The Rings of Power‘s Halbrand was exactly who we feared he might be since the moment we met him. He is Sauron. But while the show’s season one finale answered that question, it raised all new ones. Was Sauron sincere in his desire to bond himself to Galadriel and atone for his past? Was everything he said and did all part of the silver-tongued charlatan’s sinister master plan? Or does the truth lie somewhere in the middle? The fact that we can’t tell highlights why Sauron is so dangerous.
Sauron, like Morgoth before him, operates with charm, deception, and half-truths. He also uses peoples’ fear against them. That’s exactly what he did with Galadriel over the course of The Rings of Power‘s first season. He constantly told her the truth about himself while never correcting her misconceptions nor filling in any of the blanks of his story. Her rage and anger also blinded her to his real identity. She was so desperate to find an ally that Galadriel let herself believe what she wanted to be true. Something Sauron was happy to benefit from.
And benefit he did. Galadriel helped him get back to Middle-earth, put the island of Nûmenor on a path of doom, and pushed the elves to make rings of power. Sauron’s grand plan for dominating Middle-earth is to create a power “over the flesh” and the unseen world, the One Ring. To accomplish that he needs the other races to craft their own rings first. And his relationship with Galadriel led the elves to create theirs.
If Sauron is purely evil, everything he did and said throughout season—including in the finale—is easy to understand. He saw Galadriel as a means to an end and used her from the moment they met. But Halbrand professed to want more from her than just access to Celebrimbor. He claimed he wanted bind himself to Galadriel so they could rule together as king and queen of Middle-earth. And, in classic Sauron fashion, the story he told has us questioning what’s true and what’s not.
Halbrand was Morgoth’s most trusted lieutenant. Morgoth had so much faith in his most dedicated and powerful follower he had a contingency plan for Sauron to continue their fight if Morgoth fell. But Halbrand claims that when Morgoth lost “it was if a great clenched fist had released its grasp from my neck, and in the stillness of that first sunlight at last I felt the light of the One again.” And he says if he is ever to be forgiven for his past he must “heal everything” he helped ruin. That, and not power and darkness, is his stated desire.
That’s why he wants claims he wants Galadriel, his “friend,” by his side. She will bind him to the light of the Valar and Ilúvatar, whose judgment he fears after serving Morgoth. (Sauron was not evil before Morgoth’s influence.) With Galadriel, Sauron can bring peace and order a world bathed in the light of the gods. He can atone for his sins on a level commensurate with the suffering he wrought.
If all of that is true it doesn’t mean Sauron isn’t misguided. Nor would it mean his future actions don’t come from evil desires. It would just mean he is far more complex than we might have thought, because inside of him is the potential for both good and bad. That theme was also a big part of the Stranger and Galadriel’s stories. ( An idea that comes from Tolkien himself, though he did say Sauron was the closest thing to pure evil in all of Middle-earth.)
It’s even possible Halbrand started off with nefarious goals only to actually rediscover the light in Galadriel. She might have, for a moment, made him a better person who wanted to shed his evil ways. That would also change his story in a fundamental way. Because if he was telling Galadriel the truth, even a distorted version of it, it means for a brief moment he wanted to be good, he just doesn’t know what that means anymore. Morgoth corrupted him so much Sauron thinks “saving” and “ruling” are the same thing. You don’t have to feel bad for him to see why that makes for a compelling character.
And yet, that might be exactly what the future ruler of Mordor wants everyone to think about him so they don’t see him for what he really is.
While proclaiming his desire to feel the light he also used Finrod’s memory to help Galadriel encourage the elves make the rings. It was Halbrand as Finrod who implored her not to tell the elves his real identity and to let “the work” of the rings continue. He was quick to anger when she wouldn’t fall for his deceptions. Just as he gladly left her behind and found his way to the darkness of Mount Doom. Even a true desire to bind himself to her could be totally evil, because like mithril mixing dark and light would make him even more powerful and harder to defeat.
Whatever Sauron truly wanted from Galadriel is still unknown. You can make a case for him truly wishing to be a good person, just as you can for him being the epitome of evil and everything in-between. And that’s what matters. His friends and foes alike never know what (or who) Sauron really wants, nor what he has planned and why. That confusion is what makes it easy to spread evil throughout Middle-earth. No one can ever know if what Sauron says is true or not, but it’s Sauron, so we lean towards him being a liar.
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.