We come to it at last: the great season finale of our time… or of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1, at any rate. Written by Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad) and showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay and directed by Wayne Che Yip, the Prime Video series’ eighth episode, “Alloyed,” provides long-awaited resolutions to two big mysteries set up in the premiere and challenges J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material along the way. While satisfaction may vary as far as payoffs go, the implications of the reveals are welcome promises for season 2 and beyond.
[Ed. note: This story contains major spoilers for The Rings of Power through the finale.]
“Alloyed” sees Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) outed as Sauron and the identity of the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) confirmed as an istar (or wizard), which means he’s likely to become the one and only Gandalf the Grey. How well does this fit with established Middle-earth lore? In keeping with The Rings of Power’s approach to the canon thus far, the broad strokes of both plot twists are more or less fine; it’s the specifics that will have Tolkien purists hyperventilating.
Of these two developments, Halbrand’s heel turn is more continuity friendly. Tolkien’s writings describe Sauron as a supremely talented smith who gave Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) pointers on crafting magic rings while disguised and was ultimately exposed — all of which applies to Halbrand in the show. He also manifested a “fair-seeming” appearance, which arguably applies here too, depending on how highly you rate Vickers’ sex appeal. And while the “Halbrand” alias itself is an invention of Payne and McKay, a line of dialogue in “Alloyed” references the name Sauron adopted in the books, Annatar (or “Lord of Gifts”).
Image: Prime Video
Where Middle-earth continuity and The Rings of Power quickly diverge — and the operative word here is “quickly” — is in the timescales involved. Halbrand spends, like, an afternoon schooling Celebrimbor the elven smith on Magic Ringcraft 101 before he’s forced to flee. This rapid-fire chain of events, coupled with the willingness of Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo) to keep Halbrand around at all, runs counter to 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 on the money. In Tolkien’s writings, the angelic being who became known as Gandalf was sent to Middle-earth in assuming form to counter the rise of Sauron. The same is true of the Stranger, who also displays Gandalf’s penchant for olfactory-based navigation. That’s where the overlap between the two istari ends, though, as everything else about the Stranger’s arc in The Rings of Power is pure invention on the part of Payne, McKay, and their team of writers.
The show implies that the Stranger is the first wizard to arrive in Middle-earth; Tolkien wrote Gandalf was the last. Gandalf’s entrance was also markedly less dramatic than the Stranger’s and took 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 in the market for an ultra-faithful Lord of the Rings adaptation, both reveals will probably be the straw that breaks the mûmak’s back, and The Rings of Power episode 8 will be your last. For everyone else, what matters is how well they work within the context of the show itself. Couched in these terms, the Halbrand and Stranger payoffs fare much better, although neither is quite as satisfying as it should be.
Photo: Ben Rothstein/Prime Video
Certainly, all the clues add up (not always a given with game-changing end-of-season plot twists). At one point, Halbrand literally ticks off all the ways in which he’s been hiding in plain sight over the past seven episodes. If anything, Payne and McKay overplayed their hand in this department, given how many people figured out what the deal was surrounding the supposed 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 brings a sense of inevitability to proceedings when we should be feeling surprised, which sure is disappointing.
The Rings of Power’s narrative sleight of hand has other drawbacks, too. Notably, the amount of screen time devoted to wrongfooting audiences over the previous seven episodes means that there’s precious little time left to dramatize key events, leading to a rushed finale. Sauron masquerading as Halbrand/Annatar among the elves feels like something The Rings of Power should have gotten a lot more storytelling mileage out of, either earlier in season 1 or by carrying over into season 2. Instead, we sprint through this crucial plot point in just over an hour.
On the plus side, the revelations in “Alloyed” serve a greater purpose than simply trying (and for the most part, failing) to shock us. They also propel the character arcs of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Elrond, and Nori (Markella Kavenagh) forward well enough to compensate for the hastiness of the episode’s plot. Galadriel has made peace with her brother’s death and taken another step closer to becoming the serene figure we know from Lord of the Rings. Elrond’s previous lessons in friendship and trust put him in the position to save the elves from withering away. And Nori’s loyalty to the Stranger is rewarded with the opportunity to at last fully embrace her adventurous side.
We even get a rare insight into Sauron’s motivations this episode. Tolkien characterized the Dark Lord as someone driven to megalomania out of a pathological desire for order, and that’s present in a lot of what “Halbrand” says while trying to sway Galadriel to his side. Only Hutchison, Payne, and McKay embellish on this core rationale, presenting a slightly more nuanced portrait of a would-be tyrant who seems to genuinely believe that controlling the world is the same as healing it. Presenting Sauron as a three-dimensional villain falls outside the scope of the main Lord of the Rings narrative on the page and screen, but it’s firmly within The Rings of Power’s wheelhouse.
Fittingly enough, these less sensational aspects of “Alloyed” also provide the best evidence yet that The Rings of Power has a stronger sense of direction heading into season 2. As the Middle-earth jewelry advert late in episode 8 illustrates, the three elven rings are now in play, which hits pause on the elves’ destruction and tees up a future conflict with Sauron. It won’t be long before dwarves and men come knocking for their own magical bling, either.
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 likewise on the cards. 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 run with 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 was fond of observing that the road goes ever on; here’s hoping that in The Rings of Power’s case, it stretches as far as season 5, and figures itself out along the way.