[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 5, “Partings.”]

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power still hasn’t answered the question on everyone’s minds: Who is Sauron? But let’s just come out and say it: the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) being Sauron feels too obvious a choice now.

You could argue Adar is the Big Bad, given his place as a leader of the orcs and his lust for power. And while Adar (Joseph Mawle) may desire the power of a God, he was none too pleased by Waldreg’s (Geoff Morrell) assumption that he is the Dark Lord in Episode 5. There are plenty of Sauron theories floating around the internet as the Prime Video series careens towards its final three episodes, and one of them holds more weight after the fifth episode, streaming now. Is Halbrand Sauron? We’re leaning towards yes.

Halbrand is a character created for the series. That alone may make J.R.R. Tolkien fans think he couldn’t possibly be Sauron, simply because he does not go by Sauron’s alias used in the Second Age, Annatar. But if you’ve centered an entire season around the reemergence of the fantasy world’s most famous villain, which The Rings of Power has, you’re obviously not going to call him by a recognizable name if he is lurking around in plain sight as early as Episode 2. To that end, the Stranger is a great name for a character whose identity you’re not ready to reveal. Based on the fact that Meteor Man grapples with hurting creatures in Episode 5 and Halbrand has not shown the same remorse, we’re more inclined to believe the former is good and the latter is evil.

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Let’s look at Halbrand’s suspicious behavior in Númenor:

  • He’s eager to become a smith the second he arrives, fashioning a blade that blows the minds of the Númenorean smiths
  • He’s shockingly brutal in a fight — who could forget about that arm break in the alley?!
  • He has displayed suspicious manipulation skills

Sauron seeks a smith to create the rings of power (more on that later). Let’s dive into Halbrand’s people skills.

The way Halbrand manipulated Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle) from his prison cell could be connected to Sauron’s masterful manipulation. The advice he gives both of them is telling. Halbrand tells Galadriel, “Identify what it is that your opponent most fears… and give them a means of mastering it… so that you can master them.” Sauron’s M.O. in the Second Age was to disguise himself as a friend to many races, pinpointing their desires and creating a path to seeing them realized. This led to him convincing leaders of the races to accept the rings of power he had made by Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), with one ring to rule them all.

When Galadriel breaks free from her cell, Halbrand whispers in Pharazôn’s ear that letting her go free isn’t bad — she can be controlled as long as you know exactly where she’s going. It’s hard to believe this was done for Galadriel’s sake, because Halbrand has told her, Pharazôn, and Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) now that he has no desire to be placed back on the throne of the Southlands. How would helping her carry out her plan, which includes bringing him to Middle-earth, suit his desire to stay in Númenor? Unless, of course, that reluctance is a front.

Charlie Vickers (Halbrand) in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 5

Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

This influence over Pharazôn ties to Sauron’s relationship with the last king of the isle in the books. In Episode 5, Pharazôn says Númenor placing the King of the Southlands back on his throne would put that king in their debt and open up trade between the kingdoms. Thinking he could control another ruler is a display of power-hungry hubris that aligns with Pharazôn’s book plot where he tries to enslave Sauron (yet again in a disguised form) in Númenor.

Because Sauron is Sauron, he’s able to twist this relationship in his favor and gets Pharazôn and his people to worship the darkness — that’s where the Cult of Melkor (aka Morgoth) comes in (could those white-hooded “mystics” in Episode 5 be from that cult?). I’m taking Halbrand’s whisper to Pharazôn, paired with Pharazôn’s comments in Episode 5, as a parallel to the relationship between the last king of Númenor and Sauron.

Plus, there’s the issue of Halbrand’s face at the end of “Partings.” Why does he look so happy when setting sail for Middle-earth? He hasn’t wanted to go back this entire time. This could be the reluctant Aragorn vibe where the rightful heir resists his destiny, but then why would it take just a couple of days in Númenor to change his mind? The look on his face is a bit smug — the face of someone who knows things are going exactly according to plan. Could Galadriel and Míriel be hand-delivering Sauron to the Southlands, the place where his mark map leads?

Tristan Gravelle as Pharazon in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Matt Grace/Prime Video

Plus, keep in mind that Sauron was sly with his return to Middle-earth in the books. Like the Istari wizards, blending in was part of his plan to build trust and remain incognito as Annatar. Shooting down from the sky and crash landing into Middle-earth isn’t exactly a subtle entrance. We still have no idea what happened to Halbrand that left him stranded on the Sundering Seas — he tells Galadriel he would be “cast out” if people knew the truth about him. Yeah, he would for sure not receive a warm welcome if people knew he was Sauron. If he’s not the Big Bad, this could just be him again expressing his shame over his family’s fealty to Morgoth in the war. And perhaps the shame he feels has to do with the creation of that black sword hilt of Theo’s (Tyroe Muhafidin), which we now know is a tool that helped oppress the people of the Southlands.

Last thing to unpack: Why wouldn’t Galadriel clock Halbrand’s disguise, if he were the Dark Lord returned? In Tolkien’s writings, Galadriel is one of the few who suspects Annatar cannot be trusted when meeting him in Eregion. Annatar convinces the elves to turn against her, prompting her to leave the city.

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Based on that, The Rings of Power‘s Galadriel coming in direct contact with Halbrand/Sauron and not seeing through his facade would seem off. But Prime Video was only given access to select pieces of the Tolkien estate, requiring them to scrunch some timelines together. It may be the most expensive show of all time, but even Amazon can’t afford to let the show run long enough to span the thousands of years of the Second Age.

Galadriel does sense something about Halbrand, though. She’s convinced their destinies are linked in a powerful way now that she believes he’s the heir of the Southlands. She could very well be right about their entwined fates, but what if she’s wrong about its good nature? I find that possibility rather believable, based on how the show’s Galadriel is portrayed both in writing and Clark’s acting choices.

Charlie Vickers (Halbrand), Morfydd Clark (Galadriel) in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 5

Prime Video

In the first half of the series, it’s obvious Galadriel is right about Sauron rebuilding his forces and everyone else is wrong to doubt her gut instinct. But how boring would it be for a main protagonist to be right the entire time? A hero’s journey requires lessons learned. Clark told TV Insider that her Galadriel is not the same all-powerful elf from the Third Age. She’s thousands of years younger here, while still thousands of years old. How does one play someone with more wisdom than most, but still much to learn?

As Clark said: “I was exploring naivety and thinking, ‘Well, an elf can’t really be naive,’ and then it clicked one day while I was reading about the elves in the First and Second Age that naivety I feel for an elf would be arrogance because they have not yet realized the limits of their own understanding.” Galadriel’s hot-headed stubbornness clouding her judgment could be a creative choice explaining why she didn’t sense Sauron when she met him. And suffice it to say that failure would teach her a great deal.

And for what it’s worth, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have already taken a bunch of creative liberties with this character. Galadriel is not a warrior in Tolkien’s writing — that’s a narrative created for this series. Her character needs a climactic ending for the season finale, just three episodes away. With the time we have left, it seems Galadriel and Team Númenor discovering Sauron’s identity in a Southlands battle could suffice. And if she escorts him straight to the land he sought? Oh, boy.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Fridays, Prime Video

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Originally published on tvinsider.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.

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