This Lord of the Rings article contains spoilers for The Rings of Power.
There’s a lot to take in during the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, from the introduction of multiple cultures and people across Middle-earth (and beyond), shots of dazzling new locations, and a rapid-fire crash course in the history of the First Age and war against Morgoth. But one of the weirdest moments had to be the crash landing of what appeared to be a fiery comet, but actually turned out to be a raggedy man with no obvious identity.
In a world where dark gods and elves exist, a random naked man falling from the sky like a meteor isn’t really that weird, is it? Probably not, but it is the biggest mystery on The Rings of Power at the moment. Who is this strange man? Where did he come from? Is he even technically a man at all? And how does he connect to the rest of the story the show is telling?
Here are our favorite theories regarding the Stranger’s identity, and what they might mean for The Rings of Power’s future…
The Dark Lord does like to be dramatic (see also: the giant flaming eye that will eventually sit atop Barad-dur) and this is certainly the most dramatic entrance any character has had in the series thus far. I mean, none of us would expect Sauron to do something as common as take a boat back across the Sundering Seas to Middle-earth like some elf, would we?
It’s already very clear that the driving emotional engine behind much of The Rings of Power is Sauron’s inevitable return. Yes, he was defeated when Morgoth fell at the end of the First Age, but as a Sith apprentice must always rise when their master is defeated, we all know he’s coming back. This would be a dramatic way to reintroduce the series’ greatest threat right under viewers’ noses and establish a connection between Sauron and the ancestors of the very beings (i.e. hobbits) that will one day mean his doom. Plus, it can’t be an accident that the fire crater his crash landing creates looks an awful lot like the Eye of Sauron, can it?
Gandalf the Grey
Despite the fact that The Rings of Power is, for the most part, boldly charting its own path through J.R.R. Tolkien’s lore, no one can tell me that if Amazon saw a chance to somehow incorporate one of the franchise’s most popular characters into this series that they wouldn’t take it. And I can’t say I blame them, even if the Stranger’s presence doesn’t entirely mesh with the existing lore surrounding where Gandalf came from or when he arrived in Middle-earth. (Details, right?) But since Gandalf is one of the Maiar (angelic, primordial spirits), who were known to occasionally visit Middle-earth to check up on things, it’s not impossible.
For starters, the Stranger basically looks like a crazed wizard and his strange abilities (that booming scream, his affinity for talking to bugs, writing in symbols) all seem to suggest he’s a being with some kind of magic. His initial connection with the harfoot Nori could foreshadow Gandalf’s own longtime interest in and connection to the hobbits that will one day be their descendants, and his fall to earth encased in fire is eerily similar to Gandalf’s fall through Moria with the Balrog and his subsequent resurrection afterward.
Bonus points for the fact that the Stranger is impervious to fire, which happens to also be Gandalf’s Maiar alignment. (He will eventually wield the elvish ring Narya, the Ring of Fire, in the future.)
Though viewers of The Rings of Power will be familiar with several other members of Gandalf’s Istari order—fellow wizards Radagast the Brown and Saruman the White—it’s unlikely that either of them is the Stranger, simply given what we know about their respective stories and histories. Saruman’s web of deceit and betrayal is complicated enough without thrusting him into this series, and the Stranger doesn’t seem in tune enough with nature to be Radagast, though he’s got the borderline madness thing down.
However, the Stranger could be one of the beings we’re less familiar with. Two unnamed Blue Wizards were also part of the quintet of Istari initially sent to Middle-Earth in response to Sauron’s growing power, but we know virtually nothing about them. (Their names–Alatar and Pallando–are mentioned in Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, but that’s it.) Either of them would offer the show a relatively blank slate and the chance to add a wizard to their canvas without messing with a previously established story.
If The Rings of Power wanted to do something really out there, they could make the Stranger turn out to be Tom Bombadil, one of Tolkien’s most mysterious and, quite frankly, bizarre characters. An immortal figure who could be anything from Eru Iluvatar (a.k.a. God) in human(ish) form to one of the fourteen Valar (the first and mightiest beings sent to shape the world) to something else entirely, his motivations and powers are inconsistent at best and nonsensical at worst.
He is apparently immune to the One Ring! He likes to speak in awkward rhyming poetry! But as one of the oldest of all beings, he’s certainly powerful enough to have survived crashing into Middle-earth while on fire, and our knowledge of what he is and what has spent he’s very long life doing is so sketchy that surely the writers could come up with some way to fit him into this story.
And after all—isn’t anyone else curious about why he cares so little about Sauron and the wars of Middle-earth?
Our Best Guess
Look, there’s every chance that the arrival of the Stranger is a backdoor Sauron origin story meant to trick viewers. After all, the Dark Lord disguises himself among the people of Middle-earth several times throughout Tolkien’s stories.
But given that The Rings of Power has already introduced younger versions of both Galadriel and Elrond, it’s hard to believe that the folks in charge would be able to resist the temptation to revisit one of the only other characters who is not only technically old enough to appear in this series as well as Peter Jackson’s movies, but recognizable and popular enough that audiences would be more than willing to overlook the slight fudging of his personal timeline.
It seems fairly likely that the Stranger is some early form of the being that will one day become known as Gandalf the Grey, and we’re watching what is essentially his origin story alongside Galadriel and Eldrond’s.
Coincidence that it is this trio who will share the Elvish rings one day? I think not.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is out now on Amazon Prime Video.