intricacy and detail of Tolkien’s Appendices on screen. But I do object to being asked to cheer at the mere appearance of a Balrog, or to swoon at every random allusion to Beren and Lúthien.

As I said, the writers are in a tough spot. The anxiety of influence is real. I have often balked at the mere idea of writing about Tolkien, let alone trying to tell stories set in his world. We are judging against a very high bar, and no series is perfect. But if I could give them some unsolicited advice, it would be this: Trust yourselves and your audience more. If you are engaging thoughtfully with Tolkien’s texts, trust that we will see and recognize this. Focus on telling a good and sound story and the rest will take care of itself.

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Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #5: “Transformed by Darkness” (Episode 6 “Udûn”)

Well that was certainly an improvement on last week. Having watched it early Friday morning, it only dawned on me slowly how much this episode accomplished, and how elegantly, beyond the staging of some impressive action and effects sequences. Some general points. First, I am on the record as saying that I want this show to embrace its nature as a television show, and this episode definitely did that. The pacing of the series has slowed and its focus narrowed since the frenetic first few episodes, and that really paid off here. Going against the trend of the streaming era, in which whole seasons of TV blend together and the art of the episode has been largely abandoned for the “ten hour movie” approach, I absolutely loved Rings of Power’s (RoP) decision to focus solely on the Southlands plot, while also dovetailing it with the Númenoreans. This was An Episode of TV, and I loved it for that. While action-heavy, it was also well paced with plenty of breaks for character, story and dialogue. (Peter Jackson’s Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers is a clear influence in its visual cues, its pacing, and in Jackson’s careful avoidance of “battle fatigue” via well-timed cross cutting and editing).

Halbrand = Sauron

I have been tasked with explaining to Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor, why it makes sense for Halbrand to be Sauron, something of which I am now pretty firmly convinced. While I admit that I could be completely wrong about this, and there is still time for my confidence to move in either direction, I figured I’d get started on that now so that he can begin the coping process. If I’m wrong, then Corey’s theories are likely correct and I will be very pleased and happy for him. If I am right, I will feel very smug. Either way, I win. But I’m also somewhat conflicted. While I don’t hate the idea as much as I used to, I’m still not sure I entirely like it and I will also need some time to reconcile myself to the idea. However, despite Corey’s assertions to the contrary, I do think that this is where the narrative is pointing us. All I’m doing here is saying which way I think the wind is blowing. I’m not saying that everything about this theory works or makes sense, but there have been so many red herrings and misdirects around Sauron that I’m not sure any resolution they offer will be entirely without contradiction. So let’s break this down point for point, both why it works and why it doesn’t.

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Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #4: “The Light in the Tower No Longer My Home” (Episode 5 “Partings”)

The Myth of Mithril

In an interview with Charlie Rose upon the release of Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino explained why, despite its non-linear, puzzle-box structure, he felt it important that his new film be “easy to follow”:

QT: The thing is, I know as a viewer, the minute I start getting confused, I check out of the movie. Emotionally, I’m severed. [He motions a big pair of scissors.] … I think an audience almost has an umbilical cord to the screen and it gets severed when confusion comes in.

CR: And therefore you lose them.

QT: Exactly. And the thing is, most of the time, when I get confused and that [cord] is severed, it’s basically because I’m not supposed to be confused. It’s a mistake. However, there’s no problem with being momentarily confused if you feel you’re in good hands.

Quentin Tarantino on Charlie Rose, 10/14/1994 (14:55)

I’ve always found this image of the emotional umbilical cord a useful and memorable metaphor for the reader’s/audience’s connection to a story. Tarantino’s craft as a writer-director gave him the confidence that Pulp Fiction, for all its twists and turns, would be watchable and easy to follow. His experience as a viewer, on the other hand, taught him why that was important. The most interesting point is not that stories shouldn’t be unnecessarily confusing. That’s obvious. The real danger that Tarantino identifies is that, as a result of intellectual confusion, an emotional connection can be severed. What he’s really talking about is trust; trust between the artist and the audience. If the audience doesn’t feel they’re in “safe hands,” it can make them emotionally distant from the story they’re reading or watching.

This “emotional umbilical cord” came to mind when watching this week’s Rings of Power (RoP). We’ll get into the specific problems with the mithril origin story below, because I do want to get to the bottom of why it’s problematic beyond the basic “it’s non-canon and therefore wrong” knee-jerk reaction. But whatever ends up being the truth of the matter, and beyond it’s innovations or deviations from Tolkien’s legendarium, I think the real root of the problem is that it felt confusing. It didn’t make sense. Something doesn’t add up. Now, TV is not the same as film. You don’t have to wrap everything up by the end of the hour. Trust can be restored; this is only one subplot out of many and we’re only five hours into a fifty hour story, so I’m not saying that this misstep is fatal or a deal-breaker or anything like that. (I’m not very interested in deal-breakers as a concept in long-form storytelling, to be honest). We may end up resigning ourselves to this story line, theorizing it into submission, or even liking it in retrospect, but in observing my own reaction and those of Tolkien fans online, it seems that in that moment an invisible umbilical cord got severed. And while I am in this show for the long haul, and have really enjoyed it so far and am sure I will keep enjoying it, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t shake my trust a little.

One other big picture thing I want to touch on, somewhat related to the emotional umbilical cord, is Mystery Box storytelling. The term was popularized by J.J. Abrams’ 2007 TED Talk, and has since become identified with him and the kinds of stories (especially on TV) that he has written and produced, specifically Lost and its imitators. In a talk I gave at Mythmoot V about Lost and The Leftovers (both mystery box shows largely written by Damon Lindelof), I wrote:

[The Mystery Box is] a vessel of the imagination where anything is possible. [J.J. Abrams] had this magic mystery box since he was a kid [given to him by his grandfather] which he never opened because nothing could be as good as wondering what was inside it. And this is how he talked about [Lost] when creating the show: as a container of wonder and infinite possibility. So it’s interesting to me that even though Abrams effectively left Lost after the pilot, Lindelof (who continued on as showrunner) not only kept this theme alive but really ran with it throughout the series. Most of us that love the show will argue that the real emotional stakes stem from the characters, but it would be disingenuous to say that the mysterious nature of the Island didn’t play a huge role in the show’s addictiveness. Questions drive the story forward, like: Why did the plane crash? What’s in the hatch? Who are the Others? What is the Dharma Initiative? What is the monster? Whenever you learn an answer, it raises more questions. “The Pilot” famously ends with a question when Charlie asks: “Guys, where are we?” And we even get some Question Mark imagery in the question mark leading to the Pearl Station, represented on the map of Dharma Stations. Mystery boxes within mystery boxes.

Joanna Robinson recently pointed out on the Ringer-Verse podcast how strange it is that RoP functions like a Mystery Box show. For many Tolkien fans, questions are fueling much of our online engagement between episodes. Despite the fact that fans, in theory, know what’s going to happen, we are all caught up in the buzz of theory and speculation that fueled shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, or Twin Peaks. I can totally see why they’ve taken this route: It puts the fan audience on the same footing as the naive, non-book-reading audience. For an uninitiated viewer, it’s enough to wonder what will happen next. But to engage the book-reading audience in the same kind of anticipation and speculation, they have introduced a number of mysteries that invite deep research into Tolkien’s lore to solve. It’s been incredibly fun. Many of these mysteries surround the identity of characters, which is a smart move. Damon Lindelof, on The Storm (another podcast hosted by Joanna Robinson), said that “the best answer to a mystery is a person.” (This is why the answer to “What’s in the hatch?” is so satisfying on Lost.) And so we wonder week by week and gather data on questions such as: Who is the Stranger? Who is Halbrand? Who or what is Adar? Where is Sauron? Which characters will become Nazgûl? What is Gil-galad not telling us? How will the Harfoots factor into the larger narrative?

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Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #3: “The Creation of a New World” (Episode 4 “The Great Wave”)

Halfway through the season and The Rings of Power (RoP) is still finding itself, which is only to be expected. The quality of the dialogue varies wildly from scene to scene (with the ritualized chanting from Episode 3 being perhaps the most banal to the truly striking and evocative speech from Adar in this episode at the opposite end of the spectrum). The story writing, however, is continually fascinating and endlessly fun to discuss and debate, which is exactly what I was hoping for from this series. We knew this would never be Tolkien’s Second Age: He died almost forty years ago. As long as this continues to be a thoughtful and interesting engagement with his ideas for the Second Age, I’m all in. The writers are continuing to show themselves more “faithful” (to use a loaded word) to Tolkien’s texts than one might have expected, while also willing to introduce bold innovations which are at least based on Tolkienian ideas if not directly extrapolated from the text. It’s a very intriguing balancing act and while I’m not sure how it’s working for an audience unfamiliar with Tolkien’s entire published corpus (I’d love to hear from more of those people to get their perspective), it’s certainly been an entertaining and thought-provoking ride for me. Every single day I see dozens of tweets quoting directly from Tolkien’s works, theorizing about the series, and sharing our love for this world, and that makes the endeavor worthwhile.

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Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #2: “Your Father’s Cloud” (Episode 3 “Adar”)

I have noticed what might turn out to be a pattern with my viewing of The Rings of Power: on first watch I find myself concentrating so hard on details, references, adaptational changes, etc. that I come away unsure of how to feel. Entire lines of dialogue get missed; I don’t know what to make of certain choices; I have an emotional resistance to what I initially (in an admittedly knee-jerk fashion) perceive as “wrong.” What I have found both times is that I enjoy myself and the episodes much more on second watch. Without the element of surprise, whatever bugged me the first time bugs me less, and not only am I able to appreciate the craft and enjoy myself more, I also am better able to pick up on subtle details and appreciate the ways in which they are adapting the story successfully. It’s a fun way to experience this show, but it means that I sort of have to get the first viewing out of the way before I can sit down and really see what they might be trying to do.

First, a few big picture thoughts that jumped out to me about the third episode, “Adar”. First, I noticed more explicit callbacks to the Peter Jackson film trilogy this time around. The sweeping introduction to Númenor (complete with lighthouse beacon) paralleling Pippin’s journey up through Minas Tirith on the back of Shadowfax; Sadoc’s speech to the Harfoots; Halbrand as a cracked-mirror Strider; even the hollow pommel of Elendil’s sword.

“Adar,” definitely feels like a more surefooted episode of television: The pace settles down and we focus on three story lines, rather than trying to cram everyone in (not surprising that the premiere had to cover more ground). Indeed, we even get an overarching theme which is announced in the title of the episode: “Adar” is the Sindarin word for “father,” and the theme of fatherhood threads all the disparate plots together. Adar, of course, is the incongruous name of the Orcs for their mysterious leader. (I’ve seen much speculation that is somehow the father of all Orcs; perhaps an ancient and corrupted Elf?) But the fatherhood theme as it applies to the Orc plot is superficial; it’s much stronger in all the others. There is Elendil’s troubled yet caring relationship with his three children. There is the peril inherent in Nori’s father’s injury. There is Míriel’s father (Tar-Palantir), the deposed King of Númenor who, Elendil tells us, remains loyal to the Elves and whiles his years in confinement, a political prisoner in his own kingdom. There’s also the symbolic aspect of kings as the “father” of a people: Not only Tar-Palantir and Queen Regent Míriel, but an allusion to the founding king Elros, and potentially Halbrand, too. (Speaking of Halbrand and fatherhood, another theory names him as Theo’s mysteriously missing father.)

I love seeing the writers embrace RoP‘s televisual nature: Slowing the story down to spend time on a few plot lines and tying them all together in a way that feels united and thematic. In a word, it’s episodic. Likewise, this slower pace allows for much greater worldbuilding and it pays off in quality time spent in fleshing out the cultures and characters.

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Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #1: “Varieties of Good” and the Problem of Gil-galad (Episodes 1 & 2)

Now that everyone has seen the premiere of The Rings of Power, I wanted to expand on my earlier spoiler-free post and talk in more specific detail about these first two episodes. In general, as I said before, I liked and enjoyed the episodes. I have a few points of confusion and even resistance, which I’ll get to below, but for the most part I thought these episodes looked great, the casting and acting were uniformly strong, and I think this series has a lot of potential. I don’t disagree with those who have complained about somewhat inconsistent or stilted dialogue, though I found some of it better than others. But more important to me than a probably doomed attempt to recreate Tolkien’s precise and unique prose style is thoughtful engagement with Tolkien’s themes and stories. That engagement Rings of Power has in abundance; even if I’m not entirely sure I like where they’re taking certain plot lines, I can’t agree with those who say that the series has no relationship to Tolkien’s texts. See the first full episode of Rings & Realms for a pretty thorough list of some of the ways RoP is commenting on and engaging with Tolkien’s themes and stories.

I want to resist drawing parallels to House of the Dragon from week to week, but one other thing that jumps out to me in these first few episodes is that, while HotD is certainly well-made, confident, engrossing, and may even be the “better” show (so far) it is also by miles the safer. The creators have taken what worked best about Game of Thrones (scheming in elegant rooms; Targaryens riding dragons; even the theme music) and hewed as close to those elements as possible. RoP, on the other hand, feels brave. Fail or succeed, love it or hate it, they are doing something audacious by taking the disparate notes, outlines, and chronologies that make up the Second Age and trying to turn them into a functional TV drama; and for that I like, admire, and prefer it (even if I’m enjoying both). Yes, it is also based on familiar material but in delving into the further heroic, legendary, and tragic history of an earlier age of Middle-earth it is tackling material which is far less known in the public imagination and is sometimes not what more casual fans might expect. I think we can see the challenging nature of this approach is the trouble many casual readers of Tolkien, and especially particular fans of the Peter Jackson film adaptations, are having in opening their minds to a new vision of Tolkien on screen. That’s not to say that every choice they make is the right one or that their vision is perfect, but I do think it’s important to resist any impulsive knee-jerk reactions and give these storytellers a chance to show what they’re doing. One of the things I’ll be really interested to track is how RoP functions as a television series, which is also ultimately a different medium from a book or even a movie.

I’ll also say that I enjoyed myself much more on the second watch when I could just sit back and enjoy the story; on first viewing I was concentrating very hard and felt more distracted by following the frenetic pace of the story and trying to understand what the storytellers are doing. While sitting on my couch at home, I was less bothered by the troublesome bits and enjoyed the fun bits even more.

I’m on vacation this week and it’s been a very busy (though exciting week) in the Tolkien fandom, so this probably won’t be my best or most coherent blog post ever. We’ve also got two episodes to cover. But let’s go through this group by group.

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Of The Rings of Power and the Second Age #0: Thoughts on the Premiere (Spoiler-free)

Consider this the first in what I hope will be a series of blog posts responding to The Rings of Power episodes as they come out. I don’t know quite what form those posts will take, whether they be traditional reviews, deep dives into points of lore and themes, musings on particular aspects of the show or adaptational choices. I’m interested to hear in the comments if you have any requests for what angle you think I should take. I’m going to try to save most of my specific reactions for after the first two episodes come out this week but I did want to write down some general first impressions. If you really don’t want to know anything at all going in, it’s probably best to skip this and read after the streaming premiere.

To help organize my thoughts, I asked friends on social media what questions I should address.

Jim Vaiknoras: Did you like it?

Way to cut right to the chase! Answer: Yes! It certainly didn’t hurt to be in a packed theater full of enthusiastic Tolkien fans, but I thoroughly enjoyed these episodes. They held my attention and were never dull, slow or boring. (I question the judgment of anyone who says they were slow-paced.) In fact, if they erred it was more on the side of trying to pack in too much a little too fast. There is a prologue (a prologue to the prologue that is this entire show, funnily enough) and while it is probably not much shorter than the prologue in Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring, it covers way more ground and thus feels more abstract. The prologue is less concerned with establishing specific plot points (which was the purpose of Jackson’s prologue) and more so with conveying general First Age Vibes. A newbie will probably not come out with a detailed understanding of The Silmarillion, but a Silmarillion-reader will see many nods and references to that text. And that is probably true in a larger sense of the first two episodes themselves: They are the pilot for a projected five-season TV show and have tons of worlds and characters to introduce. I do hope that future episodes will settle down a bit, both in pace and in focus. The visuals are beautiful, the scope is epic, and the acting was strong across the board. The setup of characters, realms and themes is recognizably Tolkienesque, although (and I feel like I might have to say this a lot) it’s very hard to judge those things based on only two episodes. So much of the discourse around this show, which Corey Olsen has characterized as “gush and outrage,” does not allow for nuance or for the fact that this is a planned 50 hours of story. Does it “feel” like Tolkien? Does it get his themes “right”? Is it faithful to the lore? Does it do his characters and story justice? Such questions can only be answered with time and patience.

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The Rings of Power: New York City Premiere, or An Unexpected Journey

The Rings of Power billboard

In a stroke of unforeseen luck, I was given a ticket to attend the New York City premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Tuesday, August 23, 2022. This came about very quickly (I found out less than a week before) and the whole event was a bit of a whirlwind, so I wanted to write down a brief account of the whole experience and some initial, non-spoilery thoughts.

On the train to NYC
We’re going on an adventure…

My sweet mom kept me company on the train up and in the hotel. Pre-pandemic, we’ve enjoyed going to NYC once a year or so to sight see, take in a show, and spend some time together. My mom is not the super Tolkien nerd that I am (though she enjoys the movies and has patiently indulged me explaining Elven metaphysics to her for the last 20 years) so she was happy to hang out with me and enjoy the city but equally happy to let me go off to the event without her.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power | A Possible Outline

I’m not normally a big one for theories. I love reading other people’s theories about upcoming shows and things, but my brain tends to focus on analyzing the story as told rather than projecting what’s to come. However, I’ve also learned that you don’t get credit for what’s not written down.

So here’s my guess at a potential broad strokes, five-season outline of the upcoming Amazon series The Rings of Power. (I thought the teaser trailer looked fabulous, by the way.)

Caveat 1. Spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read Tolkien’s books (or the Appendices to LOTR that the series is extrapolated from) and doesn’t want to know anything about the upcoming show. Obviously I’ll be referencing what we already know, or think that we know.

Caveat 2. I’m going to stick to book material and not get into parts of the story that are made up by the series writers whole cloth: the Harfoots, the Meteor Man, Arondir & Bronwyn. Don’t take that to mean that I’m uninterested in those parts of the story, or that it’s not worth theorizing about them. (That Harfoot girl was one of the best things in the trailer.) But I don’t think we have enough data to go on yet. So I’ll stick to the Elves, the Númenóreans, and Sauron.

Season 1

  • Establish Númenór
    • Tar-Palantir is king, allusions to prior civil war and growing decadence/unrest among Númenóreans but things are still comparatively “blissful”
  • Establish Eregion
  • Celebrimbor invites Annatar in, tension between Celebrimbor and other Elven leaders (it may or may not be obvious to the non-book-reading audience who Annatar is, if they’re even allowed to use that name)
  • Season ends with death of Tar-Palantir, Ar-Pharazôn usurps the throne and forces Míriel into marriage

Season 2

  • Reign of Ar-Pharazôn, Númenór grows more powerful, greedy, and corrupt, colonization & imperialism, civil war
    • Beginnings of persecution of the Faithful
    • Elendil et al make secret contact with Gil-galad
  • Annatar guides Celebrimbor in Ring-making, Rings of Power forged
  • Climax near the end: full reveal of Annatar as Sauron
  • Season ends with destruction of Eregion and death of Celebrimbor

Season 3

  • War in Eriador, things not going well for the Elves
  • Númenóreans swoop in and save the day
  • Season ends with the capture of Sauron

Season 4

  • Sauron ingratiates himself to Ar-Pharazôn, eventually seducing & corrupting him, gets himself freed and made counselor, full corruption of Númenór
  • Open persecution of the Faithful, ritual sacrifice, worship of Morgoth, general mayhem
  • Meanwhile on Middle-earth, the Elves contend with the rise of the Ringwraiths (who were given rings in the previous season)
  • Season ends with the breaking of the ban and the Fall of Númenór (can’t wait to see how they depict that)

Season 5

  • The faithful in exile, establishment of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms
  • Sauron builds up forces in Mordor
  • War of the Last Alliance
  • Big climactic battle on the slopes of Mordor, fall of Sauron, deaths of Gil-galad, Elendil & Anarion (and potentially others?)
  • Series ends with the death of Isildur and the loss of the One Ring

So that’s my take. Obviously this is super compressed from Tolkien’s timeline, but that seems to be the approach they’re taking. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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