[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Season 1 finale, “Alloyed.”]
There were a few cards that “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” hadn’t really played yet. It’s a show that has largely stayed strong on its own merits, even when tossing in some nods to the entry point that a majority of viewers are most familiar with.
On some level, the identities of Sauron and Stranger were going to consume everything else in this season finale like a supernova. That’s partly due to the slow-plays and misdirects that have been built into the season to this point, and it’s also a symptom of how genre TV gets absorbed now. Regardless of the reason, “Rings of Power” was a little less coy at the close of Season 1.
As anyone looking to dissect the finale has no doubt seen by now, “Alloyed” ripped off the Sauron mask with a wry smile. A cold open fakeout pointed three witchy fingers at the guy who came crashing down on a meteor. But as Galadriel finds out in a streamside confrontation not too far from the forges where those Rings of Power are being made, the real Sauron was the friends we pulled out of the sea along the way. Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) isn’t in search of repairing some broken line of kings. He’s the Dark Lord looking to rule them all.
It’s curious that both of the finale’s big character reveals take place in altered realities. Halbrand (Sauron? Saubrand? Halron?) toys with Galadriel’s consciousness, porting into her memories to sway her to his cause. In one of the more sinister proposals in this or any other universe, he shows her the prospect of them commanding the darkness together. And he uses some memorable language to do so.
The phrase “stronger than the foundations of the Earth” is enough to set off a totalitarian alarm bell or five, and it’s also a direct nod to one of the more striking moments in the 2000s film trilogy, when Galadriel herself echoes those same words. That specific phrase is taken directly from Tolkien, and “Rings of Power” goes a step further by adding in some extra phrasing (“fair as the Sea and the Sun”) that Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson chose to reword in their version of the Frodo-Galadriel temptation sequence. That handshake between adaptations and source material, coupled with the way that director Wayne Che Yip helps bring to life those quasi-dream sequences, is a key middle ground that the show can take advantage of going forward.
Ben Rothstein/Prime Video
It’s a tactic the show used for its other season-capping explanation. It didn’t take long after The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) did a bit of palm whispering for folks to assume that this tall gangly miracle-maker dressed in grey was our old pal Gandalf. “Rings of Power” stops just short of using that name explicitly, but it was another film trilogy nod that sealed the deal. His final words (“When in doubt….follow your nose”) to Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) are a mirror of ones spoken to another smaller traveling companion while stuck in Moria.
Weyman had a few episodes’ worth of screen time to really play with the physicality of The Stranger. Now, with a much fuller ability to speak, he’s leaning into the Gandalfian cadence of the words, not just in the lines said by the last guy who played the character. Yet, it’s still not outright mimicking. There’s a kind of origin story leeway that will give Weyman room to find his own spin on the Istari.
The two reveals will dominate discussion of the season — how effective they were and whether they do enough to build sustainable momentum for a show with broader ambitions — but they also help to emphasize the elements of this episode that were its own creation. Being atomized into glowing butterflies probably doesn’t bode well for the trio in search of The Stranger. In a show with fairly defined lines between the Light and the Dark, this season benefited from having three agents of chaos who seemed capable of having one foot on each side. Characters made specifically for the series, they were maybe the best illustration of how these individuals are defined by what they do with the power they have.
So on some level, it will be sad if those three were essentially sacrificed as part of a Gandalf-based identity trial. It was the force that balanced out the quick glimpses of the Balrog and the presence of Isildur and everything that “Rings of Power” included to show that this wasn’t a completely disconnected story in this world. We’ll have to wait a while to see what Season 2 brings, but the show is definitely at a point now where the Tolkien connective tissue is more text than subtext.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Season 1 is now available to stream on Prime Video.