Does anyone like elves? Anti-elf sentiment looks to be a common element throughout Middle-earth and Numenor. The dwarves don’t trust them. The humans of the Southlands resent them for keeping a watchful eye on them for centuries after the defeat of Morgoth and Sauron, a conflict that found some humans fighting on the side of darkness (and some, we’ll learn this episode, still wish that conflict had gone the other way). Over the years, the Numenorans have grown so isolationist and elf-phobic that they rebelled against now-ailing King Tar-Palantir (Ken Blackburn) when he sought to restore relations with the elves. (The harfoots have, thus far, not weighed in on elves specifically, but they seem to be opposed to most “big folk.”) What gives? Elves are powerful and principled and, generally speaking, pretty easy on the eyes. Why the distrust?
In some ways, however, that wariness and distaste is understandable, and for all the same reasons. They are powerful, which has to seem threatening to the dwarves (who are secretive and distrustful by nature). And their principles sometimes disagree with the humans’ instinct to do their own thing. Elves might get along pretty easily with other races one-on-one — witness Durin and Elrond’s friendship and whatever’s going on between Arondir and Bronwyn — but that doesn’t always prevent a clash of cultures.
Sometimes even elves hate elves. This episode introduces Adar (Joseph Male), the boss of the orcs who have taken Arondir hostage and (literally) undermined Bronwyn’s village. And though the previous episode hinted that he might be Sauron, he appears instead to be a rogue elf, one who can speak to Arondir in his own tongue and shares common reference points. But he can’t abide the received wisdom of elf culture, telling Arondir, “You have been told many lies. Some run so deep even the rocks and ruins now believe them. To untangle it all would all but require the creation of a new world. And that is something only the gods can do. And I am no god. At least not yet.”
All this sounds pretty troubling to Arondir, and understandably so. Adar has somehow won the hearts and minds of the orcs, who look to him as a god (even if he doesn’t feel he meets that definition yet) and gratefully receive his mercy killing. In many ways, the character feels like a riff on Kurtz from Heart of Darkness and, later, Apocalypse Now. (Director Wayne Che Yip even lights the conversation between Arondir and Adar in a way reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s film.) He’s an elf who has abandoned whatever mission he was given to set up a little kingdom for himself built on a cult of personality that allows him to bend others to his will.
And that kingdom might grow. Let loose, Arondir returns to Bronwyn’s people just in time to save Theo from being killed by orcs after sneaking into town to retrieve food for the villagers, who have taken shelter in the elves’ abandoned tower. At least for now. Arondir’s message from Adar is that they’ll be fine as long they withdraw their claim on their lands and swear fealty to him. If they don’t, there will be trouble.
There’s more going on with Theo, however. That sword hilt he’s been carrying expands into a flaming blade when confronted by an orc (and retrieving the hilt seems to be a big part of why they’re in the village in the first place). It’s also marked him in a way that’s recognizable to others, including a secretive coot who buttonholes him with some background info on his new possession, saying, “It is no sword. It is a power, fashioned for our ancestors by his master’s own hand.” Also: He expects Sauron to return, welcomes that return, and suggests Theo should do the same. It’s all pretty ominous.
Ominousness hangs over much of the land in this episode, which opens with Míriel dreaming of the great flood promised in the title. That helps explain why she’s in such a bad mood even before Galadriel really peeves her by asking for an audience with the king. As a result of her sedition, Galadriel finds herself imprisoned and, however involuntarily, receiving advice from Halbrand, who counsels her to use Míriel’s anger and discomfort over her reference to the king to her advantage. (It’s a neat illustration of the difference between the two cultures: Elves know what needs to be done and demand it be done now. Humans go about things a little more sneakily.)
After forcing an audience with the bedridden king, Galadriel finds herself having a heart-to-heart with Míriel, who provides some backstory and reveals she’s in possession of a palantir, one that shows Galadriel the same vision of Numenor falling in a tremendous flood. No wonder Míriel wants her off the island and, for a moment, it looks like she’s going to get her way, despite Galadriel’s pleas that they fight the growing evil together. But a funny thing happens while Galadriel’s being driven away: Nimloth the white tree of Númenor starts shedding leaves, which the Númenorans take as a sign that the Valar have grown displeased.
And so an episode that begins with Pharazôn cooling the temperature and changing the minds of an anti-elf crowd ends with Míriel and a swelling squadron of Númenorans set to accompany Galadriel on an exploratory expedition to Middle-earth. Things move fast when elves are around, apparently. Among them is Isildur and his friends, who have all recently been kicked out of the navy after Isildur’s intentional mistake during sailing training.
Meanwhile, over in Lindon, Elrond learns that Celebrimbor knew his father, Eärendil, and that his father told Celebrimbor that his future would one day be in Eärendil’s son’s hands, info he might have shared before. That said, it seems it doesn’t take much to make Elrond think of Eärendil. Later, he’ll advise Durin IV to make up with his father, Durin III, while they still have time together.
Why is he mad? Durin IV has disobeyed his father and continued mining in a dangerous part of Moria, leading to a mine collapse that traps four dwarves and prompts Disa to perform a musical plea to the dwarf gods. (It apparently works. They’re fine.) But Durin IV had, by his reckoning, an excellent reason to push forward with his forbidden venture: The dwarves have discovered a new mineral that’s “lighter than silk, harder than iron.” Elrond gives it an elvish name: mithril. Also, it would make an excellent weapon. And it looks like they’re going to need weapons pretty soon.
• “The Great Flood” slows the action down a bit compared to the preceding episodes to allow for quite a bit of stage-setting. We’re now at the halfway point of this season, and seemingly all the story arcs have clicked into place. And though The Rings of Power hasn’t felt like it was moving at a breathless pace, changes to the status quo of the first episode have been swift and consequential. A bunch of Númenorans are venturing back to Middle-earth with an elf by their side. Adar’s about to head into battle. The harfoots have hit the road with the mysterious stranger in tow. There’s a lot going on.
• The harfoots remain offscreen this episode, but it’s not without reminders of them. The Sauron fan who talks to Theo mentions a falling star being a sign of Sauron’s return. So could the stranger be Sauron? That feels off.
• About that Sauron enthusiast: He plays a bit like the Middle-earth version of a Nazi true believer who’s quietly never let go of his fascist ways. There’s an even more direct — maybe a bit too direct, really — piece of real-world mirroring in the opening scene, when the Númenoran drumming up anti-elf sentiment warns about an influx of elves taking Númenoran jobs.
• Just when you thought The Rings of Power was done introducing supporting characters, here comes Kemen (Leon Wadham), Pharazon’s son, a young lad who seems pretty sweet on Eärien. And she might at least be starting to feel the same way: She’s quick to change the subject when Isildur starts asking about dinner.
• Maybe it will be a slow-burning romance to join Arondir and Bronwyn’s. This episode teases it even further by having them strike a pose that’s this close to a kiss and then not letting it go any further. Not all the action is swift in Middle-earth.
• Next episode: Durin IV, at the behest of Durin III, is heading to Lindon because just as the elves suspected that the dwarves weren’t telling them the full story, the dwarves suspect the same.
• Míriel claims that her palantir is the only one not lost or hidden. Galadriel claims to have touched palantiri before. Hmmm … That Galdriel is quite old might help explain the seeming contradiction, but maybe she knows where some of those lost or hidden palantiri ended up.