The Rings of Power finale ripped open the mystery box to promise a stronger season 2

This isn't Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, but it's getting there.

Finally, the epic season finale of our time… or, at least, of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1. The eighth episode of the Prime Video series, “Alloyed,” written by Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad), showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, and directed by Wayne Che Yip, provides long-awaited resolutions to two major mysteries set up in the premiere while also challenging J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material. While payout satisfaction may vary, the ramifications of the discoveries are welcome promises for season 2 and beyond.

[Editor’s note: This narrative includes substantial spoilers for The Rings of Power up to and including the end.]

In “Alloyed,” Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) is revealed to be Sauron, and the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is shown to be an istar (or wizard), implying that he will become the one and only Gandalf the Grey. How well does this fit with existing Middle-earth lore? The broad strokes of both narrative twists are OK, in line with The Rings of Power’s approach to the canon thus far; it’s the specifics that will have Tolkien purists hyperventilating.

Halbrand’s heel turn is the most consistent of the two developments. Tolkien’s literature describe Sauron as a tremendously competent smith who, while disguised, provided Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) tips on constructing magic rings before being revealed – all of which relates to Halbrand in the program. He also had a “fair-seeming” look, which may apply here as well, depending on how much you value Vickers’ sex appeal. While the “Halbrand” pseudonym was created by Payne and McKay, a line of dialogue in “Alloyed” refers to Sauron’s book name, Annatar (or “Lord of Gifts”).

The Rings of Power finale ripped open the mystery box to promise a stronger season 2

The timelines involved are where Middle-earth continuity and The Rings of Power swiftly diverge — and the crucial word here is “quickly.” Before being forced to depart, Halbrand spends an afternoon teaching Celebrimbor the elf craftsman Magic Ringcraft 101. This rapid-fire sequence of events, along with Gil-(Benjamin galad’s Walker) and Elrond’s (Robert Aramayo) determination to keep Halbrand alive at all, contradicts Tolkien.

The Stranger’s revelation as an istar expands on The Rings of Power’s flexible approach to current lore. Sure, the fundamentals are correct. According to Tolkien’s books, the heavenly creature known as Gandalf was sent to Middle-earth to fight the rising of Sauron. The Stranger is no exception, displaying Gandalf’s affinity for olfactory navigation. The connection between the two istari ends at, though, for everything else about the Stranger’s story in The Rings of Power is pure invention on the part of Payne, McKay, and their writing team.

According to the program, the Stranger is the first wizard to come in Middle-earth; Tolkien stated that Gandalf was the last. Gandalf’s appearance was also noticeably less spectacular than the Stranger’s and occurred long after the elven rings were made — yet another example of The Rings of Power’s significantly compressed Middle-earth timeline in comparison to the novels.

If you’re looking for a really authentic Lord of the Rings adaptation, both reveals will most likely be the straw that breaks the mûmak’s back, and The Rings of Power episode 8 will be your last. What counts to everyone else is how well they operate inside the context of the show. In this regard, the Halbrand and Stranger payoffs do considerably better, albeit neither is as rewarding as they should be.

The Rings of Power finale ripped open the mystery box to promise a stronger season 2

Certainly, all of the hints add up (not always a given with game-changing end-of-season plot twists). Halbrand actually counts off all the ways he’s been hidden in plain sight for the last seven episodes at one point. Given how many people figured out what the issue was with the putative Southlands monarch, Payne and McKay overplayed their hand in this department. While the Stranger’s exact identity remains unknown — who knows what will happen between the publication of season 1 and the production of future seasons depending on the discussion — the options have limited. This adds a sense of predictability to the events when we should be astonished, which is unfortunate.

The Rings of Power’s narrative deception has additional downsides. Notably, the amount of screen time committed to fooling viewers throughout the previous seven episodes means there’s relatively little time left to dramatize critical events, resulting in a hurried ending. The Rings of Power should have gotten a lot more storyline mileage out of Sauron posing as Halbrand/Annatar among the elves, either sooner in season 1 or by extending over into season 2. Instead, we fly past this pivotal story point in just over an hour.

On the bright side, the discoveries in “Alloyed” serve a broader purpose than just attempting (and failing) to shock us. They also move the character arcs of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Elrond, and Nori (Markella Kavenagh) along sufficiently to compensate for the episode’s brevity. Galadriel has accepted her brother’s loss and moved one step closer to becoming the peaceful figure we know and love from The Lord of the Rings. Elrond’s prior lessons in friendship and trust have placed him in a position to save the elves from extinction. And Nori’s devotion to the Stranger is rewarded with the chance to finally indulge her adventurous nature.

This episode also provides a rare glimpse into Sauron’s motives. Tolkien described the Dark Lord as being driven to megalomania by a compulsive yearning for order, and this is evident in much of what “Halbrand” says when attempting to persuade Galadriel to join him. Only Hutchison, Payne, and McKay expand on this central premise, painting a little more nuanced portrayal of a would-be dictator who honestly believes that controlling the world is the same as curing it. Presenting Sauron as a three-dimensional enemy is outside the scope of the main Lord of the Rings story on the text and film, but it is squarely within The Rings of Power’s purview.

These less exciting portions of “Alloyed” give the greatest proof yet that The Rings of Power has a greater sense of direction moving into season 2. As shown in the Middle-earth jewelry advertisement late in episode 8, the three elf rings are now in play, putting a stop to the elves’ devastation and setting up a future clash with Sauron. It won’t be long until dwarfs and men arrive in search of their own magical bling.

Concerning battle and Sauron, we last see the Dark Lord once known as Halbrand on his way to Mount Doom, implying that a confrontation between him and Adar (Joseph Mawle) is also in the works. Then there’s Nori and Maybe Gandalf, who will continue to do their own thing in Rhûn’s relatively uncharted area – a fantastic opportunity for daring new production ideas — while Nmenor is prepared for a coup courtesy of Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle).

These are all appealing story themes for The Rings of Power to run with for several more years assuming Payne and McKay continue to iron out the show’s handful of niggling flaws. Tolkien was fond of saying that the road goes on forever; let’s hope that in The Rings of Power’s case, it continues all the way to season 5 and works itself out along the way.

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