Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power doesn’t balk in the face of its mighty legacy.
The series hits the ground running in its premier episode, giving viewers a glimpse of a young Galadriel as a means to emphasize her close relationship with her brother. This quickly gives way to a wave of fast-moving world-building as the show works to establish solid ground from which it can launch the remainder of the season. In many ways, the first episode of Rings of Power leans too hard into more fast-paced, action-oriented scenes, lingering far too little on the incredible vistas and stunning design of Amazon Prime’s wondrous Middle Earth.
Despite this, the first episodes of Amazon Prime’s upcoming series are strong. They establish the world through uneven but purposeful, pacing, carefully plotted out to help emphasize Galadriel’s singleminded focus. Early scenes with the character will feel rushed, particularly when paired with the slower, more languorous scenes involving other characters, but this pacing helps immensely to illustrate Galadriel’s unrelenting nature. They work well to paint a picture of who this character is and will surely pay off in later episodes when all the young elf warned of finally comes to pass.
Viewers are already familiar with many of the characters that appear in The Rings of Power, which puts the show’s creators in an interesting position. While familiar names like Galadriel and Elrond will surely help audiences to feel more familiar in the sprawling story, they also pose a problem. The characters in The Rings of Power are a far cry from those we know from the Lord of the Rings trilogy — and even the Hobbit trilogy — and thus, the show must reshape expectations. It must quickly establish that, while these characters are familiar to audiences, they are a very different version from those that appear in earlier films. The first episodes of Rings of Power make the task of reestablishing these characters a major focus, to overall stellar effect.
Rings of Power presents Middle Earth as it was in the Second Age, long long before the events of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. It poises characters like Elrond, Galadriel, Gil-Galad, and Durin at its core, but don’t be fooled by its focus on individual characters—this show is about the world. It clearly intends to expansively examine the world in which the story is set, using its lengthier runtime as a means to flesh out and explore a world that audiences fell in love with more than 20 years ago.
The series is all the better for audiences knowing its outcome. The ominous hints toward Sauron’s eventual rise and the knowledge of all the Dark Lord is capable of add a sense of weight and tension to the series. Its drama and action—which crops up far more than in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy—are grounded by sweeping shots of stunning vistas and the arrival of the sweet, simple Harfoots. An inclusion that may have felt excessive is instead married perfectly with the denser, more broadly-realized Elven view of the world, allowing viewers to revel in the charm and joy of simple Middle Earth folk.
There’s plenty that a longtime fan can nitpick about the Amazon Prime series, from the casting and characterization to the music, tone, and surprisingly fast-paced plot. Still, the series was never going to be absolutely perfect—if only because everyone’s definition of “perfect” is different. Instead of staying true to every storyline and rehashing old techniques to try and pump up nostalgia, The Rings of Power pairs its clear respect for The Lord of the Rings with an evident focus on trying something new.
The set design, costumes, tone, setting, and landscapes are absolutely stunning and show a love and respect for the franchise in every frame, stitch, and quiet moment. Each element is carefully considered to suit its needs and purposefully emphasizes the difference between the Elves and other races of Middle Earth. Things like the music fall slightly short of expectations, but it’s hard to imagine a score that could properly compete with Howard Shore’s truly incredible talent, even from the likes of Bear McCreary.
Rings of Power isn’t perfect, but it showcases absolutely staggering potential. The second episode of the premier season is a distinct step up from the first, shifting focus from the more fast-paced establishing shots and instead rooting itself in real experiences and charming old friendships, all of which provide a huge amount of hope for the remainder of the season. The characters that are established—in a sometimes rushed manner—in the debut episode are given far more space to exist, grow, and develop in the second episode. It seems that the remainder of the season will provide plenty more opportunity for audiences to fall in love with these new (old) characters.
The earliest episodes of The Rings of Power begin to lay the groundwork for what could be a truly incredible world full of rich, intriguing characters. The occasional misstep is largely overshadowed by careful attempts to maintain the tone and beauty of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with a focus on immersion and genuine heart. It uses CGI to stunning effect and, at its core, feels like it belongs alongside the films we already love so much. Even if it isn’t quite there yet, The Rings of Power has massive potential to soon become a genuine fantasy powerhouse.