Warning: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Sauron has revealed himself. The Rings of Power played coy about which character would claim the title of the Dark Lord by the end of its first season. The mystery actually adhered fairly closely to The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings: In the mythology of Middle-earth, Sauron comes to the elves disguised as a “fair” man in order to trick them into forging the first three rings of power and learn their secrets in the process.
And while there were a few candidates on the show—the stranger who fell from the sky, the lord-father of the orcs, one of the creepy witches who liked to set things on fire—the top option has long been Halbrand, the long-lost King of the Southlands. Otherwise, his early encounter with Galadriel on the vast sea felt a little too random and fortuitious.
The man is indeed fair: He’s got Aragorn vibes. And in the final episode, Galadriel brings him to the elven kingdom to be healed from a wound. While he’s there he manages to bond with the smith Celebrimbor and make some helpful suggestions about the mithril he’s trying to forge. They don’t have much of the powerful metal from the dwarves’ caves. But perhaps they could make them into…rings?
Galadriel immediately becomes suspicious and soon confronts Halbrand. He concedes that, yes, he is Sauron, and hopes to restore order to Middle-earth. He offers her a place alongside him as his queen. Given the sexual tension these two have shared throughout the series, it’s not an unreasonable proposal. Plus, he makes the compelling argument that while he lusts for power, she has a good heart and would help him remain good rather than turning to evil. But when it becomes clear to Galadriel that Halbrand/Sauron cannot tell the difference between “saving” and “ruling” Middle-earth, she rejects his proposal.
Sauron enchants Galadriel, and when she awakes, he has disappeared. We see him briefly hiking toward Mount Doom—likely to marshal the orcs and claim his throne.
Galadriel may have been shocked by Halbrand’s true identity, but The Rings of Power has been dropping hints since the first episode, before Halbrand even appeared onscreen. Here is everything you missed.
Gil-galad said that Galadriel would actually bring back the evil she fought. He was right
Gil-galad isn’t the king of the elves for nothing. In the very first episode he predicted that Galadriel would accidentally usher back the great evil that she hunted. After he attempts to send her away from Middle-earth and back to Valinor to live out her days in the elf homeland, Gil-galad confers with Elrond.
“Galadriel was so certain her search should continue,” Elrond says.
“We foresaw that if it had, she might have inadvertently kept alive the very evil she sought to defeat,” Gil-galad replies. “For the same wind that seeks to blow out a fire may also cause its spread.”
And then, of course, in the very next episode she does just that. She leaps off the ship taking her away from Middle-earth, encounters Halbrand, and eventually saves his life, and in the process, accidentally helps bring Sauron back to power.
Halbrand let those other people on the raft die
Galadriel first encountered Halbrand during a terrible storm. He was set adrift on a raft with several other people. When a sea monster attacks their makeshift ship, Halbrand abandons those folks to their deaths. We overlook that particular cruelty because he saves Galadriel—though, of course, now we know he always intended to use Galadriel for his own purposes. Also, those other people on the boat were racist against elves (likely Southlanders like the ones who hated the elf soldier, Arondir), so we weren’t all that sad they drowned.
Still, you can judge people—or, erm, dark lords—by their actions, and Halbrand’s very first act was one of callousness if not cruelty.
Halbrand directs Galadriel towards the Southlands
Galadriel really got played this season. She is so hellbent on tracking down Sauron that she misses all the hints he may be standing right in front of her. Sauron takes advantage of her fury. When she interrogates him on the raft, he says that her enemy lies in the Southlands, thus precipitating a series of events in which Galadriel convinces the Númenóreans to travel to the Southlands with her and suffer great losses during the creation of Mount Doom
Halbrand said he had done bad things
When Galdriel and Halbrand have their heart-to-heart in a Númenórean jail, he tells her, “I am not the hero you seek.” At the time, he couches that statement in the context of his supposed ancestors swearing fealty to the Dark Lord Morgoth. (In reality, Sauron did that himself.) Galadriel should have listened.
Later, when Halbrand and Galadriel capture the orc-father Adar, an elf manipulated by dark magic who claims he killed Sauron, Galadriel tells him, “Whatever it was he did to you, and whatever it was you did, be free of it.”
He replies, “I never believed I could be until today,” hinting at some dark past with Adar.
Halbrand said he took the sigil of the king of the Southlands off a dead man
He didn’t lie! Given that the line died out 1,000 years ago, that means Sauron has been carrying around that sigil for many lifetimes just waiting to trick the elves. Sneaky.
Halbrand had an opportunity to switch out the weapon before it was given to Theo
Galadriel and Halbrand are able to capture Adar and take back what they think is the weapon that Theo found, a tool of Sauron that turns out to be a key that triggers the eruption of Mount Doom. In reality, Adar has given that tool to one of his followers and is carrying a fake to fool his captors.
It strains credulity to think that neither Halbrand nor Galadriel actually checked that bundle supposedly holding the tool before Galadriel handed it back to Theo after it was recovered. We know that Halbrand took it from Adar and held it. Most likely, he saw Adar’s trick and allowed it to transpire. Why Galadriel didn’t double check the contents of the cloth remains a mystery.
Halbrand refused to reveal his true identity to Adar
We still aren’t totally sure Halbrand/Sauron’s relationship to Adar. Adar is an elf who was manipulated with evil magic. He served under Morgoth and claims that he killed Sauron. He does not seem to recognize Halbrand as Sauron, and yet he carries out what we can assume is his master’s evil bidding by setting in motion the events that burn the Southlands and create Mordor.
At one point, Adar even asks Halbrand who he is, and Halbrand refuses to answer.
In the last episode, Halbrand says Adar was both his and Galadriel’s enemy. So perhaps Adar really did try to kill Sauron. He just didn’t succeed.
Halbrand actor Charlie Vickers offered some foreboding hints to TIME
During the interviews for TIME’s Rings of Power cover story, Charlie Vickers said of this character, “What happens when a man hasn’t been loved his whole life? I think often something like power fills that void.” And sure enough, it turns out that Hal really does covet power above all else.
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