The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 3 review: "The Harfoots, like the Hobbits, are a highlight"

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
(Image: © Amazon Studios)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

The Rings of Power introduces yet another set of key characters, making for rushed viewing. When the series returns to familiar faces, it excels, as the Harfoots and Elves really are magical.

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Warning: the following contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 3. Turn back if you haven't seen the new installment in Amazon's epic Tolkien adaptation.

The Rings of Power refuses to slow down. Where the opener introduced an almost dizzying number of characters, led admirably by Morfydd Clark’s troll-killing Galadriel, the second episode expanded things further, the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm making an immediate and magnificent impact. Now, once more, Tolkien’s world rapidly grows as we arrive in the thriving kingdom of Númenor. 

Galadriel and her stranded companion, Halbrand, dominate the majority of the third episode’s runtime. There’s a fraught history between the Elves and Númenóreans, which leads to some initial tension between Galadriel and her captors. She becomes acquainted with Elendil – portrayed by Lloyd Owen, giving major Sean Bean as Boromir energy – as it's revealed that there are some in Númenor who are friends to the Elves. By the end, Galadriel realizes that the mark Sauron left on her deceased brother isn’t just branding, but a map of the Dark Lord's future kingdom, Mordor, where his forces are gathering after the death of Morgoth. Thus, Galadriel finally has the proof she needs to convince her kind that there really is evil growing in Middle-earth. What’s more, she also knows the one Southlander who can bring together the armies of Men to help with her endeavor. 

That’s a fair amount of big-picture plotting to decompress, and as The Rings of Power rattles along there’s rarely a moment to take everything in. Númenor is stunningly realized, matching the grandeur of Gil-galad’s Lindon, and the streets feel lived-in – the design really is wonderful. The problem is that, because we're in another grand new location, there's another set of key characters we need to quickly learn to love. 

Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s Tar-Míriel and Trystan Gravelle's Pharazôn leave little impact as the rulers of Númenor. We’re given fleeting reason to invest in their realm’s issues (though book readers will know Númenor is a doomed place) and I'm in no rush to revisit them (especially when Elrond, Durin, and Disa are out there). Meanwhile, Elendil’s story has more focus thanks to his extended screentime with Galadriel, yet his relationship with his soon-to-be-famous son, Isildur, played by Maxim Baldry, is only briefly touched on. Isildur's the guy who will cut Sauron’s hand off, bringing the Second Age to an end. Here, he’s a daydreamer with Daddy issues, and he presents another plot thread to keep on top of. Ema Horvath, who plays his sister, is lost in the whirlwind of new characters, but she did remind me oddly of Emma Watson in the Harry Potter movies.

With so many new names, I found myself clasping onto familiar faces tightly. Even though Charlie Vickers chaotic Halbrand appeared only briefly in last week’s episodes, he's an interesting force to be reckoned with. Watching him break arms is surprisingly brutal for Lord of the Rings – it’s perhaps the most blood we’ve seen in a Tolkien adaptation yet – and makes for some revealing character work. Theories have been bouncing around the internet that he’s actually Sauron and they may be somewhat tempered by Galadriel revealing that he’s very much human – and heir to a throne – but there’s a lot underneath the surface with Halbrand. My money’s on him eventually being turned to Sauron’s side, perhaps as one of the nine Nazgûl.

Speaking of evil, back on Middle-earth, Ismael Cruz Córdova’s stoic Arondir has been captured by Orcs and forced into a slave encampment. There’s some great action as the Elves fight back, making for the episode’s most thrilling moments, and the mysterious Elf-looking villain Adar – a character whose codename on set was Oren, and who’s played by Joseph Mawle – has all the making of a formidable antagonist. (Of note, the Orc and Warg designs slightly differ from those in Peter Jackson’s movies, the show slowly stepping out of their shadow.)

Also on the continent, the Harfoots are beginning to move again. Lenny Henry’s Sadoc leads a surprisingly sad gathering, the leader recalling all those who passed on their various journeys. Of course, Nori’s causing some trouble, and the tribe soon meet The Stranger who fell down from the sky. It's a storyline that's nicely progressing, and the Harfoots, like the Hobbits before them, are becoming a highlight of Middle-earth. No wonder Gandalf loves them. (Is that actually Gandalf? Feels a bit too obvious.)

It’s borderline miraculous that each of these seemingly unassociated plots feels tonally in keeping with one another. Yet, moving forward, I just want to spend more time with the characters we've already met. I’m invested in these Harfoots and Wizards and Elves, I don't need another episode where five more characters are introduced. Tolkien’s books were always filled with multiple key figures, just look at Bibo's company and Frodo’s fellowship. But those groups went on singular journeys together before they were split up. The Rings of Power is taking the opposite approach, introducing storylines that are only disparately connected, if having anything to do with one another at all. It’s a lot of spinning plates, and whether the showrunners can keep them all from crashing down remains to be seen. Still, seeing all these parts of Middle-earth and Tolkien's world is an absolute treat. The pace just need to calm down and let us spend some quality time with these peoples. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is available now on Amazon Prime Video. After more Rings content? Check out our guide to the Lord of the Rings timeline and our interviews with the Rings of Power cast and showrunners.

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Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.