Briefing

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiere recap: Who is the Stranger, and where is Sauron?

It's finally here

The most expensive TV series of all time is here: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powerwhich kicks off with a visually stunning two-hour premiere. Let's break down the first two episodes and some theories about those mysterious new characters: 

A long time ago...

It begins, as it often does, with a Galadriel monologue. 

That's a familiar sound for fans of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogyin which Cate Blanchett played the immortal Elf. But The Rings of Power brings us an unfamiliar sight: Valinor, the Undying Lands, where immortal beings like the Elves and the god-like Valar reside. Fans will recall Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Elves sailing there at the end of Return of the King, but it has never been depicted in all its majesty on screen — and boy, is it majestic. Valinor might seem sort of like the afterlife, but it's an actual location on the map, across the sea from Middle-earth. Frodo and Bilbo are among the only mortals who have been allowed in. 

The Rings of Power mostly takes place in the Second Age, thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, which was set in the Third Age. But the premiere first opens with some crucial background. As Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) explains, the Elves lived peacefully in Valinor (with permission from the Valar) until the light of their home was destroyed by Morgoth, an evil Valar who became the first Dark Lord before Sauron.

According to Tolkien lore, Morgoth used a giant spider, the Ungoliant, to destroy Laurelin and Telperion, those two trees we see over the horizon in Valinor. The Trees of Valinor were the sources of light in the world, and when they were destroyed, a flower and fruit from the trees were used to create the Moon and the Sun. Fëanor, an Elf, also created jewels known as the Silmarils containing light from the trees. Morgoth stole the Silmarils at the beginning of the First Age, but they were eventually retrieved and scattered into the earth, sky, and sea. 

Morgoth was the master of Sauron, the big bad from The Lord of the Rings and a Maia (a spirit, like Gandalf and the other Wizards). During the First Age, the Elves wage war against Morgoth, leaving Valinor and traveling to Middle-earth. The war lasts centuries, but Morgoth is finally defeated, and Tolkien wrote that the Valar banished him into the Void, never to return. But there was still the matter of his servant, Sauron, who commands legions of orcs and goes into hiding after Morgoth's defeat.

The Rings of Power will ultimately lead to an alliance of men and Elves taking on Sauron, as seen in The Fellowship of the Ring's prologue.   

The winter soldier

Galadriel's brother, Finrod (Will Fletcher), is killed during the war against Morgoth, and a mysterious symbol associated with Sauron is left on his skin. 

From then on, Galadriel grows completely obsessed with destroying Sauron, commanding an army of Elves across the world to track him down. But as the centuries pass, it's not clear that Sauron is even still alive. Most assume the Dark Lord is gone, but not Galadriel, who soon comes across that Sauron symbol up North in Forodwaith, where the orcs gathered after Morgoth's defeat and performed dark sorcery. This symbol was created for The Rings of Power, though it bears a resemblance to the Eye of Sauron we'll see during the Peter Jackson movies. Other fans have compared it to the Iron Crown Morgoth used to hold the Silmarils. 

Galadriel's army soon loses faith in the mission and refuses to continue, so she heads to Lindon, capital of the High Elves. We previously saw Lindon in Return of the King, as it was the region from which Frodo sailed off to Valinor. There, Galadriel meets her friend Elrond (Robert Aramayo), the half-Elf played by Hugo Weaving in the Jackson trilogy. During this time, he's working under the High King of the Elves, Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker). We very briefly see Gil-galad fighting alongside Elrond during the prologue of Fellowship of the Ring

Elrond tries his best to convince Galadriel the war is over, but she's not having it. Soon enough, though, she's pretty much forced into retirement. Gil-galad announces that not only is he declaring an end to the war, but he's sending Galadriel home to Valinor. It's a massive honor, but one that Galadriel can't accept knowing Sauron is likely still out there. So when the time comes to sail into Valinor, Galadriel makes the unprecedented decision to jump off the boat and head back to Middle-earth, even though this means she may never be allowed back home. Don't worry, though: We've already seen Galadriel return to Valinor at the end of Return of the King, so she's just a few thousand years from retirement! 

Looks can be deceiving 

In episode two, Galadriel comes across a group of travelers adrift at sea, including a man named Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), whose boat was destroyed. He's the only one to make it out after a sea worm attacks, and he tells Galadriel orcs left his home in ashes and were last seen in the Southlands. 

But is this all true? One fan theory suggests Halbrand could be Sauron in disguise. From Tolkien lore, we know Sauron could shape-shift during the Second Age and appeared in the form of Annatar, who is known to be good-looking, to deceive the Elves. So could Halbrand be the Rings of Power's version of that idea, setting up a massive twist later in the show? His line that "looks can be deceiving" feels like deliberate foreshadowing, and fans have noticed his theme appears to be an inversion of Sauron's. 

Galadriel demands Halbrand take her to the Southlands so she can hunt down the orcs. But by the end of the episode, a mysterious figure on a ship looms over the two. Might it be Isildur (Maxim Baldry), the sailor from Númenor who will eventually cut the ring off Sauron's finger by the end of the Second Age?  

An unexpected journey

Over in Rhovanion, we're introduced to a village of Harfoots, ancestors of the Hobbits. The actual Hobbits couldn't really be involved in the Rings of Power, as they didn't do much until the Third Age. 

But the Harfoots can fill that void. Their community is certainly reminiscent of the Shire, so disconnected from the rest of the world that two travelers passing by becomes a massive event. We center primarily around a Harfoot named Nori (Markella Kavenagh), who looks like our new Frodo mixed with a classic Disney princess: She's a charming, rebellious young girl who just wants to see what else is out there, as her parents discourage her from even wandering off to pick berries. Cue "How Far I'll Go" from Moana. But adventure comes to Nori when a mysterious meteor man, played by Daniel Weyman and referred to in the credits only as "The Stranger," falls from the sky and somehow survives.  

Who is the Stranger? 

So, who the heck is this? One possibility is that he is Sauron in disguise. After all, that shot of him crashed on the ground certainly evokes the Eye of Sauron, not to mention the whispering we hear around him. But that seems almost too obvious. Besides, Sauron is theoretically trying to trick people and disguise his identity during this time, and the Stranger isn't doing a great job of that so far.

So an alternate theory is that he's one of the Wizards sent by the Valar to help Middle-earth defend against Sauron. Indeed, some have speculated the Stranger is one of the two mysterious characters known to Tolkien fans as the "Blue Wizards."

We know that the Valar sent five Wizards to Middle-earth, including Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast. But there's little information about the remaining two, who apparently wore blue robes and arrived during the Second Age. In the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf references "the two Blue Wizards" but says he's "quite forgotten their names." 

So might The Stranger be one of those other wizards whom we know little about? Alternatively, could The Stranger simply be Gandalf himself? Either way, he seems likely to be a Maia of some kind. 

Forbidden love

Meanwhile in the Southlands, we meet Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), an Elf soldier tasked with watching over the land of men whose ancestors allied with Morgoth many years ago. He's been stationed for nearly eight decades in the Southlands, an area that, according to the map of Middle-earth, appears it will later become Mordor, where Sauron resides in The Lord of the Rings

Arondir has more recently fallen in love with a human healer named Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a forbidden romance with echoes of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Arwen (Liv Tyler). It's frowned upon by the Elves who see these humans as dangerous. The men in the village of Tirharad, meanwhile, are furious that the Elves refuse to "let the past go" and blame them for something their ancestors did generations ago, and Arondir seems like he kind of agrees. "That was long ago," he tells Watchwarden Revion (Simon Merrells), who insists this is still who the humans are. When Gil-galad announces an end to the war, meaning all the Elf soldiers can go home, Arondir seems ready to finally voice his love for Bronwyn. 

But first, they both learn about something freaky happening out east, where a farmer's cow wandered off and is now oozing black goo when milked. Arondir finds an entire village destroyed — though, mysteriously, all the bodies are gone — and a tunnel dug underneath, where he's pulled away by an unseen creature. Bronwyn was born in this village, and it sounds like it might be the same one Halbrand is from. Apparently, the people here are known for having been particularly loyal to Morgoth. The orcs seem to have built a tunnel to invade the village and perhaps drag the inhabitants into the ground. But Halbrand conveniently made it out just fine. Hmm... 

When an orc attacks back in Tirharad, presumably using that tunnel they've built, we get a phenomenally tense horror sequence reminiscent of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. This might just be the scariest the orcs have ever been. More of that, please! Most intriguing of all, we see Theo, Bronwyn's son, come upon a broken sword emblazoned with the Sauron logo, which was apparently just lying underneath some floorboards. Some fans have theorized this weapon could be Gurthang, a legendary sword created by a Dark Elf and known as the "Iron of Death," which was used by a tragic hero named Túrin Turambar. But it could also just be a totally new weapon created for the series and presumably once used by Sauron. 

Because that clearly wasn't enough mysteries, the episode also sets up the question of who Theo's father is. All we get for now is that Theo insists he didn't run off, but he doesn't seem to know what happened to him. 

What's in the box?

At the end of the first episode, Elrond meets one of the show's most crucial characters: Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), the Elven smith who will eventually forge the Rings of Power and be deceived by Sauron. For now, though, Celebrimbor wants Elrond's help building a massive tower, which in his designs looks like it could be an early version of Barad-dûr, the tower Sauron will end up using in Mordor.

But Celebrimbor and Elrond need some serious manpower to build it — or, perhaps, Dwarf power. So Elrond heads to Khazad-dûm, a thriving Dwarven city, seeking to form an alliance with the Dwarves despite the animosity between the two races. Fans will recall seeing the ruins of Khazad-dûm, also known as Moria, in The Fellowship of the Ring. 

After Elrond's old friend Durin IV (Owain Arthur), prince of Khazad-dûm, gives him a hard time for essentially ghosting him for 20 years, he seems open to hearing him out about the project. Later, we see Khazad-dûm's king, Durin III (Peter Mullan), warning his son that the Elves can't be trusted and opening a chest filled with ... something. Might it be that jewel we've seen Durin holding in the trailers? A Silmaril? Some Mithril, the metal the Dwarves mined in Khazad-dûm and was used to make a vest given to Bilbo? Or whatever was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction?

By the way, good luck getting Bear McCreary's Khazad-dûm theme out of your head anytime soon. 

Tune in next time

And that's our premiere! The first two episodes do a solid job establishing the stakes and scale of the show, though some key players still haven't been introduced, namely the Númenóreans and characters who from the trailers look to be Sauron followers. 

But based on what we've already seen, it's safe to say Amazon has gotten its money's worth.

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