CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

7 Things I Love About 'The Rings of Power' and 3 I Wish Were Different

Season 1 of the most expensive TV show ever made is in the bag, and I have some thoughts on The Rings of Power.

Russell Holly
Russell Holly is a Managing Editor on the Commerce team at CNET. He works with all of CNET to assemble top recommendations as well as helping everyone find the best way to buy anything at the best price. When not writing for CNET you can find him riding a bike, running around in Jedi robes, or contributing to WOSU public radio's Tech Tuesday segment.
Expertise 7 years experience as a smartphone reviewer and analyst, 5 years experience as a competitive cyclist Credentials
  • Author of Taking your Android Tablets to the Max
Russell Holly
7 min read
A massive statue above the kingdom of Númenor

From a trailer for The Rings of Power, the first shot of the kingdom of Númenor.

Amazon Prime Video

As season 1 of The Rings of Power draws to a close, it's clear from the overall reaction that this show has been a great success, with room to grow. When Amazon Studios announced a TV series based on The Lord of the Rings, I found myself equal parts excited and nervous. From relatively unproven showrunners to the very concept of a show costing $1 billion to make, it was easy not to know what to expect. And at least for a Tolkien fan like me, the worry that a new storyteller may not be faithful to the overall message of its creator is a small but constant weight.

Now that this first new dip into Middle-earth in 20 years has run its course, it's clear there are a lot of things that went very well for this series, as well as a few things I wish had been handled differently. 

The Rings of Power: What the show did really well

Durin and Elrond walking in a forest near Lindon in The Rings of Power

It's just so pretty

You can immediately tell that a significant amount of this show's budget went into creating a vast, beautiful world. The sets and cinematography make so much of this show feel real in ways that rival the Peter Jackson films. The diversity of landscape and environment and weather rivals the diversity of the cast, which similarly all feel uniquely perfect in the way they add life to this world. You can pick a dozen frames from every episode and immediately have something worth hanging on a wall as a piece of art. The bright spots in this world feel perfectly ethereal without feeling artificial, and the dark spots feel like you could wipe ash off the screen because they're so gripping and real. 

My one caveat to this overall feeling is the Dwarven home under the mountain, Khazad-dûm. By the end of the season, we've spent a fair bit of time in this part of the world and it never really feels as cavernous and massive as it does in The Lord of the Rings. Every scene under the mountain is beautiful and vibrant in its own way, but it never quite feels big enough to me. 

Disa, Durin and Elrond

Immediately, these three characters and the way they interact with one another made up some of my favorite moments of this show. The relationship between Disa and Durin, the relationship between Durin and Elrond and their combined storylines are intense, emotional and just plain fun. Sophia Nomvete's beautiful intensity fills every scene she's in, the squishy vulnerable core under Durin's rigid exterior and the fantastic demonstration of the many conflicts within Elrond as he navigates Middle-earth are each uniquely compelling. 

I could watch a whole season of just these three. 

Galadriel's journey

There's so much to like about Morfydd Clark's performance as Galadriel, from her physicality to her ability to deliver an enormous amount of emotion in a single line, that it's usually pretty easy to dismiss how much smaller she is on screen than the Elf is depicted in Tolkien's works. But the real joy of watching Galadriel take center stage for so much of this first season has been the way every moment on screen contributes to her personal journey. 

At the beginning of this show, Galadriel is a hot mess. She's carving her way through Middle-earth in search of an evil that no one has seen in a very long time, entirely because she can't let go of her own anger, and by the time the finale starts, she has her own answer to the question, "Without my sword, what am I?" It's been an overall delight to watch, and seeing the first steps of this character grow into the leader we see in Fellowship of the Ring. 

Old King Durin

As much as I deeply appreciate seeing the emotional side of Prince Durin IV, his father King Durin III is just about the Dwarviest Dwarf to ever Dwarf. Peter Mullan's excellent portrayal of Khazad-dûm's king is matched only by the impossibly good costume he's wearing. He's a hard fist when he needs to be, a soft hand when it's required, and he knows exactly what is best for his people. 

As hard as Disa and Durin try to make him seem out of touch and in need of replacement, those who know what happens to Khazad-dûm can clearly see this old king knows what's up. 

Elendil's leadership

On the topic of great dads in Middle-earth, seeing Elendil and Isildur on screen together as a younger father and child has been amazing. Lloyd Owen's Elendil is imposing, passionate and deeply sure of who he is and where he fits in the world. He has a clear vision of right and wrong, and it doesn't feel like he lusts for power. At this point in Middle-earth's story he is exactly what he should be: a model, Faithful Númenorean who's trying to guide a willful Isildur onto the right path. 

I'm deeply excited to see more of these characters, especially since we know they're about to go through A LOT.

Arondir's Big Fight

There's so much to love about Ismael Cruz Córdova's portrayal of Arondir. The relationship between him and Bronwyn is intense and forbidden in the best way, and it's really nice to see the Silvan Elves in Ostirith. 

But the big event for me is Arondir's fight scenes, especially the main event in Tirharad. The fight style -- which Córdova explained in my interview with him was something he helped develop for the show -- is intense and so much fun to watch. Where things get really interesting in this fight is the way Arondir struggles to win, and in fact may not have won without some support. When we see Orcs on screen in the Peter Jackson films, Orcs who aren't Saruman's Uruk-hai are seen as small and even a little frail. This isn't really how Tolkien depicted Orcs in his stories, and it's cool to see a slightly more faithful representation of this threat to Middle-earth on screen. 

Orodruin's eruption

What else even needs to be said, right? Episode 6 was the most intense episode of this first season by far, and its ending was a major event in itself. Everything about the story unfolding in The Southlands this season was well done, and using that area to pull together so many threads was one of the best executed things in the show. 

But the mountain in particular was super well done. Orodruin was in the background of a ton of Southlands shots, which many Tolkien nerds could immediately identify as the mountain that would eventually be renamed Mount Doom. Seeing that come to pass, as The Southlands is converted to Mordor and the home for evil in this world, is something that won't be forgotten anytime soon. 

The Rings of Power: What I wish had been different

A character in Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power gazes at the sky
Prime Video

Gil-galad's lack of, well, everything

As much as I appreciate Galadriel's story and the way it takes us to so many parts of Middle-earth in this first season, it occasionally feels like highlighting her came at the expense of other characters. The biggest example of this is High King Gil-galad, who in all of Tolkien's works is depicted as the last great warrior king of the Elves and a great uniter of forces against evil. 

Gil-galad is the one in Tolkien's works who got Númenor to join the fight against Sauron, among other great acts of leadership. In The Rings of Power so far, he's come off more like a sneaky politician desperate to keep his people afloat while ignoring the darkening world around him. It's possible this turns around once Galadriel offers incontrovertible evidence of Sauron's works in the Southlands, but that kind of demonstrates my point. 

Mithril's 'origin'

I absolutely love the internal struggle among the Dwarves when it comes to whether to mine Mithril. Tolkien presented this as something the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm used to become not only wealthy but also well connected in Middle-earth, and their decision to chase that greed led to their downfall. Seeing the origin of that, and watching the internal arguments for and against mining this more dangerous ore, is great television in my opinion. 

Watching the Elves secretly covet Mithril because they believe it comes from the light of a "lost" Silmaril and could save their people's light from fading isn't fun for several reasons. For starters, we have a pretty reasonable idea of where each Silmaril is, and none of those three places are anywhere near the Misty Mountains. But even if that weren't the case, smaller veins of Mithril exist in two other places in Tolkien's writings.

It's possible the whole storyline about healing the Elves turns out to be a head fake, but even without it, the attempt at creating a mythical origin for the ore doesn't sit right with me. 

Diminishing Númenor

The massive human island of Númenor was one of the things I was most looking forward to when we learned The Rings of Power would be taking place in Tolkien's Second Age. The Men of Númenor contribute so much to Middle-earth as we know it in The Lord of the Rings, and the thought of seeing that unfold was exciting. And when Elendil first sails through that passage, my jaw dropped at how well done it was. Visually, this kingdom is fantastic, and the depth of the political intrigue and the general isolation of the people here are fun to see unfold. 

That said, there's a ton about the way Númenor and its people are depicted in this show that could be done way better. Tolkien described Númenóreans as noticeably taller than Men of Middle-earth. In fact, early on those "Middle Men" revered these sailors almost as gods because they were so imposing and powerful. So when Halbrand stands eye to eye with them and then takes out four of them in a fight, it's tough to understand the adaptation decisions there. We now know why Halbrand was able to win that fight, but not why no Númenóreans found this to be extremely unusual and cause for alarm. Separately, trying to say 300 towering Númenóreans and their horses fit on those little corsair ships headed to help fight Sauron is odd for a nation so thoroughly built on naval prowess.

But hey, season 2 has started filming, so there's plenty of time for this great show to get even better.