Rings of Power has just completely overhauled the geography of Middle-earth with its sixth episode, Udûn, and answered some critical questions about the orcs and their plans–here’s what happened and what it might mean for the future of the show.
Naturally, major spoilers to follow so if you’re not caught up on Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings TV show, best click away now.
We’ve known from early on that something terrible was going to happen to the Southlands–it doesn’t take a cartographer or Tolkien lore expert to put together that that particular region seemed to be conspicuously missing from the stories of the Third Age. And, similarly, it was never hard to spot the absence of one major part of Middle-earth geography: The fiery wasteland of Mordor. Connecting those dots wasn’t that big of a challenge. What was a challenge, however, was figuring out how we could possibly get from point A to point B in this particular adventure.
Well, we have our answer now. The very explosive creation of Mordor happened right before our (and about 50% of the ensemble casts’) eyes. It turns out that those tunnels the orcs were digging weren’t just a means of moving during the daytime–they were strategically placed underground rivers, meant to facilitate the flooding of a volcano you, and I will immediately know as Mt. Doom. The flood itself came from the cracking of a dam, which was actually triggered by the use of that strange cursed sword Theo found. It was a sword, sure, but it was also a key to a very Indiana Jones-flavored device that allowed the water to spill out of the dam and rush through the caves and tunnels, wreaking untold havoc across the Southlands. But flooding wasn’t the ultimate goal–they needed the water to rush into the lava chambers of a volcano which forced it to erupt, causing an apocalyptic spray of ash and lava to engulf the whole area.
It’s never officially named in the episode, but it’s obvious that the Southlands have just become much more familiar. This is, undoubtedly, Mordor, where Frodo will eventually journey to destroy the One Ring, a place so shrouded in darkness and misery few people in the Third Age would ever willingly go there at all.
Perhaps more importantly than Mordor’s creation, however, this episode also gives the whole event some context. We learn that Adar is, in fact, an Uruk–a name you might recognize from the Uruk-Hai of Lord Of The Rings, the big super orcs that are specifically created to be kind of like orc hulks. The Uruks predate these super orcs, however–they even predate orcs proper. Uruks like Adar are, in fact, the last remnants of the elves that Morgoth originally captured and enslaved, torturing and brainwashing them until they became something else entirely. We get a very brief glimpse here into Adar’s plan–not to bend the world to Morgoth’s will at all, but to carve out a piece of it for orc-kind. It’s not hard to see how and why he could believe this to be owed to him–after all, his eternal life was corrupted against his will, and now he burns with resentment toward his former master and Sauron’s endless quest for power in Morgoth’s wake.
This adds a layer of complexity to the whole situation. Galadriel has been on her own quest for vengeance, but she’s been proceeding under the assumption that the Orcs were simply pawns of both Sauron and Morgoth. Then there’s Halbrand who has…something going on. His connection to Adar is teased, again and again, but never completely elucidated. Suffice to say, we’re becoming more and more suspicious of him as the show progresses.
Also, these layers beg the question of whose quest for revenge actually holds more weight and which types of violences are actually justified. The Orcs have been storming through the Southlands capturing people and destroying the environment, but Galadriel has been endangering her fellow elves and brute forcing her own agenda in turn–both groups want to ensure a future for their respective people, but neither of them have as legitimate a claim to righteousness as they seem to believe.
Though, in Galadriel’s defense, she hasn’t graduated to straight up sacrificing people to make a point–yet, at least. So there’s that.
We’ll have to wait and see next week just how Mordor’s explosive arrival actually affects those involved. Bronwyn has certainly seen better days, Arondir pointedly got a mouth full of orc blood which may or may not be a great thing for him, Halbrand is increasingly shady, and Theo may have just lost his mother. Not to mention there are now countless Numenorians away from their home for the first time, experiencing this as their very first taste of Middle-earth.
Also we can’t forget about those creepy elves in white who seem to be hunting down The Stranger. They weren’t around when the battle was raging, but they’re certainly someone to keep an eye on.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power continues on Prime Video every Thursday.
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