The Rings of Power has made one thing very clear: Galadriel is right. A long-dormant evil is rising in Middle-earth. Orcs are kidnapping entire villages. Strange beasts are wandering the countryside and destroying ships. And the land itself has spoiled, not to mention erupted. But the forces of good might soon find help in a new ally. Well, new to them, at least. Because the Stranger who arrived on a comet might be an old supernatural being. He might also be the first incarnation of a great hero The Lord of the Rings fans know and love. And you don’t have to be a wizard to see why. Especially not if you can see gray. More and more, we’re thinking the Stranger on The Rings of Power might be the wizard Gandalf himself.
Who Sent the Comet That Carried the Stranger?
No man, elf, dwarf, or orc could have survived a comet crash. Of course, no mortal race in the world can travel via small meteorite. It would take an entity far more powerful than any who walks Middle-earth to send someone careening through the sky. There’s only one logical explanation for who sent that celestial traveler: the Valar.
The Valar are supernatural entities who watch over Middle-earth. They are the most powerful beings in the universe besides the supreme Ilúvatar. For centuries the Valar did not interfere in the great battle of Middle-earth’s First Age. They looked on from afar as the “children” of Ilúvatar suffered at the hands of the original Dark Lord, Morgoth. (Himself one of the Valar.)
The Valar eventually relented and came to Middle-earth to defeat Morgoth for good. That victory ended the First Age. But the Valar then returned to their own western continent of Aman. That’s where Valinor sits, the realm to which Galadriel refused to return at the end of episode one.
While The Rings of Power takes place during the Second Age, we know the Valar got involved in the great war of Middle-earth’s Third Age. However, rather than come again themselves, they sent five Maiar.
The Maiar are powerful spirit servants who helped the Valar shape the world. But the Valar sent them to Middle-earth inside the bodies of old men. Called the Istari, The Lord of the Rings fans know those five-robed, bearded, wise figures as wizards.
Before We Consider Gandalf, Is The Rings of Powers‘ Stranger Even a Wizard?
By the start of the Third Age, the Valar had separated Aman from the physical world. So wizards came to Middle-earth from the sky. (Repeat: from the sky.) The Valar sent them to assure the world the Valar had not forsaken Middle-earth nor its people in their renewed fight against the returning Sauron. One wizard, above all, aided Middle-earth in defeating Sauron for good before returning to reclaim his place in Aman.
In order to be Gandalf, The Rings of Power‘s Stranger would first have to be a wizard. As it transpires, the confused old man Nori miraculously found in a field of fire where the comet crashed—millennia before wizards arrived during an entirely different age—does possess many of the same powers wizards had.
What are the Stranger’s Powers on The Rings of Power?
The paranoid, unusual, easy-to-anger Stranger arrived nearly naked and acting erratically on The Rings of Power. He survived his crash but doesn’t remember how to fully communicate. He’s not even sure who he is or why he’s here. Hearing Nori say he’s “good” seemed to be a revelation for the Stranger, who fears he’s going to accidentally hurt the Harfoots.
That’s because despite his confusion, The Rings of Power‘s Stranger still incredibly powerful. He’s also unquestionably far more skilled than any race of Middle-earth. He can move things with his mind. He can pick up monstrous wolves and throw them, or run them off by hitting the ground and causing a huge shockwave. And his scream, which turned the world dark, doesn’t just shake everything around him. That terrifying, inhuman roar seems capable of destruction.
He’s also impervious to fire. The fire from his comet didn’t harm him. No surprise, then he could also pull flames into himself and snuff them out without injury. He also took Nori and Poppy’s fireflies and controlled them to form stars in the sky. Unfortunately, that also killed all the fireflies, which is one ability that should frighten everyone on Middle-earth. The Stranger can suck the life from livings things, though he did not take joy in killing the fireflies. Either that was unintended or a sacrifice required to use his magic. But because he’s not fully in control of himself or his abilities, he is paranoid and scared.
Nori is now scared of his powers, too. The Stranger instinctively came to her rescue and damaged his arm fighting wolves. He was able to heal himself by placing the injured limb in water, which iced over. But when Nori grabbed him, the ice also consumed her arm. He couldn’t even sense she was there, let alone keep her safe. We see the Stranger come into his powers in the final episodes of The Rings of Power, pushed to attack by the mysterious white-cloaked cult. Interestingly, when the Stranger annihilates the dweller on The Rings of Power, she turns into a moth, in perhaps another subtle connection to Gandalf, who is known to talk to the creature in The Lord of the Rings‘ movies.
But while he can destroy, he can also create. The Stranger touched a dying, burned tree and restored both it and the surrounding area to full life in a single night. He took a wasteland and gave the desperate Harfoots a verdant bounty.
So is the Stranger a wizard? Well, he has more in common with the Istari than any creature ever born on Middle-earth. And Poppy herself realizes he’s no man or elf but “something else.” And, of course, The Rings of Power confirms that the Stranger is an Istar in its finale. The cult of Sauron tracks him down, thinking he is their leader, only to name him a wizard instead.
So the question just remains, is The Rings of Power using the Stranger to introduce Gandalf?
What Is the Stranger Trying to Tell Nori on The Rings of Power?
Like Nori, deep into The Rings of Power‘s episodes, we still don’t what the Stranger is trying to communicate. What did those drawings on the rock, his first attempts at communication, mean? (They looked like runes.) What about the lines in the dirt the Stranger drew? Are they a map?
When the Stranger saw them, he repeatedly said, “ Mana úrë.” in Elvish that translates to the question, “What is heat?” What is heat! But even with this knowledge, we can’t say for sure the purpose of these strange words from the Stranger.)
Finally, what’s the significance of the constellation the Stranger highlighted to Nori with fireflies? He seemed to find that exact same collection of stars on an old Harfoot parchment. Clearly, its significance dates back to a past era. Sadoc Burrows tells the Stranger those stars haven’t been sighted in thousands of years. Could the Stranger have seen them before? Where does their image come from?
Ultimately, we learn more about them from the mysterious white-cloaked cult following the Stranger also possesses the image of these stars. They point to the mysterious realm of Rhûn, where mystics and men lie in wait for a new power to arrive. We bet that’s a location we’ll surely go in season two.
But we can do something Nori can’t—we can also find meaning in both his size and appearance. Nori’s “giant” friend wears a tattered gray robe, has a long gray beard, and long graying hair. This powerful being sent through the sky by the Valar—who is impervious to fire, and has powers of a wizard—really loves the color gray.
And there’s only one figure in all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth that fits the same description as The Rings of Power’s Stranger—Gandalf the Grey.
Is The Rings of Powers‘ the Stranger Actually Gandalf?
Tolkien’s unofficial notes for his fantasy world say that the two (of the five) Blue Wizards sent during the Third Age (Alatar and Pallando) had previously come to Middle-earth during the Second Age. So it’s possible wizards first came to Middle-earth long before anyone realized. Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales also says wizards “had need to learn much anew by slow experience” when they came to Middle-earth. The Maiar’s transformation into a physical body and their trip seem to leave them confused initially. All of this lines up a wizard like Gandalf with The Stranger on The Rings of Power.
We also know Gandalf—whose name among the Maiar is Olórin—occasionally walked among the Elves in disguise. So if he ever came to Middle-earth previously, they might not have even known the shapeshifter’s real identity and purpose.
Gandalf, like the Stranger, also had a special relationship with fire. It could not injure him, and he could create it from nothing to light torches with magic. Ultimately he also bore Narya, the Elvish ring of fire. Gandalf, who wrote on Bilbo’s door in runes, also talked to bugs and fought off wolves singlehandedly. And when the One Ring tempted him, the world turned dark as he screamed at Bilbo and Frodo, just as the Stranger did when Nori frightened him.
The otherworldly voices the Stranger heard also sounded a lot like the voice of Sauron that Frodo heard when he put on the One Ring. And, just like Gandalf, Sauron is one of the Maiar.
The Rings of Power‘s seventh episode saw the Harfoots send the Stranger away. The Stranger is now wandering Middle-earth alone, and Gandalf was known as the Wandering Wizard for traveling across the lands without a home to call his own.
But the connections between the two bearded men go even further. Gandalf the Grey died in The Fellowship of the Ring. His Maiar spirit did not depart Middle-earth for long. Ilúvatar sent a naked Olórin back to fight Sauron. Despite now being another entity entirely (but with the same spirit), the wizard let his former companions still call him Gandalf, only this time, he was Gandalf the White. However, at first, he did not even remember the name Gandalf. It took a few days for Olórin to piece everything together in his mind.
And what did Olórin, who was unquestionably “good,” do when he first returned naked to the world? “There I lay staring upward” from a mountaintop, he said, “While the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth.” Like the Stranger does on The Rings of Power, Gandalf looked to the stars for guidance. That might be because both had the same mission on Middle-earth.
The Rings of Power seems to tease that the Stranger is Gandalf in its final season one episode. After the Stranger is named an Istar, or wizard, for certain, he also appears to echo Gandalf’s quote from The Lord of the Rings movies, telling Nori that when in doubt, she should follow her nose. Of course, it could be that the Stranger is a different wizard altogether on The Rings of Power. Only season two will tell us more.
The Stars of the Valar and Middle-earth’s Smallest Heroes
Varda, Queen of the Valar, created new, brighter stars before the elves awoke on Middle-earth. They were the first things the elves saw, and they loved them. But Varda created some to be more than beautiful lights. She arranged certain constellations to serve as warnings of future doom.
That’s why the Valar sent wizards to Earth during the Third Age, to help fight a coming doom. Now it appears the Valar did the same thing during the Second Age, too. Possibly with the same Maiar, Olórin. And if that’s the case, through the Stranger, The Rings of Power might have just shown why Gandalf put the world’s fate in the hands of Middle-earth’s small-folk.
Nori found the Stranger and refused to leave him. She kept him safe, in part, because she feels some unknown powerful entity sent this man to her. But also because Harfoots—the hobbits’ ancestors—are good, caring people. And after his discovery, he returned the favor by making sure her family did not get lost during the Great Migration. He protected them because the Stranger and Nori are already great friends who rely on each other.
The Valar sent the Stranger to Middle-earth. Like the stars he looks to above, his arrival is an omen of a coming doom. And if he really is Olórin, it’s easy to see why Gandalf trusted in the bravery, courage, and heart of hobbits—Nori’s showed Olórin their worth on Middle-earth long before.
Originally published on September 1, 2022.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.