‘Rings of Power’ Deep Dive: Episode 5 as It Stands Up to Tolkien’s Writing

Episode 5 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now out in the world, and the debate among fans about how well the show holds up to their expectations continues. 

Folks concerned that showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay plan to fill gaps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s collected works or to present things in ways that differ from the films are fairly vocal — and not just because Elves having short hair feels odd (but is, in fact, canon). 

The truth is that there have been doubts cast on every modern Tolkien story brought to screen, including Peter Jackson’s beloved Lord of the Rings movies. So if you’re curious about how well The Rings of Power fits in to what Tolkien wrote, I’m here to help.

Every episode of The Rings of Power will have a recap article courtesy of CNET’s Erin Carson, but I am writing and updating this separate article dedicated entirely to the analysis of how well each episode sticks to what Tolkien wrote. Every week there will be an update to go along with the release of an episode, and this week I’m looking at Episode 5: Partings.

 To be clear, this analysis doesn’t include:

  • Whether people of color should be on screen as dwarves, elves or Harfoots. (They should, end of conversation.)
  • Whether dwarven women should have full beards. (Tolkien was never clear on this, so I won’t be taking a position.)
  • Whether Tolkien is OK with people inventing things in his world. (This letter from Tolkien to his publisher in 1951 makes his position clear.)

Episode 1: Shadow of the Past

Galadriel braves the elements.


Amazon Prime Video

This episode broadly introduces the world, and a handful of the separate stories seemingly destined to intersect. Check out our full recap for more.

Finrod Felegund’s Dagger

In our opening scene, young Galadriel’s beautiful boat is destroyed, and her big brother stops her from beating the guilty party within an inch of his life for being such a tool. This scene is the first time we see Finrod’s dagger, which Galadriel takes as her own while she seeks out the enemy responsible for his death. 

This dagger is beautiful, but there’s no evidence of it having existed in any of Tolkien’s work. Canonically, we know Finrod had a sword and a bow. But we also know he was nobility, and in the few pieces of pre-Rings of Power art we have of Finrod he’s got some beautiful nonstandard jewelry and weaponry on him, including the Ring of Barahir, which eventually finds its way to Aragorn’s hand. The dagger isn’t something Tolkien wrote, but it’s also plausible he’d have a dagger like this.

It’s clearly a representation of Telperion and Laurelin, the twin trees of Valinor, which created sunlight and moonlight for the world before they were destroyed and their last remaining fruit and flower were turned into the sun and moon for Middle-earth. There appear to be three similar spheres on the dagger, in between the silver and gold trees, which would almost certainly be a representation of the three Silmarils. Finrod was a major part of the conflicts surrounding the destruction of the trees and the Oath of Feanor, so having a symbol of those events on him is totally plausible.

Where things get a little fuzzy is Finrod having that dagger in the initial scene with Galadriel. According to Tolkien, Galadriel was born around 90 years before the creation of the Silmarils. Elves physically mature in the first 100 years of their existence, and then age far, far slower after that. At age 90, Galadriel would have looked at least a few years older than what’s shown on screen. 

Is this a big deal? Not at all. Do I still want one of those daggers? Absolutely.

Crossing the Sundering Seas

There’s nothing technically wrong about this scene. The elves left Valinor to wage a thousand years of war across much of Middle-earth, which led to Morgoth being stopped and Sauron going into a sort of hiding. 

But my goodness did this scene leave a lot out. There could’ve been an entire season of this show dedicated to just that handful of sentences, recapping how the elves found themselves in Middle-earth. If you’re curious, read the ninth chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion titled Of the Fight of the Ñoldor.

The village of Tirharad

If the name of this village didn’t sound familiar to you, you weren’t alone. Tolkien didn’t create Tirharad, but he didn’t create anything in this area that would later become Mordor. We know there were men living in what was then called the Southlands, because Tolkien wrote of how Shelob would prey upon men and elves before Sauron claimed the land as Mordor. 

The name Tirharad is a mashup of “watch” and “south” in Sindarin, which makes some sense given the way the village is essentially policed by the Silvan elves from their watchtower. This episode lays out how the descendants of men who served Morgoth settled in the surrounding area, and the elves keep a close eye on them out of concern that corruption may once again enter their hearts. We know that some men did serve Morgoth, whose fortress Udûn existed in the northeast part of the area that later became Mordor, so it isn’t a stretch that men would’ve settled here after the wars.

Galadriel’s return to Valinor

It’s long been suspected that Galadriel was either banned from returning to Valinor or didn’t believe she deserved to return to Valinor, due largely to this line in Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar:

What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

This scene shows Galadriel being rewarded (sort of) with the ability to return home, along with the rest of her company. Though Tolkien did write that some elves were permitted to return home after the War of Wrath, it was never explicitly stated that Galadriel was among them. It was written that many high elves opted to remain in Middle-earth even as more of their kind returned home, and Galadriel’s activities at this time aren’t well documented, so this new story is filling in those gaps with new adventures of sorts.

Episode 2: Adrift

A small humanoid character called a Harfoot

One of the Harfoots, a race seen in The Rings of Power and ancestors to Hobbits.


Amazon Prime Video

With a pair of mischievous Harfoots trying to care for The Stranger, Galadriel trying to swim across the Sundering Sea only to find several ways that can go wrong, Tirharad experiencing a pest control issue and Prince Durin having an axe to grind with Elrond, this is a busy episode. Check out the full recap here, and the lore analysis below. 

Nori’s not-so-hot foot

It’s easy to hear Nori say the fire isn’t hot and immediately think of Frodo’s reaction to the One Ring as it came from the fireplace to his hand, but the two almost certainly aren’t related. Throughout Tolkien’s works, there aren’t mentions anywhere of magic fire that isn’t hot, but there’s a lot about the character known only as The Stranger that doesn’t quite line up yet. 

This scene has further rumors that The Stranger is a wizard, and that fire is actually the Flame of Anor or light of the Sun. For now, it’s unclear how this character and his powers fit into what we know of Middle-earth.

The Rite of Sigin-tarâg

Not a ton is known about what dwarves get up to in their halls under the mountains, because they don’t often invite people in who aren’t of their kin. The few exceptions in the Second Age are largely elves who worked closely with dwarven smiths to create a ton of different things, which we might get to see in this show but not in this episode. So, though Tolkien never wrote about Elrond claiming the Rite of Sigin-tarâg, there’s a ton of empty space when it comes to knowing what dwarves did in private. 

Sigin-tarâg doesn’t refer to some kind of competition. The word translates to longbeards, which is the other name for Durin’s folk or this particular kind of dwarf. In this context, the Rite of Sigin-tarâg is exactly as Durin explains it, a test of endurance his people created to settle internal disputes. It’s not something we’ve ever seen before, and not something we’d ever see in the Third Age because of what happens to Durin’s folk, so it’s plausible a challenge like this would exist. 

Disa’s resonance

As this isn’t a character created by Tolkien, there’s no record of the special way she helps dwarven miners do their thing. Dwarven women were kept from battle, and as a result aren’t really mentioned much at all in Tolkien’s works. But we do know that dwarves were said to be the best mining folk in the world because they were created with that purpose in mind. 

Tolkien never really expands on what specific abilities the dwarves have when it comes to mining, only that Aulë taught them special skills while creating the seven original dwarf lords. 

Orcs under the floorboards

There are many examples of Orcs tunneling in Middle-earth, and those tunnels typically lead to what Tolkien called Orc-holds. Some of these Orc-holds were small, like the ones seen in this episode, while others occupied entire mountains, like those seen in Mount Gundabad, which Orcs hold for most of the Second Age.

We know Tirharad isn’t a place Tolkien created, but its proximity to what would soon become Mordor makes it a perfect place for Orcs to be digging under. 

Episode 3: Adar

Arondir, ax in hand, about to exploit a weakness.

Arondir wields an ax.


Amazon Prime Video

Galadriel and Halbrand get very different things out of their first day in Númenor, it turns out Arondir is in a lot more trouble than initially suspected, and the Harfoots have an uninvited guest at their party. Check out the full episode breakdown from CNET’s Erin Carson here, and read on for what’s new to the Tolkien Legendarium. 

Queen of Númenor

Galadriel isn’t welcomed into this shining city with open arms, a chilly reaction she more or less expects as she and Halbrand are brought before Queen Tar-Míriel. We’re told elves haven’t been welcome in Númenor for a long time, and later that Tar-Míriel’s father is still alive but in exile. 

This is a very careful dance around the language Tolkien uses to describe what happens in Númenor. Tar-Míriel is described as having had her rightful place on the throne taken from her by Ar-Pharazôn, who seized the throne for himself when her father died. We also know that a lot of Númenóreans were unhappy with the way her father was trying to rekindle a relationship with the elves, but not much more about that is ever discussed. 

What we’re seeing on screen is absolutely plausible, it fits what Tolkien wrote and adds to it respectfully, but if you like this woman being queen, I’d suggest preparing for it to be a short-lived time on the throne. 

Eärien, daughter of Elendil

In this third episode, we see a woman in a bright dress approach Isildur, and she’s greeted as Sister. In the next scene, we see her seated with her brother and father, having a heated conversation about the future. It’s clear Eärien is going to play a part in what comes next, but what exactly that is remains to be seen. 

There’s a fair bit we don’t know about Elendil’s life before leaving Númenor, because Tolkien didn’t write it down. This includes the name of Elendil’s wife, or her status among their people. Tolkien never mentions Elendil having a daughter, and neither does he describe Isildur and his brother Anárion having a sister. This is a new character created for the series, so we really don’t know what’s going to happen to her, but there’s a pretty good chance she never makes it to Middle-earth, where the history of these characters becomes more clearly outlined by Tolkien. 

Hail King Halbrand

Since Tolkien never wrote about specific peoples living in The Southlands before it becomes Mordor, there’s obviously no mention of there being a person who united all of those peoples under a single banner. But in very much the same way we’ve seen other people in this area reject the notion that they’re loyal to Morgoth, it’s not unreasonable to suggest there would’ve been someone in the race of men acting as the leader of the armies Morgoth created.

Nothing about this character or his supposed lineage was ever written by Tolkien, including his ability to lay out four Númenóreans and still be able to walk away, but it’s a nice addition to a part of this world that was never filled in by Tolkien. 

Wargs in the Second Age

Just when it seemed like Arondir and the rest of his company finally had a plan to use the sun to gain the upper hand, the Orcs summon a familiar beast to counter. Wargs are a familiar evil to those who’ve watched or read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, but this little Warg looks very different from the creatures spotted in earlier films. 

Tolkien never wrote about Wargs being present in the Second Age, but that’s because there’s not a lot of individual storytelling happening in this age. We know Sauron corrupted Wargs to fight for him, we just don’t know when, so it’s totally plausible this process started early and that ancestors to the Wargs we’d see a few thousand years later in The Hobbit would’ve been bred to be larger and more lethal. 

Episode 4: The Great Wave

Three ships leaving Nùmenor in The Rings of Power

Three ships leave Nùmenor.


Amazon Prime Video

While Elrond gets to the bottom of an Age-changing mystery in Khazad-dum, Galadriel’s tempestuous demeanor finally yields positive results. The full recap of this episode can be found here thanks to Erin Carson, but from a Tolkien lore perspective this episode offers the most significant deviations from written works so far. 

Pharazôn’s son, Kemen

In this episode, we see a young man scolded by the right hand of Queen Regent Miriel, and in the middle of that, he calls the man “my son.” This young man is named Kemen, and when he’s not watching his father bolstering the faith of the Men of Nùmenor, he’s got eyes for Elendil’s daughter Eärien. Which is impressive, for someone who didn’t exist until The Rings of Power. 

Not only did Tolkien never write about Kemen, but his existence alters what we know about Pharazôn in a significant way. According to Tolkien, Pharazôn wasn’t married until he forced his cousin Miriel to be his bride in a successful coup to seize the throne and become the last King of Nùmenor. He never has a child because Miriel wants nothing to do with him after he takes the throne, which means the existence of Kemen is one of multiple details regarding this character that differs significantly from the lore. 

All that glitters is actually Mithril

We finally have a name for the glowy material seen in Durin’s chest from the first episode, and it’s exactly what a lot of people initially guessed. This unique ore is a big deal for the Second Age, both for Dwarves and Elves. Unfortunately, Lord Celebrimbor seems to not know why Durin is hiding from him and sends Elrond to find out. 

This is a fairly significant departure from Tolkien’s works in two way. The first is the lack of a relationship between Celebrimbor and the Dwarves. While it’s likely someone with a lower title like Herald would have been the go-between as an introduction between the Lord of Eregion and the Dwarves, Celebrimbor is known for having a great relationship with Dwarves, and that has yet to play out on screen. Instead, Durin seems to only trust Elrond and even then only as far as his father will allow. Hopefully, this becomes less complicated as the season progresses. 

The name Mithril comes from the Elvish words for grey and glitter combined, but that’s never the name the Dwarves have for the metal. In fact, nobody who isn’t a dwarf knows the secret name for Mithril. It’s a closely guarded secret according to Tolkien, which Durin seems happy to share when he says his people call the ore grey glitter in the show. While that is certainly one name for this ore, it’s not the dwarven name for it. 

When Durin met Elrond

From a second instance in this show of how incredible Elrond’s sight is to the descent into the Mithril shaft next to the Mirrormere, this episode was full of little nods to Tolkien lore that would make any fan smile. A great example of this is when Disa asks Elrond to share his version of how he and Durin met, which of course differs from the story proud Durin shared with his wife. 

While Tolkien never describes a deep relationship between Elrond and Durin quite like we’re seeing on screen, the reference to them meeting over a conflict with Hill-trolls is a fun nod. Hill-trolls are known to inhapit an area of Middle-earth known as the Coldfells, which is just north of an area Elrond will eventually call Rivendell. 

Galadriel and Miriel, off on a fateful adventure together

We’ve previously established that Miriel is never dubbed queen in Tolkien’s writing, but the space is there for her to have had the title Queen Regent before her father’s passing. That space now includes a fleet of ships bound for Middle-earth so the Men of Nùmenor can help squash the rise of Sauron in the Southlands. It’s a great way to start pulling some of these individual threads together now that we’ve reached the halfway point in this season, but it obviously deviates from Tolkien’s writing in some significant ways. 

As it’s originally written, High King Gil-galad is the one who asks Nùmenor to join the fight. That can’t happen in this story right now because High King Gil-galad seems unaware that a threat in the Southlands currently exists. It’s possible that invitation becomes official in the next episode when all of this information is likely to be presented to the High King, but for the moment that hasn’t happened. 

Episode 5: Partings

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

Durin (left) and Elrond walk in a forest near Lindon.


Amazon

The Harfoots appreciate their strange new companion just in time for Nori to be terrified by his power. Arondir tries to swap out being broody and hot for inspiring and hot, while Bronwyn falters. Nùmenor competes with Lindon for the political theater Heavyweight Belt. Check out the full recap and come back for the lore analysis. 

Adar’s Impending Glow-down

In a moment of calm reflection before marching off to a big battle, the corrupted Elf who insists on his Orc followers calling him Father implies he will soon be burned by sunlight just like his followers. 

The origin of Orcs is a fascinating topic among Tolkien fans, because the author himself seemed to change his mind about how these creatures came to be in a way that leads to confusion. It has been heavily implied that corrupted Elves and corrupted Men can transform into Orcs over time, because the god of this universe has rules on who can create new life from nothing. Orcs are not exactly their own species so much as they are corrupted forms of other species, basically. 

While Tolkien waffled on whether corrupted Elves become Orcs, that seems to be the suggestion Adar is making here in regard to his personal journey into darkness. That is unless, of course, he’s planning to use that sword hilt, which is apparently also a key, to do something spectacular to himself. But we’ll address the sword later. 

Tar-Palantir’s… Palantíri

We’ve discussed previously that Tolkien never explicitly wrote Miriel as Queen Regent while her father was locked in a tower, or her quest to Middle-earth with Galadriel while Pharazôn fixes his gaze on being the next King, so it should come a no surprise that Tar-Palantir never warns her away from Middle-earth. This entire thread in the show is an interesting way to fill the gaps in Tolkien’s timeline without seriously deviating from his works so far.

There’s a lot of small details about Nùmenor that don’t line up verbatim with what Tolkien created, largely because the show has messed with the timeline of the Second Age to tell a better story. So while it’s compelling to see all of these people try to sort out going to Middle-earth for the first time in forever, in the original writing there had already been settlements on the main continent and trade between Nùmenor and Middle Men at this point. It should also be Gil-galad asking for Nùmenor to join the fight, but more on that later.

Tolkien describes Tar-Palantir as being “far-sighted both in eye and in mind,” so it’s entirely possible that him being locked in the tower has not stopped him from knowing about the day-to-day things happening in his kingdom. The warning to not go to Middle-earth could be a warning away from open war, or it could be a warning that Pharazôn is not the dedicated servant she believes him to be. It’s all uncharted territory, which means it should be interesting to see how the writers connect this thread to what Tolkien has already outlined.

The Black Sword Key Thing

The more we see of Theo’s black hilt, the more likely it is this is not some previously famous sword like Anglachel, Anguirel or even Gurthang. There’s no previously described blade in Tolkien’s works that lines up exactly with what this blade is or what it does. For the moment, it appears this sword was created for this series.

If I were to speculate on what this hilt is, I would say it’s an early Morgul Blade. Those who have seen or read Fellowship of the Ring will remember Frodo was stabbed by one of these magic blades and it started to pull his soul into the Unseen World like a Ringwraith. We saw in the first episode of this show Galadriel and her company stumble across a magic lab with Unseen World experiments. It’s entirely possible this blade is a continuation of that research. Taking that speculation one step further, it’s possible from the carvings Arondir uncovers at Ostirith that Adar’s plan is to stick himself with this Morgul Blade and join the Unseen World as a servant of darkness that is much more difficult to kill. But to be clear, that’s all entirely speculation. 

Gil-galad’s Deception

Of the many adaptations this show has made, the way we experience the High King of the Elves is my least favorite. Tolkien describes Gil-galad as a warrior king who faces off with Sauron with Elendil in the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, but what we see in The Rings of Power is a scheming politician who seems to avoid conflict wherever possible. 

There’s a lot about what we see in this episode that does not line up with what Tolkien has written. The panic over the corruption seen in the trees would only make sense if this “great tree” as Elrond described it was one of the Mallorn trees, which do not grow in Lindon. In fact, Tolkien said the seeds of this tree were given to Galadriel and she uses them to create Lórien. For this tree to be such a revered thing worthy of this much panic and subterfuge, Gil-galad would have to be tending to a tree we know doesn’t grow in Lindon (or in Khazad-dûm for that matter). 

But the biggest deviation from Tolkien’s lore in this episode is the discussion around Mithril. Gil-galad asks Elrond to recite the “song of the roots of Hithaeglir” that tells an apparently apocryphal story of an Elf warrior and a Balrog fighting over a tree believed to hold a lost Silmaril. This song claims lightning struck the tree and sent the light of the Silmaril into the roots of the mountain beneath it, which Gil-galad believes to be the Mithril needed to save his people. 

I was initially surprised by this scene largely because I’d never heard of this song being so deeply described on screen, and to the best of my research that’s because it doesn’t exist. Tolkien never wrote an official origin for Mithril and, as far as I can tell, never wrote about a powerful Elf warrior squaring off against a Balrog over a tree at the top of the mountains above Khazad-dûm. This origin, along with the urge to give Mithril to every Elf in order to maintain the light of the Valar and maintain their immortality, isn’t a part of Tolkien’s writing based on my research.