The Rings of Power Episode 1 Review: “A Shadow of the Past”

By Melody McCune

Middle-earth fans, it’s finally here. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is on Prime Video, and it’s a doozy. One thing’s for certain — Amazon spared no expense concerning the visuals. Regardless of how you feel about the story, you must admit it looks positively breathtaking. Immersive. Ethereal. Elegant, even. Watching “A Shadow of the Past” made me feel like I was there.

This series was getting review-bombed before it was even released, which is unfortunate. I’m smitten with this show based on this episode alone. It’s fun, entertaining, and drenched in all the fantasy elements I love. Is it perfect? No, but sometimes one must set aside petty grievances and, for all intents and purposes, enjoy the damn ride. And take off the overly judgmental goggles because it’s only episode 1, people.


In the Beginning

We open with a voiceover from Galadriel as she sets the stage for this saga. Meanwhile, young Galadriel suffers criticism from her fellow Elf peers. Thankfully, her older brother Finrod swoops in to save the day while putting things in perspective for Galadriel. They live in Valinor during a time when no one knew what a sunrise was. Despite that, there was always light.

Galadriel expresses a moral dilemma — how will she ever know which light to follow? Finrod whispers something in her ear, but we don’t hear it.

Then, Galadriel narrates about the dreaded Morgoth, and how he snuffed the light out of the Two Trees of Valinor. What transpires next is the Elves’ departure from Valinor, a trek across The Sundering Seas, and the laying of roots in a new realm: Middle-earth.


The War and Its Aftermath

Next, we see the Elves locked in a brutal, bloody war with Morgoth’s Orcs. Finrod himself is among the valiant fighters. Unfortunately, he perishes, along with countless other Elves. Despite the temporary cessation of fighting and Morgoth’s defeat, Morgoth’s Orcs seeped into every nook and cranny of the realm. In the battle’s aftermath, we see Galadriel pick up Finrod’s helmet and place it on a pile.

When standing above his lifeless body, Galadriel notices a peculiar branding on Finrod’s arm. It’s the mark of Sauron, Morgoth’s most devoted servant leading the army of Orcs.

While gazing at Sauron’s crude branding, Galadriel decides to shoulder her late brother’s mantle. She will defeat the pervasive evil in Middle-earth. Galadriel will quash the last remnants of Morgoth’s forces.


Forodwaith

Centuries passed as Galadriel climbed the military ranks, becoming a commander of the northern armies. Thondir pulls Galadriel aside after she and her army climb a steep mountainside in Forodwaith. He believes the evil has been vanquished. They’ve searched for what feels like forever and haven’t found any sign of Morgoth’s Orcs or Sauron. Perhaps it’s time to return to Lindon? Chances are the High King will want them to retreat.

However, a resilient and unwavering Galadriel believes there’s more exploring to be done. After trudging through a massive wintry storm, Galadriel and her squad arrive at Morgoth’s fortress, a place of “evil cold.” 

Next, the crew heads inside to explore where Sauron and the Orcs once convened. The place looks abandoned. Galadriel spots Sauron’s marking once again, giving her pause. Suddenly, one of her soldiers stumbles upon an ice troll who seems keen on killing everyone. Thankfully, badass Galadriel kills the ice troll, effectively quelling the threat. Galadriel urges her squad to press on, as there are other places in the realm Sauron and his ilk could be hiding. 

But Thondir and the others refuse to forge ahead. They leave Galadriel to go at it alone. 


The Harfoots

Later, we arrive at the Rhovanion, the Wilderlands east of the Anduin. Two hunters walk through a field, catching the attention of the Harfoots, ancestors of the Hobbits. They emerge from hiding, bewildered by the presence of the “travelers.” Sadoc Burrows opens his books, perplexed by the hunters. Nori Brandyfoot, her friend Poppy Proudfellow, and the other Harfoots infiltrate a grassy expanse for some berries.

Unfortunately, the presence of wolf prints force Nori and her crew to return to the safety of the Harfoot encampment. Nori seems curious about the world outside her own. 


Lindon

Elrond constructs a speech for High King Gil-galad to deliver at an upcoming ceremony. He learns about his pal Galadriel’s return, so he eagerly gives her a hero’s welcome. Galadriel explains what she found at Morgoth’s fortress and her feeling that evil still exists in Middle-earth. She urges Elrond to help her get an audience with the High King. Galadriel needs a new army and fresh supplies to continue her search for Morgoth’s Orcs and Sauron. Elrond essentially tells her to slow her roll, but in a much more eloquent, poetic fashion than I can convey here.


The World Beyond

In the Rhovanion, Nori chats with her mother, Marigold, about the world beyond theirs. She wants to explore. She’s like Ariel sans fins! However, Marigold cautions her daughter against the dangers of moving outside their migratory patterns. She explains that each race in the realm has something they must protect, which is why everyone essentially keeps to themselves.


Receiving Honors

High King Gil-galad recites the speech Elrond wrote for him and places crowns on the heads of Galadriel’s crew. He gets to Galadriel, and the two exchange charged glances. As a reward for serving the realm well, Gil-galad reveals the soldiers will get to return home to Valinor. Of course, this doesn’t gel well with Galadriel. On a separate note: The best way to describe the visuals in this scene is “ethereal.” Just gorgeous.

Later, Elrond finds Galadriel standing before her brother’s memorial during a dazzling fireworks display. Galadriel doesn’t want to return to Valinor without vanquishing Sauron and Morgoth’s Orcs, the very things that took her home and her brother. Elrond tries to persuade Galadriel to put down her sword, to rest. The only thing evil is how pretty everyone is (I kid, I kid). Elrond vows to handle the threat if it proves to be true.

Galadriel confesses she doesn’t know who she is without the sword, but Elrond answers this in a flash — she’s his friend. Aw. I like the chemistry between these two. Side note (again): Where do Elves find decent conditioner in Middle-earth? Their hair is so voluminous and shiny!


The Southlands

Now, we’re in the Southlands, wherein Arondir, a Silvan Elf, patrols the area. He stops in a small village, Tirharad, after two weeks away. Arondir reunites with Bronwyn, a human healer for whom he carries a torch. After some light flirting and the gifting of a rare seed, Arondir departs. His buddy Médhor calls him out on his Bronwyn crush. He reminds Arondir that humans and Elves don’t mix well — that union typically ends in death.

When they arrive at their outpost, Arondir and Médhor learn of High King Gil-galad’s decree, stating that since the war is over, everyone can go home now. Arondir discusses his lengthy tenure in the Southlands with Watchwarden Revion. He spent 79 years there. Revion notes how the humans in the Southlands haven’t changed much since they sided with Morgoth during the war. He urges Arondir to cherish his time at this outpost but be grateful he’ll never see these humans again.


For Love

Arondir flees his Elven brethren for Tirharad. He reunites with Bronwyn. Admittedly, we’ve only spent a small fraction of time with these two, and I’m already sold on their love story. As Arondir and Bronwyn are about to confess their feelings for each other, another man shows up at her doorstep. He brings a sick cow, asking if Bronwyn can heal the creature.

Arondir stoops down near the cow’s udders and is taken aback when a black liquid excretes from them. He learns that the cow wandered to Hordern, east of Tirharad. Upon hearing this, Arondir and Bronwyn depart quickly. Meanwhile, Bronwyn’s son Theo finds the hilt of a sword in a barn, one engraved with Sauron’s marking. It emits a fiery glow. Uh-oh.


Bound for Home

Later, we see Galadriel on a ship with her crew, sailing across The Sundering Seas for Valinor, AKA The Undying Lands. Elrond and Gil-galad discuss Galadriel’s fears, and the High King commends Elrond for doing the right thing by his friend. Galadriel has served well, but it’s time to go home.

Gil-galad tells Elrond he’ll be working with Lord Celebrimbor, a celebrated Elven smith. The High King reveals it’s a project of “singular importance.” Hmm. Could this have something to do with the Three Rings? Methinks yes.


The Skies Are Strange

Nori observes Sadoc while he pours over his books, occasionally staring at the heavens and marveling at their peculiarities. She believes something is amiss, and Sadoc confirms it by telling her “the skies are strange.” Meanwhile, Arondir and Bronwyn are this close to confessing how they feel. That is until they discover the smoking ruins of Hordern as it blazes before them.


The Blinding Light

Galadriel and her crew approach a blinding light, ushering them into Valinor. Servants strip them of their armor and weaponry, but Galadriel struggles to relinquish her sword. She mulls on the words Finrod spoke to her as a little girl.

Back in Lindon, High King Gil-galad spots what appears to be a flaming red meteor as it streaks across the sky. As the Elves’ ship sails closer to the luminous light, Thondir reaches for Galadriel’s hand.

Arondir and Bronwyn also spot the meteor outside of Hordern. Bronwyn reaches for Arondir’s hand. Nori also notices the flying object in the heavens.


Something Is Coming

We finally hear what Finrod told Galadriel all those centuries ago. “Sometimes, we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.” Love a good profound truth. With that remembrance, Galadriel breaks from Thondir and the rest, diving headfirst into The Sundering Seas as the bright light consumes the vessel.

Gil-galad picks up a golden leaf and watches in confusion as a black liquid seeps through it. Nori Brandyfoot wanders toward the crash site of the meteor. She’s taken aback to find a naked man lying unconscious in the center of the fiery wreckage.


“A Shadow of the Past” sets the stage for what’s sure to be a larger-than-life season. That scene with Gil-galad, Elrond, and Celebrimbor certainly hints at the Three Rings, while the frequent appearances of Sauron’s marking prove the dark sorcerer is hard at work in the shadows. Plus, there’s the meteor man. Who could he be? The beard makes me want to say Gandalf, but that might be too obvious. I believe The Rings of Power will surprise us when the show reveals his identity.

Regardless of what these next episodes hold, I’m on this Middle-earth train until it rolls into the station. Whether or not you think it adheres well with Tolkien lore, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is just getting started, and I’ll reserve any severe critiques until a later date. For now, it’s a mesmerizing thrill ride across The Sundering Seas. 


What are your thoughts after watching “A Shadow of the Past?” Do you have any predictions for episode 2 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power?

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