The latest episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was the show’s most popular yet, dazzling audiences with gripping action scenes and a staggering, explosive reveal at the end.
The final moments of “Udûn” saw the birth of Mount Doom play out on viewers’ screens. The shocking moment blew fans away, but a number of viewers were convinced that it should have blown everyone away. This is a volcanic eruption, after all, and they’re not known to leave many survivors.
In the episode, the volcano’s eruption sent massive fireballs hurtling through the air, followed by a roiling wave of volcanic ash, which soon overtook the poor, harried town of Tirharad and the forces rallied there. Each of the characters assembled there, from Isildur and Elendil to Arondir, Bronwyn, and Galadriel, were close enough to dodge falling rocks and receive a face-full of likely burning ash.
It was Galadriel’s response to Mount Doom’s eruption, in particular, that rankled the impossible-to-please portion of the Rings fanbase. They were convinced that her decision to simply stand and await the wave of ash illustrated a death wish, as—in their minds—no one, not even an elf, could survive a fresh blast of volcanic ash.
A post to Reddit, examining the real-world history of White Island as compared to Middle-earth, might just turn these arguments on their head. User fancyfreecb took to the LOTR_on_Prime subreddit to explain phreatic eruptions and their survival rates, leaning on a recent example as evidence. They explain, in their post, that White Island—an actual, real world location off the coast of New Zealand—erupted in 2019. It experienced a phreatic eruption, which occurs when water and magma meet. This meeting, and the intensely high temperature of the magma, causes an almost instantaneous explosion of steam and stone, as the evaporated water expels at high speeds. This type of eruption rarely includes lava flow, instead concentrating all its deadliness into a flood of ash and hurtling rocks.
This is clearly the type of eruption depicted in “Udûn,” and thus fancyfreecb’s parallels to White Island make sense. They explain, in their post, that the volcano—which served as a tourist location—erupted when there were around 47 people on the island, all of whom were less than a kilometer from the volcano itself. Some were even closer, and these were the majority who lost their lives. Of the 47 people on the small island at the time of eruption, a full 25 survived. Many were badly injured, and their recovery likely took years, but they still walked away from a volcanic incident.
Fancyfreecb is clear that the eruption depicted in Rings of Power was clearly larger than that on White Island, but it was also much further away from the relevant characters. Some detail-conscious fans already assessed that Galadriel and the citizens of Tirharad were around 100 kilometers away from the eruption itself, a far enough distance to guarantee at least a minimal survival rate. When you consider Galadriel’s elven blood and—most importantly—the fact that this is a fantasy show, her decision to face down the wall of ash is far less extreme, and the survival chances of her Numenorian allies—and the poor, bedraggled humans they just saved—is hugely increased.
It won’t be enough to convince the show’s many detractors, who seem determined to hate it regardless of content, but fancyfreecb’s explanation is fascinating to fans of Rings of Power. Many viewers were confused about the potential to survive such a cataclysm, and the simple Reddit post is helping to clear the air on the Prime show’s latest episode.