If last week’s Hail Mary love-in between Miriel and Galadriel made you think The Rings of Power was done telling you good things happen when people trust in each other and work together, well, I’ve got good and bad news for you: that’s it, that’s the show.
That might be a bit glib, but “Partings” arguably delivers some of the darkest conflicts yet in The Rings of Power, juking just when you thought it was about to really start moving. On the surface, everything we get this episode is indeed building off last week’s allegorical love-ins, and hammering home the importance of people going on brave new journeys not alone, but together with friends and allies. With Poppy the Harfoot’s rather-unsubtle travel song lifting “Not all who wander are lost” from Tolkien’s own work, the episode is about finding the strength to take that step forward into the unknown, and doing it with people you trust by your side.
But nothing’s ever so easy in a series that is also very methodically paced in taking that step into the unknown, so before everyone realizes this again—or has doubts—Rings of Power challenges our myriad pockets of characters to really check if they’ve learned this by putting everyone in the direst scenarios imaginable. With the Harfoots, the group wavers on letting the Brandyfoots stay, even after the Stranger defends Nori, Poppy, and one of the elders who would rather see them cut off from a wolf attack. He further displays a grasp for magic that raises even more questions about his identity when he manages to freeze both his arm and Nori’s hand to heal their wounds (scaring Nori with his power). Over in Númenor, lingering doubts among the populace about Miriel’s decision to ally with Galadriel and seek the favor of the Elves once more plays directly into Pharazôn’s desires to use the alliance to push Númenorean influence into Middle-earth—and perhaps gain allies of their own willing to oust the Elves back to the side of the Valar.
Over in the Southlands, everything is arguably going the worst. As Bronwyn and Arondir attempt to rally the refugees to fight against the arrival of Adar and his orcs, the Sauron-worshipping oldie who tried to get Theo to side with him last week manages to get half of them to go with him and pledge fealty—almost utterly breaking Bronwyn’s resolve, and bringing the secrets behind the blade Theo found to light. And then there’s Lindon, where Gil-Galad’s hosting of Durin reveals the lingering divides between Elf and Dwarf—and Elrond discovers that the plight of the Eldar might be much, much more dire than he could ever have known.
Suffice to say, everything’s a bit shit-hitting-the-fan across Arda. Elrond discovers that Gil-Galad and Celebrimbor lied to him, and they in fact know about Mithril’s existence already: an Elven fable tells of a battle between an Eldar and a Balrog in the first war that combined their light and dark into a powerful ore, one that could help the waning Elves fight back a corruption that is heralding the diminishing of their race. Even worse, he’s tasked with breaking his newly renewed friendship with Durin in order to reveal Mithril’s secrets to the High King, chasing the shadow of his father’s willingness to sacrifice himself to earn the aid of Valinor in the war so long ago. Galadriel is likewise haunted by the shadows of her past, when doubts begin to fray Miriel’s clarity on taking the fight to the Southlands—especially after Pharazôn’s son, in defiance of his father’s own scheming long game, blows up two of the five ships Númenor intended to send to Middle-earth. Relying on promising that Halbrand, taking his right as the Southland’s king, will back them up, she’s hiding the fact that Halbrand doesn’t exactly want to do anything for her, perhaps rightly sick that this Elf who won’t tell him anything keeps preaching a destiny he’s desperately trying to run away from at him.
It’s not like people haven’t learned the lessons they endured in the series so far—“Partings” is more about people challenging themselves to take those lessons to heart, and in doing so open themselves up to a chance to heal. A tense argument between Halbrand and Galadriel the night before the fleet is set to depart Númenor reveals the true pain of her unyielding war against Sauron—a desire not just to vanquish that evil, but to prove to her people and the people she loves most that she has not lost herself to darkness in her quest—as Halbrand alike struggles to deal with his own dark past. Elrond, buffeted by the twofold revelation of the Eldar’s decline and Celebrimbor’s personal view of his father’s sacrifice, has to weigh up being honest with Durin or watching his entire species fade.
And yet, it’s these two friendships that potentially turn the tide from dark to light. Halbrand and Galadriel come together on their own terms, instead of at the latter’s behest, and he chooses to fight alongside the Númenoreans. Durin and Elrond’s friendship, although only recently healed, is strong enough that they trust each other’s honesty and the former decides to work with Elrond to get the Mithril to the rest of the Elves (if they can convince the elder Durin, that is). And even in the Southlands, as Adar’s forces are bolstered by the faltering hearts of humankind, Arondir and Bronwyn prepare to find away to survive the seemingly impossible odds they face together, using Theo’s purloined blade not as the legacy of Humanity’s thrall under Morgoth and his lieutenant before, but as part of an unknown plan for the Watchtower to even those odds.
It might essentially be hammering home things Rings of Power has constantly been saying so far this season, but in challenging those messages with the direst stakes for our heroes so far, the series is setting the stage for things to really pop off—and as battle lines are drawn, to get out of it alive our heroes are really going to prove they’ve taken these lessons to heart.
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