In the episode of Rings of Power that dropped last Friday (Episode 6), we finally see a bit of plot advancement–albeit of only two of the plot lines. [Spoilers henceforth] There’s nothing in this episode of dwarves or hobbits. Instead we see the army from Numenor arrive in time to help the people of the Southlands, who have been set upon by orcs under the leadership of Adar. Fortunately the Numenorean army arrive at just the right time and in just the right place in all the Southlands to help out.
We also learn a bit about Adar’s background. He is a ‘corrupted elf’ who had been put to work for Sauron, but got fed up with how many orcs Sauron was killing to pursue his studies. So (he claims) that he killed Sauron, took his band of orcs, and then headed out to find a new homeland. Which might be a nice story, other than he and his orcs have killed and enslaved a lot of elves and humans along the way. Which means that the elves/Numenoreans simply offering them a nice desert island to live on seems not to be in anyone’s cards.
So Adar attacks the people of the Southlands, who do very well for themselves in combat but are losing when the Numenoreans arrive in the nick of time a’ la Helm’s Deep. Then one of Sauron’s loyalists (or Adar’s loyalists? it’s not clear) uses a stolen evil sword to set off Mount Doom, wiping out the heroic Numenorean/Southlander victory in a hail of fire and ash. ‘What sword?’ You might be asking? Well, it has been a macguffin throughout the show, but it definitely falls through a plot hole in this episode. Theo gives it to Adar so that his mother’s life will be spared, and Adar runs off with it when the Numenoreans attack, and then Arondir gives it back to Theo and says he should give it to the Numenoreans to throw into the ocean. Somewhere in there somebody stole it, and I think it either must have been a scene left on the cutting room floor, or a plot hole.
Again, there are some Tolkien-ish themes here, and certainly some of the action sequences reference the movies (albeit with more gore). But one theme that is absent in this episode is Tolkien’s clear patterns of rest. (And here I’m referencing the books more than Peter Jackson’s movies, which I don’t remember well enough to comment on.) In The Lord of the Rings, one of the common features is that following some major point of action or at a particularly arduous part of their journey, the main characters find a shelter, allies, and a place to briefly rest. Having briefly recovered–whether in Rivendell, Lothlorien, Ithlien, or wherever–the heroes then voluntarily leave their shelter and set out once more into the dangerous world.
This element so far has been missing. Instead of voluntarily leaving behind their shelter, the heroes find their moments of repose interrupted by peril. Maybe the point is that this is a different ‘age’, so things work in different ways. Maybe the point is that this battle with evil is a more dangerous one (as the one with Morgorth before Rings of Power was yet more dangerous than the coming conflict with Sauron). Maybe the creators just hadn’t thought it through and are following contemporary patterns of ‘apparent rest interrupted by unexpected danger.’
In any case, there is at least one point of divergence. Tolkien saw the world as a place of adventure, evil, good, action, and rest (among other things). What we see in Rings of Power is a world where rest is at best an illusion, and that is something that I think runs at odds with the source material. (If that matters, see the first post in this series for more on that.)
One last nitpick: the volcano means we don’t have to see the answer to the question ‘what were the elves going to do with a bunch of captive orcs?’ In the books/movies, it seems that orcs either fought to the death or ran away. Dealing with captives just wasn’t mentioned. Other than a brief threat (possibly an empty one) by Galadriel to move them into the sunlight to get Adar to talk, we really don’t see much of what could have been an interesting development in the canon.
One last rabbit trail: Adar briefly mentions that Sauron planned to bring order to the chaos of Middle Earth. That almost would seem to make him the good guy, until we remember that it’s always the greatest tyrants and dictators who are promising order while trampling freedom. The Shire certainly isn’t ‘orderly’ (and doesn’t exist yet in Rings of Power anyway), but would any of us really prefer to live in the structured gulag of Mordor? Again, this is something that has potential both to be an interesting plot development and deeply Tolkienian, if the show makes more of it in the remaining episodes.