I just finished watching one of my most anticipated shows in years. The Rings of Power is the Lord of the Rings prequel that explores the Rise of Sauron and the forging of the One Ring (and all the others that are linked to it).
Going in, I was a bit concerned about this new franchise… after all, it was constructed from whole cloth from some appendices at the end of the Lord of the Rings by the corporate folks over at Amazon Prime. Epic fantasy by committee.
Even so, I actually enjoyed it.
The visuals are gorgeous, every bit as good as the films. We finally get a glimpse at the glorious world that existed before the Third Age, the period when LOTR takes place. The elven city of Linden… the human isle of Numenor, and the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm are all rendered in breathtaking beauty here. I want to go live there.
But where the story really shines are in its female characters. Unlike the original trilogy, women take center stage here.
Morfydd Clark fills in Galadriel’s character nicely, crafting a warrior with a spine made of mithril. It was wonderful seeing the graceful, complex elf from LOTR kicking ass alongside other elf warriors and the army of Numenor.
Sophia Nomvete steals every scene she’s in as Lady Disa, Durrin’s dwarf wife. I literally couldn’t take my eyes off of her when she was in the room.
But my favorites were one of the highest women in this world and one of the lowest.
Cynthia Addai-Robinson is regal as hell in the role of Numenor’s Queen Regent Míriel. Like Lady Disa, she is the center of every room she is in, and she knows it. She carries herself as if she were truly born to the throne. And the evolution of her character over the season’s arc was fascinating to watch.
But my favorite was the fresh-faced Markella Kavenagh as Nori Brandyfoot, a harfoot (precursors to the hobbits) who helps the Stranger, a bearded, long-haired man who fell from the sky, and whose true identity is still somewhat in question by the end of the first season.
Throw in a few huge twists in the last episode, and I gotta admit, I’m hooked.
The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was written by J. R. R. Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, between 1937 and 1949. For those who are counting, that’s a year before the founding of Mattachine Society (one of the first gay rights groups). Gay rights were pretty much unheard of then – we were all still “homosexuals.” And the rest of the LGBTQ+ rainbow? Fugghitaboutit.
While much has been made of the idea that Sam and Frodo were gay (and there are many, many fanfics on this if you want to read them), there are no explicitly queer characters in the books. Which makes sense, given when they were written, and by who.
But today is a different time. Rare is the movie or TV show that doesn’t include at least one member of the LGBTQ+ community, and many include multiple queer characters. Even Star Trek now includes a rainbow of LGBTQ+ characters in the amazing Discovery series. We’re an open, integral part of the world now, and art has evolved to reflect that.
Except when it hasn’t.
I kept watching throughout all eight episodes, hoping for a hint of… something. And the closest we got was this little bit of queerbaiting (Thanks to David Opie for flagging it):
“Give me the meat and give it to me raw.”
David has a great column about it over at Digital Spy. His closing argument:
Two decades on, Lord of the Rings continues to overlook this core aspect of the fandom with Rings of Power, which is not gay with a capital “G” for Gandalf, Galadriel, or any other “G” names for that matter too. And that’s a shame, because in 2022, it could be, and it should be. LGBTQ+ fans have waited long enough.
The Rings of Power is an epic, glorious show that, for all its faults, scratches and itch I didn’t know I had, filling in details about Tolkien’s magical world.
But it could be more than that – I felt a bit like a kid outside a locked candy store, staring at all the lovely treats, wishing they would let me in.
The fact that the writers and producers chose to leave our community out of this lovely, dangerous, fascinating world makes me deeply sad.
Maybe next season will be better.