Spoiler Alert: This article is a recap of Episode 8 of The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power. Please watch the show before reading, currently streaming on Prime Video.
And so, here we are, at the end of the long and strange trip that has been the Season 1 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. And we now know who Sauron is. Yes, it’s Halbrand (Charlie Vickers). We know who the Stranger is…sorta. Oh, and three Rings of Power were forged, quickly. It all just kind of happened. And then the season ended.
Every Thursday night, for over a month now, I get all excited about watching the Rings of Power the next morning. Every Friday night, once the episode’s settled into my brain, I ask myself, “Why?” Why do I bother? What’s the point? At the end of Season 1, I finally know the answer. I bloody well love Middle-earth! It’s geography, it’s peoples, forests, rivers, songs, deep history, have all fascinated me for over thirty years. It’s just a thrill to be able to see all this on screen, even if the plot is a zombified mess that just lurches along in fits and starts.
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The premise of the first season has been based on mysteries: who is the Stranger (Daniel Weyman)? And who exactly is Sauron? Are they the same? By the end of last week’s episode, all this had seemed like a misdirection. Perhaps none of the people we’ve met so far is actually Sauron. Maybe we’d find the Dark Lord in Eregion, whispering sweet nothings about rings into Celebrimbor’s (Charles Edwards) ear. Well, it turns out that Halbrand was Sauron all along. Which isn’t surprising, since Halbrand has been dropping pretty heavy hints along the way. It’s just that it seems ridiculous that Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) wouldn’t have had some suspicions about the strange man she met on a raft in the middle of the sea. But then again, the show’s version of Galadriel isn’t really very bright.
The season finale is primarily set in Eregion and in Greenwood, with a brief (and pointless) side trip to Númenor. So, instead of a scene-by-scene breakdown, here are the main storylines in the episode.
Wandering about in Greenwood with Nori’s (Markella Kavenagh) apple, the Stranger glimpses someone from the corner of his eyes. He follows this mysterious person, who turns out to be Nori. But just a second later ‘Nori’ changes into the Dweller (Bridie Sisson). Then the other two creepy people come out of the forest, and one of them, the Ascetic (Kali Kopae), tells the Stranger he is Sauron and that they are there to serve him.
They tell him that they’re from the far eastern lands of Rhûn and that the constellation that the Stranger has been searching for, can be seen only from there. They plan to carry the Stranger there, and lift the “veil” from his mind, so he can fully become himself. All this is too much of an information overload for the Stranger, who starts doing his wild tree-bending, shouty magic again. The ascetics subdue him to keep him calm.
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But the Harfoots are nearby and the ascetics sense them. Nori tries to free The Stranger, who has been tied up, but it turns out to be the Dweller in disguise. As she’s about to grab Nori, Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) comes to the rescue. But then the Nomad shows up and stabs Burrows with a hunting knife. As the ascetics round on Nori, the Stranger shows up and hits them with an air blast. The Dweller then subdues the Stranger with her staff, in moves reminiscent of Saruman’s fight with Gandalf in the Peter Jackson films.
The Dweller then turns her attention onto the Harfoots. Just as she’s about to crisp them with her fireballs, the Stranger grabs her staff and quenches the Dweller’s magical fires. The ascetics now realise that the Stranger is not Sauron but an istar—Wizard. “I’m good!” shouts the Stranger and obliterates the ascetics into a pile of steaming butterflies. Sadoc Burrows, however, cannot survive the stab wound and dies. It’s sad to see Sadoc go, he really grew on me over the course of the season.
Back at the Harfoots’ Grove, the tribe make plans to move on from their burnt caravans. But Nori decides to go to Rhûn with the Stranger. A Wizard and a Hobbit adventuring together doesn’t seem so strange for the show, given how indebted it seems to the Lord of the Rings movies, but I wish they had taken Poppy (Megan Richards)—a proper Sam to Nori’s Frodo—on the trip. The Stranger and Nori look to the horizon. Which way should we go, asks Nori. In the direction where the air feels fresh, says the Stranger. Always follow your nose, he adds. And with that, it is now inevitable that fans will spend the next two years till Season 2 wondering if the Stranger is Gandalf. Another sodding mystery!
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Over at Eregion, Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Celebrimbor are sighing over their lack of mithril. Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) is due for arrival, and they have to tell them the truth. Just as they are talking, Galadriel and Halbrand arrive, after six days of hard gallop—according to Galadriel—from Mordor. As the Elves tend to Halbrand’s wound, Elrond and Galadriel have a chat. Why are you here, asks Galadriel. No, why are you here, counters Elrond. But he doesn’t persist in his questioning, and says he’s happy to see her.
Halbrand seems magically healed, because we next see him wandering about in Celebrimbor’s workshop. He flatters the Elven smith with high words of praise, and takes great interest in three jewels and the shard of mithril. He suggests to Celebrimbor that if the mithril isn’t enough, then the Elves should make an alloy from it to harness its properties. Apparently, such a thing hadn’t occurred to the greatest smith of the Age. “Call it a gift,” says Halbrand, cementing the fact that he is indeed Sauron and the show’s equivalent of Annatar—the bearer of gifts—who, in JRR Tolkien’s version, is the “fair form” of Sauron. In the books, Annatar-Sauron gains Celebrimbor’s trust, and over 300 years, helps the Elves of Eregion craft 16 Rings of Power.
But the show doesn’t want to spend 300 years doing so, it only has three weeks, before the Elves are to depart Middle-earth forever. Celebrimbor is impressed with Halbrand’s knowledge, and this raises Galadriel’s suspicions, finally! It solidifies when he hears Celebrimbor say things like how the Rings will give them “a power over flesh, over the seen and the Unseen worlds”. After ignoring Halbrand’s assertions all season that he is not who he seems, now Galadriel is worried. She digs through the Southlands’ kings genealogies and finds out that the last king died a thousand years ago, without leaving an heir.
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As the forging proceeds, with timely brainwaves from Halbrand guiding Celebrimbor, Galadriel decides to confront Halbrand. Halbrand smirks and tells Galadriel that he did say that he’d taken the Southlands sigil from a dead man. As Galadriel pushes him to identify himself, Halbrand says that he has been around from before the beginning of time, and is known by many names. Yikes!
In the altercation that follows, the show’s Sauron comes across as a curious character. He wants Galadriel to trust his good intentions, saying that with Morgoth’s fall, he felt free again, and repentant. That he wants to bring peace and order to Middle-earth, just like the Elves do, and for that, he needs Galadriel by his side. But he also wants absolute power and dominion over everyone. When Galadriel is unwilling to either forgive him or join him, Sauron gaslights her by throwing all her words of encouragement to him over the course of the season, back at her. Sauron the “Deceiver” indeed! Speaking lines lifted straight from Galadriel’s speech to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, he promises to make her more powerful than the “foundations of the earth”. He will give her power, if only she lends him her innate “light” (we know by now that the showrunners believe that Elves are like magical batteries).
Galadriel is understandably horrified, and for once, her cussedness comes good. She tries to kill Sauron a couple of times with her brother’s knife, but Sauron leaves her drowning in a stream, and vanishes. Elrond finds Galadriel and saves her. Back at the forge, Galadriel tersely tells Celebrimbor and Elrond that Halbrand is gone and that they won’t see her again. But she doesn’t tell them that Halbrand is actually Sauron! What a weirdo this Galadriel is! Finally, after an entire season of foot dragging, the three Elven Rings of Power are created in about 5 minutes!
The camera lingers on the Rings, zooming in and zooming out, before the shot cuts to Sauron, now dressed in chic black, complete with a flowing cloak, looking fondly at Mount Doom and Mordor. He’s got orcs to reclaim, Adar to kill and the One Ring to forge. Bye season 1.
Oh, and over at Númenor, the old king dies, Elendil’s clueless daughter sees the Palantir, and Míriel’s ship sails into the harbour. That’s it.
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-The pacing of this show is nearly as bad as the writing. In the season finale itself, Nori’s farewells to the Harfoots takes up more screentime than the actual forging of the Rings of Power. Galadriel remains duped for a whole season, and suddenly cottons on to Sauron in a few minutes. The forging of the Rings, which is a long and difficult endeavour, with Sauron working with Celebrimbor over centuries, is similarly, ridiculously, condensed. The show has given more time to Theo sulking and whining than to the creation of the Rings.
-At first, the show’s callbacks to the Peter Jackson films felt charming. But after a season’s worth of lifting scenes, scenarios and dialogues, it just feels derivative now. For instance, what is the need for the Stranger to speak Gandalf’s lines to Nori? Has Gandalf been giving generations of Hobbits across thousands of years the same little nugget of wisdom? If the Harfoots’ tale in the story had ended with Season 1, it would have been neat. After all, the Hobbits and their ancestors specialized in staying outside of recorded history, and thus preserving themselves. It would have been nice for the Harfoots to have entered the stage, done something consequential, and then exited quietly. But no, the show is so unsure of itself that it must have a Gandalf-like Wizard and a Frodo/Bilbo-like Harfoot team up.
-I had been hoping that Halbrand wouldn’t turn out to be Sauron, but it’s been more or less clear since at least Episode 6 that this would be the case. So, the reveal certainly does not land. And that’s the problem with crafting a TV show based around mysteries. Once they are revealed, it becomes patently clear that it was all just window-dressing to hide the non-existent plot.
-If Sauron has been unmasked, then how will the nine rings for Men and six rings for Dwarves be forged? In Tolkien’s lore, Sauron helps Celebrimbor make the 16 rings and then leaves. Only then does the Elf make the three Elven Rings, without Sauron’s corrupting influence. So, does Halbrand-Sauron return to Celebrimbor in Season 2? Have the other Rings been forged off-screen? If the Rings aren’t at Eregion, it takes away all of Sauron’s motivation to attack (as he later does). What’s going on?
-When Season 2 returns, will I watch it? You bet! It’s a perverse delight.