“The Rings of Power” has been visually arresting since its first moments, but never has that beauty been as haunting as it is in “The Eye.” Beginning just moments after last week’s cliffhanger, the first season’s penultimate episode opens on the immediate aftermath of Mount Doom’s inaugural eruption: Everything that isn’t on fire is covered in ash, Isildur’s friend Ontamo (Anthony Crum) has perished in the blast and the sky itself has turned a volcanic shade of orange. Though we can be sure most of the principal characters have survived, Isildur is missing and the body count is devastating. Good always triumphs over evil in “Lord of the Rings,” but the obvious fact that “Rings of Power” is a television series carries with it a not-so-obvious implication that’s becoming clearer each episode: With the end much further away than it would be in a movie, evil is sure to log a number of brutal victories along the way.
The desolation wrought by Mount Doom becomes even more stark following an abrupt transition to the hobbitses’ migration after a one-episode hiatus. It’s a perilous trek to be sure, but the peaceful, verdant land they’re traversing is a stark contrast to the one we’ve just witnessed — until it isn’t. Our halfling friends are apparently close enough to the blast zone for a few pyroclasts to have landed in the vicinity, melting several trees in the process. Everyone is bewildered except for Sadoc, the group’s leader. According to stories his gran used to tell him, some mountains in the south have the ability to “spit fire rock” before “going to sleep” for hundreds of years, a dormancy that only ends when “a new evil” is rising. Some old wives’ tales are more than just old wives’ tales.
The Stranger — whose true identity has yet to be revealed, though fan theories abound — finally overstays his welcome when his attempt to restore one of the fallen trees to its original state backfires, nearly killing Nori and her little sister. He’s exiled as a result, but not before Sadoc offers him a kind of star map, Nori gives him an apple and a tiny, unnoticed flower begins growing on the tree he just tried to save. Next morning, the entire area is lush with apples and The Stranger is gone. There’s little time to celebrate, alas, as the trio of spooky, otherworldly beings we were briefly introduced to in “Partings” are hot on the hobbitses’ trail — and they have the ability to both teleport and control fire without being harmed by it. They just do that to the entire hobbit caravan, erupting the would-be village in flames before it’s truly been settled. This is why we can’t have nice things!
The hobbitses weren’t the only characters not featured in last week’s “Udûn.” Let’s say, purely hypothetically, that you and your people have recently struck upon perhaps the most precious substance in the world and an emissary of your greatest rivals is asking you to grant them access to it in order to ensure his people’s survival. What would you take in exchange for said ore, which may or may not be mithril? If your answer is “game, grain and timber from the elder forests of Eriador for the next five centuries,” you’re in luck — that’s just what Elrond offers King Durin III in a desperate bid to save his fellow elves without betraying his dear friend Prince Durin IV. But what is the elder Durin’s answer?
Well, first a bit of lore. It’s said that the dwarves are crafted of two elements: fire and rock. The latter “hungers for the eternal, resisting the pull of time,” while the former embraces the truth “that all things must one day be consumed and fade away to ash.” If that sounds like a long-winded way of saying no, that’s because it is — but it’s not like there’s any love lost between dwarves and elves, as anyone who knows how unlikely Legolas and Gimli’s friendship was. Knowing that Elrond (and, by extension, many of his people) live for several thousand more years saps this subplot of some of its urgency, but he’s still caught between a mythical rock and a hard place. He’s also finally asked (or forced, rather) to leave Khazad-dûm with naught to show for it, which is sure to displease High King Gil-galad. But despite the fact that the show’s most endearing buds are parting for now, Elrond insists it isn’t goodbye — it’s “namárië,” an elven farewell meaning “go toward goodness.”
Galadriel, who’s eloquent in a way that even Tolkien purists would admire (even if many of them will refuse to admit it) delivers the episode’s most memorable line while telling Theo why there’s nothing admirable about how many orcs she’s slain: “It darkens the heart to call dark deeds good.” she says.
“It gives place for evil to thrive inside us. Every war is fought both without and within. Of that every soldier must be mindful — even I, even you.” The meaning of her words is initially lost on the boy, who’s more fixated on the implication that he’s a warrior, but it resonates nevertheless as they arrive at a new makeshift settlement.
A glimpse inside its medical tent — burnt flesh, severed limbs and so, so much blood — is among the most realistically brutal things we’ve ever seen in “Lord of the Rings,” but the two characters who have been most conspicuous in their absence up to this point in “The Eye” have survived: Arondir and Bronwyn. All is not well, though, as Míriel — who initially seemed to have survived the eruption unscathed — has gone blind. Her spirit remains unbroken, however: “Do not spend your pity on me, elf,” she tells Galadriel. “Save it for our enemies, for they do not know what they have begun.” Fightin’ words to be sure, but Elendil is less enthused as he, his Queen Regent and their surviving soldiers make ready to sail back to Númenor — Isildur is still missing in action, presumed dead in fact, and will not be making the trip home with his grieving father.
Speaking of theories, there’s a growing consensus among certain online circles that Halbrand isn’t who he says he is — that it is he, and not The Stranger or Adar, who is Sauron in disguise. As for Adar, he tells his orc subordinates that they can take off their sun cloaks, for there is no sun in this land anymore; he also rejects being called “Lord of the Southlands,” as that place no longer exists. His declaration made, “The Southlands” appears onscreen before fading into something else: “Mordor.”
That isn’t exactly a surprise at this point, but the next reveal is. The mithril deposit in Khazad-dûm is even deeper and more labyrinthine than it initially appeared, but there’s more than ore in the heart of this dwarven kingdom. Were Gandalf here, he might even describe it as “a demon of the ancient world” and “a foe beyond any of you”: a balrog. How much destruction it will cause in the meantime remains to be seen, but with one episode remaining it certainly doesn’t appear as though Middle-earth is going to get brighter anytime soon.