Trees don’t just bear fruit and provide shade in Lord Of The Rings; they’re living, breathing, as we saw in episode one, moving things. J.R.R. Tolkien held trees in such regard that he took issue with the immortal bard’s “shabby” approach to walking trees in Macbeth. As a young man, he felt “bitter disappointment and disgust” that Birnam wood didn’t explicitly march upon Dunsinane. Soldiers camouflaged by leaves and twigs won’t cut it.
Since trees have such significance to its prime architect, it’s unsurprising that Lord Of The Rings would make them the centerpiece of conflict. Last week, Arondir considered sacrificing an old tree for the lives of his friends, and now, the show presents a classic Tolkienian image, white leaves falling from an ancient tree. Tolkien’s trees are the Earth’s thermometer, taking its temperature and reporting its general health. If leaves are falling and trees are cut down, it will require some strong medicine and fast.
“The Great Wave” isn’t as fleet-footed as previous entries and relies on a few too many surprises and occasionally forced cliffhangers to keep the action moving. Every scene doesn’t need to end with a catastrophe to hold our attention. Yet, they do provide crucial leadership moments that will escort Galadriel into the final half of the season. Even still, it presents its hope with a tinge of the inevitable. We might quell the symptoms, but the sickness lingers.
Director Wayne Che Yip doesn’t wait long to deliver the episode’s titular star. Within moments, Queen Míriel, who is busy christening newborn Númenóreans in her chambers, witnesses a shower of white leaves from the pale tree in the king’s courtyard. Moments later, a tsunami crashes on the island, and she awakens from the nightmare.
Things are changing in Númenor. An Elf and a mysterious man landed on its shores and the star fall from weeks prior are bad omens. Distraught and frustrated, the men Halband bodied last week complained in city squares about Elves coming to their shores and taking their jobs. Aside from the ridiculous notion that Elves would spend their eternal lives working in Númenórean bars and ports is laughable, but their fears shouldn’t come as a surprise to those living in a world with humans on it.
Chancellor Pharazón (Trystan Gravelle) isn’t having it, though. Adept in statecraft, Pharazón maintains things on a street level, shaking hands with shopkeepers and providing drinks and merriment for the island of men, cooling the hottest coals, as Disa would say. He knows everyone in Númenor, and his affable charms have won him their trust.
Míriel and Pharazón work in perfect tandem, even if their personal life is opaque, offering a revealing juxtaposition to Elrond and Galadriel. Galadriel, who tries and fails to convince the Queen Regent to join the Elves and fight Sauron, finds herself jailed for sedition. The Elf might be a skilled warrior and rider, but she’s an awful diplomat, as Halbrand, her cellmate, points out. “There is a tempest in me,” Galadriel says as negotiations collapse. “It swept me to this island for a reason, and it will not be quelled by you, Regent.” Hard to believe that that didn’t get her a meeting with the exiled Tar-Palantir (Ken Blackburn). Galadriel could really use a skilled diplomat like Elrond right about now. After all, politics requires strength and finesse.
Still, Galadriel will have it her way. After scaling Palantir’s tower in a breezy dress and sandals, she finds Míriel waiting for her. Unfortunately, things are not what they seem. The people ousted Palantir and installed his daughter Míriel because of the king’s hardline belief that Númenor had defied the gods. As he grew older and more righteous in his beliefs, he repented by pledging fealty to the Elves, an unpopular opinion, leading to revolution and the installation of his daughter as queen. However, his decline was also a mental one. He now remains out of sight, bedridden, and unable to rule.
Palantir, meaning “far sighted” in an ancient form of Elvish, shares his name with the seeing stones. That’s no coincidence. Tar-Palantir is known as a clairvoyant, having prophesied the downfall of Númenor, beginning with the death of the great tree and ending with a greater flood. Appropriately enough, Tar-Palantir has one of the seven seeing stones, and Míriel invites Galadriel to take a gander. From there, she sees the queen’s nightmare: The white leaves, the flood, and the city’s destruction.
Ancient, secret treasures like the palantir play a prominent role in “The Great Wave.” After taking last week off, Elrond is back with the Dwarves, checking in with his friend Durin, who has inexplicably been a little cagey about what he’s up to in the old mines. The Dwarves have made significant progress on Celebrimbor’s tower, but something feels off between Durin and Elrond, a secret wedged between them. So our resident gumshoe, Elrond, is on the case.
Thankfully, we also get another few scenes with Disa, who protects her husband’s secret. He’s discovered a new ore, mithril, a powerful, lightweight metal that could be used for weapons, defense, and other non-combat-based uses, in the old mine. Disa and Durin’s conversation on the bridge of Khazad-dûm is beautifully shot, particularly the final profile close-up of Durin, with the beams of light framing his head, nose, and beard with a white, glowing border. Unfortunately, creepazoid Elrond saw the whole thing, including the lovely bit of flirting the couple does.
Elrond wants to know more. He confronts Durin, who makes him swear on the mountain not to tell another soul about the mithril. Holding it in his hands, Elrond reacts to the stone like he is gazing upon the Ring. He’s entranced by the stone, with its light coming from inside. But he offers it back, showing Durin that their friendship means more to him than a bit of rock. Robert Aramayo and Owain Arthur sell this connection hard, and it’s totally effective. (We’d like a bottle episode with these two yesterday, please and thank you.) Nevertheless, one of the deus ex machina moments happens when the mine collapses moments after their conversation. He and the remaining miners are fine, but to Durin’s dismay, his father, King Durin III (Peter Mullan) shuts down the operation. Dads.
After a stirring piece of writing from Stephany Folsom, J.D. Payne, and Patrick McKay, Durin realizes these personal connections are more important than wealth, silver, or even mithril. “My father single-handidly sailed to Valinor,” Elrond tells him. “Would he be proud of what I accomplished with his legacy or disappointed by the countless ways I failed to live up to it? Then one night, it struck me that I would only be too happy to hear any judgment, so long as it the opportunity to have one more conversation with my father. Do not waste what time you have left with yours.” Elrond comforts like none other.
The Dwarves’ pursuit of mithril ended without tragedy, but they’re not the only ones hunting for treasure. Theo heads to town for food, and the Orcs head to town for that hilt of his. When he’s discovered, Theo stabs the jagged pommel of the hilt into the back of his forearm. The blade flames on and begins to reforge. Thankfully, help is on the way. After being freed by Adar, who appears to be a fallen Elf with a real simmering vulnerability and terrifying calm, Arondir makes a sudden rescue. Arondir has a message for the town: Bow to Adar, or he’s bringing the fight to them.
The end comes with a truce between Míriel and Galadriel. After the tree starts shedding for real, the Queen announces that she will escort the Elf to Middle-earth, and the connection between Elves and Men will reforge. But there is the feeling that all of this is too late. The wheels are in motion, and the stars are strange. Something is coming, and these factions can let their differences doom them or unite against the shadow.
- I was disappointed in the total lack of Harfoots this week. I didn’t realize how attached to them I had become.
- I also meant to get into Isildur, who gets more dimension weekly. While he sabotages himself and his friends, it’s clear this is a wayward and hurting young man. He’s more sympathetic than expected, but one can see some problem areas. For instance, he risks the safety of his shipmates to get discharged. He acts selfishly in times of peril, something that could come back to haunt him.
- Elrond delights in the Dwarves’ curt behavior like a tourist visiting New York City hopes to see someone “walking over here.”
- The slo-mo cinematography in Arondir’s rescue was beautiful. Director of photography Alex Morton gets so much detail out of this foggy, early morning forest that captures the grace with which Arondir moves. That arrow catch gives The Northman a run for its money.
- Rowan, the angry, Elf-hating bar patron from the first two episodes, turns out not to be an agent of Sauron but rather a teen living through war. I’m pretty positive that the king he referred to in episode one wasn’t Morgoth or Sauron but Halbrand.
- Adar’s description of Bereliand was so haunting and pained. If he is an immortal elf, then he acts as if he’s eternally dying. Last week, one of the Elves predicted that Adar was Sauron, but that seems a little too obvious after spending some time with him. Either way, the character compels me. I hope we see more of him next week.
- I could not tell what the barkeeper called the hilt for the life of me. Did anyone catch that?
- Galadriel’s tempest mode felt like she was letting out her dark Queen from “The Mirror Of Galadriel” chapter. I get the sense that her character on this show was reverse-engineered from that moment.