Forget Your Theories About The Stranger — Maybe He's Tom Bombadil

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, the new fantasy series comes with the built-in expectations and standards of everything that the brand name implies; after all, it is following in the footsteps of one of the most highly acclaimed and widely praised film trilogies of all time. On the other, its never-before-seen time period in Middle-earth and unique storytelling ambitions — essentially, an origin story for the powerful rings depicted in the prologue of "The Fellowship of the Ring" and for the Dark Lord who secretly manipulated their creation –  has given the show an opportunity to set itself apart and forge its own identity altogether.

So how could the creative team possibly unite these two seemingly contradictory aims? It's easy, really.

By the end of the premiere episode, "The Rings of Power" introduced a sense of mystery into the proceedings with the enigmatic "Meteor Man," known merely as the Stranger (played by Daniel Weyman). By keeping viewers in the dark about just who this individual might be and what his motivations really are, the writers had fans immediately firing up their speculation engines. Could this be the initial arrival of the wizard Gandalf? Or is he one of the two little-known "Blue Wizards" that Tolkien only ever vaguely alluded to in his writings? Hell, could he somehow have connections to Sauron himself?

Luckily, I'm here to officially set the record straight once and for all with some reckless and irresponsible speculation of my own. Because now that we're three episodes in, everything I've seen from the Stranger points me in one single direction: a certain merry little fellow whose boots are yellow.

That's right, folks, this one's for the Tom Bombadil truthers out there.

From book to (small) screen?

A man with strange and mystical powers appears out of nowhere, promptly cozies up to some awestruck halflings, exerts tremendous influence on nature and his surroundings, and seems glaringly out of place compared to the previously established characters in the story? Yeah, I hate to break it to anyone still in denial, but those are all hallmarks of the one and only Tom Bombadil.

By now, even non-book readers have a vague notion of the legend and mystique surrounding the weird (and largely unexplained) fellow with a penchant for singing in nonsense rhymes. Merry ol' Tom Bombadil all but invades the narrative relatively early on in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring" before exiting just as suddenly. When Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin first leave the comforts of their homes in the Shire at Gandalf's urging, they must travel through an ancient and ominous region known as the Old Forest, where hidden threats and dangers lurk. The hobbits predictably get lost and find themselves in trouble with some malevolent trees looking for a tasty snack. (This scene was repurposed for one sequence in the extended edition of "The Two Towers.") That is, until an unexpected rescuer emerges and more or less saves the world indirectly by saving the Ring-bearer Frodo's life.

Fans have long wondered about the bizarre character's true purpose in Middle-earth and the nature of his backstory. Tolkien himself was maddeningly unhelpful in this regard, only describing him as the "Eldest" and having Bombadil's wife Goldberry answer Frodo's question about who he is with a simple, "He is." In any case, the intentional mystery surrounding both Tom Bombadil in the novel and the Stranger in "The Rings of Power" provides another link that could further tie the two together. Wake up, sheeple!

Lay off the pipeweed, nerd!

Alright, I admit it: All of us Tom Bombadil truthers are hanging on by a thread here. Unfortunately, such theories are tenuous, at best. But you've made it this far, so why not continue down this rabbit hole?

There's one last bit of evidence that could sway this debate in either direction. In "The Fellowship of the Ring," one of the most revealing descriptions we get (beyond the fact that he's a jolly fellow who likes to wear yellow boots) is that he existed long before hobbits, humans, and elves ever came to Middle-earth. Most intriguingly, he himself mentions that he was there "before the Dark Lord came from Outside." This could be seen as further proof that the timeline in "The Rings of Power," set thousands of years before "The Lord of the Rings," could actually line up with the potential inclusion of Tom Bombadil. However, that becomes complicated if you take it at face value that the Stranger only arrived through that flaming meteor. Obviously, all those different people groups have already been thriving on Middle-earth by the time the Stranger appears on the scene, contradicting Tolkien's own words if this is, indeed, meant to be merry ol' Tom.

The prevailing thought seem to lean towards Gandalf, another wizard in his order, some sort of double agent of Sauron (though it seems unlikely, given the recent introduction of Adar), or a very different original character altogether.

Whatever the case may be, let's enjoy these remaining few weeks before the identity of this mysterious Stranger is finally revealed. Up until that moment, our hopes that we might see our first live-action adaptation of Tom Bombadil remain alive! Or maybe it's time to lay off the pipeweed and let this Tom Bombadil conspiracy theory die.

New episodes of "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" stream on Prime Video every Friday.