[Warning: This story contains spoilers for The Rings of Power season one finale.]
You knew it. Right? Or at least did you suspect that the future King of Southland was actually Sauron in disguise all along? Introduced at the start of First videoit is power rings episode two (emerging from the fog on a raft with protruding planks that resembled Sauron’s helmet), Halbrand came under intense fan scrutiny as the character dropped clue after clue that his secret identity as that Aragorn-like wandering king was actually hiding a much darker past. Below is British actor Charlie Vickers (palm beach) talks about his dual-identity role, how some of Halbrand’s seemingly un-Sauronian moves make sense, and what comes next for the character.
So when did you know?
I didn’t know for sure until the start of the third episode. We filmed the first two episodes, then the series was put on hiatus due to COVID. Towards the end of the break, the showrunners sat me down and told me. I filmed this sequence on the raft without knowing it. I filmed it as Halbrand with all my heart. But I had an idea, if I’m being honest with you. My last two auditions [were reading lines from] Richard III and we know he’s not the best guy in the world. And then the other [audition lines were] of lost paradise where you literally deliver the speech as Satan. So that gave me an idea that there was something. So I was really suspicious, but it wasn’t confirmed until just before filming for the third episode began.
I think it’s going to make people re-examine all of his scenes, so I want to walk through the character’s journey with you. So what is your understanding of his introduction on this raft. Did he set out to meet Galadriel or was their meeting, as she says, arranged by a higher power?
So I know that. But I think it is better to leave this question unanswered. ‘Cause we find out that backstory [in season two]. This question will be answered in due course.
When I rewatched the early episodes with the idea that Halbrand was Sauron, it became almost wonderfully obvious – there are so many clues. What was your favourite?
There are a few fun bits. My second line on the raft is “appearances can be deceiving”. Which I didn’t realize at the time because I didn’t know I was playing Sauron! But when I look back, I think, “Wow, that’s all there.” And then when I walk into Númenor and stop by the forge, I think there was a moment when fans who really know the lore sounded the alarm.
One thing that kept some fans from believing that Halbrand could be Sauron was that it was hard to imagine the Dark Lord actually wanting to work as an apprentice blacksmith in Númenor. What was the thought behind this scene?
He’s a blacksmith. He knows the blacksmith trade intimately. You have to think of it in terms of where we meet Sauron during his repentance stage. Tolkien says quite explicitly in the The Silmarillion that he is repentant — if not out of fear. The question therefore is not whether he repented, it is whether this repentance was genuine. He was lowered. He was humiliated, almost humiliated. So when you see him drifting on a raft, that’s basically as low as it gets. Tolkien talks about the re-emergence of Sauron and how he lingered in Middle-earth for a long time and very slowly came back to power. These are the words he used. And I think that’s why he’s there looking for a job, because he’s looking for a way to come back. It’s really interesting to think about its reconstruction. It rebuilt several times throughout the history of Arda. This is an example.
Because I’m thinking, “Well, why would Tolkien’s second greatest villain, in terms of power, why would he get a job as a blacksmith in Númenor?” If his repentance is genuine, then he is looking for a new life and really trying to run from evil. But if his repentance isn’t genuine, if he’s faking it, then maybe this is a tactic where he can buy time and look busy in Númenor while waiting for things to unfold. You can look at it both ways. I have an answer for myself that I used while playing the character. But I think it’s interesting to leave it ambiguous and let people interpret it as they see fit.
Someone close to the show pointed out that Sauron the Deceiver never outright lies in his season one dialogue. Is this also your understanding?
It’s true. I find it interesting because he is this deceiver and ultimately to deceive he has to fully embody this form that he has taken. To win over someone like Galadriel, you have to have them fully immersed in what they’re doing, which for me meant fully immersing myself in Halbrand’s character. But all of Sauron’s subconscious work is behind it. But yeah, he says a line, I think in the fifth episode, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry about all this. I’m sorry about your brother. Which is true. It’s just that Galadriel doesn’t see what “She needs to see. She doesn’t see the truth of that statement.
I liked when he says exactly what Sauron is going to do with the rings giving it as advice to Galadriel – “Identify what your opponent fears most…and give him a way to subdue it, so that you can master them.” Also when he warns her to take him back to Middle-earth, saying, “I’ve been looking for my peace longer than you know. Please, for the good of both of us, let me keep it. The latter doesn’t even make sense as Halbrand. Why would it be better for her if he stayed in Númenor? This only works if he is Sauron.
He says in the finale that he wants Galadriel to be his queen. Is there a real attraction and interest there, or was it just a power play?
I only see it as a power game. Any attraction or interest in her passes through this cosmic connection. He has been there for a very long time and so has she. It’s not often that he meets someone close to his level. So it must have been exciting for him and exciting. But when he presents this to her, it all comes back to her fear or hope for personal gain – that’s who she is to him at the time. She is a way for him to return to power with her by his side. It will be more effective in the short term, but I think in the long term he will only be happy if he is in power and alone.
When he says he wants to heal Middle-earth, what kind of world does he imagine? As we associate Sauron with darkness and a volcano, but he enthusiastically called Númenor a paradise and seemed to want to stay there.
I think he appreciates beauty wholeheartedly. And I think his goal was to create an independent paradise separate from Valinor to spite the gods because he hates and fears the gods so much. It is about reorganization and rehabilitation. Tolkien talks about him wanting to rid Middle-earth of unnecessary friction. If you look at the state of the world, you look at the Southlands and the scattered tribes and the warring factions, it’s all bewildering. In his mind, the healing of Middle-earth rearranges everything and with him as sole ruler. It unfolds the beauty, wonder and majesty of Middle-earth, but it all has to be really structured and organized. The only way to satisfy him is if he is responsible and can order things exactly the way he wants.
For the second season, the showrunners told me that the season was very much about Sauron, that he was going to be very active, operating and manipulating. What can you tease your character next season?
I think it’s a really exciting season because you’re starting to see Sauron for who he is. We have seen it in this period of repentance. We are going to enter this period where we watch his plans unfold. You are with him as he moves the pieces on the board. There are parts of the lore that are so rich and so exciting and thrilling and things that I loved reading about in The Silmarillion which we will see. These really famous stories are going to unfold next season.
And finally, actors in genre shows and movies often have to keep secrets. But it was a pretty big one that had strong speculation. Have you had any hard times without talking about it along the way?
Since the first episode aired, friends have said to me, “You are Sauron. They are some of my closest friends and I had to keep them on hold or just send them on another path. I’ve had people speculate that I’m the Witch King or the King of the Dead. I’ve had people show me pictures of the King of the Dead, who is literally a skeleton, and put them next to my face and say, ‘You look exactly like that guy. Even around the actors, when I first heard about them, [Galadriel actress Morfydd Clark] was the only one I could say. So it’s a relief to be able to share it.