The Rings of Power: What Just Happened in the Southlands?

Have the Southlands finally met their doom in "Udûn"? Here's what's going on in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power...

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Southlands
Photo: Amazon Prime Video

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

It seems like a clear-cut victory for the Southlands. Galadriel, Halbrand, Elendil, and the forces of Numenor have come charging in to save the day just before Adar could kill what’s left of Bronwyn’s people, and Arondir along with them. Now, with Adar and his Orc soldiers captured, a new king of the Southlands crowned, and that evil sword recovered, there’s nothing left to do but celebrate. The men of Middle-earth and Numenor feast, Galadriel ponders whether Sauron is truly dead, and Elendil and Isildur settle their differences while having a nice chat about horses.

But veteran Lord of the Rings fans know what must eventually come to pass in the land currently known as the Southlands. And when the heroes of Middle-earth and Numenor let their guard down, that’s when those loyal to the Dark Lord strike a killing blow. The status quo on The Rings of Power has just been irrevocably shattered in “Udûn.”

Udûn and the Creation of Mount Doom

Surprisingly, it’s the reprehensible Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) who sneaks away with the evil sword, seemingly having switched out the weapon with a decoy offscreen right before Adar’s capture, and uses it as a key to open the floodgates and send the raging waters of the Anduin down through the trenches dug up by the Orcs in the Southlands. When the spilling river water reaches a dormant volcano, which until now has quietly overlooked the Southlands while battles are fought below, it triggers a catastrophic eruption that engulfs the land in fire and smoke.

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But you’re not just witnessing the destruction of the Southlands on a mass scale as you watch a fireball crash through the village of Tirharad and overtake a defeated Galadriel in the final seconds of “Udûn,” it’s the birth of Mount Doom itself, where a resurgent Sauron will one day soon forge the One Ring to rule them all.

The title of the episode itself foreshadows this fate for the Southlands. After all “Udûn” (which means “Hell” in Elvish) is the name given to the northwestern region of the land that will soon become known as Mordor. It’s where the Black Gate is located, and just beyond this region sits Mount Doom as well as the dark fortress of Barad-dûr, Sauron’s own abode.

Of course, as with other parts of the lore, The Rings of Power takes some liberties with the formation of Mount Doom and Udûn for dramatic effect. Adar’s quest to trigger the volcano, and the reshaping of the Southlands that will undoubtedly come as a result, are plot beats created specifically for the TV series, meaning they’re not from J.R.R. Tolkien‘s extensive writings on the history of Middle-earth before the events of The Lord of the Rings books. In fact, there’s no Adar at all, or even a place called the Southlands, in Tolkien’s legendarium.

In The Peoples of Middle-earth, the final volume of Christopher Tolkien’s 12-part series on his father’s unpublished manuscripts and notes, J.R.R. establishes that Mount Doom, and the land that would become Mordor, was actually formed by Morgoth, Sauron’s master, at some point in the First Age (i.e. before the events of The Rings of Power). And when Sauron returned to Middle-earth in the Second Age, he settled in Mordor because of the evil that was already deeply rooted there. In other words, the land created by the first Dark Lord was the perfect place for Sauron to rebuild his forces and launch his attack on Middle-earth.

Next Stop: Mordor and the Rings of Power

Whether or not The Rings of Power will tie its own Mount Doom origin back to Morgoth in some way — was this a contingency plan put in place by the Dark Lord before his ultimate defeat? — is unclear. But we do know this: Mount Doom’s eruption, which now covers the Southlands in smoke and ash, signals this region’s transformation into the dark land of Mordor, and the impending arrival of Sauron as its master.

This also sets the stage for the actual forging of the Rings of Power, which have until now been noticeably absent from a show literally titled after Tolkien’s magical rings. We know from Tolkien’s legendarium — unless the show decides to go its own way on this, too — that it’s Sauron disguised as Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, who tricks Celebrimbor and his fellow Elves to create 19 rings for the different races of Middle-earth, while he also secretly forges the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

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We’ve already seen Celebrimbor and Elrond setting out to build a great forge in Lindon that will undoubtedly be where they create the rings for Elves, Men, and Dwarves. But until now, Mount Doom and Mordor were nowhere to be found. Without this terrible place, Sauron could not forge the final ring. Now that the land of Mordor has been formed, the saga of The Rings of Power can truly begin.

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