As of Thursday evening, we’re halfway through The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s eight-episode first season. But we still haven’t met the series’ Big Bad, the one we know will eventually forge the One Ring and rise to power again.
Or have we? In the era in which The Rings of Power takes place, known as the Second Age of Middle-earth, Sauron can change his appearance to look like whoever he wants to—even an animal. It’s entirely possible he’s already arrived, but he’s in disguise. For all we know he could be Nori.
Below, we’ve ranked various theories about who he could be, from most to least probable.
Alas, the most obvious theory is also the most boring: We don’t know who Sauron is because he still hasn’t shown up on the show. Here’s how Tolkien describes his fake identity in The Silmarillion:
Men he found the easiest to sway of all the peoples of the Earth; but long he sought to persuade the Elves to his service, for he knew that the Firstborn had the greater power; and he went far and wide among them, and his hue was still that of one fair and wise […] Sauron took to himself the name of Annatar, the Lord of the Gifts, and they had at first much profit from his friendship.
There’s no Annatar on The Rings of Power, at least not at this time, but he could appear later on. After all, there are still major characters waiting to be introduced, including that of actress Bridie Sisson, whose scowling, Eminem-like appearance in the Rings of Power trailer caught a lot of fans’ attention. Many of these same fans also leapt to identify the character as being played by up-and-coming British actor Anson Boon, who bears some resemblance, but in a rare comment on Sauron’s casting, executive producer Lindsey Weber told Time that these fans were wrong: All the screengrabs showed Sisson, not Boon, who apparently isn’t in the show at all. Weber added, of Sisson, “We also thought fans might like to know that her character is traveling from far to the east—from the lands of Rhûn.” Her homeland suggests she’s more likely a follower of Sauron, not Sauron himself, but perhaps casting a woman (Sauron can take any form, after all) would be a way to keep viewers on their toes.
With all of that said, it’s worth considering that The Rings of Power doesn’t have the rights to The Silmarillion,and even if the studio did, it’d be pretty dull for Sauron to just roll up and introduce himself by an alias some audience members already recognize (even if he does look hot doing it). Altering the canon might upset some diehard fans, but changing it could be the only way to maintain an element of surprise.
With that in mind, let’s examine some other possibilities.
2. The Stranger
In Episode 4, “The Great Wave,” young Theo receives a creepy warning from one of Morgoth’s devotees that Sauron’s time is near, and that there was a sign of his return a few weeks earlier. Theo guesses: “Starfall?” Sure enough, the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) fell from the sky in a meteor, seemingly with no memory of who he is. Is his arrival an omen of Sauron’s coming—perhaps the Stranger was sent, like the wizards in Tolkien’s books, to fight against the Dark Lord—or is he literally Sauron? He befriends Nori, which would seem to be an argument against his being Sauron, but unlike every other character on this list, we’ve seen him wield magic, and we also know that his magic has a sinister side: He causes fireflies to die, and he breaks Nori’s dad’s ankle. Were these unintentional acts, or a sign of repressed villainy?
The strongest evidence for the Stranger might be a line of possible foreshadowing from The Rings of Power’s first episode: Galadriel remarks in Sauron’s former fortress that Sauron’s evil is so powerful that the flames from her soldiers’ torches can’t warm them. Similarly, the fiery crash from the Stranger’s meteor is strangely cool, and it doesn’t burn Nori when she calls into the wreckage.
Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), aka Diet Aragorn, was already revealed to have a secret identity: the rightful king of the Southlands. But that’s Galadriel’s assumption, based on some sketchy evidence, plus we already know from the books that the Southlands is the same territory that later takes on a new name: Mordor. Halbrand has a temper, rather brutally beating up a group of men he stole from in Númenor, and while Galadriel attributes this to his royal nature struggling to adjust to being treated like a commoner, he’s shown himself to be both very manipulative and charming when he wants to be (you might even call him fair) as well as ferocious when crossed. His response to Galadriel when she guesses at his identity is a little strange: He warns her to be careful, tells her he’s not a hero, and notes that the king’s ancestor sided with Morgoth and lost the war. Classic reluctant king stuff, or is there a second secret identity beneath the first?
It’s notable too that Halbrand has been a prisoner in Númenor, and so was Sauron, who, in The Silmarillion, deliberately gets himself captured to corrupt the island. Now, in the book, Sauron’s capture happens after he has already regained his power, but again, The Rings of Power’s writers aren’t legally supposed to draw from The Silmarillion, except when those same events are also echoed in the Tolkien books to which they do have the rights, and they have already admitted to condensing some aspects of Tolkien’s timeline.
Halbrand being Sauron would be the most dramatically satisfying of the theories so far, since he and Galadriel have strong chemistry and have spent a lot of time together now. Learning that he’s the man responsible for her brother’s death would make for a powerful betrayal.
The orcs call this guy (played by British actor Joseph Mawle) adar, meaning father, and do his bidding in preparing the Southlands to become Mordor, Sauron’s future domain. I wouldn’t call him fair, exactly—except in the sense that he should protect himself using some high-SPF sunscreen—but he does at least look like an elf, if a malicious one. Still, it’d be pretty anti-climactic for Sauron to be disguised as someone so clearly evil, and personally overseeing construction of his lands rather than delegating seems beneath him. Also, it’s just hard to imagine the orcs calling Sauron “daddy.”