My thoughts as a Tolkien nerd on Amazon’s epic first season in Middle Earth
I liked Amazon’s “The Rings of Power,” an ambitious show produced for Amazon Prime, though not as much as I would have liked to have like it. The show featured amazing visuals, and the trademark stunning landscape shots first seen in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The sweeping opening shot of Numenor, Tolkien’s Atlantis analog, matched those of which I could have only dreamed of as I read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Seeing Mordor and the peoplethat once inhabited it before it was spoiled (which I lovingly called “Before-dor”) was a really interesting decision.
But the story structure and dialogue didn’t feel much like Tolkien, though it wasn’t entirely the writer’s fault. More on that in a bit.
The 6 episode story arc was written in a mystery box format, meant to prompt wondering among fans familiar with the second age stories being portrayed in the show over who was who. Was the mystery meteor man Sauron, or Gandalf? Was the mysterious yet handsome man on the raft Sauron, or maybe a Nazgul, or maybe even the future king of the dead?
These mysteries were the primary narrative tension of season one, and for me, it didn’t work. Without spoiling things, we learned which character was Sauron in the season finale and while it was written and shot gorgeously, I found myself frustrated that we never once got to see Annatar, Sauron’s fair form which manipulated the elves over centuries.
If we had seen Annatar earlier in the show, those who knew the written story could have let the tension build over the course of the season, rather than being left making theories over who was actually Sauron for five weeks.
This was how Tolkien did it. He established the stakes early on and let them build over time. He didn’t need the crutch of mystery box storytelling.
The show’s dialogue too left much to be desired. Peter Jackson’s trilogy was beautifully written, with passages ripped directly from the pages of the original novels.
This was always going to be a shortcoming of Amazon’s show, who bought the rights to the appendices of the Lord of the Rings, which feature little actual second age dialogue. This resulted in stilted conversations between characters, and establishing Galadriel, the show’s lead protagonist as quite one dimensional through most of the season just to keep the narrative moving.
I hope the showrunners choose a different narrative style moving forward, there’s certainly many more second age events for them to show in their last four seasons, it’s time to leave the mystery box format behind and let the tension build over time.