POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOR THE RINGS OF POWER AHEAD!
We got played, and honestly I can’t even be mad…because of course Sauron wasn’t going to let himself be exposed in a trailer for The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, not without first seizing an opportunity to manipulate all of the fans (myself included) too over-eager and impatient for a glimpse of Sauron to notice for ourselves that the fine-featured fellow in the picture below, with the ice-blue eyes and the bleach-blond buzzcut, initially misidentified as Anson Boon playing Sauron, not only was not Anson Boon or Sauron, but wasn’t even a man…and embarrassingly, all of this went unnoticed by fans and a fair number of professional journalists for hours, until it was much too late to prevent the terms “Sauron” and “Annatar” from trending on Twitter. Oops…
Here’s what happened. A new full-length trailer for The Rings Of Power debuted at San Diego Comic-Con during a memorable Hall H presentation hosted by Stephen Colbert, and as well as being the best trailer yet, it also gave us our first really good look at the series’ villains – including the aforementioned buzzcut-sporting figure, who first appears onscreen while Tar-Míriel, Queen Regent of Númenor, is talking about how “evil does not sleep, it waits”, and then again near the end of the trailer to breathe fire off the ends of their blackened fingertips while a deep, gravelly voice informs us that “[we] have been told many lies of Middle-earth”, so forgive me if I got the impression that this character was the big bad.
Everyone seems to have independently reached the conclusion that this was Sauron after watching the trailer, and it really shouldn’t be too difficult to see why, but somehow we as a fandom also collectively became convinced that Anson Boon was the actor playing this random character we had already collectively decided was Sauron, and when I say convinced I mean we had heretofore respectable news-outlets quoting us on this and everything. In hindsight, looking at an image of Anson Boon and comparing it to the screenshots of the pale, androgynous figure played by actress Bridie Sisson in the trailer, the two…don’t look very much alike, but you have to understand that this was a moment in Tolkien Twitter. Perhaps not our finest moment, but a moment nonetheless.
Anyway, right as Sauron made it into the top trends on Twitter, a couple of fans who had remained clear-headed throughout all the chaos must have thought to check Bridie Sisson’s socials because somehow it was discovered that the actress had posted about being in the trailer, even helpfully pointing out exactly where she was so that fans wouldn’t miss her cameo…or, you know, accidentally confuse her with Anson Boon or something. A couple of fans misinterpreted this as confirmation that Sauron was being played by Bridie Sisson in The Rings Of Power, and the whole situation has only continued to spiral out of control from there.
The truth of the matter, or at least what I currently understand to be true, is that Sisson’s character is an entirely original character who just so happens to have connections to Sauron. There is no evidence to suggest she is playing Sauron or that Sauron has been “gender-bent” in The Rings Of Power (whatever that means in this context, given that Sauron is canonically a shape-shifter). Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Anson Boon – who was only ever rumored to have been cast in The Rings Of Power, anyway – is actually playing Sauron. That’s certainly not his voice we hear near the end of the trailer, nor is it Sisson’s. Finally, and most frustratingly, there is no evidence to suggest that we saw Sauron at any point in the new trailer.
So we’re back to square one when it comes to locating and identifying Sauron…but we’re in good company, at least! When The Rings Of Power opens, Galadriel can be found searching for faint traces of the Dark Lord in the far north of Middle-earth where he was last seen during the War of Wrath, while in Númenor Tar-Míriel consults the far-seeing palantír for information and is assaulted with haunting images of the devastation awaiting her and her people, and somewhere in the wilderness Bridie Sisson’s character appears to also be hunting Sauron, though not with the intention of killing or ensnaring him – quite the opposite, in fact.
Sisson’s character wields a metal staff topped by the symbol of the Lidless Eye, which is one of several reasons I initially assumed she was Sauron – but looking at it again, I think it’s far more likely that she’s a devotee of Sauron whose vestal garments and close-cropped hair are meant to signal to the audience that she has humbled herself before the Dark Lord in exchange for everlasting life…or rather, the promise of everlasting life, which admittedly doesn’t mean a whole lot coming from the Base Master of Treachery. I assume that’s why Sauron gives his followers nifty little magical abilities, to keep them distracted.
All of this is just an educated guess on my part, but I believe the priestess is trying to find Sauron because she saw the meteor fall from the sky and interpreted it as a sign that her god-king’s triumphant return is nigh. She might be on the right track, for regardless of where Sauron is and what form he’s currently taking, he is back and his presence can be felt throughout this trailer. The darkness, only alluded to until now, is no longer just a vague patch of shadow lingering on the edges of the map, but a growing ink-blot in its very center – a coagulation of many tangible evil creatures and entities emerging simultaneously from the deep woods and waters as if in answer to a summons.
Even the trailer thumbnail depicts a ferocious orc emboldened to attack Arondir after the Silvan Elf seemingly stumbles upon one of their hidey-holes in the Southlands of Middle-earth. Adar, a High Elf captured by Morgoth during the First Age and tortured to the point where he now half-resembles an orc himself, leads them – and while some of the rumors I’ve heard regarding Adar indicate that he genuinely cares for the orcs under his command and is only reluctantly aligned with Sauron, I don’t know if that necessarily means he’s a nice person. Piecing together all the clips of Arondir in this trailer and others, we can see he spends a lot of time in the same sheer-sided pit filled with orcs, werewolves, and other beasts, and I’m inclined to believe this is an arena where Adar throws his prisoners-of-war to fight until they drop dead of exhaustion, if they’re not eviscerated long before then.
I’m not too worried for Arondir, though – at least he’s a Silvan Elf, so he can always defy gravity if it comes down to that. His mortal lover, Bronwyn, on the other hand, is a village apothecary who knows her limits and isn’t ashamed to take refuge in a closet when an orc breaks into her house, looking for the magical ancient sword she literally just gave to her son Theo…or maybe it just wants to know if she sells allergy medications? I’m very excited to watch this sequence in full and judge for myself whether it’s as creepy as the trailer makes it out to be, because I’ve always seen potential for horror in Middle-earth and I want an adaptation of Tolkien’s works to capture that feeling of paralyzing dread that I experienced as a kid reading The Two Towers for the first time and being so terrified by the description of Gollum crawling “down the face of a precipice….like some large prowling thing of insect-kind” that I would stack heavy books on top of The Lord Of The Rings at night to prevent him from escaping.
That also partially explains why I’m disappointed in The Rings Of Power for reusing the design of the Balrog from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring – not because it’s a poorly-designed monster by any means (on the contrary, it’s arguably one of the most iconic monsters in cinematic history), but because it’s never terrified me the way Tolkien’s vague description of the creature did…and I almost think the reason for that is that Jackson’s Balrog is so monstrous, it starts to feel less like a sapient being capable of feeling malice towards the Fellowship and more like an animal of limited sentience defending its territory. So I’m a little conflicted, seeing it again – on the one hand, it’s a strong visual link to the movies that I think more casual fans will really appreciate, and on the other hand, it’s just never been how I envision the Balrog.
I’m similarly divided over whether to consider the sea-monster that attacks Galadriel’s ship “evil” or merely aggressive – speaking of The Fellowship Of The Ring, this seemingly out-of-place underwater action sequence reminds me of a perplexing moment during the Council of Elrond where Glorfindel suggests tossing the One Ring into the ocean and Gandalf warns him that there are “many things in the deep waters”, as if anyone there knows what the hell he’s talking about. This is never elaborated on in the books, because I’m sure that to Tolkien it was primarily a throwaway excuse for why the Fellowship couldn’t just go down to the beach and dispose of the Ring in the process, but The Rings Of Power might have a chance to expand on this by showing us the extent of Sauron’s influence under the Sundering Seas.
Who wants to bet that some of these sea-monsters will also be involved in the Downfall of Númenor, circling the submerged island like giant vultures and picking off survivors? I’m not sure why this horrible thought just occurred to me, but you’ve got to admit it would make for some truly gruesome television.
Then there are the wildcards – the morally-ambiguous characters like Halbrand, who will make a selfless choice in one dire situation only to selfishly save his own skin in the next, and the morally-confused characters like Meteor Man, who is apparently capable of leveling forests with shock-waves released from his body but for better or worse can’t remember what he’s supposed to be doing with all of that power bottled up inside of him. Bronwyn’s son Theo is an interesting example of a character that seems to have good intentions, but whose path is leading him too close to the shadow for him to escape unharmed, while the Dwarven prince Durin IV, in his effort to unearth the reserves of mithril buried beneath Khazad-dûm, is literally getting too close to the shadow lurking in the mountain kingdom’s core.
So while unmasking Sauron is the top priority for Galadriel and her allies amongst the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, they really ought to consider turning inwards and confronting the darkness that has taken hold of their own hearts…before it’s too late to prevent the corruption from spreading. The trailer places a lot of emphasis on this grand idea that the Free Peoples are somehow going to conquer the enemy in battle, with Galadriel seemingly persuading Tar-Míriel and the Númenórean army to abandon their isolationist policies and join her in fighting back against Adar and/or Sauron – but if Gandalf were there to counsel them, he would say that “victory cannot be achieved by arms”, and he would be right, for military victories can be too quickly undone for their consequences to be meaningful.
To defeat the enemy requires a strength of will, a humility, and a tendency towards selflessness, all of which are qualities that…simply aren’t found in any of the people making important decisions for Middle-earth during the Second Age. The fact that the Hobbits (and presumably their Harfoot ancestors) do embody these virtues is exactly why they shouldn’t play a large role in the events of the Second Age, because they would fundamentally alter the course of the histories. I think of Hobbits as being kind of like Eru Ilúvatar’s answer to the folly of Men and the pride of Elves in the Second Age – that’s why they spring up suddenly in the early Third Age without any warning and why no one knows exactly where they came from, because like wizards they arrived precisely when they were meant to.
And while we’re on the subject of Hobbits and wizards…two days ago when I still thought Bridie Sisson’s character was Sauron, I had planned to end this post by asking who Meteor Man could be if not Sauron, and I was afraid to even speak into existence the thought that was formulating in my head; that he might in fact be Gandalf the Grey, arriving in Middle-earth by unconventional means roughly one-thousand to two-thousand years ahead of his canonical date-of-arrival in the early Third Age. I don’t know what it is about the thought of Gandalf undergoing a series-long arc of realizing the hidden potential of Harfoots in the mid-to-late Second Age that irks me, but something about it just doesn’t sound right!
Thankfully, with the confirmation that Sisson is playing an original character and not Sauron, those of us who don’t want to see Gandalf in The Rings Of Power can rest easy (for the time being). Sauron’s identity is still a mystery, as is the Meteor Man’s, and the two could still be one-and-the-same – something that, while it would undoubtedly present its own set of issues, wouldn’t annoy me nearly as much as Gandalf showing up for the sake of fanservice and being purposefully planted amongst the Harfoots from the very beginning of his stay in Middle-earth as if it isn’t thematically relevant that he canonically came across them by chance during the Long Winter and was so impressed by their “tough uncomplaining courage” that he became invested in ensuring their survival…hmm, I guess I figured out what irks me about the whole idea.
Apologies for the small rant, that’s just where my head is at right now. Leaving all of that aside, however, this trailer genuinely moved me, gave me the shivers at all the right moments, and made me feel like The Rings Of Power is in pretty good hands. Closer to release, we might get a final trailer (I’d say it’s almost a certainty if Amazon decides to play the first two episodes in select theaters, as TheOneRing.net has previously reported; because then they’d have to sell tickets, and the day tickets go on sale is when movie studios like to drop a new trailer as a little incentive), but as of right now I need no further convincing – I’m sold. Are you?
Trailer Rating: 10/10