Warning: Spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1, episode 6.The revelations surrounding Adar, the mysterious antagonist of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, have addressed an enduring issue with The Lord of the Rings. Joseph Mawle’s villain has had audiences pondering his origins, speculating on why the Orcs call Adar father, and considering whether he might be Sauron in disguise. Many of these queries were settled in The Rings of Power season 1, episode 6, during which Galadriel deduced that the orc leader is a Moriondor, an elf captured and corrupted by Sauron’s predecessor, Morgoth.
This origin may sound familiar and was famously laid out by Saruman in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. As he put it, the Orcs “were Elves once, taken by the dark powers, tortured and mutilated — a ruined and terrible form of life.” The story presents Orcs as fundamentally evil and, despite Orcs occasionally demonstrating qualities such as loyalty, discipline, and an understanding of restaurant menus, they have been largely portrayed on screen as little more than monsters in need of extermination. Alongside some woefully misguided forays into fully digital Orcs in The Hobbit, this is the most crucial orc mistake the series has made. As beloved as the franchise is, the inability of these central antagonists to be anything other than evil leaves them predictably one-dimensional.
The moral complexity of Adar’s motivations goes some way toward amending this overly simple moral order. Adar’s motivation to create a home for the Orcs, and the seemingly genuine affection he has for his followers, bring a refreshing dose of moral complexity to The Rings of Power. Despite being obviously murderous, Adar’s Orcs are presented as having hopes, aspirations, and pride in their identities — preferring to be called “Uruk” in their own language, rather than “orc” in Elvish. Adar goes as far as to assert, while explaining his origin and that of his Uruks, that even Orcs “have names and hearts.” This makes their wholesale slaughter at the hands of Elves, Men, and Dwarves refreshingly fraught with moral questions. In addition to this, the show has emphasized that Adar and his children are the victims of dark forces themselves, going as far as to suggest that Adar came to resent and attack Sauron. In doing so, The Rings of Power has created the most morally complex and sympathetic Orc characters the franchise has ever seen.
Why The Rings Of Power’s Morally Complex Characters Are Great For LOTR
Morally complex characters have been and continue to be hugely beneficial to The Lord of the Rings. The corruption of Boromir by the ring, and his understandable motivation to steal it and use its power to defend his home, made him one of the most compelling and memorable characters in Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. Indeed, his moving death was The Fellowship of the Ring‘s best scene. Furthermore, the friendship between Legolas and Gimli would not have been as compelling without the personal prejudice and racially motivated mistrust they overcame in the process of forging it.
Allowing Orcs to be as morally complicated as the other races, as well as improving them as characters, will help to build engaging and complex heroes in The Rings of Power. Galadriel’s belief that Adar and his kind were “a mistake,” and her desire to cleanse Middle-earth of all Orcs comes across as far more barbaric next to the show’s sympathetic portrayal of the Orc leader. Her murderous intent also builds on the show’s exploration of the idea that her efforts to eradicate the darkness have made her become dark herself. Presenting this hard and even unlikable younger version of Galadriel leaves the show generous room to grow her character.
By allowing Orcs to be more than simple monsters, The Rings of Power improves a long-standing issue in the franchise. Affording Orcs complex motivations creates more compelling villains and could even allow Orc characters, particularly those resentful of Sauron, to forge unlikely alliances. The introduction of Adar and his brood promises an exciting unpredictability to The Rings of Power and teases the exploration of increasingly complex themes in the show’s future.
New episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power release every Friday on Amazon Prime.