The Rings of Power: How Halbrand’s Origin Story Changes Lord of the Rings Canon

Exclusive: Charlie Vickers breaks down Halbrand's journey in The Rings of Power finale and what it means for the future of Lord of the Rings.

Charlie Vickers as Halbrand in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Photo: Amazon Prime Video

This Lord of the Rings article contains spoilers for The Rings of Power.

Well, it has finally been confirmed – The Rings of Power’s Halbrand is, indeed, Sauron, as so many viewers had already guessed! For some of us, this was a bit unexpected. Even actor Charlie Vickers didn’t know the truth about his character for sure until he was deep into production, although he had a hunch.

“I knew from the third episode, so I filmed that sequence on the raft [in episode 2] wholeheartedly as Halbrand,” Vickers tells Den of Geek. “I had a suspicion because I auditioned with a Richard III speech, and with a speech where I was playing Satan in Paradise Lost, so I was like ‘Okay, there’s something a bit dodgy about this guy.'”

When showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay did reveal Halbrand’s secret identity, it then became Vickers’ challenge to play a dual role, sprinkling in little bits of Sauron’s personality while also personifying the tortured king of the Southlands.

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“I learned a lot in that you can really play two things at once. It’s so beautifully structured, the writing, in that it does a lot of the work for you in terms of leaving hints back to the fact that he’s Sauron in the end,” Vickers said. The work of J.R.R. Tolkien himself also “informed the subconscious stuff” that went into the performance, according to the actor. “I had to trust all my reading. The Silmarillion and Tolkien’s letters, there are so many things in there where you what Tolkien intended with Sauron and with this period of his life, his reemergence after being humbled at the end of the First Age.”

Yes, Vickers really did his homework, even going back to the History of Middle-earth series of unfinished drafts and essays collected by Tolkien’s son Christopher: “There’s some really interesting stuff in there about whether his repentance was genuine or not, or just out of fear, and that he’s lingering and slowly reemerging.”

By the end of “Alloyed,” it’s clear we’re in the reemergence phase, with Sauron back and on his way to Mordor. As he climbs down a mountain towards the wasteland below, it almost looks like he’s cutting a path directly to Mount Doom. Longtime Lord of the Rings fans know exactly what that means…

“Tolkien talks about, at the beginning of the Second Age, [Sauron] lingers in Middle-earth and very slowly comes back, and I think that’s what we’ve seen,” Vickers says of Sauron’s final scene of the first season. “We’ve seen the end of that period over this first season. I think in his mind, he’s like, ‘Shit, yeah, I’m back. It’s happening.'”

Halbrand, Not Annatar

The Rings of Power is based on the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings books, which provide only the bare bones of an outline of what went on in the Second Age around the forging of the titular Rings. But somewhat surprisingly, Halbrand’s story contradicts quite a lot of the little that there is.

Appendix B to The Lord of the Rings states that Sauron first chose Mordor as a stronghold and started building his fortress of Barad-dûr. He then “won over” the Elven smiths of Eregion (an Elven kingdom near to Moria) and together they began forging the Rings of Power (the first 16 of them, those that were eventually given to Dwarves and Men). The Three Rings were also forged in Eregion – later books state that they were forged by Celebrimbor without Sauron’s involvement, but The Lord of the Rings doesn’t specify that. Then Sauron goes and forges the One Ring at Mount Doom and Celebrimbor, realizing what is happening, hides the Three Elven Rings.

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Halbrand’s story is largely a new invention slotting in between the formation of Mordor and the forging of the Rings of Power. The name “Halbrand” is not a known alias of Sauron, though he has lots of others. Halbrand claims to be a King of the Southlands, and there is a certain logic to that particular lie. Sauron, after all, does become ruler of Mordor. Halbrand’s journey to Númenor and his relationship with Galadriel are new inventions for the series. too. The former is meant to more cohesively connect Sauron to the downfall of Númenor, while the latter is meant to hide Halbrand’s true identity from readers who already know from the books that it’s Sauron who manipulates the Elves into forging the Rings. Rather than seeing Celebrimbor, the actual maker of the Rings of Power, deceived by an apparently good and helpful ally, the series has Galadriel, who wears one of the Rings but did not make them, tricked by a man who always seemed a bit dubious and untrustworthy.

The changes certainly add something to Galadriel’s story. Hearing Sauron tempt her in exactly the same words she used when tempted by the One Ring in The Lord of Rings – the promise to make her a “Queen” and “stronger than the foundations of the earth” – is powerful stuff. Watching that scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where she almost gives in to temptation and takes the Ring from Frodo will have even more of an emotional impact now, as we can assume she is reminded of Halbrand, and of how she saved him in the Second Age — and perhaps even liked him.

Sauron and Celebrimbor

The changes do take something away from Celebrimbor’s own story, though. Celebrimbor is responsible for forging all but One of the 20 Rings of Power, and it’s a bit strange that he has been rather side-lined as a secondary character in the series so far. The focus has understandably been on the Elves we already know and love, Galadriel and Elrond, but the cutting short of the storyline between Sauron and the Elven smiths has drastically reduced Celebrimbor’s role in the story, and we have missed out on seeing a relationship develop between him and Sauron. Instead, Sauron simply shows up in a human disguise, and Celebrimbor takes some advice from him in the same scene he first meets him. It lacks the drama between them that a closer adaptation of Tolkien’s text would have provided.

In other Tolkien texts, there is more detail about this relationship between Celebrimbor and Sauron. Sauron befriends Celebrimbor while disguised as a beautiful Elf called Annatar, the Lord of Gifts. Elrond, Gil-galad, and Galadriel all mistrust him, but Celebrimbor is taken in and together they create the Seven Rings for the Dwarf-lords and the Nine Rings for Mortal Men. The absence of these 16 Rings from The Rings of Power’s storyline so far is something that will have to be addressed in season 2, since one of the Seven Rings becomes an heirloom of Durin and eventually, Thorin Oakenshield, and the Nine Rings are what create the Nine Ringwraiths we see in The Lord of the Rings.

The Rings of Power includes no mention at all of the name “Annatar.” There is an easter egg-type reference to it, when Halbrand tells Celebrimbor that his suggestion of using alloys to create the Rings is a “gift,” but the name itself does not appear. This may be because of the complicated situation around the legal rights to Tolkien’s works.

The Rights Issues Behind the Sauron Change

Amazon bought the rights to The Lord of the Rings, including its Appendices, but not to The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales. Throughout season 1 of The Rings of Power, we’ve seen small hints of these two texts appear – the Silmarils, the powerful gems created by the Elf Fëanor, were mentioned briefly, and the Númenorean King spending all his time in a tower is a detail from Unfinished Tales. But we won’t see sustained adaptations of any storylines from these other works, because Amazon doen’t have the rights to them.

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This may be the reason behind several of the changes the series has made to Tolkien’s lore, like the new explanation for why there is a Balrog lurking underneath Khazad-dûm. And it may be that this is why the series has created the new alias of Halbrand for Sauron, rather than using the name Annatar or having him appear as a beautiful Elf – they don’t have the rights to that material. The name “Annatar” does not appear in The Lord of the Rings, it’s from The Silmarillion. Basically, if it’s not mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, Amazon can’t use it.

So what does this mean for Sauron and Celebrimbor going forward? Who is going to forge the other 16 Rings of Power, and when? Perhaps Halbrand/Sauron will take on a new disguise to work with Celebrimbor and forge them together – after all, although Galadriel and Elrond know who Halbrand really is, Celebrimbor does not (presumably Galadriel was simply too embarrassed to admit just how badly she had messed up, but keeping that secret may prove to be a mistake). Or perhaps Sauron is off to Mordor to deal with Adar and forge is own One Ring, and Celebrimbor will forge the others. Only time will tell.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.