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The Rings of Power is holding Galadriel back

Amazon’s show hasn’t earned the elf warrior’s emotional journey

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A close-up of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) in The Rings of Power Image: Prime Video
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

Galadriel has been a particularly difficult character for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series so far. While readers of Tolkien’s work (the main book trilogy, its appendices, and everything else) know her to be one of the most powerful and interesting beings in Middle-earth’s history, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power also has to make her a compelling and fallible protagonist in a TV show. And so far it hasn’t managed to find a balance between the two.

While her moment-to-moment actions have been questionable in every episode, “The Eye,” the second-to-last episode of the season, felt like a culmination of all the disappointing and frustrating choices the show has made with Galadriel so far.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 7.]

The Rings of Power introduced Galadriel to audiences as if her badassness was a preordained fact. It was assumed this was just something everyone knew, like the showrunners saying, “She’s Cate Blanchett from Lord of the Rings, you know her — she’s cool.” But the show never actually did any of the work to establish her competence as one of the world’s greatest immortal warriors or her credentials as one of the most brilliant and ambitious elves.

Instead, we get one troll fight in the opening to prove Galadriel’s martial prowess before the series begins its meticulous dressing-down, which includes: banishment from her people, almost dying in a storm and having to be rescued by a human, being rude and repeatedly mocked at Númenórean court, and finally having that same human teach her (an immortal elf!) the finer points of diplomacy and the art of conversation.

Galadriel standing at a table talking to Miriel with Elindiur on another side Photo: Matt Grace/Prime Video

The one thing she is right about is her righteous fury over Sauron. Viewers that already know where the story is going know that Sauron is still out there and should be hunted. But because the show wants to hide his identity from the audience, it further undermines Galadriel’s character, without a single other success or victory to build her up. With the mystery of his sigil so easily solved in episode 3, it feels like Sauron’s continued omission simply adds to her long list of mistakes.

Galadriel’s constant defeats in The Rings of Power have left her mostly an embarrassment and a disgrace so far in the show’s first season. This would be a fine enough hole for a human character to dig themselves out of in a fantasy series, but it’s a profound waste to drag one of Tolkien’s greatest elves down to that level for no reason. In its quest to make Galadriel relatable as a character, The Rings of Power has left her feeling toothless, pointlessly petty, and, worst of all, inept.

This issue has plagued The Rings of Power since its earliest moments, but it hit a fever pitch in episode 7 when Galadriel’s emotional journey seemed ready to reach a climax that (whether it was well earned or not) could have turned her character into something far more interesting. Following Galadriel and friends’ seeming victory at Ostirith, Mount Doom erupts, covering the surrounding world in fire and ash and bringing episode 6 to a close. When we rejoin Galadriel in episode 7, she’s covered in soot and grime, deliriously trying to sort through the chaos and death around her. Throughout the episode she reels from the confusion that results from winning a fight and losing a battle all at the same time — at least she does if we’re giving the script a little more credit than it deserves.

It should be a profound moment of realization that despite great deeds and single actions, evil does sometimes still win, in part because it’s larger than any single act or moment. It should be a rebuke of the kind of individual and almost selfish heroism that we might have, in another show, been led to believe that young Galadriel is a stubborn master of. But that moment of realization never has a chance to arrive because we’ve never actually seen Galadriel do anything great or heroic.

Galadriel and Theo walking through a post-erruption Southlands. They are mid-distance, and everything is filtered orange and there’s ash everywhere Image: Prime Video

She took on a horde of “freed” orcs (who she threatened with genocide), but did so with an army of her own behind her. She hasn’t won any great battles that we’ve seen; she didn’t slay the sea monster after she jumped out of the elven ship bound for Valinor (something that could have gone a long way toward showing us just how badass she can be). She didn’t really convince Númenor to help the Southlands, and as we see this episode, she hasn’t even fully earned the trust of Elendil, her longest-standing ally in Númenor.

When the episode’s plot in the Southlands tears itself free from post-eruption grief, it seems for a brief moment that Galadriel is poised for another (better set-up) realization, this time about her relationship to mortality and how death more seriously affects those she’s now allied with. Even for someone who has seen countless deaths, this disaster is clearly on a larger, more permanent scale than Galadriel has ever seen, particularly when so many human and Númenórean lives are lost rather than the temporary end an elf in Middle-earth experiences.

But none of that ever comes. Galadriel never recognizes death as a permanent part of the lives of the people around her, or the idea that bravery could have greater meanings to the humans and Númenóreans than it has to the elves. Instead we get a hollow declaration of revenge and the promise of more armies — though it’s not clear who they want to fight, or what they’ll even avenge, since all the main characters seem mostly unscathed.

Despite the fact that Galadriel still has yet to prove herself in The Rings of Power, seeing her face the true limits of her supposed greatness as a warrior, or come to terms with what true sacrifice means in Middle-earth when it’s done by those who won’t have another chance, could have been a profound moment that helped breathe new and vibrant life into the corners of one of Tolkien’s most interesting characters. Instead, in the shadow of Mount Doom (and the newly christened Mordor), Galadriel remains revelation-less and exactly as boring as she’s been up to this point.

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