09/18 update below. This post was originally published on September 17th.
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.
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?