“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky.”— J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings
In its series finale, Rings of Power resolves its lingering mysteries (Who is Sauron? What’s the deal with The Stranger?) and sets up new paths, both dark and light, for its characters. Writers Gennifer Hutchison, J.D. Payne, and Patrick McKay predominantly focus on the Harfoots and Elves/Halbrand storylines with a slight side trip to Numenor showing how the defeat of their armies by Adar has started to destabilize this great human kingdom. However, “Alloyed” is mostly focused on setting up an epic conflict between good and evil that isn’t resolved until millennia later in the Lord of the Rings, and it nails this aspect while not neglecting the characters’ emotional arcs. Translation: this episode features quite a few hugs.
In their few appearance this season, the mysterious female mystics that popped up around the Harfoots’ storyline have been a bit of an annoyance, and in the end, just become a plot device to reveal more information about the Stranger (Daniel Weyman), namely, that he’s not Sauron, but a wizard like Gandalf, Saruman, or Radagast. (A closing piece of dialogue hints that he’s the first of those.) This sets up a really cool set-piece where the Stranger wizard-duels the three mystics, who are from Rhun in the east of Middle Earth, showcases his full power, and starts to speak in complete sentences while keeping his bond with the Harfoots, especially Nori (Markella Kavenagh). Kavenagh continues to be a delight as the reluctant hero, especially towards the end of the episode where she doesn’t know which direction to go with The Stranger. Rings of Power‘s writers have done a wonderful job making the Harfoots delightful, eccentric characters, and it’s fun seeing Sadoc (Lenny Henry), Malva, Poppy (Megan Richards), and Nori confuse the mystics even if there ends up being a sad cost in the end. They definitely embody ordinary bravey and will be (presumably) missed next season although I’m 100% here for The Stranger and Nori’s road trip through Middle Earth because Weyman and Kavenagh have adorably odd chemistry.
The main meat of “Alloyed’s” narrative concerns Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) working together to find a way to save the Elves from fading and dying forever using the one chunk of mithril that Elrond got from Durin IV before Khazad-Dum decided to sever their alliance with the Elves. This ends up being a hopeless situation with Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) telling Elrond to shut down the forges and give up on Middle Earth until Halbrand somehow has all the answers. Celebrimbor treats him like some kind of savant even quoting his frankly creepy ideas about power over the flesh to Galadriel. Coupled with the smoky interior of Celebrimbor’s forge, Galadriel starts to figure out that something isn’t quite right with the supposed king of the Southlands. Credit definitely has to be given to director Wayne Che Yip for using Clark’s body language and glances between her and Vickers to build the big reveal that shifts the status quo of the series while also returning Galadriel to her original motivation of defeating Sauron.
Yes, the early season theories are true, and Halbrand is actually Sauron as his lies of omission all flood back to Galadriel in a powerful scene by the river when he reveals that he’s been manipulating her all along all culminating in a dream sequence featuring her dead brother Finrod. Everything from accepting kingship of the Southlands to helping him on the raft was all orchestrated. Yip, Payne, McKay, and Hutchison explore pivotal scenes from their relationship this season and twist it as Sauron offers Galadriel a place by his side to heal/rule Middle Earth featuring dialogue that is very close to what Galadriel says when Frodo offers her the One Ring in Fellowship of the Ring. And speaking of the One Ring, that idea is very much in play in a more subtle way than, say, the Death Star plans showing up in the Star Wars prequels as Halbrand wants to place the mithril alloy in Gil-Galad’s crown instead of spreading it out among three Rings, which is what Celebrimbor, Galadriel, and Elrond eventually do.
The Sauron/Halbrand reveal works because he acts like has all along this season instead of immediately turning into a mustache twirler. Halbrand’s ability to work the room and get out of dangerous situations has been a part of his personality and is aided by Charlie Vickers’ charisma as a performer. He got Galadriel to persuade Miriel to send Numenorean ships and armies to help the Southlands so, of course, he’s going to ingratiate himself to Celebrimbor and use it as a learning opportunity to expand his own powers after his failed experiments in the north of Middle Earth. Visually, Wayne Che Yip uses the dream/mind sequence to set up the rivalry between Galadriel and Halbrand with a glimpse of the classic Sauron armor in the river where they’re arguing. But it’s also failed friendship with Galadriel bringing aid to the Southlands, and everything that she did for him being worth nothing. Thankfully, she has a real friendship with Elrond, and the writers share a sweet anecdote from his childhood to show that Galadriel and Elrond have a genuine relationship to go with their political connection too.
True to its title, Rings of Power and “Alloyed” end up being about different kinds of power whether that’s the mystics’ fire and shape-shifting and helping the Stranger remember his abilities as a wizard, Celebrimbor’s craft in forging the Elven rings, or the darkness that Halbrand has only hinted at. But there’s also the power of the community of the Harfoots who work together to put the Stranger on the right path and feel sad when Nori leaves with him, but look for her return as Poppy takes over as trail finder. Rings of Power is at its best when it focused on the relationships at its heart instead of fanning the flames of fan theories. However, “Alloyed” pulls off both the Sauron/Halbrand reveal while also reinforcing the friendships between Nori and the Stranger and Elrond and Galadriel.
The first season of Rings of Power ends in a dark place, but not without hope, which is definitely what I expected from a Tolkien adaptation as Payne, McKay, and Hutchison make an origin story for the Elf rings, Mt. Doom, and eventually the One Ring compelling and watchable on a weekly basis and even added nuance to “evil” characters like Halbrand and Adar while finding shades of darkness and doubt in characters that appeared in Lord of the Rings like Elrond, Galadriel, and Elendil. Plus the show looks damn good from the costume choices matching Galadriel’s mental state in this episode to the almost ASMR feel of Eregion’s forge not to mention the various other locations in the show, like Forodwraith, Khazad-Dum, and especially Numenor and Valinor.
Overall Verdict: 8.4