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Rings of Power Missed Opportunities: Sauron

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in The Rings of Power. Image likely owned by Amazon.

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in The Rings of Power. Image likely owned by Amazon.

One Ring to Rule Them All

Among the many problems with The Lord of the Ring: The Rings of Power series is the unimpressive implementation of Sauron. His depiction being lackluster, it is clear the writers didn’t know what to do with their main antagonist other than play a nonsense of game of trying to make the audience guess which actor was playing Sauron.

Sauron as Annatar, the Lord of Gifts in Tolkien's lore.  Artwork by Alaïs.

Sauron as Annatar, the Lord of Gifts in Tolkien's lore. Artwork by Alaïs.

Bearing Gifts

Sauron is a deceiver. What he cannot gain through conquest he does through deception and guile. Using the name Annatar, he preys upon the vanity and ambition of Elves like Celebrimbol to help him create the ring of powers, tools he’d use try and enslave all the peoples of Middle Earth. He comes as a friend bringing gifts, and is more effective with this than if he’d come with his armies of Orcs.

When the Númenóreans come and defeat him in Mordor, Sauron abases himself and surrenders to their might. Through flattery and sophistry, he turns his imprisonment into a position of authority and power he couldn’t achieve through conventional military action against his enemies. This might be the first depiction of a villain allowing himself to be captured as part of a great scheme to destroy his opponents as later seen with the Joker in The Dark Knight and Silva in Skyfall among others. Sauron tricks the Númenóreans into destroying themselves by sailing West and violating the ban of the Valar.

In Amazon’s show, these qualities are noticeably lacking. Too much time is wasted with the mystery box style writing shell game of trying to trick the audience as to Sauron’s identity, which the writers do even through the last episode, which mostly just bloats the run-time and substitutes audience confusion for narrative progress. He is needlessly presented as an off-brand Aragon-type king in hiding, the reasoning for which only makes the barest of sense because the plot requires it to. While in this disguise he does showcase some guile, the depiction lacks sophistication and cunning of a master deceiver. Similarly, his presence in Eregion is built on flimsy reasoning and plot contrivances, unlike in Tolkien’s writings wherein Sauron’s plan is centuries in the making.

Sauron fan art by WhiteLeyth on Deviantart.

Sauron fan art by WhiteLeyth on Deviantart.

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Rock and Roll Rebel

Another way to show Sauron in a different way would be to have made him visually and aurally distinct. As stated before, rather than come up with a compelling depiction of Sauron, the writers cloak in in the trappings of Aragorn, so for as much as the showrunners claimed to be trying to create their own story they seem petrified of doing anything too divergent from the earlier movie adaptations.

If not a smooth operator who deceives his foes, then Sauron could have been shown as a cranked-to-eleven King of the Metal Militia. As an over-the-top, scenery chewing tyrant, he would have had undeniable personality. Audiences remember powerful, unhinged, terrifying villains like Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) in Mad Max: Fury Road, Khan (Ricardo Montalbán) in Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan, or Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Leon: The Professional. Additionally, much could have been done to set him apart in the look and sound of the show. Why isn’t Sauron shot from low angles, showing him towering over other figures in all his villainous majesty, reinforcing his character’s desire to have dominion over the minds and lives of his subject the way he has dominion over the screen? Why aren’t his musical cues singular and loud, announcing his presence with sounds not heard of among other characters? Elves have their vocals, Dwarves have their drums, Hobbits—excuse me, Harfoots—have their rustic, folksy flutes*. Horns might be fine for Orcs, but Sauron, a powerful and narcissistic tyrant, should have singular music, arriving on screen like a vainglorious professional wrestler with fireworks and power chord heavy metal riffs.

* All exactly like the Lord of the Rings movies, while the showrunners claim they want to be seen as different and with their own, unique take on Tolkien’s material.

Meme about kingship taken from Game of Thrones, posted on

Meme about kingship taken from Game of Thrones, posted on

And in the Darkness Bind Them

Nothing interesting was done with the primary antagonist of the series. Sauron was shown neither as Tolkien’s canonically cunning deceiver nor as a unique nearly, omnipotent conqueror who would not look out of place in a Frank Frazetta painting or top-notch van art. As such, a massive opportunity for the showrunners to put their own stamp on the show—something they claimed they wanted to do—was missed.

It’s worth saying again: “mystery box” writing does not produce strong, coherent narratives. It is too often deployed as an unwinnable game of three-card monte played on the audience. Rather than it being an alternative adaptation of Tolkien’s legendarium, the show comes across like a work bowing to a producer’s notes demanding “audience capture” and “a second-screen experience.”

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© 2022 Seth Tomko

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