It would seem that the people of Ostirith face impossible odds as Adar and the Orcs arrive to take the Keep and slaughter any who stand in their way. But each side has prepared strategies against the other, measure and counter-measure that will likely cost both sides a moment of triumph. As Galadriel, Halbrand and the armies of Númenor race across the sea and land to offer aid, will it arrive in time?
Many episodes of The Rings of Power dart between various locations, but for the most part Udûn sticks to two – the people of Ostirith preparing to face down Adar and his orc forces and the arrival of the Númenor army to Middle-earth, racing to help them. While it’s always been interesting to see the varied tribes and people of Tolkien’s realm scattered across the map, the episode benefits from a tighter story and focus and increases the tension. With some of the story-threads coming together and the saving grace of Galadriel, Halbrand and the armies of Númenor arriving just in/after the nick of time, there’s still much to delight in the moment…
The fact that the people of the Southlands and the encampment at Ostirith have such determination in the face of great odds is admirable, but the Orcs strategy in sending in their own humans as their first force to tire out the village defenses is also a chillingly effective plan and the sorrow in the human defeat, with the Orcs subsequent slaughter of innocent prisoners, is palpable. Not since Game of Thrones‘ Battle of the Bastards have the stakes seemed as personally high and even when the battle turns in the humans’ favour for a time, there’s been a huge amount of loss.
There will be those that judge the battle by the benchmark set by Peter Jackson’s widescreen vision of Helm’s Deep and perhaps find it still wanting. But even in the days of massive investment in VFX and production values – and the acknowledged record-breaking budget of Rings of Power – there are limitations as to what can be done for a tv series and the battle scenes in Udûn should certainly surpass all reasonable expectations of a weekly show, delivering quite the visceral battle between the humans and the Orc war-party. This isn’t after all the climactic battle, merely a notable one that hints at what may come later – if there is a later.
This is an episode all about strategies with each side having plans and counter-plans in place… and some of them have been longer-games than others. If one had previously wondered why the Orcs were building tunnels under the ground when they could have raced faster over the land – albeit after the sun had gone down, we now see the fulfilment of that plan too – they were not so much tunnels but gulleys for channeling the waters that poured out of the mountain after the treacherous Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) was involved in a massive redirect regarding Sauron’s blade and set literal wheels in motion that shook the land and seemed to swallow Ostirith in water, fire and dust.
The final moments would seem to wipe out all our heroes in volcanic chaos but we know this won’t be the case and some of the visuals of upcoming episodes – for instance, Galadriel framed by red smoke, etc. give an idea of where we’ll pick up next. (As with all interesting villains, one doesn’t want to dispense with them too quickly. Adar, himself, remains alive in defeat, nearly killed by Halbrand but stopped by Galadriel and the reverse a few scenes later. His continued survival, albeit in captivity, was always likely be a huge mistake…)
Yes, the series still suffers in the number of staged monologues the characters provide to frame their gallant actions (which are noble in the moment but sometimes feel like scripted pontifications thereafter) and there’s convenient scene resolutions that still feel like scripted stagecraft rather than actual warcraft outside of Tokien’s massive library, but that is the style of the show and anyone watching thus far should know what to expect.
- Production Design / VFX10