What makes “The Rings of Power” different from the dragon show? Believing women

At its core, the sweeping Amazon Prime series is about trust and allyship, just like “The Lord of the Rings”

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published September 25, 2022 11:00AM (EDT)

Morfydd Clark (Galadriel) and Charlie Vickers (Halbrand) in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" (Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)
Morfydd Clark (Galadriel) and Charlie Vickers (Halbrand) in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" (Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

This article contains spoilers for Episodes 1-4 of the Amazon Prime Video series "The Rings of Power"

People don't seem to like each other much in Westeros, not even those married to each other. Perhaps especially not those married to each other. HBO's "House of the Dragon" has nearly as much shouting as "The Bear" but without the delicious food (except for a quick glimpse of a lemon cake that Rhaenyra doesn't even eat, only steals the garnish from). There's backstabbing, regular stabbing, treachery and misery.

Given the timing and both shows' epic aims, it's inevitable that the "Game of Thrones" prequel has been compared to Amazon Prime Video's "The Rings of Power." The shows premiered within days of each other, and both are steeped in fantasy. "The Rings of Power" lacks those dragons – but also, lacks the sexual violence that has come to define Westeros. And it has likewise failed to attract the huge viewership of HBO's show, with demand for viewing "The Rings of Power" falling by 13% this week.

But the "Lord of the Rings" tale has some things "House of the Dragon" does not, including devoted friendships based on trust — and a foundational belief in female characters' agency.

Set thousands of years before the beloved tales of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," the series introduces new characters in somewhat familiar settings. Middle-earth is here, though we're seeing different sides of it – and we're introduced to the Hobbits' ancestors, the Harfoots. One of the three breeds of hobbits in Middle-earth, along with Stoors and Fallohides, the Harfoots are gatherers who move with the seasons and do a delightful job of matching the scenery with their camouflaged hats and mossy-roofed wagons. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of PowerDylan Smith (Largo Brandyfoot), Markella Kavenagh (Elanor 'Nori' Brandyfoot) and Megan Richards (Poppy Proudfellow) in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" (Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)Community is essential to the Harfoots' way of life — "Nobody goes off trail and nobody walks alone" is their oft-repeated motto, though their hardened actions don't always follow it —  but the foragers are far from the only characters who need a little help to get by. One of the beauties of "The Rings of Power" is that it contains many lands, conveyed in aching detail, from the vast island kingdom of Númenor to the elves' city Lindon, which looks like the perpetual yellow fall of pumpkin spice daydreams. Different stories play out in the different places, and in the various settings we have unlikely pairings.

Although things don't always go smoothly, "The Rings of Power" is to cooperating as "House of the Dragon" is to conniving.

Our main Harfoot, the likeable Markella Kavenagh as Nori, takes a mysterious stranger under her wing, a man (maybe) much too large to truly be under the small creature's protection. Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), here a fierce warrior years before the elf we know from Tolkien, strikes up several unusual friendships including with Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), the mysterious man she's thrown together with at sea, and Elendil (Lloyd Owen), the Númenor captain who brings her to land. Nazanin Boniadi as human healer and single mother Bronwyn and Ismael Cruz Córdova as Arondir, a stalwart elf, provide the romance in this fantasy, a burning and frowned-upon love that seems as fraught as Bronwyn's Orc-tunneled village.

Meanwhile, in the dwarves' underground mines, elf Elrond (Robert Aramayo) hangs with his old friend (once his buddy forgives him) the dwarf prince Durin (the charming Owain Arthur with a heavy beard). As Polygon puts it, "What's better than this? Guys bein' dwarves." But Elrond is there not just for the drinking, rock-breaking, reminiscing and mole-tail stew. The elves need to build a forge in Eregion, and Elrond has convinced his friend to help. Although things don't always go smoothly, "The Rings of Power" is to cooperating as "House of the Dragon" is to conniving.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of PowerNazanin Boniadi (Bronwyn), Ismael Cruz Córdova (Arondir) and Tyroe Muhafidin (Theo) in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" (Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)Bronwyn's village reacts suspiciously when she warns them of their destroyed neighbors, but once she brings the head of an Orc she's killed in her house, they get in line, following her to the elves' former watchtower. Half choose to stay with her to fight when the Orcs and their strange leader plan to attack. 

It's a stirring moment, all the more powerful for its rarity: the female characters standing together, the men standing behind them. 

So far, "The Rings of Power" seems to believe women, making it distinct from its dragon rival and others. Galadriel is initially sent away from the kingdom where they've come to hate elves, but once the queen regent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) gets a sign in the form of blossoms falling from a tree, she quickly turns around and pledges her island's support behind the female elf. Not only that, but she says she will accompany Galadriel herself back to Middle-earth to investigate the evil the elf swears is spreading. It's a stirring moment, all the more powerful for its rarity: the female characters standing together, the men, including quietly intense Elendil (whose name literally means "Elf-friend"), standing behind them. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of PowerMorfydd Clark (Galadriel) and Lloyd Owen (Elendil) in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" (Courtesy of Prime Video)And while her community's first response is disbelief over the giant stranger (who looks a lot like Gandalf but may be someone else entirely), Nori's friends and family, including orphan Poppy (the luminous Megan Richards) and her farther, the compelling Largo (Dylan Smith), rally behind her. And behind him. It's a symbiotic relationship. Nori is teaching The Stranger (Daniel Weyman in an emotional, empathetic and mostly wordless performance) language and how to eat snails; the large, strong character returns the favor by pushing their wagon. They will only persevere by trusting each other. "He helps us and we help him," Nori says.

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The Harfoots know that adventure is more fun with others and that you survive best in groups. That was a central tenet in Tolkien's work (and in his life): the idea of friendship. It's heartening to see it repeated it here with new adventures and new and different allies. As the Hobbit Merry says, "You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin — to the bitter end." That's not always a luxury given to female characters. But so far all of us, even women, we've got a friend in "The Rings of Power."


By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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