Warning: the below contains full spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 8, which is now streaming on Prime Video. To refresh your memory, check out our review of last week’s episode.
So here we find ourselves, at the end of all things – or at least at the end of season one, with a finale that delivers. If episode six went for scale, this one goes for satisfaction, bringing us some long-awaited answers and setting a few characters on new paths. The Dwarves and the Southmen are missing entirely this week, which means that the showrunners John D. Payne and Patrick McKay have drilled a little deeper into everyone who is left. If this doesn’t nail every single scene, it nails enough to make me wish season two was available immediately.
The first big story this week is a bluff, as the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is bamboozled and then cornered by the strange cultists we saw before, The Dweller (Bridie Sisson) and her sisters. Shock! They address him as Lord Sauron, and he seems to roll the words around in his mind, trying to connect them to himself. It’s a moment of sweet vindication for all those who’d picked him in Sauron’s Identity Bingo, but it doesn’t last long. IIf the Stranger really were Sauron, after all, it would make a cruel joke of the attempted rescue by Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and her diminutive companions.
The four Harfoots face trained fighters; the Dweller at least is also a shapeshifter and seems to possess similar powers to the Stranger here. It’s a change for Middle-earth, which tends to lack a lot of outright magic. Tolkien’s wizards tend to know things, shift things and influence things, without much in the way of traditional spellcasting beyond a few fireballs. But when Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) is seriously injured and all seems lost for Nori, her mum (Sara Zwangobani), and BFF Poppy (Megan Richards) the Stranger finally finds his nerve – and power. He faces down the Dweller and quite literally blows her away. She and her fellows seem to be turned into ghosts, and then butterflies? It’s a visual trick that recalls Gandalf’s habit of chatting to moths, but less friendly. Alas, it comes too late for Sadoc, who dies as the sun rises. There are worse ways to go than following a bit of heroism, and surrounded by people who love him.
At last the Stranger is free to go find himself, in a place somewhere East called Rhun. He has learned that he is an Istari – what you might call a wizard. Bing! There’s a result that feels more appropriate, if entirely foreseeable. The Stranger has also taken on what Nori told him: he announces firmly that he is “good”, and you get the sense that he’s sure of that now. They return briefly to the Harfoot camp, but there Nori decides to go with him on his search. After a genuinely emotional farewell to her family she sets off with the Stranger to see more of the world. Whereupon – gasp! – he says a line that clearly echoes Gandalf (when he was momentarily lost in the Mines of Moria in the Fellowship Of The Ring). Surely that puts that controversy to bed. We have a Gandalf! Half an Age early according to official canon, granted, but who’s counting a few millennia here or there?
A second strand in this episode is shorter: the Numenoreans sail back to their island home, nursing their losses. Elendil (Lloyd Owen) has some words of comfort for the now-blind Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) but nothing that can assuage his own grief at apparently losing his son Isildur (Maxim Baldry). They arrive to find mourning flags hung for King Tar-Palantir (Ken Blackburn), who has died in their absence – though not before telling Elendil’s daughter Eärien (Ema Horvath) about the Palantir upstairs. It remains to be seen what effect that will have, but with Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle) looking thoughtful and the people behind him, things are looking dark for Míriel in more ways than one.
Meanwhile, Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) returns to Eregion with a seriously ill Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) in tow. He’s handed over to the Elven healers while Galadriel explains her miraculous reappearance to Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), who are understandably taken aback when someone last seen on a direct stairway to heaven shows up in armour, dragging a sick human behind. Galadriel explains about doing the 8,000km front crawl back from Valinor and why she felt it necessary; Elrond brings her up to speed on the existential threat to the Elves and they have some bonding time. In the golden light and artificial perfection of the Elven city sets, beautifully realised once again by all that Amazon cash, it’s nice to see two characters bring real texture and depth to these roles. Credit not only to these actors – both of whom are superb – but to director Wayne Che Yip and series composer Bear McCreary, whose score continues to be flawless.
Meanwhile, Celebrimbor is trying to figure out a way to use the tiny lump of mithril they have to save the entire Elven population. Enter a recovered Halbrand with some helpful advice on smelting techniques, as a chorus of Tolkien fanatics scream “I knew it!” at the TV. Fun fact: canonically, Sauron once worked with the Elven smiths of Eregion under the name Annatar, and was instrumental in figuring out how to forge the Rings of Power. Here’s Halbrand doing the same – I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Galadriel, however, is not, and dragoons a nearby librarian into investigating the family whose crest Halbrand wears. Whadya know, the line died out a thousand years ago – which, in her defence, is basically yesterday in elf terms. Who can keep track of these humans, etc.? It’s an abrupt shift on her part from comrade in arms to wary guard, and one that seems more motivated by the showrunners’ desire to keep Galadriel on the side of the angels rather than by any overtly suspicious behaviour on Halbrand’s part. Then again, it’s about time someone started asking him some pointed questions.
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She confronts Halbrand, who admits it: HE is Sauron – gasp! – but he’s not bad, he claims; just drawn that way. The many thousands of elf deaths, including that of her brother(s), were just an unfortunate misunderstanding. He wants her to fight alongside him, to lead Middle-earth and save it from itself. Happily (and inevitably), Galadriel stays strong, and after some messing about and finding that out while he traipses through her memories – as well as a visual callback to her other moment of temptation, with Frodo in Lothlorien – he vanishes from Eregion. We see him just once more, making his way into Mordor to take possession of that newly volcanic realm. Look out, Adar.
Galadriel has been tricked, but it almost seems as though a weight has been lifted from her. Her enemy actually exists and her obsessions are borne out. That’s why she can donate her brother’s dagger and its super-pure Valinorean silver and gold to the forging of three rings for the elves. She, Elrond, and Celebrimbor stand, looking at their new creations. At last! We can finally stop misquoting Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: now eventually you do plan to have Rings of Power in your Rings Of Power show, right?