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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for The Rings of Power season one finale.]
You knew it. Right?
Or you at least suspected that the Southlands’ would-be king was actually Sauron in disguise all along? Introduced at the start of Prime Video’s The Rings of Power episode two (emerging out of the fog on a raft with protruding boards that looked like Sauron’s helmet), Halbrand has been the object of fandom scrutiny as the character dropped hint after hint that his secret identity as a wandering Aragorn-like king actually hid a much darker past. Below, Australian actor Charlie Vickers (Palm Beach) talks about his dual-identity role, how some of Halbrand’s seemingly non-Sauron-like moves make sense, and what comes next for the character.
So when did you know?
I didn’t know for sure until the beginning of the third episode. We filmed the first two episodes and then the show went on hiatus because of COVID. Toward the end of the hiatus, the showrunners sat me down and told me. I filmed that sequence on the raft not knowing. I filmed it as Halbrand wholeheartedly. But I did have an inkling, if I’m honest with you. My last two auditions were [reading lines from] Richard III, and we know he’s not the greatest guy in the world. And then the other [audition lines were] from Paradise Lost where you’re literally giving the speech as Satan. So that gave me an inkling there was something up. So I was definitely suspicious, but it wasn’t confirmed until right before we started filming the third episode.
I think this is going to cause people to re-examine all of his scenes, so I want to walk through the character’s journey with you. So what’s your understanding of his introduction on that raft. Did he put himself there to meet Galadriel or was their meeting, as she puts it, arranged by a higher power?
So I know this. But I think that question is best left unanswered. Because we find out that backstory [in season two]. That question will be answered in due time.
When I rewatched the early episodes with the idea that Halbrand was Sauron, it became almost wonderfully obvious — there are so many hints. Which was your favorite?
There are some funny bits. My second line on the raft is, “Looks can be deceiving,” which I didn’t actually realize at the time because I didn’t know I was playing Sauron! But when I look back, I think, “Wow, it’s all there.” And then when I walk into Númenor and I pause by the forge, I think there was a moment when fans who really know the lore had alarm bells going off.
One thing that kept some fans from believing Halbrand might be Sauron was it’s hard to imagine the Dark Lord really wanting to work as some blacksmith’s apprentice in Númenor. What was the thinking behind that scene?
He’s a smith. He knows the craft of smithing intimately. You have to think of it in terms of where we’re meeting Sauron during his repentance stage. Tolkien says pretty explicitly in The Silmarillion that he is repentant — if not out of fear. So the question is not whether he was repentant, it was whether that repentance was genuine. He’s been brought low. He’s been humiliated, almost humbled. So when you see him drifting on a raft, it’s basically as low as you can get. Tolkien talks of Sauron re-emerging, and that he lingered in Middle-earth for a long time, and very slowly came back to power. These are the words he used. And I think that’s why he’s there looking for a job, because he’s looking for a way back. It’s really interesting to think of him rebuilding. He rebuilds many times over the course of the whole history of Arda. This is one example of that.
Because I do think, “Well, why would the second-greatest Tolkien villain, in terms of power, why would he be getting a job as a smith in Númenor?” If his repentance is genuine, then he is seeking a new life and trying to really run away from evil. But if his repentance is not genuine, if he’s faking it, then perhaps it’s a tactic where he can buy some time and make himself look busy in Númenor while he waits for things to unfold. You can look at it both ways. I have an answer for myself, which I used while I was playing the character. But I think it’s interesting to leave it ambiguous and let people interpret it how they will.
Somebody close to the show pointed out that Sauron the deceiver actually never outright lies in his season one dialogue. Is that your understanding as well?
It is true. I find it interesting because he is this deceiver and, ultimately, in order to deceive he has to fully embody this form he’s taken on. In order to convince someone like Galadriel, he has to be completely immersed in what he’s doing, which meant for me completely immersing myself in the character of Halbrand. But all the subconscious work of Sauron is there in the back. But yeah, he says a line, I think in the fifth episode: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry for all of it. I’m sorry for your brother.” Which is true. It’s just that Galadriel doesn’t see what she needs to see. She doesn’t see the truth of that statement.
I liked it when he basically says exactly what Sauron is going to do with the rings by giving it as advice to Galadriel — “Identify what it is that your opponent most fears … and give them a means of mastering it, so that you can master them.” Also, when he warns her about bringing him back to Middle-earth, saying, “I have been searching for my peace for longer than you know. Please, for both our sakes, let me keep it.” That last doesn’t even make sense as Halbrand. Why would it be better for her sake if he stays in Númenor? It only works if he’s Sauron.
He says in the finale he wants Galadriel to be his queen. Is there genuine attraction and interest there, or was that solely a power play?
I see it solely as a power play. Any attraction or interest to her is through this cosmic connection. He has been around for a really long time and she has as well. It’s not often he meets someone close to his level. So that must have been thrilling for him and exciting. But when he pitches that to her, it all goes back to his fear or hope of personal gain — that’s what she is to him in that moment. She’s a means for him returning to power with her by his side. That will be more effective in the short term, but I think in the long run, he will not be happy unless he is in power and alone.
When he says he wants to heal Middle-earth, what sort of world is he imagining? Like we associate Sauron with darkness and a volcano, but he enthusiastically called Númenor a paradise and seemed like he wanted to stay there.
I think he appreciates beauty wholeheartedly. And I think his goal was to create an independent paradise separate from Valinor to spite the gods because he hates and fears the gods so much. It’s about reorganization and rehabilitation. Tolkien talks about him wanting to rid Middle-earth of wasteful friction. If you look at the state of the world, you look at the Southlands and the scattered tribes and warring factions, everything is discombobulating. In his mind, healing Middle-earth is reorganizing everything and with him as its sole ruler. It’s developing the beauty and wonder and majesty of Middle-earth, but everything has to be really structured and organized. The only way that it will satisfy him is if he is in charge and he can order things exactly how he wants.
For season two, the showrunnners have told me the season is very Sauron-focused, that he’s going to be very out and about, operating and manipulating. What can you tease to your character next season?
I think it’s a really exciting season because you start to see Sauron for who he is. We’ve been seeing him in this period of repentance. We’re going to move into this period of watching his plans unfold. You’re with him as he moves the pieces on the chessboard. There are parts of the lore that are so rich and so exciting and thrilling and things that I adored reading in The Silmarillion that we’re going to see. Those really famous stories are going to unfold next season.
And finally, actors on genre shows and movies often have to keep secrets. But this was a pretty big one that had heavy speculation. Have you had any difficult moments not spilling this along the way?
Since the first episode aired, I’ve had friends saying to me, “You’re Sauron.” These are some of my closest friends and I’ve had to keep them hanging, or just send them down another path. I’ve had people speculating I’m the Witch King or the King of the Dead. I’ve had people showing me pictures of the King of the Dead, who’s literally a skeleton, and putting it next to my face and saying, “You look exactly like this guy.” Even around castmembers, when I first learned about it, [Galadriel actress] Morfydd Clark was the only one I could tell. So it’s a relief to be able to share it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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