‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ Season 1, Episode 7: Out of the Ashes
Season 1, Episode 7: ‘The Eye’
The title of this week’s “The Rings of Power” episode seems a lot like a wink toward even the most casual of Tolkien fans. It’s called “The Eye,” a name that could refer to the Eye of Sauron: the imposing symbol of the Dark Lord’s all-seeing, all-knowing power in “The Lord of the Rings” books and movies. After six episodes of merely teasing connections — by hinting that Adar may be Sauron, or that the Stranger may be a wizard, or that the Southlands may be Mordor — the show’s writers may be ready to start definitively answering some questions.
But are they? This episode opens with an image of an actual eye. It’s Galadriel’s, as she wakes up covered in ash after the volcanic explosion triggered by Adar’s minions. Later, we learn that the Queen-Regent Míriel was blinded while trying to save as many as possible in the wake of the eruption. There seems to be a motif here. Does the title of “The Eye” literally refer to eyes, and not to Sauron?
As it happens, very little of this week’s action involves Adar, the orcs or Sauron (whomever or wherever he may be). Instead, we see the Númenóreans and the Southlanders regroup after last week’s disastrous events; and we catch up with the dwarves and the Harfoots. The episode does end with the orcs settling into their new homeland, where the sun has been blotted out by the volcano’s smoke and ash. And there, the “Rings” writers do clarify something viewers have been wondering, as the word “Southlands” is erased from the screen and replaced with the region’s new name: “Mordor.” This ancient version of Middle-earth is starting to look a little more like the one we know.
Here are five takeaways and observations from this season’s penultimate episode:
Galadriel and her little buddy
After her enormous setback in the previous episode, Galadriel is a much humbler elf — although “humble” is a relative term for an immortal who still believes, more often than not, that her choices are absolutely right. Still, there are some (so to speak) humanizing moments for Galadriel this week, as she helps Theo find his way out of his ravaged village and to the spot near the shore where the Númenóreans and the Southlanders are resting. As the two ride, they talk. She shares some personal stories that make her seem less forbidding, including describing dancing with her late husband, a soldier whom she says resembled “a silver clam” when he rode off to battle because his armor didn’t fit properly.
More important, Galadriel talks Theo out of thinking he is solely responsible for Adar’s victory, or that he belongs alongside Waldreg and the other humans on the path of darkness. She insists that the wise understand a person’s true intentions. And she urges him — and perhaps herself — not to dwell on mistakes, or to be consumed by revenge. “What cannot be known hollows the mind,” she says. “Fill it not with guesswork.” (One thing this show’s writers do particularly well is invent new aphorisms.)
Explore the World of the ‘Lord of the Rings’
The literary universe built by J.R.R. Tolkien, now adapted into a new series for Amazon Prime Video, has inspired generations of readers and viewers.
- Artist and Scholar: Tolkien did more than write books. He invented an alternate reality, complete with its own geography, languages and history.
- Being Frodo: The actor Elijah Wood explains why he’ll never be upset at being associated with the “Lord of the Rings” movie series.
- A Soviet Take: A 1991 production based on Tolkien’s novels, recently digitized by a Russian broadcaster, is a time capsule of a bygone era.
- From the Archives: Read what W.H. Auden wrote about “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first volume of Tolkien’s trilogy, in 1954.
The Elrond and Durin Show
After the heartwarming moment two episodes ago when Elrond admitted to Durin that the elves actually do need the dwarves’ supply of mithril to survive — and Durin seemed eager to help — the plan hits a huge snag in this episode when the dwarves’ king, Durin III (Peter Mullan) nixes it. Even though the elves promise to furnish the city with game, grain and timber for the next five centuries, King Durin’s general distrust of elves and his fear of digging too deep scotches the deal. In the fiery arguments that follow, Prince Durin has his title stripped by his father.
This only strengthens the bond between Elrond and Durin, who have become this show’s most likable pair. These boys can be heart-on-the-sleeve sincere, as when Durin comes very close to revealing the secret name he only shares with his closest family members. Or they can bust each other’s chops, as when Elrond suggests he intentionally lost their big contest back in Episode 2. As with the meaningful conversations between Galadriel and Theo this week, it’s nice to see characters on this kind of heavy, epic series just enjoying each other’s company.
Whom the gods favor
One of the juiciest recurring themes this season has involved the preoccupation with — and disagreement over — various signs and omens. How does anyone know when the gods want a call of opportunity to be answered? Think of Elendil, whose ship happened upon the raft Galadriel and Halbrand were clinging to in Episode 2. Was that divine providence, offering a chance to change the Númenóreans’ lives for the better? Elendil certainly doesn’t think so in this episode, given that Galadriel’s mission to Middle-earth seems to have led to his son’s death.
The Harfoots are the most uncertain about what anything really means. Like: Is the arrival of the Stranger good luck or bad luck? There is evidence of both. This week, as they arrive at their favorite grove to find it destroyed by the nearby volcanic spew, the Harfoots’ leader Sadoc tells “the big fella” he needs to leave. But when the trees the Stranger passes start coming back to life and yielding a bumper crop of apples, it looks like Sadoc sent him away too hastily. Then again, immediately after this revelation the white-clad creatures tracking the strange visitor show up and burn the clan’s carts. What are the gods saying here?
Which brings us back to King Durin III, who refuses to believe that his kingdom’s unique ability to save the elves is a boon. He thinks it may be the gods’ will for the elves to disappear. (“The fate of the elves was decided many ages ago by minds much wiser, much farther-seeing than our own,” he tells his son.) Even when he sees with his own eyes how mithril heals the elves’ poisoned leaf, it moves him only to drop that leaf into the depths of Khazad-dûm … where it catches fire and stirs the attention of a deeply buried balrog. Whose will is being done?
History is written by the winners … eventually.
Given how roundly our heroes have been beaten both in this episode and last week’s, one would expect them to be in a glum, hopeless state of mind. Not so! When Galadriel kneels before Míriel to offer her penitence, the Queen-Regent tells her, “Do not spend your pity on me, elf. Save it for our enemies, for they do not know what they have begun.” Sure, the Númenóreans are sailing home (minus a garrison to help the Southlanders resettle), but Míriel pledges their return. It’s hard not to be stirred at the end of this episode, as Galadriel escorts the deeply wounded Halbrand to Lindon for medical treatment and the people seeing them off, at Theo’s urging, shout, “Strength to the Southlands!”
It’s even more moving when the Harfoots respond to the cart-burning by deciding they need to warn the Stranger about these dangerous folk pursuing him. “Weeping? Is that all you think we have left in us?” Nori’s father Largo (Dylan Smith) asks, in a speech so rousing that it spurs Sadoc to help Nori on her quest. Even the skeptical elder Malva (Thusitha Jayasundera) joins the search party, saying, “What’s the good of living if we aren’t living good?” (Sadoc’s rueful but no less determined reply: “Doesn’t matter anyway, we’re all gonna die.”)
Color and light
Last week I expressed mild disappointment that two-thirds of the episode’s battle scenes were set in darkness, which was necessitated by the plot (given that orcs burn in sunlight) but also seemed to me to ape the dimly lit battles of “Game of Thrones.” Then, a few days later, the “Thrones” prequel series, “House of the Dragon,” aired an episode so murky that social media exploded with frustration and incredulity. Afterward, I rewatched those nighttime “Rings” battles and I must say, the visual differences between this show and the “Thrones” franchise are actually pretty pronounced. At least in this series, the torches everyone carries at night illuminate the action.
So let me re-up my past praise of “The Rings of Power” for how much brighter and more colorful it is than most modern prestige television. Even in this week’s episode, as Middle-earth is coated in dust and smog, there are striking images: a burning horse, an ominous oversized footprint, the devastation wrought by flaming fireballs, and so on. This show is never simplistic about “light” versus “darkness” when it comes to the locations and the characters. But neither are the writers and directors building a world of morally ambiguous characters in shadowy gray landscapes. There are differences here between good and evil — and the frame is lit up enough to see them.