With episode 4, The Great Wave, showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay lean into this truism, bringing several new and established antagonists into the spotlight as the Prime Video series approaches its halfway point. They also further delineate the show from the J.R.R. Tolkien novels that inspired it.
Adar, a newbie to episode 4, embodies the strengths of episode 4's villain-centric approach at its finest. He is arguably unlike any Middle-earth evildoer weve ever encountered in Tolkiens' literary works or Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning big-screen adaptations. Yet, Payne and McKay, together with director Wayne Che Yip and writer Stephany Folsom, manage to portray an astonishingly complex character.
Adar isnt a person easily dissatisfied with his desire for power, like Morgoth, Sauron, or Saruman, nor is he driven by a pernicious desire to hide in a Scrooge McDuckian gold vault, as in his cryptic remarks to Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) about the history of Middle-earths being erased, which suggest a more personal agenda.
Even as they stand poised to deplete the Southlands' human population, the rank-and-file orcs under Adars' command continue to reveal unexpected depths. Both episodes touched on orcs' capacity for religious devotion, and both elements are still at play in episode 4. But The Great Wave adds something more, something even more terrifying.
Watch as Adar, whose name, fittingly, translates to father, comforts and then kills one of his troops who had been killed in the previous episode. This guy has an unmistakable, almost childlike, affection for his master. Throughout the rest of the book, though, theres a almost sympathetic quality to proceedings. After all, who ever imagined wed encounter anything close to emotional vulnerability in an orc for just a few brief moments?
It'll be interesting to see if this glimpse into orc culture ends up being a one-off deal, or if Payne and McKay intend to develop this concept further in future episodes? Could this be the start of a game-changing revelation that orcs were just the first of many communities to fall under his spell while writing The Rings of Powers Second Age?
Pharazon (Trystan Gravelle) ostensibly remains on the side of the angels in Numenor; however, those familiar with The Silmarillion will notice signs of his inevitable heel turn. On the face of it, this is wonderful, as the queen regents advisor deters a potential incident. Yet Pharazon's address to the crowd plays out in a way that foreshadows Numenors future turmoil just as powerfully as Miriel's (Cynthia Add
Theos' confrontation with creepy Sauron sympathizer Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) reinforces Tolkien's uneasy attachment to the Book of Shadows.
In The Great Wave, the forces of good prove to be their own greatest foes, something that Tolkiens work is quite faithful. Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) isn't the only one of our heroes who is making life difficult for themselves and those around them. From Durin IV's (Owain Arthur) to Isildur's (Maxim Baldry)'s reckless self-sabotage, this episode is a film about good people making poor decisions.
Celebrimbor and Miriel fall into this category, too. Celebrimbor: I suggest you never go into business with the person you know that will one day decide your fate.) Miriel: If Celebrimbor represents the dangers of unchecked optimism, then Miriel is surely The Rings of Powers' caution against going full Denethor.
Both these themes mesh well with Tolkiens' canon, particularly the recurring plot device of having characters misinterpret prophecies and significative messages as their foes close in on them. Yet the episode closes on the kind of optimistic note that Tolkien was also fond of implying that all for the peoples of Middle-earth, even with evil on the rise.