Warning: the following contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 8. Turn back if you haven't seen the finale of Amazon's epic Tolkien adaptation.
After weeks of speculation and increasingly outlandish theories, Sauron’s identity has finally been revealed – and yes, he’s been under our noses the whole time. Halbrand, the supposed King of the Southlands, is actually the Dark Lord in disguise.
The Rings of Power finale started with a misdirect, the Stranger initially being identified as Sauron by a group of cultists, yet an emotional confrontation with Galadriel sees Halbrand reveal himself as the true villain. In a meeting of minds, he tries to convince her to become his Queen of Darkness. And while it’s a riveting moment, carried by Charlie Vickers and Morfydd Clark’s powerful performances, the reason the twist is quite so satisfying lies elsewhere.
Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have been laying the groundwork for the reveal from Halbrand’s very first scene, when Galadriel meets him aboard a raft in the Sundering Seas. "Looks can be deceiving," he says of the seemingly harmless Elf who just boarded his ship. Knowing now what we know, the line holds so much more weight.
The clever hints and double-meanings don’t stop there: he says on multiple occasions that he’s not the hero that Galadriel’s looking for – something that seems very obvious now that he’s out as Sauron. While on Númenor, there are a multitude of hints, including how Halbrand teaches Galadriel to manipulate others. "You’d do well to find out what your opponent most fears," he says. "Give them a means of mastering it, so you can master them." Considering how Sauron will one day be master of the rings of power, his words are lined with malice. His desire to be a blacksmith is also a clue: Sauron was a mighty smith and craftsman in a past life.
Crucially, we never see Halbrand lie, he only deceives, and even his biggest deception has some truth to it. When Galadriel says that he is the destined king of the Southlands, despite Halbrand having found the emblem on a dead man, he’s not exactly wrong: The Southlands are later transformed into Mordor, and, as seen in the main Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron will one day rule the cursed land.
Perhaps the most telling moment, however, comes in the fifth episode, when Halbrand speaks to Galadriel before they return to The Southlands. She tells him her brother was murdered by servants of Sauron. "I’m sorry for your brother," he replies. "For all of it, I’m sorry." While it seemed like a reassuring comment between friends at the time, looking back it feels like a pointed apology for being responsible for Finrod’s murder.
Really, no one else could have been Sauron, yet the twist was never a given. We were gifted just enough information to lead to a multitude of theories, but not enough to give the game away. It’s not until Halbrand’s seen lurking around Celebrimbor’s forge that everything clicks into place. This is the Sauron we know – a shapeshifter known as "the lord of gifts" who has somehow manipulated one of the cleverest Elves in history. "Call it a gift," he says after suggesting Celebrimbor smelt Mithril with an alloy to forge three rings. As Tolkien readers know, Sauron’s biggest trick will one day be controlling the will of those who bear his rings.
The showrunners have spoken at length about getting Sauron’s reveal right, even resorting to changing aspects of the story to keep book readers from guessing. For example, he’s never referred to by the other name Tolkien gave him, Annatar. The result is a surprising, thrilling twist that makes rewatching the first season a joy. And now the veil is down, it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun to see where the second season takes him.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 2 is now in production. However, if you’re still reeling from the finale, check out our breakdown of The Stranger’s true identity, what the showrunners had to say about the Sauron reveal, and who Adar really is.