The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 6 Review - "Udûn"
Warning: the below contains full spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 6, which is now streaming on Prime Video. To refresh your memory, check out our review of last week's episode.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has felt a little languid at times as it delivered dense exposition to establish its characters, the state of the world, and what’s at stake. But all of that groundlaying paid off in Episode 6, which served up an absolutely extraordinary hour of television that’s reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the Battle of Sodden Hill in The Witcher, and the best of Game of Thrones.
Adar came off as a villainous cliche in Episode 4, but he gets a lot more development in "Udûn," which reveals his history and motivations. An elf twisted by Morgoth to become one of the first Orcs, or Uruk as he prefers to be called, he still keeps to some elven traditions while feeling loyalty to his “children” and trying to do what’s best for them, which he’s decided means wiping the Southlands off the map to create Mordor.
I’d love to know how Adar and Waldreg survived the collapse of Ostirith pretty much unscathed, but the entire episode is a back and forth as the humans and Adar’s forces take turns scoring big wins that then crumble into scathing defeats.The real action of the episode happens after Bronwyn and Arondir lead the retreat from the guard tower and start bracing for the counter offensive with plenty of ingenuity and tender moments.
Arondir understandably tries to break the hilt, but at the very heart of the Lord of the Rings is the concept that powerful artifacts are not easily destroyed. Arondir’s hammer breaking before the hilt does is a direct reference to Gimli’s hammer shattering when he tried to sunder the One Ring in The Fellowship of the Ring. Arondir’s smart to hide it, but dark artifacts are also deeply corrupting. While Theo’s trying to resist the hilt’s pull, he’s a curious kid in over his head.
Seeing the “life in defiance of death” seed-planting ritual performed twice this episode provides some strong character- and world-building. When Adar first does it, it seemed like dark magic meant to spawn more orcs or maybe even protect his soul phylactery style should he fall in battle. But it’s just part of his past that he clings to, driving home why he decided to give up on Sauron. Adar was understandably tired of being a lieutenant to a distracted boss who views the orcs as disposable cannon fodder at best and has more recently been using them as experimental subjects for his research.
Tolkien’s orcs have a complicated legacy that’s still playing out in debates within Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy tabletop games, with disagreements over what it means to have races that are evil by nature, designed for heroes to be able to kill without feeling bad. The Rings of Power is reckoning with that through the different ways the orcs are viewed by Adar, Sauron, and Galadriel. They may have been created by a force of evil, but now that they exist with their own feelings and worldviews, Galadriel’s genocidal vow feels utterly monstrous. Adar pointing out her own similarities to Sauron is a clever nod to the darkness she invokes when Frodo offers her the One Ring — she could actually be Sauron’s successor because she has the single-minded will to reshape Middle-earth in her image. She might do so in the name of fighting evil, but the results would be just as catastrophic.
Episode 6 showed a masterful ability to weave all this character building into dramatic action.“
Galadriel and Halbrand take turns this episode pulling each other out of vengeful rages, the bond between them deepening up until the point it looked like it was about to actually get romantic before they’re interrupted to be pulled into a royal council. The writers seem to be drawing a contrast between these supposedly noble saviors with somewhat questionable morality and Bronywn and Arondir, who seem more grounded and genuinely good. Bronwyn looked relieved to give up the leadership she’d earned through battle to the prophesied king Halbrand, but it’s very questionable if she actually should. After spending so much time running from a past he still hasn’t explained, it’s unclear that Halbrand’s actually ready to accept this level of responsibility.
Episode 6 showed a masterful ability to weave all this character building into dramatic action. The scrappy traps the people of the Southlands laid for the orcs, and Bronwyn’s clutch killing of an orc scout to make sure they went off, produces a victory that’s all too short lived as it’s revealed that Adar mostly sent in humans in the first wave. While Waldreg is a true traitor, most of the people who defected were probably just desperate and scared. Making the villagers kill each other is brutal and also plays into Adar’s ethos that an orc’s life has just as much value as a human’s.
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Of course Númenor shows up to save the day in a scene highly reminiscent of the arrival of the Riders of Rohan. The Lord of the Rings has always been a great franchise for horse lovers and there’s lots of spectacular riding shots in this episode, particularly involving Galadriel’s impressive saddle acrobatics and her chase scene with Adar. Apparently Isildur’s mom was also part of a group with close connection to horses, so we’ll likely get more development on that front now that Isildur’s bonded himself to his mount in battle.
The fight scenes are brilliantly directed throughout this episode. Someone involved in the choreography clearly has a thing for chains, which are used cleverly on the individual level against Arondir and en masse with the cavalry tripping the orcs. The fight between Arondir and a particularly giant orc was thrilling, with an utterly brutal conclusion that gives Bronwyn yet another moment to shine. While a handful of the cast have plot armor because it’s a prequel, the stakes feel real because both Arondir and Bronwyn are original characters, and I thought for a while that Bronywn was actually going to die this episode when the tide turned and she got shot.
Episode 6 of The Rings of Power delivers exceptional action and character development in a high-stakes hour.“
But even Númenor’s triumph doesn’t last too long because Adar utterly outplayed his opposition with some clever sleight of hand and use of a loyal agent. We’d been warned of Sauron’s plans for the Southlands and apparently when he got engrossed trying to figure out the shadow realm connected to the One Ring, Adar decided to execute the scheme on his own. He really wasn’t kidding about reshaping Middle-earth. When the key first twisted, it seemed like it was just going to cause a devastating flood. Watching the mechanics of the device flow until the water hit the magma and triggered a devastating volcanic reaction played out like a dramatic big-budget disaster movie where the heroes lose in the end.
With all the action focused on the Southlands, there were no dwarves or harfoots at all in this episode. We’ll see next week what the timeline difference is in these plots — it could be a catch up with their stories to get everyone to the point where Mordor is formed or Adar’s successful gambit could come crashing into their stories immediately. Hopefully the show can continue to build on the momentum of Episode 6 in the final two episodes of the season.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Samantha Nelson