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How Epic ‘Rings of Power’ Battle Scene Came Together

Ismael Cruz Cordova and series stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong describe the acting skills it takes to pull off what Episode 6 accomplishes.

Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Queen Regent Míriel), Ismael Cruz Córdova (Arondir), Charlie Vickers (Halbrand)

Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Ismael Cruz Córdova, and Charlie Vickers in “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”

Matt Grace/Prime Video

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is a giant collection of individual pieces. Branch down from any one element and there are so many different parts that have to function together to make it all work.

Fight scenes are no different. For every wide shot of a skirmish — in the case of Episode 6, “Udûn,” ones in the Southlands village near the tower Ostirith — each bit of chaos has to mesh together. For series stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, that starts with assembling a team.

When hiring local stunt performers, Armstrong looks not only at strength and agility, but the true element of performance that goes hand-in-hand with them. It can be as simple as seeing how someone can sell the idea of being hit by an arrow.

“One test is I send them running across a field and tell them to give me your interpretation of bullet hitting you. Some people go down like a spider having a heart attack. Some people, they just take it. It’s a bizarre thing and it’s a skill,” Armstrong said. “We do rehearse that, when rehearsing for the fights. You have to pop your head the right way when you’re hit. You’ve gotta follow where the velocity of the arrow’s hitting you and where that’s taking the body. There’s all these little things that go into it, but they do make the overall picture more realistic.”

That specific kind of reaction applies to plenty of other moments throughout the episode. Númenórean riders charge in and take out a dozen or so orcs, a gag that Armstrong said took half a day all by itself. And of course, there’s the crescendo to the end of the episode, when a nearby mountain erupts and rains flaming rocks on the village below.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power - 106

“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”

Prime Video

“With an explosion, there is a physical explosion. We put in cork and stuff that won’t take your head off, but it will give you something to duck and jump out of the way of,” Armstrong said. “But again, you mustn’t anticipate. You mustn’t be starting the jump before the bang goes, you mustn’t be too late. You don’t want to overdo it and be too theatrical and too energetic. Again, it’s tempering it, just trying to keep it as real as you can.”

It’s a technical balance the series’ main cast also gets to show off in the episode. Arondir’s tripping of a giant Ostirith trap and a one-on-one battle with a hulking orc seemingly twice his size gave actor Ismael Cruz Córdova the chance to unlock a different kind of performance. Those scenes involved wire work, with Córdova attached to a rig by a harness that helped him fly through the air across various leaps and tosses. It’s a physical challenge that Cordova didn’t know he’d be facing when he auditioned for the part, but later fought for the chance to do as much as he could himself.

That process, in turn, helped him better understand the character he was playing.

“Elves are precise, elves are sharp, and he’s a warrior elf. So it’s not outside of his philosophical and physical way of being. He’s a warrior, he has to be this way. So that really just bled into me playing the emotional part of it all,” Córdova said. “I hope that you can see him try to push through the stoic nature of his elven self, trying to emote, trying to connect. So I married the two. I believe there’s a lot of drama in action. Even when I was stunting, I was always just doing it in character.”

The months of training and rehearsal were designed to prepare everyone physically, but also to link Córdova with both his scene partners and fellow artisans in fight scenes choreographed down to the tiniest movements.

“It’s precision. There is a conversation and a bond that you have to have with the people operating the wire, which are the people that you don’t see,” Córdova said. “My steps have to be exactly the same each time. I have to punch into that wire the same time. They’re looking at me for the same visual cue that I have to do in the same rhythm. Something that really stuck with me was the teamwork and the bond with with the artists around me. There’s an incredible amount of trust as I’m hanging by this wire jumping from three stories high. They do have my life in their hands.”

Joseph Mawle (Adar)

Joseph Mawle in “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”

Prime Video

“Every routine is worked out milli-move. You’ve got to be prepared for your partner to maybe forget his milli-move and be going in the wrong direction. You just can’t carry on willy nilly with yours. If I’m swinging the sword and you don’t duck, I gotta be prepared to react in that way,” Armstrong said. “You can hide it to a certain degree, like a punch where you angle a camera. But deep down, it’s got to be done as real as you can and rely on each person, the receiver and the giver, to do the work together. But also be ready to react and stop and not take somebody’s head off for real.”

Of course, these on-camera elements aren’t possible without an extensive technical support team and specialized equipment. The fact that a majority of the fight takes place at night gave Armstrong and episode director Charlotte Brändström the chance to hide some of the practical skeleton that supports a wide range of stunts. It also gave them an excuse to literally play with fire.

“It can be a handcuff but in these situations to me it’s a bonus. It helps enormously because there’s equipment we can have enhance some of the action of a shot that you don’t have to remove from the shot because you can just remove it from your eyesight with lighting,” Armstrong said. “Invariably, there’s a big crane arm sticking out with cables on it and then ratchet machines pulling people. Even things sending the fireballs off, there’s equipment with hose pipes or propane gas running to it. When they fall off the roof, there’s going to be safety cables or cables to get them started in their moves. And when we’re making a oner, it’s much easier to go through a dark wipe than a thing that your eyes can focus on easier. You don’t have to worry about costuming the orcs in the distance because their torch is missing. There’s little things like that.”

The extreme physicality required to achieve what “Rings of Power” does in this episode ultimately became fuel for Córdova. Though this Episode 6 combat was one of the later things he filmed on the season, he’s far from ready to be done with it yet.

“It’s the endurance. I was so tired, like extremely tired. It was just always rehearsing, always fighting, always training. It was this endurance and being able to connect with that emotional stamina,” Córdova said. “It became quite meditative and an enlightening process, through the pain, through being kind of broken, through being exhausted. I kind of met a new level of self-awareness, and a strength that I didn’t even know I had. So it definitely was enriching for me as a person and as an actor and I’m ready for more.”

“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” releases new episodes every Friday on Prime Video. 

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