‘LOTR: The Rings of Power’ Finale: Sauron & The Stranger Identities Revealed (RECAP)
[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power finale.]
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power finale unveiled its ultimate villain. The episode premiered Friday, October 14 on Prime Video, and as the trailer promised, evil did indeed reveal itself. It was so packed with new information, there was no time for appearances from Arondir, Bronwyn, Theo, Prince Durin, and Princess Disa, or even an update on Isildur. While we know he can’t be dead because of the character’s importance in the story’s future, learning what happened to Isildur after the eruption of Mount Doom will have to wait until Season 2.
We get short appearances from Elendil (Lloyd Owen) and Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), as well as Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle) and Eärien (Ema Horvath), but the episode largely took place in two infamous Middle-earth locations.
Here, we break down the main events of the epic Rings of Power finale and the long-awaited answers they revealed.
The episode begins with what seemed to be the Sauron reveal, with The Stranger encountering the mysterious White Cloak figures in Greenwood the Great, per Sadoc Burrows’ suggestion at the end of Episode 7. The forest is also known as Mirkwood, Eryn Galen, and later Eryn Lasgalen. Mirkwood is where Bilbo Baggins and the band of Dwarves encounter many dangers in The Hobbit, and the locale proves just as dangerous for The Stranger (Daniel Weyman), Nori (Markella Kavenagh), Poppy (Megan Richards), Goldie (Sara Zwangobani), and Sadoc (Sir Lenny Henry).
The mystical, evil beings tell The Stranger that he is Lord Sauron, and his lack of language and memory are the product of a magical veil placed by his enemies. They undo the spell, unlocking even more power than we’ve seen him display. The Sauron worshippers tell The Stranger they will take him to the lands of Rhûn to restore his strength and powers. In the books, Rhûn is home to the Easterlings, Men of Darkness who were ready to serve the Dark Lords, and other malicious beings. These mystics appear to be from there.
Elsewhere, Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) rides for six days straight with the injured Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) to get him to Eregion for medical aid. She’s reunited with Elrond (Robert Aramayo) upon arrival, who believed her to be home in Valinor. High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) will soon to arrive to see what Elven race-saving solution Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) and Elrond devised for the mithril, but they have no ideas.
The healed Halbrand offers his smithing skills to aid Celebrimbor in his forge, theorizing that the mithril could be combined with other ores, making the resulting materials lighter, but stronger. “Call it a gift,” Halbrand tells Celebrimbor of this shared wisdom.
Celebrimbor and Elrond pitch this new idea to Gil-galad, suggesting they use the mithril to make a round item (!) so the ore’s power would remain unbroken. It’s not a ring they suggest, but rather a crown for Gil-galad, which he rejects. Galadriel is present for this moment, and the angry Celebrimbor then says something that changes everything. Quoting Adar (Joseph Mawle) after the Battle of the Southlands, Celebrimbor says the mithril is a chance to have power “not of the flesh, but over flesh.” Adar said Sauron “sought to craft a power not of the flesh, but over flesh. A power of the Unseen World” in Episode 6. But how does Celebrimbor know that phrase? Galadriel asks the same question.
“Was Halbrand with you?” she asks the smith, who gives a vague response. She then has an Elf secretly look into Eregion’s history of the Southlands and its rulers. Halbrand then approaches her, thanking her for getting him this far. He places a hand on her shoulder and says he’ll never forget her aid, “And I’ll see to it that no one else does either.” Galadriel’s suspicion makes this remark feel more like a threat.
Back in Mirkwood, the mystics feel The Stranger/Sauron’s magic is growing too powerful, too fast, so they place the magical veil again, subduing him with magic, and bind him to a tree. That’s when the Harfoots appear to help him escape. The fight that follows sees Sadoc stabbed (not Sadoc!), but The Stranger joins the fight and helps his Harfoot friends.
“Make him see,” one mystic says to another, who then uses dark magic to undo the veil once more. He takes their staff and puts on a display of magic that makes the dark beings realize they were wrong. The Stranger is not Sauron — he’s “Istar,” a Wizard. “I am good,” he declares before sending the mystics “back to the darkness” from whence they came. Their bodies turn to illuminated skeletons, and then into moths that crumble and fade away, implying they were Nazgûl the whole time.
With The Stranger eliminated from the list of Sauron possibilities, it falls to Galadriel to figure out the mystery. To her horror, the Southlands succession history reveals the last king of the Southlands died over 1,000 years before and had no heir. She tells Halbrand this while standing by a stream, and then the reveal: “I told you I took this off a dead man,” Halbrand says of the Southlands sigil he’s worn all season long.
With that, it’s confirmed: Halbrand is Sauron. And he appears to have used the appearance of a dead man to magically create his Halbrand exterior. Galadriel then gets a firsthand account of the Dark Lord’s powers of manipulation. Maintaining his Halbrand appearance, Sauron uses his magic to throw Galadriel into her memories, starting with her first scene in Valinor with brother Finrod.
The fake Finrod tries to convince Galadriel to join the darkness, as Sauron has a “pure” mission to “heal” Middle-earth. The next scene takes her back to the Sundering Seas raft where she first met Halbrand. There, Sauron tells her that he had a change of faith after Morgoth was defeated. What Morgoth wanted was evil, he says, what he wants is pure.
Galadriel tries to make sense of it all, asking how this could be when he fought for the Southlands with her. “I wanted to stay in Númenor,” he says, but he left to stay at her side. And he wasn’t fighting for the Southlands, but rather against their shared enemy, Adar.
An emotional connection was teased between the two in Episode 7, and Halbrand meant what he said. He asks Galadriel to be his queen as they rule over Middle-earth, for he won’t be dark with her by his side. She “binds him to the light,” he says, and he “binds her to power” in return. He actually believes he can do good, but of course, his definition of good is a terrifying one. The camera flips and shows their reflections in the water, but with Galadriel in a white gown and Halbrand with the full Sauron armor and mask.
It’s a direct callback to Episode 1, when young Galadriel says “sometimes the lights that shine are just as brightly reflected in the water as they are in the sky. It’s hard to say which way is up and which way is down. How am I to know which lights to follow?” As Finrod responds, “Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.” Galadriel’s journey was laid out for viewers from the very beginning, culminating in her choosing against the corruption of goodness.
Galadriel powerfully rejects Sauron, and he gets angry, making threats about how she will be punished when the Elves find out she helped him all this time. She vows she will be the end of him, and when she awakes from the trance, she emerges from the stream to find Halbrand missing.
If this reveal weren’t thrilling enough, we get another with the Istar. As Nori leaves her family and Poppy behind to go on an adventure with the Wizard, he suggests they choose their path with this piece of wisdom: “When in doubt, Elanor Brandyfoot, follow your nose.” Gandalf, is that you?! While the Wizard does not reveal his name, this (paraphrased) line is one of Gandalf’s most famous from the book and movies. But perhaps this is meant to be conventional Istar wisdom in The Rings of Power, as characters in the show have said book lines that weren’t originally theirs throughout the season. This could leave the door open for him to be any of the five Istari wizards. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in Season 2, currently in production.
Having met her true enemy (and keeping this information to herself), Galadriel now knows she needs protection against him for all Middle-earth. She goes to Celebrimbor’s forge, where he has nearly broken all of his equipment trying to break down the mithril to combine it with other ores. Galadriel, Celebrimbor, and Elrond think an even smaller item than a crown will need to be made. They settle on one ring, but then Galadriel says they need three for balance (“Three rings for the Elven kings under the sky…”). Rather than force the mithril, they coax it by melting it down with other metals, but just any won’t do. He needs the purest samples — ones from Valinor.
Galadriel melts down her brother’s dagger, and the gold and silver — combined with the mithril and jewels — make three rings powerful enough to save the Elven race and all of Middle-earth (they hope). The final shots of the season show a closeup of the three Elven rings of power, and then Halbrand gazing upon Mount Doom with a threatening grin.
One does not simply walk into Mordor… but if you’re Sauron, you can.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, All Episodes Streaming Now, Prime Video