The very first episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is finally here, giving LOTR fans a chance to travel back to a Middle-earth that’s all at once familiar, and totally new. The premiere serves up everything from the sweeping, cinematic shots perfected in the movies to bold new elven hairstyles.
If you want to read a spoiler-free review: Fly, you fools! If not, let’s dig in to a full recap of episode 1.
What, you thought this show wasn’t going to have a prologue? We open in a field in Valinor. Galadriel says in voice-over, “Nothing is evil in the beginning.” A gaggle of child elves plays in a field. One of them is Galadriel herself, who’s already clearly too good for the riffraff she’s hanging out with. She makes a little boat and sets it sailing in a creek. It unfolds into an origami swan situation. The other elf kids taunt her and throw rocks at it until it sinks. Because you know who’s evil in the beginning? Children.
Post-boat attack, her older brother consoles her. They have a conversation about rocks and boats and how to know which light to follow. He tells her he’s not going to be around forever — FORESHADOWING — and she’s like, excuse me? That’s kind of the whole deal with elves. As he walks off, we see a gorgeous wide shot of Valinor.
It doesn’t last long, though. Galadriel explains that the first dark lord, Morgoth, pulled some real shit and destroyed their two trees, Telperion and Laurelin, which were light sources in Valinor. He also stole three stones containing their light, called the Silmarils. If you’ve read The Silmarillion, this is a major party foul. For the purposes of this show, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to need to know a ton about Morgoth, but I’ll quickly explain him like this: He’s one of the Valar (a set of angelic-ish beings — think of him like Lucifer/ the fallen angel in the Bible). But really, Morgoth is that kid in preschool who knocks over everyone else’s block tower. A real pip, if you ask me.
The elves can’t abide this nonsense, so an army, including Galadriel’s brother, leaves Valinor. We see a legion of boats traveling across the Sundering Sea to Middle-earth. Dragons! Hand-to-hand combat! Elves fighting orcs in the rain! Galadriel tells us the war left Middle-earth in ruins and lasted centuries. On the battlefield, she picks up a helmet and puts it on a pile so large, I question its structural integrity.
Despite the losses, they defeat Morgoth. It’s never that easy, though, is it? Sauron is standing by to fill the power vacuum.
Unfortunately, Galadriel’s brother dies. Sauron rudely carves a sigil into his skin, and Galadriel takes up not only his dagger but his mission to wipe out evil from Middle-earth.
Sweeping shot over snowy mountains. Is that a pack of penguins? No! It’s elves with a vendetta! The hunt for Sauron is unsuccessful. Centuries pass. The elves are kind of over the whole thing. Except Galadriel.
We catch up with her and a small command of elves climbing their way up the icy face of a mountain up north in Forodwaith, The Northernmost Waste. (Are those elf crampons?) At the top, an elf who I’ll refer to as Insubordinate Elf, tells Galadriel, You know what would be supercool? If we just forgot about this whole thing. I am paraphrasing.
Galadriel nopes that idea, and later, in the midst of a raging snowstorm, they wander right into Sauron’s stronghold. Inside: Too much obsidian. (Is it obsidian? I don’t know. I am not a geologist.) They make their way into an inner chamber and find an orc corpse welded into a wall.
“What the devilry is this?” asks Insubordinate Elf as if he’s me when my cat pees outside the box. They find another sigil, but he’s still trying to make it home for dinner and just would rather not.
Then: A snow troll appears and attacks. Galadriel uses a sword as a ramp and does some aerodynamic badassery and takes care of it herself. She wants to press forward, but the rest of the elves mutiny despite the fact she just saved them. Insubordinate Elf keeps running his mouth. The struggles of #WomenintheWorkplace, am I right?
Putting your best Harfoots forward
RHOVANION — The magical map of Middle-earth takes us to Rhovanion, where we find Harfoots hiding from a couple of wandering humans. (What’s a Harfoot? Read about them here.) The dudes pass and Harfoots start popping up from all kinds of hiding places to reveal a bustling camp. Harfoot kids, led by one named Nori, are busy raiding berries from an old farm, but they have to split when a wolf turns up. Merry and Pippin would approve.
Back at camp, Nori’s mom is a little peeved at her mischief. Nori starts wondering about life beyond — it’s big Little Mermaid / Part of Your World vibes. Her mom looks tired.
Meanwhile, Sadoc, who appears to be the elder Harfoot of the crew, seems to think something is off, cosmically speaking. Nori pops up looking for intel and he tells her to mind her own cartwheels.
At some point later, some big fiery thing goes streaking through the sky and crashes not far from camp. Nori goes to investigate the smoking crater.
Oh good. It’s an old man in a loincloth.
LINDON — Elrond is up a tree having a poetic moment with his journal when he finds out Galadriel has returned. They reunite, there’s some cheek-stroking and some elvish, and she gets him up to speed on the whole sigil deal. Galadriel wants to ask the High King Gil-galad for a new command so she can take off again, but Elrond is all cool your jets, sister. Again, paraphrasing. If anything, she stayed out too long and the High King is being gracious in not being mad at her for not coming back sooner.
Later, the High King holds a ceremony for Galdriel’s company. He spins her findings as proof that the threat is past and Sauron is no longer a problem. (Just wait until this guy watches the original trilogy.)
“Today, our days of peace begin,” he elf-splains. Moreover, he awards the crew the opportunity to return to Valinor. Which is technically a good thing, but Galadriel is like thanks, I hate it.
After the ceremony, she skirmishes with Elrond.
“Evil does not sleep, it waits,” she says. He basically tells her not to worry about it and go to Valinor because there’s not a single male elf she can count on, apparently.
Next, we see Galadriel and company standing in their armor on the deck of a ship heading to Valinor. The elves can build cities, but apparently not benches. As they near Valinor, giant clouds open up, light pours through and everyone on board starts singing, except Galadriel, who looks around as if she’s about to pull a Jim Halpert face at the camera. The other elves are entranced as they get closer to the light. She looks down at her brother’s dagger. She starts backing up from the light like it’s a coworker with coffee breath, and Insubordinate Elf tries one last time to pressure her into doing what she knows is the wrong thing. The scene is very Joe Gardner in Pixar’s Soul trying to escape the conveyor belt to the great beyond.
Before we know it, Galadriel flipping jumps overboard.
Back at Lindon, Elrond chats with the High King, whose sideburns seem to have taken the house, the kids, the dog and run off from his ears. He introduces Elrond to Celebrimbor, a renowned elven smith who looks like a lost Sheen brother.
Later, a singular orange leaf falls in front of the High King. When he picks it up, its veins fill with black crap. It feels inauspicious.
All along the watchtower
SOUTHLANDS — We come upon a rural village of men, called Tirharad. A couple of elves turn up and one walks into the local pub, where the guy who I assume is the proprietor of the establishment, is butchering an animal, shirtless. Health code violations. They are numerous.
The elf, Arondir, chats with him about some weird happenings — grass out east that’s been making animals sick. A local hoodlum gets Arondir into an altercation and basically what you need to know is that this town of men, generations back, sided with Morgoth and has been occupied by elves ever since.
Out back by the well, Arondir chats up a human woman named Bronwyn who flirts with him via a vial of flower seeds. Later, his elf buddy warns him of the perils of a “pairing between elves and humans.” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Lord of the Rings: After Dark.
In any case, they later get word that the war is over and soon they’ll get to go home. Arondir has been at the watchtower by the town for 79 years. He goes to Bronwyn’s house, where they stand at a COVID-safe distance and she says, “Say what you wish to say.”
This saucy moment is interrupted by a local farmer with a sick cow. For clarification, Bronwyn is a healer. This guy isn’t just parading his cow around for shiggles. The cow had been grazing out east, and when Arondir milks it, it definitively answers the question: “Got milk?” with a viscous black sludge. Expect a letter from lawyers at the Dairy Council, Amazon.
Elsewhere, Bronwyn’s son Theo is lurking around a barn with a friend and finds a broken sword hilt under some floorboards. It’s marked with Sauron’s sigil and starts flaming.
Post cow sludge, Arondir and Bronwyn head east to investigate. They go toward the town where she grew up, and he makes a comment about those folks being descended from Morgoth supporters. Kind of rude. But his spicy moment continues. “You’re the only kind touch I’ve known in all my days in this land.”
Yikes. Things are sure heating up. But it’s not the romance between Arondir and Bronwyn. It’s the town. Because it is on fire.
Head here to read our recap of The Rings of Power episode 2.
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