If, like your humble correspondent, you immediately assumed that The Stranger who fell from a star all the way back in the series premiere of “The Rings of Power” was Sauron, “Alloyed” is here to prove you right — or is it? The season finale drops that bombshell just moments after it’s begun, but just as not all who wander are lost, not all major plot reveals are to be trusted.
We learn of The Stranger’s true identity via those three otherworldly women who’ve been tracking him for several episodes now — two of whom seem to be called the Ascetic and the Nomad— and who offer such grand pronouncements as, “You fell from the stars, yet you are greater than they” upon finally encountering him. But he isn’t immediately won over by them, especially when they attack Nori as she and her fellow Harfoots try to rescue him — including their leader, Sadoc Burrows, who’s mortally wounded by a well-placed throwing knife. It’s a mournful loss, not least because the hobbitses have always represented Middle-earth at its most wholesome, but in his final moments the elder is nothing if not content. “The missus will be waiting,” after all.
Despite still being a newborn of sorts, a collection of nebulous cosmic dust rather than a fully formed star, The Stranger is able to evaporate the three beings who have come for him in a truly awesome display after realizing (or perhaps deciding) that “I’m good.” With her dying words, one of them discovers just a little too late that, uh oh, he isn’t Sauron but rather “the other one.” More precisely, he’s one of the Istari, which can be translated as both “wise one” or “wizard,” of whom there are just five. Of that quintet, only three were ever named: Radagast, Saruman and Gandalf. I’ll give you one guess which one The Stranger is.
If we needed yet another reminder that hobbits are the heart and soul of “The Lord of the Rings” in general and Middle-earth in particular, Nori’s tender goodbye with her family and bestie after deciding to go to Rhûn and learn more about who he is provides just that. “The world’s not that wide, Poppy,” she tells said BFF, “It’s just that we’re so bleeding small.” And if we needed more confirmation that The Stranger is Gandalf despite not being explicitly identified as such, his last words of the episode provide that as well: “When in doubt, Eleanor Brandyfoot, always follow your nose.”
(In addition to being lovely on its own, this extended sequence acts as a fitting origin story for Gandalf’s love of hobbits — one of them literally gave his life to save him!)
In an unexpected pairing that immediately proves intriguing, meanwhile, Halbrand happens upon Celebrimbor in his workshop in Eregion and just so happens to have a potential solution to the elves’ mithril scarcity: combine it with another ore. The master smith initially balks at the idea, thinking it would dilute the precious substance’s “unique qualities,” but Halbrand has learned from his supposedly hardscrabble upbringing that the right alloy can in fact amplify those qualities. (“Maybe there’s some way of doing more with less,” Celebrimbor says, a statement that is in no way a commentary on Amazon spending $1 billion on this endeavor.)
Time will tell, but in the meantime, Celebrimbor, Galadriel and Elrond present High King Gil-galad with an idea that Halbrand helped formulate: use what mithril they have to forge a powerful crown for Gil-galad himself. The High King isn’t feeling it, alas, but that’s only part of the problem. Galadriel, who’s always right about everything and should always be listened to, senses something is amiss after hearing Celebrimbor repeat a strange phrase he heard from Halbrand and has a scholar look up the history of the Southlands. Her suspicion is well placed: That line was broken more than a thousand years ago, meaning Halbrand isn’t who he says he is.
Who, then, might he be? Surely not the Dark Lord of Mordor, known to some as Mairon and Annatar, the Lord of the Rings himself? One gifted above all else in deception and disguise? Kudos to the sleuths who called it: Halbrand is Sauron, and Sauron is Halbrand. And he doesn’t just reveal this information to Galadriel on a whim. After taking her on a guided tour of the darkest recesses of her own mind, from the pastoral riverside where she and her brother used to confide in one another to the raft where she and Halbrand first met, he shows her their reflection in the water as a dark king and queen.
“All others look on you with doubt,” he tells her. “I alone can see your greatness; I alone can see your light.” She would bind him to the light and he would bind her to the power in this dark union, and together they would save Middle-earth. “Save or rule?” she asks, unconvinced by his silver tongue. He sees no difference, which is why, she says, she will never be at his side. If his speech reminds you of anything, there’s a good reason for that: It echoes what Galadriel says to Frodo after he offers her the ring. That the seed of that speech comes from the Dark Lord is no small thing.
By the time Galadriel has woken in the water, nearly drowning, Sauron is on his way to Mordor and Elrond is there to pull her to safety. She doesn’t tell him what’s just happened, however — to do so would tarnish his faith in her and even call her loyalty into question. She also says that three rings must now be forged rather than a single crown, as one would corrupt its wearer and two would divide their bearers. Forged they are by Celebrimbor, who’s finally figured out how to bend mithril to his will (with an assist from Halbrand/Sauron, it must be said), and striking as well: one clear, one red and one blue.
Many more rings of power will be forged before this series is over — seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, nine for mortal men, doomed to die and one for the dark lord on his dark throne — but for now the three for the Elven-kings under the sky will have to suffice. How they’ll be used remains to be seen, as does how “The Rings of Power” will follow this promising, imperfect and sometimes thrilling first season.