Lord of the Rings is back with a bang as episodes 1 and 2 of The Rings of Power reintroduce audiences to the fantastical world of Middle-Earth.
It’s been almost two decades since the epic conclusion to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and disregarding the somewhat lacklustre Hobbit films, the magical world of Middle-Earth hasn’t been seen on screen since. This fact alone was enough to make The Rings of Power one of the most highly-anticipated shows of the year, but when paired with rumors of its one billion dollar budget, the show has quickly become one of the hottest talking points amongst audiences. Speculation about the project’s plot, characters and locations has been non-stop ever since it was announced over two years ago – but there’s also been an air of apprehension surrounding the series, with Tolkien fans reluctant to set their expectations too high after the last venture into Middle-Earth was met with so much criticism. So, the main question on everybody’s mind going into The Rings of Power was an incredibly simple one – is it worth it?
And the answer, at least after episodes 1 and 2, is a thankful but hesitant yes. From the very first episode, The Rings of Power endeavors to prove that, whilst this isn’t Lord of the Rings as fans know and love, the heart and soul of the franchise is still there. It boasts the same poetic storytelling, epic filmmaking and atmospheric locations that made the original trilogy so beloved, whilst also introducing a huge cast of eccentric characters and storylines that lay the groundwork for the remaining six episodes of the season.
The first episode in particular, ‘A Shadow of the Past’, is tailor-made for returning fans. The first half hour is essentially just a deep dive into Middle-Earth’s rich history, but the show manages to keep things interesting with a series of intense battle sequences, touching character moments and sweeping locations that bring Tolkien’s world to life in a way that it hasn’t been seen before. From there, the episode begins to lay the foundations for the show’s many different subplots, taking its time to introduce the characters and allow the audience to fully immerse themselves in this world. The actual progression of the story is very slow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – instead of rushing through the narrative, the show is clearly spending time with the characters and ensuring that the audience can truly connect with them before the real action starts.
The second episode, ‘Adrift’, closer resembles a normal episode of television. Now that the exposition and worldbuilding are firmly underway, the show opts to divide its time fairly equally between the multiple subplots, spending more time with the characters as they progress slowly through their respective storyline. But where The Rings of Power differs from most other shows is in the sheer volume of narratives that are unfolding at the same time. Each character is going through something completely independent, and all of these journeys are mostly unconnected – there’s revenge, mystery, rivalry, family, royalty and romance all unfolding simultaneously despite very little connection between them. It’s clear that these stories will all likely converge in the future, but by the end of ‘Adrift’, the show’s main problem is that after two hours of grand-scale storytelling, very little has actually happened because it keeps switching perspectives to accommodate all these characters. Until there’s a clear connection between these separate narratives, it won’t be easy for audiences to truly click with any of the characters individually.
But none of this takes away from what is undeniably the show’s strongest aspect so far – the visuals. From the very first shot, it’s immediately clear where the majority of that $1 billion budget went – and you’ll find no complaints here. Every single frame is expertly crafted, and there isn’t a single scene that feels weaker than the rest. Whether it’s indoors or outside, on the seas or underground, there’s an overwhelming attention to detail that genuinely gives each moment the impression of being hand-painted by a master artist. Paired with generous production design and a stirring score that will heavily remind fans of Peter Jackson’s films, the technical craft behind The Rings of Power is absolutely flawless, and will undoubtedly keep audiences invested despite the slow pace and multiple storylines.
There are still six episodes remaining, but it’s already clear that The Rings of Power is shaping up to be something really special. It might be a little harder to get on board if you’re completely unfamiliar with Lord of the Rings, but the show does a good job of introducing everything you need to know in the first episode. From there, it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the ride with its gorgeous landscapes and astute storytelling. The second episode is admittedly weaker than the first, but once the show’s storylines begin to converge and the overall narrative becomes clearer, things will hopefully speed up and continue in the way that the first episode proved was possible.
Episodes 1 & 2 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power are now available to watch on Prime Video.