In this series of blogs, I explore the musical details of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. For a comprehensive introduction to my approach and my creative experience, start with my introductory four-part “Appendices:” Part 1 “Journey to Middle-earth,” Part 2 “Themes of Middle-earth,” Part 3 “Forming a Fellowship,” and Part 4 “There and Back Again.” I also blogged about scoring episodes 101, 102, 103, 104, 105 and 106.
SCORING EPISODE 107
SPOILERS AHEAD: Arguably the darkest episode of the season, “The Eye,” the penultimate episode of The Rings of Power, plays as a meditation on loss and grief that affects everyone we have come to care about. Episode 7 contains several of my personal favorite dramatic moments of the season as the characters, seeking one another amid destruction, strengthen their ties and loyalties.
GALADRIEL AND THEO
“The Eye” begins with a close up of Galadriel’s eye, opening to a searing red hellscape, the remains of The Southlands after the eruption of the volcano, Orodruin. Staggering through a torrent of destruction, Galadriel meets Theo who is also dazed and troubled. The warrior takes the youth under her wing and together they navigate the landscape. I supported the ever-present ash and smoke with an equally pervasive musical fog, built from the Aztec Death Whistles and Bone Flutes from the Orc Theme. This color reinforces the visuals, as clearly the Orcs have transformed the region into their own hellish habitat.
Conversations between Galadriel and Theo reveal surprising new depths to both characters. Each is racked with guilt for their contributions to the fall of The Southlands. In offering him a sword, Galadriel helps Theo grapple with his loss and turn it into resolve and inner strength. (There is some visual irony here, as it was Theo’s fascination with a sword that arguably brought about the downfall of The Southlands!)
Here, the soundtrack swells with the energetic bows of the nyckelharpa and Hardanger fiddle playing The Southlands Theme. Even though their land has been decimated, the score assures us that the people of The Southlands have yet to be wholly defeated.
In a later scene, young Theo similarly helps Galadriel. With him, she is able to display a vulnerability, hitherto unseen by the audience, revealing that the Elves’ war against Morgoth in the First Age also took her husband Celeborn from her. A nostalgic solo harp implies her theme’s harmonic progression as she wistfully remembers him, while the lack of her actual melody suggests she has lost an essential part of herself.
But Galadriel is not one to linger on past losses. The score changes as her focus moves to the present and she reminds Theo “There are powers beyond darkness at work in this world.” Here, the orchestral celli offer a lyrical version of her theme, beneath an angelic high string chorale. I wanted to underscore the subtly implied divinity in this moment, because it foreshadows her gradual transformation into the wise old Elf, The Lady of Light, we meet in the original books and Peter Jackson’s adaptations. Musically, this passage feels like a ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds. That sunlight is short-lived, as unexpected minor chords support her admission that she is yet unable to see any divine design in their despair.
The score is able to retain a subtle presence in all these scenes thanks to the gravitas and humanity brought to the characters by the two brilliant actors, Tyroe Muhafidin and Morfydd Clark.
NÚMENOREANS UNDER ASH
The Númenor Theme and The Faithful Theme, the two primary musical themes associated with this nation, both make pivotal musical appearances in “The Eye,” as Southlanders and their allies struggle to retrieve what – and who – they can from the ash-strewn rubble. Soldiers and villagers alike are called upon for heroic efforts and among those answering that call is Isildur who, at great risk to himself, aids villagers escaping from a burning hut. The hut collapses, splashing sparks into Queen Míriel’s face, and burying Isildur under a heap of flaming debris.
Defeated, the survivors band together and straggle onward, Elendil among them. The Faithful Theme accompanies Elendil as he searches among the marchers for any sign of his missing son, Isildur. Here, a solo French horn reminds us of his nobility and solemn reserve. As the score reaches the uplifting chords at the middle of his theme, he mistakes a young soldier for Isildur, walking with Berek, his son’s horse. His hopes recede as he realizes he is mistaken. Yes, this is indeed Isildur’s horse, but the son is nowhere to be seen. Dissonant low strings follow, moving downward, like the pit in his stomach.
Elendil’s hopes are raised again when he hears calls heralding the arrival of Queen-Regent Míriel and other survivors. An urgent, upward ascending musical line swirls in multiple octaves in the orchestral strings, empowering Elendil as he seeks them out, hoping Isildur will be among them. An ethereal flute solo, reflecting that hope, dances above. A moment later, dark chords become increasingly dissonant as he realizes Isildur is not with the company. He braces himself, asking “Where is my son?” The French horns return once more with his theme, set against ethereal female singers evoking a terrifying and tragic foreboding. Lloyd Owen, who plays Elendil, brought a devastating gravitas to this scene, and I felt all I had to do was stay out of his way.
This story arc continues later in a heavy, down-trodden variation of The Númenor Theme as straggling survivors march solemnly out of the valley led by Míriel on horseback. Though she survived, all is not well with Míriel: she has lost her sight. We learn this in her conversation with Elendil as breathy, suspenseful string chords ebb and flow in and out of existence. This scene is a great example of one of my favorite dramatic tricks: to time the score so that all the significant dramatic spoken revelations occur in moments of musical silence, gaps between the phrases. Here, the music only punctuates the dialogue. Implemented correctly, this technique obliges the audience to make up their own minds about a revelation, freed from the dictation of musical support. (There was another great example of this technique in the previous episode, when Adar confesses to having killed Sauron.) A tragic statement of The Númenor Theme bookends the scene. High strings in multiple octaves imbue The Númenor Theme here with loss.
Later, at the Númenorean camp, Elendil tends to his son’s horse, Berek, barely masking his own heartbreak, while a solo French horn offers his theme. Where this horn once played with regal nobility, here it simply underscores the deep grief of a parent. The beautiful harmonies of the theme’s middle section (last heard when Elendil first optimistically saw Berek with the unknown soldier) return here. The horse is restless, resisting Elendil’s attempt to calm. Realizing that Berek will never be happy without Isildur, Elendil regretfully releases him. The violins and violas, supported by a rich orchestral foundation, take over the Faithful Theme, and it soars across the mountains as Berek dashes away from the camp.
Fittingly for an episode mired in defeat, the Númenor Theme makes only fragmented, weakened statements throughout “The Eye,” until the end when Galadriel is reunited with Míriel and Elendil. With Elendil by her side, the Queen-Regent sits on rock, her blindness now plainly manifest and her eyes bound with a scarf. Galadriel, humbled and apologetic, kneels before her, asking for forgiveness. The first half of this scene is underscored with dark brooding chords, highlighting Elendil’s glowering anger towards Galadriel. And yet, Míriel reaches out to touch Galadriel’s face. Suddenly, the score features an angelic female choir and tremming violins while a brittle flute solo dances energetically above.
The music suggests tremendous suspense, and tells us something electric is in the air! This texture, inspired by Debussy and Ravel, builds to my favorite twist in the episode as Míriel speaks to Galadriel.
“Do not spend your pity on me, Elf. Save it for our enemies for they do not know what they have begun.”
Echoing these stirring words, we are reminded of the might of Númenor by the return of familiar Middle Eastern frame drums, and punchy low strings. As Míriel rises, trombones and horns offer a triumphant, yet menacing, statement of her nation’s anthem, indeed of her nation’s intent, as the soundtrack is suddenly empowered. This moment is truly badass, foretelling epic events yet to come.
The score changes swiftly for one brief shot of the still-grieving Elendil. The music moves from patriotism to intimate emotion. These kinds of confident musical shifts can only work when the actors’ performances are stellar. This scene was blessed to have Lloyd Owen, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Morfydd Clark, and Nazanin Boniad. Their talents made the sudden musical shifts warranted, and remarkably effective.
STRENGTH TO THE SOUTHLANDS
The story of the Southlands has been represented by two themes: The Southlands Theme (also known as The Halbrand Theme) and the Bronwyn and Arondir Theme. Both of these melodies make significant appearances in “The Eye.”
The Southlands Theme was first heard in this episode early on as Galadriel offers a sword to Theo, empowering him to become a soldier. Later in the story, and thus armed, he roams the Númenorean infirmary seeking his mother, Bronwyn. Amid the dead and the wounded, Theo comes upon a shroud covering the body of a woman. His fears are expressed in Raya Yarbrough’s haunting solo vocal of a mournful Quenya lyric.
Sercë, talandas, ar unqualë
Blood, sadness, and agony
Raya’s solo vocal was last heard twice in the previous episode, first lilting under Bronwyn’s hopeful speech to Theo, then again as arrows pierced Bronwyn’s body. Since the audience might subconsciously retain memory of Raya’s unique voice, my hope is here that her song would seduce the audience to genuinely believe, even briefly, that Bronwyn is dead.
Instead, Theo hears his mother’s voice behind him. Even before the camera reveals her face, the iconic English horn of her theme swells, bringing soaring strings with it, as mother and son embrace. The theme expands once again, with triumphant French horns, as Arondir enters, underscoring his uniquely brassy variation of their shared theme, Indeed, the Bronwyn and Arondir theme, unapologetically romantic, reaches its soaring explosion here, celebrating the reunion not simply of two lovers, but a family, at the heart of the Southlands story arc.
Perhaps the most significant revelation in The Southlands story arc occurs when Galadriel discovers that Halbrand, the long lost – and newly crowned – King of the Southlands, has survived the eruption, though he lies wounded and bloodied. His iconic theme is first heard in solo Hardanger fiddle, lost in reverb and played with hesitant, light bowing, to indicate his precarious hold on life. She finds him in a camp of survivors and vows to heal him with Elvish medicine, if she can get him to healers in time.
As they depart, the camp rallies around him, and the soundtrack swells with the most complete statement of The Halbrand Theme yet. This musical moment contains all the elements the theme has ever employed. The ragged hammered dulcimers, Nordic nyckelharpa, and Hardanger fiddle root the music in the noble, yet rustic reality of The Southlands. Simultaneously, regal, warm brass support the melody with orchestral might worthy of a king.
The narrative leaves the fate of the people of The Southlands to be told another day. Displaced, but not disgraced, they are stronger for having been led into battle by Galadriel and Halbrand and, by their own Bronwyn and Arondir. Theo raises aloft the sword that was the gift of Galadriel. Strength to the Southlands! The Halbrand Theme, and the Southlands Theme, have been the same piece of music for the entire season, and finally, in this rousing scene, that musical connection pays off with an effective, emotional result.
After being absent from the last episode, the story of the Harfoots moves to the forefront in “The Eye.” Their scenes are supported by new variations of The Harfoot Theme, The Nori Theme, The Stranger Theme, and The Mystics Theme.
Near the end of their migratory path, the Harfoots find the grove, accompanied by an optimistic swell of Nori’s Theme as they crest the final hill. Their hopes are dashed as they find the land decimated by volcanic debris, and the trees but twisted, fruitless trunks. The Stranger’s Theme returns in a mysterious variation as he attempts to use his powers to “fix” the trees. His theme’s strange gamelan-infused bell harmonies are supported by choir and swirling strings. But a falling heavy branch nearly kills little Dilly Brandyfoot, who is narrowly rescued by Nori. With that, the Harfoot community loses faith in The Stranger who indeed seems to lose faith in himself.
In the next Harfoot scene, Paul Cartwright’s solo fiddle offers an introductory version of the Harfoot Theme as Sadoc sends The Stranger on his way. In the sequence that follows, the built-in harmonic ambiguity of The Stranger’s Theme works marvelously. His music is both happy and sad, and with each harmonic change, seems to pivot delicately between the two emotions. I carefully lined up his theme with the editorial rhythm of this scene: his uplifting phrases land on shots of The Stranger yearning for connection, and his darker phrases land on shots of the Harfoots watching him leave, disappointment and rejection across their faces.
His ostinato begins as he walks past the Harfoots, with his melody starting in the low strings as he approaches the Brandyfoot clan. He turns to see Nori offering him an apple. Here, his theme’s climactic uplifting major chord occurs as his hand reaches out to take the apple. This rousing major chord offers hope of these two reconnecting.
Instead, The Stranger looks at the apple in his hand and his melody resolves to a single sustained note, while the rest of the orchestra disappears. (The music here is so suspenseful it almost feels like the orchestral musicians themselves are holding their breath!)
The Stranger gazes sadly at Nori, realizing this truly is goodbye. The score sighs back in with his moody ostinato, in resonant gamelan bell tones and a solo bass clarinet that adds a reedy Bernard-Herrmann-inspired color. The scene ends with shades of darkness, sadness, and finality. The hope offered by his theme’s climactic major chord has been lost.
In the following scene, a downtrodden Nori says to her mother that she’s “just a Harfoot, that’s all I’ll ever be.” This statement is such a tectonic reversal for the usually sprightly and energetic Nori that it required I make the score’s first modal variant of her theme. Her iconic penny whistle plays a plaintive version of her theme, where for the first time her major sixth scale tone has been diminished down to a minor sixth. This is Nori’s darkest moment, and so her music literally diminishes as she diminishes her own self-worth.
HARFOOTS IN PERIL
The following morning, the Harfoots discover the grove has been magically restored, bursting with apples – thanks to the intervention of The Stranger! This joyous revelation is accompanied by a rousing rendition of the Harfoot Theme, with all its iconic musical traits: the 11/8 time signature, wooden percussion and West African balafons, bodhrán frame drum, and bagpipes.
In the midst of all this, Poppy discovers an ominous footprint, leading to the revelation that The Mystics are closing in. First introduced in “Partings,” The Mystics are accompanied by an ever-present choral whispering. While their theme is primarily built from a simple whispered text, their appearance in “The Eye” gave me the opportunity to expand upon their theme with a strange harp pattern that adds a sense of ominous melodic direction.
The Mystics, remember, first came into the story as they circled the place where the Stranger had originally fallen. Here the eerie Mystics Theme heightens tension as they pick up on The Stranger’s path. Nori hopes to send them the wrong way. In response, perhaps revenge, one of the three, The Dweller, reveals an ability to magically control fire, and callously burns the entire Harfoot caravan. The stunned Harfoots watch their homes burn, reduced to ash and cinder, supported by a tragic orchestral statement of the Harfoot Theme.
Their storyline concludes as Nori’s father Largo makes an impassioned speech to the group, “We must stay true to each other!” Actor Dylan Smith’s moving speech is supported by light orchestral strings delicately carrying the Harfoot Theme. The last time the audience heard this theme in this rich emotional color was in the third episode, as Sadoc read the names of those who had been lost in migration. There, Sadoc’s speech was to honor the dead. Here, Largo’s words empower Nori to take matters into her own hands.
Her light harp ostinato and flute theme fire up the soundtrack as Nori, determined to help The Stranger by warning him of the strange trio pursuing him, grabs a bag and prepares to leave. Fuller orchestra supports Poppy as she joins her friend. Then, the score shifts as first Marigold and then Malva show their support. In both cases, the score makes a quick pivot to darkness, as if to suggest the Harfoot elders will try to stop the girls, before twisting back to hopeful tones at the surprising revelation that the whole community agrees with Nori! At last, even old Sadoc agrees to go with them. The Harfoot Theme, with soaring strings above bouncing folk instrumentation and wooden percussion, bursts across the wide vista as four Harfoots set out on a grand adventure.
VEINS OF MITHRIL
The conflict between Prince Durin IV and his father King Durin III, reaches its climax for the season in “The Eye.”
The story begins with The Khazad-dûm Theme taking us deep into the mountains as Elrond, on bended knee, pleads to King Durin to help his people, to supply them with the Mithril that can save them from extinction. The theme returns with a march-like musical formality as King Durin explains to his son that he will not aid the Elves. Prince Durin, however, clashes with his father, and emotion surges into the soundtrack, with an expressive, vibrato-laden cello section stating The Durin Theme, splashing over the plodding low chords of his father’s theme.
King Durin counters, warning “This entire kingdom might fall, perhaps the entire Middle-earth.” Here the score shifts to an unexpectedly divine and ominous color. Sul tasto high violins float above female singers, stating the iconic chords The Mithril Theme.
This music works from either character’s perspective. For Prince Durin, the Mithril is right there, almost within reach, and the aching restrains of this mysterious melody are like a siren song to him. From King Durin’s perspective, this music plays as a foreboding warning of an unknown peril. The chilling, choral Mithril theme here allows the audience to see that both characters may be right.
Later, Elrond enters Durin and Disa’s home, accompanied by an elegant solo French horn stating the Durin Theme. This moment is truly and literally a solo – there is no other instrument playing – offering a brittleness and fragility that underscores the look in Durin’s face that says what dialog was not needed to communicate: the King will not help. Elrond knows his mission is futile and he bids his friend goodbye, “Namárië,” in his native Quenya. The choir sings a gentle refrain that begins with this word, beneath an emotional statement of The Elrond Theme.
Namárië, namárië, vanyalyë an-már
Airëa kala, lámina fra kala, telpë amdir
Farewell, farewell, you depart for home
Blessed light, echoing eternal light, silver hope
The theme darkens, however, pivoting to an unexpected minor chord as Elrond hands the tiny piece of Mithril back to Durin. After Elrond departs, Durin collapses to the table as a darkly tragic variation of his theme is woven into the sonic texture by the orchestral celli. He tosses the Mithril away and it lands on the table near a blackened leaf from the tree in Lindon. The dying leaf visibly heals!
Tragedy turns to intrigue. The visuals are subtle, but the narrative implications are massive. Playing to the latter, the score sizzles to life with a dazzling variation of The Mithril Theme, built atop swirling strings and staccato muted brass, climaxing with a heroic brass statement of the Durin Theme, heralding his decision to defy his father’s wishes and help his friend.
Later, in the mines, Elrond and Durin take a break from weary digging, and so too does the score take a break from heavy dramatic composition. Here, the music offers the playfully jaunty variation of The Durin Theme I find endlessly endearing. Then, it gradually shifts to a heartfelt variation as Durin offers to tell Elrond his secret family name.
This is another scene that truly showcases the strength of a main character theme, validating all the effort I put in to make sure each theme worked before I started scoring footage. Just as in the climax of “Partings,” scenes with these two characters alternate between intimate connection and playful sarcasm, always retaining emotional authenticity. Here, The Durin Theme follows suit, bending as needed between long, lyrical statements and jaunty comedic oom-pahs. Much of the credit for the effectiveness of these scenes is owed to the performances of Robert Aramayo and Owain Arthur, whose authentic onscreen chemistry affords the score room to stretch.
Moments later, the pair discover an awe-inspiring vein of Mithril, set to a majestic variation of The Mithril Theme, with the choir singing a gentle Quenya text.
Airëa fra kala, lámina fra kala
Blessed eternal light, echoing eternal light
Alas King Durin discovers their deceitful treachery, and exiles Elrond. In Elrond’s final moment of the episode, he beholds the tiny Mithril shard Durin gave him. The score offers a trio of orchestral flutes playing The Mithril Theme with a surprisingly hopeful intrigue, and though Elrond knows his people are likely doomed, the music suggests perhaps hope still lingers.
THE PRINCE AND THE KING
King Durin has a heartfelt conversation with his son. He begins by recalling the prince’s sickly infancy. Here, the score supports actor Peter Mullan’s gravelly reminiscing with slow parallel fifths in the orchestral celli and basses. Parallel fifths have an intrinsically Gregorian quality and have long been a staple of The Khazad-dûm Theme. They usually function only as a supportive layer, but here, in this intimate moment, the score is built entirely of these parallel fifths for nearly fifty seconds.
Then, King Durin tells of a moment when he looked in his infant son’s face and suddenly foresaw a wise old Dwarven king who would one day move mountains. Just as suddenly, orchestral violas join in atop the parallel fifths, filling in the missing third of the chords. This arrangement gives the audience the harmonic fulfillment they had forgotten they wanted. The result is a shockingly emotional yet sonically subtle moment, tailored to communicate just as King Durin does: simply and effectively. (The moment is heightened further by delicate harp notes plucking out a lullaby variation of the Khazad-dûm Theme.)
But the adult Prince Durin is unmoved. He confronts his father for thwarting his ambition, and once again their conflict escalates quickly. A solo cello counters the elegant formality of the King’s music with an emotional, lyrical melody of the Durin Theme. Orchestral chords become increasingly dissonant as their voices raise, spewing tension across the scene. The score underlines the growing rift between the two Dwarves, a rift between future and past, between tradition and compassion, between one potential catastrophe and another.
No compromise is possible. King Durin bitterly strips his son of the emblem of his title and stalks out of the gloomy chamber. This sad, processional statement of the Khazad-dûm Theme in the low strings evokes a funereal march, a bleak rendition of the king’s usual musical formality. The mighty majesty of the Khazad-dûm Theme has been tainted, perhaps forever, by their conflict.
Later, Prince Durin privately fumes with his wife, Disa, who offers a surprisingly optimistic perspective: she believes they will one day rule, thus giving them access to the forbidden mines. However, the score contrasts this concept with brooding Khuzdul vocals chanting ominously in the low male singers.
Uzn aya gabil dûm
Mêshard-u kibil, dahaqh uzn-u
Mêshard-u kibil, dahaqh uzn-u
Shadow upon the great halls
Promise of silver, centuries of shadow
Promise of silver, centuries of shadow
Centuries of Shadow
A solitary solo cello offers a regal statement of The Durin Theme above, as Disa further emphasizes their entitlement to the Mithril. At the end of the scene, the score finally pivots to an emotional statement of the Durin Theme as they kiss. This last uplifting musical phrase suggests they will face whatever the future holds together, and the hope they will prevail.
In the last scene in Khazad-dûm for the first season, King Durin throws Elrond’s leaf into the forbidden Mithril mine, before commanding it be sealed. An ominous omen for the fates of Disa, Durin, and Elrond await the leaf, in the blackest depths of the mountain.
IN THE LAND OF MORDOR
“The Eye” concludes with Adar making a victory speech to his supporters, both Orcs and humans. Here, amid the ashes, his theme is carried by his signature combination of Japanese shakuhachi and Chinese membrane flute, offering an atmospheric wisp of his melody that seems to float through the smoke. His followers’ chants are supported by the rhythmic components of The Adar Theme: a distinct hide drum pattern, and an impossibly-low octave-descending string line, a combination of live performance and digitally manipulated orchestra lines.
Adar remarks that the name “The Southlands” is one for a place that no longer exists. When asked what it should henceforth be called, Adar looks to the distant peak of Orodruin, what will one day be known as Mount Doom. Here, the iconic string flurry of The Sauron Ostinato sneaks into the soundtrack, overtaking the Adar Theme. Low choral singers follow the strings, supporting a deep chant in Black Speech.
Daghburz, makha gulshu darulu
Mordor, where the shadows lie
The title card for “The Southlands” burns, shifting into “Mordor,” as a wall of trombones, French horns, and blaring trumpets sear across the soundtrack with dissonant, horrific intensity. And yet, the final chapter of this season offers an intriguing promise of hope yet to be forged from the darkness.