Númenor Rule the Waves: A Review and Analysis of The Rings of Power, Episode 3

I have discussed the first two episodes of The Rings of Power. Time to take a look at the third episode – one I felt avoided the lowest lows of its predecessors while also not quite managing to match the highest highs. On average I think it is the best of the episodes thus far, with the operative words being “on average.” The show has grown more consistent and overall more assured, a good sign for later perhaps. There is nothing in here comparable to Galadriel’s jump into the sea, and there are some nice shout-outs, both to Jackson and to The Silmarillion itself. On the other hand, I’m still not entirely sold on some of the details, and the absence of the Dwarves and Celebrimbor meant that I felt I was missing the best of what the show has to offer.

Here we follow four storylines, including one new one:

  • Galadriel and Halbrand in Númenor.
  • Elendil’s family.
  • The Harfoots.
  • The Southlands.

Considering them each in turn…

(i) Galadriel and Halbrand in Númenor

This is our first ever on-screen look at Númenor, and the visuals are suitably glorious. We have a monstrous statue of Earendil in the port city of Rómenna… well, it might be Rómenna. It appears to have been merged with Armenelos, something I am not overly bothered about. This is a setting reliant on the sea, so it makes sense to have the seat of political power be coastal. Between the statue (reminiscent of the Argonath), the flowering White Tree, and some of the architecture, I think there are enough signs that this is the forerunner civilisation to Gondor, while at the same time it feels like something more Mediterranean, more based on trade, and certainly more classical than medieval. Appropriate Atlantis-vibes, I think, with the sun symbolism – yellow on blue – being quite deliberate. Galadriel and Halbrand turn up in the light of the noon-day sun, reflective of encountering this civilisation at its zenith, while I think it no accident that the show places great emphasis on the Orcs not abiding sunlight. This is a show that cares deeply about symbolism.

Galadriel fills us in with some exposition to Halbrand here. There is a case for this feeling a tad forced, a tad As You Know, Bob, as TV Tropes would call it, since if Halbrand is floating around at sea, he really ought to know about Númenor. But Halbrand is as good an audience-surrogate here as any, and I did like the contrast of Halbrand being descended from Morgoth’s allies, whereas Númenor is descended from Elvish allies. Just as the Southlands storyline carries with it a thematic exploration of the Sins of the Fathers, Númenor is the opposite – an exploration of a Prodigal Son, a case of a people abandoning their noble ancestors for evil.

An issue with this storyline is the way in which Galadriel shows her inability to act the least bit diplomatically, with our Elven protagonist going so far as to make threats to Tar-Miriel’s face. I understand that they are drawing a conscious contrast between hot-headed pseudo-Feanorian Galadriel and the smooth-talking sensible Elrond, and that the character of Galadriel will grow and change over the course of the show. We will see her develop away from this. It’s just that for now, this really is a gender-flipped Celegorm, rash to the point of reckless, to a degree where you wonder whether anyone ever knocked any sense into her. The entitlement runs strong in this Galadriel. Good for drama, perhaps, but she is damned lucky that Miriel and Pharazôn find her antics more amusing than irritating.

(As an aside, Galadriel’s declaration of her identity is pure iambic meter.

“Galadriel of the Noldor. Daughter of the Golden House of Finarfin. Commander of the Northern Armies of High King Gil-Galad.”

“GaLADriel OF the NOLDor. DAUGHTer OF the GOLDen HOUSE of FINarFIN. ComMANder OF the NORTHern ARMies OF High KING Gil-GALad.”

In what amounts to a pissing match between Galadriel and Miriel, Galadriel is not pulling punches. This Galadriel never pulls punches. At least Miriel’s haughty “Name thyself” is justified in the circumstances. She’s the ruler, after all, and talking down to her Elven visitor is a politically savvy move of performative Quendiphobia. Recall that “thyself” is the familiar form).

But if Galadriel is Female-Celegorm, Halbrand at least makes a serviceable Curufin. A very serviceable Curufin (sudden thought – does this make Miriel into Orodreth?). It is abundantly clear from a variety of clues that Halbrand is not to be trusted, but he at least is capable of articulating himself out of awkward situations… having bailed out Galadriel and gained them both a few days to play with, he manages to return Galadriel’s precious dagger too. Turns out he is an adept thief. Then he tries to ingratiate himself with the smithing guild (more Curufin!), only to wind up in prison after a street-fight.

There are a couple of neon-lights hanging over Halbrand, neither of which I like very much. On one hand, his scruffy demeanor and eventually-revealed royal ancestry make him into a sort of Dark Aragorn (ironically earning the contempt of Aragorn’s own ancestors, who are in full hegemonic flight here with their “low man” insults). Dark Aragorn meets Bronn from Game of Thrones, perhaps. But the notion of Halbrand being the true, hidden King of the Southlands is just so damned hackneyed, it practically screams subversion. Will he be a failed Aragorn? An evil Aragorn? Some combination of the two? The fact that we are in a position to see the subversion coming at this stage… I think is a bit weak.

The other neon-light over Halbrand is that he is one of the major candidates for hidden Annatar. The show has presented us with several possible Saurons, and is currently dangling them in front of the audience like characters in an Agatha Christie murder-mystery (Mordor on the Orient Express?). We knew of Halbrand’s candidacy already, but having him established as a decent talker and now an accomplished smith? Combined with his view that Númenor is a “paradise rife with opportunity”? That is definitely a massive hint. So massive that I think it falls into the “too obvious” category. I have read my share of Christie, and she would never do this sort of thing this early, except as a red-herring. Which means we are likely in for another subversion. There is such a thing as being too clever for one’s own good.

There are a couple of other things to comment on, so far as this storyline is concerned. The first is that Miriel is not yet technically Tar-Miriel. Her father, Tar-Palantir, is still alive, but is confined to his tower after an apparent Palace Coup. All this, of course, is pure show-invention, but in light of the King’s Men working against him his entire life, I don’t find it completely outlandish – albeit I do smile at the seeming lack of ruthlessness in said Coup. Merely locking the King in his tower, and making the daughter Queen-Regent? How very non-Roman of them.

What I do find curious is that Miriel is shown to be working with Pharazôn in public – and engaging in performative Quendiphobia – while still communicating with her imprisoned father in private about highly confidential issues. It is worth remembering that Tolkien wrote a couple of different versions of Tar-Miriel, one where she was deposed by Pharazôn, and another where she adored her cousin and married him on her own accord. Having a Miriel who is quiet Faithful and public King’s Man would be an interesting take… her real loyalties perhaps being hinted at with her comments on the White Tree.

(Oh, and when Miriel is talking about Elves being unwelcome, she refers to her grandfather’s great-grandfather. If you check the family tree, that’s a reference to Ar-Adûnakhôr. Very, very clever. The plotting might be hit-or-miss, and they might not be able to access texts, but contrary to certain criticisms, this show knows its lore and loves its easter-eggs).

The other comment on Galadriel’s storyline surrounds her little venture into the Tower of Records with Elendil. Here we discover that the eye-sigil Sauron has been using is just a stylised map of the Southlands. Or as we would know it, Mordor. Some might suggest that this telegraphs Sauron’s plan, and make our Dark Lord look like an idiot. Perhaps it does, but honestly, it’s there for the benefit of the casual viewer, and to emphasise the narrative importance of the Southlands. One can handwave that it still also looks like an Eye. But no, my major interest with the Records scene is that we encounter an interesting tapestry:

This is a lovely reference to the differing choices of the two Half-Elven brothers, Elrond and Elros. Galadriel cites her familiarity with both brothers in one of those “the Elves have a different conception of time” moments – for Elendil this is ancient history, even allowing for a show that has timeline smooshing. But in terms of symbolism, it also evokes the famous School of Athens image of Plato and Aristotle:

Recall that Plato and Aristotle have two contrasting views of reality. Plato’s view is that this world is derivative of a changeless World of Ideas. Aristotle’s view is that this world is the “real” world. Plato points up in the painting, to evoke transcendental timelessness, whereas Aristotle points outwards, in favour of grounding his ideas.

Applying this to Elrond and Elros, one can either focus on the position of the brother, or on which direction they are pointing. Here Elros is standing in Plato’s position, perhaps arguing in favour of the Gift of Men – the ability of the human spirit to transcend Arda, and leave the Circles of the World. Elrond is standing in Aristotle’s position, perhaps arguing in favour of the Elvish state, whereby one is bound to the world for the course of its existence. Alternatively, Elrond is pointing upwards, perhaps a comment of the Eldar being the People of the Stars, whereas Elros is pointing downwards, perhaps in reference to Men living a more grounded existence during their time on Arda.

It honestly is a very clever symbolic representation of the root conflict that will engulf Númenor – the philosophical divergence between Men and Elves. I think it a shame that this symbolism is as much as we get in this episode, so far as actually explaining the source of Númenor’s Quendiphobia.

(ii) Elendil’s Family

In addition to Galadriel and Halbrand’s little adventures on the island, we are also introduced to a certain Númenorean family – one that will have substantial plot significance going forward. For the present, it is not so much a storyline, and more a series of character introductions, but one has to start somewhere. Show-Elendil has been downgraded significantly from his book counterpart, being a respected ship-captain, rather than a high-ranking nobleman. Sure, Book-Elendil is a sea-captain too, but the point is that he’s rather more than just that. In another piece of As You Know, Bob, Pharazôn explains to Miriel (and thus the audience) who this fellow is.

Show-Elendil is presented as a dutiful, respectful and perceptive fellow (c.f. his comments on Galadriel’s personality), with roots in the more Quendiphilic western part of the island. It enables him to speak Quenya to his guest. But in contrast to his book counterpart, he is not some sort of leader among the Faithful – not yet anyway, and there is a case that Miriel finds his factional loyalties a matter of current interest. After all, why would he bring an Elf to the island, if he weren’t at least somewhat sympathetic? Her interrogation of Elendil over the etymology of his name – and the potential double-meaning – is very well done. Another affirmation that the writers know the material.

Show-Elendil also has a strongly pragmatic streak, what with his “the past is dead” line, and his decision to move the family away from the west. Not quite something Book-Elendil would say, and I thought it ponderous and stupid in a trailer, but I think it works here, now that we have some context. It is also clear that Amazon has not licensed the regional names of Númenor, hence the reference to “west side”, rather than Andustar.

His son, Isildur, by contrast is good-hearted – he rescues a fellow sea-cadet during training – but he has the potential to daydream, and he is less dutiful than his father, thinking of deferring his admittance. And speaking of the Númenorean sea-cadets… while the visuals were nice and all, I honestly cringed at “the sea is always right” line. Sure, it’s simple, and iambic trimeter (which makes it ironically Elvish), but I think it would have been far better to have translated the proverb into Quenya. One could excuse it as tradition, analogous to Latin phrases in a legal context, and Elendil could have translated the line for us later, in his conversation with Miriel. At least in Quenya, it would sound pretty. In English, it sounds trite.

We also have Elendil’s invented daughter, Earien (‘Sea-maiden’ in Quenya), with whom Isildur has a warm sibling relationship, and another off-screen son, the canonical Anarion. We will probably not see Amandil in the series.

(iii). The Harfoots

My view last week was that the show has handled the proto-hobbits as well as they reasonably could have, given the constraints of the story. I think they are still making a decent fist at it – it’s just that the individualism versus conformity theme they had hitherto been addressing intelligently has now been sledgehammered into the brains of the audience. Worse, the downsides of the Harfoot collectivist mindset have been emphasised to a degree where the warm, community life they had been promoting (“we have each other…”) feels outright hypocritical – a dark and insincere lie better suited to Shirley Jackson’s Lottery than Tolkien.

“Nobody goes off trail. And nobody walks alone” is a decent-enough summary of Harfoot conformity and collectivism thus far, albeit a heavy-handed one. Keep to the old ways, ensure your survival, and work together for the common good. Well and good. It’s just that this ethos does not extend to helping the struggling Brandyfoots with their heavy cart – we literally see other Harfoots further up the trail with light burdens. Smiling Harfoots at that.

One can rationalise it as the Brandyfoots currently suffering social stigma, but I really, really do not like it. Nor does the excuse of primitive society hold water – we know, based off archaeological evidence, that ancient peoples did actually care for disabled members of the community. Notwithstanding their strange, and quite dark, ritual about remembering the Left-Behind, those they could not help, the Harfoots come across as little monsters here. Finger-wag all you want, but at least lend a bloody hand. “Nobody walks alone” and all that.

In fact, between the role of social stigma and Sadoc Burrows’ speech evoking Bilbo Baggins’ Birthday Party, I do think the show is running with the notion that social customs – that today seem humorous – can have a much darker origin. Interesting concept, but I think the show might be overdoing it. Oh well, at least they have Sadoc as a Reasonable Authority Figure, as opposed to the nutters who literally want to de-caravan (and hence banish, and hence kill) the entire Brandyfoot family for Nori’s kind-hearted curiosity. Sadoc might be an old stick-in-the-mud, but he’s not a sociopath, and there were a couple of lighter moments involving him too. An easter-egg allusion to Earendil (“I’ve heard of people becoming stars”), and his quibbling over the details of his speech. Like Elrond’s earlier speechwriting, this does come across like a meta-joke on the part of the screen-writers.

Further on the bright side, I do think it is increasingly likely that the Stranger is not Sauron, given the various shenanigans of this episode. Amnesia would only go so far towards explaining his behaviour, which is currently the antithesis of Sauron. And as a New Zealander, I did like the toetoe grass, a reminder of where this first season was actually filmed.

(iv). The Southlands

I sung the praises of this storyline last week. This week, I felt it a good deal weaker. There is no Bronwyn or Theo or Old Guy at the tavern. There is no cursed evil sword to drink blood. Only Arondir and his Elven fellows from the watchtower, and a gaggle of sun-averse Orcs. Specifically, Arondir has been captured, and thrust into the role of digging dirt and destroying trees. Potentially even looking for a certain sword. The ugly landscape of Mordor as we know it is starting to appear.

The issue here is that with the sole exception of Arondir himself, we have little or no reason to care about these captured Elves. They are just random dudes – and yet the show seems to think we should care when the Orcs kill them. Which is the basic (and unfortunate) recipe for melodrama. A call-back to Jackson’s Boromir being hit with arrows rings a bit hollow, given that we cared about Boromir and can’t even name this guy. He’s the one Arondir thinks smells like rotten leaves, right?

Then there is the warg fight. People seem to hate the CGI on this critter. As with Galadriel and the Ice Troll they might have gone a bit overboard with Arondir’s acts of extreme dexterity too, but then Arondir is basically a sort of Show-Legolas, and Jackson served up far more questionable feats there. Myself, I’m putting this one down as an evocation of Finrod Felagund fighting the werewolf in Sauron’s dungeon, another case of the show giving us The Silmarillion without giving us The Silmarillion.

For unknown reasons, the Orcs decide not to kill Arondir, and instead take him to Adar. The episode wants us to think this is Sauron, but we know from earlier online leaks this is probably not the case. Adar – an invented character – is a corrupted Elf, whom the Orcs now enthusiastically follow (Adar is Sindarin for Father). I would love it if Adar were one of the original captured Avari, and hence a literal father of the Orcs, but the leaks suggest otherwise. He is actually supposed to be Galadriel’s brother. Not Finrod, thankfully, but another one. I suppose we will get a better idea next week. For now, all we have is a brief and blurry image of someone with long, dark hair. A tad ironic, given that the episode is named after the guy.

*

Such are my thoughts on the third episode of The Rings of Power. I think both the Harfoot and the Southlands storylines are a bit weaker this week, and as noted earlier, we’re sorely missing the Dwarves, but I think the adventures on a certain Island Kingdom more than make up for it, and as always I appreciate the clever use of symbolism and lore-references. So nothing too egregious overall, even if there are bits to grumble over. Show-Galadriel continues to be a hothead, too hotheaded for anyone from the House of Finarfin, but at least other in-universe characters are now calling this feminine Celegorm up on her behaviour. I would also point out that while we are nearly half-way through the first season, the show will span a full five seasons, and the screen-writers have written accordingly.

Addendum: As if the show weren’t making this Galadriel Feanorian enough… someone else has just pointed out that Galadriel threatens violence in order to get her hands on a ship. Just like her Mad Uncle. I’d completely missed that. Another very clever inside joke, albeit one that any version of Book Galadriel would rather frown at.

10 thoughts on “Númenor Rule the Waves: A Review and Analysis of The Rings of Power, Episode 3

  1. ” … it feels like something more Mediterranean, more based on trade, and certainly more classical than medieval.”

    The Eastern Roman Empire, that later historians called Byzantium, the Seljuks (and others) called Rûm, and the Ottomans themselves called the Ottoman Empire. I.e. not Mediterranean, but looking to the Sea of Marmara, Anatolia, the Black Sea. and the endless litany of previous empires including the Phoenican sea empire, the sun worshipping Assyrian empires, reaching even further back, beyond even the Bronze Age into the prehistoric — and generally, always looking east, not west at all, until the days of the Roman conquests. The show did this beautifully with Númenor.

    “An issue with this storyline is the way in which Galadriel shows her inability to act the least bit diplomatically …”

    Ah, she shares this trait with so many fans! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Guess my thoughts that Ents snagged Arondir was wrong. I found this weaker than episode 2. Arondir is surrounded by bit characters the show wants us to treat as tragedies and heroic sarificies. Which falls flat because these guys have been on screen for about 3 minutes. I’d have liked to have known how they got captured. The orcs look good, at least. The warg fight got a bit too silly for my taste. I think at a certain point these superhero style stunts detract from the drama of the action. Adar could be interesting, though the rumours of him being Galadriel’s brother or possibly even Maglor are concerning.

    Numenor looked great and the name scene with Elendil & Miriel was great. I’m not sure what the voice whispering to Isildur was. I’m curious to see where the family dynamics go. I guess they want to build up to Elendil as a leader of the Faithful. We’ll see how it plays out. I am not fond of Galadriel having no diplomatic skills. I’d prefer a scene where she begins attempting to be gracious, is frustrated by Miriel and Pharazon’s shrewdness and slips into Noldorian arrogance. I agree “the sea is always right” is pretty awful. The show’s writing thus far is pretty mixed. It seems they have equal levels of good ideas “There can be no trust between hammer and rock” and bad ideas. The painting of Elros and Elrond surprised me, however. It was a nice touch.

    Not sure where Halbrand is going. The Sauronian hints with him are getting a bit heavy, but it could be misdirection. Dark Aragorn could be where he’s headed, maybe, but if they’ve unintentionally revealed the narrative end so soon it might just be dull. I was unsure of the purpose of his theft of the smith’s identifier. Why did he think that would fool anybody? I wondered perhaps if his aim was to get arrested, though I’m not sure what plan/purpose that would serve. And where did he get money to buy drinks?

    The Harfoot stuff has been surprising. It was the storyline I was most cynical about, but it’s turned out reasonably solid. I don’t think their chant was particularly great – rather hamfisted – though I did like their costumes. The drama got a bit hamfisted as well. “No one gets left behind!” unless you have a tragic accident, then you can either keep up or die. I think they did a decent job getting Meteor Man on the journey with them, but did they have to make the Harfoots so cruel? Even poor Poppy, victim of a horrendous tragedy, is seen struggling alone with her cart all by herself. At that point, they’d as well throw her (and the Brandyfoots) in a ditch and leave her for the wargs. Also that cringey line from the trailer – “We Harfoot’s have hearts as big as our feet” – might just look downright bizarre now.

    Almost half-way through the season now. I imagine things will be getting Serious in the next episode.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Having thought about it some more, I think there is a decent case that episode 2 is indeed overall superior to 3. At the time I wrote the review, I was mentally lumping 1 and 2 together, and as such blamed them both for the ocean absurdities… but honestly, re-reading my own review, it’s quite clear that there is much to criticise 3 for.

      I would maintain that there is less dodgy plotting in this episode though.

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    • I mysef thought that those bony hands capturing the Latino elf, when they showed it in the trailers, I though it might be chance to see some Barrow-wights, after all Sauron is a necromancer why not? But obviously those are orcs. If indeed they developed those cannon fodder elves earlier or at least showed them as more likeable, then we would care more the Harfoots storyline to me is always the weakest, the whole mystery of meteor man is not appealing to me much, neither is Nori or her friend who likes to complain. As for Numenor design, it’s certainly grand looking, but I don’t like this eastern like stylization, Elendil was probably the only thing in this episode that I liked except for his family dramas of brother and sister. The emblem of the sun though to me I always associated it as personal emblem of Anarion, because..well obviously it is associated with very name of his and that he will found Minas Anor and province of Anorien etc. 🙂 just like Moon imagery is associated with Isildur.

      The Warg well I find it weird that it’s so hard to make a proper design of an intimidating wolf like creature, maybe they should have taken werewolf designs from Underworld hehe 😉 jokes aside the exposition scenes and lore tidbits are mostly inconsequential to the larger overarching narrative and maybe I just expected more clever use of those. Say similar to the case of the portrayal of dwarven culture…so they invent the ritual of rock smashing, but don’t evne invent any cool name for it in neokhuzdul or something, nope they just have Elrond say he calls upon Sigin-tarag…which is just name of the clan of Longbeards in khuzdul, I was also disappointed that they didn’t use the “strange beliefs” about the Durin reincarnation, it could have been used for additional characterization and drama, I mean they could have made the young prince the actual Durin III (because it would be better for narrative, Durin III will be first ringbearer, who will receive the first of hte Seven and it would be more poignant if this turn out to be the young prince, also have his father not being Durin but bear other Norse name, just because there can’t be two at the same time, and use this belief to dramatic effect, that the prince has felt the weight of expectations placed on him as well as reverence. there could have been a scene where he looks upon a statue of Durin I Deathless which looks in physical appearance exactly as he, also confide to his friend either Elrond or maybe even that wife of his, that he feels pressure, and has doubts and has it enough that people put enormous attention to all his decisions, revering him as this new reborn legendary Father of the Dwarves etc. it would work more towards crafting his identity etc. and could be potentially more interesting than just…tension because an immortal elf friend missed hte wedding (that situation could have been resolved simply by some explanation on Elrond’s part, him saying that he was busy with the war or something. hunting dark creatures or that Gil-galad the king needed him, in any case 20 years is not that much even for a dwarf and a blink of an eye for an elf.

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  3. “It is also clear that Amazon has not licensed the regional names of Númenor, hence the reference to “west side”, rather than Andustar.”

    No that’s not right. If you look on the map on Amazon’s own website for the show they have Numenor with Andustar, Forostar, Orrostar, Hyarrostar, Hyarnustar, Mittalmar, Armenelos, Eldalonde, Romenna and Meneltarma. They clearly couldn’t have those on that map if they didn’t license the regional names. What they don’t seem to have are Arandor, Noirinan, Emerie and rather notably Andunie.

    So it is rather strange that they went through the trouble of getting Numenor’s geography licensed but don’t seem like they are going to use it at all, except to use simplified terms such as “west lands” or “west side”, especially when they presumably have 5 seasons to work with on this. It is as puzzling as their use of the name Beleriand for Arondir’s origins in their descriptions of the character, but their complete no-show for Beleriand in Galadriel’s visual exposition in episode 1. Had a perfect opportunity to show onscreen what Arondir has gone through (the sinking of his home) to connect us more with the character but chuff it in favour of just writing that he came from Beleriand.

    The lack of Andunie though looks as though they have merged Eldalonde and Andunie, whilst also removing Elendil’s connection with Andunie as anything other than just hailing from there (as opposed to having been the son of the Lord there)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fair point, though the terms of the licensing agreement might have been “you can have the map for promotional purposes, but we’re going to be picky with what appears in the script.” The map is most certainly licensed, so Eru only knows what is in the small-print.

      On the other hand, possibly they are going with terms like “west side” for the ease of casual viewers.

      Like

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