The Rings Of Power Won’t Give Fans The Sauron They Expect
The Rings of Power is finally here, but how will a certain contingent of fans react if Sauron is not what they are expecting?
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is finally here. After what seemed like years of waiting, Amazon Prime Video’s new series expanding on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (but importantly and legally, not the film adaptations by Peter Jackson) has debuted to critical acclaim and massive viewership. Because we live in a world of people with very deep interests and conflicted views, The Rings of Power has instantly become controversial, in large part because of the portrayal of various characters in ways that some fans did not expect, want, or accept. This raises the question: how are viewers of the show going to feel when The Rings of Power refuses to give them the Sauron that they are used to?
Let’s back up a little. The Rings of Power takes place during the Second Age of Middle-Earth. That places it after the fall of Morgoth, the original Dark Lord who first brought discord and evil to the universe, and his chief lieutenant Sauron is presumed to be dead himself. However, an Elf warrior named Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) refuses to give up the search for the brutal sorcerer (as he is referred to in The Rings of Power) and becomes convinced that he and his army of orcs, trolls, and other assorted nasties must be hidden somewhere, amassing power for his counterstrike.
We only have only gotten a brief glimpse of Sauron in The Rings of Power so far, standing on a shadowy ledge surrounded by minions. While we see him only from a distance, the multi-horned helmet and fearsome armor he wears are unquestionably reminiscent of the physically-embodied Sauron we first saw in the prologue of Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring. We have also seen an enigmatic symbol several times that seems to be Sauron’s sigil in this age, first carved into the body of Galadriel’s brother Finrod (Will Fletcher) and later engraved on some kind of altar in a ruined fortress. While the exact provenance of the symbol is mysterious to Galadriel, it is not to viewers: it very much looks like the Burning Eye that the disembodied Sauron will become in the Third Age.
However, neither of these forms is the Sauron that we are going to see in The Rings of Power. The show (which was developed by showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay) is giving us just a taste of the familiar Sauron in both his terrifying armor-giant look and his embodiment as a burning Eye as a misdirection. The Rings of Power is largely based on the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. According to those, Sauron spent a good deal of the Second Age in a “beautiful” form and, far from the bloodthirsty warlord we are familiar with, operated via charm and manipulation. While The Rings of Power will most likely be making some very drastic changes to the narrative Tolkien experts are familiar with (and already has), it is pretty much built into the story that Sauron is not going to be what people expect. Almost certainly, Sauron is not out there somewhere in a dark tower. He is already dwelling amongst the Elves, corrupting from within.
Thusly, Sauron will be appealing, persuasive, seemingly wise, and benevolent. The Rings of Power will eventually see Sauron manipulating the Elves into using their resources to forge the titular rings that will allow him to drop the facade and conquer huge portions of Middle-Earth. This is a far cry from the imagery fans have come to be accustomed to. Now comes the question: will this be received as a cool twist in the narrative by fans who might not be obsessive about details of Tolkien lore or will the show going against expectations be met with anger?
After all, there is a contingent of fans who are already angry with The Rings of Power for casting people of color as elves, dwarves, humans, and pretty much in the show at all. While the alleged reasoning behind this is that Tolkien’s work was largely based on Northern European mythology and folklore, with the assumption that indicates all characters are supposed to be overtly white, a big part is simply that it is not what fans expected or what they want to see.
Even more to the point, some fans are furious that the portrayal of Galadriel in The Rings of Power is as a driven and near-fanatical warrior, rather than the serene and wise lady of the woods in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. The appendices to The Lord of the Rings (and other Tolkien material like The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion) are clear that Galadriel experienced war firsthand and fought in several battles; it can be debated the extent to which she was a “warrior,” but it is consistent with her character’s arc within the narrative as a whole. Despite that, some fans hate that their expectations aren’t being met. It will be very interesting (and perhaps telling) to see how they feel about Sauron not looking exactly as they expect.