The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power recap: We finally make it to Númenor

·8 min read

Welcome back to another week in Middle-earth! The premiere episodes last week introduced us to the Second Age, but as I noted then, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is being very patient with its rollout. So with our first post-premiere episode, we still have more new faces and new places to meet.

Specifically, we finally get to see Númenor! I guess I should have guessed that Galadriel's sea journey would eventually see her cross paths with the legendary island kingdom, but that's what I get for taking everything one step at a time. If you've been following along with EW's coverage of Rings of Power, you probably remember our first-look preview of the show's version of Númenor, and now we get to see it in the flesh. It's truly beautiful — we love giant stone heads, don't we folks?

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video Copyright: Amazon Studios Filename: RPAZ_S1_FG_01065619_Still1531_R1_thumb.JPG
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video Copyright: Amazon Studios Filename: RPAZ_S1_FG_01065619_Still1531_R1_thumb.JPG

Amazon Studios Ships sail to the island kingdom of Númenor in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.'

If you're familiar with the history of Númenor from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, whether it be the indices of Return of the King or the Akallabêth from The Silmarillion, then you're used to seeing it as one grand sweep over centuries. But Rings of Power is bringing us to Númenor at a very specific time in its history. Miriel (Cynthia Addai Robinson) rules, but it's a precarious situation; she's only "Queen Regent," not queen in her own right. She listens to the advice of Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle) and even more to the political climate of Númenor, which is clearly rather anti-elf at this point.

As Galadriel notes, this is a marked change from Númenor's origins. While the people of the Southlands, like Halbrand, are descended from the humans who sided with Morgoth in the ancient wars, the Númenoreans are descended from humans who sided with the Valar and the elves. Not only that: Their first king was Elros, Elrond's twin brother who chose to live as a human instead of an elf. It's remarkable that the episode that introduces us to Númenor is also the first episode without any appearance from Elrond; I hope their storylines converge soon, because I'm just dying to know what Elrond makes of his brother's descendants at this point.

The anti-elf sentiment does not pertain to every citizen of Númenor, thankfully. The ship captain who saved Galadriel and Halbrand is none other than Elendil (Lloyd Owen), a familiar name from Lord of the Rings lore. One day, he will be the great king who leads an army of men into battle against Sauron alongside Gil-galad's elves; for now, he is a humble sea captain whose name (meaning "elf friend") raises eyebrows in court. But he's happy to give Galadriel helpful advice to navigate this treacherous atmosphere.

He's also a family man! We know Elendil has a son, Isildur (Maxim Baldry), who will one day be just as famous. For now, he's a headstrong sailor. Isildur also has a sister, Eärien (Ema Horvath), who is an original creation for Rings of Power. We don't get a ton of time with her this episode, but enough to learn she's an aspiring architect and that she loves riding horses — a hobby she apparently shares with Galadriel.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Ben Rothstein / Prime Video Leon Wadham as Kemen, Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Míriel, Trystan Gravelle as Pharazôn, Lloyd Owen as Elendil, Ema Horvath as Eärien, and Maxim Baldry as Isildur in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power'

But however frustrated Galadriel may be with the rulers of Númenor, she certainly has a better time of things this episode than our other main elf character, Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdoba). We last saw him getting pulled into the darkness by mysterious arms, and now we see where he was taken: A chain gang, where elves like him are forced by orcs into doing manual labor to continue constructing a series of tunnels that allows the orcs to move during the day without being exposed to their enemy, the sun.

These elves thought they were in control of things down south, but it turns out the orcs have been making all kinds of plans under their nose. Now they have to do their bidding, and it leads to perhaps my favorite sequence of the episode. When the elves protest that a tree is in the way of their task, the orcs command them to cut it down. The elves argue: This tree has been there a lot longer than any of them, so it has earned the right to stand where it is. The orc commander acts like he respects this argument, and offers the elves a drink of water. But once their guard is down, he cuts one of their necks — and it's always sad to see an elf die, knowing that they could have lived thousands of years otherwise. In order to protect himself and his other comrade, Arondir takes it upon himself to cut the tree down.

This is a particularly sad moment, since we know from The Lord of the Rings that orcs will eventually cut down trees all over the place and kickstart a phase of horrible, environment-destroying industrialization. As awful as it is to see Arondir go against all his elf principles (remember, he used to be a "grower" before the war) and cut down the tree, it's even worse knowing that this fallen tree is just the first of many. Tolkien loved trees and green things that grow, so it's only right that an adaptation of his work would treat their destruction as tragic.

But then, things get worse! Arondir and his friends attempt a prison break, which at first seems to go well when the elves weaponize the orcs' vulnerability against the sun. But the orcs have some tricks up their sleeve, and unleash their warg. There's only one, which is honestly a little lackluster for those of us who regularly rewatch the warg riders scene from The Two Towers, but this monster's rabid energy still poses a threat — the close-up on its crazed eyes is particularly freaky.

Arondir is able to hold off the warg long enough for another elf to climb up out of the trench, and that's all they need — one to get away and bring reinforcements. But then this elf gets killed by arrows on the threshold of freedom, and Arondir gets pulled back down to Hell — his hands clutching the surface before falling backward reminded me of Gandalf's sacrifice in Moria, but if it was for nothing. The orcs consider executing Arondir for his rebellion, but instead deliver him to "Adar" — their mysterious leader who we don't even see in focus before the episode ends. Since his name graces the episode's title, he must be important, but it's too early to tell if this is Sauron or simply a charismatic orc. I would actually love to see some named orc characters with personality — even if they're all uniformly evil and bloodthirsty, it would be nice to get a sense of their culture. Perhaps it's worth noting here that "Adar" is an anagram of "Arda," the term for Earth in Tolkien's legendarium — or perhaps it means nothing!

Speaking of Gandalf (maybe), this episode also gives us a brief check-in with the harfoots and the Stranger. I love this glimpse into harfoot culture, and specifically their treatment of death, which is so key to Tolkien's work. As a nomadic people who can't maintain connections to specific areas or grave sites, the harfoots remember their lost ones through storytelling — a collective remembrance, equally funny and sad, of the ones who have been left behind. I thought it was touching, and reminded me of the communal spirit of hobbits.

As we know from Lord of the Rings, hobbits value home and hearth above all else, which is pretty far from the preferences of harfoots. Yet you can see how one will eventually become the other. And just like how we've previously seen the Stranger do Gandalf-esque things like talk to bugs and change the surrounding atmosphere, now we see his fixation on fire — and his subsequent discovery by the other harfoots. So far, their reaction is mostly focused on their anger at Nori, but I'm dying to know how the rest of them will interact with this tall man who may or may not be Gandalf. That's for next week, I suppose.

For now, I'm glad we finally made it to Númenor (and all its attendant political intrigue) and got some escalating action. I'm really feeling for Arondir — hopefully his imprisonment doesn't last too much longer! Grade: B+

For more on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, listen to EW's new podcast All Rings Consideredfeaturing in-depth episode breakdowns and exclusive interviews.

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