The Rings Of Power Sets Up A Major Lord Of The Rings Location With The Southlands

Warning: Major spoilers ahead for episode 3 of "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" kicked off with a familiar storytelling technique. Not unlike Peter Jackson's film series, "The Rings of Power" reeled viewers in through the eyes of one of its most valuable players: the ultra-cool Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). Galadriel's journey is a major focal point for the series, as she's one of few characters to have witnessed the rise of the Big Bad Morgoth, and to have survived the war that defeated him — but not before the subsequent rise of Sauron, who killed Galadriel's brother and carved a sketchy mark into his body.

According to Galadriel, said mark confounded even the wisest elves who'd come to Middle-earth. The sigil is something of a calling card for Sauron: wherever he or his minions go, the mark remains. Galadriel deduces that, if she can decipher its meaning, she can find Sauron and defeat him for good. And she invests a lot of time (like, a few centuries' worth) into doing so — but as she discovers in the series' third episode, "Adar," the answer to the puzzle is a deceptively simple one. More than that, it's also set the stage for a key locale that many will likely recognize.

The future of the Southlands

After abandoning ship on the way to the Undying Lands and escaping certain death (at least twice!), Galadriel's wound up in a few unlikely places — but her tentative alliances with Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) and Elendil (Lloyd Owen) put her right in the path of the answers she's been seeking for years. Through Halbrand, Galadriel more or less learns what Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) already know: that orcs have been ravaging the Southlands, driving men from their homes and infecting their innocent cows. And with the help of Elendil, she learns that her mysterious sigil and Halbrand's home are connected in a majorly disturbing way.

Despite the fact that Galadriel is definitely supposed to be under house arrest in Númenor, Elendil whisks her away to the Hall of Lore, where a super-efficient librarian uncovers the account of a spy embedded among Sauron's followers. This spy drew Sauron's symbol as a means of recording where exactly he was held, which means that, all along, the sigil was actually a map. Compared side-by-side with a map of Middle-earth, it bears a startling resemblance to the Southlands.

The spy's reconnaissance tells of a back-up plan that Sauron and his followers would enact in the event of Morgoth's defeat. The Southlands will serve as the foundation of Sauron's new realm, "where evil would not only endure, but thrive," Galadriel says. Though the Southlands are still more or less under the rule of men, it won't be that way for long. Soon, it'll be transformed into Sauron's base of operations, known in later ages as Mordor.

So, what about Halbrand?

Naturally, this stirs up even more questions for "The Rings of Power" to answer. If the Southlands eventually devolve into the volcanic shadow realm of Mordor, what does that make Halbrand, who's actually the long-lost king of the region? Halbrand tells Galadriel that his family once pledged themselves to Morgoth — will he find a way to redeem his family line, like Galadriel suggests, or is he actually Sauron in disguise? The latter feels a bit too easy, if we're being honest. What's more, the concept of a hero fighting to redeem their family's legacy will always be more interesting, at least in Tolkien's deftly built lore. There's an equal chance that Halbrand will find himself serving Sauron, rather than becoming Sauron himself, but it's still gratifying to get learn a bit more about the character after so much mystery.

"The Rings of Power" is working overtime to keep audiences guessing the true identity of Sauron, from Halbrand to new players like Adar. The truth is, no one knows for sure what's going to happen, or when Sauron will inevitably show up in his true form — but that's exactly what makes such a tantalizing story out of Tolkien's thorough appendices. It feels like the journey has scarcely begun, but the stakes are steadily rising as "The Rings of Power" lays out its sprawling story. Part of the appeal is watching Middle-earth evolve into the world that we all recognize from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Major players like Sauron will eventually slide into place, but not before Mordor is actually, well ... Mordor, right?

"The Rings of Power" is currently streaming on Prime Video.