major spoilers after
The third episode of The Rings of Power contains complete spoilers.
When The Rings of Power eventually aired on Prime Video on September 2, it did so with an interesting and well constructed opening.
If you haven’t already, read our spoiler-free review of the first two episodes of Amazon’s live-action Lord of the Rings adaptation to learn more about how the 22-person cast and enormous fantasy universe were developed. The lengthy setup was necessary for an enormous, high-budget Prime Video series like this, but some of the plots seemed plodding, and there wasn’t much exciting action.
Thankfully, those minor problems are mostly fixed in The Rings of Power episode 3, “Adar.” The most recent episode of the programme is still methodical and cautious in certain places, but it manages to balance its numerous narrative lines better, raises the stakes in every region of Middle-earth through unexpected disclosures, and provides engaging action sequences that increase the suspense.
on a sun-drenched island
The majority of The Rings of Power episode 3 is spent with Galadriel and Halbrand, who function as the program’s viewers’ physical conduits as they travel to Nmenor, a brand-new region both in the show and in a real-life Lord of the Rings setting.
The castaways are rescued by Elendil, a Númenorean seaguard captain, and his crew, and are taken to the island kingdom of men that Elendil hails from.
As location introductions go, there are few as visually arresting as Númenor’s is here. The scale, scope, and level of detail of the reclusive isle is spectacular; an eye-popping CGI, Venice-style marvel that does full justice to the splendor and pageantry of such an iconic Middle-earth realm. You really get the sense that this is another lived-in location in this fictional world, and both the subtle and evident references to kingdoms of men we’ve seen in previous Lord of the Rings productions – Gondor being the most obvious – are clear to see.
But we don’t have too much time to be awestruck by Númenor’s architecture and idyllic setting. No sooner have Galadriel and Halbrand (and us by proxy) stepped foot on dry land, we’re back in history lessons and gripping conversation territory.
Pleasingly, The Rings of Power episode 3 doesn’t overbear viewers with exposition dumps. A quick but necessary walkthrough of Númenor’s founding establishes the realm’s history, before a suspense-filled introduction to other key Númenoreans, including Queen Regent Míriel and her confidante Phazaron, lay the foundations for the tense relationship that exists between the kingdom’s proud sub-race of men and their elven counterparts. Galadriel’s verbal dance with Míriel is wonderfully fraught with suspense, and it takes a charm-filled offensive from the engaging Halbrand to diffuse an escalating situation. Long story short? Halbrand compromises with Míriel, meaning he and Galadriel are stuck on Númenor for the foreseeable future. That’s much to Galadriel’s chagrin, too, who’s itching to travel to the Southlands and find out whether Sauron has returned to Middle-earth (more on this later).
It’s a narrative decision that forces viewers to stick around on Númenor as much as Galadriel and Halbrand. But, rather than being a plot device that stalls the pair’s progress to the Southlands, it’s one that allows audiences to acclimate themselves to Númenor, its people, the tension-fuelled relationships between its major characters, and deliver on a story-based surprise or two.
For Galadriel, that means getting more intel on Sauron’s potential return. Initially, she’s stopped from stealing a boat from a harbor by Elendil, which leads to a riveting and somewhat playful back and forth between the duo. However, when the latter reveals himself to be one of the Faithful – a minority faction of Númenoreans who are still loyal to the elves following Morgoth’s defeat in the First Age – the frosty nature of their relationship thaws, resulting in the duo teaming up and heading to Númenor’s Hall of Law.
Once there, Galadriel makes a startling discovery thanks to documents archived by Elros, aka Elrond’s brother. The mark of Sauron, which she’s regularly found during her lengthy search for the Dark Lord, isn’t just a sigil. It’s a sign for Sauron’s scattered forces to follow; one which leads them to the Southlands, where Sauron’s orcs have dug a series of tunnels and kidnap the Southlands inhabitants – silvan elf warrior Arondir included – to use as slave labor. Not only that, but the Southlands are seemingly ground zero for Mordor, the eventual evil-filled domain where Sauron resides and draws his power from. Shocking or what, eh?
But that’s not the only secret that Galadriel unearths from Elros’ library. She returns to Númenor’s main city to find Halbrand, who has been locked up by Númenorean guards. To summarize: Halbrand charms his way into stealing a blacksmith’s seal, which would allow him to craft weapons at the city’s steel workshop. However, he’s not exactly successful and, when he’s set upon by five blacksmiths for robbing them, Halbrand fights back with a fury and fervor that results in him viciously beating them all up. He’s subsequently arrested and imprisoned by some nearby guards for his misdemeanor.
Anyway, it turns out that Halbrand isn’t just a regular Southlander. Galadriel has worked out what the sigil on Halbrand’s pouch-style necklace means: decades ago, a man bearing that same mark united the scattered tribes of the Southlands under a single banner, thus becoming the region’s first king. If Halbrand carries that symbol with him, it means that individual is his ancestor, which makes Halbrand the Southlands’ ruler-in-waiting. It’s a subplot that largely makes sense. Remember, Halbrand stated in episode 2 that he hails from a place that has no king – but that’s because he is the Southlands’ next monarch. Well, as long as this isn’t a misdirect on The Rings of Power’s showrunners’ part.
So, what’s the plan? Galadriel wants Halbrand to join her in traveling to the Southlands where they can rid Middle-earth of Sauron’s evil once and for all, and redeem their bloodlines in the process. All they need to do is acquire an army large enough to put Sauron’s forces to the sword, which Galadriel seems confident of assembling.
That’ll be easier said than done, though. Galadriel might try and persuade Elendil to join them, but he has a fractious family dynamic to deal with currently. As we see, Elendil doesn’t have a fruitful relationship with either of his children, i.e. Isildur and Eärien, who are also introduced in episode 3. The heated three-way exchange between these characters midway through the show’s latest entry shows that all is not well between them, and it’ll be fascinating to see how this dynamic continues to play out as the series’ first season progresses.
Meanwhile, Míriel seems to be highly suspicious of Galadriel’s intentions. The final Númenor-based scene we see is Míriel talking to her father – is he alive or dead? – as she states prophesized events are coming true with Galadriel’s arrival on Númenor. Unless the latter can prove she’s worth trusting, it might take a long time for her to win Míriel around and eventually stop Sauron for good.
Shackled in the Southlands
Speaking of the Southlands, things aren’t looking good for Arondir and his fellow captives. Kidnapped by Sauron’s orcs in episode 2, Arondir is forced to continue digging the orcs’ tunnel system as they secretly (or so they think) try to expand Sauron’s territory.
Arondir, though, isn’t going to simply lie down. Banding together with other prisoners, including fellow silvan elves Médhor and Watchwarden Revion, he plots their escape. However, the trio interrupted by some orcs, who want the group to hack down a tree that stands in the way of their tunnel expansion. The elves refuse, resulting in the orcs taunting them with water before surprisingly offering them some of it to drink.
Of course, it’s all a ruse. The trio drink from the water jug but, as Médhor does so, the orcs slit his throat and kills him, much to Arondir’s dismay. Realizing he needs to keep the orcs onside, Arondir agrees to chop down the tree – a poignant moment, given the elves’ affinity for nature and all living things. However, it presents an opportunity for him to scour the horizon and find the best route of escape, so it’s a reluctant but necessary decision to take.
Soon enough, Arondir and company launch their surprise attack. Under the full light of the sun – which blinds and hurts the orcs – the prisoners use their chains to trip up some orcs, steal their weapons, and use their sharp edges to break free of their shackles. A frantic skirmish ensues as their orc captors try to stop them, resulting in Arondir leaping towards the wooden structure sheltering the orcs from the sun, destroying the rope that holds it together, and bringing the roof down on them.
Unfortunately, the captives’ plan is ultimately foiled. The orcs release a warg, a giant wolf-like creature, to kill the workforce. Arondir manages to distract and eventually kill the warg, despite it killing two prisoners, which allows Revion to escape. Agonizingly, though, Revion doesn’t make it. Arondir climbs the sides of the tunnel pit in time to see Revion shot dead by arrows. Disheartened, Arondir is quickly pulled back into the pit by some orcs, who agree to let Adar – their mysterious leader – decide Arondir’s fate.
An out-of-focus camera shot lines up on what appears to be a long-haired individual cloaked in armor – those gauntlets look very menacing – before the screen cuts to black. A pleasingly ominous set-up, sure, but one that means we have to wait a week for Adar’s full reveal. Is this an alias of Sauron’s? Is it a new character created specifically for the show? Could it be someone we already know about who’ll shock us with the side they’ve chosen? Time will tell.
If nothing else, episode 3’s Southlands-positioned story feels like a step up from its predecessors. The Southlands arc in episodes 1 and 2 felt a bit slow in comparison to other narratives, so it’s highly satisfying to see it become the storyline that really ramps up the tension, provides some overdue thrilling action, and brings lashings of genuine threat to proceedings. Maintain that balance and the Southlands arc might become the most captivating of season 1’s narratives.
A friend in need
It wouldn’t be a true Rings of Power installment without checking in with the Harfoots, though, would it? Thankfully, episode 3 delivers on that front.
Picking up where episode 2 left off, Nori acquires the star constellation pages from Sadoc’s Harfoot history book. She leaves them out for the Stranger to page through but, when he accidentally sets them alight from a nearby fire, he fearfully stumbles into the middle of a Harfoot memorial ceremony, where the group are paying tribute to the Harfoots they’ve lost during their travels, led by Sadoc.
Scared and confused, the Harfoots berate Nori for her naivety in bringing a giant into their midst. Luckily, Sadoc decides not to throw Nori and her family out of the community – a resolution that would surely result in their death. However, Sadoc decrees that Nori’s clan must ride at the back of the Harfoot caravan when they head off to pastures new, which basically amounts to leaving them to fend for themselves.
The next morning, Nori’s family is clearly struggling to keep up with their fellow Harfoots. Her father Largo is holding them back with his bad ankle, and the rest of the family don’t have the strength to move their mobile home without him. All hope, then, appears lost.
That is, until their wagon suddenly moves on its own – it’s the Stranger! He’s followed Nori’s family at a distance but, seeing that they need help, he offers them assistance. “Friend”, he says to Nori in perhaps the most heart-warming moment of episode 3, before he aids the Brandyfoot clan in briskly moving their home to catch up with the other Harfoots. Expect Sadoc to have something to say about the Stranger sticking around next time out.
The Rings of Power’s third episode is a far more absorbing spectacle than the entries preceding it. Its marriage of action, drama, humor, and heart feels more finely poised than previous episodes; a pleasurable fusion that owes its success to not needing to establish multiple locations and characters – Númenor aside, anyway.
It’s not without some problems, mind you. The evident use of green screen technology, such as Galadriel and Halbrand looking out onto the CGI landscape of Númenor as they enter the realm, is still very distracting. Meanwhile, a couple of niggly plot points are frustratingly unresolved or don’t have the necessary emotional impact to hit viewers hard. Why doesn’t Elendil realize Halbrand has robbed him of Galadriel’s dagger at any point? And why kill off Médhor and Revion so early when we haven’t had time to acquaint ourselves with them or understand their deep friendships with Arondir?
Aside from that, episode 3 of The Rings of Power does a fantastic job of expanding on what came before. It gets the last of its worldbuilding aspects out of the way, teases more of what’s to come without spilling its secrets all at once, and effectively adds action and humour to its more serious story points. Keep it up through episode 4 and beyond, and it won’t take long for those voices of opposition to merge with the majority of Tolkien’s worldwide following.
Learn how and why Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series departs from Middle-earth tradition in this additional Rings of Power article.