How The Rings Of Power Foreshadowed The Sauron Reveal Throughout Season 1

One secret identity to rule them all?

Season 1 of "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" came to an epic conclusion almost two weeks ago and viewers are still buzzing about the major, game-changing reveal about which of the main cast of characters had actually been the Dark Lord Sauron all along. Creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay and their team of writers clearly had a lot of fun playing up this mystery for maximum impact, giving fans a pretty compelling reason to fall for the chemistry-laden pairing between Morfyyd Clark's Galadriel and Charlie Vickers' Halbrand ... until that plot twist in the season finale finally unmasked Halbrand as Sauron himself, pulling the rug out from under both Galadriel and the fanbase alike.

As challenging as it was to keep such a pivotal development hidden from prying eyes and ears, the Sauron/Halbrand reveal didn't come out of nowhere, either. Clever writers find ways to carefully seed these sorts of reveals throughout the story, laying a trail of breadcrumbs for perceptive viewers to pick up on. Such a task becomes infinitely more difficult with a show the scale of "The Rings of Power," but the showrunners have circled back and addressed their thought process that went into meticulously dropping hints about Halbrand's true nature ever since his very first appearance.

From double-meaning dialogue to very specific framing techniques to thematic subtext, "The Rings of Power" gave us all the clues we needed to figure out its central mystery.

'Looks can be deceiving'

Galadriel spent much of the first season of "The Rings of Power" obsessively hunting for Sauron in a relentless quest for vengeance. Of course, the elf warrior unwittingly crossed paths with her nemesis as early as episode 2, when she shared Halbrand's raft on the Sundering Seas and proceeded to strike up a friendship with him (and possibly more). The Dark Lord quietly kept his identity to himself, offering up the red herring that he was the long-lost king of the Southlands instead. But true to his deceptive nature, as described by author J.R.R. Tolkien himself in various texts and notes, Halbrand simply couldn't resist tossing out several double entendres that could've given away the game ... if only Galadriel had known what we know.

In an extensive interview with Vanity Fair, showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay opened up about how they foreshadowed the Sauron reveal long before the other shoe finally dropped. When asked whether they had intentionally included subtle winks and nods about the reveal, Payne had this to say:

"Yes, in [Halbrand's] very first shot, he's looking over his shoulder with one eye. And in episode two, he says, 'The tides of fate are flowing. Yours may be heading out.' That's the line that Galadriel says to Frodo [in the book] when the ring comes into her orbit. She's repeating the first thing he ever said to her. She asks on the raft, 'What kind of man would leave his companions to die?' He says, 'The kind of man that knows how to survive.'"

But the real mind-melter comes even earlier in that introductory scene. McKay points out, "Oh, it gets crazier than that. In [Halbrand's] second line, he says, 'Looks can be deceiving.'"

'Is he messing with her?'

One of the bigger giveaways that Halbrand may have been more than he seemed came during a street brawl on the island nation of Númenor. His brutal takedown of his attackers came across darker and more disturbing than any ordinary scene of a man acting in self-defense, hinting at the dark past that he himself mentioned vaguely to Galadriel when they first met. According to Payne:

"And then you watch him beat the crap out of those guys [in Númenor] and break the guy's hand in a really disturbing way. You're like, 'Oh, my gosh, is he just a good fighter, or is there something a little superhuman about what he just did?' Then when Galadriel and Halbrand/Sauron have a heart-to-heart in episode five, she bears her soul and says, 'I can't stop fighting. And my friends couldn't distinguish me from the evil I was fighting — and [Sauron] killed my brother.'

And he says, '...I'm sorry about your brother.' He's the guy who effectively killed her brother! So is there a real pathos that's happening there, where he is genuinely apologizing? Is he messing with her? We designed every moment so you can be, 'Is it a thing he's saying because it's true? Or is he playing a role to manipulate her?'"

Sauron, that ol' scamp! Love or hate the reveal, none can deny the sheer amount of care that went into making this moment work as effectively as it could. Sure, many guessed the season's twists and turns right away, but isn't that preferable to an out-of-nowhere ending along the lines of, say, "Game of Thrones"?

You can re-watch and rediscover all of these teases for yourselves, as the first season of "The Rings of Power" is now streaming on Prime Video.