An enormous draw of the fantasy style is the way in which it so typically presents the world in binary phrases: There are good guys, there are dangerous guys, and never a lot else in between. But it’s this in-between space that The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Energy episode 5, “Partings,” largely issues itself with, selecting up the place episode four left off, with our heroes persevering with to function their very own worst enemies. “Partings” takes this theme a step additional, with a number of characters now pressured to agonize over make-or-break selections not simply labeled “good” or “dangerous.” The upshot of that is an additional layer of ethical ambiguity to proceedings that comes as a welcome addition — not simply to The Rings of Energy episode 5, however to the present’s wider imaginative and prescient of Center-earth itself, too.
If this all sounds a bit too summary for a present pulling from the J.R.R. Tolkien playbook, relaxation assured that episode 5’s murkiness additionally manifests in different, extra tangible methods, even seeping into the story. We get partial solutions to a lot of The Rings of Energy’s main ongoing mysteries — like why the orcs appear fixated on Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) — however we’re additionally left with loads of questions, too. How precisely are Adar and Sauron linked? What’s the cope with the Stranger (aka “Meteor Man”) and is he pal or foe? How does the Sauron sword hilt “unlock” the Darkish Lord’s return? “Partings” doesn’t say, and the arrival of some suitably sinister Sauron acolytes halfway by means of the episode solely muddies the waters additional.
This confusion is by design; showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, who earlier than touchdown their dream gig labored for puzzle-box-maker J.J. Abrams’ firm Unhealthy Robotic, know that guessing video games are a surefire means of holding us on the hook. But whereas speculating about stuff like Sauron’s true identification is undeniably enjoyable, what’s actually attention-grabbing about The Rings of Energy episode 5, and what in the end makes it work so effectively, is the hitherto-unseen uncertainty surrounding its characters. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings featured doubtful males, elves, and dwarves — and the One Ring made for the proper morality-testing McGuffin — however the perfect, most ethical plan of action is all the time clear (to the viewers, if not all the time the characters themselves). This doesn’t apply to “Partings.”
All through the episode, director Wayne Che Yip and author Justin Doble stage dramatic encounters that may’t simply be boiled right down to “facet with good and defeat evil.” Whether or not we’re speaking about Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) weighing up the deserves of a bloody conflict on overseas soil, Elrond (Robert Aramayo) mulling over his responsibility to his pal versus his obligation to his individuals, Bronwyn’s (Nazanin Boniadi) faltering resolve within the face of impending genocide, and Nori’s (Markella Kavenagh) continued religion within the unstable Stranger (Daniel Weyman), it’s laborious to say who’ll be on the suitable facet of historical past as soon as the mud settles. It’s a marked shift from Tolkien’s novels and Peter Jackson’s big-screen diversifications, that, if something, nudges The Rings of Energy nearer to The Silmarillion when it comes to its general characterization and tone.
Picture: Prime Video
Considerably inevitably, tensions additionally run larger in “Partings’’ than we’re used to seeing in stately Center-earth. Neglect the raised voices throughout The Fellowship of the Ring’s Council of Elrond scene and even the tense exchanges between Gandalf and Denethor in The Return of the King — persons are straight-up pissed on this episode. From the passive aggression between Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) and Durin IV (Owain Arthur) to the open hostility whipped up by Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) among the many Southlands encampment, The Rings of Energy episode 5 actually hammers residence the hardly contained resentment festering inside this world’s varied communities.
All of it feels very messy — in a great way. It additionally feels very true to The Rings of Energy’s supply materials, at the same time as “Partings” diverges even farther from Tolkien’s established canon. How the Mithril subplot develops in episode 5 is an ideal instance; Yip, Doble, and (presumably) Payne and McKay invent a wild origin story for Mithril, then comply with this up by revealing the legendary steel’s obvious skill to recharge the elves’ immortality. It’s sufficient to make a purist wince, but by utilizing this plot level as a means of exploring (and testing) the bond between Elrond and Durin IV, Yip and Doble contact on a theme on the very coronary heart of The Lord of the Rings: friendship.
The identical goes for a way occasions shake out within the Southlands in “Partings.” A number of what’s occurring right here entails The Rings of Energy’s creators embellishing Tolkien’s legendarium — you received’t discover many of those characters or occasions within the “official” historical past of Mordor or its southern allies. However Tolkien does speak about males willingly becoming a member of up with Sauron; he simply doesn’t unpack the “why” of all of it in any actual element or nuance, and Jackson subsequently adopted go well with. “Partings” bucks this pattern by increasing on current lore, and (in step with the remainder of the episode) what we be taught isn’t as clean-cut as the oldsters down south having innately evil inclinations.
Picture: Prime Video
As a substitute, The Rings of Energy episode 5 places ahead a tougher clarification for why Waldreg and his followers resolve to throw their lot in with Sauron: social mobility. They genuinely imagine their high quality of life will enhance underneath the Darkish Lord’s rule. Tolkien famously loathed allegory with a ardour hotter than the fires of Mount Doom, however he additionally acknowledged his novels’ potential to be “utilized” to actual life (and vice versa), and that definitely appears to be what Yip and Doble are capturing for right here. In any case, it doesn’t take a lot to attract comparisons between our personal sociopolitical local weather and the Southlanders who flock to a questionable savior determine after years spent chafing underneath the elven elite.
Then there’s the Númenórean facet of issues, and this too displays the thorny morality at play in The Rings of Energy episode 5. Other than Míriel’s hand-wringing over the island kingdom’s future, we additionally get Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) manipulating one another for a lot of the episode’s run time, albeit with none actual malice. Eärien (Ema Horvath) and Kemen (Leon Wadham) are likewise compelled to take drastic measures for the better good, even when what we already find out about Center-earth’s historical past doesn’t precisely again up their antiwar stance. Certainly, the one particular person in Númenor who’s outright as much as no good is Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle). The queen regent’s advisor lastly units out his power-grabbing plan on this episode, and if it’s not fairly what Tolkien described in The Silmarillion, the Machiavellian spirit of it’s nonetheless roughly in the identical ballpark.
But ultimately, the perfect factor in regards to the ethical ambiguity in “Partings” isn’t that it results in richer characterizations and even that it expands on Center-earth lore. It’s the way in which the shadows solid by this ambiguity make the few glimmers of hope current within the episode shine all of the brighter. With every new episode, The Rings of Energy makes it more and more clear that this world nonetheless has an opportunity — as long as Galadriel, Elrond, Nori, and the remainder preserve working at being higher and doing proper by these round them. This sentiment is pure Tolkien, and its continued presence bodes effectively for The Rings of Energy’s remaining episodes, regardless of how murky issues get.