Is The Stranger Actually Gandalf? ‘The Rings of Power’ Showrunners Provide Insight

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Arguably, the reveal that took most people by surprise at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 1 was the fact that Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), the apparent missing prince of the Southlands was, in fact, Sauron all along. But that was far from the only moment in the finale that was gasp-worthy, as viewers also learned that The Stranger (Daniel Weyman), the man who mysteriously appeared from the sky and landed among the Harfoots, is an Istari — which translates to “Wise One” or “Wizard.” More than that, a key line delivered to Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenaugh) points to him not just being a wizard, but Gandalf himself. But are things really so simple in the world of Rings of Power? Not according to the showrunners.

During a visit to the set of The Rings of Power Season 2 — more coverage of which will be shared here on Collider through August — our Editor-in-Chief Steve Weintraub participated in a group interview with showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne. There, the conversation turned towards what lay ahead for Nori and The Stranger, and whether the pair will find themselves in Rhûn, something McKay was very excited to explore:

“We’re really excited about that. We’ve never seen deserts on screen in Middle-earth, and we’re really excited to go there. We think deserts are beautiful and awesome and we’re doing our own Tolkienien Lawrence of Arabia . One of the things that’s been fun about that is Rhûn is really a blank canvas. There are little hints. There’s talk about magic cults, and talk about the stars being strange, and rumors of wizards having adventures in Rhûn that may or may not have gone well. We’re drawing on all of those seeds to hopefully continue to tell a story that feels worthy of the other canonical stories in here. It’s been really fun trying to imagine that world, what the people in it are like, what the architecture is like, what kind of a desert. We just spent five weeks shooting in a far-flung overseas location for spectacular vistas, and it’s really cool.”

“There’s something I find very magical as a viewer when I see Nori and The Stranger together,” Payne added, saying: “Putting them on a journey where they’re very far from home felt really delicious and exciting. Hopefully everybody agrees.”

So Is The Stranger Actually Gandalf?

Daniel Weyman looking down at Markella Kavenagh in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Image via Amazon Studios

The short answer? Possibly. The longer answer is a little more complicated. McKay and Payne always intended for there to be a Wizard in the series, as McKay said it would be hard to visualize a Lord of the Rings series without one:

“We always felt from the very beginning that you need all the ingredients. We always talk about a Thanksgiving meal — you want the turkey, you want the cranberry sauce, you want the stuffing. We felt like Lord of the Rings show without a wizard who felt the things that wizards in Lord of the Rings make you feel would just feel like it’s missing the point . Anything that can help us get there and evoke those feelings we were drawn to. Despite what some folks might think, we’re really not about a game; we’re really not about a puzzle. But we also don’t wanna take for granted where characters will end up. We want to see them grow and change along the way, and we hope that in the end, you look back and it feels inevitable, but in the moment… I’m trying to say it but not say it. [Laughs]”

When it comes to the question of The Stranger’s identity, when he and Nori set out on their adventure, he gives her a piece of advice: “When in doubt, always follow your nose.” Fans will, of course, recognize this as the same thing Gandalf (Ian McKellan) says to Merry (Dominic Monaghan) as the Fellowship enters Moria. So is this a catchphrase of sorts for the Wizard, or is there something bigger at play here? Payne teases that there just might be:

“[W]e try to make it delightful in that there are several possibilities of what that can end up meaning. Could that mean that The Stranger is Gandalf and that he says that, then he says it later on? It could definitely mean that. Could it also mean that The Stranger is Saruman, and you realize that later on Saruman said that to Gandalf and then Gandalf said it. You know what I mean? There are always ways you can sort of like pinball it. There could be delightful paths that could come out of either eventuality. So, we like to keep those doors open. It’s fun to engage with the story and think of the possibilities.”

As for what awaits the Possibly-Gandalf-Possibly-Not Stranger in Season 2, Payne says the key is keeping the character grounded as he embarks on a quest of self-discovery:

“For us, what always keeps it grounded is going through the experience the characters themselves are having, and the wizard doesn’t know who they are. If they did, then it might be a little cheap because it would be like we’re just withholding just for the purpose of withholding, but the wizard is on a journey of self-discovery. He learned a couple of key things about himself at the end of Season 1. He learned that he’s an Istari and learned that he has a destiny in the east to go and seek out. So now we are on that journey of self-discovery with him, where he’s learning how to control his powers. We saw him gain some footholds in Season 1, but we also saw him mess it up a lot in Season 1, and that will continue. For us, it’s really delicious to watch a character who could eventually become one of great power not yet be there and then have to figure out what mistakes they’re gonna make along the way.”

What New Places Will We See in ‘Rings of Power’ Season 2?

While the Stranger and Nori’s journey will take the pair to Rhûn, that’s not the only new location we’ll get to visit in Season 2, with McKay sharing what awaits the Southlanders when we pick back up with them:

“We talked about Rhûn a little bit. That’s certainly a big opening up. The Southlanders are last seen going to Pelargir, an old Númenórean colony, so that’s gonna be a whole new location. We know that’s a place that has a significant destiny in the legendarium and how the colonies of Middle-earth relate back to the parent country back in Númenor. So that’s a story that’s kicking off. We love the idea of an old Númenórean colony that had become adapted to Southlander life, and what might that look like? It’s quite rugged the way that that world tends to be, and really beautifully designed.”

That’s not the only new location we’ll explore either, with McKay adding:

“There’s the Grey Havens in Lindon, and we’re expanding that. In Númenor, we’re doing the old quarter of the capital city in Númenor, and really going into the ethos of The Faithful and starting to set up what people who love the mythology know is a civil war and a battle of ideologies. What does their faith mean to them? What did old Númenor mean to these people versus what does it mean to the more Pharazôn folks? That’s all stuff we’re exploring. So, hopefully, that’s sort of a whole new side of that world.”

There’s also something new to be found in the familiar in Season 2 as well, as Payne teases what awaits the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm:

“We’re also finding the new within where we’ve already been. The Dwarves are gonna be digging deeper and going to new parts of Khazad-dûm we haven’t seen before. There will also be journeys within lands that we know but new parts of those lands.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2 premieres on August 29. Stay tuned to Collider for more coverage from our set visit. Season 1 is streaming on Prime Video now.

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