Wow! What an amazing finale, to an amazing show! While the 8th and final episode for the first season of Prime Video’s Rings of Power didn’t have everything I was hoping for, it still managed to be one of the best episodes of the season. We got loads of answers that have been on our minds since episode 1, while also getting hundreds of more questions that we are dying to know the answers to. So let’s jump right into this weeks review and talk about how great this season was. SPOILER WARNING; from here on out I will be talking MAJOR spoilers for the finale, and the show as a whole so if you haven’t caught up on Rings yet, then what are you doing? Go watch this amazing show from start to finish right now.
Stranger No More
Before we get into the real meat of the episode, I want to talk about the wonderful climax to the plot revolving around The Stranger, The Dweller and The Harfoots. One of the main driving plots for Rings of Power since the premier was the arrival of The Stranger. Who is this large man that fell from the skies in a ball of fire? Theories were flying left and right on who this mysterious figure could be. From a Blue Wizard to Gandalf to Sauron, the showrunners really kept us in the dark on this man might be. And when The Dweller and Co. arrived later on in the season, it only got more intriguing. I personally theorized that Daniel Weyman would be playing none other than the Grey Wizard himself and with the events of last week’s finale, that could be proven true.
While the season ends without giving a true answer to who The Stranger may be, we do learn that he is indeed a wizard. The Dweller believed this man to be The Dark Lord but was proven wrong during an altercation. During their fight, The Dweller refers to The Stranger as “Istar” which we later learn translates to “wise one” or simply, “wizard.” Now we are left wondering, is this really Gandalf? Or could be one of the two Blue Wizards sent down to defeat Sauron? Or perhaps, an even wilder theory, that The Stranger could be Saruman the White. Before we even have time to consider all these possibilities, The Stranger provides Nori with some good advice that sounds all too familiar to fans of The Lord of the Rings.
When Nori decides to leave the safety of her community and help The Stranger find the answers he’s been searching for about his identity, she hasn’t a clue on where to begin their journey. That’s when The Stranger decides on a direction by the sweetness of the air, saying “When in doubt, Elanor Brandifoot, always follow your nose.” The quote is eerily similar to what Gandalf advices to The Fellowship when they’re lost in the Mines of Moria. It’s no doubt that the writers for the show want viewers to draw that connection between Gandalf and The Stranger, but I still have my suspicions. While I did originally theorize that Gandalf was the man who fell from the sky, I have begun to feel that the story would make more sense if he was actually one of the Blue Wizards sent from Valar in order to stop the rise of Sauron.
The Stranger being a Blue Wizard fits more realistically into the story that Rings of Power has presented. It would also allow more creative freedom for the writers since not much is known about the Blue Wizards thus giving them lots of room to create a new and interesting character for the show. However, we can’t rule Gandalf out entirely. In Tolkien’s work it is referenced that Gandalf had arrived to Middle-Earth during the Second Age as well. Referred to as Olórin, the Grey Wizard was sent from Valar to assist the elves in defeating Sauron before he could wipe out Middle-Earth. This could prove to be a very interesting development in the Middle-Earth franchise and provide further insight into Gandalf’s character, but only time will tell what direction the show will take.
Since the beginning of the show, it was made known to audiences that Sauron will be featured in the entire show, hiding in plain sight. Since then, it’s been a guessing game on which original character could be The Lord of the Rings himself. I eagerly awaited the grand reveal of who among these heroes was going to be the big bad for the Middle-Earth franchise and to my delight, I had accurately deduced who the Dark Lord was. Sauron was none other than the false King of the Southlands, Halbrand. With each episode that premiered, more and more was revealed about Halbrand’s mysterious past, but it was never enough. While parts of his stories made sense, it was clear that he was always withholding information about who he really was.
I for one thought this was reveal was done magnificently. Not only was it a satisfying reveal, I think it really nicely sets up an amazing arch for later seasons to follow up on. Galadriel may have been the one to expose Halbrand’s identity, but she is unable to believe her discovery. She had seen the good in him and tried helping him rid himself of his dark past, telling him to be free of his past sins. This creates a wonderfully rich internal conflict when she realizes the warlord she had been hunting was her new friend. How could she have been so blind that she couldn’t see that her enemy was right in front of her this whole time?
This also creates an exciting, albeit cliché, motive for Lord Sauron. This idea that Sauron is so twisted in his darkness that he sees himself as the savior of Middle-Earth is a fun addition to the character. It also adds much more depth to the Lord of the Rings, humanizing him and further villainizing his role in later installments of the Middle-Earth franchise. The most cliché part about Sauron/Halbrand’s new characterization is his attempt to woo Galadriel over to the Dark Side. Having her be his beautiful and powerful queen to his dark and destructive tyranny is such an overused idea in fiction that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little bit during his monologue. However, I have been interested to see how the Galadriel we see in Rings of Power becomes the scary, powerful Galadriel we see briefly throughout the Middle-Earth films. To my surprise, we get a small glimpse of what Galadriel would become in the future and it has me beyond excited.
Three Rings for The Elven Kings Under The Sky
As one would imagine, Rings of Power ends their first season with the titular rings being forged. The three rings made for the elves are forged by Celebrimbor after Halbrand convinces him that power over the flesh could be better than the power of the flesh. In a wonderfully shot, scored and acted montage, we see the Elven smiths craft the most beautiful rings you’ve ever seen. While Elrond, Galadriel and Celebrimbor believe these rings to be what will save them and all of Middle-Earth, we as the audience can only look on knowing that they will be doomed to fail against the might of Sauron.
While some had a problem with how the Three Rings were forged, I see it as a logical, minute change to Tolkien’s canon. Let me explain. In the novels, it is said that Sauron, disguised to the elves, tricked Celebrimbor into forging the nineteen Rings of Power: 9 for the race of men, doomed to die, 7 for the Dwarf Lords, in their halls of stone, and 3 for the Elven Kings under the sky. The writings of Tolkien detail that Sauron was present for the forging of all the rings, plus the one he forges himself in the fires of Mount Doom. However, in the show, Halbrand is only there to have Celebrimbor create two rings. Once Galadriel discovers his true identity, he flees to Mordor and it’s actually Galadriel who convinces the elves to craft a third ring.
I personally feel like the change to the order in which the rings are forged makes a lot of sense, and doesn’t destroy Tolkien’s canon. The show has established that the race of Elves is rapidly approaching their extinction, and that the Mithril from Khazad-dûm is their only chance at survival. It would make sense that the elves would put themselves first and craft the rings for the sole purpose of saving their own. In addition to this, season 1 show us the troubled relations between Elves and Dwarves. It would be unlikely that the Elves would craft the seven rings for the Dwarves when tensions between the two are at an all time high. And to top it off, the relations between Men of Middle-Earth and Elves is still pretty new and undeveloped, so there would be no need to make so many rings for them. So while yes it does go against what Tolkien had established, it works very well in the context of the show, and isn’t a huge altering to the story of the Rings of Power.
This has been a pretty lengthy recap so I’ll try and keep this brief. I’ve been a huge fan of Middle-Earth and The Lord of the Rings since I was a kid so to have this huge return to these characters and places was thrilling for me. Prime Video went all out on every aspect of this show, from the mostly untold story, to Bear McNeary’s epic score, to the intricate detailing of the make up and costuming, and to the beautiful sets that bring Middle-Earth to life. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect installment to the sprawling Middle-Earth story. That said, I do still have some small gripes. The pacing for the first couple episodes is very slow, and the stakes of the show aren’t revealed until after the half way point. For a series as large as this, it makes sense that maybe it would be slow to start. However, with the current state of streaming and binge-watching this slow burn approach isn’t terribly effective. Luckily, it’s been said that the showrunners have seen the criticism regarding the pacing and have promised to correct this in the next season.
I really have to commend everyone involved in this show, because I honestly can’t give this show enough praise. Their hard work, love and dedication to Middle-Earth shines through and makes this one of the best shows on streaming. It’ll be a long wait for Season 2, currently set to premier sometime in 2024, but if this first 8 episodes was any indication, it’ll be well worth the wait.
Season 1 of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now streaming only on Prime Video.
Even when I was just a young kid I had always been fascinated in film and the work that goes into them. I love animation, blockbuster hits, indie films and everything in between. Some day I’ll have the privilege of being apart of the filmmaking process.