Last year, Amazon Studios released the highly anticipated fantasy series Rings of Power on its streaming platform Prime. Despite being the most expensive show ever made, many diehard Lord of the Rings fans felt the series failed to capture the magic of Tolkien’s legendarium and Peter Jackson’s early-aughts adaptations.
Some detractors posited genuine critiques of the show’s narrative, writing choices, and characterizations, but it soon became difficult to uncouple their good-faith arguments from the avalanche of racially-motivated jeers from the toxic subset of fans that often style themselves as “anti-SJWs.” These fans were incensed by the showrunners’ decision to populate the series’ cast with a diverse swath of non-white performers.
By the end of season one, the tumultuous discourse surrounding the show’s production and casting eclipsed discussions of the show itself. Unfortunately, it seems all but a foregone conclusion that season two will suffer from similar fan community issues.
But for our purposes in this piece, let’s try our best to place these unruly screeches from immature viewers on the pay-no-mind list and simply analyze the series’ text. Where did season one’s finale leave our primary protagonists? How does it differ from the source material? And what do Tolkien’s works tell us about where the show might head next? Let’s break it all down.
What happened in the finale?
Rings of Power may have suffered from a host of narrative issues in its initial episodes, but its barnstorming finale and the shocking revelations it so elegantly unfurled did plenty to make up for its somewhat sluggish start.
As Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) arrive in the Elvish stronghold Eregion to treat wounds Halbrand sustained in the Southlands orc skirmish, the legendary smith Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo) discuss ways to utilize the Dwarves’ mithril to counteract the coming darkness enshrouding the Elves of Middle Earth. Once Halbrand recovers, he slyly persuades Celebrimbor to use the mithril to create the Rings of Power.
As the forging commences, Galadriel becomes suspicious of her Southlander companion. In an epic confrontation, she learns Halbrand has been none other than the Dark Lord Sauron in disguise the entire time. The now unmasked Sauron flees Eregion for the foothills of Mount Doom in Mordor. In other parts of Middle Earth, we find out that the mysterious Stranger following the Harfoots is most likely Gandalf the Grey.
This reveal is a slight break from Tolkien’s canon, as Gandalf didn’t arrive in Middle Earth until early in the Third Age – or 2,000 years before the events of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some sticklers might take grievance with this departure from Tolkien’s source material, but as major Gandalf super-fans, you won’t catch us complaining.
How does Rings of Power diverge from the source material?
To accurately assess where Rings of Power might go in future seasons, we must first examine where it’s already departed from Tolkien’s published works. All indicators thus far seem to point toward the series’ concluding with the War of the Last Alliance. The War of the Last Alliance is what fans of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy will recognize as the battle sequence shown in the Galadriel-narrated prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring.
In this conflict, Elrond and Gil-Galad lead Middle Earth’s Elvish forces in concert with Elendil and Isuldur’s army of Men against Sauron and his orcs. Durin IV also commands a host of Dwarvish combatants to aid the Alliance. But as is so often the case in great fiction, the destination is rarely as important as the journey required to arrive there. There are still plenty of ways Rings of Power could set the stage for this climactic showdown that would surprise even the most fervent Tolkien bookworms.
Perhaps the biggest divergence the Amazon series has presented concerns the characterization of Galadriel. In The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, Galadriel is rarely portrayed as the headstrong sword slasher Rings of Power makes her out to be. Peter Jackson’s trilogy lands much closer to a faithful adaptation of the mystical and quietly powerful Galadriel of Tolkien lore. In Rings of Power, viewers can expect Galadriel to take more of a hands-on approach to defeating Sauron than she did in Tolkien’s canon.
Many characters in the legendarium spoke of Sauron’s “fair form” and how he used it to manipulate the well-intentioned to do his bidding. The show’s use of Halbrand is almost certainly a nod to this little nugget of lore. While the books never explicitly depict the close-knit, potentially romantic relationship between Galadriel and Sauron that Rings of Power does, there are more than a few canonical inferences regarding Sauron’s keen interest in winning the Elf’s allegiance.
Rings of Power isn’t based on any single story or book from Tolkien. Instead, it seems to pull from a diverse range of Tolkien’s writing on the Second Age of Middle Earth – making changes and adding new characters and plotlines when needed.
For instance, most of the characters from the Southlands arc, including Adar (Joseph Mawle), Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), are all non-canonical characters invented for the series. This injection of never-before-seen characters and storylines may muddy the waters for anyone trying to predict where the series will go, but it also adds new layers of intrigue for fans to peel back.
What should we expect to see in season two?
While the series is clearly leading to the fabled War of the Last Alliance we mentioned earlier, viewers shouldn’t expect to see it on screen for at least a few more seasons. Season two will be the time for each side to lick their wounds and solidify their allegiances for the coming conflict.
For Sauron, the first order of business will be dealing with Adar and unseating him as the Lord of Mordor. He’ll need the vast armies of orcs Adar currently commands if he hopes to challenge the likes of Galadriel, Elrond, and the forces of Númenor. Not to mention, he’ll want his revenge on the fallen Elf for destroying his physical form in the First Age.
Galadriel will have to deal with the fallout of the Halbrand revelation. Now that Elrond has surmised the truth, she’ll have to answer for withholding this damning evidence from the Elves before the Rings’ creation. Elrond may return to the Dwarvish stronghold of Moria to inform his friend Durin about Sauron and the newly forged Rings.
In season one, Isildur and Elendil were relegated to supporting roles, but the time will soon come for them to fulfill their destinies as great leaders of Men. Lastly, we can’t forget about the young Gandalf and his journey to become the wise and powerful wizard we’ve all come to know and love. At this point in Tolkien’s canonical legendarium, Gandalf had not yet arrived in Middle Earth, making it near-impossible to glean how the showrunners will insert him into the central plot of the series.
Unfortunately, updates on when Rings of Power season two will hit our television sets have been both scarce and vague. Most reports indicate that the show will air sometime in the latter half of 2024. Luckily, it seems the series was able to complete the lion’s share of its screenwriting before the WGA writers’ strike launched. We’ll take heart in that as we await to be immersed in the wondrous and majestic world of Middle Earth once again.