The Rings of Power: Power Ranking
Hello fellow Lord of the Rings fans! We are back a little earlier than expected after last week’s season finale of The Rings of Power (ROP). After experiencing the highs and lows for about a month and a half, it didn’t seem right to send the column on an extended hiatus without a proper recap (season 2 may not be ready until 2024).
As such, Tilt Magazine ranks the 8 ROP episodes. There are of course a great many ways to go about this exercise. Which one(s) had the best action, the most thrilling cliffhanger, the lushest vistas, the most engaging acting, the most impactful character revelations, etc? Truthfully, one could muster a handful of lists based on specific sets of criteria and the cards would land differently for each.
To simplify matters, and for brevity’s sake, the ranking shall be done according to one simple question: Which episodes do we want to rewatch the most? Worded differently, as the end credits rolled how intense was the feeling that the episode had “rewatchability”?
Without further ado, how does the ROP octad stack?
#8 – Episode 4: “The Great Wave”
Anyone who watches “The Great Wave” may be wondering, after the initial 60 seconds, why this episode ranks bottom. In that person’s defence, the first 60 seconds are amazing. Numenor’s Queen Regent experiences a nightmare of epic proportions. The episode’s title alludes to her nation’s ultimate fate in the Second Age, here represented as a premonition shown to her via a Palantir orb.
It’s fair to argue that such a terrifying prediction can, in theory, lead to heated debates about what steps to take to avoid a tragic fate. The reality is that this fourth chapter drags its heels far too much. Looking back at what the week-to-week viewing experience was like, the opening trio of instalments featured story or character beats that got the viewers by even though the great moments were few and far between. “The Great Wave” was the first time that ROP felt as if it was just as interested in Middle Earth politics as it was in its romantic scope, if not more so. Unfortunately, that’s not the best way to go about thrilling people with the history of Middle Earth.
#7 – Episode 5: “Partings”
“Partings” placed in the next-to-last slot may surprise a few. Our review had several positive things to say about it. What stood out the most was how the dialogue did a splendid job of echoing Tolkien’s prose. Lo and behold, the credits revealed that it was penned by a different scribe. It was a strong example of what could happen when someone intimately familiar with Tolkien’s style adapted it to a modern show. It wasn’t overly floral, but it had a classic ring to it.
However, much like its immediate predecessor, what it proudly displays as far as charming dialogue, it lacks in significant story evolution. The Harfoots’ migration began to meander, without much of a clue as to where they were going or what they were expecting to find once they arrived. Despite episode 4 concluding with Numenor proclaiming they were to set sail for Middle Earth for battle, they remain parked at the harbour throughout most of this instalment. ROP needed a shot in the arm.
#6 – Episode 7: “The Eye”
The penultimate chapter of ROP’s initial season ranks a bit low for the simple matter that following up on the previous week’s adventure was always going to be a tall challenge. In its defence, it might be the most beautiful of the 8 episodes. The textures, the rich colours, the lighting, it all looks sumptuous. Those qualities go a long way since a lot of “The Eye” deals with the aftermath of battle. What viewers see are the horrific consequences of war.
Still, there are a couple of odd story beats that needed clarification. For example, after Elindil’s enthusiastic support of Galadriel’s wish to fight on Middle Earth soil, he suddenly feels as if it was the worst decision ever made. Grated, he believes his son perished in the fight and the Queen Regent has gone blind, but he’s a fighter. He agreed to fight. On the flip side, the Elron and Durin friendship is given some of its best moments.
#5 – Episode 8: “Alloyed”
The freshest episode, the finale promised major revelations. Revelations were indeed made, and they weren’t uninteresting per se. Halbrand showing his true colours as Sauron makes for the sort of twist that has potential down the line. As he is presented in the show at this point, Halbrand doesn’t look like a very threatening being. A bit tempestuous and cocky, but not a personality who screams “SAURON!”
It was nice to see the rings, or 3 of them at least, be forged with mithril. One reckons that it was always going to be toward the finale that a major development about the very objects in the show’s title would occur. Amazon promises five seasons of this stuff, so presumably, the battle of the Second Age wasn’t happening at this early stage. Fair enough. Nevertheless, the finale could have shed greater light on other major developments, most notably how Mordor is coming along. The terrific volcanic eruption of what is probably Mount Doom closed out episode 6, yet neither 7 nor 8 wrestled with the topic. And where is Adar? Was he not season 1’s chief antagonist? On the positive side, it was nice seeing a young(er) proto-Gandalf head off for an adventure with Nori, akin to what happens in “The Hobbit.”
#4 – Episode 3: “Adar”
While not quite as thrilling as the two-part premiere, “Adar” continued to set the stage for what, at the time, promised to be a grand and epic first season. Witnessing a horde of photosensitive Orcs enslave Elves to do their bidding with a mysterious tunnel-digging escapade was fascinating. Moreover, Arondir got to show off some vintage Elvin grace when he and his fellow prisoners attempt to fight for their freedom. There hadn’t been much traditional action in the series up until this point, so seeing an Elf an combat was amusing.
Galadriel and Halbrand arriving in Numenor was a special moment. Unfortunately, as revealed in this ranking exercise, the time spent there was not as interesting as one would have liked, but we didn’t know that at the time. The fact that Numenor was finally shown on screen in its full glory was appropriately epic. The development of Nori and the Stranger’s relationship was a key and worthy focus. Who knew someone so powerful would be taught the simple ways of the world by a Harfoot.
#3 – Episode 2: “Adrift”
Plenty of great characters are introduced in this second chapter of season 1. Durin quickly became a typically lovable Dwarf, and the revelation that he and Elrond have a past that grew complicated throughout the years was a great decision. Also, the mines of Khazad-dûm look spectacular. One wouldn’t think that spending most of one’s life in a deep, cavernous local shielded from sunlight would be cool, but ROP does its best to prove the opposite.
The most unexpected thing about episode 2 is how despite Galadriel spending most of her time lost at sea on a raft, the creators do wonders with very little. The sea creature attack is a highlight, but so are the awkward talks between the heroine and her tenuous ally Halbrand. There is an instant connection between the two actors, who play off one another other with iciness.
#2 – Episode 1: “Shadow of the Past”
In second place in the episode ranking is the very first ROP episode ever. This is Lord of the Rings. Starting with a bang was imperative. Much like Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring, “Shadow of the Past” gets the adventure underway with a drive-by retrospective of how the First Age concluded (Jackson did the same for the Second). Within the opening salvo, viewers are shown the show’s scope which, in a nutshell, is considerable. The flash cut to a dark and stormy battlefield with a dragon falling to its death is fantastic.
It goes without saying that the series premiere must concentrate on character introductions, and the showrunners do a commendable job. While several personalities are a bit cold, most notably the Elves, relief comes in the form of the Harfoots, who are essentially proto-Hobbits. They look and behave very similarly. Viewers are introduced to best friends Nori and Poppy, personalities who go on the make most of the season 1 Harfoot sequences sing.
#1 – Episode 6: “Udûn”
Cursory browsing online for reviews of episode 6, “Udûn,” could have given away the punch line to this ranking exercise. Without wanting to repeat everything written in our review, suffice it to say that this chapter did two things especially well.
Number one, it featured plenty of very well-realized action scenes. The sets were strong, the stunts impressed, and the violence hit the right notes between PG-13 and a notch more intense. It also felt cathartic in many respects. Heading into “Udûn,”, over 5 hours of ROP had been predominantly spent with characters discussing what to do, which is fine, but the stakes needed to be raised sooner or later. In episode 6, things got down and dirty.
Second, because the entire chapter concentrated on the battle for the Southlands and the personalities involved, the storytelling felt more focused. It’s the only episode in the entire first season that stays with only a handful of protagonists, primarily because they are all in the same vicinity. As such, the plot and character beats felt stronger and more fluid.
Simply put, “Udûn” was the most entertaining episode, which is what this show’s primary objective is supposed to be: entertain us. That’s why it earns top spot in the episode ranking.