It’s war! (Maybe!) “Partings,” the fifth episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, ends with ships filled with hundreds of Númenórean soldiers (and one elf) headed to Middle-earth to confront a still-vague threat, or at least a threat that’s vague to most of them. Some believe that there may be nothing of interest once they arrive or even that the danger will be over before they even get off the boats. But Halbrand knows otherwise.
Halbrand’s presence and the royal lineage he was eager to keep to himself provide much of the justification for this excursion. Even though he ends the episode looking properly kingly, a thematic cutting to current events in the Southlands suggests the source of his shame. Did Halbrand flee his kingdom after bending the knee to Adar, the elven warlord who picked up a sizable following of devoted orcs?
Halbrand’s possible past is repeating itself in the present. Adar is pretty intent on bringing down the tower where Bronwyn and her people have taken refuge, and some of the very ones she’s trying to protect don’t seem to mind. Upon first hearing the news that Adar has demanded their surrender, most agree that staying put is the better idea. But a vocal minority led by Waldreg (Geoff Morrell), who has apparently been waiting years to sell out to the forces of darkness anyway, disagree and depart in search of the enemy they believe to be Sauron. It’s not, as Waldreg learns the hard way after calling Adar by that name. The only way to make up for such a slight is for Waldreg to kill a fellow villager as a kind of loyalty oath. (Is this the same shameful act Halbrand committed? No wonder he suggests that everyone will hate him when they find out.)
So who is Adar, and what does he want? We get some more hints this week as he comforts an orc. Noting its aversion to sunlight, Adar says, “Soon it will be gone. And with it, the part of me that knew its warmth as well. I shall miss it.” Is the plan to knock out the sun itself? That sounds pretty bad! Adar’s shaping up to be one of the series’ most compelling characters. We see him commit awful acts, but he gives off an aura of sensitivity. He’s nice to the orcs, and no one’s nice to the orcs, so it’s little wonder they love him. But Joseph Mawle plays him with a weird vulnerability that suggests hidden depths and a sense of righteousness about the crimes he commits.
Still, Adar seems to be on the verge of committing some pretty appalling acts against those hiding in the tower. Even Bronwyn entertains surrender until Arondir talks her down, a task made easier by the recognition that the sword found by Theo — who notably did not leave with Waldreg and the other malcontents — has some ties to a long-hidden sculpture and would seem to be a key to enslaving humanity. It’s the sort of thing that’s worth fighting to keep out of the wrong hands, in other words, though the fight itself will have to wait until a future episode.
In a bit of parallelism, both Bronwyn and Míriel find themselves struggling against the discontent of a vocal minority. Most villagers want to stay in the tower, but those who don’t shout their doubts with great scorn. In Númenor, Míriel finds considerable enthusiasm for venturing to Middle-earth with Galadriel, but it’s certainly not universal. Protesters make their voices heard, and when that fails, Kemen — ignoring his father’s explanation about how good politics sometimes means going with the tide — takes it upon himself to foil the mission by sabotaging a ship. He succeeds in taking out two of the five but only after discovering Isildur has stowed away and, unsurprisingly, does not want him blowing up a boat under any circumstances, especially one with him on it. When they wash up in the harbor together, Isildur covers for Kemen, laying the groundwork for a future alliance, however uneasy.
Speaking of uneasy alliances, Durin’s dinner in Lindon with Elrond, Gil-galad, and Celebrimbor doubles as a fact-finding mission in which Gil-galad all but demands to know what the dwarves have been up to, and Durin all but demands the same of the elves before shaming his hosts with the revelation that their dining table is a sacrilege to his people due to the rare material used to make it. It’s not, we’ll learn later. Disa just needs a new table. But that bit of deception is a small price to pay for the promise Gil-galad goes the long way to extract from Durin.
It turns out the elves need the precious mithril the dwarves have discovered or else they’ll die of light withdrawal. (The series doesn’t fully explain how that works, but it seems of a piece with Adar’s promise to blot out the sun. Middle-earth needs elves to protect it; elves need light. Without it, oh boy, here comes trouble.) Gil-galad and Celebrimbor have duped Elrond into confirming that the dwarves have this precious metal, made possible by a legendary clash between an elf and a balrog. It’s not clear what the next step in the plan was to be. Taking it by force? As it turns out, that won’t be necessary. Durin wants to help the elves because in his heart he has no choice but to help them. (And he really wants that table.)
This is a case of the show zigging when it looked like it was going to zag. The Rings of Power appeared to be setting up a clash between dwarves and elves, and we may still get that. (While it’s not really productive to compare The Rings of Power to other fantasy shows going for a totally different vibe, there’s no way this wouldn’t have led to bloodshed on House of the Dragon.) Durin is, of course, Durin III, and Durin IV still calls the shots. But it’s a true-to-Tolkien touch to emphasize the power of cooperation and, well, fellowship in the face of darkness.
It’s not the most true-to-Tolkien touch in this episode, however. That would have to be the scene in which Poppy sings a harfoot folk song over a montage sequence set against a map of Middle-earth after their journey. The episode opens with Nori telling the Stranger the reason for it; they’re a migratory people moving from place to place as the seasons change. Their current trek to the grove is filled with perils, and the Stranger fears he may be one of them. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t: Although he successfully scares off some harfoot-hungry wolves, he terrifies Nori by freezing her arm as he heals his own. He seems to mean well, but he also seems dangerous. As with the rest of “Partings,” the series leaves it to future episodes to provide the answer.
• So just who is the Stranger, anyway? We start inching toward an answer this week with a trio that bears at least a passing resemblance to Tolkien’s wizards as seen in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Is he one of their own? (Wizards do love robes and a staff.) There has been a lot of speculation that the stranger could be Gandalf (a wizard notably friendly to hobbits) or Saruman. There’s also a theory that he’s Sauron, though that possibility seems less likely as the series progresses. This show skirts expectations, though, so who really knows?
• About that mysterious trio: The closing credits list their names as the Nomad, the Ascetic, and the Dweller. Will we learn why they’re called those names? TBD.
• The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has largely avoided direct parallels between its world and ours, but the dissenters in Númenor and the tower have contemporary resonance anyway. They’re wrong, but they’re loud and hateful in a way that often drowns out the people trying to do the right thing. (See also: all the dumb objections to the diverse casting of this show.)
• Is the Grove actually the Shire by another name? Are the harfoots moving toward a less peripatetic, more hobbity existence?
• Bronwyn-Arondir kiss watch: not even close this week, particularly once Bronwyn suggests surrender. It’s nice to see Arondir behaving with fatherly affection toward Theo, however. That kid needs some positive role models.
• “I’ll serve you then, whoever you are!” Is Waldreg the show’s most despicable character? He loves Sauron, but any power-wielding Middle-earth fascist will do in a pinch.
Correction: An earlier version of this recap said there was a flashback to Halbrand’s past. It was actually a cut to Adar’s present-day encounter with Waldreg, suggesting a thematic connection.