Deep in the Sundering Seas, a ship sails toward peace and freedom. All onboard are merry, as they know what bountiful future awaits them, save for one soul. Galadriel, a young Elven warrior, is not content. She looks around with concern and restlessness as her companions begin to sing a holy song in unison. Her brethren embrace what they understand to be a blessing, yet Galadriel is unable to wrap her mind around the same joy. The boat rolls onward, but her true journey lies somewhere behind it. This scenario, which plays out near the end of The Rings of Power‘s first episode, is how many may have felt when The Lord of the Rings films first premiered two decades ago.
Universally loved by fans and critics alike, it quickly became heresy to suggest the original live-action trilogy wasn’t for everyone. While all manner of brethren sang it’s praises like a holy verse, some simply couldn’t bring themselves to join in. Their journey lay elsewhere, in the gutters of other fantasy deemed “less-than” by those who could more naturally comprehend the great works of J.R.R. Tolkien. To be fair, these high-ground thoughts were never entirely misplaced. Peter Jackson‘s movies are indeed a generational achievement, and the novels they’re based on are undoubtedly a cornerstone to which all subsequent entries of the genre owe their existence. Nevertheless, The Lord of the Rings was never an easy story for the average viewer to sink their teeth into.
Filled with intense exposition and expansive world-building, it could often feel like there was homework required to fully appreciate the cinematic experience. Beautiful, awe-inspiring filmmaking, for sure, but also perhaps too much for some to take in at once. On the other hand, Jackson‘s Hobbit prequels were derided for leaning too far in the other direction. Too much explosive action, not enough thoughtful commentary. The Rings of Power, a new prequel series from Amazon set a full Age before the events of Tolkien‘s seminal masterpiece, feels special for at least one major reason – it works in a way where viewers are granted both pace and spectacle. The series’ pilot and its follow-up, each directed by J.A. Bayona, are chock full of the gorgeous visuals and thrilling set pieces one has come to expect from adventures set on Middle-earth, but pull them off while maintaining the intellectual integrity of the franchise.
Anyone who might have been worried about the show not living up to the iconic aesthetic of the films can rest well knowing this is not the case. It’s very clear that The Rings of Power is the most expensive television series ever created. From the very beginning, it looks absolutely unreal. This is the same Middle-earth fans have spent years obsessing over, only it feels quite a bit younger. Not only are several of the protagonists in the ensemble cast literally younger versions of established Tolkien characters, like Morfydd Clark‘s aforementioned Galadriel or Robert Aramayo‘s gleaming Elrond, but much of the landscape gives off the essence of a used car restored to its former glory. The grime of Sauron has yet to truly taint the world, even if his dark presence is ever looming.
As a result, the premiere episodes exude a fairly fresh aura to potential new fans of the franchise. This is not a project anyone has to rewatch older films to enjoy. It’s amicable for those who have loved what’s come before and welcoming to those who’d finally like to try giving Middle-earth a shot. There is some of that familiar exposition, yes, but the show’s episodic format allows for it to be delivered in smaller, separate doses as opposed to all-at-once. Interspersed between are countless moments of shock and amazement that will leave audiences pondering on how a television series could pull all of it off. There are grand scenes of war, charming competitions of friendship, slaughtering at the hands of a lumbering troll, and a horrific game of hide-and-seek played with a skull-fit orc.
It’s impressive how effortlessly The Rings of Power shifts between these many masks in its attempt to weave an epic tale. The characters, too, are plenty of fun to spend time with. New light is shed on well-known names, enough to make them – possibly – even more likable, and enthralling introductions are made for the latest faces to join the universe. Viewers are reminded exactly why they fell for the varying species of Middle-earth, especially the Hobbits and the Dwarves. Any time spent with Harfoots (Harfeet?) or the cave-dwelling Khazâd is an automatic highlight of the episode.
Best of all, the premiere episodes leave fans with more questions than they do answers. Without spoiling anything, there’s much to dissect in the coming season. Despite a runtime of over two hours and a lot to establish, A Shadow of the Past and Adrift do a fantastic job of keeping the audience entertained and engaged while setting up plotlines that will last for a long time to come. With an agreeable approach and a stunning coat of paint, The Rings of Power might just be the first Lord of the Rings entry that everyone can fall in love with.