Everyone Loves A Villain, But In ‘The Rings Of Power,’ Maybe We Shouldn’t


Never trust the handsome guy.

For eight engrossing – if at times crushing – episodes, Prime Video’s new fantasy series “The Rings of Power” has been doling out clue after clue as to the identity of Sauron, the familiar villain of JRR Tolkien’s popular novel “The Lord of the Dead”. Rings”, leaving viewers to play a game of Guess Who? every week. After a false start in the Season 1 finale, “Alloyed,” we finally learned the truth: It was Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) all along.

Brooding and mysterious, hunky and confrontational, it was written in such a way that all but guaranteed viewers would be instinctively drawn to it.

A seemingly mortal man whom Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) encountered floating on wreckage on the Sundering Seas, Halbrand eventually – and rather reluctantly – left Númenor at Galadriel’s behest to join her on her quest to find and stop, well, himself. It’s really quite funny when you think about it. But if we’re supposed to hate Sauron – and obviously we should hate him, because we already know how evil he gets and the danger he poses to the people of Middle-earth – maybe the show’s writers shouldn’t have tried so hard to make us love Halbrand.

For much of the fantasy series’ inaugural season, the character starred as the series’ version of Aragorn (memorably played by Viggo Mortensen in the Peter Jackson film trilogy). Brooding and mysterious, hunky and confrontational, it was written in such a way that all but guaranteed viewers would be instinctively drawn to it. His perceived role as the show’s reluctant hero is understandably appealing, while his seeming inscrutability is meant to draw us in and make us want to know more about him.

So when Galadriel identified him as the heir to the Southlands – without a shred of evidence beyond a jewel, which Halbrand claimed to have taken from a dead man – part of us wanted to believe he was the promised heroic king. But at the same time, another part of us must have wondered if he was just an illusion, perfectly designed to make us fall for him (it’s a very Hollywood thing to do to cast a handsome man for us deceive), so that when his true identity and nefarious purposes were finally revealed, we’d be shocked and emotionally devastated (that’s a pretty common trope).

Charlie Vickers as Halbrand in “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” (Prime Video)It turned out to be the latter. Only not all fans were shocked by the big reveal of the finale; there were hints that Halbrand was secretly Sauron throughout the first season, including the character’s interest in the forge. Plus, most viewers probably weren’t too emotionally devastated by this newfound knowledge given the many years television has spent obsessing over the morally gray antics of anti-heroes on top of just loving villains. . If there’s one thing we know, it’s evil hotties with questionable intentions (see also: Netflix’s “You”). However, we have to admit that it is kinda unhappy, that’s how it turned out.

Presenting the main antagonist of one of pop culture’s most popular and well-known fantasy epics as an attractive and confrontational man has now allowed the possibility that we may never truly see Sauron as the grave evil threat we all know. In fact, it might make viewers sympathetic to him. And if it is true that this introduction does not deviate too greatly from Tolkien’s work – Sauron appeared disguised as the beautiful elf Annatar, Lord of Gifts, in order to influence the Elves and forge the Rings of Power – Halbrand was willing to stay in Númenor, so his deception in the show is more calculated and deliberate, intended to fool not only Galadriel and Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), but the fans as well.

“While deception is an important part of the journey, we also wanted to preserve that experience for book readers,” said co-creator Patrick McKay. Vulture after the Season 1 finale. “The idea that the shadow could take many forms was part of what appealed to us.”

It is also now impossible to fully hate Sauron.

That’s all well and good, but there are aspects of this particular decision that the writers may not have fully taken into account when they decided on this course of action, such as the chemistry of Vickers and Clark, which led to an army of Galadriel / Halbrand shippers who are destined to live out the rest of their lives drowning in the fanfic after Galadriel refuses to join Sauron in his bid to rule Middle-earth. Of course, theirs wouldn’t be the first couple to go this route – pop culture is apparently built on the backs of complicated ships (see: Hermione/Draco, Caroline/Klaus).

And that’s part of the problem, because these couples, canonical or not, whether they like it or not, can push the idea that people who do bad things can ultimately be saved if we just try hard enough. Draco was the product of his upbringing. Klaus too. Both were redeemed. But Sauron cannot be saved. There is no redemption now that Galadriel unwittingly dragged him to Middle-earth and paved the way for power.

shadow and boneBen Barnes as The Darkling/General Kirigan in “Shadow and Bone” (David Appleby/Netflix)And yet it is also now impossible to completely hate Sauron. His time as Halbrand, which has been described as his “repentant phase”, made him a problematic favorite, much like The Darkling of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, which were adapted into Netflix’s fantasy series “Shadow and Bone.” In the popular book series, as in the show, the character is presented as a powerful Grisha, someone who can manipulate matter in its base form. Besides being the leader of the Second Army and the second in command of the country of Ravka, he also briefly fills the role of potential love interest for the heroine of the series, Alina Starkov, who has the ability to summon and to control light, which makes her clear yin to The Darkling’s yang, as he has the equally rare ability to control shadow and darkness.

By presenting the main antagonist as a friend (or lover) rather than an obvious enemy, Bardugo’s novel follows familiar tropes while ensuring that The Darkling’s eventual betrayal runs deep. But it also allows doubt to creep in slowly – maybe he’s not beyond redemption, maybe he can still be saved. The Darkling is a deeply controversial and tragic character, and it’s all by design. He is the product of a world in which Grisha faces persecution, while his relationship and connection with Alina reveals a deep loneliness and a desperate desire for someone to see and understand him. But he’s also a budding tyrant who’s been corrupted by power to the point of no return.

There are shades of this in Halbrand, who was not created evil, and it’s impossible to miss the similarities between The Darkling’s desire to rule Ravka in order to save him and Sauron’s desire to rule the Earth. du Milieu to supposedly do the same. But the difference between “Shadow and Bone” and “The Rings of Power” is that we’ve known how this particular saga ends for almost 70 years. And on the heels of viewers thirsty by Evan Peters as notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in Ryan Murphy’s “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (about the 4,000th serial killer show), I’m not sure we need another vehicle to explore how or why a man (or someone being perceived as a man) becomes completely evil.

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Yes, “The Rings of Power” is obviously fiction. Yes, it’s more interesting with a complex and nuanced villain. And yes, Sauron’s relationship with Galadriel strengthens both the characters and the overall narrative. But while we already know Sauron intimately as the main antagonist, I’m not sure the right course of action was to give us an origin story and make us love him as the likeable Halbrand. Sometimes it’s okay to let tyrannical villains be tyrannical villains. There’s still a lot of fun in there.

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