The following article contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Do not read until you have seen episodes one to eight …
Straight to business, then. Before the credits had rolled, we were given the answer to the question we had all been waiting for. The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is Sauron. He was wandering through the forest, where he thought he had seen his harfoot friend Nori (Markella Kavenagh) – only to realise it was The Dweller (Bridie Sisson) playing a trick. Joined by her sidekicks, they fell to their knees. “We’ve come to serve you,” they said. “Lord Sauron.”
“No. Sorry. Not having it,” I thought as I was watching. It was too quick, too lacking in suspense, too … unearned to be true. Flawed as The Rings of Power has been with pacing and plotting, was it really going to play with a character’s identity for seven full episodes then give it away within the finale’s opening seconds? No. Of course it wasn’t.
Thankfully, despite feeling for the next few minutes as if I had been cheated, it became very clear The Stranger wasn’t the dark lord himself, but someone “good”, as the “wizard” later said as he dispatched the three acolytes. Did he say “good” because it begins with a G, like Gandalf? Why didn’t we get his name? Will the acolytes return? What were those butterflies about? And how has he learned so much English since last week, when he could barely finish a sentence?
Sins not of a flesh …
To the meat of the episode, if not the whole series, and Sauron’s identity and the fate of the elves. We saw Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) arrive back in Lindon, to be greeted by Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) and Middle-earth’s most vainglorious jeweller himself, Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards).
Thankfully, she noticed that line about power not “of a flesh, but over flesh” and got busy in the archives. Lo and behold, there is no king of the Southlands, that line was broken 1,000 years ago and Halbrand had been lying.
I’ve been going on about Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) being Sauron since episode three, and no matter how many commenters have called me stupid or told me it was “obvious” that it was The Stranger, I remained convinced. I’m not going to say I told you so. Actually, I am. I was right all along.
And when we got there, I was pleased how it played out. Seeing that Celebrimbor loved a bit of flattery, Halbrand knew all he had to do was throw a few compliments his way and he’d be on side, while isolating Galadriel was his best defence against her.
And so Halbrand – let’s call him Sauron from now on – is off to Mordor, to take back control from Adar (Joseph Mawle) and forge the one ring. The elves, meanwhile, have their three rings. Finally, some rings in a show called The Rings of Power!
Notes and observations
The forest in the opening, Greenwood, later becomes better known as Mirkwood, home to King Thranduil and the wood elves, and the giant spiders, the spawn of the Ungoliant, encountered by Bilbo and company in The Hobbit.
Obviously, The Stranger isn’t Sauron, but I did enjoy Nori telling him that he doesn’t have to be the dark lord if he doesn’t want to be, as if it was that simple a choice.
Farewell, Sir Lenny Henry. I had fully expected The Stranger to step in and heal Sadoc, and for me to be annoyed that he did so. He didn’t, and I was sad that Sadoc won’t be back. You can’t win, can you?
Another note on the harfoots. I was amazed at their ruthlessness earlier in the series – basically, if you fall behind, you will be abandoned – and here again, I was surprised by their almost emotionless response to Sadoc’s murder at the hand of a superpowered religious zealot. Nothing fazes those halflings.
When The Stranger turned to Nori and told her to follow her nose, it was a direct callback to when, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf says: “If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose.” Is that confirmation that we’re looking at Gandalf, or just a nod to Peter Jackson?
If the line of kings in the Southlands had been broken 1,000 years ago, why was a king “promised”, as Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) so quickly stated upon seeing Halbrand? Don’t tell me she’s in on it, too?
We didn’t hear from the remaining Southlanders this week, so we can only assume they’re having a lovely time in the old Númenórean colony they were heading to.
What did Eärien (Ema Horvath) see in the palantir? Hopefully it was a better storyline for her character in season two, but I think it’s more likely to have been the downfall of Númenor, or the location of her brother, Isildur (Maxim Baldry), missing since Mount Doom erupted.
So we reach the end of our journey, and if you’ve made it this far, I thank you for reading. I’ve enjoyed writing these recaps and reading all the comments – at times more than I’ve enjoyed the series. Nevertheless, episodes six, seven and this finale were strong. This first season of The Rings of Power was a beautiful, oddly paced affair, disappointing given the wild expectation, promising because of the world that has been established. It was always going to take time, right?
We don’t need to go over how fantastic the series looks. Away from the aesthetics, I have enjoyed Elrond and Durin’s relationship unfold, Nori and The Stranger’s friendship develop and Arondir’s orc-slaying. Despite my misgivings about some of the acting along the way, by the time of this finale, the actors had grown into their characters and delivered as they were supposed to. In particular, the scenes between Halbrand and Galadriel, in which he revealed his true identity, were gripping, as he chillingly tried to manipulate and coercively control her – had he not brought her brother, Finrod (Will Fletcher), into the equation he might have had more success with his gaslighting.
Next time around, I’d like more action, fewer ponderous glances between characters, less intrusive music and a little more polished dialogue. I don’t want to see a crowd scene in Númenor again, slow-motion horseriding or whimsical scenes of harfoots picking apples. King and Prince Durin’s scenes were high points of the script – that quality needs to be seen elsewhere.
Filming on season two is apparently under way, with the base of operations now in the UK rather than New Zealand. Reports suggest we’ll see that in the early part of 2024. See you then!
What did you think? Have you enjoyed the series? Did you see Sauron coming? Will you be back for season two? Have your say below …