The Rings of Power: Searching for Sauron in the First 2 Episodes

We dive into the premiere of Prime Video's Lord of the Rings prequel series to uncover secrets and speculate on its future.

by | September 7, 2022 | Comments

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Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

After five years of curious maps, teaser images, and wild speculation, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has finally arrived with a two-part premiere. The debut episodes, first and foremost, return viewers to Middle-earth. It is a familiar vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world, as the production leaned as heavily into the work of Middle-earth illustrator John Howe as Peter Jackson did for his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies (Howe worked on both). But beyond the recognizable architecture and clothing, Rings of Power also introduces viewers to a time thousands of years before the events of any of the films. It is a seeming age of peace that will, in time, be shattered as tensions rise and an evil fans know all too well returns to seize his moment.

But in the meantime, let’s take a look at what Rings of Power establishes about its world to see why this is the prelude to the Shadow’s return. Also, let’s make some educated guesses on where the Lord of the Rings really is as the series begins.

Galadriel’s Prologue

Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

When Rotten Tomatoes spoke with actor Morfydd Clark, who portrays a younger Galadriel in the series, she mentioned she was surprised to deliver the series’ prologue.

“I think it now makes sense to me. I love that the elves are the living embodiments of history,” she said. “With the prologue, it was like, [Galadriel] could be saying this at any time, because she exists always.”

Indeed, Galadriel’s status as the oldest living elf remaining in Middle-earth (more or less) was, ultimately, the reason Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens chose the character to bring audiences up to speed in their adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. But they only came upon that idea after several different approaches, including excising the prologue entirely.

For Rings of Power, though, a prologue is absolutely essential as it quickly sketches out all the important details a viewer will need to know about the First Age. Close readers of Tolkien’s stories will, of course, quibble with some of the details Galadriel glossed over, but the broad strokes are here: Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, destroyed the Two Trees which gave the realm of Valinor light in the eldest of elder days. Enraged at this, a group of elves journeyed to Middle-earth vowing to make war upon him. That conflict would last for centuries, but ultimately end with the Enemy cast out of the universe and his allies fleeing for cover.

Charles Edwards and Robert Aramayo in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Specific details matter in Tolkien tales and we imagine more of that history, as Clark suggested, will come to light as the series unfolds and the elves confront their role in it. In episode 2, for example, Elrond (Robert Aramayo) references Morgoth’s theft of the Silmarils, three magnificent jewels crafted by Celebrimbor’s (Charles Edwards) grandfather, Fëanor. That theft, as much as the destruction of the Two Trees, inspired the Elves to journey to Middle-earth. And the tale, particularly as Elrond described it, compels Celebrimbor to attempt a similar feat of craft — something that will make the god-like powers of the Earth cry.

Similarly, Galadriel focuses in on the death of her brother, Finrod (Will Fletcher), over her brothers because it ties into her fear of Sauron’s return. Also, the understanding that the elves fought Morgoth and Sauron for centuries should underscore High King Gil-Galad’s (Benjamin Walker) desire for an established (and announced) peace. The shot within the prologue of orc and elf alike drowning despite clear signs of a recent, fiery battle is the show’s only reference to a great upheaval at the end of the First Age that saw most of the settled regions in Middle-earth buried under the ocean. That cataclysm may also inspire Gil-Galad’s wish to look ahead and Celebrimbor’s plans to build on an epic scale — the world they knew in the First Age has literally been swept away by nearly a millennium of war and it is finally time to truly establish a new, peaceful, elven domain.

Which is all to say the prologue, in its own way, established that this is the time for Sauron to return.

Elrond and Durin Create Unexpected Ties

Owain Arthur in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Courtesy of Prime Video)

But before we get to the new Dark Lord, let’s focus for a moment on one of the more unlikely friendships the series establishes: Elrond and Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) of Khazad-Dûm. Although clearly angry about the perceived slights in regards to his wedding and the births of his children, Durin treasures the relationship he has with the elven diplomat. It is a new idea established for the series and creates an interesting demarcation from Tolkien’s lore. Although occasionally allies, the dwarves and elves are rarely friends, so the chummy nature of the duo’s relationship is fascinating to see. Although, it also echoes, in a way, the hospitality Elrond will show to Thorin and Company thousands of years later in The Hobbit.

It is also an interesting way to presage the friendship that will exist (for a short time, anyway) between Durin’s folk and the elves of Eregion. Eventually, Celebrimbor will gift them with a gate to Khazad-Dûm’s western entrance — the fabulous, password-locked door which is featured in The Lord of the Rings, but is notably missing in Rings of Power’s second episode. It is a present that feels more likely to be welcomed by a prince who managed to keep an elvish tree alive in the depths of the mountain than a king fearful of some other ambition emerging from Lindon.

Although, on the issue of Durin and his father — also named Durin — we’ll just note that having two Durins in the series creates an interesting tension, as the balrog sleeping deep beneath Khazad-Dûm is also known as “Durin’s Bane.”

Celebrimbor Crafts To Heal the World

Charles Edwards in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Frances Carter/Prime Video)

Coming back to Celebrimbor for a moment, his wish to create something as beautiful as the Silmarils — in fact, his belief that beautiful craftwork can heal Middle-earth itself — is not only the opening lines in one of the Second Age’s great tragedies, but a way for Sauron to, ultimately, deceive the Elf.

It also speaks to something Edwards mentioned himself when we talked to him about Celebrimbor’s goals. As he explained it, “Tolkien was very suspicious of the pursuit of science and machinery.” In Christopher Tolkien’s forward to The Silmarillion, a compilation of his father’s First Age tales, he also speaks of Tolkien’s wariness towards the elves’ love of craft and how their desire to create — an art best reserved for (essentially) God and the beings he charged to shape the world — brings about so much grief in their lives.

But at this point, a final lesson about elven craft is still in Celebrimbor’s future. Both he and Elrond look with full hearts to not only restore what has been lost in Middle-earth, but to forge something new. And their optimism is refreshing, even if we’ve walked through the rubble of their efforts in The Lord of the Rings, and, in the case of The Lords of the Rings Online, some of us have watched as our game avatars literally trek through those ruins.

Does Poppy Want an Adventure?

Megan Richards and Markella Kavenagh as Poppy and Nori in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

From these first episodes, it is easy to assume Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) is a backwards echo of beloved Hobbit companion Samwise Gamgee (played by Sean Astin in the Jackson films). Some differences are already apparent, though. As Richards put it when we asked if Poppy really wants an adventure, “She loves scolding Nori.” But like Sam, she follows Nori (Markella Kavenagh) “with a love and loyalty of her friendship.” Although, this is in itself different as issues of class have yet to appear in Harfoot society. Nori and Poppy appear as equals, where Sam is, ultimately, Frodo’s gardener.

Nevertheless, like’s Sam’s often-stated wish to see an elf before their quest begins, Richards said, “There is an intrigue within her. Poppy is so strong minded that she wouldn’t do anything that she doesn’t want to do. [And] it is exciting to get to go on those adventures.”

As the Harfoots are one of Tolkien’s least-detailed groups, it will be interesting to see how they — and Poppy and Nori in particularly — develop and depart from their Halfling successors as a culture and as characters.

Theo and the Dark Blade

Tyroe Muhafidin in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

While there is a lot of ground to cover in the Southlands — starting with Tirharad and the nearby Elf watchtower seemingly existing within the borders of Mordor — the broken blade Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) finds hidden in a barn near his home is one of the most provocative elements introduced in the region so far. It is easy to assume it is a Morgul blade, not unlike the one the Witch King of Angmar uses to stab Frodo on Weathertop, but its design and ability to regenerate with a little blood sacrifice is altogether new and disturbing. The word “morgul” translates to “black sorcery ” or “necromancy,” and Galadriel’s highlighting of Sauron as a sorcerer in the prologue would suggest the sword ties back to him.

There are a handful of famous swords in Middle-earth: Narsil – the sword that will cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand – and its reforged form, Andruil; First Age blades Orcrist and Glamdring, which will come into the possession of Thorin and Gandalf; and another pair of First Age swords that were forged from a meteorite while another would end up becoming the sword wielded by the Kings of Númenór. But of all the First Age swords Tolkien named, none are associated with the Enemy. The only dark weapon of note in the Elder Days was Morgoth’s mace, Grond, which would inspire the name of the battering ram used against Minas Tirith in The Return of the King.

Of course, it is too early to speculate what the blade means for Theo and his village – they have more immediate problems to deal with – but we can’t help but wonder if Theo is, perhaps, the Witch-King as a boy. The character’s origins are never spelled out by Tolkien, meaning it is possible he will end up possessing one of the Nine Rings given to mortal men. His experience with the blade may also lead him down a road of sorcery that will lead, inevitably, to Sauron.

Where, Oh Where, Has Our Dark Lord Gone?

Daniel Weyman in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power character poster

(Photo by Courtesy of Prime Video)

And that brings us to the Dark Lord himself. Although he rarely leaves Galadriel’s thoughts, the rest of Middle-earth seems ready to write him off for good. But we all know how this works and that he is out there somewhere, perhaps even in plain sight.

The most obvious possibility is, of course, The Stranger (Daniel Weyman). He speaks a language Poppy and Nori cannot parse. He exhibits an ability to sum up resources like Gandalf when challenged and can seemingly absorb the lifeforce of others (fireflies for example) to aid his own designs. The wonder and apparent threat of the character makes him a prime suspect, but we think this is a red herring (or a Middle-earth equivalent). He may be of the Maiar, the same order of being as Gandalf and Sauron, but we doubt his humbled appearance and circumstances are something the prideful Sauron could abide for more than a second.

Another possibility: He is already in contact with Celebrimbor. According to Tolkien, Sauron appears to him as Annatar, a fair elf with a knowledge of ringlore. Annatar’s own design may be the reason Celebrimbor needs to build his forge by the spring. If this is the case, Sauron will appear as one of the most fair Elves ever to be seen and will, no doubt, inspire a robust #SexySauron community online.

Charlie Vickers as Halbrand in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Matt Grace/Prime Video)

Meanwhile, the Dark Lord could be hiding in Galadriel’s midst as the wandering Halbrand (Charlie Vickers). Handsome, mysterious, unscrupulous, and seemingly on the run, Sauron could be adopting his sympathetic form and story to gather direct intel on his only apparent opponent. And considering that the pair are about to make their way to Númenór, it may also be an opportunity for Sauron to learn more about a potential foe across the sea. But like The Stranger, he may also be a too-obvious place for Sauron to hide.

Referring back to Tolkien, his tendency was to retreat to the East to rebuild his strength and armies. So, perhaps, that will be where we find him in a few episodes’ time.

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