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Review of The Rings of Power: Stunning But Flawed Epic

By Chinelo Eze
31 August 2022   |   4:54 pm
Strangely, House of the Dragon, a Game of Thrones prequel based on the history of a fictional world written by George RR Martin, debuted two weeks after The Rings of Power, a Lord of the Rings prequel based on imaginary world histories written by JRR Tolkien. Naturally, Martin wrote Game of Thrones in response to…

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. PHOTO: Amazon.

Strangely, House of the Dragon, a Game of Thrones prequel based on the history of a fictional world written by George RR Martin, debuted two weeks after The Rings of Power, a Lord of the Rings prequel based on imaginary world histories written by JRR Tolkien.

Naturally, Martin wrote Game of Thrones in response to The Lord of the Rings in order to make the heroic narrative of good versus evil gritty and realistic (Martin famously wondered, “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?”). While Game of Thrones appears to have inspired The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime’s largest and most expensive drama to date, with it appearing that every streamer in recent years has been keen to imitate its success. With a world that is beautifully imagined and a plot that, while undoubtedly imperfect, is filled with a soaring sense of mythological grandeur, the outcome is fantasy television of unsurpassed grandeur that is more suited to movie screens than laptops and TVs.

The Rings of Power, created by show’s creators JD Payne and Patrick McKay, two very inexperienced screenwriters, is largely based on the extensive backstory contained in the Lord of the Rings trilogy’s appendices. It takes place during the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years after the exploits of Frodo and the Fellowship and, as Galadriel, played by Morfydd Clark, informs us in a sombre voiceover, centuries after a major conflict between the elves and Morgoth, a godlike being of supreme evil. It chronicles Sauron’s long rise to power with the creation of the 19 rings, which he covertly ruled through most of the One Ring (Gollum’s “precious”) and was formerly a dedicated servant of Morgoth.

At the start of the narrative, only Galadriel is convinced that Sauron, who killed her brother, is not only still alive but also secretly assembling an army of orcs. The majority of viewers will recognize Galadriel from Peter Jackson’s trilogy, in which Cate Blanchett portrays her as the personification of elf wisdom. She is a rougher prospect here, having lived thousands of years earlier. Clark, who anchors the show with an authoritative, commanding performance, plays her with steely conviction. Her blistering performance in the 2019 horror film Saint Maud should come as no surprise.

Galadriel is pushed back by her fellow elves but is still desperate to find Sauron. Robert Aramayo’s portrayal of a young Elrond believes that her fixation has become excessive.

She explains to him, “Evil does not sleep Elrond.It waits until the moment of our complacency, it blinds us.”

Even Elrond has a job to do. He has been sent by the elven king to help the great craftsman Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), who will later create the rings, on an unique mission that will lead him to the breathtaking kingdom of the dwarves. We are introduced to the Southlands, where there are severe tensions between elves and humans, and the Rhovanion, where Nori (Markella Kavenagh), a member of the diminutive breed of Harfoots, an Irish variation of the Hobbits, yearns for adventure just before it is about to fall from the sky.

The burden of setting up the world is a little too much for the first episode to bear. The forbidden love story between human Bronwyn and elf Arondir falls flat. The Harfoots balance being endearing and mawkish on a fine edge. An improvement is Lenny Henry’s appearance as an aged Harfoot.

The second episode is snappier and more engrossing. This is a slower, more granular tale, which can at times suffer from the prequel urge to fill in backstory. It’s too early to tell if it will rebottle the catharsis of Tolkien’s work or Jackson’s movies. The Harfoots straddle a thin line between charming and mawkish. Lenny Henry’s performance as a Harfoot elder is a welcome update to the unfortunate racial optics of Jackson’s trilogy.