In the swelling opening moments of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a sun-dappled and baby-faced Galadriel (played here by Amelie Child-Villiers and later by Morfydd Clark) carefully constructs a paper boat beside a stream. This place brimming with light is not Middle-earth but Valinor, the realm across the sea where the Elves first began. Galadriel is quickly taunted by several other young Elves, who seem to be, at the very least, allegorically representing the other Elves in house Finwë, perhaps even Fëanorians. We see the fire within her in those very first moments before she is called to heel by her brother, Finrod Felagund (Will Fletcher).
What follows is a delightful, lore-packed prologue detailing the Dark Lord Morgoth and, later, his servant Sauron, the Elven migration to Middle-earth, and the first fights against evil. We watch as Finrod dies fighting that evil and see what his death does to Galadriel, who swears an oath that she will finish his task. She is desperate in her search for Sauron, who has disappeared. The narrative then jumps forward to its present, introducing us to the other stories it traces.
There are the nomadic Hobbits, the Harfoots, who are as charming as they are stuck in their own ways. Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and Poppy (Megan Richards) are treasures, and it is plain from the first moments that their friendship is a special one. They are so ripe with joy and depth and enthusiasm for the world that one cannot help but adore them. It is Nori and Poppy who are confronted with the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) who falls to Middle-earth in a meteor. These characters, and all the Harfoots, continue unraveling in fascinating ways throughout the series. We learn about their surprisingly violent nomadic mandate that anyone who falls behind for any reason will be abandoned, even if it results in their death. They are only to be kept in memory, which is what heartbreakingly orphaned Poppy.
Then there is Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), whose character is scintillating, with a quiet and brilliant strength. He is an Elven warrior who is embroiled in the rising fight between evil and men in the Southlands, where evil is far too close. He is especially entangled with Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a human woman who possesses a potent courageousness.
Returning to the Elves, we trace several threads. There is the unfathomably beautiful Elven realm of Lindon, with its High-king Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) and astonishing golden-leaved aspens. We first see the High Elven realm when Elrond (Robert Aramayo) — who dwells there with Gil-galad as his mentor — reunites with Galadriel. Their incredible friendship is played out so wonderfully on screen; they care for each other so sincerely. It is also in Lindon where we first meet Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), the Noldorin prince and master smith who rules Eregion.
Elrond takes us to Khazad-dum, where he reconciles with Dwarven Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) and meets his wholly stunning wife Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete). We see the Dwarven kingdom in all its magnificent splendor, with its glimmering depths and ritual songs sung to the rocks themselves. The Dwarves are mining for a new ore called mithril, which is highly valuable but dangerous to mine. It is so very satiating to see Dwarven culture in this era.
Soon, Galadriel finds herself in Númenor alongside Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a human from the Southlands. It is here that we see more of the powerful force and determination within her as she faces Númenoreans who have come to hate the Elves. The pragmatic and regal Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) is Queen Regent among them; she is a captivating character who unfolds further in every scene. It is also in Númenor where we are introduced to Elendil (Lloyd Owen) and his children Eärien (Ema Horvath) and Isildur (Maxim Baldry).
Although there are quite a few plot threads and characters to follow, it generally feels as though there is consistent attention given to each in Rings of Power, with none intended to fade into the background. Some moments are slower than others, but the script carefully grants everything enough weight. Even where it fumbles, each storyline is compelling in its own right and amalgamates to form a bewitching story of the Second Age of Middle-earth.
In reviewing this show, it seems pertinent to mention that it is incredibly difficult to adapt Tolkien, especially while only having the rights to some texts (Amazon has clarified that it only has the rights to the main trilogy, The Hobbit, and the appendices — so no Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales, which makes some lore inaccessible). Rings of Power has taken its own path when it comes to certain lore, such as Galadriel sailing nearly all the way to Valinor before jumping ship or many male Elves having shorter hair, both points which differ from the original texts. It is understandable to feel attached to the way certain texts we favor might be portrayed, but vitriolic criticism has been directed toward this series that is either racist — which is just abhorrent — or unduly nit-picky given what was available for the creators to work with. The latter feels especially hypocritical given just how beloved the Peter Jackson trilogy is despite its inaccuracies to the source text.
It is magical to be swept away to Middle-earth once more. From the golden light that shines upon Galadriel just before she abandons Valinor to the ore that shines like stars deep in Khazad-dum and the baby Ent who watches the comet hurl toward Middle-earth, the show’s visuals are incessantly beautiful, sweeping, and grand. Shot by Óscar Faura in the first two episodes and Aaron Morton in the second two, the cinematography luxuriates in Middle-earth’s landscapes and bathes in light. When accompanied by an exceptional score composed by Bear McCreary, one feels entirely consumed.
There is similarly precise attention to detail when it comes to general character presentation and costuming, such as the swan-like feathery detailing on the clothing Elrond wears in Khazad-dum — an homage to his mother, Elwing, who transformed into a swan. Just as is written in the books, too, Galadriel has golden and silver strands woven into her hair, which are meant to reflect the Two Trees of Valinor: Laurelin and Telperion (this is also echoed by the dagger that belonged to Finrod).
Clark is utterly luminous as Galadriel, portraying her with captivating skill and astute intellect. It is clear that she understands precisely who Galadriel is, down to the bone. She is intoxicating to watch. Other remarkable performances include Aramayo as Elrond, who infuses such youth and care into his character; Kavenagh as Nori, who instantly captures a thousand hearts; Córdova as Arondir, who has an enchantingly powerful presence; and Addai-Robinson as Míriel, enthralling from her very first moments. Alongside the collectively tremendous Nomvete as Disa, Weyman as The Stranger, and Boniadi as Bronwyn, it is a sincerely impressive slate.
The Rings of Power is a spellbinding return to Middle-earth, even if there are differences when it comes to lore. It is a great pleasure to be back again, to return to favorite characters and find new ones, and to see those ever-mystical horizons once more. The series may not be perfect in its pacing, but it is definitely a treasure.