All is not well in Númenor, dear reader. Queen Regent Míriel is plagued by dreams (or are they prophecies?) of the island’s destruction via “The Great Wave” that gives this episode its title, and rabble-rousers are gathering in the town square to accuse her of being an “elf-lover” — a serious charge indeed. Her waking hours are no less stressful, as Galadriel is putting that theory to the test by once again bothering Míriel about Sauron. She also takes it upon herself to reveal that Halbrand may in fact be the exiled heir to the Southlands’ throne, a theory Míriel neither believes nor cares about; what concern is it of hers whether a far-away would-be kingdom is without its rightful king?
Self-interested kingdoms wishing to keep to themselves rather than join an uneasy alliance for the greater good are nothing new in Middle-earth. We may never find out where Gondor was when the Westfold fell, but we’ll always remember Haldir showing up at Helm’s Deep with 500 elves to fight alongside men once more. For all its complex lore and history, J. R. R. Tolkien’s fictional world is ultimately quite simple at its moral core: good versus evil, with the former triumphing in the end. There’s loss and tragedy along the way, to be sure, but good people always do the right thing when it counts — which is to say, it’s hard to see Númenor clinging to isolationism for long.
“The Rings of Power” at times feels like a Galadriel origin story, as the elf’s stubborn impulsiveness is a far cry from the assured, practically all-seeing version of the character played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. That hardheadedness gets her in trouble when, seeing that she’s getting nowhere with the Queen Regent, she demands an audience with Númenor’s true king: none other than Míriel’s aged, ailing father. Her insubordination gets her briefly locked up, not that a few prison bars can keep Galadriel at bay, and after sneaking her way into the monarch’s chambers and seeing the truth for herself the tension between these two strong women begins to ease.
Following the cliffhanger that ended last week’s “Adar,” we finally get our first real look at, well, Adar (Joseph Mawle) — and, much to our and Arondir’s surprise, he’s an elf! Well, kind of. Far from the ethereal, high-cheekboned creatures we’re used to, he looks half-dead the same way Coldhands did on “Game of Thrones” and would appear to know much that Arondir does not; as for his name, it turns out that “Adar” means father. Orcs are said to have been made from corrupted elves, and with Adar’s appearance it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to suggest that he’s a kind of proto-orc who commands the rest of them by virtue of some retained intelligence.
Adar also means trouble for Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin), son of Arondir’s star-crossed lover Bronwyn, who in episode 2 was seen picking up the hilt of a mystical sword that sure seems to have formerly belonged to Sauron. He, his mother and the rest of their people have been driven from their village into a Helm’s Deep–like fortress, and Arondir is only freed from captivity after agreeing to deliver them a message from Adar: that they can remain in their homes if they swear fealty to him. If they don’t, well…
Normal people finding strange, powerful objects in the wild rarely works out well in the end — just ask Sméagol. Theo has a target on his back the moment he comes across that sword, not that he realizes it, and it isn’t long before some orcses try to take it back from him. This leads to one of the show’s most visually arresting moments yet: Arondir arriving just in time to save the boy from a volley of slow-motion arrows, one of which he plucks out of the air and fires back at them in a moment that would have made Legolas proud; it resembles nothing so much as the climactic battle at Amon Hen that ended “The Fellowship of the Ring,” only without the infinite sadness of a conflicted yet ultimately heroic character’s death. Viewers are surely getting impatient for “The Rings of Power” to deliver more sequences like this, but spacing them out in the first few episodes has made each one feel more impactful.
As for the show’s subterranean narrative thread, Elrond can’t help but notice that, after agreeing to help with his and Celebrimbor’s top-secret mission, his old pal Durin is nowhere to be found. After failing to get the truth from Disa, the dwarf prince’s doting wife, he does some light snooping and finds Durin in an even deeper mine. There, the heir of Moria reveals what he and his compatriots have come upon: a new precious ore that catches the light in a mesmerizing way and could mark “a new era” for the dwarves. In Elvish, said ore would be known as mithril — the same material that saves Frodo’s life in “Fellowship.” (that scene also took place in Moria, for those of you keeping track at home.)
These scenes continue to be a highlight of “The Rings of Power,” and it’s surely no coincidence that Elrond and Durin’s buddy-comedy dynamic brings to mind that of Legolas and Gimli. Even so, the dwarf can’t help thinking that there’s more to this mission of Elrond’s than he’s letting on, and after saving four of his fellow miners from a nearly lethal cave-in he’s advised by his father, King Durin III, to keep a watchful eye on his dear friend.
That’s solid advice for everyone in this show, not to mention those of us watching.
“The Rings of Power” is in no great rush to reveal its secrets, instead taking a cue from Gandalf and arriving precisely when it means to; few fictional worlds have put as much emphasis on the journey as they do on the destination, however, and so this remains a leisurely stroll through Middle-earth and beyond punctuated by occasional reminders of its epic scope rather than the other way around. It’s unlikely to stay that way for too long, of course. You don’t spend $1 billion making a “Lord of the Rings” series without planning more than a few set-pieces on the scale of Helm’s Deep, and once the fan favorites start dropping in battle we’re likely to look back on the relative peace of these early episodes with even more fondness than we have for them now.