Why Did This Episode Of The Rings Of Power Feel Like A Season Finale?

Spoilers are never late, nor are they early, but arrive precisely when they mean to. In other words, you shall not pass unless you've watched the latest episode of "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."

Back when "Game of Thrones" first aired on HBO, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss opted for the distinctive television structure of having the biggest and most finale-like events take place in each season's penultimate episode, leaving the actual finale to take more of a laid-back route towards dealing with the aftermath and clearing the deck for the season to come. Now-famous moments like the beheading of Ned Stark, the Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the Battle of the Bastards, and more all occurred in the second-to-last episode of their respective seasons, making a strong case for how flexible television can be in the hands of clever writers.

"The Rings of Power," meanwhile, has taken a noticeably different approach altogether in its inaugural season. The early episodes ambled along with little sense of urgency, though it at least allowed viewers to truly soak in these new characters and this new take on Middle-earth. Last week, the dam finally broke as the outbreak of war led to the show's biggest and best episode yet. But rather than kick things into another gear entirely or simply lay the groundwork for an even more climactic finale, episode 7 in many ways resembled a table-setting season finale, oddly enough.

Season finale vibes

The main conflict of the season seems resolved (albeit with the enemy victorious), characters have gone their separate ways, and the episode even ends on an exclamation mark — the transformation of the Southlands into Mordor — that would've worked well as the button on the season.

But with one more episode still to go, it's worth digging into whether this choice worked and how it may affect next week's actual finale.

Pace yourself

At what point does purposeful pacing become plodding, instead?

For much of "The Rings of Power" to this point, all the main storylines have taken great pains to avoid rushing things along too quickly. Galadriel (Morfyyd Clark) spent the entirety of the second episode floating aimlessly across the Sundering Seas with Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) before finally arriving among the Númenoreans, whereas other modern shows likely would've sped things up and reduced the travel time (and, inevitably, the important character-building between the two) dramatically.

The wandering harfoots have been wrestling with the mystery of the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) ever since the closing moments of the premiere, getting no closer to any answers until this very last episode. And looking back, it's almost startling to realize how much time we spent painstakingly setting up Númenor, when many viewers likely wanted to fast-forward to their intervention in the Southlands already.

A deliberate pause in the momentum?

For better or worse, this series has established itself as a deliberate one — which is perhaps why the episode dealing with the aftermath of the biggest battle yet felt so conclusive, despite another hour of story (at least) remaining to be told next week. After asking viewers to exercise quite a bit of patience throughout the last few episodes, this last episode of "The Rings of Power" suddenly had to deal with the lingering consequences of the most game-changing events yet.

By going from the extremes of slow and steady world-building to the suddenness of "Oh, by the way, here's an epic battle and explosive origin of the Land of Shadow itself," any lower-key follow-up was bound to stop the season's forward momentum in its tracks.

Whether this works or not, of course, ultimately relies on what comes next.

The finale of "The Rings of Power" airs on Prime Video October 14, 2022.