This Lord of the Rings article contains spoilers of The Rings of Power.
It seems clear now: the Stranger is Gandalf. Or, more specifically, he is definitely one of the Istari – he hasn’t actually identified himself as Gandalf just yet, but we’re pretty sure he is, especially after his scenes with the mystics in the Greenwood and his moments with Nori at the end of the episode.
But when Den of Geek asks actor Daniel Weyman about the Stranger’s journey in “Alloyed,” he remains coy, about who his character truly is. Like the episode itself, he doesn’t outright confirm that he’s playing a Second Age version of our beloved wizard. What he is very open about is the decisions that lead the Stranger to choosing good over evil in his pivotal scene with the mystics and the Harfoots.
“The first decision point is when he’s told he’s Lord Sauron by the mystics. I think he senses darkness and light, that the darkness they’ve brought with them is what he is meant to be following,” Weyman explains of the big fakeout at the start of the episode where it seems like the Stranger is actually the villain of the series. That is, until Nori reassures him that he is good and meant to be the light in that darkness. It’s that friendship with Nori that develops throughout the season, according to Weyman, that shows the Stranger the path forward to becoming (we assume) Gandalf.
“He’s seen her goodness. It’s so clear in comparison to these mystics in the darkness, that goodness is sort of radiating through him,” Weyman says of the scene when he vanquishes the Dweller and the other mystics. “And it’s that when connected to the staff that gives him the energy and the impetus to say to himself, ‘I’m wrong [being Sauron]. Actually, my purpose lies with this friendship.'”
By the end of the episode, the Stranger and Nori are on their way to a strange new land far in the east of Middle-earth, where he can hopefully learn more about who he is and what he’s meant to do, according to Weyman: “The place we leave him in, he still doesn’t know really how to control this amazing power, and he’s still got this burning idea about this constellation. They’re the driving things for him on this journey.”
It’s through the Stranger’s story in the finale that the show also brings in some of the more deep-cut lore created by J.R.R. Tolkien, introducing many of elements from the First Age and Second Age that set up the events of The Lord of the Rings books and movies. Here’s everything you need to know about the Stranger now that his role in The Rings of Power has been made much more clear…
Who Are the Istari?
The Istari, or wizards, in Tolkien’s lore, were a group of five Maiar who were sent to help the peoples of Middle-earth to fight Sauron. The five who made up the Order of Wizards are Saruman the White, Radagast the Brown, Gandalf the Grey, and the two Blue Wizards, Alatar and Pallando (named in Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales).
The Maiar are spirits created by Ilúvatar (God) to help the Valar (also spirits, but more powerful) to shape the world. The Maiar are less powerful than the Valar and they more or less work for them. Both Sauron and the Balrogs are also Maiar, but they were corrupted by Morgoth. That’s why Gandalf was killed fighting a Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring — the only foes he fights who are of equal power to himself are Saruman, Sauron, and the Balrog. It’s also why the three mystics — the Dweller, the Ascetic, and the Nomad — mistook the wizard for Sauron, and why they were correct about his powers. Gandalf and Sauron are the same type of beings, just different individuals.
Each of the five Maiar who made up the Istari were sent by a particular Vala. The Valar are a little bit like pagan gods and goddesses combined with Christian angels, and they oversee particular aspects of life and creation. Each Maiar had attributes relating to the Vala they were associated with.
Saruman the White was a Maiar of Aulë the Smith (a bit like the ancient Greek god Hephaestus). So was Sauron before he was corrupted by Morgoth. Aulë was not corrupted himself, but both Sauron and Saruman turned their powers of forging and making things to create dark things. Aulë also created the Dwarves, which is why Dwarves are so good a mining and at making things out of metal.
Radagast the Brown was a Maiar of Yavanna, the Queen of Earth, fruits, and growing things, associated with corn and the harvest (like the Greek goddess Demeter). Radagast in turn is associated strongly with animals who live off the earth and depend on growing things for survival. It seems pretty clear that the Stranger is neither of these, as he’s too “good” in Nori’s estimation at least, to be the corruptible Saruman, and not sufficiently close with animals to be Radagast.
There is an outside chance that he could be one of the two Blue Wizards, both Maiar of Oromë, who is a huntsman and rider (a bit like the Greek goddess Artemis, but with horse-riding added). The Blue Wizards were barely mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien later suggested in a letter that they travelled “East and South” and that they also turned to the dark side, starting up “secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.”
The timing of the Stranger’s arrival and the association of the Blue Wizards with the East suggest that there is still a small possibility he might be one of them. In Tolkien’s timeline, Saruman, and then Gandalf and Radagast, were sent to Middle-earth to help fight Sauron early on in the Third Age, which is the period in between the defeat of Sauron by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men (shown in the prologue to the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring) and the defeat of Sauron in the War of the Ring (i.e. the end of The Return of the King). The Blue Wizards, however, may have arrived much earlier, in the Second Age, which is the period covered by The Rings of Power.
However, since The Rings of Power has already compressed the history of an entire Age of Middle-earth into one human’s lifetime (albeit a long-lived, Númenorean human), we doubt that this means very much. It’s hardly the biggest alteration made to the text to have Gandalf show up on Middle-earth a bit earlier than in the books.
What Rhûn Means for the Stranger’s Journey
The connection with the east is a bit more interesting. Oromë was the Vala who hung about Middle-earth the longest, and some wild oxen near the Sea of Rhûn were associated with him. Rhûn is a land far to the east of Middle-earth; the Sea of Rhûn is a huge inland lake on its western side. The Dweller, the Ascetic, and the Nomad insisted that Rhûn was the wizard’s land, and it matches the star-map the Stranger was carrying with him. The Ascetic and the Nomad’s suggestion that in Rhûn, the Stranger will learn to command power over everything around him also suggests a link with Tolkien’s idea that the Blue Wizards went east and started up cults based around magic.
But there’s more to Rhûn than just being off to the East. According to Tolkien’s drafts published in The History of Middle-earth, at their creation Elves and Men first awoke far to the east before travelling west. Rhûn and the East are also quite strongly associated with the Bad Guys in Tolkien’s lore. Sauron went and hid out in Rhûn after his defeat by the Last Alliance, and the Easterlings, the human inhabitants, fought for him in the War of the Ring. This might be why Tolkien thought the Blue Wizards could have become corrupted there.
Still, Rhûn itself is not inherently evil, rather it’s the cradle of Elven and Human life on Middle-earth. This is an equally good explanation for why the wizard will be able to get answers in Rhûn. It’s the association of Rhûn with the earliest creation that is important for the Stranger, especially if he’s exploring an important part of Gandalf’s history we haven’t seen before.
Gandalf the Grey and What’s Next for the Stranger in Season 2
Gandalf, or Olórin as he was originally called, was a Maiar of Manwë and Varda, the King and Queen of the Valar (a bit like the Greek Zeus and Hera, but not brother and sister, and with much less sexual misconduct on Manwë’s side!). Varda was also associated with light and with the stars, and both Frodo and Sam call on her by the name of Elbereth Gilthoniel when in danger as they are making their way into Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. This would explain the Stranger’s strong association with stars and star maps.
We also heard the Stranger quote Gandalf from the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring when he says to Nori, “when in doubt, Elanor Brandyfoot, always follow your nose.” Gandalf said exactly the same thing to Peregrin Took in the Peter Jackson film (and he expressed the same idea in different words in the book). It would have been nice to actually hear him name himself Olórin (or Mithrandir or Gandalf) but this seems like a pretty clear indication that the Stranger is indeed Gandalf, and he has just shown up on Middle-earth earlier than expected.
Of course, there’s always the chance this version of Gandalf is not the one we meet in the Third Age at all. It’s possible the writers could end up taking things back to the way Tolkien originally outlined them by killing the Stranger at some point in The Rings of Power, setting up his return later on in the Third Age. For fans of the Lord of the Rings movies and the books, this surprise twist would even rhyme with Gandalf the Grey’s story in Fellowship. After all, Gandalf really does die fighting the Balrog, but because of his task of helping the peoples of Middle-earth to fight Sauron is not yet complete, his spirit is sent back by Ilúvatar in the form of Gandalf the White. So there’s nothing to stop The Rings of Power eventually killing him off with the understanding that he will be sent back to Middle-earth in the form of Gandalf the Grey in the Third Age.
As for what awaits him in the more immediate future in season 2, it’s possible that his story will start to connect with the rest of the characters through contact with Khamûl, the only one of the Ringwraiths, or Nazgûl, whose human name is known. He was most likely an Easterling and eventually became the second-in-command to the leader of the Nazgûl, the Witch-King of Angmar. Khamûl is the first Black Rider we meet in The Lord of the Rings, as he rides around the Shire sniffing for the One Ring. If Gandalf and Nori are heading to Rhûn, it’s possible that they will encounter Khamûl in his human days, and maybe even come across Sauron himself if Sauron heads out there gifting more Rings of Power and corrupting people.
The character design of the mysterious Dweller, defeated by Gandalf in the season finale, implies that Ringwraiths are going to be heavily involved in his story going forward. The Ringwraiths themselves don’t exist yet, because in the show’s chronology, the Seven Rings for the Dwarf-lords and the Nine for mortal leaders don’t seem to have been made yet. But the Dweller certainly looked an awful lot like the Jackson movies’ interpretation of the Witch-King of Angmar when seen by someone wearing the One Ring, so these mysterious and obviously evil three characters may be some kind of forerunners of the Ringwraiths.
Now, we’re going to confess, not all of our guesses and predictions have been entirely accurate, and we do seem to be seeing Ringwraiths everywhere – we’ve had to eat humble pie and admit that Halbrand did turn out to be Sauron, and not the Witch-King, after all! But we really do think we’re onto something this time. We fully expect Gandalf and Nori to come across Khamûl when they make it to Rhûn, and we’re excited to see just how all that goes down, and whether or not Gandalf in this particular form survives it.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.