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Rings of Power: How Mount Doom and Mordor were created in the Battle Episode

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read if you haven’t seen “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” episode 6, titled “Udûn,” now streaming on Amazon Prime Video..

With three more episodes remaining in its inaugural season, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” finally delivered the massive battle sequence that fans of the epic fantasy franchise have been patiently waiting for. While not as massive as the Battle of Helm’s Deep from the 2002 film “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” the episode “Udûn” greatly increased the scope of the series’ action, delivering nearly non-stop moments. , close to death and ending in a huge cliffhanger that also sets up one of the most important events in JRR Tolkien’s history of Middle-earth.

In the episode, the dark elf Adar (Joseph Mawle) and his orc army arrive at the mountain fortress where Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), and the Southland villagers are supposed to be hiding. until Arondir launches a one-man sneak attack and brings down the stone watchtower on a good portion of Adar’s forces. Arondir and his fighters regroup before an even larger assault from Adar; the Southland villagers tend to prevail, until they realize that some of Adar’s fallen minions are actually his fellow Southlanders who swore allegiance to Adar in the (false) hope of saving their lives. Adar’s remaining forces ambush the villagers in a flurry of arrows as his leader searches for and finds the mysterious blade of Sauron he has been searching for all season.

The day is (briefly) saved when Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) storms in with her Númenórean army. She and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) capture Adar, who is revealed to be one of the first elves corrupted by the evil dark lord Morgoth. As Galadriel interrogates Adar, the human traitor, Waldreg (Geoff Morrell), secretly arrives at the fallen citadel with Sauron’s sword and uses its mysterious power to unleash a cataclysm on Middle-earth. He opens the dam that holds back a mountain lake; the water from it follows the channels dug by the orcs and their prisoners; and finally pours into the magma chamber of a nearby dormant volcano. It erupts, blanketing the Southlands in fire, ash, and darkness. We have just witnessed the birth of Mordor’s infamous Mount of Doom.

Director Charlotte Brändström, who directed episodes of “The Witcher,” “Outlander,” “The Outsider” and “Arrow,” and Clark and Córdova explained to Variety how the monumental episode came to be, full of knights on horseback and invading orcs.


The packhorses of Númenor

Brändström was already well acquainted with “The Lord of the Rings” and dipped into action movies such as “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” for inspiration, but also researched real-life ancient battles.

“I had been studying the Ukrainian Cossacks a lot and how they fought on horseback, hiding behind the horses, trying to avoid arrows and bullets,” he said. “They were incredible riders. He wanted to do something different when the Númenóreans came to town to save everyone. We worked on that months in advance in New Zealand to make sure they were actually on horseback. He knew it would be spectacular.”

One of the most impressive moments of the episode occurs when Galadriel, Halbrand and the entire Númenórean crew arrive on horseback to rescue Arondir and the villagers of the Southlands from the orc army of Adar. The sequence used 20 to 30 horses and a total crew of 150 to 200 people, Brändström said.

I would have preferred to use even more horses but, as with much of “The Rings of Power,” most of the episode was shot during the height of the pandemic.

“It was very difficult to have access to train horses to be a part of this battle,” he said. “I tricked him by coming from many different directions and reusing the same horses” and then expanded his number with visual effects.

To prepare for the sequence, the riders trained for four months, doing three hours of stunts every day and three days of riding a week. The training was especially helpful to Clark; while Galadriel is a natural horseman who expertly gallops into battle in her gleaming armor, the actor had never ridden a horse before.

“A lot of us had started without ever riding, at least me, and we were pretty nervous and scared,” he said. “I rode a horse called Titan, which is apparently one of the best horses they’ve ever had and is the best trained. I feel like a lot of my horse riding skills are due to the horse I was on, but I’m not terrified anymore. Once you get comfortable on a horse, it’s the closest thing to magic I’ve ever experienced. You also have this connection to people from the past, something that humans have done forever.”

During the fierce battle, Galadriel quickly dodges the orcs’ spears and arrows by sliding from the saddle to the side of her horse, but Clark admits that it was a specialist who took her place.

“I can’t believe that was possible. Before I did this, I thought a lot of horse stunts were CGI, but it wasn’t,” he said. “There were a lot of amazing stuntmen in this, but their horses were amazing and so was the connection they had with them. Seeing the stunt team say goodbye to their horses when we finished was very emotional.”


The bloody confrontation of Arondir

Not to be outdone by Galadriel, Arondir cuts down ranks of orcs with his bow and arrow, collapsing the massive stone watchtower with a well-timed flaming arrow. However, his most intense moment comes when he is confronted by a huge orc, who throws him across a clearing in the village. Arondir manages to stab the berserker in the eye, but he is immobilized and almost strangles him in a pit. The orc removes the dagger from his face and splatters foul black blood on Arondir’s face, but the elf is saved by his beloved Bronwyn, who dispatches the brute from behind.

“There are no stilts or camera tricks,” Córdova said of his fight with the giant orc. “The guy is huge, a fighter and an incredible engine. I had to climb on top of him, step on his hip and leg, wrap myself around and choke him as he moved. It’s almost like being on a mechanical bull. There were no platforms, no cables, we were not supported by anything. I was on the back of this huge man trying not to fall.”

The actor said that his training for the battle took eight months, and that fight alone was three months of preparation. After all the archery lessons, martial arts training, wire work, and fight choreography, he “lived in a perpetual state of pain” and was “full of bruises.”

“The one that cost me the most was when he broke my spine with his back,” Córdova said. “I had to keep my head forward, tuck my chin into my chest so that when he hits me against him, my neck doesn’t get whiplash. But of course he sometimes he does. My neck was destroyed; It was like a walking robot.”

In addition to the bruises from the brutal fight scene, Córdova had to cover himself in the orc’s blood, which he said was a mixture of gooey chocolate, gelatin and food coloring.

“It was so sticky and uncomfortable and so cold when we were shooting those night shots,” he said. “Everything kept entering my shell. So I had this puddle of sugary slime for the better part of two weeks.”

Courtesy of Prime Video

The birth of Mount Doom

The episode ends on an even darker note with the rise of Mount Doom in the future region of Mordor.

Brandström only learned of this critical turn of events after his arrival in New Zealand. “I just thought, wow, this is just a director’s dream,” he said. “The pressure was trying to make it the best it could be. It was a lot of hard work, mixing special effects and visual effects and real stunts and a lot of hard work on the part of the crew.”

To recreate the ash and smoke rising from Mount Doom, Brändström turned to real-life natural disasters.

“I studied every volcanic eruption you can think of,” Brändström said. “We observed ash cloud formations, from the Pompeii eruption to what happened in New Zealand a few years ago, in the Canary Islands, in Italy.”

The creation of Mount Doom was one of the few scenes in the episode set during the day. The rest of “Udûn” takes place in the dead of night, and in the mud of the New Zealand winter.

“We lived in mud and rain for months,” said the director. “We had seven weeks of night shooting. I never saw the light of day. I came home, went to bed and got up when it was night. It was only at night the whole time.”


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