The Rings Of Power Makes The Most Of Knowing The Doom To Come Ahead Of The Lord Of The Rings

Spoilers ahead for "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" episode 7, as well as future plot spoilers from "The Lord of the Rings."

We all knew it was coming. The Southlands are right on the spot where Mordor sits in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Even if you're not steeped in the lore that author J.R.R. Tolkien created, you probably felt it early on. Finding out that the Sauron symbol Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) was hunting for was a map of the Southlands cemented it long before the penultimate episode of the season. 

In episode 7, "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" put a very fine point on what's coming, from changing the name on the map from "Southlands" to "Mordor" to showing us the Balrog at the bottom of the mithril mine in Khazad-dûm that will someday battle Gandalf (Ian McKellen). In fact, the series has been playing on the audience's knowledge of what's to come in the Third Age since the beginning. 

As /Film's own Jeremy Mathai recently wrote, Tolkien often balances out the happiness in his stories with darkness. "The Lord of the Rings" has a chapter called "The Scouring of the Shire" (not featured in the movie trilogy), in order to show that even the home of the hobbits didn't escape the war. 

Everything has a price in Tolkien's world. It makes sense, as he was a veteran of World War I; even in victory, those who fought would never forget the horrors they've seen. The general public knows at least some of what happens in "The Lord of the Rings." Many of us know the details of who lives and who dies, which places fall, and what is coming for our heroes in "The Rings of Power." And the show has put that knowledge to good use. 

Bad decisions for good reasons

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" episode 7 drove the point home as we watched Galadriel emerge from the volcanic eruption of Mount Doom, aka Orodruin. We watched as Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) defied his father to do the right thing for his friend Elrond (Robert Aramayo), a choice that will eventually bring about the destruction of Khazad-dûm. The dwarves will dig too deep in their quest for mithril and awaken the Balrog; just as the Southlands are doomed to become Mordor, Khazad-dûm is doomed to become Moria. 

It's brilliant writing, making us wish for nothing more than to see Durin honor his love for Elrond and fight back against the king. Still, we know that doing so will lead to disaster, and it hurts the heart to know that something so terrible came from a gesture of deep friendship. The knowledge of the future gives a melancholy and horrifying flavor to the warmth we feel between these best friends. It even colors the love Durin has for his wife, Disa (Sophia Nomvete), who found the mithril vein. It may save the elves, but it will mean the destruction of a kingdom.

"The Rings of Power" has been relying on this knowledge the entire time. Some things are explained (like the map changing or the face of the Balrog), but not everything. "The Lord of the Rings" has been a cultural touchstone for so long now that you can assume the audience has at least some familiarity with the material, in the same way you can assume that people have heard of Spider-Man before. 

Everything has a price

We can see the foreknowledge being played upon as we're introduced to Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), the elf that Sauron (in his fair form) convinces to forge the rings of power. We see his kind face, but our hearts ache as Elrond smiles at him, because we know that he is the architect of doom. Heck, we knew about that doom from the very title of the series. 

Throughout the first season, there are so many moments that would have a much different feel without the future context. Galadriel seems strident and cruel to her troops in the beginning of the season if you take her drive to find Sauron at face value. But the audience knows that she's right, and it changes the feel of the moment. We know that the island nation of Númenor will fall, even as we watch people happy in the streets. We see the beauty of it, but it's tinged with sadness for its fate. 

We watch Isildur (Maxim Baldry) struggle and succeed, ponder and fail, all the while knowing that he will bring the end of the battle with Sauron by cutting off the ring. We also know that when he is tested and asked to throw it into the fires of Mount Doom, he will fail, allowing evil to rise again. 

It's all about balance

The knowledge we have of what's coming has also led to endless speculation about who might be Sauron in disguise. I've spent hours debating it myself, but if we didn't know he was coming, none of the scenes would feel the same. We desperately want it not to be the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) because we can see the good in him. We keep hoping it's not Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) because he feels very much like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen). There would be nothing to wonder about and less depth to each word any of the candidates say if we weren't looking for clues the entire time.

With Tolkien, we know that any happy ending will be tinged with sadness. Frodo will go into the west with the elves because he's too broken to live a normal life. Aragorn gets to marry Arwen (Liv Tyler), but she'll die young because of it. The elves are fading away from the world because their time is over, just as innocence was over at the end of WWI. No one lived through it unscathed. 

Forgive me for getting grim, but even the pandemic changed us all. Everyone was affected in some way, and things are just different now. We're sadly in the right spot to understand what this series is doing more than we were when it was first planned. 

Still, there is beauty in this knowledge. As we learned from another series — "The Good Place" — you cannot appreciate joy without the potential for an ending or love without loss. A vacation is only special because it has an end. This feeling of sadness inside joy and vice versa is what makes us human in the end. 

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" is currently streaming on Prime Video.