Is it just me, or is "The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power" becoming more and more like "Game of Thrones"? From Galadriel's (Morfydd Clark) epic sword training session, to the split-location narratives unfolding at different speeds, to the rising political tensions across Middle-earth, "The Rings of Power" quickly traded the idyllic and enchanting (if also ominous) tone of its first few episodes for something more familiar. This week's episode, "Partings," made the comparison more apparent than ever with a conversation that shed light on some dark political motivations.
About mid-way through the episode, a series-original character named Kemen (Leon Wadham) decides to speak up when he sees his dad, Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle), supporting his cousin Queen Regent Míriel's (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) call to arms. "It's not too late to stop this," Kemen says, apparently mistakenly thinking Pharazôn just doesn't realize how influential he is. "Your cousin may hold the scepter, but it's you the people follow." Kemen is quickly shot down, and when he gently asks, "Is it folly to try to stop a war?" his father answers, "It's folly to kick against a current."
Political Scheming In Númenor
Anyone who's familiar with Middle-earth lore knows that Pharazôn is by no means a good guy, and it's become pretty apparent for show-watchers too. He's already expressed disturbing anti-elf sentiments, and generally seems more scheme-inclined than the rest of these mostly heroic characters. But this moment feels like a turning point for his character, a bit like the part of "Game of Thrones" where Cersei Lannister describes the bloody quest for power that gives the series its title. He tells his son he's following the turn of the tide, but then calmly, coolly reveals his plan to rule over elves and men. If he appeals to the little people, he argues, he and his allies will ultimately benefit economically when trade is impacted by war.
Like everything in "Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," the details of Pharazôn's slow descent into villainy will no doubt irritate some professed fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's works, despite it being discussed in texts including "Unfinished Tales" and "The History of Middle-earth." I'll admit I was initially wary of the tilt toward courtly drama in the show, because while politics undoubtedly is a part of Middle-earth history, I'm one of many fantasy fans who's still feeling "Game of Thrones" fatigue. As such, the harfoot misadventures and shiny, pretty world building of the show's first episodes really felt like a balm to my "Thrones"-addled soul.
Westeros And Middle-Earth Are Bound To Have Some Crossover
But as the show unfolds, some crossover between "Thrones" and "Lord of the Rings" only seems natural. After all, George R.R. Martin himself is a professed Tolkien fan, and cites the "Rings" trilogy as one of the most formative texts he's read. "When I started writing 'Game of Thrones,' one of the things I did was to look at 'Lord of the Rings' and see what Tolkien did and tried to take some lessons from it," Martin said in 2019.
Plus, as much as I've grown weary of a world where double-crosses and ruthless power grabs are the norm, that's always been a part of Tolkien's story. It's easy to want to over-simplify characters like Sauron and Pharazôn into a generic "bad guy" category, but despite their cool names and fantasy elements, the author never wrote them as vague, mustache-twirling villains. Instead, they were people with dangerous and damaging ideas and the power to enact their will upon others.
In the trilogy's appendices, Tolkien described Pharazôn as a man who desired "no less than a kingship of the world," and he would go on to flesh out the character's story with descriptions of his rise to power that the new series has yet to reveal. But it's worth noting that Tolkien clearly took care to write many of his villains as normal people who grow corrupted by power and opportunity. The fact that in this case the power comes not from a magical ring, but from a public position of control and subjugation, doesn't make it any less quintessentially Tolkien, even if it does makes the new show feel less like the largely optimistic version of Middle-earth that Peter Jackson immortalized on screen -- and a little more like Westeros.
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