Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power arrives (following The Wheel of Time's success), as Amazon's latest claim for the throne of fantasy TV. Right now, HBO Max is fighting this fight with a tight focus, delivering House of the Dragon, which is focused solely on the silver-maned folks at House Targaryen.
Unlike House of the Dragon, The Rings of Power is going for grandiose storytelling. And, so far, it's my favorite of the two. Not to say that I don't think Paddy Considine isn't pulling off fantastic work on House of the Dragon, but The Rings of Power's first two episodes (Amazon offered only those two to the media) have me clamoring for more than HotD's first pair has.
So, if you've been yearning for large-scale fantasy, with crises on the ocean and atop snowy mountains? Glorious Elven and Dwarven villages? I think my Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power review will get you properly hyped for the new series.
At the same time, though, there are some character decisions that will feel like head-scratchers. And since I won't explain them — this is a spoiler-free review, only noting story-points we've gotten from trailers — I will note that The Rings of Power may leave you wondering what's going on.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power review: Episode 1 does world-building right
One of my personal gripes about even the best TV shows is that they can start off a little slow. The Rings of Power has no such concerns. While I can tell you I found it a little odd that so many characters I knew to expect weren't in the first episode, I understood why. Instead of introducing a whole world at once, they're giving us dedicated bits about certain specific characters, and then they'll meet the other characters.
TRoP, as I've taken to calling this mouthful of a show, starts off in beautiful Valinor, also known as the Blessed Realms. Here, we meet Galadriel, and soon learn about her personal journey. As has been revealed in the trailers, her brother dies in war with the orcs, and she becomes obsessed with wiping every trace of Sauron and his forces away.
Galadriel is even finding herself in debates about the odds of those forces being defeated or not. Morfydd Clark does well with these scenes, and she quickly becomes a protagonist you're rooting for — even if few others are. She spends much of her time talking with Elrond, who Robert Aramayo plays very well.
As I watched the first episode, I kept thinking "this looks and feels like a Lord of the Rings movie that was presented on TV." Not, you know, like a Lord of the Rings movie with a TV budget. This especially rang true in a scene where our heroes were attacked. The scares were all done properly well, and the scale and size felt true.
And since I'm sworn by an oath tied to my reputation, I won't dare spoil how any of the above all happens. But I'll just say that it feels like The Rings of Power also nails the little things. I'm no lord of the lore, but I can tell you that nothing rang hollow. At least until I had to try and Google it.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has a canon problem
Some things in Lord of the Rings are different from the books, and in some cases that is likely tied to the fact that Amazon didn't acquire rights to all pieces of Tolkien's lore. The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth are all not on the table.
This is a problem for those who have a deep understanding and knowledge of Tolkien's books — while those like me who only saw the movies are likely not going to be bothered. On occasion, while trying to look up the name of a city or person, I would discover I was researching something that didn't exist in LoTR canon until now.
Were I watching for myself, I probably wouldn't have noticed. But when you learn a town didn't exist in the books? Or that a character didn't either? It leaves an odd taste in your proverbial mouth. I can't explain the differences here, but a colleague has also watched the embargoed episodes and raised his concerns to me privately. I don't exactly look forward to some of the public's reception of The Rings of Power.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power's Harfoots are great — but they're not Hobbits
In in The Rings of Power episode 1, we meet the lovely group of Hobbit-like creatures called Harfoots. The show doesn't explain their connection to Hobbits, but I'm told they can be seen as subspecies of Hobbits. The most prominent member of this group is Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), who is aided by her friend Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards).
Harfoots look like Hobbits, as a group of smaller and hairier creatures who all have a sense of mischief. They're also seemingly always in hiding. So far, since Rings of Power is all world building, I do wonder if people will enjoy the Harfoots, or wonder where the Hobbits are.
Nori is entertaining enough, as are her relatives, but they've yet to truly feel right for me. At times, it felt like being told "we have Hobbits at home." I've got some faith that changes.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power review: Episode 2 gets better
The big story in episode 2 revolves around Elrond's new mission, which sends him to the realm of Dwarves. Here we meet Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), and while I wasn't exactly enthralled by his first scenes, once revelations are made, the best part of the still-young series begins. Both actors do well to enhance the emotional story beats that the show hinges on at this point. And Sophia Nomvete is a delight as Princess Disa, Durin's wife.
Dwarves can often be used as comic punchlines, but that's not (entirely) the case here. As The Rings of Power delivers well-rounded characters, you feel the warmth throughout the show. One concern I had going into the series was a lack of star power, at least from my point of view.
The Lord of the Rings movies were filled with heavy hitters, and the series doesn't deliver as much. That said, this series may accomplish the inverse: making stronger stars through their performance on a massive stage.
The Rings of Power Outlook: Cautiously optimistic
As I've noted in this The Rings of Power review, when it's at its best, it feels like a Lord of the Rings movie that comes free with your Amazon Prime membership. Clearly, that's the intent.
But when you realize that some pieces of the series are new — the phrase "fan fiction" is already being thrown around when discussing the changes they made — you can tell that Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is going to be divisive.
The cast, so far, all seem well-suited to their roles. One choice/decision in the script, which seemingly creates a disagreement where it's not necessary, did have me scratching my head. Speaking to the aforementioned colleague who also saw the screeners (and he also read the books), he's as befuddled as I am.
Sure, I may question a character's decision here or there, but I'm at a point where I'm rooting for The Rings of Power to earn a space on the mantle with the rest of the Lord of the Rings stories. Tolkien fans may smite the show with reactions online, but if the show finds a loving audience that can look past those differences? It might be out of the die-hard fans' hands.
Next: Now that the whole season is aired, check out our guide to Rings of Power season 2 when you're ready.