ItGaladriel can be found at the beginning. What could possibly be the other way around? The black screen is an accompaniment The Rings of Power‘s opening seconds gives way to a beatific scene of elf children in white tunics frolicking through golden fields, she narrates the cosmic origin story of a time before evil. Galadriel is a small, flaxen-haired, tiny boat that launches from the creek’s edge. Her wings transform into sails whenever the wind strikes them. It’s wondrous—until the other kids sink it with stones. Later, Galadriel’s beloved older brother Finrod consoles her, crafting an allegory around the plummeting stones and the miniature ship, “whose gaze is not downward but up, fixed upon the light that guides her, whispering of grander things than darkness ever knew.”
So, episode 1’s first minutes are filled with the metaphoric center of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power The scene is complete. It’s not an especially imaginative one; beyond its central role in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth lore, the binary of righteous light battling it out against evil darkness permeates Western storytelling from the Judeo-Christian Bible to Star Wars. This metaphor represents the first-time creators J.D. Amazon. Patrick McKay and Payne have taken on the highest-priced TV series of all time. The show premiered Sept. 1, in America, as well as Sept. 2, in Europe, Asia and the Antipodes. Instead of reinventing Tolkien’s lore, they reinscribe it in a story that reverently and expensively draws on ones viewers will have heard many times before. It could end up being timeless or old-fashioned. In its early episodes, however, Rings of Power You can tantalize without having to challenge.
Nazanin Boniadi and Ismael Cruz Córdova in ‘The Rings of Power’
As far as I can tell (because Amazon’s extensive security measures included placing huge, opaque watermarks on screener videos), the show looks magnificent. It has lit up the screen with a record-breaking $1 billion budget. So much adult-oriented fantasy TV—not just the Game of Thrones FranchiseBut also The Witcher, The Walking Dead, and Amazon’s own Carnival Row, among others—plays out against murky backdrops that set a foreboding mood and hide shoddy CGI. Rings of PowerIt is possible that we are heading towards a time when humans will, given an opportunity to eliminate a ring that keeps Middle-earth evil alive, succumb to its lure. It is reminiscent of other Tolkien works and has an all-ages feel. The production design creates an atmosphere that’s more hopeful than dark. Elves live in an endless golden hour while the Elven realms are surrounded by rolling green hills and snow-capped mountain ranges. Even the vast, underground dwarf kingdom of Khazad-dûm is illuminated by flaming lanterns and emerald foliage.
These vividly realized environments will host the climactic events of Middle-earth’s Second Age, an era that is sketched out in Tolkien’s Reign of the King These appendices led to the forging the rings that would play such an important role in the Third Age, as chronicled in The Hobbit LotR. McKay and Payne can bring back some familiar faces because of the immortality granted to elves. There’s Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), of course. A serene, ethereal presence played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s LotR films, the character is, here, a sword-wielding commander who took up her brother’s crusade against evil after he perished at the hands of the supremely wicked Sauron (a physical forerunner to the movies’ fiery eye in the sky). After a long period of peace, the elves—led by High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) and his deputy, a young statesman named Elrond (Robert Aramayo)—are behaving as though all evil in Middle-earth has been vanquished. Galadriel can sense it hasn’t.
Robert Aramayo is Elrond Rings of Power
Payne and McKay have created a few new characters in lesser-known realms. Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) is an elf soldier nearing the end of an uneventful 75-year assignment patrolling a stretch of farmland for signs of evil forces. Recently, he’s developed a forbidden connection with a human healer, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), who is also the single mother of a little boy (Tyroe Muhafidin). Strolling other provinces is a lively community of harfoots—nomadic, pint-sized, pixie-like hobbit forerunners with dirty faces and messy hair, who look as though they’ve stayed too long at the renaissance faire. Our window into their world is Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), a restless teen who’s always dragging her best friend Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) on the kind of perilous adventures that harfoots rarely attempt.
Elves and humans have a love affair that crosses all boundaries. The rare chance for little brave souls to demonstrate their courage is given to them by bighearted people. And, in a story line that brings Elrond to Khazad-dûm to in an attempt at diplomacy with Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and his wife, Princess Disa (notably the first female Middle-earth dwarf to be portrayed on screen, played by Sophia Nomvete), mutual mistrust as a barrier to cooperation between elves, who lead lives of the mind, and earthy dwarves. These strands seem more promising in the early episodes than others. But, like the overarching narrative of an imminent war in Middle-earth, between good and evil, light and darkness—and regardless of the fact that said war canonically has a more depressing outcome than LotR did—they’re all well-worn Tolkien plots with a limited range of outcomes.
Megan Richards (left) and Markella Kvenagh (right) in ‘The Rings of Power.
Ben Rothstein—Prime Video
Franchises have been around for a long time. Star Wars to DC to the MCU, which regularly break box-office records by recycling old archetypes and story structures, I don’t doubt that Rings of Power You will have plenty of fans, including Tolkien superfans who are many, but also younger people. This twinkly, innocent, charming, alternative is welcome to so much of post-traumatic literature.Thrones fantasy TV—just as its clear, deliberately paced storytelling avoids the perpetual confusion of so much prestige drama. Another subset of viewers will find the eight-episode season inspiring and compelling. They’ll be able to endure it because the acting and dialogue are not dull nor disappointing. And it is, frankly, still a relief to see a fantasy show assemble a diverse cast and create a number of powerful female roles; in a wOderld of orcs and anthropomorphic trees, a nonwhite elf shouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
But the show’s simultaneous grounding in established lore and repetition of some of the most common Tolkien tropes results in a series that doesn’t quite feel tailored to newcomers or Fans already in existence. Maybe Rings of Power It will become its own entity over the years (Payne & McKay plan a five-season story arc); some early developments hint that there may be more to these characters and their situations than what is obvious. Even if the show doesn’t stray much farther from the initial setup, it will be hard to place too much blame on creators whose affection for the source material rings true. While so much IP-driven storytelling reeks of cynicism, their scripts read as a sincere, if slightly too deferential, tribute to Tolkien’s work.
I’m not sure that work was ever suited to the small screen, though. Television thrives on complex characters, slow-burning conflict and shifting allegiances. Every week it must surprise us. That’s why Thrones worked so well (until it didn’t). Tolkien’s unparalleled world-building is what made the Lord of the RingsThese adaptations are so immersive, that Amazon Series had so much to live up too. But his moral universe is a relatively simple one; there’s light and dark without much gray area. McKay and Payne can create a middle-earth story in which good humans of different humanoid races team up against shadowy and monstrous evil avatars. It’s probably not impossible, but they haven’t done it yet.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME