‘Rings of Power’ Writer Defends Series’ Biggest Change to Tolkien’s Canon
To reveal Sauron, the authors of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power must have thought like Sauron.
In the Season 1 finale of Amazon’s epic prequel series, all of Middle-earth trembled when the handsome stranger Halbrand, played by Charlie Vickers, was revealed to be none other than Sauron in disguise.
True to Tolkien’s writings, Sauron spends the season tricking the elves into portraying himself as a charming and kind “gift-giver” who helps forge the three elven rings. The season ends with a break from Tolkien’s canon, as these are the first rings forged rather than the last.
The reveal was difficult not just for Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), but for the audience. While some viewers probably saw it coming, the show ensured that the full weight of the moment was felt through Galadriel’s grief at having her sense of trust shattered.
According to writer and producer Gennifer Hutchison, a television veteran whose credits include Strain, breaking Badand You better call Saulthe rings of power the staff asked themselves a simple question: “What would Sauron do?”
“We’re thinking about things like making sure Halbrand is internally consistent for Halbrand and for Sauron,” says Hutchison Reverse. “If you go back and watch the decisions he makes, you can read them for either character.”
Reverse spoke to Hutchison about the past and future of Amazon’s fantasy epic, including what it means for Sauron to feel like Walter White in Season 2.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Reverse: Tolkien wrote that Sauron came in the Second Age to trick the elves into forging the rings. How to create a character like Halbrand from the crumbs left by Tolkien?
Hutchison: That’s the challenge, right? What’s nice is that you have this great base of like, “Here’s the story, here’s the dynamic,” and then you can add details. It’s really about what’s going to best serve the characters. If we center a story around Galadriel and her journey, you ask questions like, “What’s the best way to also bring this character in? To succeed in forging rings, in what context would that come? Just find ways to get in, while sticking to the spirit and rhythms you’re trying to make sure you hit as you go.
How did you find Halbrand as a fully formed character?
We wanted a foil for Galadriel. Someone who was running from his past and withdrew a bit. Someone she could hold on to, because she’s so driven. And so this character just started to emerge from what that dynamic might be.
The showrunners recently said that Sauron would be “like” Walter White, from breaking Bad. Like a breaking Bad veteran, can you extrapolate what they might mean?
I think the idea is that at some point Walter really embraced his Heisenberg identity. We know who Sauron is, it was revealed at least to Galadriel. How does he begin to stretch his legs?
What’s the difference between writing shows like You better call Saul and power rings? How striking is the contrast?
What was different was the scale. We work with so many. The attention to ownership, scope and scale of what we try to do, and the story we tell. breaking Bad and You better call Saul are highly focused, individual character studies anchored to a single track. rings of power to all these worlds and scenarios. But what I think would be similar was bringing in that character base and finding ways to make sure the characters feel grounded and we hit their emotional arcs. It was the link for me between the rooms.
In Tolkien’s canon he wrote that the Elvish rings were forged last. In rings of power, they are forged before humans and dwarves get theirs. What was the reason for this change?
Much of the season was about the elves and their journey, and Galadriel’s journey, and the fading [of Eregion]. So we wanted to tie those rings to that story. It was about reducing our focus on them and getting those rings to finish the season. Because we had to make rings. It felt like the climax of this arc, instead of trying to deal with the timeline in a different way.
Another character whose identity was exposed was The Stranger (Daniel Weyman). He is first said to be Sauron before learning that is not true. Did it seem risky to you to have these two “revelations” of Sauron in one episode?
Yes of course. What was great for me was that a big part of the stranger’s journey was him asking himself, “Am I bad? Am I dangerous? And then being told, “Yes, you are,” but then having Nori bring him back to realizing who he really was and who he was really going to be. I think that was the advantage of this early “revelation”. This allowed this arc to come to fruition in the episode. And then there was also that little extra mistake.
You gave the Stranger one of Ian McKellen’s lines from Gandalf, about following your nose when in doubt. Does this line inform us of the true identity of the Stranger?
A lot of what we like to do is refer to old age stories and books as things that are told early. The idea that these things go back to the Third Age and the history that we know. So, whoever the Stranger is, this saying is either the one he repeats or the one he transmits. It really anchors him to this world in a way that appealed to us.
Can you describe Season 1 in one word? How would you describe season 2?
It is a question of identity. For me, it was about: “Who am I? Who do I choose to be? Which path do I choose to take? Season 2? My God, I don’t know.
Is the stranger a blue wizard?
Until he knows his name, we won’t know his name.