Well, folks, we did it. After eight episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and tirelessly poring over hints, teases, and near-literal winks to the camera, the Amazon Prime Lord of the Rings prequel has finally revealed that we were all right, and that Sauron is in fact Halbrand (Charlie Vickers).
That’s a good thing, since it would be a missed opportunity if he wasn’t, something the Polygon crew thought during his very first scene — wouldn’t it just be interesting if the sole human to survive alongside Galadriel, who pulled her from the Sundering Seas, was Sauron, the big bad she’s been hunting for years and the scourge of (future) Middle-earth?
It came to color every scene with him in it, even though there were bigger mystery characters no one could explain. Even when it didn’t exactly align with the extended lore, what with Galadriel theoretically being able to sense Sauron, there was always a vibe. Maybe that charged moment between them with the dagger is (forgive me) a double-edged sword, and actually an indicator of his evilness. It was either that or he was the most boring character alive, which is saying something for The Rings of Power.
If Halbrand’s sudden heel turn came out of nowhere for you — well, what’s there to say; we’ve been updating this post for weeks now, using up all our red yarn on what turned out to be a totally accurate conspiracy theory. Here’s a refresher on the evidence laced across the first season pointing directly to Halbrand’s shenanigans:
- Here is a brief sample of quotes, said by Halbrand, in episode 5: “You don’t know what I did. You don’t know how I survived.” “What do you know of darkness?” He also claims he will be “cast out” if his secret is revealed, and apologizes to Galadriel for the death of her brother (who was “killed” by Sauron).
- Adar took himself out of the running as Sauron in episode 6, but he shared a series of charged moments with Halbrand, who clearly feels personally wounded in some way by Adar’s anti-Sauron campaign. During their encounter, Halbrand cryptically states that Adar should know who he is (as Halbrand nearly kills him), later leaving Adar to genuinely wonder, “Who are you?” when the two are briefly alone. There’s not much about these interactions that might stand out as more than making Halbrand a tragic Middle-earth hero. But in conjunction with the rest of the show, there’s something there...
- He is a brutal warrior, as demonstrated in the alley scene from episode 3, and doesn’t seem to have many qualms about hurting those around him.
- Halbrand is an original character to The Rings of Power, and it’s clear from episode 3 that the production has some kind of plan for him and he’s not just a character for Galadriel to deliver exposition to. But we don’t think there’s really much to this theory, though it is pretty funny.
- It would just be neat, narratively, if everything Halbrand says wasn’t a lie, per se, but was just a half-truth. For instance, when he says shit like “I am not the hero you seek” — c’mon!
- Weirdly, though, his backstory is really specific and not connected to any canon. Despite the name “The Southlands” sounding like the Southrons, judging by where they are on the show map, they’re not really south at all, but in the far east, beyond Mordor. Tolkien never illuminated the cultures of any peoples in that area. (We know a few things about Rhûn, but as you can see, that region is quite a ways northeast of Mordor.) We don’t know of any kings from that region, or even monarchies or systems of government. Huh.
- Subsequently, it would be top-tier prequel material to write a scene where Galadriel unwittingly encourages Sauron to be Sauron. That kind of dramatic irony is always the most delicious when it’s done well. Especially when she’s been ferociously combing the world for him and he decides to just hide in plain sight. We know that the Sauron of this era was called “fair” (meaning pale, but also pretty); while Halbrand may or may not fit the bill for this one, he is at the very least cunning and astute. Those are the exact traits someone would have to be to get a bunch of people to make rings for him.
- Wait, hang on, the very first thing he shows an interest in other than staying out of trouble is getting a job as a smith? And then, in the fifth episode, he makes an exquisite blade that seems to stun a local guild worker.
- Frankly, The Rings of Power leans too much into obvious mystery boxes, and we think some subterfuge that really feels like it pulled the rug out from someone would be good.
- He convinces Galadriel to chill out and stay in Númenor...
- When he gave Galadriel a dagger it’s a moment that bonds them, and it’s something that could potentially save her neck in Númenor. Then again, it’s also just giving her the potential to wreak havoc. And so far, even when it looks like he’s helping the situation, Halbrand seems to be at best out for himself and at worst kind of a chaos agent.
- The only snag is that this would be a big departure from how Tolkien frames Sauron’s post-war with Morgoth reappearance, where he disguised himself as an emissary of the Valar called “Annatar.” And he’d have to get out of Númenor and to Middle-earth so that he can start working with Celebrimbor.
- The very first line of the show — “Nothing is evil in the beginning,” spoken by Galadriel — is pulled from Tolkien’s text about Sauron, who was corrupted by Morgoth. It could come back around with Halbrand being just a regular dude also corrupted by the evils of the world. But it could also be a plant: With The Rings of Power leaning more heavily into the grayness of Middle-earth’s heroes, perhaps it’s also going to spread some of that to its villains as well.
- If the Stranger is Gandalf and not a balrog then this is going to disappoint me, and I’d very much like this show to extend an olive branch.
Sauron’s not-so-grand reveal was only the beginning of his latest journey in Middle-earth. The first season ends with his arrival to Mordor, the land he’s chosen for his new base of evil-operations, which should set up his rise to power in season 2.
According to The Rings of Power showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the first season serves as a kind of Sauron origin story. But the pair also explain that they have big plans for Sauron in season 2. Rather than set up him up as purely a villain, the duo want to create a more sympathetic version Tolkien’s most famous and clear-cut manifestation of evil.
“Sauron can now just be Sauron,” McKay told The Hollywood Reporter. “Like Tony Soprano or Walter White. He’s evil, but complexly evil. We felt like if we did that in season one, he’d overshadow everything else. So the first season is like Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight is the next movie, with Sauron maneuvering out in the open.”
It’s not exactly clear how a character that’s also known as The Dark Lord will be a sympathetic figure, like the protagonists of Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, but it seems like that the showrunners will be trying their best to make him into an antihero going forward in season 2.