The saga begins, perhaps intelligently, with a flash of the familiar. A woman with hair that may only be described as golden sits alongside a brook, so picturesque in its countryside aesthetic that it feels more dream sequence than memory. We have no idea this girl, this Galadriel, but after all we all know Galadriel—and this girl is instantly, unquestionably Galadriel, the eventual Elven royal played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s revered Lord of the Rings movies. As her brother teaches the young Elf a lesson in hope and perseverance, Amazon’s monumental fantasy series The Rings of Power makes its intent clear from the beginning: The series will use every possible resource, each monetary and narrative, to evoke the creator J.R.R. Tolkien’s hand presiding over its production. But emulation can only accomplish a lot.
What made Jackson’s movies so singular was Jackson’s ability to summon Tolkien’s sensibilities without attempting to grow to be him. His movies felt each reverential and separate, singular, enjoyed other than the books. (Loads of fans, including the person who played Frodo Baggins, will admit never even reading the unique series.) Perhaps a non secular analogy best explains the complicated nature of this endeavor: LotR fans desire communion, a singular encounter with the thing of their devotion, but not for any interpreter to act as God himself. That will be blasphemy. Toeing the road between worship and invention is where The Rings of Power will either falter or fly. And—to top all of it off—the show might want to placate viewers who might haven’t any familiarity with Middle-Earth in anyway.
And so this opening sequence is important, by which an older Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) narrates the dawn of the Second Age, a period a few years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. She describes the rise of Morgoth, the primary Dark Lord and predecessor to LotR’s primary antagonist, Sauron. After he destroys the trees Laurelin and Telperion within the Elven home of Valinor, a.k.a The Undying Lands, the Elves—including Galadriel’s brother—sail to Middle-Earth and battle Morgoth’s orc forces in a war that killed hundreds and lasted centuries. After Morgoth’s defeat, the sorcerer Sauron rose up in his place, and after her brother fell by Sauron’s hand, Galadriel vowed to (literally) take up his sword. But after leading her battalion in a wild goose likelihood around Middle-Earth, her followers have grown drained.
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Within the icy lands of Forodwaith, she and her company explore a deserted orc citadel, where they discover Sauron’s mysterious sigil carved in ice. “He was here,” Galadriel says, and demands her group rest before they hunt the sorcerer father north, where it’s sure to be even colder. Her guard protests; the corporate exceeded their orders months ago. But she insists, regardless of how deeply she yearns to go home, that she cannot abandon her quest until “every trace of our enemy is vanquished.” Unfortunately, Galadriel has to chop off her inspiring speech to slay a snow troll, which proves the last straw for her companions. They lay down their weapons; if she wishes to pursue Sauron further, she must go it alone.
Galadriel is stubborn, but she’s no idiot. She won’t survive amongst the blizzard conditions on her own, nor can she face Sauron with nothing but her brother’s dagger. And so she temporarily quits her mission to travel to Lindon, the capital of the High Elves, where she meets an old friend: Elrond (Robert Aramayo), whom many will recognize because the eventual Rivendell Elf-ruler and father of Arwen. But here, he’s young, a few years from the birth of his daughter and the Third Age’s Fellowship of the Ring. To Galadriel, he reveals that the High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) will not be altogether pleased together with her insistence upon chasing Sauron, risking not only her own life and limb but those of the armies. She has repeatedly disobeyed any restrictions placed in her path, which makes the king’s commendation of her victories a mercy reasonably than a real congratulation.
On the ceremony, Galadriel struggles to smother her instincts. When the king bends to position a gold wreath upon her head, she resists bowing for him, their gazes waging a silent scuffle for dominance. When, finally, he pronounces that she and her fellow warriors will likely be rewarded for his or her bravery with a visit to Valinor, to the Undying Lands, even Galadriel cannot hide her emotion. Valinor is her home; she has longed for it for hundreds of years. Perhaps only Elrond understands the position this puts her in: Fulfill her heart’s deepest desire, or perform the mission she promised her brother’s corpse she’d finish?
Elsewhere, in Tirharad of the Southlands, the Elf-human relationship is balancing on a razor’s edge. We’re introduced to Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), a Silvan Elf out of Mirkwood, assigned to scout the Southlands and, in essence, keep watch on the humans, many whose ancestors fought on behalf of Morgoth years ago. The humans feel stifled and unfairly oppressed on behalf of old grudges; for the Elves, who live far longer than humans, the past doesn’t feel so distant. “In the future, our true king will return, and pry us right out from under your pointy boots,” one pub patron spits in Arondir’s face. But his insolence doesn’t offend the Elf, who’s been getting pretty close with a few of these underlings—particularly the human woman Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), with whom he’s developed an Arwen-Aragorn-like flirtation. (Even though it’s hard to call it flirtation; for many of episode 1, they exchange little greater than uncomfortably long looks.) Arondir’s fellow Elven scout is convinced this match will end in death, just like the pitiful few Elf-and-men pairings before it, but Arondir has no likelihood to defend his affections before news from the High King arrives: Now that Galadriel and her company are sailing to the Undying Lands, the war is taken into account over. The outposts will likely be disbanded, meaning the Elves will leave the Southlands and return home.
Arondir’s watch warden insists the patrolman be grateful he need never see humans again, as “the blood of those that stood with Morgoth still darkens their veins.” But Arondir doesn’t imagine humans are so inherently evil; if that were the case, why is he so drawn to Bronwyn? Sure, it may very well be because her son might be, possibly, definitely hiding an evil sword within the barn floorboards, but she seems nice, too!
As they scout out the nearby town where Bronwyn was raised—and where mysterious dark forces are afoot—Arondir gently confronts Bronwyn about her people’s association with Morgoth. She’s offended by mere association with the villain’s name. Her persons are good people. Arondir agrees, but nevertheless, he doesn’t yet find out about that sword.
Meanwhile, miles away, within the land of Rhovanion, the nomadic Harfoots—ancestors of Hobbits, with the hairy feet to match them—emerge from their hiding places in a pleasant scene of cottagecore whimsy. Their faces are flushed and smudged with dirt, their hair tufted and uncombed, their baskets and wheelbarrows and bowls filled with root vegetables and berries and snails, the luxurious vegetation of their surroundings weaved—quite literally—into their clothing and furniture. Here, we first meet Nori (Markella Kavenagh), our Bilbo/Frodo stand-in, the one one among her kin who seems keen on—as any Baggins would endorse it—a very good adventure. Her laughter punctuates the fantastic rating by Bear McCreary, sure to grow to be a favourite of study groups all over the place.
Her fellow Harfoots chide her insatiable curiosity, however the Harfoot elder Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) finally lets slip a juicy little bit of neighborhood gossip: The skies and their stars look strange lately. And people travelers who passed by with giant antlers on their backs? An unusual sight this time of 12 months. Something’s off. Something’s about to occur.
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And something remarkable indeed happens, as a meteor bolts across the sky, visible from all corners of Middle-Earth. When it lands with an explosive blast in Rhovanion, it brings with it The Stranger (Daniel Weyman), a person left asleep and encircled in a quaking wheel of fireside inside the rock’s crater. Whether human or giant or wizard, we don’t yet know—only that his grand entrance is a blatant rip-off of Stardust. Neil Gaiman, cut a check.
But back to the girl with golden hair. Within the realm of Elves, Galadriel finally sails for the Undying Lands, while Elrond frets over whether he convinced her to make the suitable selection. Gil-galad brushes off his concerns, convinced that, should she have continued her seek for Sauron, Galadriel would only have perpetuated the evil she sought to eradicate. As a substitute, he assigns Elrond a task: Work for Celebrimbor, the esteemed Elven smith who’s “about to embark on a recent project, one among singular importance.” Gil-galad doesn’t reveal what this vital project is, but we are able to take an informed guess based on the show’s title. (Book readers, I do know you understand. Let’s not spoil it for everybody else.)
Still, Galadriel won’t let Gil-galad and the remainder have it really easy. As Valinor opens up before her, its everlasting light bathing her company in radiance, she turns to stare at her brother’s dagger resting on the ship deck. In LotR lore, Valinor is a type of heaven, a spot of perpetual peace and wonder, where the gods invited Elves to rest millennia ago. But those Elves who selected to stay too long in Middle-Earth—and people who left Valinor to battle inside Middle-Earth—risked becoming “Lingerers,” fading until the afterlife catches up with them. This is vital to grasp, with a view to grasp what Galadriel is giving up here: It’s nothing lower than the possible dissolution of her soul, and an everlasting severance from her home.
But she wouldn’t be the leader so respected within the film franchise’s Lothlorien if she were to desert a fight before it’s won. As Valinor welcomes her company with the heart-stirring harmonies of a sacred choir, Galadriel dives off the sting of the boat, where she is alone to navigate the troubled waters ahead. (And to, presumably, swim across a complete ocean?)
The Rings of Power’s first episode, like its much-discussed budget, is big. It’s pretty to have a look at. It’s a bit slow, and never all of the characters feel as intimately wrought as Galadriel. Not all of the dialogue is written well, neither is it delivered elegantly. However the episode is immersive in a way that few other fantasy series have completed, including the brand new Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon. House of the Dragon has yet one advantage: Its source-material mastermind is nestled neatly right into a co-creator’s chair. Tolkien will not be so inside arm’s reach for The Rings of Power.
But even having Martin so close may not be enough to revive Thrones to its full glory. And sometimes a student must take up the mantle of the teacher. With the suitable group of stewards handling its precious artifacts, The Rings of Power just might do because it dreams.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers news and culture.