“You are Sauron, are you not?”

Warning: the below contains full spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 5, which is now streaming on Prime Video. To refresh your memory, check out our review of last week's episode.

War is on the horizon in The Rings of Power Episode 5, which provides a look at what various characters are fighting for. It’s also the first episode to have both dwarves and harfoots as the show’s disparate plots are finally coming together for the inevitable big fight for Middle-earth.

The harfoot plot is pretty brief, anchored by a sweet travel sequence set to music that really feels like it gets to the adventurous spirit of Tolkien’s work. This storyline mostly continues to make clear just how powerful the Stranger is. A lot of harfoots would likely have been “left behind” if he hadn’t been there to stop the warg attack. But after his weird healing frost trick, it seems like even Nori is starting to become a little scared of her giant friend. I still don’t think the Stranger is a bad guy, but that much power is always dangerous and he needs to get his act together to ensure no one gets hurt. We also finally get a glimpse at the strange cultist-looking characters seen in a previous teaser who seem to be tracking The Stranger, but there’s no new details on who they are or what they’re after beyond the very creepy music playing when they’re on screen.

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The humans of the Southlands who fled to the elven tower to escape Adar and his army, meanwhile, are not doing well. About half of their group have followed Waldreg, who I can’t help but think of as a Darkfriend from The Wheel of Time, to take Adar up on his offer of surrender. Waldreg’s been a scumbag since Episode 1, when he tried to hide news of the spreading corruption from Arondir, and he just keeps doubling down. It’s really funny to see how quickly he pivots from pledging loyalty to Sauron to offering to serve whoever’s leading the orc army.

In many ways, it feels like The Rings of Power has set itself up as the anti-Game of Thrones, even as comparisons to House of the Dragon continue to run rampant. There’s no way we wouldn’t see Waldreg slit that poor kid’s throat and get covered in his blood in either of those HBO shows. Here, all we need to know is found in Waldreg’s expression changing from horror to grim determination. Game of Thrones would have played out the council session in Númenor to show some sharp-tongued intrigue, but Rings of Power just gives us the setup and then a shot of Halbrand showing just how well he cleans up. Again, the character decision is all that actually matters.

Honesty and goodness are almost always punished in Game of Thrones, but The Rings of Power shows multiple characters finding strength in coming clean about their problems to their friends and loved ones. Theo finally tells his mom about the hilt, which gives Arondir and Bronwyn insights into what Adar is planning. Between Waldreg, Bronwyn, and Halbrand, there’s a lot of exploration in Episode 5 about the role of humans in Middle-earth. Are they basically orcs, doomed to serve whatever evil warlord is ascendent at the moment if they’re not being carefully watched by elves for signs of treachery, or can they actually have some degree of self determination?

It’s easy to understand why Bronwyn and Halbrand would be prone to despair given the bad choices before them, but both decide to try to move past the darkness they’ve seen and fight on. It looks like Bronwyn and Arondir plan to destroy the tower to prevent Adar from achieving his objective, but that will likely lead to their deaths unless reinforcements arrive in time.

The conversation between Halbrand and Galadriel where they share their traumas is powerful.“

Halbrand is willing to accept his responsibility as a king, but we still don’t know exactly what sent him on the run. Presumably the cuts between him and Waldreg imply he also kneeled before dark forces and is guilty of awful crimes, but if he proves himself worthy, it’s likely no one will really care when that comes out. The conversation between him and Galadriel where they share their traumas is powerful, particularly Galadriel confessing that for all the confidence she exudes she’s a pariah from her people and so utterly consumed by her quest to stop Sauron that she’s destroyed every relationship in her life. It’s a bonding moment that seems exactly like the sort of thing that could build towards a romance between her and Halbrand. I, for one, would love to see them kiss.

Elsewhere, the relationship between Durin and Elrond gets more complicated as Elrond discovers the real reason he was sent to Khazad-dûm. The forge Celebrimbor is working on that needs to be finished by spring will help preserve the “eternal souls” of the elves from the spreading corruption. Even after the explainer, I’m not really sure what that means. How quickly would they fade without the light infusion? Will they just have life spans more akin to mortals? Is this why the elves in the Third Age have to leave? The episode is short on answers but the scenes in the elven forests are so distractingly beautiful it drives home what would be lost without them.

I complained last week about Elrond naming mithril, but I do really like the mithril origin story in “Partings.” The parallel between veins of ore and the roots of a tree works visually as does explaining why the Balrog and the precious ore are inevitably tied together. I’m happy that Elrond refuses to break his oath and instead goes right to Durin to get his help. Their friendship is the most charming relationship in the show, driven by just how funny Durin is. The table bluff is beautiful since it’s such a simple way to get something from the arrogant scheming High King Gil-galad. Plus, Elrond’s attempt to claim credit for Disa is very cute.

Not everyone’s telling the truth this episode. I’m very upset that Isildur didn’t tell anyone about finding a saboteur on the ship when he was trying to stow away. Maybe that kid is just acting on his own out of genuine concern about his country being dragged into someone else’s war, but the admiration he’s expressed for Pharazôn makes me think this wasn’t his idea. Pharazôn keeps trying to sow distrust of the elves and urge Númenor to stay isolated. Tracing the source of the sabotage might have given everyone a heads up about what he’s planning.

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But Isildur’s apparently always going to be unreliable. I still love the banter between his buddies as they grudgingly accept his apology after getting in some licks. I’m even happier that his irresponsibility is being properly punished. No one will stick their neck out for him too much and even his dad’s relegated him to stable mucking. Still, he’s getting his wish to go to war. The final shot of the episode is appropriately rousing, with the gorgeous sails of Númenor’s ships unfurling to stirring music. It seems likely we’re going to see some large-scale fighting next week, which should provide a whole new way for The Rings of Power to demonstrate what its ludicrous budget is capable of.

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