‘Rings of Power’: Is The Stranger Gandalf? Daniel Weyman Knows as Much as We Do
[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 1 finale, “Alloyed.”]
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power finale confirmed The Stranger is a Wizard, but is The Stranger Gandalf? The episode implied as much when Daniel Weyman‘s character told Markella Kavenagh‘s, “When in doubt, Elanor Brandyfoot, follow your nose.” That line is a paraphrased version of one of Ian McKellen‘s in The Fellowship of the Ring.
While it would be exciting to have Gandalf in Rings of Power (because who doesn’t love Gandalf?), he doesn’t come to Middle-earth until the Third Age in Tolkien lore. The five Istari — leader Saruman the White, Gandalf, Radagast the Brown, and two Blue Wizards — come to the land from Valinor in the Third Age to help fight the threat of Sauron. There is Tolkien text that says the Blue Wizards, Alatar and Pallando, were in Middle-earth in the Second Age for a time, which led us to theorize The Stranger was one of them, as Gandalf arriving thousands of years early felt like too much of a stretch.
But as it turns out, Gandalf is in Second Age M.E. in Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth under his Valinor name, Olórin. He visits Galadriel in the Greenwood in the series of stories (the forest is also seen in “Alloyed”), published seven years after Tolkien’s death. Prime Video doesn’t have the rights to a lot of Tolkien’s writings, especially things from the Third Age. But could creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay incorporate Gandalf by calling him Olórin?
If you don’t know the nose line (there are undoubtedly Rings of Power viewers coming in with no Tolkien knowledge), you wouldn’t realize it was a potential reveal. And Weyman’s Meteor Man does not share his name in the finale when sharing the translation of “Istar.” Given that, we felt this supposed Gandalf reveal may not have been such. We asked Weyman himself following the end of the season, and it turns out, he knows as much as viewers do.
Here, Weyman breaks down The Stranger’s story in The Rings of Power finale, as well as the odds of The Stranger actually being Gandalf.
Are you really Gandalf?
Daniel Weyman: The great thing about the way Patrick and J.D. have written this character is that I honestly haven’t known more than I needed to know at any given point, and what you know is now what I know. I am where you are. For me, the joy of playing this role has been that we started with this blank canvas and things were painted onto it. At first they might have been broad brush strokes, and then as we honed in on relationships and situations, they became more precise. Looking forward, I suppose what I’m really looking forward to is those colors, those textures becoming richer and more defined as we go on.
I suppose it’s a longwinded way of saying you’re gonna have to come on a bit more of the journey to work out where it’s all headed. But I think that people who know stuff about Tolkien will pick up on lots of different resonances throughout the entire season and have been doing as they’ve been forming various different theses on who this character could be. I tend to feel that although that one that you’re talking about specifically comes quite close to the very end of the season, it’s not necessarily any bigger than any of the other resonances that might have been there from the beginning. And as such, I guess that just means all we know is the character that we’ve lived with for eight episodes so far. I’m hoping that an audience will be excited about coming on that journey again and seeing where the next section takes it.
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So the “follow your nose” line wasn’t necessarily meant to be a reveal, as far as you know?
It’s a really good question, and I think ultimately the only people who are gonna be able to answer that are the showrunners. But I would say that these things that are coming out of his mouth towards the end of that episode, once we understand that he is Istar, then we have to take on board that he is pretty ancient, as in timeless, and the chances of anything being said before might be very high. I don’t really want to influence peoples’ view about it one way or the other, because I think that’s where an audience has earned the right to think or talk about.
I hope it’s worked quite well, actually, us not giving too much away early on. I hope people have really found that they have enjoyed the speculation or the chatting with their friends, or they’re going back to the lore and really working out if they can find more clues. People might still do that with the season. They might go back and re-watch some of the stuff to find new resonances or things hidden in there. I don’t really want to stop that, because it’s just been such a joyous experience. So I guess that’s as much as I can really tell you, but it’s certainly enjoyable to play.
There are other direct Tolkien lines in the show that are spoken by different characters, so this could be that as well. But I did wonder if it was meant to be a blatant reveal.
Even as you talk about other characters, I just feel the excitement of what J.D. and Patrick are doing. Obviously, there’s a lot from the lore that we know is gonna happen, like we can predict where Isildur is going to end up. And so actually, the joy of the Second Age stuff is that, because it hasn’t been seen on screen before and because there are these holes in the story, we can fill in and enrich Tolkien’s work. I just love the fact that it allows an audience to experience that. And hopefully, if I can keep doing that and the showrunners can, then Season 2 will be as fun as 1.
I imagine some fans may feel conflicted about an early arrival of an Istar, but there’s some lore supporting that. For you, what is the narrative benefit of having an Istar arrive now?
One of the great things about Tolkien is that in writing, he not only wrote some really standalone pieces, he then wrote a huge amount of material that it’s unclear whether he ever wanted it to be published, but certainly lots of it became published. Some of it became slightly contradictory of things that he’d earlier put down. Sure, the Istari turn up in the Third Age, but there are all sorts of question marks and earlier indications that things might have also been happening or certainly not ruling out things having happened in other parts of his writing. I certainly feel it’s in the bounds of possibility for this character to be in Tolkien’s world at this time.
I think what that allows us in a storytelling sense is when we look at the Maiar, we see in Sauron a particular type corruption whilst following Morgoth. But it’s amazing to have that fleshed out by other Maiar. We’ve also seen the Balrog, another member of the Maiar. We’ve seen Galadriel work with Elrond, who works with Durin, and then we see Nori and Poppy — we get the whole gamut of this world that’s been created. And now to go up the layer from these beings to the Maiar is incredibly exciting. It adds more layers and complexities to Tolkien’s work, and we’re beaming that into people’s front rooms in a way that won’t have happened ever before on screen.
Yeah, I think most people, even most of the crew, learned about it at that point. I think there are only a few people who had that version of the script.
That reminds me of how they filmed the Darth Vader reveal in Star Wars.
Yeah, and I sort of see the point. I know there’s been speculation, but it does feel like we’ve managed to keep that up in the air, which I think has been useful for a couple of reasons. One is to keep mystery for the new fans sucking the marrow out of what’s going on and needing more. And then, for the fans who know more about it, they have also been challenged, like, “Well, hang on a second. Let me go back to what I know. What do I know about this character? How can I fit this into what I’m seeing?” Because hopefully, they’ll trust J.D. and Patrick in terms of their respect for the lore as well as the ways that they’ve been writing this amazing version of the Second Age, and that will bring both sets of new and old fans into the fold at once. It’s been a great thing, I think.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Season 1, Streaming Now, Prime Video