Full spoilers for episode 6 of The Rings of Power follow. You have been warned.
The Rings of Power have officially arrived. Sure, the high-fantasy Prime Video show actually launched on September 2nd, but it takes an extremely significant episode to really announce itself on the prestigious TV stage.
Episode 6 is the epic and explosive entry to Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV series and audiences have been waiting. It’s packed with frantic and loaded scenarios, tells a story with multiple twists, and culminates in a stunning finale that will leave viewers’ jaws on the floor long after the credits roll.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of work went into designing and creating the shocking ending of Episode 6. And, as co-showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne told in an exclusive airing, the final moments of the episode were planned as the pivotal moment of the episode. first season already in 2018.
“[It took] four years,” says McKay. “We’ve known about this sequence for This one big ones.”
“When we were blocking season one, we had a whiteboard of character arcs for Galadriel, Elendil, Isildur, Arondir, Bronwyn — all the main characters in this episode,” adds Payne. “All these journeys were leading up to this point when we finally introduced Mordor.”
That’s right, episode 6 of The Rings of Power shows us how Mordor – and its iconic volcano, aka Mount Doom – were finally created.
Viewers had already speculated that the introduction of Mordor wasn’t too far off, with previous episodes of season one teasing so much. In Episode 3, Galadriel and Elendil dump some old maps of Middle-earth, which show that the region known as the Southlands sits right on top of where Mordor exists in JRR Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The orc army of Adar is based at this location during Season 1 – an area where they dug tunnels and cleared large swaths of land – which provided further evidence for the eventual arrival of Mordor.
Read all of our Rings of Power recaps
What audiences didn’t expect is that Mordor and Mount Doom were born so early in the series. However, those familiar with The Lord of the Rings’ extensive history would have been able to figure out that this iconic location would be a part of Episode 6. Its official title – Udûn – is also the name of an arid valley situated in northwest Mordor, so it wouldn’t have too long for die-hard Tolkien fans to make the connection.
Still, for casual Lord of the Rings fans and the general public, the birth of Mordor and Mount Doom in The Rings of Power is a truly shocking and visually spectacular moment. So how was the sequel developed?
The eruption of an idea
The end of Udûn was a seismic undertaking for everyone involved in The Rings of Power. The final edit of the explosive sequence includes multiple visual effects shots, complete with a massive volcanic eruption, searing rocks falling from the sky, a storm-fueled ash cloud, and fires erupting as the Southern Lands and its inhabitants are consumed by the cataclysmic event.
Before its visually appealing effects could be added to the post, The Rings of Power’s lead creative team had to ensure that events leading up to the eruption could lead to the mountain – which becomes Mount Doom – violently exploding its top. After all, such a movement is only possible through the collision of its vast lava pit with water from the deep reservoir of Ostilith. This comes after Southland’s turncoat Waldreg uses his sword hilt, which Adar reacquires from the Southlanders in Episode 6, as a key to unlocking part of Ostilith’s dam. It’s a move that allows a deluge of water to rush through several tunnels — dug by the orcs — and snake its way up the ice-covered mountain that becomes Mount Doom.
Could a combination of an expansive volume of water and a giant pool of lava then cause such an explosive eruption? According to real-world science, yes.
“One of our writers knows a geologist,” explains Payne. “So we asked them if water and lava could come together to create this gigantic explosion, and it could. They said ‘if you have enough vapor pressure that builds up in a confined space, the entropy inside the volcano will increase, eventually. causing him to strike.”
“We’ve meticulously studied what actually happens in volcanic eruptions,” adds visual effects producer Ron Ames. “We looked at photographs and read historical documents about Pompeii to get a clearer idea of the scale of these natural explosions.”
Buoyed by the support of real-life science, The Rings of Power’s massive team set out to craft an ending that would herald the series’ epic arrival on the world stage. Typical pre-production work, such as concept art, storyboarding, and location scouting, was done well before principal photography. Once these elements were in place, several camera crews began filming exterior shots – sweeping, sweeping landscapes as well as close-ups – to use during the sequence.
“It was important for us to use real-world locations,” reveals Ames. “The mountain itself is based on a real location. The cliff that Ostilith stands on is a real location. We went to these areas and filmed the backgrounds using helicopters. We also landed in these areas and took pictures and signs. Even the water you see in the final sequence is real – it’s just mixed with some CGI elements to help the flow of this massive deluge as it descends the valley.”
Heating at the station
With pre-production and principal photography in the can, the lengthy post-production process can begin.
Like many of The Rings of Power’s visual effects-laden sequences, the end of Episode 6 was developed by various animation studios. Weta Digital, which worked on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings film trilogies, produced the cliff-based part of Ostilith. Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) created the underground sequence, which leads to the violent explosion. Meanwhile, Australian studio Rising Sun was tasked with creating the post-eruption scene, including the spewing lava rocks and fast-traveling ash cloud.
“Since all the vendors have mixed each part, you can’t tell where one shot starts and another ends,” says Ames. “It’s all seamlessly connected and I couldn’t be more proud of the teams that worked together to compose and knit it. It’s one of my favorite sequences on the entire show.”
Crunching has become a hot topic of conversation in the film and TV industries, with big-budget projects – including She-Hulk: Attorney at Law on Disney Plus – and studios being criticized for the working conditions of employees.
Given the scale of this sequel and the other 9,500 VFX-based takes in season one, it seems inevitable that The Rings of Power’s behind-the-scenes team will have to break down at some point. Ames, however, was convinced that no one under his supervision would be forced to work any longer – at the cost of their physical and mental well-being – to ensure that sequels like Mount Doom were completed on time.
“Having seen the movie business change and being an advocate of technology, I would say mindfulness and a load-sharing approach is extremely important,” says Ames. “For the most part, we didn’t work more than 12 hours a day. In some cases, I had to send staff members home to sleep and shower – everyone worked really hard, but everyone had to go home, see their families, attend weddings and do all the things that humans need to do. I think the future of cinema requires us to look at mindfulness in the workplace and how to move forward in a balanced way to get the most creativity out of our artists.”
The final sequence of Udûn is a visually stunning sight to behold. It’s the brainchild of multiple creators and studios, all of whom have worked diligently to collaborate on The Rings of Power’s most harrowing spectacle to date. “It was the brainchild of ILM visual effects supervisor Jason Smith,” says Ames, but the countless artists, animators, renderers and other staff members deserve praise for creating such a devastatingly beautiful moment in Middle-earth history.
With two more episodes to come in Season 1 – not to mention four more seasons of storytelling to come – The Rings of Power will contain more shocking, big-budget sequels like the end of Episode 6. Right now, though, Udûn is the entry. blast that defines the show the Prime Video series demanded – and it will take something truly incredible to usurp that.
The first six episodes of The Rings of Power are available to stream on Prime Video now.