The Rings of Power’s Adar Breaks A Tolkien Villain Tradition

Warning: spoilers ahead for The Rings of Power episode 6.With Adar, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power breaks a classic Middle-earth villain tradition. The theme of corruption lies at the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy universe. Nothing in the realm of Arda is evil at the very beginning, but darkness corrupts good hearts into bad ones. Morgoth and Sauron both began as loyal servants of Eru Ilúvatar, but later developed ambitions of domination and greed. Saruman began as a wizard before giving into the temptation of power, the Nazgûl are transformed by their Rings, Pharazôn is blinded by jealousy, and Fëanor went from the Elves’ pride to their shame. The Rings of Power‘s Adar fits this mold, since he was once an Elf before Morgoth morphed him into an Orc prototype.

Once Middle-earth’s classic villains are corrupted their badness is never tempered by any small rays of virtue. When Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman and the rest finally break bad, they are wholly evil, committing dark acts for dark purposes. In this way, Tolkien draws a very clear line between good and bad. The Rings of Power‘s Adar is a different proposition entirely. On one hand, Adar is absolutely a villain, as his body count in the Southlands can attest. His overall goal, however, is actually quite reasonable. Adar simply wishes to give the race of Orcs a home after centuries of enslavement, which is arguably what the Elves should have done after Morgoth’s defeat. His methods are abhorrent, but Adar’s purpose is sound, making him a rare example of a shades-of-gray villain in The Lord of the Rings mythology.

Why Adar Also Doesn’t Fit Tolkien’s Tragic Villain Mold

The likes of Morgoth, Sauron and Saruman are Middle-earth’s undisputed top-tier embodiments of evil, but Tolkien created a subset of enemies more tragic in nature. Characters such as Gollum, Denethor, Thorin (for a bit), and even The Rings of Power‘s Waldreg are all narrative antagonists that draw at least a smidgen of empathy from readers and viewers. Alas, Adar doesn’t truly fit into this category either. Unlike the motley crew listed above, Adar is a proper arch-villain, corrupted to the point of no return. Characters such as Gollum, Thorin and Denethor (who’s nowhere near as treacherous in the books) were partially consumed by darkness, but either retained some semblance of their ethical compass or, as in Thorin’s case, redeemed themselves.

Why Adar’s Complexity Works For The Rings Of Power

Joseph Mawle’s Adar evidently isn’t a Tolkien villain in the classic mold, but this deviation should serve The Rings of Power well. Sooner or later, Sauron will appear in Amazon’s Middle-earth TV show, and even if his memory is lost at first, or he’s undergoing the Maiar equivalent of a midlife crisis, he’ll eventually turn into the Sauron The Lord of the Rings fans remember – unbridled evil of the highest order. The Rings of Power giving Adar an understandable motivation in season 1 means that when Sauron eventually takes over main antagonist duties and wants nothing more than to dominate the Free Peoples of Second Age Middle-earth whatever the cost, the step-up from one villain to the next will be keenly felt.

Adar’s moral complexity also expands upon a story J.R.R. Tolkien spoke of only in the vaguest terms. The author’s legendarium contains several hints that Orcs were made when Morgoth corrupted captured Elves. The Rings of Power adapts this concept into an origin story for Adar, and invites viewers to feel sympathetic toward a race typically vilified in The Lord of the Rings. Orcs have feelings too, you know.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power continues Thursday/Friday on Prime Video.

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