The Rings of Power depicts a world both strange and familiar. It’s Middle-earth, yes, but a Middle-earth before the events known as The Lord of the Rings. This is the Second Age, just before the dark reign of Sauron, when the island of Númenor was a cultural hub and Elves, Dwarves, and Men peacefully coexisted. But all’s not as well as it appears. There’s a disturbance in the East. A darkness gathers. The fate of Arda is in danger once more. At the center of it all is Galadriel. But who is Galadriel, the mysterious and powerful elf?
Later known as the Lady of Lothlórien, Galadriel is one of the great Elves of Middle-earth, admired for her beauty, intelligence, and power. In Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy—and likewise in J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material—Galadriel also has an air of mystery. She is seemingly all-knowing and all-seeing, but we learn very little of her origins. She assists the Fellowship on their route to defeat Sauron, but she refrains from direct action. In her own words, Galadriel is capable of great beauty and great terror. And although in The Lord of the Rings movies, we see her war with herself, she ultimately passes the test before her and does not take the Ring of Power. But that’s the end of her story, and we’re going back to the beginning.
If you’ve only seen the movies, then you might wonder why Galadriel is front and center in the teasers for Amazon’s The Rings of Power television series. She narrates the two most recent trailers, warning of the darkness soon to come. But how does she know what’s happening and what makes her so important?
Here’s everything you need to know about Galadriel to prepare you for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Tolkien’s collections The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales both shed light on the early years of Galadriel. She was born to Finarfin, prince of the Ñoldor (a kindred of High Elves), and Eärwen, their only daughter. Her elder brothers were Finrod Felagund, Angrod, and Aegnor. Notable for her beautiful golden hair, she was born in Valinor—or the Undying Lands—in the Years of the Trees, named for the Two Trees of Valinor. These sacred vessels, one silver and one gold, gave light to Valinor. They were eventually destroyed by the jealous Dark Lord Morgoth, their fragments becoming the sun and moon of Middle-earth.
We catch a glimpse of the Trees of Valinor in one of the new trailers. This appears to be a flashback to Galadriel’s peaceful life before leaving the Undying Lands. Prior to her departure, she was a participant in the rebellion of the Ñoldor, led by their High King Fingolfin. Her family left Valinor for Beleriand, located in northwest Middle-earth, crossing the icy Helcaraxë and arriving at the start of the First Age.
Galadriel took no part in the early wars of Middle-earth, though all three of her brothers fought and died in them. During this time, she met her future husband, the elf Celeborn. After Morgoth’s defeat, the Valar offered her safe passage back to Valinor, but she turned it down, opting to stay in Middle-earth.
The Second Age and the Elves
After Galadriel and Celeborn wed, they moved to the Elvish realm of Lindon where they ruled under Gil-galad, the High King of the Ñoldor. They had a daughter, Celebrían, who would later marry Elrond and give birth to three children, including Arwen. Under Gil-galad’s rule, Galadriel and Celeborn established a number of Elvish domains and traveled across Middle-earth. In the valley of the River Anduin, they came across a settlement that later became Lothlórien. For a time, they made Lothlórien their home and ruled over the Elves that lived there.
Around this time, there were whispers of a Maia known as Annatar, or the “Lord of Gifts,” who was involved in magical arts and trained the Ñoldor of Eregion—including Celebrimbor—to make rings. Together, Annatar and Celebrimbor created the Rings of Power, three of which they gifted to the Elven-kings. Galadriel immediately distrusted Annatar, upsetting Celebrimbor, who seized power in Eregion. However, when they learned Annatar was, in truth a lieutenant of Morgoth, Sauron, Celebrimbor realigned with Galadriel. He entrusted her with one of the three Elven rings: Nenya, the Ring of Water.
When Sauron realized Celebrimbor hid the rings from him, he attacked Eregion. Celeborn and Elrond, who brought in forces from Lindon, were able to hold him off temporarily. Eventually, Eregion fell, Celebrimbor was killed, and Sauron escaped with several of the rings back to Mordor.
The whereabouts of Galadriel and Celeborn after the fall of Eregion aren’t entirely clear. They may have gone back to Lothlórien for a time, although it is believed they also spent time in Rivendell and eventually in Belfalas, a coastal region of Gondor. After Sauron’s (temporary) defeat at the end of the Second Age, Galadriel first used Nenya’s powers to protect the borders of the Elvish realms.
The Later Life of Galadriel and Her Ultimate Age
The Third Age of Middle-earth is the most familiar to casual fans. It’s when the events of The Lord of the Rings, including the War of the Ring, took place. During this time, Galadriel hosted the Fellowship of the Ring in Lothlórien and gifted them objects to help on their journey. She also assisted them from afar; summoning the eagles to save Gandalf, nursing him back to health after his fight with the Balrog, and sending word to Aragorn about the Paths of the Dead. Thanks to Nenya, she was able to keep Sauron’s forces out of Lorien and protect the Elves.
When Frodo offered her the One Ring during the Fellowship’s stay in Lothlórien, Galadriel “passed the test” before her. Meaning that she managed to fight off the Ring of Power’s seductive forces, refusing to take it and succumb to its evil. There, Galadriel proves her ultimate goodness and wisdom despite her occasionally mercurially.
After Sauron’s defeat, she and Celeborn destroyed Sauron’s fortress Dol Guldur, attended the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, and then the funeral of Théoden. She eventually left Middle-earth for the Undying Lands, along with Frodo, Bilbo, and some of her fellow Elves. At the time of her final journey to the Grey Havens, we know Galadriel to be over 8,000 years old.
The Rings of Power
Morfydd Clark plays Galadriel in The Rings of Power, taking up the mantle from Cate Blanchett. And from the looks of things, her role is greatly expanded beyond what is already known. In the teaser from SDCC, we see Galadriel gazing into a palantír. In other scenes and promo photos, Galadriel dresses in armor, survives a shipwreck, receives visions, and warns Elrond of an evil enemy. It appears that she will be our conduit into the past and future, like she was in Jackson’s films. She is one of the oldest beings in Middle-earth, so this makes perfect sense.
But just how she’ll fit in and what liberties they’ll take with the source material remains to be seen. For now, we’re just excited to see a familiar face at the center of this grand adventure.
The first episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power arrives on Amazon Prime on September 2.