Welcome back to Middle-earth, where people love to burst out into song — especially when they're traversing wild nature.
That's right: Five episodes into The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, we finally get our first song! Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) sings it, and it contains familiar Tolkienisms, like "not all who wander are lost," as she and her family make the best of their position at the back of the line in the migration. Thankfully, they have someone very tall to help them along.
The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is even learning English (or Common, as Tolkien might've had it) so he can communicate with Nori (Markella Kavenagh) through more than just sudden bursts of power and energy. He still does have that power, though. When the group is beset by wild animals (albeit ones decidedly less fierce than the warg that attacked Arondir and co a couple weeks back), the Stranger repels them with a huge shockwave — exactly the kind that Gandalf will deliver in later days by hitting his wizard's staff into the ground.
Ben Rothstein/Prime Video The Harfoots travel on 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.'
Is the Stranger Gandalf? The evidence is certainly piling up — as is the evidence for his presence in Middle-earth. The Stranger may not have a staff yet, but someone else does. As the Stranger travels with the Harfoots, a mysterious group of robe-clad figures come upon the crater where he first crash-landed. If you've been following coverage of The Rings of Power since before the premiere, you may remember that this group's blond leader was said over the summer to be Sauron… but that was only ever a popular movies Twitter account making an imaginative leap, not confirmed . As my colleague Devan Coggan and I have been discussing on EW's Rings of Power podcast All Rings Considered, the show is purposefully being oblique about Sauron's presence — so far, he is everywhere and nowhere. I think that's a really cool way of conveying his evil.
Over the course of these episodes so far, several characters have stepped into roles that Sauron has been known to fill in the backstory of Middle-earth, but without fully embodying the evil Maiar. For example, Adar (Joseph Mawle) is a leader of orcs, who we have only ever known to follow Sauron or Morgoth… but in this very episode, he passionately denounces the idea that he is Sauron. Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) is quickly getting into Pharazôn's (Trystan Gravelle) good graces and might soon have influence within Numenorean leadership… but he's just a human, isn't he? Then there's this blond guy, who certainly has an evil aura about him, but also dresses in white flowing robes… not an aesthetic that Sauron has ever been particularly known for.
So what's the deal with this newcomer, then? Obviously, we only get so much screen time with him this episode, but from where I'm standing it's not out of the realm of possibility that he's actually a different villainous Lord of the Rings character whose name starts with S. If the Stranger is Gandalf, then Tolkien's lore says that he was the last of the Istari to arrive in Middle-earth. Saruman, or "Curunir" in elf language, would be there already. And though Gandalf always presented himself humbly in Middle-earth, Saruman was ever eager to show off and give orders. So that's a possibility!
Then again, we should be careful how much we rely on Tolkien lore to predict the twists and turns of Rings of Power, because the show is playing a little loosely with mythology. The story Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) tells Elrond (Robert Aramayo) in this episode about the potential origin of mithril, as the light of the lost Silmaril conveyed into the ground through a tree during a long-ago battle between a nameless elf warrior and a fiery Balrog, really is apocryphal. Even though it sounds like something that might be in The Silmarillion, it's not actually in The Silmarillion (some ways to know that: The elf warrior has no name when everyone, however major or minor, has a name in Tolkien's writings, and there's only one Balrog, when they usually appear in The Silmarillion in groups of five or more). It might even be a total fiction on Gil-galad's part within the world of the story; it's unclear at this moment just how deep his deception of Elrond goes.
This show is avoiding easy answers. For a minute there, Adar looked like the most likely candidate to secretly be Sauron, but this episode put a stop to that theorizing. As his army of orcs marches across the Southlands, Adar is willing to accept any and all converts. It makes sense that an elf already working with orcs would be amenable to furthering his multi-racial coalition. But when old man Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) professes his loyalty, as well as his belief that Adar is Sauron, the scarred elf angrily denies it.
But he might be even angrier when the Numenoreans showed up. I'm a little disappointed that this episode basically ends on the same note that last week's did (the Numenoreans are going to Middle-earth!) but it was also nice to get a little more time with everybody on the island. Míriel's (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) dad finally gets lucid for long enough to tell her that only darkness awaits her in Middle-earth (good to know), while Halbrand and Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) finally have a heart-to-heart. Galadriel admits that she wouldn't know what to do with herself if she wasn't fighting, while Halbrand decides to lean into the redemption arc she wants from him. Will that be for good or bad? Guess we'll see soon enough. As mentioned above, sometimes he gives Sauron vibes… B
For more on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, listen to EW's new podcast All Rings Considered, featuring in-depth episode breakdowns and exclusive interviews.