“I leapt from that ship because I believed in my heart that I was not yet worthy of it. I knew that somehow, my task here was not yet complete. And when I surfaced all I could do was swim and pray I had chosen wisely. I did not cross that bitter Ocean, onyl to drown now. And nor will I let you.”
Welcome back to another Blind Watch! This week we conclude The Rings of Power and close up all the messy and misused storylines.
There will be heavy spoilers in this essay, so if you have not watched the episode or show yet, please stop now and head back to Amazon and watch it!
This episode finally reveals who Sauron is as well as one other major character in the mythology.
The show begins by having “the stranger” walking through the woods. He has been exiled from the wandering Hobbits (though they are not called that yet), and the mysterious and dangerous wanderers dressed in all white appear before him and all but tell him he is Sauron. Then, they use out-of-place magic to fool him, but the entire exchange doesn’t make sense.
First, let’s follow along with the show’s storyline and assume that this tall Stranger is, in fact, Sauron (he’s not, and we find out later who he is). It doesn’t make sense that Sauron wouldn’t know who he is at this point in history. He was already in Middle-earth from the end of the First age. The only time in Middle-earth’s history that it would make sense that Sauron might not know who he was (that never happened in any Tolkien I have read) was after the Drowning of Númenor, when he was cast down into the abyss, shed his mortal form and retreated to Barad-dûr. The fact that he shed his human form is the only factor in thinking he might not know who he was, so instantly, we see this Stranger is not Sauron.
What bothers me about this interaction is how lazy the writers were. Why would Sauron’s servants not know who he was? Especially servants who were this powerful in magic? Notwithstanding that there never were any magic users mentioned in Sauron’s entourage, these characters are just a means to an end to show the power of the Stranger and to show who he is, which is an Istari, otherwise known as a Wizard. Namely, this Stranger is who I thought he was all along: Gandalf the Gray.
It is Halbrand who turns out to be Sauron in disguise. I’m a little discouraged that I didn’t catch this sooner, but the writers changed the history so wholly to make it challenging to understand who he was, so I’ll give myself a little grace. Afterall, the whole point of this first season wasn’t to tell a wonderful story about Middle-earth, they wrote it to hide who Sauron was and to make a dramatic reveal.
To met he problem isn’t that Sauron turned out to be Halbrand. Sauron did, after all, disguise himself to influence the making of the Rings of Power. In the Silmarillion, he disguises himself as Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, to control the Noldor Elves and influence them create the rings in the first place.
Elrond and Gil-Galad suspected Annatar was not who he said he was, so he left Lindon and went to Eregion, where they crafted the Rings. But, unfortunately, while they were making all the Rings of Power (not just the three for the Elves), Sauron retreated to Mount Doom and created the One Ring to rule them.
So the fact that the showrunners decided to change Sauron’s disguise from Annatar to Halbrand is acceptable. My problem comes in with how they introduced and framed him. Sauron is a master of deception, so much so, that he destroyed two different empires with influence alone (meaning that he didn’t raise an army against them).
But why was Sauron stranded on a raft? Do the showrunners want us to believe that he foresaw Galadriel jumping off her boat and swimming to a broken-down ship in the middle of the sea? And even if that was the case, there are far easier ways for him to ingratiate himself within the Elven culture.
Having Halbrand come up with such a soft cover as “King of the Southlands,” which was so easy to figure out “bloodline was broken,” is unlike Sauron. It makes him seem weak and lazy, which he is not.
Not to mention that there never was a human king in Middle-earth before Númenor. They were all traveling bands who were subjects of the Elven Kings.
The whole point of the entire show wasn’t to make an incredible Lord of the Rings show, but to hide the information about who Sauron was so they could have that reveal in the last episode. All the character’s motivations were to hide who he was, all the action was to hide who he was, and all the plot was to conceal Sauron’s true identity. I don’t mind that the showrunners wanted to change history, however, it doesn’t thrill me. The fact that they very obviously sat around a writing room and said they wanted the final reveal to be who Gandalf is and who Sauron is, then framed the rest of the show around that is just lazy.
This is why people don’t like the show. It’s not necessarily how they changed history because, without a doubt, this story is different from Tolkien’s. It’s not the show’s visuals because the special effects are spectacular. It’s how the writers decided that one event was enough to drive eight episodes. It’s how they took away the agency of every character to fit in with some big reveal (which was pretty lackluster).
I’m not sure if I’ll be watching the second season, if and when it comes out, but it’s no longer a Tolkien show, so there will not be another Blind Watch covering the events if there does turn out to be a second season.
Thank you all for reading, and join me next week as we complete The Silmarillion!