The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Is At Its Best When It's Not Juggling Too Many Storylines

Warning: Spoilers for "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" episode 6, "Udûn."

You've likely seen the social media reactions to this week's "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," calling it the one episode to rule them all. Entitled "Udûn," this chapter didn't have any harfoots, dwarves, or elven kings. What we got instead was a merging of two storylines and time to really get to know some of the characters better. That is something that was sorely needed, and probably should have been done before the sixth episode. 

Each week we've been following a myriad of characters in far-flung places, often to the show's detriment. We were in the Southlands, then in Númenor, then in the caravan of the harfoots, then in Khazad-dûm. We were trying to figure out if Sauron is the Stranger, or Halbrand, or Adar, or someone we have yet to meet. Everything has been done in pieces ... until this episode, when the war finally arrives

This is a series based on a whole lot of lore. Like "Game of Thrones" before it, "Rings of Power" has a split fandom of those who know the source material and those who may only be familiar with the Peter Jackson trilogies "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," if at all. There are a lot of names and places to remember, and the constant jumping around has been off-putting for new viewers (and even some Tolkien fans). 

All over the map

I watched an episode of "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" with my parents last weekend, and even my dad, who owns a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Silmarillion" with passages underlined, was confused. I had to admit that it's very hard to follow if you don't have a deep basis in the multiple-era-spanning lore. 

If you're not familiar with the world of Middle-earth and its history, remembering what is happening in each thread, who is who, and where you are is difficult, which in turn makes it harder to connect with the characters. (It doesn't help that so many of the names are similar.) This may not have been the best approach for bringing in casual fans and new viewers. It's very easy to get confused and just give up. 

This week, however, "The Rings of Power" didn't try to follow everyone. Though we may have missed out on seeing the dwarves and the harfoots, we got to spend a good amount of time with some of our main characters. For instance, we learned about the darkness in Galadriel and watched as it twisted her into someone without compassion. In brief doses, she can sometimes seem simply cold. With more time to let Galadriel's scenes breathe, we can really get a sense of how her brother's death broke something in her. We see how his line about having to touch the darkness to really see the light sort of codified in her head, becoming an obsession. It's heartbreaking when you watch what it does to her, and we haven't really gotten that chance before now.

All roads lead to Mordor

"The Rings of Power" is at its best when it takes its time. Jumping from storyline to storyline every few minutes means that we're not getting to know or care for these characters. We're just recognizing them by their costumes. I've wanted to spend more time with Arondir and Bronwyn, in order to better understand their relationship and why it might not work. With the brief scenes we've had with them before, it felt like the show was using the lore of doomed elf/human romances as a shorthand. Leaving out some storylines this week meant we got to really see how much Arondir cares about Theo and what that means to Bronwyn. It let us see the people of the Southland as more than just a village of extras who have a line here and there. 

A series this complex would have benefited by following the example of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." The first film in the trilogy gave us time to meet each character, slowly adding them as we went. First, we get to know the hobbits and Gandalf. Then Aragorn joins. Then we get to Rivendell, and meet the rest of the Fellowship. Each new character has a memorable introduction, and they move as one group before splitting up and going to different locations. 

With "The Rings of Power," we may be seeing a reversal of that narrative pattern. The merging of story threads is something I hope to see more of in future episodes as the core characters are drawn into each other's paths. I just hope that viewers new to the world of Tolkien haven't already given up. 

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" is streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes released on Friday.