Warning: the following contains complete spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 6, which is now streaming on Prime Video. To refresh your memory, check out our review of last week episode.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power felt a little languid at times as it delivered a dense exposition to establish its characters, the state of the world, and the stakes. But all that prep work paid off in episode 6, which served up an absolutely extraordinary hour of television reminiscent The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towersthe Battle of Sodden Hill in the witcher, and the best of game of thrones.
Adar appeared as a cliché villain in Episode 4, but it develops much more in “Udûn”, which reveals its history and its motivations. An elf twisted by Morgoth to become one of the first Orcs, or Uruk as he prefers to be called, he still sticks to certain elven traditions while feeling loyal to his “children” and trying to do what there is best for them, which he has decided means wiping the Southlands off the map to create Mordor.
I’d love to know how Adar and Waldreg survived Ostirith’s collapse mostly unscathed, but the whole episode is a back and forth as humans and Adar’s forces take turns winning big wins that then crumble into crushing defeats. The real action of the episode occurs after Bronwyn and Arondir lead the retreat from the watchtower and begin to prepare for the counterattack with great ingenuity and tender moments.
Rounding naturally tries to break the hilt, but at the very heart of The Lord of the Rings is the concept that powerful artifacts are not easily destroyed. Rounding’s hammer breaking before the hilt is a direct reference to Gimli’s hammer breaking when he attempted to break the One Ring in The Fellowship of the Ring. Rounding is smart at hiding it, but Dark Artifacts are also deeply corrupted. As Theo tries to resist the pull of the handle, there’s a curious child above his head.
Seeing the “life in defiance of death” seed-planting ritual performed twice in this episode provides strong character and world building. When Adar first did it, it seemed like the dark magic was aimed at spawning more orcs or maybe even protecting his Soul Phylactery style if he fell in battle. But that’s just a part of his past that he clings to, explaining why he decided to abandon Sauron. Adar was understandably tired of being the lieutenant of a distracted boss who viewed orcs as disposable cannon fodder at best and more recently used them as experimental subjects for his research.
Tolkien’s orcs have a complicated legacy that still plays out in debates within Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy tabletop games, with disagreements over what it means to have races that are inherently evil, designed so heroes can kill without feeling bad. The Rings of Power reflect this through the different ways orcs are viewed by Adar, Sauron, and Galadriel. They may have been created by some evil force, but now that they exist with their own feelings and worldviews, Galadriel’s genocidal wish seems utterly monstrous. Adar pointing out her own similarities to Sauron is a clever nod to the darkness she invokes when Frodo gifts her the One Ring – she could actually be Sauron’s successor as she has a will to reshape the Earth of the Middle in his image. She could do it in the name of fighting evil, but the results would be just as catastrophic.
Galadriel and Halbrand take turns this episode to pull each other out of vengeful tantrums, the bond between them deepening to the point where it seemed like it was about to turn romantic before they were interrupted to be drawn into a royal council. The writers seem to draw a contrast between these so-called noble saviors of somewhat questionable morality and Bronywn and Arondir, who seem more grounded and genuinely good. Bronwyn looked relieved to give up the leadership she had gained in battle against the prophesied King Halbrand, but it is highly doubtful that she would actually do so. After spending so much time running from a past he still hasn’t explained, it’s unclear whether Halbrand is truly ready to accept that level of responsibility.
Episode 6 showed a masterful ability to turn all that character building into dramatic action. The scrappy traps the people of the Southlands for orcs, and Bronwyn’s killing of an orc scout to ensure they leave, produces an all-too-short-lived victory as it is revealed that Adar mostly sent humans into the first wave. Although Waldreg is a real traitor, most of the people who defected were probably just desperate and scared. Having the villagers kill each other is brutal and also plays into Adar’s philosophy that an orc’s life is as valuable as a human’s.
All the major actors of the first episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Of course, Númenor shows up to save the day in a scene strongly reminiscent of the arrival of the Riders of Rohan. The Lord of the Rings has always been a great franchise for horse lovers and there are plenty of spectacular horse riding shots in this installment, particularly involving Galadriel’s impressive acrobatics in the saddle and her chase scene with Adar. Apparently Isildur’s mother was also part of a group closely tied to horses, so we’ll likely get more development on that front now that Isildur has bonded with his mount in battle.
The fight scenes are brilliantly staged throughout this episode. Someone involved in the choreography clearly has a thing for chains, which are used cleverly on an individual level against Arondir and en masse with cavalry tripping orcs. The fight between Arondir and a particularly giant orc was thrilling, with an utterly brutal conclusion that gives Bronwyn another moment to shine. While a handful of actors have plot armor because it’s a prequel, the stakes seem real because Rounding and Bronwyn are original characters, and I thought for a moment that Bronywn was actually going to die this episode when the tide turned and she got shot.
But even Númenor’s triumph doesn’t last too long as Adar has completely dominated his opposition with clever sleight of hand and the use of a loyal agent. We had been warned of Sauron’s plans for the Southlands and apparently when he became engrossed in trying to figure out the shadow realm connected to the One Ring, Adar decided to execute the plan on his own. He really wasn’t joking about the remodeling of Middle-earth. When the key first twisted, it looked like it was going to cause a devastating flood. Watch the mechanics of the device sink until the water hits the magma and triggers a devastating volcanic reaction that unfolds like a big-budget dramatic disaster movie where the heroes lose in the end.
With all the action focused on the Southlands, there were no dwarves or harfoots in this episode at all. We’ll see next week what the difference in timeline is in these storylines – it could be a catch-up in their stories to get everyone to the point where Mordor is formed or Adar’s successful bet could crash into their stories immediately . Hopefully the show can continue to build on the momentum of Episode 6 in the final two episodes of the season.
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