Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 3
Amazon Prime, 2022
Reviewed by Steven Poore
One of the best things that the previous episode of this new series did was to introduce us anew to the under-earth realms of Tolkien’s Dwarves. Previously we had encountered them only as multi-levelled, poorly-lit dungeons populated by hungry Orcs and Mephistophelian remnants of Sauron’s power, or as the golden-floored lair of the great Dragon Smaug. But all of that came at the end of the Third Age, and the showrunners here gave us a glimpse of the Second Age in all its pomp and prime. Now, cannily, the story casts the Dwarves aside and leaves us wanting more, and instead shows us another of the wonders of Middle Earth – Numenor, the high civilisation of Men.
Brought to Numenor after spending much of the last episode adrift on a makeshift raft, Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel begins to find a focus for her anger and desire to beat Sauron. Clark isn’t afraid to stand tall against the Numenorians and you can see her pitching ahead to the far older, wearier Third Age Galadriel. Numenor itself is an impressive combination of glorious CGI and practical sets, the switching between them more seamless than in last year’s Wheel of Time. Constructed on hillsides so that it combines elements of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rio de Janeiro (especially with the great statues overlooking the city), the Numenorians seem understandably prideful and arrogant in their disdain for the alliances of the past. You can almost see the pride before the fall, however…
Contrasted against Numenor, Charlie Vickers plays Halbrand (a Man of the Southlands who rescued Galadriel last episode) as an archetypical snake-in-the-grass rogue, but his character is sharper than he appears. He’s there primarily to spark against Galadriel, but the shadows he casts in this episode help to accentuate the contrast between Numenor and the apparently more treasonous Southlands kingdoms.
In those Southlands meanwhile, Elven sentry Arondir endures captivity amongst a force of Orcs that are using slave labour to construct what appears to be a network of trenches and tunnels from which to raid and devastate the land. The callbacks to Tolkien’s own past as a soldier in the first World War are obvious, the trenches covered, crowded and chaotic. Against the politicking of Numenor, this is a more direct fight for survival, with a couple of impressive combat sequences that take care to steer clear of Legolas-like freestyle elephant-riding.
And in the third narrative, concerning the almost Hobbits, the Harfoots, what started out as a cute and potentially too-twee pastoral vibe gains a much darker edge when the tribe begins its seasonal “migration” to fresher pastures. What we initially assumed was a strong community, pulling together for the benefit of all, turns out to have very little compunction in leaving behind those who can’t keep up with the pace that the caravan sets. And yet they ritually commemorate those unfortunates and joke nostalgically about them. Lenny Henry plays Sadoc as a man oblivious to the hypocrisy of his oratory, and it’s a damned good scene.
This is smart, subtle fantasy using Tolkien’s framework of mythology to make hard and heartfelt points as well as revisiting the glory of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. So far, it hasn’t put a (Har)foot wrong.