The Rings of Power accomplishes something different with orcs by going full-fledged. Alien
The antagonists in the Amazon series are not the same as those in Lord of the Rings
[Editor’s note: This post includes minor spoilers for the end of Rings of Power episode 2.]
We only get a few glimpses of orcs in the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Nonetheless, they’re unlike anything we’ve seen of them on TV previously. They are still a menace, but they are no longer a swarm. Instead, the Amazon program demonstrates how terrifying one of them can be.
The Lord of the Rings has already veered towards horror, but Rings of Power carves out its own niche. When Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) travels to tell the villagers that a nearby town has fallen to who knows what, it feels more like something out of a horror film, as her neighbors dismiss her fears as irrational. However, it also denotes a different connection with the orcs: These folks are a few generations away from the last time an orc was sighted. And the very thought of it makes them shudder; they’re more scared of a resurrected occupying force than the whispers of a myth.
As a result, Rings of Power treats its orcs with distinction in these early chapters. They’re not the horde introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring, crashing down a cliff in haste to assault their foe, but a single, deadly monster silently creeping inside Bronwyn’s house. The entrance of the orc has all the markings of a slasher villain, delivered in bits and pieces: an eye through the floorboards, a hand clacking as it hits the ground, a close-up of a mouth and its ugly tongue. We can glimpse its skull mask in a blurry profile, but we don’t see its full monster until it discovers Bronwyn cowering in the cabinet.
The orc here still adheres to the general canon — it’s a nasty monster with the appearance of a flayed human, and an adversary whose combat prowess is nonetheless surpassed by a mother and her kid. However, the threat of it seems genuine in a way that many of the other Rings of Power cannot. While a swarm of them may be dangerous in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a single orc here is nonetheless potentially lethal. To put it another way, there’s the distinction between Alien and Aliens, highlighting the vulnerability inherent in each form of the creature.
It’s surely enough to compel Bronwyn and her fellow citizens to head out at first dawn to seek assistance from the elves. And, while we still don’t know how Rings of Power will (or will not) affect Tolkien’s canon, this feels like a step in the right direction. The most intriguing thing a prequel can do is examine what makes something tick and then more fully investigate pieces of the tale that are already recognizable.It allows us to see things in a different light in order to better comprehend it. With just one orc posing a threat — the way it moves and what it is — it highlights the bone-chilling fear of facing down an army of them, as well as the stakes of every orc confrontation to come.