Features and Columns · TV

‘The Rings of Power’ and the Easily Corrupted Hearts of Men

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Rings Of Power Episode
Amazon Prime
By  · Published on September 9th, 2022

Middle-earth Explained is our new ongoing series, where we delve into the latest Lord of the Rings-related shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines The Rings of Power Episode 3 and the men who will ultimately fail Middle-earth.

The elves, dwarves, and Hobbits tend to nab the most attention, but at the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings is humanity’s failure to overcome their evil desires. In its first two episodes, The Rings of Power centers on Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and her quest for revenge against Sauron for slaying her brother…amongst many other past horrors and horrors yet to be. We saw how men and elf rangers were clashing in the South Land. The old wounds of history are opening. Elves can’t seem to forget how most mortals sided with Sauron’s demon master Morgoth during the wars of the First Age. Humanity redirects elvish contempt by creating their own disgust for the “knife ears.”

We already know from The Lord of the Rings how men will continue to fail themselves and, in the process, fail the rest of Middle-earth. The Rings of Power Episode 3 puts a massive, dreadful spotlight on what’s to come by positioning a chunk of its story on Númenor, Tolkein’s Atlantis stand-in and man’s last great kingdom. These island residents were the few humans who sided with the elves against Morgoth, and Númenor was their gift given to them by their angelic betters.

When Galadriel arrives on Númenor, she discovers a growing divide between her people and the islanders. The good vibes are over, and they quickly place her and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) in chains. Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia AddaiRobinson) tasks Elendil (Lloyd Owen) with watching over the elven warrior. The audience should then take a collective *gulp*.

The Sauron Slayer…lol

Númenor exists on borrowed time. Eventually, the island’s 25th Monarch, Ar-Pharazôn, will turn on the elves. Sauron, that devilish little birdie, lures Ar-Pharazôn to war with promises of immortality. When Númenor strikes against the Undying Lands,
Eru Ilúvatar, the One God, damns the island to the bottom of the sea.

Captain Elendil escapes the cataclysm via ship, taking his three children (Eärien, Anárion, and Isildur) with him. He becomes the first High King of Arnor and Gondor and forges the Last Alliance between men and elves. You know, the partnership that comes to a head in The Fellowship of the Ring‘s prologue.

During the siege against Mordor, Anárion perishes. The Dark Lord leaves his stronghold, subjecting his apocalyptic might hand-to-hand, sword-to-sword with his enemy. Elendil finds himself before the monster, raising his sword, Narsil. Sauron shatters the blade with one blow, and Elendil comes apart too.

Quivering next to his dead dad, Isildur lifts his father’s broken sword and slices the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. Victory! Not so fast.

The Rings of Power Have a Will of Their Own

Can you hear Cate Blanchett’s voice? “The Ring passed to Isildur, who had this one chance to destroy evil forever. But the hearts of Men are easily corrupted. And the Ring of Power has a will of its own.”

Isildur is the jackass who could have thrown the One Ring into Mount Doom but chose another path at the last moment. Like so many men before him, his heart was corrupted by the possibility of power. Instead, he wore the magical trinket around his neck, and with each passing day, he became less and less the Middle-earth hero.

The poisoned king meets his fate from a roving pack of Misty Mountain orcs just two years into his reign. He tried to put the One Ring on his finger and slip away invisibly, but the tricky band purposefully flung from his hand. Afterward, the One Ring waited until Gollum collected it, who only claimed mastery of it until Bilbo arrived for some riddles in the dark.

Prequel Power

The Rings of Power Episode 3 does that prequel thing, preying on our knowledge. When Queen Regent Míriel asks Elendil to “perform a service,” she offers him Narsil. The sword falls in his hand with silence, but we hear a roaring boom ringing from the back of our brains. There it is! Sauron’s death instrument!

Victory and defeat radiate from the weapon. Elendil is equal parts hero and loser. His son, as depicted by Maxim Baldry in Episode 3, is a smiley cocky kid. Imagine a young Anakin Skywalker with a better director. Behind every twinkle in his eye is a dark specter jeering.

The Rings of Power showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne have already stated they’re condensing J.R.R. Tolkein’s timeline. Episode 3 ends with Galadriel uncovering a small piece of Sauron’s plan. The sigil carved into her brother’s body aligns neatly with the South Land map, indicating Mordor’s erection. The destruction of Númenor could be right on its heels and possibly serve as a series finale, if not a season one finale.

The Coming of Adar

The big reveal this week occurs far away from Númenor, however. In the soon-to-be Dark Land, the South Land, Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) fights to free himself from his orc captors. Throughout The Rings of Power Episode 3, we hear rumblings of Adar, the naughty fellow leading these terrors. Arondir cannot understand why an orc would go by an elvish word, especially one meaning “father.”

In the episode’s final moments, a blurry Adar (Joseph Mawle) approaches the camera. We were probably expecting a rather ugly-looking brute, and while we cannot fully make out every feature, Adar appears to be terrifyingly plain. He’s just a dude.

Of course, there are no “just dudes” in The Lord of the Rings. While many of us suspected a Sauron appearance at some point in this series, we were looking toward the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) or Halbrand to fulfill the role. The Rings of Power Episode 3 smashes those possibilities and presents this new chap, never before mentioned in Tolkein’s texts.

Agony as Pleasure in The Rings of Power

Now, Adar could be another mini-boss used to block our way to the big boss. The Rings of Power Episode 3 goes out of its way to remind us that Sauron carried many names during the old days. Such handwaving seems a bit much and should make us skeptical.

Adar was never a name previously used by Sauron, but he was known to take on a “fair form” called Annatar. Under this guise, he got chummy with the elf smith Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), who we learned last week was seeking to build a massive forge. Our eyes should be glued to his purpose, another possible chump who’ll help the baddie construct the titular rings.

Hovering over The Rings of Power is a giant wagging finger. Uh-uh-uh. So many choices. So many other ways Middle-earth could have gone. The series is a grotesque tragedy.

Wins will occur, but The Fellowship of the Ring‘s prologue is The Rings of Power‘s endgame. We’re thousands of years before the pity of a Hobbit will swing Middle-earth toward a positive outcome and The Return of the King. As such, The Rings of Power stews in agony. You gotta be a little bit of a sadomasochist to enjoy it.

The Rings of Power Episode 3 is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Related Topics: ,

Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)