It’s fair to say that the first two episodes from Amazon Studios The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power left me underwhelmed. Paradoxically, JD Payne and Patrick McKay’s approach to adapting JRR Tolkien’s world in A Shadow of the Past and Adrift struck me as over- and under-cooked, with too many storylines and too few new ideas. Where was the clearly defined quest versus a lived world full of unexplored new perspectives that defined Tolkien’s own work? Waiting just around the corner in the third episode of the Prime Video series, “Adar,” it turns out.
First and foremost, “Adar” is far more focused than any of its predecessors (especially the aptly named “Adrift”). Written by Jason Cahill and Justin Doble and directed by Wayne Che Yip, Adar focuses on Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), while also making room for new characters Elendil (Lloyd Owen) and Isildur (Maxim Baldry) makes ). However, while there are check-ins with Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and Nori (Markella Kavenagh), this episode is more about advancing the core “The Hunt for Sauron” narrative than advancing any of the series’ abundance of subplots.
Putting Galadriel and those in her immediate circle back in the spotlight doesn’t just make for a tighter, snappier hour of television – although it certainly does. There is also room for Yip, Cahill and Doble to expand the scope The Rings of Power‘s vision of Middle-earth. Remarkably, Adar offers our first on-screen look at Númenor, and as depicted here, the island kingdom is a suitably impressive place. It is reminiscent of Minas Tirith as described by Tolkien and later realized in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but still has its own look and feel.
Attitude The Rings of Power Episode 3, mostly set in Númenor, also offers Yip, Cahill and Doble a chance to delve into the subcultures that exist in the world of men. Sure, Jackson’s films made it clear that the inhabitants of Gondor (descended from the Númenóreans) were a decidedly different bunch from their neighbors, the Rohirrim. But “Adar” takes this to a whole new level, showing us Númenor at its peak and really emphasizing how exotic that society was compared to the remains that washed up on the shores of Middle-earth. The little taste we’re getting of Númenórean seafaring – unheard of in Jackson’s largely landlocked adaptations – promises to add a welcome maritime dimension to future set pieces as well.
It’s not just the Númenor segments that bring something new to the table in Adar. The elven chain gang Arondir find themselves as part of what is hardly the greatest elaboration of existing Middle-earth lore The Rings of Power has to offer, Yip, Cahill, and Doble serve as a springboard for storytelling to flesh out orc culture. That’s right, we’re not learning anything particularly deep (spoilers: orcs are terrible prison guards). Having said that, it’s still nice to see that the quasi-religious influence Sauron has on his minions is more than hinted at, so hopefully this will be explored more in the future. And hey, what’s not to love about finally witnessing the orcs’ aversion to sunlight dramatized on screen (something that was only lip service in the Jackson films)?
The few brief bursts of action in “Adar” also deserve kudos, as they do much to allay my nagging concerns The Rings of Power a largely bloodless affair could end. Sure, it would be nice if the show relied less on weightless cables and less-than-convincing CG, both of which undermine many of its set pieces. Still, it’s reassuring to know that, like Jackson before them, Payne and McKay appreciate that Middle-earth – while not quite as blood-soaked as George RR Martin’s Westeros – has always had a certain “fleshness”. Even The Hobbita book originally written for children in which occasional knife stabs have been crushed, so the broken bones and scraped flesh in episode 3’s handful of skirmishes are welcome inclusions.
Then there’s the Harfoot part of the equation, which has proven to be the most inconsistent to date, to say the least. Incredibly, even these passages from “Adar” add something new and meaningful to our understanding of Tolkien’s world. Purists may balk at the idea of a wandering hobbit race, and it must be said, The Rings of Power‘s take on the Harfoots stretches the established canon (relating to them crossing the Misty Mountains for once) to the breaking point. But the concept pays off when you finally see it in action in Adar, instantly distinguishing the Harfoots from the expedition-shy Shire people of the books and films, and even injecting a surprising amount of pathos into the history of their community.
The result of all this is this The Rings of Power Episode 3 feels closer to the spirit of Tolkien’s books – particularly the sense of wonder they convey – than either Episode 1 or 2, although “Adar” plays quickly and easily with the author’s legendarium (which it did for much of its run ). Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve flipped through Lord of the Rings‘ Attachments or picked up a copy of The Silmarillionbut I seem to recall that the backstory of Elendil and Isildur doesn’t matter quite as it is here. The same goes for Galadriel’s arc, which is more in line with Tolkien’s idea of the character than his detractors care to admit, but still has elements – like the hint of a budding, doomed romance that we get in “Adar” – that will surprise for Middle-earth pendant.
Her mileage depends on whether this surge in canon infidelity represents a positive or negative shift, but “Adar” seems to indicate the show is moving in the right direction and building a world of its own in Middle-earth lore. For one thing, Clark continues to excel as the younger, more rowdy Galadriel. Not only does the Welsh actress master the breathless performance and deliberate rhythm we’ve come to associate with the elves, but she proves just as effective in the few moments she can showcase Galadriel’s less butt-faced side. Ditto for Vickers as Halbrand, who lends pride to the proceedings, while Cynthia Addai-Robinson makes a powerful impression as Míriel, Númenor’s regent.
With all the acting talent on deck, that’s really a shame Rings of Power still can’t catch Tolkien’s voice. The dialogue isn’t consistently bad, but the standout lines (“The sea is always right”? Oops…) are howlers through and through. Furthermore, for all the great world expansion and lore in this episode, Yip, Cahill, and Doble still manage to recycle at least two more Tolkien tropes, culminating in them adding not one, but two Kings in Exile into the mix – because the previous uncrowned characters Aragorn and Thorin Oakenshield clearly weren’t enough. It’s like they’re afraid to fully chart their own course for Middle-earth for fear of deviating too much from a roadmap they already know works so well.
That’s more than anything else that stops The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power from realizing its full potential. Otherwise, the show already has everything it takes to tell a story – and, just as importantly, explore a world – that Tolkien fans have never seen before. In “Adar” we get a little taste of what this story could be; With five episodes remaining, we’re hoping the main course is next.
https://www.polygon.com/23343049/lord-rings-power-episode-3-review Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 3 Adar Review: Closer and Closer