THE RINGS OF POWER Season 2 Brings Villains Into the Light

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Season one of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power introduced us to numerous societies and heroes of Middle-earth and beyond. The Dwarves in Khazad-dûm discovering mithril. The Elves in Lindon trying to ensure the survival of their race, with a master smith turning to outside help to do so. The Harfoots ending a long journey with a strange wizard, and one of them stepping on a new path. The Númenóreans answering Galadriel’s call to war and accidentally contributing to the rise of Mordor. The Southlanders losing their home. All separate groups and separate lives then, but with Sauron’s return, season two shows they will be separate no longer.

The Rings of Power Halbrand is Sauron (1)
Prime Video

“As the season goes on, [we’ll start to realize] that this is not a story about several different worlds. This is a story about one world, and Sauron is the spine that connects all of it,” co-showrunner Patrick McKay said in a conference room adjacent to the show’s sets, surrounded by concept art and location models for the upcoming season.

Nerdist joined a group of journalists on The Rings of Power season two set in spring 2023. The crew had been shooting since October, over London’s dreary winter. Normally, production designer Kristian Milsted explained, you want to avoid filming in London during that time. But in this case, the gloomy cold and landscapes with dead trees suited the darker universe they’re establishing in season two. A season, executive producer Lindsey Weber said, that is more about villains. “Sauron is out and about and the people of Middle-earth are having to confront the fact that he’s back. Stakes are increasingly high, so the storytelling by its nature is a bit different. It’s certainly more intense.”

Season one of the fantasy series ended with Galadriel learning her friend Halbrand was actually Sauron, and that he’d returned to a place of power, in no small part, because of her actions. He traveled to the newly established Mordor. Gennifer Hutchison, who wrote the season one finale and the season two premiere, said there’s not a large passage of time between the two seasons. We’ll pick up not long after where season one wrapped. But first, a flashback.

The Opening of The Rings of Power Season Two

Sauron in Annatar guise standing in a room dappled with sunlight in The Rings of Power season two
Prime Video

Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay gleefully painted a picture of the beginning of season two. It starts with the ice fortress Galadriel visited in the season one premiere. When Galadriel and her forces entered the fortress, it was desolate. The only presence was evil and a snow troll. That was not always the case. Payne set the stage, “We open in the darkness. An orc is walking in, and we see there are thousands of orcs gathered here. And we see that it’s not ruined and cracked…”

The rest, well, it’s too full of spoilers to share. But know that we’ll see a key part of Sauron’s trajectory, as well as his complicated history with Adar. This will show us how Sauron came to the Halbrand guise, as well as how he came to meet Galadriel on the ocean.

Galadriel Reckoning with Her Choices

Galadriel holds a dagger during The Rings of Power's season one finale
Prime Video

That beginning will re-contextualize season one, in terms of Sauron and Galadriel’s relationship. It will show where he was emotionally. He manipulated her and ultimately used her to access the Elves, but season one didn’t end exactly as Sauron hoped. He left Eregion with no allies, no army, no resources.

Payne said, “Season one was all about the heroes, and about setting the table with Galadriel, and with the Dwarves, and Númenor, and with the Southlanders. Season two is going to be all about the villains, and specifically, all about Sauron. And we’re going to watch as he uses deception, manipulation, lies, coercion, cunning, to start to set the chess pieces in motion, where he is going to go to this person over here, and set this group against that group over there. And start using people’s inherent trusts and mistrusts and fears against them, to start to set up the situations that are all beneficial to him.”

As we’ve since learned about season two, Sauron adapts the guise of Annatar, which means “Lord of Gifts.” His visage has become fair, more elf-like. We saw him get under Galadriel’s skin in season one, and now he’s going to do it with everyone. “Sauron’s able to take the things that you want to do that are good, and turn those against you,” Payne said. “It’s the ring personified. Literally, the ring offers you ultimate power. And when you give someone power, you see what’s really inside them. Because you see, ‘What would they will into being if they could will anything into being?’ And so when you see Sauron having relationships with people, he doesn’t have normal relationships, because he empowers them.”

A vision of Sauron and Galadriel as king and queen in the water on The Rings of Power
Prime Video

Beyond Sauron and his obvious darkness, individuals have to reckon with the possible evil inside of themselves—like Galadriel. Payne said, “Galadriel made some pretty questionable choices in season one, and really empowered the Dark Lord to really rise from nothing on the rafts, to being at the point where he could, as Patrick said, have access to some of the big power players in Middle-earth. She’s got to deal with that in season two. Her friends might look at her differently and not trust her as much, and then she has to really come to terms with that.”

McKay continued, “What does it mean for the rest of the elves? How does Elrond feel about that? Elrond loves her and trusted her, and was worried about her, and everything he feared came true. That’s a lot worse, potentially. So what’s going to happen when he finds that out? But we’re talking a lot about darkness and horribleness and misery, and that’s all a part of it. Tolkien takes you there. But the other thing that we really love about Tolkien in this material is that there’s hope everywhere too. And we know there’s an unnamed wizard heading out to parts unknown, and exploring huge parts of the map we’ve never seen before on-screen. Or even in the books, only talked about in myth and rumor, perhaps that destiny is going to tie back into the rise of Sauron over here.”

The Adar of It All

Adar walks beside an orc in a dark forest in season 2 of The Rings of Power
Ross Ferguson/Prime Video

The season two opening makes Adar an even more intriguing character. In season one, we saw him leading the orcs in season one and demonstrating compassion for them. Payne explained, “Adar is in an interesting and sort of vulnerable place. He just made Mordor and is the father of this entire orc nation. But when you do that, you also get a target on your back. You have a lot of land to protect now. And his ambitions aren’t over yet. His desire to make sure his children are safe is stronger than ever. But now, there’s other forces that… He’s on their radar. Before, he was going below it all. And there’s the Elves that know he’s there now. There’s Sauron that knows he’s there.”

Besides showing Adar’s current power struggle, season two of The Rings of Power will go deeper into his character. McKay said, “We know that he’s one of the first orcs. How did he become that way? And why? What does he really want? And how is his journey to pursue that going to test and twist him even further than he might already be?”

The trauma from season one is coming back to touch all of Middle-earth. Darkness is arriving for everyone.

The Rings of Power season two premieres on Prime Video on August 29.

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