The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Recap: Misty Mountain Hopelessness

Photo: Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

It might be a mistake to read too much into the episodic titles of TV series, since they can easily be applied as an afterthought. But calling this episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the penultimate installment of the show’s first season, “The Eye” raises some questions. Eyes play key roles in several moments — most dramatically in Miriel’s surprise health crisis. And the very first shot of the episode (directed with considerable flair by Charlotte Brändström) is of an eye opening — specifically that of Galadriel waking up after being knocked out by the volcanic explosion that capped the previous episode. But “The Eye”? That immediately calls to mind the Eye of Sauron, but we’ve yet to see Sauron or his eye. Unless we have? The episode leaves that question lingering, but maybe it will be clearer in retrospect.

For now, there are plenty of other pieces to put together — starting with those who survived the explosion in what’s left of the Southlands (if we can still call it that, but we’ll get to this later). Following the catastrophe that arrived in the wake of their triumph, the heroes of Bronwyn and Theo’s village and the forces of Númenor (plus one intense elf) have been battered and scattered (or simply killed). Galadriel opens her eyes to a transformed world, finding a wasteland where once there stood trees and rolling hills. Instead, she sees corpses, burning horses, and other signs of destruction. She finds Theo, who will be her traveling companion for much of the episode. (The pairing of characters from such different worlds is one more example of the series staying true to Tolkien.)

There’s other action in what remains of the building as well. Míriel proves that she’s not the sort of queen (regent) who never gets her hands dirty by joining the rescue effort alongside Isildur. It’s a tough job for both of them: Míriel loses her vision, and Isildur discovers the body of a friend, then possibly dies. He doesn’t. We know that because of Tolkien. But this is the last we see of him in this episode, and Elendil assumes the worst when Isildur doesn’t show up by episode’s end and sets sail for Númenor without him.

It’s a roller-coaster ride of emotions for the Harfoots too. Poppy, Nori, and Nori’s family arrive at The Grove abuzz with excitement only to discover it’s been laid to waste by the volcanic eruption miles away. (It’s a small Middle-earth after all.) Sadoc draws on lore and legend for an explanation, as he’s wont to do. Such things happen “when a new evil is rising.” But Sadoc’s not so tradition-bound that he can’t call on the Stranger for help. With some strange words, he talks to the trees, then, well, nothing good happens. At least not immediately. Sadoc remains sympathetic to the Harfoots’ visitor even after he nearly accidentally crushes some Harfoots — including a terrified Nori. That’s partly, once again, due to his connection to the past. He recognizes the Stranger’s star map from one deep in Harfoot history and sends him to a settlement of Big Folk for answers. After taking an apple from Nori, he’s on his way.

This has immediate effects for the Harfoots — first good, then bad. Nori awakens the next day to a scene of abundance. The single shoot raised on the tree by the Stranger’s actions has had a domino effect, and the Grove is now bursting with life! That’s the good news. The bad news: It has drawn the attention of the three silent, hooded strangers (listed in the credits again as “The Dweller,” “The Ascetic,” and “The Nomad”). Sensing that they’re looking for the Stranger, Nori attempts to send them on their way. When that doesn’t work, her father tries to drive them off with a torch. This, it turns out, is a bad idea, as evidenced by their ability to use the torch’s flame to destroy the Harfoots’ settlement — wagons and all. The next day, spurred by Nori, a party of Harfoots decides to catch up with the Stranger, which is an act of kindness but also of desperation. What else are they going to do?

There’s a lot of desperation to go around in this episode and more than a few moments in which hopes rise only to be dashed. In Khazad-dûm, Elrond makes a strong case for the dwarves helping the elves by letting loose their supply of mithril, offering them “game, grain, and timber” for 500 years. When asked why the elves should be trusted, Elrond asks instead that they trust him, an honorable half-elf whose heritage gives him a perspective on the elven race that others lack. Who could say no?

King Durin III can, it turns out. While the other dwarf lords seem impressed, Durin III is not. In a private conference with Durin IV, he offers a long-winded explanation to his son that concludes with the declaration, “I will not risk dwarven lives to help the elves cheat death.” The elves might not be able to survive without mithril but, by Durin III’s reckoning, that’s just the way of the world.

Durin IV is heartbroken, as is Elrond, who plans to leave for Lindon to tell Gil-galad that the elves’ fate is sealed. Some of the episode’s best moments illustrate the strength of the bond between Durin and Elrond and, by extension, Disa, who’s possibly even angrier about the king’s decision than her husband is. (It’s in her words but also in her hammering.) She’s the one who, after witnessing firsthand the restorative power of mithril, convinces her husband to work with Elrond against King Durin’s wishes. And later, she encourages her husband to defy his father again. She’s like a benevolent Lady Macbeth — accent and all.

The scenes with Elrond, Durin, and Disa illustrate how The Rings of Power has escaped what might have been a problem in the early episodes. With so much narrative to unspool, it seemed like moments in which we got to know the characters could get lost. Elrond and Durin’s scene in the mine, when Durin reveals that dwarves have secret names that only those closest to them know and almost reveals his to Elrond, is just one instance of the series taking meaningful pauses from the action. These characters are players in a continent-spanning power struggle, sure, but they’re given space to express their hopes, fears, and feelings for one another, and it’s a better series because of it. (It helps that Owain Arthur, Robert Aramayo, and Sophia Nomvete give such rich performances.)

Not that the problem can be solved by the bond between elf and his dwarf friends alone. When Durin III finds his son and Elrond mining without his permission, he’s enraged, stripping Durin IV of his princedom and kicking Elrond out of Khazad-dûm in spite of the treasure they uncover. He has no interest in mining the mithril or saving the elves — a decision that has the unintended consequence of awakening a Balrog. This is definitely going to be a problem at some point down the line.

Elrond and Durin aren’t the only characters given moments of reflection. Along the way, Theo gets to know Galadriel, who’s surprisingly forthcoming about her past, telling him about the loss of her brother and her previously unmentioned husband, Celeborn. She reassures him that the disaster isn’t his fault — despite his actions. “There are powers beyond darkness at work in this world,” she tells him. “Perhaps on days such as this, we have little choice but to trust their designs and surrender our own.” (This line provides another reminder that Tolkien weaved Christian themes into his books, and The Rings of Power is doing the same.)

When Galadriel and Theo reunite with the other survivors, Theo gives a tearful hug to both Bronwyn and, somewhat surprisingly, Arondir, making the three look more like a family than ever. Later, when Bronwyn talks about traveling to “an old Númenóran colony,” he’s practically effusive (or as effusive as an elf can be) when he calls it a “fresh start.” He’s not the only one making plans for what comes next. Míriel is angry, telling Galadriel, “Do not spend your pity on me, elf. Save it for our enemies.” She might be heading back to Númenor now, but she’ll be back. And, Galadriel replies, “the elves will be ready.” For Galadriel at least, step one of getting ready means traveling to Lindon with an injured Halbrand, who’s been absent for most of the episode.

Also largely absent until the dramatic final moments: Adar, who, we see in the last minutes of “The Eye,” is still in command of his forces and determined to seize control of whatever he can from his base in the newly scorched Southlands. Only, a superimposed title tells us, we shouldn’t call this the Southlands anymore. We should call it Mordor.

• Okay, that moment is a little cheesy. The Rings of Power hasn’t had much use for titles establishing scene locations for a while, which makes it a bit jolting to see it now. But it still works.

• “Trees don’t talk.” But Sadoc knows otherwise, or at least he has heard about talking trees. Could Ents be on the horizon, or is this just a little nod?

• Several characters are filled with regret in this episode. Theo regrets his role in the catastrophe. Nori regrets helping the Stranger. Elendil regrets saving Galadriel and bringing all this trouble to his people. Is it significant that the first two receive reassurances that they did the right thing but Elendil does not?

• As with Isildur, we know Celeborn is not dead, because he appears in The Lord of the Rings. But where is he?

The Rings of Power Recap: Misty Mountain Hopelessness

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Photo Credit: Pixabay


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