We’re finally here: the great season finale of our time…or of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1 anyway. Written by Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad) and showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay and directed by Wayne Che Yip, the eighth installment of the Prime Video series, “Alloyed,” offers highly anticipated solutions to two major mysteries set up in the premiere and challenges JRR Tolkien’s source material. . . While satisfaction may vary in terms of payouts, the implications of the revelations are welcome promises for season 2 and beyond.
[Ed. note: This story contains major spoilers for The Rings of Power through the finale.]
In “Alloyed”, Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) is revealed as Sauron and the Stranger’s (Daniel Weyman) identity is confirmed as an isar (or wizard), meaning he will likely become the one and only Gandalf the Grey. How well does this fit with the established knowledge of Middle-earth? In accordance with The rings of power‘s approach to the canon so far, the broad strokes of both plot twists are more or less fine; it’s the details that make Tolkien purists hyperventilate.
Of these two developments, Halbrand’s heel is more continuity-friendly. Tolkien’s writings describe Sauron as an extremely talented blacksmith who gave Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) tips on how to make magic rings while disguised and eventually unmasked – all of which applies to Halbrand in the show. He also displayed an “honest” appearance, which probably applies here too, depending on how highly you value Vickers’ sex appeal. And while the alias “Halbrand” itself is an invention of Payne and McKay, a dialogue in “Alloyed” refers to the name Sauron took in the books, Annatar (or “Lord of Gifts”).
Where Middle-earth continuity and The rings of power diverge quickly – and the operative word here is “fast” – is in the timescales involved. Halbrand spends an afternoon teaching Celebrimbor the elvensmith on Magic Ringcraft 101 before being forced to flee. This lightning-fast chain of events, coupled with Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo)’s willingness to keep Halbrand close at all, goes against Tolkien.
The Stranger reveal as an Istar takes The rings of power‘s loose approach to existing canon even further. Sure, the basics are all about the money. In Tolkien’s writings, the angelic being known as Gandalf was sent to Middle-earth to take form to counter the rise of Sauron. The same goes for the Stranger, which also showcases Gandalf’s penchant for scent-based navigation. That’s where the overlap between the two istari ends, like everything else about the Stranger’s arc in The rings of power is pure invention of Payne, McKay and their team of writers.
The show involves the Stranger being the first wizard to arrive in Middle-earth; Tolkien wrote that Gandalf was the last. Gandalf’s entry was also significantly less dramatic than the Stranger’s, taking place well after the elven rings were forged—yet another example of The rings of power‘s heavily compressed Middle-earth timeline compared to that of the books.
If you’re looking for an ultra-loyal Lord of the Rings adaptation, both revelations will likely be the straw that breaks the mûmak’s back, and The rings of power episode 8 will be your last. What matters to everyone else is how well they work within the context of the show itself. Cloaked in these terms, Halbrand’s and Stranger’s payouts do much better, although neither is quite as satisfying as it should be.
Sure, all the clues are right (not always a given with game-changing plot twists at the end of the season). At one point, Halbrand is literally tapping all the ways he’s been hiding in plain sight for the past seven episodes. Payne and McKay overplayed their hand in this department, given how many people had found out about the deal surrounding the alleged Southlands king. While the Stranger’s true identity is still up for debate – who knows what might change between the release of Season 1 and the development of future seasons, based on the conversation – the possibilities have narrowed. This gives a sense of inevitability to proceedings when we should feel surprised, which is certainly disappointing.
The Rings of Power‘s narrative sleight of hand also has other drawbacks. In particular, the amount of screen time spent missing out on audiences in the previous seven episodes means there’s little time left to dramatize key events, leading to a rushed finale. Sauron disguised as Halbrand/Annatar among the elves feels like something The rings of power Should have put in a lot more mileage in storytelling, either earlier in Season 1 or carry over to Season 2. Instead, we sprint through this pivotal plot point in just over an hour.
On the plus side, the revelations in “Alloyed” serve a bigger purpose than just trying (and failing for the most part) to shock us. They also propel the character arcs of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Elrond, and Nori (Markella Kavenagh) well enough to make up for the rush of the episode’s plot. Galadriel has made peace with her brother’s death and has taken the next step to become the serene figure we know from Lord of the Rings. Elrond’s previous lessons in friendship and trust put him in a position to save the elves from disappearance. And Nori’s loyalty to the Stranger is rewarded with the opportunity to finally fully embrace her adventurous side.
In fact, we get a rare insight into Sauron’s motivations in this episode. Tolkien characterized the Dark Lord as being driven to megalomania out of a pathological desire for order, and that is present in much of what “Halbrand” says as he tries to get Galadriel to his side. Only Hutchison, Payne and McKay embellish this rationale, presenting a slightly more nuanced portrait of a would-be tyrant who seems genuinely to believe that controlling the world is the same as curing it. Presenting Sauron as a three-dimensional villain is beyond the scope of the main Lord of the Rings story on the page and screen, but it’s firmly in it The rings of power‘s wheelhouse.
Fittingly, these less sensational aspects of “Alloyed” also provide the best evidence yet: The rings of power has a stronger sense of direction heading into season 2. As the Middle-earth jewelry ad illustrates late in episode 8, the three elves’ rings are now in play, putting the elves’ destruction on hold and starting a future conflict with Sauron. It won’t be long before dwarves and men come knocking for their own magical bling.
Speaking of conflict and Sauron, we last see the Dark Lord, formerly known as Halbrand, on his way to Mount Doom, so a showdown between him and Adar (Joseph Mawle) is also at stake. Then there’s Nori and Maybe Gandalf, who will continue to do their own thing in the largely unexplored realm of Rhûn – a perfect excuse for bold new production designs – while Númenor is poised for a coup courtesy of Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle).
These are all compelling plot points for The rings of power to go on for several more years, and if Payne and McKay continue to iron out the show’s handful of nagging issues, there’s a good chance it will. Tolkien liked to observe that the road goes on; here i hope that The rings of powerthe case, it extends into season 5, encountering itself along the way.