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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for The Rings of Power’s season one finale.]
The Rings of Power’s biggest season one secret is out: Sauron has been hiding in plain sight as Halbrand, the Aragorn-like drifter who pretended — or, at least, allowed Galadriel to believe — that he was a long-lost king of the Southlands.
Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay gave The Hollywood Reporter some insight into the thought process of introducing the Dark Lord as a charming “low man,” and also teased what comes next for the character in season two.
“What’s in the [The Lord of the Rings books] is an all encompassing evil that everyone is afraid of, and is so powerful, it doesn’t even have to be manifested physically,” McKay says. “He’s an image of an eye in [Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings] films, he’s the eye on the tower. We felt Sauron should be a character in his own right. We wanted to study the currents running within him in a way that hopefully would reward audiences as they follow him moving forward as he becomes the Dark Lord. You now know him as a person outside the name ‘Sauron.’ In some ways, we wanted to do an origin story for Sauron. We didn’t want to make a show that was about the hunt for Sauron, but we love the idea of Sauron as a deceiver who could, hopefully, deceive some of the audience.”
Adds Payne: “There’s something that Milton does in Paradise Lost that we talked about a lot. Where he makes Satan a really compelling character. In some ways, he’s the first antihero where he’s compelling and you can’t take your eyes off of him. Milton did that on purpose because he wants you to fall along with Adam and Eve. He wants Satan to be so persuasive that he also seduces [the reader] and you’re unconsciously won over, so that you perceive your own fallenness and your need for redemption.”
Continues Payne: “In Tolkien, Sauron is a deceiver and we know that in Second Age he appears in ‘fair form.’ So what if he sneaks up on you and is able to get you to sympathize with him and get you to be on board with him so that once you actually realize who he is, that he’s already got his hooks in you? So it’s not just as easy as, ‘This person is evil, I’m going to back away,’ because you’ve already formed some level of attachment to him. What if we could get the audience to go through a similar journey?”
Many online had guessed Halbrand was Sauron along the way, which showrunners note is just fine with them — the goal wasn’t to fool everybody with a twist that feels totally out of the blue.
“If you had a sneaking suspicion over the course of an entire season, and then that suspicion is ultimately confirmed, that’s an emotional engagement,” Payne says. “Tragedy is one of the highest art forms. There’s a reason people are still putting on Romeo and Juliet hundreds of years after it was written even though you know what happens at the end. A surprise only rewards you on one viewing.”
“I hope after the last episode airs, viewers watch the whole season again, which is now a different experience,” McKay says. “We hope that, as we get into season two, it makes people like season one even better because you’re seeing it through a new prism.”
Speaking of the next season of the Prime Video series — which has begun filming, yet isn’t expected until sometime in 2024 — the producers hint Sauron will play a major role as he moves forward as an antihero in the model of some iconic TV characters.
“Season one opens with: Who is Galadriel? Where did she come from? What did she suffer? Why is she driven?” says Payne. “We’re doing the same thing with Sauron in season two. We’ll fill in all the missing pieces.”
“Sauron can now just be Sauron,” McKay adds. “Like Tony Soprano or Walter White. He’s evil, but complexly evil. We felt like if we did that in season one, he’d overshadow everything else. So the first season is like Batman Begins, and the The Dark Knight is the next movie, with Sauron maneuvering out in the open. We’re really excited. Season two has a canonical story. There may well be viewers who are like, ‘This is the story we were hoping to get in season one!’ In season two, we’re giving it to them.”
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