“Did you say ride?” For all the worry that Galadriel was going to be this warrior princess, “the scourge of the orcs,” it turns out she’s a big dork who wants to ride a horse and go to the library. Is anyone surprised? What’s terrific about Lord Of The Rings is that Galadriel has joys at all. We learn the things that actually interest her while recognizing the sense of duty to fulfill her brother’s quest. According to Elendil, she runs fast and blind, which is an interesting description of the all-seeing Galadriel.
Rings Of Power is an origin story for the queen of Lothlorien. From the books and movies, we know she’s this Elf witch, living in the woods looking into a birdbath that tells of things that were, are, and have not yet come to pass. Here, though, she’s just a horse girl, trying to get back to Middle-earth to warn her friends about a Dark Lord. It’s a classic situation.
“Adar,” which is both the episode’s name and the Elvish word for “Father,” comes to take on several meanings in this episode. Arondir is dealing with an Orc chief named Adar; Nori’s father may have doomed his family; and Galadriel joins one of the most famous fathers in Middle-earth: Elendil (Lloyd Owen), who rescued her at the end of the last episode and took her Númenor.
Hoping to provide this lost Elf with a boat back to Middle-earth, Elendil brings Galadriel to Queen Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), whom we later learn fears the Elves’ return to Númenor. Míriel resents Galadriel’s assertion that Númenor was handed to the Númenoreans after the fall of Morgoth. They fought for the land, she believes. But allegiance to the Elves can doom even a king. The previous king of Númenor lives in exile because of his loyalty to Elves. Galadriel’s presence there is not a welcome one, but Halbrand smooth talks her into possibly giving them a lift back to Middle-earth.
Let’s talk about the geography of Middle-earth. Middle-earth is a continent and to the west of it is the island of Númenor. So Middle-earth sits in the middle of the planet (the middle of Earth)—and not to confuse too many people, Lord Of The Rings takes place on our Earth in an imaginary time period.
Galadriel feels like a character out of a Spielberg movie in “Adar,” pulling daring escapes (in a fun, tricky long shot) and smirking toward the camera. She’s sly and capable and won’t be intimidated by the modestly-sized Númenóreans (One slight nit-pick: these Númenóreans are supposed to be, like, seven-feet-tall, so an island of Bautistas is out of the question).
Tasked with keeping Galadriel captive, Elendil (Owen Lloyd) has some bad news for her. He escorts her to the Numenor Hall Of Laws and asks an intern to check the microfiche archives for signs of the sigil on Finrod’s shoulder. It turns out it’s not a sigil; it’s a map of where Sauron and the Orcs are building Mordor and a tower of Barad-dûr, a place where evil can thrive. Galadriel needs to get back to Middle-earth, but first, she needs to talk to Halbrand.
Speaking of which, this was a pretty big episode of Halbrand. We learn that he’s the exiled king of the Southlands, outrunning his past because his ancestors pledged fealty to Morgoth, and he can snap a guy’s arm like a pencil. Halbrand has a sharp, adaptive tongue that can seemingly get him out of any situation. Galadriel is clearly charmed. She’d like him to unite the men of the south and fight with the Elves. However, there’s something about him that’s untrustworthy. This backstory is a little too neat, and his John Wick kung-fu a little too brutal.
He makes a solid counterpoint to Isildur, the son of Elendil and the protagonist of his own story. When he isn’t living the Master And Commander lifestyle, rescuing his shipmates in a swashbuckling bit of characterization, he’s dreaming of leaving Númenor for Middle-earth. His father, however, forbids it. It might feel predictable, but as Galadriel says, doesn’t it feel like there’s something bigger at work here?
As we covered previously, things don’t just happen in Tolkien. They’re guided by prophecy, divine intervention, or the sudden discovery of a magic ring. Yet, with five seasons to go, it’s hard to see where this ends for them. Moreover, this series has a fixed point, which could dissipate some tension. Still, in the words of Treebeard, don’t be hasty. Let’s let this play out.
But what’s the use in talking about endings when the story is this joyful? “Adar” spends a lot of time on exposition, but it also makes room to relish in the setting. Director Wayne Yip makes a whole dang meal out of introducing us to Númenor, one of the most mythic settings in Tolkien, and it does not disappoint. Galadriel’s Númenórean vacation was joyful, complete with sweeping shots of the vast sets and effects of the nautical city, detours through the sides streets and back alleys, and, of course, these loving shots of Galadriel on horseback, beaming with delight. It’s nice to have a show where nature is treated with the same grace and care as CG effects. In Tolkien, even nature is supernatural.
Galadriel better work fast because things are less enjoyable for Arondir. Last seen being pulled through a tunnel by a bunch of creaky, spooky hands, Arondir awakens to find he’s been captured by orcs, thrown in a trench, and forced to rip the roots out from a tree. This tree earned its place in these lands, but the orcs, who must shield themselves from the sun because even the slightest bit of earthly love burns them, are ravaging the Southlands for Mordor.
Arondir’s not alone. His other Elf friends, Watchwarden Revion (Simon Merrells) and Médor (Augustus Prew) were also captured. Unfortunately, they’re outmatched by the orcs, who speak of reverence about “Adar.” It might mean father in Elvish, but in the Orc trench, it clearly means “daddy.” A hulking leader that Orcs greet with a chant of “Daddy! Daddy!” is coming next week, but now the Elves are just trying to find a way out.
The shocking violence and cruelty in “Adar” elevated the tension. Viewed as a counterpoint to Game Of Thrones, Rings Of Power promised a goopier version of bloodshed. Orcs are cartoonish. Born of pure evil, they bleed black sludge, and their faces remain stuck in silly faces after decapitation. However, the death of an Elf is treated with understandable horror. Elves didn’t even have a word for death until Morgoth came around. Heck, they can barely bleed. So the surprise deaths of Revion and Médor speak to how efficiently this show gets the viewer on the characters’ side. We hardly knew these characters, but their deaths were treated with reverence and sorrow. There’s a history between Arondir and his friends. This might be the first time Arondir’s ever seen an Elf killed in combat. His pain is felt.
We shouldn’t be that surprised by the violence. Last week’s episode, and all its limb-twisting mayhem, should’ve come with a trigger warning for anyone who has sprained an ankle before. But unfortunately, Largo (Dylan Smith) isn’t healed, and the Migration is coming. Thousands of years before Hobbits lived in holes, far removed from the rest of the world. They moved from place to place, hiding in trees, wheatfields, and wherever else they could go unnoticed.
The nomad lifestyle has hardened these proto-Hobbits. During their harvest celebration, they do a mourner’s Kaddish for the Harfoots they “left behind.” There’s Miles Brightapple, a name I can barely speak without crying, for instance, who froze to death in the mountain pass, and Daffodile Burrows (“Wolves”). Largo and Marigold Brandyfoot (Sara Zwangobani) fear they, too, will be left behind because of Largo’s injury.
“We wait for you” is such an ironic thing to chant after Sadoc’s reading because they don’t wait for them. Largo’s making it seem like if he falls behind, no one will come back and look for them. To be de-caravaned means to open themselves up to the dangers of the world, to certain death. The Harfoots certainly have shades of Hobbits, particularly in their sense of humor (“We all loved him, but he was an idiot”).
Lucky for Largo, his daughter Nori is already working on something more important than migration. But while these Nori and The Stranger are playing Harry And The Hendersons, Nori and Poppy are stealing star charts from Sadoc. Nori and Poppy have electric energy, and the dialogue between them is fast and funny. But there’s also a lot of love here and a protection history. We learn in this episode that Poppy lost someone in the migration. It seems clear that she will not let the same happen to Nori.
So while the caravan treads onto the campsite, the Brandyfoots are stuck in the mud, being left behind. Poppy stays faithful to her word and waits for them, but it’s someone outside the bounds of their tribe that makes the save. The Stranger speaks “Friend” and enters a new smaller caravan. The last show of The Stranger pushing the Brandyfoot wagon over a clearing is perhaps the most Tolkienian image thus far on the show. Slap that on the cover of a book and call it a day.
The Stranger is a mystery that feels obvious, but Daniel Weyman plays this character with such glassy-eyed confusion. He’s lost. He’s scared. Bear McCready’s beautiful Stranger theme plays over the soundtrack (and breaks my heart). But when he says “Nori” or “friend,” you can hear it all. His spirit is meek and small and in desperate need of a friend. He landed in the right place.
- It’s wild to think next week will be the halfway point for this series, which is moving at a breakneck speed while going heavy on lore. It’s an impressive balance.
- I am all the way in on Arondir running across the chains of his oppressors.
- Morfydd Clark is giving a star-making turn as Galadriel. That look she gives the camera after her escape? Glorious.
- There were some wonderful Harfoot turns of phrase this week, but Poppy had the best one: “There’s common sense and there’s nonsense, and if you’re all out of the former, you can borrow some of mine.”
- Halbrand’s lineage reveal is the weakest moment of the show thus far. I will need the hard sell on Halbrand being the Aragorn of the Southlands.
- I loved the warg design in this episode. It landed someplace between the Honeycomb guy and those viral images of “Mr. Happy Face,” the world’s ugliest dog. But when the warg was snarling to the camera and biting the chains as Arondir stabs an Orc with the root of a tree, that’s the stuff dreams are made of.