‘The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power’ Showrunners Address Gandalf’s Identity as The Stranger

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay recently addressed whether The Stranger played by Daniel Weyman is Gandalf.

In an interview with Collider, the showrunners were asked about whether The Stranger telling Nori, “When in doubt, Eleanor Brandifoot, always follow your nose,” was a confirmation that the character was Gandalf given that is a paraphrase of what Gandalf says in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring.

Payne informed the outlet, “[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.”

He continued, “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,” he concluded.

Neither Gandalf nor Saruman would have arrived in Middle-earth in the Second Age. Tolkien was very clear that the wizards did not arrive until the Third Age. Tolkien wrote in Appendix B, “When maybe a thousand years had passed, and the first shadow had fallen on Greenwood the Great, the Istari or Wizards appeared in Middle-earth. It was afterwards said they came out of the Far West and were messengers sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him; but they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear.”

Tolkien also detailed, “The two highest of this order (of whom it is said there were five) were called by the Eldar Curunír, ‘the Man of Skill’, and Mithrandir, ‘the Grey Pilgrim’, but by Men in the North Saruman and Gandalf. Curunír journeyed into the East, but dwelt at last in Isengard. Mithrandir was closest in friendship with the Eldar, and wandered mostly in the West and never made for himself a lasting abode.”

Despite Tolkien making it clear the Wizards did not show up until the Third Age, McKay explained why they added the Stranger to the show, “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 a 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.”

He added, ” 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].”

As for what to expect of The Stranger’s journey in Season 2, he will be traveling to Rhûn with Nori. McKay explained their vision of the country, “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.”

He continued, “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,” he added.

Payne also shared, “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,” he elaborated. “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 do you make of McKay and Payne’s comments about The Stranger and their justification to include the Istari in the Second Age despite Tolkien making it clear they did not arrive until the Third Age?

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