The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiere did not disappoint in terms of drama. The episodes that set up the warriors of the Second Age, delivering nothing but deadly obstacles for them all, also left viewers with lots of cliffhangers.
Elven commander Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), whose life purpose had become finishing her brother's mission to end Morgoth once and for all, found herself defying High King of the Elves Gil-galad's (Benjamin Walker) and, instead of sailing off to Valinor, decided to take up the fight on her own. But before Galadriel was able to resume her quest, she ran (well, swam) into ship wrecked human Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), with whom she developed a surprising alliance.
"One of the things we love, thinking about Tolkien's themes and the ideas that recur over and over again in his work, is friendship and varieties of friendship," co-creator and showrunner Patrick McKay tells Metacritic. "As readers and audience members, we love when it's unlikely friendships and unlikely pairings. In Galadriel's story, we love the idea of a friendship with an Elf and a human who is not thinking the way she thinks and maybe thinks she's a little full of herself and is maybe taking her down a peg. We also like the idea of a male-female friendship. They're unlikely allies, like you get in like a buddy-cop movie, but they're in Middle-earth. There's a lot of delight and fun in watching them maneuver around each other and get under each other's skin and eventually form a bond as survivors and friends."
Back in Lindon, Galadriel left behind young Elven statesman Elrond (Robert Aramayo), whose elated facial expression when reunited with Galadriel spoke of more than just friendship. Nevertheless, Elrond encouraged Galadriel to leave the political capitol of Lindon — and him — for Valinor.
"He's not seen her for a long time — she's been off fighting her own crusade — but he has a special relationship with her," explains Aramayo. "I think that's true for all of his relationships: He can't deny his own heart. So, even though he knows that sending her away is potentially a problematic decision and he has to do it, he feels complicated about it."
A different relationship headed for inevitable strife is the one between human healer and single mother Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and her teenage son Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin), who has forged a blood connection with Morgoth's spear. Although Bronwyn and Theo are non-canonical, their story follows the lore of Men of Middle-earth.
"Middle-earthers are vulnerable to temptation, they're vulnerable to power," says McKay. "That particular culture — the south ones, as we call them — have a history of choosing the wrong side. The idea that the temptation to evil is still present in them, that it is still in their veins, was one that we found enormously promising dramatically."
Adds co-creator and showrunner JD Payne: "It also felt very human and relatable, in that you've got a single mom and a young son on the cusp of adolescence. He's someone who's struggling with the legacy of his people and doesn't have a dad and his mom is dating someone who is really forbidden by his culture and he's not really enthusiastic about it. There's a lot of anger in that character."
In the underground kingdom of Khazad-dûm, there is a collaboration brewing between Elves and Dwarves, thanks to the relationship between Elrond and Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur). But there is also a secret that the Dwarves are keeping from the Elves — one that could put a spoke in the wheels of their plans.
"It may be a little early to develop that thought further," teases Arthur of the collaboration, with Aramayo adding: "There are dark forces that might hinder that relationship/friendship."
Meanwhile, where the Harfoots roam, a character literally called The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) appears to be altering the course of the pre-Hobbits and their seasonal migration. But in the early stages of his arrival and their relationship with him, Harfoots Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and Poppy (Megan Richards) do not know what to make of their latest discovery.
"At this point in time, they don't necessarily think The Stranger is there to do anything for them," says Kavenagh. "Nori feels as though she's there to help him in some way, so I think it might take her by surprise when certain things happen that leads it to being more of a reciprocal relationship."
What The Stranger's presence inevitably allows for is the exploration of the relationship between two generations, in terms of how each views the world.
"They both have different ideas about what caring for your community means. In Marigold's case, she wants it to continue as it has been for generations upon generations, because she believes that has kept them safe," says Sara Zwangobani, who portrays the Harfoot matriarch. "She's very world-wary. She had her own sense of adventure when she was young and gradually learned that it was actually not helpful. It was more useful to care about her community. But obviously Nori has a different idea of what that means. That's the struggle between them, and it's quite a common struggle, when children start wanting to make their own way. Parents can see all the pitfalls and the children can only see the adventure and the desire to be their own person."
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power streams Fridays