The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power opened with an episode packed from beginning to end with exposition and character after character destined to play a role in a series chronicling the Second Age of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Phew! Surely there’s nothing new to learn in episode two, right? Wrong. It turns out we have more people to meet and more storylines to kick off. But “Adrift” quickly picks up where the previous episode left off, with Nori investigating the man who fell to Middle-earth (a still unnamed character played by Daniel Weyman).
He would seem to be no ordinary man. Once Nori discovers that the fire, or whatever it is, surrounding him won’t burn her, she approaches the stranger as the flames die, then reignite. With Poppy’s help (after some coaxing), Nori uses a purloined wheelbarrow to move the stranger’s body after he collapses. What’s going on here? Back in the village, Sadoc isn’t sure, and he resists a call to break camp until at least after the upcoming festival. Still, it’s an ominous development.
Even more ominous is what Arondir and Bronwyn — our will-they-won’t-they human-elf couple — find in the scorched ruins of the village they’re investigating. There are no dead or wounded, but there is some kind of underground passageway. After telling Bronwyn to warn her townspeople, Arondir investigates for himself. What little we see of his investigation goes quite poorly and ends with him being snatched by what appear to be underground vines.
Bronwyn’s mission goes poorly, too. Back in the village, no one wants to hear about ruined villages and underground passages. For Bronwyn, the problem will soon hit close to home, in the most literal way possible. Theo hears strange noises he believes to be mice, but he’s wrong. Instead, it’s the sound of an orc emerging from a tunnel beneath the house. (Maybe another branch of the one Arondir was exploring?) Snapping into action, Bronwyn slices off the orc’s head then takes it back to the village as proof that they have an orc problem. (How’s that for an “I told you so”?) That gets their attention. Her suggestion to any who “want to live” is to make for the elven tower at first light. That they do, but only after Theo bleeds a bit onto the hilt with Sauron’s sigil on it, a development that will almost certainly cause the sword some problems down the line.
In the seemingly safer town of Ekegion (“Realm of the Elven Smiths”), Elrond is settling into his new gig working for Celebrimbor, one that allows him to fanboy out (in restrained, elven fashion) upon seeing the hammer of Fëanor, the great smith who made powerful artifacts called the Silmarils. To read more about that, pick up The Silmarillion, the sweeping history of Middle-earth Tolkien worked on both before and after writing The Lord of the Rings (edited and completed after his death by son Christopher Tolkien). But that suggestion comes with two caveats: 1) It’s kind of a slog and 2) Any material in The Silmarillion that’s not mentioned in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings is off limits to The Rings of Power due to rights issues.
The important thing to know is that things didn’t turn out so great for Fëanor and his creation caused a few problems. “Strange, isn’t it,” Elrond notes, “how one object could be responsible for so much beauty, and so much pain.” (This could be foreshadowing.) Celebrimbor has a plan: to devise something of great beauty and power. But first he’ll need to build a tower big enough to create the greatest forge Middle-earth has ever seen. And he needs it finished by spring. This will require a lot of manual labor. Perhaps Elrond has some ideas?
He does, but it’s tricky, and it requires traveling to Khazad-dûm (“Realm of the Dwarves”) and renewing his friendship with his old friend Durin IV (Owain Arthur), a dwarven prince. That’s easier said than done. When the dwarves turn him away, Elrond has to invoke a rite that compels them to let him into their underground mining kingdom. He reunites with Durin only to discover that Durin is pissed. Durin forces Elrond into a rock-breaking contest that Elrond’s sure to lose, which Durin tells him will result in his banishment. Elrond does lose, but while he’s being escorted out by Durin he finds out why his old friend is so mad at him: His feelings are hurt. Elrond wasn’t at his wedding. Elrond’s never met his kids. He never calls! He never writes!
Humbled by Durin’s outburst, Elrond asks his forgiveness. Twenty years is just a blip for an elf, but it’s a much longer stretch in the life of a dwarf. They patch things up, helped by Durin’s charming wife, Vilma (Maxine Cunliffe). But there’s something not quite right about the visit anyway, even if Elrond doesn’t pick up on it. When Durin meets up with his father, King Durin III (Peter Mullan), his dad expresses a suspicion that lines up with centuries of mistrust between elves and dwarves and alludes to something the dwarves want to keep secret from even the friendliest elves.
Elsewhere on the map, Nori’s trying to get to know the stranger, but it’s hard. He doesn’t seem to speak any language she understands, but he does make weird noises that summon whirlwinds. They form a tentative bond, however. Nori brings him food, and he draws a series of runes she can’t decipher. But there’s more going on. As he draws, the stranger’s actions have a kind of synchronous effect on what’s going on back in the harfoot village, even causing Nori’s father, Largo (Dylan Smith), to snap his ankle as the stranger snaps the stick he’s using to draw. What’s going on here? Any harm seems to be unintentional, however, born of a need to communicate with his new friends.
As the episode draws to a close, he compels the fireflies in Poppy’s lantern to form the shape of a constellation. Nori gets the hint: She needs to take him to where stars are arranged in the shape he makes. This probably won’t be easy, but putting halflings on quests is the engine that drives Tolkien’s most famous stories, so it’s unlikely she’ll turn away.
In the ocean, Galadriel makes the acquaintance of a handful of shipwreck survivors surviving on some flotsam. But, for most of them at least, the acquaintance will prove short lived. It’s a sea monster that wrecked their ship, and the monster soon returns. Galadriel swims away and is soon rescued by the one survivor with the wiles to survive the second attack. His name is Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), and he soon begins peppering Galadriel with questions about her past. She’s annoyed but also intrigued once Halbrand mentions his grievance against orcs. She knows how that feels! And when he reveals he’s from the Southlands, a plan starts to fall into place.
Storms have a way of disrupting even elven plans, however. Galadriel and Halbrand survive, but only barely. And their survivor might have been brief if not for the arrival of a ship helmed by a figure whose face is obscured by light. Looks like we’re not done meeting new people yet, even now.
• This episode was written by Gennifer Hutchison, a veteran of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. That clearly makes her a good person to have on staff and, when you think about it, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul both took place in a lore-rich world with many characters and factions competing for power, even if its world only occasionally extended farther than the city limits of Albuquerque.
• It’s a strong outing, too. The second episode has to do less heavy exposition lifting than the first episode, but it’s not free of it either. Yet by the end of the episode The Rings of Power has started to pick up a real sense of momentum.
• We saw orcs by the score in Jackson’s Hobbit films. This episode serves as a reminder of how scary they can be one-on-one. The intruder Bronwyn and Theo fight off is pretty horrifying!
• With this episode we get the full opening-credits sequence, and it’s pretty cool. Rings and trees all done in grains of sand. Is it a mandala-like reminder of the transience of existence or just a neat way to open a fantasy show?
Update: an earlier version of this recap misidentified an actor. It has been corrected.