In all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, not much is known about the formation of Mount Doom. Morgoth, the first Dark Lord to attempt to rule Middle-earth, chose that area as his base in the First Age because of the three mountain ranges surrounding it. He created the volcano himself after claiming the land and named his new home Mordor. Before the First Age was over, the great spider Shelob, who would eventually capture Frodo (Elijah Wood) and battle Samwise (Sean Astin), brought her offspring to settle in Mount Doom. Mordor’s arid and dark environment was sustained by the volcano and the many wars fought on the land throughout the ages.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power completely changes the origin story of the land of Mordor, though. Instead of the land having always been consumed in darkness, this show creates the story of the Southlands and the decedents of those who served Morgoth. The way this plotline shows the struggle of a population striving to regain their integrity and move past the shame and guilt of what their ancestors did provides an immense amount of nuance and suspense to Tolkien’s universe, which makes it an even better show.
The Southlands Represents Humanity’s Battle Against Insecurities
This rewritten history in The Rings of Power takes place later in the Second Age, many generations after Morgoth has been defeated and his servant Sauron (Charlie Vickers) has gone into hiding. The people of the Southlands are descendants of those who served Morgoth and constantly live with a shadow of shame and guilt from the failing of their ancestors. Just like the elves who stayed in the watchtower, there are Southlanders who believe that their bloodline means they have a propensity to darkness. Many of the good and honest people there, like Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), try to do good as often as they can, and it’s their insecurities about being considered evil by the rest of Middle-earth that make them want to prove themselves all the more. There are those, however, that have been taken over by their insecurities, like Waldreg (Geoff Morrell), and believe the Dark Lord Sauron will return to rule over the land, so the Southlanders would be better off serving him than constantly living with their perceived persecution under the elves.
The relationship between Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and Bronwyn teaches the audience the value of overcoming your insecurities. Bronwyn has done a lot of the work to move past her shame and guilt by the time the show’s events begin. She doesn’t see the elves as oppressors, but as insurance against her fellow Southlanders returning to serve a Dark Lord. She is the only one, though, that is able to see the value in their protection and surveillance. She knows that none of her neighbors are able to see past their bias against the elves, but that doesn’t stop her from trusting Arondir. If it weren’t for Bronwyn building a relationship with Arondir, they would never have found the orcs’ tunnels in Hordern, and Adar (Joseph Mawle) would have had a major advantage. Adar could’ve brought his orc legion to decimate the humans in their own houses instead of having to march up to the tower where many of them were killed by Arondir’s trap. Bronwyn overcoming her insecurities about the Southlands’ evil history and the stigma against elves saved many of her people’s lives and enabled her to easily assume leadership.
The New Creation of Mount Doom
Adar leading his orcs to cause a volcanic eruption right under the feet of the Southlanders teaches a lesson about evil that many could stand to learn. Evil begins building power in secret. Those who wish to harm others for their own personal gain rarely proclaim their intentions publicly. Most of their initial efforts to take power and control begin in the shadows, recruiting like-minded followers and playing on their insecurities. Villains use promises of eventual glory if their followers will swear allegiance to them in secret, but in public, they are to act as though nothing has changed. This is why it comes as such a surprise to good people when the leader and their followers finally reveal their true intentions. The good ones have been toiling daily to overcome their own problems with absolutely no indication that their neighbors have been working against them.
Adar and his orcs are successful in causing the eruption of Mount Doom because they keep everything they were doing secret until they are ready to take power. As Arondir discovers, anyone who stumbles across their labyrinth of tunnels is taken prisoner and forced to dig the tunnels for them. They kill anyone who tries to escape, and they direct their tunnels to go right under the houses of the people they plan to attack. When Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) discovers the tunnel under their house, it’s only because he attacks what he believes to be mice burrowing under the floorboards. If the orcs are working that hard to stay quiet, they must have made the secrecy of the plan a top priority. This story arc of Adar succeeding in taking over the Southlands is a stark warning of what can happen if good people become complacent. Like Arondir and the elves in the watchtower, goodness must remain vigilant in preventing evil from taking a foothold in their neighbor’s hearts.
Mount Doom’s New Origin Brings Nuance to Middle-earth
In many of Tolkien’s stories, the concepts of good and evil are clearly defined. Each character is obviously on one side or the other. The alteration of the creation of Mount Doom from the source material brings some much-needed nuance to the characters in these stories. The Southlanders are so divided in their ideals that there is no telling who is good or bad until they openly declare so.
We first see Waldreg bartending and butchering meat. When Arondir enters and is confronted by a prejudiced boy named Rowan (Ian Blackburn), Waldreg actually defends him. Later on, when Adar offers mercy for their allegiance, Waldreg shows his neighbors his true colors by leading half of them to the orcs to swear loyalty to Sauron. Up until then, Bronwyn has trusted him to lead in evacuating the people and keep them fed when they stayed in the tower, but all the while he is just biding his time, hoping that he could one day see the Dark Lord come to power again. Whether Theo would follow a darker path was also an overarching question during the first season, providing higher stakes tension to the plot. This type of nuance blurs the lines between good and evil, making the story less predictable and far more intriguing and realistic.
Mount Doom’s origins is one of the many changes The Rings of Power made to the source material, but it’s a vast improvement from the original story and provided a level of depth that made this a far better show.