Chains come in many forms, physical, emotional, or spiritual. The famous phrase “the chains of command” are meant as metaphorical, emphasizing the weight someone who must command others carries with them. In the third episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, titled “Adar”, metaphorical and physical chains are being forged, binding the disparate threads of the story together into a somewhat cohesive whole.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the latest episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Picking up where the second episode ended, Halbrand and Galadriel are taken to the island kingdom of Númenor. Númenor is one of the essential parts of the Second Age story in Middle-Earth, since it lays the foundation for what will come in The Lord of the Rings. Risen from the sea by the Valar, the island of Númenor is home to the Dúnedain, a race of Men who took up arms alongside the Elves in the War of Wrath against the first Dark Lord, Morgoth. As reward for that service, the Númenóreans were granted the island kingdom and enjoyed several millennia of trade with the Elves, as Galadriel states during the episode. The Númenor we find at this point in the series is at the height of its power, a thriving kingdom and a naval power unlike any in the world. But as Galadriel also points out, the Númenóreans have become an isolationist kingdom, preferring to cut off contact with the Elves of Middle-Earth.
We are introduced to several major characters in this episode. Most prominent among them is Elendil, one of the sea captains of Númenor, and the man will one day travel to Middle-Earth and establish the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor. We are also introduced to Queen Regent Tar-Míriel and her chief advisor Pharazôn, who do not welcome the presence of an Elf in their midst with warmth. It doesn’t help that Galadriel is as prickly as ever. Only the timely intervention of Halbrand, who reveals quite the silvery tongue, manages to diffuse the situation, allowing Galadriel and Halbrand to stay on the island as “guests” (rather like prisoners without bars).
As punishment for helping Galadriel and bringing her to Númenor, Tar-Míriel promotes Elendil to a new post and charges him with looking after Galadriel. It’s here we see that Elendil’s family and home city are considered loyalists to the old ways of Númenor, even so far as Elendil knowing Quenya, the language of the Elves. In the Hall of Lore that his family has kept for generations, Galadriel makes a discovery that I had seen coming since the first episode: the Southlands are being targeted by Sauron and the Orcs in preparation of creating the realm that will become known as Mordor. I can’t say I was much surprised by this revelation, given the location of the Southlands on the map overlay shown during the episodes.
After Halbrand is arrested and jailed for fighting a group of Númenóreans, he is visited by Galadriel, who found something else of interest in the Hall of Lore. The symbol on the cloth bag Halbrand wears around his neck marks him as the last descendant of the royal line that united the Southlands, who also swore an oath of loyalty to Morgoth (hence the reason Arondir and the Elves have been occupying that region for generations). Even with this information, Galadriel seeks to bring Halbrand along with her when she returns to Middle-Earth. I can’t say I’m surprised by this revelation either. The truth that Halbrand is a lost heir of a kingdom fits in with the show touching on some of the story tropes found within the tales Tolkien created. In this case, it feels like a reverse of the Aragorn plotline used in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, with Halbrand running away from a potentially dire birthright. Galadriel and Halbrand both are chained together by destiny and their unwillingness to let go of the past, keeping them from moving forward into who they could both potentially become.
We also get some time to meet Elendil’s children, Isildur and Eärien (who was created for the series and does not exist within canon). Eärien appears to be a level-headed daughter and an aspiring architect, based on her discussion with Elendil about joining the Builder’s Guild as an apprentice. Isildur is the sullen youngest child, bucking against the proscribed fate of joining the Sea Guard (the royal navy of Númenor) and following in his father’s footsteps. There are some breadcrumbs laid out in the conversation between father and son that indicate Elendil wishes to pursue the same quest as his brother Anárion but no details are given. Isildur and his father Elendil are both bound by their duty, the first to his family and the second to his kingdom. The chains of these responsibilities weigh on each of them heavily.
Back in Middle-Earth, the story arcs of the Harfoots and the Southlands are moved forward, if only incrementally. The Harfoots story finds the Stranger wandering into camp after Nori manages to get him some of the star charts carried by the clan’s leader Sadoc Burrows. While I’m still not certain of the Stranger’s identity at this point, the Harfoots continue to intrigue me as a group. We get to see the collected families celebrate the arrival of a migration, where their caravan will move on to a new area. We also get to see how they commiserate over those who have been lost in past migrations, by stating they are waiting for their arrival. The idea that anyone who is falls behind is left behind strikes me as both callous and necessary (which is never a good combination). On the one hand, I can understand the group’s desire to keep themselves safe, given that due to their diminutive size and relative lack of technology, they are easy pickings for the “giants” and other foul things that exist in the world. On the other hand, it is cruel (particularly when we learn that Nori’s friend Poppy lost her entire family in one of the previous migrations). The fact that the families are willing to leave behind friends, potentially even other family relations, behind for the good of the group is born from practical selfishness. I can see why Nori chafes under the weight of her obligations to the group (harkening back to the metaphorical chains I mentioned above). It was heartwarming, though, to see the Stranger offer to help with the Brandyfoot’s cart when it was decreed they would bring up the rear of the caravan. With the injury to Largo’s foot, it was almost assured that they would be left behind by the others, so seeing the Stranger help out was a nice change of pace in an otherwise dour episode.
Which brings me to the Southlands story, where we move from metaphorical chains to physical ones. The Orcs are digging massive tunnels in the Southlands, using large tarps to cover themselves from the light of the sun (which burns them as surely as it would a vampire in other mythologies). Arondir finds himself chained and ordered to dig, clearing the way for further expansion of the tunnels, including clearing away trees that block the path. We also learn that humans and Elves are also enslaved, including the Watchwarden from the first episode. The Orcs follow the command of Adar, who briefly see out of focus at the end of the episode.
The reveal that the Southlands story arc will eventually lead to the formation of Mordor was pretty much called by most people, myself included, by the end of the second episode. I will say that Arondir is growing on me, particularly after seeing how much he tried to assist the others during their escape attempt. The massacre of the slaves was brutal to watch, particularly once the warg was released. If there was any doubt that this series would plum the depths of just how dark Tolkien’s Middle-Earth could be, this story arc is showing that in detail. Whether it amounts to much or not is a different story. I feel that Arondir has a certain amount of plot armor at the moment, since he is our main point-of-view character for this arc, so his situation doesn’t feel as tense as it could in other circumstances.
Coming on the heels of the premiere, the third episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is starting to hit its groove, even if it does feel a bit janky in parts. At nearly the halfway point of the first season, we still have not gotten into the real crux of the dilemma that will bring the season into focus. If nothing else, that is my main criticism of the show up to this point. With so many disparate threads dangling, I fear that the writers and showrunners may not be able to tie them all together in a satisfactory way. But for now, I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt and continue on the journey.
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