Anything worth doing takes a long time to do it, and Lord Of The Rings’ slow-burn approach to fantasy ended in the eruption of the Southland volcano last week. However, the audience’s patience wasn’t for naught. It imbued our heroes with integrity and resilience and Middle-earth with a logic all its own. These atrocities may be fated by minds greater than the Elves, Dwarves, and Men, but they may have a greater purpose if only we could see through the ash.
Last week’s action-packed blood feast finally delivered Rings fans the epic battles TV viewers crave. But that’s not really what Lord Of The Rings is about. It’s not about betrayals, political maneuvering, or fantasy violence. Those things exist in Middle-earth, but connection and collaboration across borders matter so much more. The darkness only makes the light shine brighter, and this push and pull between heritage and friendship can create division and strength in all forms of fellowship. It is within them to overcome their prejudices and find hope and love in their fellow Middle-earthling. The fantastic, visually striking, and season-best episode “The Eye” doubles down on these themes as Galadriel, Elendil, and Durin attempt to retain hope amid incalculable despair.
An eye is the first image we see in the red-soaked Hellmouth that is the Southlands. Cinematographer Alex Disenhof follows the breathless action of “Udûn” with a landscape that evokes photos of the California wildfires and the orange skies they brought to the west coast in 2020. Galadriel awakes in this ashen land, dusts herself off, and begins searching for survivors, finding young Theo. As the show teases another Bronwyn fridging, Queen Regent Míriel and Isildur search for survivors. The latter finds only death, discovering the lifeless eyes of his friend Otamno (Anthony Crum) staring back at him. As he considers Otamno, a beam breaks, and a house crashes on Isildur, leaving his friends to assume he, too, is lost. Later, when Elendil sees Isildur’s injured horse without a rider, he assumes the worst.
After weeks of wondering and wandering, the Brandyfoots finally catch up to the Harfoots at the Grove, which the volcano left scorched. Atop a nearby hill, The Stranger speaks unfamiliar words to a burned-out tree. As it did in the pool last week, the Stranger’s power explodes and frightens the Harfoots. Still, a flower grows from the tree’s trunk.
The passing shadow is all over this episode, bringing light and dark. Last week, Bronwyn reminded Theo that there is “light and high beauty forever beyond the reach” of darkness. Galadriel, who enlists Theo as a traveling companion, goes one step further, teaching Theo not to let hate into his heart. “It darkens the heart to call bad deeds ‘good,’” she tells him. “Every war is fought without and within.” Theo and Galadriel fight the external loss of life in the Southlands and each soldier’s internal responsibility for it.
Galadriel’s remorse is palpable from the first frame of “The Eye.” She tells Theo that she feels responsible for the explosion, and in many ways, she is. The obvious example is that she didn’t check the friggin’ hilt when she had Adar captured. But Elves have been missing warnings all season. As she rallied Númenor, the Elves in the Southlands missed a whole Orc siege under their noses. Like the Jedi in the Star Wars prequels, the Elves of the Second Age are high on their own supply. That’s what makes Elrond, the half-Elven, such a crucial character; he sees in Elves what they cannot see. He knows the cost of allowing that friendship to wither. Elrond didn’t even notice that he hadn’t seen his best friend in 20 years and is willing to change his thinking and admit when he is wrong.
Galadriel’s war goes deeper, and her distance is understandable. As she and Theo commiserate over the explosion, the Elf reveals that she was once a dancer (and an equestrian). Yes, she danced with her husband Celeborn, whom she lost at war. Unfortunately, the loss of both her brother and husband has left her with nothing else.
She’s fighting the war within, like Durin and Elendil. Elrond makes his play to King Durin (Peter Mullan), bending the knee and making promises of riches in return for the supply of mithril. But Durin rejects the offer, telling Durin that the Elves’ fate and the fate of Middle-earth are out of their control. If this is the Elves’ time, so be it. Durin breaks the news to Elrond, who must return to Lindon to tell High King Gil-galad that they’re screwed. It is a heartwrenching scene as Bear McCready’s Elrond theme tiptoes in as Elrond tells Durin that Elves “don’t say goodbye” but rather “go with goodness.” The way Durin shouts “namárië” turns on the waterworks. This show is wonderful.
Elrond begins his exit leaves and hands the mithril ore back to Durin, who pushes it to the edge of his new table in disgust. The mithril resurrects the plant when it lands next to the rotting Elven leaf, proving Gil-galad’s theory. The two better get digging.
Later, as the buddies chisel away at the mithril mine, the two share a series of loving exchanges, espousing how much the other means to them through gentle teasing and admissions. Director Charlotte Brändström jumps between intimate closeups as they deepen their relationship, becoming a chosen brother to each other, with Elrond stopping Durin before hearing his secret Dwarven name. It’s a scene destined to inspire thousands of pieces of fan fiction. We thank Elrond and Durin for their service.
Their emotional deepening resonates in the stone. Soon after they reach catharsis, Durin and Elrond discover the motherlode of mithril, but King Durin won’t be defied. He exiles Elrond from Khazad-dûm. Peter Mullan is fantastic discussing the night he nursed his infant son Durin back to health, beaming with joy as he predicts his son will “move mountains.” But Durin’s not convinced. “How can I move mountains when you crush my ambition.” The conversation doesn’t end well, with Durin telling his father that “he profanes the crown.”
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as Durin and Míriel learn. After trying to rescue villagers from the flames, Míriel is stricken blind, only able to see grey, a potent metaphor for the state of the world. However, it’s not all blackness—light peeks through. Sunshine returns the further they get from the Southlands. The morning after the Stranger does his spell on the tree, the Grove is teeming with new life. The dead tree now bears juicy red apples. In return, Sadoc gives the Stranger directions to the big people, where he might find information on his lost stars. Nori gives him an apple before sending him on his way and telling her mother, “she’s just a Harfoot.” She will no longer get into mischief like this.
Yet all that glitters is not gold. Three fair-skinned figures clad in white hunt the Stranger, arriving at the Grove the night he disembarks. Nori bravely does her best to throw them off course. But when Largo spots them looming over Nori, he rushes over with a torch. The figure puts it out with their hand, blows the ashes into the air, and magically sets the Harfoot camp ablaze.
By the episode’s end, everyone is on the same page. Halbrand will bring “strength to the Southlands” and travel with Galadriel to Lindon and face the Elves. It’s easy to forget that the Elves probably assume Galadriel is sipping drinks out of a coconut on the beaches of Valinor. But they’ve got their own problems. On top of the whole mithril shortage in Lindon, King Durin awoke a Balrog when he casually tossed the Elvish leaf away.
As new enemies awaken, our heroes are on the move. The Harfoots will rebuild, facing challenges with “hearts as big as their feet,” as Largo says. Nori decides that she’s setting off to find the Stranger. The rest of the community admits to some misgivings, showing some of that contrition that Elrond expressed earlier this season. But she won’t be going alone. A fellowship Harfoots will hit the road and take their place in the wider world. They will move on and succeed as long as they stay true to each other and just keep walking.
- Robert Aramayo’s scenes with Owain Arthur were stunning in their warmth, empathy, and understanding. Aramayo’s been quietly crushing every episode he’s in, but the reunion between Elrond and Galadriel is something we’re anxiously awaiting.
- The same goes for Dylan Smith’s “just keep walking” speech, which beautifully recalled Aragorn’s line to Gimli and Legolas in Fellowship Of The Ring. “As long as we stay true to each other.” This is the essence of Tolkien’s work, as far as I’m concerned, and Rings Of Power explores and enriches this theme in surprising and effective ways.
- Halbrand’s mysterious absence in this episode will no doubt send conspiracy theorists into a tizzy.
- I’ve enjoyed the show’s living map, but the chyron burning was maybe a little more seasoning than I needed.
- “Every war is fought without and within” gets bonus points for using that archaic form of “without.” Tolkien loved old words and used old versions of words in his work. Many have criticized it, but this show’s dedication and care to how Tolkien wrote is really off the charts. There is an intense attention to detail in the show’s language.