The Board Continues To Be Set – Review of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Episode 4 “The Great Wave”

The 4th episode of Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, titled “The Great Wave”, is not what I would consider a great episode of television. It’s a good episode, in so much as it moves some of the plots forward, but at the halfway point of the season, I was expecting more than the obvious reveals that we received in this episode. While there are some truly stunning visuals, “The Great Wave” is still part of the table setting portion of the story for this first season.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the 4th episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

The opening of “The Great Wave” is by far one of the more stunning scenes shown up to this point in the series. As Queen Regent Míriel proceeds with a blessing ceremony for newborn Númenóreans, she hears a great rumbling and feels the palace shake. First it is a small rumble but then the shaking becomes more and more pronounced. Finally, she walks toward the balcony of the palace that overlooks the central capital only to witness a massive wave crash over the mountains in the distance and consume the city, as well as the entire island. We soon see Míriel wake up and the implication is clear that this is a recurring nightmare for her.

The scene depicts one of the key moments in the history of Middle-Earth’s Second Age: The Fall of Númenor. The fact that the showrunners and writers are pulling this card out this early in the story indicates that they are speeding up the timeline of the series significantly, while also giving Míriel a justifiable reason to want Galadriel off the island. We learn over the course of the episode that the King is bed-ridden and nearly non-verbal, a fact which Míriel tries to keep hidden from the populace for fear that it will destabilize the kingdom. The one bright spot of this episode, for me at least, was watching Morfydd Clark and Cynthia Addai-Robinson play off each other. Both characters are fierce women who are used to be listened to and obeyed with very little questioning, so it’s only natural that they bump heads repeatedly. In the end, though, the two are able to set aside their differences and form a plan of action to return to the Southlands in force and stop Sauron from taking over the area to set up his own fiefdom. The fact that they will eventually fail in this endeavor (the creation of Mordor is necessary for the rest of the story after all) doesn’t diminish the moment in the slightest for me.

Sadly, the rest of the Númenor plotlines doesn’t really do much for me. Pharazôn is interesting to watch but he’s given so little to do that it feels more than a little pointless. The same can be said for Isildur and his family’s plotlines. I find the wishy-washy nature of Isildur to be more than a little annoying at this stage but my hope is that the character will eventually grow out of it to become the tragic hero we know from the stories. The fact that Míriel is leaving to accompany Galadriel to Middle-Earth means that Pharazôn is going to be left in charge, which for anyone that knows the story of Númenor knows that this means bad news.

Meanwhile, in the Southlands, we finally get some movement in the stories involving the humans and Elves of that region. The introduction of Adar was teased at the end of the last episode and I’m glad the writers decided against prolonging that reveal but the final result felt just undercooked for me. Adar is a corrupted Elf, portrayed by Joseph Mawle. The makeup work on him makes Adar quite unsettling to look at but Mawle’s performance leaves much to be desired. I get the feeling Mawle was trying to channel something along the lines of Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now but it fell flat for me. Adar is clearly being positioned as the big bad for the Southlands story arc, with the character even alluding to the man who fell from the sky (the Stranger from the Harfoots plotline) as a signal that Sauron is preparing for his return. Most likely, Sauron will not make an appearance until the end of the season, if not the beginning of the second season at this rate.

The storyline that I felt the most engaged by was Elrond and Durin the IV in Khazad-dûm. Sophia Nomvete, Robert Aramayo, and Owain Arthur have such easy chemistry together that I’m able to overlook the obvious reveal that mithril (the famed metal that appears in The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the form of Frodo’s chainmail shirt) didn’t dissuade me from enjoying their segments. It’s clear that Disa, Elrond, and Durin care for each other greatly but there is still a significant amount of mistrust between them, particularly from Durin and his father regarding the plans of Celebrimbor. The part at the end where Elrond recounts how he first encountered Durin the IV, including the blustering of Durin as he tries to make himself look better during the telling, had me laughing quite a lot.

The biggest letdown for me so far with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the glacial pacing of the show. Compared to The Wheel of Time’s first season, we were well on our way to setting up the climax of the season four episodes in. The Rings of Power is still setting the table at this point, which leads me to believe the final two, perhaps three, episodes are where things will really begin to heat up. That’s a tall ask for an audience to stomach when there are only 8 episodes in the season. Introducing noteworthy characters is one thing and I’m all for setting up what is needed to move the story forward but there are times where it feels like the story is standing still or just hobbling forward. Hopefully this picks up in the next two episodes before we reach the finish line.

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