Who Is The Stranger In ‘The Rings Of Power?’ Three Possible Theories

The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power debuted its first two sprawling episodes this Thursday, introducing viewers to a massive cast of characters—some familiar, some new, and at least one shrouded in mystery.

Spoilers ahead.

The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is just one of several mysteries introduced in the two-part premiere. By the end of the second episode, he’s even more mysterious than when he lands in a fiery comet near the wandering Harfoot clan of one Nori Brandyfoot

(Markella Kavenagh).

The young Harfoot (a nomadic Hobbit people) sees the comet crash at the beginning of the first episode, after it blazed across the night sky, past the elves of Lindon, over the Southlands (Mordor) and finally into the wilds where the Harfoots live.

Nori finds him laying naked in a ring of fire. When her friend Poppy (Megan Richards) startles her and she slips and falls into the crater, Nori realizes that the fire doesn’t burn. It isn’t hot. She decides to help the strange, bearded man—who turns out to be incapable of speaking and apparently suffering amnesia, though he’s able to talk to fireflies and give them instructions.

“The Stranger is a really mysterious character, the shadow lies quite dark over him,” Weyman told The Upcoming of his character. “When we meet him, it’s pretty clear he’s got a deep sense of his purpose and what he wants to achieve.”

So who is this strange figure towering over his new Harfoot companions? And does his obvious magical power mean he’s friend or foe? Or perhaps neither? Both?

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Here are three theories.

Theory #1: Foe

I don’t particularly like this theory, but some people are quite certain that The Stranger is, in fact, Sauron—or at least one of the show’s antagonists. The evil sorcerer has been in hiding for thousands of years with only Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) still trying to track him down (in the revised fiction of the show, that is).

Perhaps this is how he’s returned to Middle-earth, in a ball of fire. Certainly the ring of fire around him evokes Sauron’s fiery eye. And his magic is dark and ominous. When he begins to do his intimidating shout, the sky darkens and a wind gathers around him. And when he commands the fireflies to form a constellation, they die soon after.

But there are problems with this theory. For one, his fire doesn’t burn. As we saw in an early scene in which Galadriel and her company find an abandoned fortress in the frozen north, even the strange mark Sauron leaves still burns hundreds or thousands of years later.

I also think that Sauron would not return to Middle-earth without his mind and powers intact. This makes little sense. He bides his time, gathering his strength, for nearly an Age and then hurls himself through the sky for all to see and lands as a man with only half his wits about him? Not likely. So moving on then . . .

Theory #2: Friend

Could The Stranger be a young Gandalf? Admittedly, this was my first instinct—though when he spoke with the fireflies I thought he could also be Radagast the Brown. Granted, the Istari only came to Middle-earth in the Third Age, long after the events of The Rings Of Power, but given how much the show-runners are tinkering with the timeline, and how much artistic liberty they’ve taken already, it’s certainly possible that they could have the Istari arrive in the Second Age instead. (I’ll have a separate post on some of the many changes to Middle-earth lore the show has made from Tolkien’s original, if sometimes conflict, work).

The second option here is that The Stranger is a different Wizard than the ones we’re familiar with in The Lord Of The Rings. Not Gandalf, Radagast or Saruman. He could be one of the two Blue Wizards who, at least in some of Tolkien’s writing, were said to have arrived earlier than the other three. It might make more sense to introduce a Wizard that fans aren’t familiar with, and it’s a bit easier to make big changes like this when it’s one of the relatively unknown Blue Wizards rather than Gandalf. You can do more with a clean slate, after all. Speaking of which . . .

Theory #3: Wildcard

It’s entirely possible that The Stranger isn’t anyone we know or even anyone from Tolkien’s writing. This show is based on the appendices to The Lord Of The Rings but beyond that showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay can make up all sorts of things—so long as they don’t tread to close to material they don’t have the rights to use.

Hence making up characters like Nori who isn’t in Tolkien’s fiction but who fits in quite nicely in the show. Could The Stranger be a totally new character, perhaps even a new Istari or some other immortal being?

I just don’t think this is very likely—even less likely than this being Sauron—because why keep a totally new character secret like this? There’s so little payoff if it’s just Baldar The Black, a Wizard made up whole cloth for the show.

My money is on #2 and either Gandalf or a Blue Wizard as The Stranger.

Yes, it’s too early for Gandalf by a few thousand years, but given how much the timeline is being compressed here, and how far afield we’ve already gotten, why not? It might be a fun twist, and would explain much of Gandalf’s particular affection for Hobbits, if it is him.

It certainly wouldn’t bother me. I’m enjoying this show in part because I decided before it came out to treat it like expensive fan-fiction. That way I can enjoy thinking about and discussing all the changes from Tolkien’s work, but I don’t have to get all worked up about it and can enjoy The Rings Of Power as a big-budget fantasy in some kind of alternative universe that’s . . . Tolkien adjacent. It’s more fun that way, at least for me, than being outraged and angry all the time over things that really don’t matter.

Further Rings Of Power Reading From Your Humble Narrator:

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Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2022/09/02/who-is-the-stranger-in-the-lord-of-the-rings-the-rings-of-power/