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    The Rings of Power mid-season recap: Visually staggering cinematic return to Middle-Earth

    The Rings of Power mid-season recap: Visually staggering cinematic return to Middle-Earth

    The Rings of Power mid-season recap: Visually staggering cinematic return to Middle-Earth
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    By Anand Singha   IST (Updated)

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    The saga unfolds amidst the enchanting aesthetics of the countryside, in ways more jaw-dropping than one. Rings of Power is so rich and breathtaking that it's tempting to spend the first few episodes just marveling at the scenery as it saunters between the realms of elves and dwarves, humans and harfoots.

    The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a stunning and enticing return to Middle-Earth, is ambitiously erected on JRR Tolkien's mythology and Amazon's massive budget. Although things look to be a bit different than when we last left them, aesthetically and otherwise, Middle-Earth seems to be destined for doom, with anticipation surrounding the dark sorcerer Sauron’s true identity.
    The saga unfolds amidst the enchanting aesthetics of the countryside, in ways more jaw-dropping than one. Rings of Power is so rich and breathtaking that it's tempting to spend the first few episodes just marveling at the scenery as it saunters between the realms of elves and dwarves, humans and harfoots.
    Image: Amazon prime
    It narrates the epic tale of how the sorcerer Sauron, a once-devoted follower of Morgoth, came to power by creating the 19 rings, which he covertly controlled through the one master of all, Gollum's "precious".
    As we prepare for the return of the wicked subversive Maia, viewers have already begun to speculate on who the iconic but doomed character from the Lord of the Rings trilogy may be. Although the show has yet to reveal where Sauron is presently hiding, the first few episodes have thrown three key hints, all pointing in different directions.
    But before we unpack all that, let’s do a quick recap of the first four episodes. 
    Set thousands of years before Frodo and the Fellowship's adventures and everything that led to the war in The Lord of the Rings, it chronicles a time of relative peace and covers all the major events of Middle-earth's Second Age: the forging of the Rings of Power, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the fall of the island kingdom of Númenor, and the final alliance between Elves and Men.
    Episode one: "A Shadow of the Past"
    The first episode opens with a glimpse of the past. As the narrative begins, a girl with golden hair sits beside a creek, so gorgeous in its bucolic aesthetic that it feels more like a dream sequence than a recollection. This is without a doubt Galadriel, the future Elven royal portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson's acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy.
    Image: Amazon prime
    She is thousands of years younger than she appears in the movies, and is hardly the paragon of Elven wisdom she displayed in the LOTR. Morfydd Clark, who drives the drama with an assertive and compelling performance, plays her as a rugged warrior, an arrogant, goal-oriented girl.
    The show provides us with our clearest sight yet of Valinor, the elves' homeland. Galadriel grew up blissfully on this ethereal side of the world until the malevolent sorcerer Morgoth destroyed the tree that brought light to their lands, plunging Valinor into darkness.
    Image: IMDb
    After the dark sorcerer Morgoth was vanquished, the elf Finrod died while hunting down the evil lord's servant Sauron. Galadriel, his sister, vowed on her brother's deathbed to accomplish what he began and seek down Sauron. After leading her warriors for ages in hunting Sauron in the harsh northern tundra, she became the leader of the Northern Army and earned the title ‘Warrior of the Wastelands’.
    Image: Amazon prime
    Galadriel is the only one who believes Sauron is not only alive but covertly breeding an army of Orcs, and ends up reaching a deserted fortress in the northern wastelands of Forodwaith that bears Sauron's symbol.
    Although desperate to locate Sauron, she is stymied by her fellow elves' declaration of mutiny right after she kills an orc while protecting her companions at the Northernmost Waste.
    A young Elrond, played by Robert Aramayo, who eventually goes on to become Lord Elrond of Rivendell, one of the most prominent characters from Tolkien's mythology, believes her fixation has gone too far and tells her to abandon her mission.
    Image: IMDb
    They return to Lindon, the Elven capital, where king Gil-galad declares the fight against Morgoth's forces is over. He bestows upon Galadriel and her companions the privilege of sailing to Valinor, across the Sundering Seas, where they will be able to live an immortal life in peace.
    Image: IMDb
    Elrond has a mission of his own. The Elven king had tasked him with assisting the renowned smith and eventual maker of the rings, Celebrimbor, played by Charles Edwards, on a unique project that would take him to Khazad-Dûm, the realm of the Dwarves, and reunite him with his friend Durin, played by Owain Arthur, after 20 years.
    Khazad-dûm is showcased in the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy as a terrifying crypt packed with skeletons, covered with cobwebs, and patrolled by a particularly terrible fire demon. But this is thousands of years before that.
    Meanwhile, the elf Arondir establishes a strong friendship with the human healer Bronwyn, much to the dismay of the others. They learn that the village of Hordern has been wrecked. At the same time, Bronwyn's son Theo discovers a shattered sword with Sauron's mark.
    Image: IMDb
    On board the ship, realizing her calling, Galadriel decides to return to the quest for Sauron at Valinor, plunging off the ship into the Sundering Seas. Meanwhile, Nori Brandyfoot and Poppy Proudfellow, two curious Harfoots (one of the three breeds of hobbits) encounter a strange guy within a meteor crater.
    The show makes impressive use of the Tolkien’s map to provide us with a comprehensive view of this world. We are transported to the Southlands, where conflicts between elves and mankind run high, and the Rhovanion, where Nori desperately longs for an adventure just before a meteor falls from the sky.
    Image: IMDb
    The Harfoots' presence is pleasant but somewhat schmaltzy, but the charm succeeds in the end owing to a terrific performance by Kavenagh and a delightful appearance by Lenny Henry as a Harfoot elder. Henry's presence and a bunch of other black performers in the ensemble is a welcome addition to Jackson's trilogy's otherwise unfortunate racial undertones.
    Episode two: "Adrift"
    The second episode begins with a dramatic maritime trip. While floating back to Middle-earth after abandoning the ship taking her to the land beyond, Galadriel comes across a raft holding human survivors of a shipwreck. While one of them tries to assist her on board the ship, the others discover she is an elf and proclaim her an enemy.
    Image: IMDb
    In the midst of this, they are ambushed by a sea monster, and only Halbrand, played by by Charlie Vickers, of the Southlands makes it from his crew. He tells Galadriel that he is running away from the Orcs who have plagued his land. The duo then work together to survive the tempest.
    Back in Rhovanion, the Harfoot friends Nori and Poppy keep the foreigner who fell from the sky concealed and disguised from the others and provide him with shelter and food. He cannot communicate in their language and exploits fireflies and apparent wizardry to convey that he is seeking for a constellation of stars that Nori does not recognise.
    When ominous signs began to appear near Tirharad, Arondir and Bronwyn traveled to Hordern to investigate, only to discover that the settlement had been inexplicably burnt and its residents had gone missing.
    Arondir proceeded to investigate further and was captured by the Orcs after discovering a tunnel heading into their camp. Bronwyn returns to Tirharad, where she and her son Theo are attacked by an Orc. They kill it and use its head as evidence of danger to persuade the rest of the village to evacuate.
    Image: IMDb
    Much of the show's early silliness and humor is provided by a series of delightful scenes between Elrond and his old dwarven buddy Durin, played by Owain Arthur, who was furious that his friend had abandoned him for twenty years.
    Gil-galad had dispatched the half-Elf to aid the renowned Elven-smith Celebrimbor in his plans to construct a formidable new forge. Noticing the difficulties in carrying out Celembrimbor's visions, Elrond proposes they seek assistance from the Dwarves and travels to his friend Prince Durin IV in Khazad-dûm. When he meets Durin, the latter is irritated that Elrond hasn't visited in 20 years, but his wife Disa persuades him to listen to Elrond's proposal.
    Image: IMDb
    This episode establishes the tone for a slower, more elaborate narrative, which at times suffers from a lack of context and much-needed character information.
    The Lord of the Rings is a simple tale at heart, of good and evil, but it is to be noted that Tolkien's characters do exhibit human complexities and moral ambiguity at times, which, when handled well, has the ability to elicit catharsis in its viewers. Remember Boromir?
    Even so, the first two episodes of The Rings of Power occupy an odd space in which it's not evident if either of these approaches pertain. The characters have not yet demonstrated themselves to be complex, and it's too early to tell if it will correspond to the expectations set by Peter Jackson's original trilogy.
    However, what works so far is the sincerity of its performances and writing. JD Payne and Patrick McKay, the showrunners, may have emerged from nowhere to create The Rings of Power, but they have a keen understanding of Tolkien's poetic rhythms, the grandeur in his narration, and melody.
    Episode three: "Adar"
    The Rings of Power episode 3 follows in the footsteps of episodes 1 and 2. It's gorgeous, well-acted, and seems very much like it belongs in Tolkien's universe, but it's also rather sluggish and burdened down by the necessity for significant amounts of exposition.
    Númenor, an island kingdom ruled by Men, is introduced in this episode. It is the last of the major cultures we will be following through this story.  The episode opens with Galadriel and Halbrand being picked up by a ship led by Elendil, who transports them to the island.
    Image: IMDb
    A lot of time is spent on the island and with the Númenoreans, which helps us understand this new location and the characters, but it might leave viewers wondering what's happening elsewhere in the story. The island kingdom looks fantastic, as does everything else in this series. The massive heads in the rocks are a really wonderful addition, like something straight out of an Assassin's Creed game.
    Relations between the islanders and the Elves have deteriorated over the last years as it is apparent when Queen Regent Miriel dismisses Galadriel's plea for a ship back to Middle-earth so she can continue her journey.
    Galadriel and Elendil visit Númenor's Hall of Lore and find that the mark of Sauron is actually a map of the Southlands, where a new kingdom for evil forces is being constructed. We also learn a little more about the character Halbrand, although there is still a lot unknown about him. She learns that Halbrand, who is imprisoned after getting into a conflict with several Nmenóreans, is the Southlands' ruler.
    Image: IMDb
    The territory referred to in the show as "The Southlands" would ultimately become Mordor. So, who is Halbrand? a King in exile from that land?
    While the Harfoots prepare for their seasonal migration in the Rhovanion, the meteor man is exposed while attempting to read some star maps. He wins their hearts and joins them on their journey, moving the wagon for Nori's family because her injured father is unable to due to a broken foot.
    Meanwhile, Orcs have captured Arondir and transported him to a construction site where they are creating underground corridors to walk during the day. He notices that his Elven comrades have also been abducted, and they are all slaughtered when they try to help one of them escape in order to inform the higher elves about the existence of the Orcs. 
    The episode ends when Arondir is taken to the commander of the Orcs named Adar, which viewers are now assuming to be one of Sauron's names.
    Episode four: "The Great Wave"
    In this episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, secrets abound, beginning with the Queen Regent of Númenor, played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson. Miriel's sudden coldness toward Galadriel and Halbrand is owing in part to visions of Númenor's destruction by a big wave. Hence the title – ‘The Great Wave.’
    Miriel's people are no longer welcoming to their elf guest, with Halbrand's recent assailants stirring people in the streets to restore Númenor's glory by being hostile to the visitors.
    Chancellor Pharazon sows conflict among the Numenorians and Elves, gaining the admiration of his people while assuring them that they don't need to waste their attention on one elf because outsiders would never seize the helm of their kingdom.
    Image: IMDb
    Galadriel, ever determined, informs Miriel that Halbrand is a displaced king of Middle-earth and attempts to persuade her to assist them in defending the Southlands from Sauron. Miriel declines, and Galadirel is imprisoned after she requests a meeting with the king.
    Arondir ultimately encounters the orcs' leader, Adar, played by Joseph Mawle, or "father," who resembles an elf half-converted to orc. Rather than killing Arondir, he lets him leave to send a message to the people of the Southlands, hiding in the tower.
    Meanwhile, Bronwyn and her people are still on the run and have taken sanctuary in an abandoned tower. Their provisions are running short, so Theo, her son, offers to go foraging in a nearby hamlet. He meets an orc there who recognises the hilt of his strange broken sword. A troop of orcs quickly pursues him. Arondir, thankfully, comes to his aid.
    Image: IMDb
    Back in Númenor, Halbrand manipulates Galadriel and then Pharazon. Galadriel is inspired by Halbrand to escape their incarceration and talk directly with the king. She flees, only to discover the sick king mute and unable to talk.
    Miriel wants her to keep her father's sickness private and reveals the vision she's been experiencing about her. Galadriel watches white leaves fall from the palace's tree as she places her hand on the queen regent's palantir, followed by a great wave that destroys the empire. She cautions Miriel, however, that such visions are not certain. Nonetheless, the queen orders her to depart Númenor.
    Image: IMDb
    Back in Khazad-dûm, Elrond learns that Prince Durin, has discovered a new resource called Mithril and is withholding the information from his buddy. Durin tells Elrond about his new discovery on the proviso that he does not tell anybody else.
    Durin's father then instructs him to accompany Elrond to Linden to see what the elves are so keen to make. 
    Image: Amazon prime
    In the last act of the episode, Queen Miriel dispatches Galadriel, but when she witnesses 'Tears of Valar,' which are the shedding of leaves from The White Tree, she reconsiders.
    “The Faithful believe when the petals of the White Tree fall, it is no idle thing, but the very tears of the Valar themselves”. 
    She perceives "the tears" as a sign that the Valar are angry with her for not assisting Galadriel, so she evaluates and joins the fight.
    Sauron's identity: three key hints from the first four episodes
    Because Sauron hasn't been seen for generations after Morgoth's fall, and since he is capable of shapeshifting, it's difficult to predict the guise The Lord of the Rings' antagonist will take.
    The Rings of Power have suggested three primary suspects in the Sauron puzzle: the Meteor Man, the enigmatic Halbrand, and the dark antagonist Adar, who is presently assaulting the Southlands.
    Image: Amazon prime
    Meteor Man has twice inflicted injury with his sorcery after inexplicably falling from the sky with no recollection. This visitor is a supernatural entity with terrible intent, and his arrival caused a charred leaf to drift off a Lindon tree.
    Waldreg discusses the Dark Lord's return with young Theo in the last minutes of The Rings of Power episode 4 and questions Theo whether he's heard of Sauron, the evil destined to return, and ominously says, "You must've seen it in the skies... it means his time is near."
    Episode 4 also establishes that Halbrand can be the future villain of the series.  When Galadriel is imprisoned next to his cell, he offers advice on how to talk her way around Queen Regent Miriel.
    Image: IMDb
    Most interestingly, he says, "Identify what it is that your opponent most fears... and give them a means of mastering it... so that you can master them." Sauron employs this same strategy with his Rings of Power. Morgoth's former servant recognises how men dread mortality and then grants them what they desire through the Rings prior to binding them into the darkness.
    His interest in Númenor's forge also indicates that he may be it.
    Image: Amazon prime
    Adar desires the power of the Gods. Despite the fact that his origin and ethnicity are unclear, and that he may have been an elf, several things indicate that "Adar" can simply be another guise for the ever-changing Sauron.
    After the fourth episode of The Rings of Power, the theory looks more plausible as he acknowledges to Arondir in riddles, "I am no God... at least not yet."
    Stunning cinematography but lacks character development
    The Rings of Power, although having stunning cinematography, intricate costumes, and visual effects crisper than most films, which some would label peak TV, sadly struggles at times to establish the world and set up all of its threads, some of which are more engaging than others.
    Image: IMDb
    In the Southlands, the forbidden relationship between Elf Arondir, portrayed by Ismael Cruz Córdova, and human Bronwyn, played by Nazanin Boniadi, fails in contrast to Aragorn's passion and love for Elf Arwen in the original trilogy.
    Storylines such as Galadriel's riveting revenge mission or Nori's experience with a meteor can overshadow others. With so much going on, one can end up craving more. More character development, laying the framework for the relationships and dynamics, which sometimes come off as underwhelming in the first two episodes.
    Though Cate Blanchett is hard to beat, Clark makes a convincing earlier incarnation of Galadriel, a transparent and combat-ready warrior. Whereas the likes of the  Dwarven Durin and his wife Disa, and the Harfoot Nori manages to  bring some comic relief, which is a welcome breath of fresh air.
    See you next time when we go back to Middle-earth!
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