Warning: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Production of the second season of The Rings of Power is already underway in England. And while the first season did tie up several mysteries—including the identity of Sauron and how he factored into the creation of the first three rings of power—there are plenty of questions that the next entry in the Lord of the Rings prequel will need to answer.
In the final episode of season one we found out that Halbrand was, in fact, Sauron and has been manipulating Galadriel in order to access knowledge that only elves have. We also learned that the three witchy women following the Meteor Man who fell from the sky were wrong to assume the bearded stranger was the Dark Lord. In fact, the Stranger is a wizard—though which wizard remains to be seen. We also got tantalizing teases, like Isildur’s sister Eärien gazing into the Palantir, Nori deciding to head eastward with the Stranger to confront the evil laying in wait there, and a namecheck for Galadriel’s long-lost husband Celeborn.
But where, exactly, are all these clues leading? We make some educated guesses and beg showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay to offer up more answers next season.
Is the Stranger Gandalf?
We learn at the end of the first season that the Stranger is, indeed, a wizard. (Not Sauron, as the three zealots who hunted him down assumed.) We also learn that he’s a “good” wizard, and he declares himself as such to the three witches before banishing them to the darkness. But which wizard is he?
There are five candidates: Gandalf, Sauron, Radagast, or two Blue Wizards whose deeds are a bit more murky in Tolkien’s writings. There are arguments for each. The Blue Wizards ventured into the far east, as the Stranger is now doing with Nori by his side. The Stranger has exhibited an ability for darker magic, and we know that Sauron begins good but is corrupted by evil.
But, most likely, this character is Gandalf. At the end of the season finale, Gandalf advises Nori, “When in doubt, Elanor Brandifoot, always follow your nose.” Gandalf utters this line, word for word, to the hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring. Still, we’ll need confirmation in the second season.
Is Sauron’s quest for redemption over?
Tolkien wrote that Sauron went through phases, including one where he briefly sought redemption after the fall of Morgoth. Toward the end of the season Galadriel advises Halbrand to let go of whatever evil he did to Adar or Adar did to him. Of course when she tells him this, she has no idea the extent of Halbrand’s bad deeds as the evil Sauron—including the murder of her brother.
But Sauron does seem to take these words to heart. He says that he likes the way he feels fighting beside Galadriel. Perhaps there’s a glimmer of good there. He even envisions a future in which Galadriel is his queen, and they rule together, a sort of balance of light and dark.
In the finale, Halbrand, after helping Galadriel defeat Adar, tempts her with an offer to become his queen and rule over Middle-earth. The offer mirrors the moment in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo offers the one ring and the unmatched power that comes with it to Galadriel. (It also echoes the Star Wars scene in which Kylo Ren turns on his evil Sith master and asks Rey to bring order to the galaxy alongside him. In both cases, the man rejects the notions of good and evil and only envision a world of power and order.)
In both this moment and later in Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel rejects the offer of unlimited power, knowing that she would become a tyrant queen.
So will Sauron now give up on his half-hearted effort to be good—or at least not outright evil? Probably.
What happened between Adar and Sauron?
Clearly there is a lot of history between these two servants of Morgoth. When Halbrand and Galadriel captured Adar, Adar seemed not to recognize Halbrand as Sauron. Adar also claimed to have killed Sauron after watching Sauron experiment on the orcs, whom Adar sees as his children.
It’s possible Adar was pretending not to recognize Sauron as part of a ruse. But Adar also may truly think he did kill Sauron, but he failed and now the dark lord has returned in a disguise. That interpretation would align with Tolkien’s writings that Sauron came to the elves disguised as someone “fair” to hide his true, foul identity. Halbrand is his disguise.
If Adar thinks Sauron is dead, he’s in for a rude awakening when Halbrand makes his way to the newly-created Mordor. Hopefully we’ll get more backstory on what went down when Adar tried to murder Sauron.
Where is Galadriel’s husband?
In the penultimate episode of the first season of The Rings of Power, Galadriel mentions that along with her brother, she also lost her husband, Celeborn. Unless the show is radically breaking from Tolkien’s lore, we know the husband that Galadriel presumes to be dead is, in fact, alive.
Celeborn plays a crucial role in fighting Sauron and sits by Galadriel’s side ruling over Lothlórien in The Lord of the Rings. (In the movie version of The Return of the King, he leads a siege against Sauron’s forces off-camera.) Perhaps even more essential to Tolkien’s lore, Celeborn and Galadriel give birth to Celebrían. Celebrían marries Elrond and gives birth to Arwen, the elf who eventually weds Aragorn.
It’s clear why the showrunners didn’t want Celeborn hanging around in season one: They wanted to float the possibility that Galadriel and Halbrand have a romantic connection and to tempt Galadriel with the possibility of becoming Sauron’s queen.
Galadriel’s rejection of Sauron clears the way of Celeborn’s return. But we’re going to need some idea of where he’s been since he was lost in the war against Morgoth. It’s strange that Galadriel spoke so often of her dead brother but only once about her dead husband. And while she spent years searching for her enemy, Sauron, she hasn’t seemed to spend any time searching for her beloved. Those motives, too, deserve an explanation.
Why is Galadriel hiding Sauron’s identity?
After Galadriel confronts Halbrand, he bewitches her and escapes. Elrond finds Galadriel and wakes her. Elrond directly asks Galadriel what happened to Halbrand. She says that he left and will probably not return. She advises Celebrimbor and Elrond that if Halbrand does return, they should not work with him again. Elrond presses her for more information, but she insists that he must trust her.
Why doesn’t Galadriel share Halbrand’s true identity? Is she worried she will be blamed for bringing Sauron into the land of the elves? Has she been swayed by Halbrand’s argument that she ought to “touch the darkness” in order to form the rings the elves need to stay on Middle-earth? Is she tempted by the power of the rings?
Returning to that pivotal Fellowship of the Rings scene in which Galadriel rejects the one ring offered by Frodo, perhaps power does play some role. When Galadriel turns down the ring, she says that she has “passed the test.” She seems relieved, perhaps because she failed to pass a test once before.
In theory Galadriel, knowing that Sauron had a hand in the creation of the three rings the elves keep for themselves, should want them destroyed. No doubt, if she told Gil-galad about Halbrand’s true identity he would order the powerful objects destroyed. Could the corrupting powers of the rings already be working their magic on Galadriel and convinced her to lie?
What’s going on in Rhûn?
It seems that the second season of The Rings of Power will be heading east to Rhûn, the lands where Sauron builds his army. The Stranger and Nori head in that direction in the season finale.
What exactly is going on in Rhûn remains mysterious. We know that the three zealots who followed the Stranger, thinking he was Sauron, hail from there. And we know that the Stranger landed in Middle-earth he remembered little but constellations that would lead him to Rhûn.
Now that we know the Stranger is a wizard, not Sauron, it would seem he was destined to head east and fight evildoers there. But we still have a lot of questions about this mysterious land. How did the zealots learn about the Stranger and why were they so convinced he was Sauron? Is everyone in the east just waiting for Sauron’s return? Will Halbrand head there?
How did Isildur survive?
Spoiler alert: Isildur is not dead. Isildur is the man who eventually cuts the ring from the hand of Sauron. But he’s too power-hungry to throw the ring into the fires of Mount Doom as Elrond instructs him. His is a tragic story, though he turns out to be the ancestor to Aragorn.
The showrunners have said they want to show how Isildur went from ambitious soldier to the man who could not destroy the ring. We’re just at the beginning of that journey, though his adventures in the Southlands will probably play a major role in forming the man who he becomes.
Last we saw Isildur, a burning house fell on him as he was trying to save some Southlanders after the eruption of Mount Doom. He’s presumed dead by the queen and his father. I’m guessing Isildur’s horse, which refuses to board the ship heading back to Númenor, and gallops away, is heading back towards the house that fell on Isildur to search for his rider.
But that still leaves Isildur stuck in what is now Mordor at the beginning of season two. We’ll surely learn not only how he escaped that burning building, but how he survived in a barren land overrun with orcs. Perhaps he will even encounter Halbrand/Sauron, who headed in that direction in the season one finale.
How will the Númenóreans react to their defeat?
Queen Regent Míriel is having a rough few weeks. Not only was she blinded during the eruption of Mount Doom, but she likely has lost the confidence of her men. After all, she defied the elf-hating faction of her court by agreeing to Galadriel’s plan of sailing for the Southlands in the first place. Now that she has led her men into slaughter, she’s likely returning to a rather hostile kingdom who will find yet another reason to hate the elves.
Plus, Míriel’s father, the king, has died, leaving her in a precarious position. Even as she ascends to her queendom, she’ll only be able to rule as long as she has the loyalty of her subjects. That’s now in question.
What did Eärien see in the Palantir?
It was a brief moment in the finale, but Isildur’s sister Eärien was sitting in the king’s chambers sketching his likeness for a tribute. The king, dying, confuses Eärien with his own daughter Míriel and tells her to go gaze into the Palantir that he has stowed away upstairs. He warns the woman that is she stares too long she will confuse past with future, fiction with reality, as he now does.
Eärien approaches the Palantir, but we don’t see her gaze into it. Given the king’s foreboding warning, it’s possible that she too grows confused by what she sees and gives information to either her father—or, more likely, the queen’s advisor Pharazôn—that proves false or problematic.
We saw Eärien bonding with Pharazôn’s son earlier in the season and being swayed by some anti-elf rhetoric despite her father’s pro-elf stance. It’s possible she’ll blame Galadriel for the (supposed) death of her beloved brother.
Where is Círdan?
We know that the three rings created by and for the elves are worn by Eldrond, Galadriel, and Círdan the Shipwright, who has not yet been introduced to the series. But the showrunners told TIME that Círdan will be joining the cast in season two. Círdan is one of the oldest elves. He has a beard, apparently an indication of his age since the vast majority of elves are clean shaven and perhaps can’t even grow beards, according to Tolkien’s writings. He eventually surrenders the ring to Gandalf.
How will Arondir, Theo, and Bronwyn factor into Season 2 (if at all)?
Some of the best and most tense moments of the series took place in the Southlands, from Theo and his mother Bronwyn killing that orc in their home to Arondir’s escape from Adar’s prison to the epic Helm’s Deep-esque showdown between Adar and the Southland people in the sixth episode. But now that Adar has successfully executed his plan—or, well, Sauron’s plan—to turn the Southlands into Mordor, and the people have been forced to take refuge elsewhere, it’s unclear what role this trio will have in the next season.
For that matter, can Arondir and Bronwyn finally be together? Theo seems to have accepted the romance between elf and mortal, but Middle-earth society at large hasn’t been wild about those pairings in the past (or the future).
What about that Balrog though?
So remember when we zoomed down to the bottom of the dwarf mine Khazad-dûm and there was a Balrog dwelling there—the very same Balrog that we know will destroy the mine and eventually fight to the death with Gandalf? He’s definitely going to show up again. It’s just a matter of how soon.
Prince Durin spent much of this season arguing with his father about whether to dig further into the mine to secure more mithril, the precious metal that the elves wind up using to forge their three rings. King Durin thinks it’s too dangerous (he’s right!). But Prince Durin and his wife Disa want to delve deeper—despite the perils—in order to help their friend Elrond, who says the mithril is the only thing that will save the elves, whose light is fading and otherwise must leave Middle-earth.
Now Elrond has (sort of) solved the elves’ problem by giving what little mithril he did have to Celebrimbor to forge the rings. He created another major problem in the process by revealing this metal and method of forging rings of power to none other than Sauron, but we all make mistakes.
So why would the dwarves dig for more mithril now? The Tolkien mythology suggests they grew greedy, but it may be more complicated than that. Prince Durin has expressed a desire not only to help his friend but to distinguish himself from his father and prove ambitious and great in his own right. Disa has also advocated for digging deeper, and while she has been a jolly character up until this point, her whispers to her husband about his father trying to hold him back had serious Lady Macbeth vibes.
Anyway, the Balrog is there in the mine, and it seems rude to show a teaser of him in season one and then force the audience to wait several seasons before we see him again.
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