I’ve come to a sad realization: The creators of Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power know how to create spectacle, but they don’t know how to tell a good story.
There it is, scrawled in blood on the wall. The writers and showrunners responsible for this show could have won me over with good fan-fiction. They could have tossed Tolkien’s lore onto a bonfire and I’d have been perfectly happy if they’d simply crafted an enjoyable story with characters I care about.
Unfortunately, The Rings Of Power is written so poorly it defies even my worst fears. Oh yes, I was awed and impressed by the opening two episodes just like many others. But my how quickly a badly written TV series can wear out its welcome once the shimmer fades.
“All that glitters is not gold” is the old aphorism; it’s the one Tolkien flipped on its head for “The Riddle Of Strider”—all that is gold does not glitter.
But The Rings Of Power knows only how to glitter, and it’s certainly not gold. It knows how to shoot pretty slow-motion shots of elves on horses or orcs leaping through the trees. It gets the giant statues of ancient elven kings and shining cities just right. It has a sweeping score that’s lovely to listen to—but is, like the show’s melodrama, perhaps a little too incessant. This is a show of spectacle and it gets the spectacle mostly right.
The problem is everything else.
Galadriel’s adventure in Númenor is honestly just embarrassing. She arrived there—after being rescued—and effectively just bullied everyone in her path like the elven version of a steamroller. The queen regent has her hands full from the moment Galadriel barges through the door, and soon she’s demanding to see the king, then asking for an army.
Miriel has to lock her up and then pack her off back to the elves just to get her to stop. Then—thank to petals falling from a tree—she decides to take her back and commit her people—who moments earlier were all but chanting “death to the elves!”—to a war in a strange land? Everything taking place in Númenor is just a shortcut for the plot. Move the plot forward at all costs no matter how many characters are butchered in the process. (I wrote about the hilariously bad Black Speech spy note recently which is another great example of the shoddy writing in this show)>
Instead of actual character drama, the creators of Rings Of Power simply make everyone bicker and argue with one another all the time. Whether that’s Isildur and his father and friends, Elrond and Durin, Nori and the village elders, Bronwyn and the village idiots, or Galadriel and, well, everybody—all anyone seems to do is argue.
The people Galadriel wants to go save are evil and stupid and some of them seem ready to throw in with Sauron at the drop of a pin. But for some reason we’re supposed to care about Galadriel’s quest to go fight to save them from the Enemy?
I don’t mind Elrond and Durin and Durin’s wife Disa but their story is spinning its wheels compared to everything else. That would work, and could work great, if the rest of the show was willing to also take its time a bit. I’m not upset with this show for being slow. I’d be perfectly happy with a slow show that did a good job at developing its characters. This show is tedious and rushed all at the same time.
And while I like the Harfoots they, too, have been written into a very strange corner. “No one walks alone!” the little folk chant, while leaving their lame and their elderly, their sick and their maimed, behind to suffer and die.
Then there’s the new villain Adar. I was excited about him at first. He seemed like a pretty intriguing bad guy—until he let Arondir go “to deliver a message to the humans” which, if you ask me, may as well be “just because.”
Just because the writers couldn’t be bothered to come up with a more clever way to get Arondir out of there, I guess? Way to undermine the very tension you were hoping to create.
We have spectacle, though. Lots of big, dramatic moments with . . . literally no build-up to them. Arondir is set free, rescues Theo just in the nick of time, and then they run through the woods (directly to where Bronwyn finds them!) and escape dozens of orcs because they shoot arrows like Stormtroopers shoot blasters and run about as fast as those bounty hunters from Obi-Wan Kenobi. We’re supposed to remember Boromir at this point, right? Lots of little callbacks to the Jackson trilogy. Lots of little reminders that those movies were far, far better.
Nothing is earned in The Rings Of Power. Neither the emotional nor the epic. Things just happen because the writers want those things to happen. Something happens and then something else happens. There are no real consequences, no real hard spots to get out of, just a string of events unfolding, frictionless and boring.
Galadriel gets her army—just by being a jerk for a couple days—and what now? We’re going to war! The problem is, we don’t care. Arondir gets back to Bronwyn and his tidings are very dire! The problem is, we don’t care!
This is bad writing, pure and simple. Bad characterization. Choppy dialogue. Characters who don’t make sense and clearly dislike one another as much as we dislike them. Everything feels forced and contrived, especially in the Galadriel storyline.
I’m trying to envision the writing process here, how they came up with this story of all the stories they could spin. They had carte blanche to make up whatever Middle-earth fable they wanted and they give us this cobbled together nonsense with a cast of characters we can barely stand, tossed haphazardly into predicaments and events that ooze fake gravitas but have no real stakes.
I don’t get it. I really don’t. I really wanted to like this show and was completely willing to suspend my disbelief and treat it like expensive fan-fiction. But this feels cheap.
This was a show I was eagerly looking forward to watching with my kids. Now, I doubt I’ll bother. That’s about as damning a verdict as I can muster.
(We’ll keep enjoying Locke & Key and wait eagerly for Season 4 of The Dragon Prince and Season 1 of Willow. There’s always Arcane to tide us over, or The Lord Of The Rings movies. Andor is just around the corner. Plenty of good stuff to watch these days. No need to sit through this slog, though I will keep watching so I can keep reviewing).
How To Tell A Good Story
All the money in the world can’t save bad writing. No amount of spectacle will ever be able to paper over a lousy script.
For all its spectacle, The Rings Of Power lacks something precious: A sense of adventure.
Here’s a thought:
Perhaps the show’s creators should have started smaller. Picked one or two of these stories and planted them, tended to them, and given them room to breathe and time to grow.
Develop this smaller batch of characters and give us a reason to care about and root for them (or loathe and despise them, or simply feel for them in some way).
Next, put those characters into tight spots that create tension; give them tough choices that are as painful for us to watch as they are for the characters to make; and move the story along through organic character motivations and interactions that make sense and unfold naturally.
Slowly, build toward the epic, era-spanning, globetrotting, world-altering stuff—instead of rushing at it all at once.
One does not simply walk into Mordor, after all—one has to leave the Shire first, and trek to Rivendell; one listens to elves sing, and tells stories in a tavern, and sees beauty and peril; and over the course of it all, one grows and changes. The adventure is in the heart as much as it is along the winding roads and crooked vales and among the high towers of warlike men.
In other words, tell a good story first. Then let that story find its way into your epic fantasy. Not the other way around.
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