[Warning: This story contains spoilers for The Rings of Power season one finale.]
You knew. Right? Or did you at least suspect that the future king of the South was actually Sauron all along? Introduced at the beginning of Prime Videos The rings of power episode two (emerging from the fog on a raft with protruding planks that looked like Sauron’s helmet), Halbrand has been the subject of fandom scrutiny when the character dropped hint after hint that his secret identity as a wandering Aragorn-esque king is actually a much darker past. Below the British actor Charlie Vickers (palm tree beach) talks about his dual identity role, how some of Halbrand’s seemingly non-Sauron-esque moves make sense, and what comes next for the character.
So when did you know?
I wasn’t sure until the beginning of the third episode. We filmed the first two episodes and then the show was interrupted due to COVID. Towards the end of the intermission, the showrunners sat me down and told me. I filmed that sequence on the raft without knowing it. I filmed it with all my heart as Halbrand. But I did have a suspicion, if I’m honest. My last two auditions [were reading lines from] Richard III and we know he’s not the best man in the world. And then the other [audition lines were] from lost paradise where you literally speak as Satan. So that gave me a suspicion that something was up. So I was definitely suspicious, but it wasn’t confirmed until right before we started filming the third episode.
I think this will get people to re-watch all of his scenes, so I want to walk you through the character’s journey. So what do you understand of his introduction to that raft. Did he put himself there to meet Galadriel or was their meeting, as she puts it, organized by a higher power?
So I know this. But I think that question is best left unanswered. Because we find out that backstory [in season two]. That question will be answered in due course.
When I re-watched the early episodes with the idea that Halbrand was Sauron, it became almost miraculously clear – there are so many hints. Which was your favourite?
There are funny bits in it. My second line on the raft is, “Appearances are deceiving.” Which I didn’t really realize then because I didn’t know I was playing Sauron! But when I look back, I think, “Wow, it’s all there.” And when I walk into Númenor and stop by the forge, I think there was a moment when fans who really know the lore set off alarm bells.
One thing that kept some fans from believing that Halbrand could be Sauron was that it’s hard to imagine that the Dark Lord would really want to work as some blacksmith’s apprentice in Númenor. What was the thinking behind that scene?
He is a blacksmith. He knows the craft of forging through and through. You have to think about it in terms of where we meet Sauron during his repentance phase. Tolkien says quite explicitly in the The Silmarillion that he repents—if not out of fear. So the question is not whether he repented, but whether that repentance was real. He’s been taken down. He is humiliated, almost humiliated. So if you see him floating on a raft, it’s actually as low as you can get. Tolkien talks about Sauron resurfacing, staying in Middle-earth for a long time, and very slowly coming back to power. These are the words he used. And I think that’s why he’s looking for a job, because he’s looking for a way back. It’s really interesting to think about rebuilding him. He rebuilds many times over the entire history of Arda. This is an example of that.
Because I think, “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, he seeks a new life and really tries to run away from evil. But if his remorse isn’t sincere, if he’s pretending, then maybe it’s a tactic that allows him to buy some time and make himself busy in Númenor while he waits for things to unfold. You can look at it from two sides. 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 the way they want.
Someone close to the show pointed out that Sauron the impostor actually never outright lies in his season one dialogue. Is that also your understanding?
It’s true. I find it interesting because he is this impostor and in order to eventually deceive, he must fully embody this form that he has taken. To convince someone like Galadriel, he has to be completely immersed in what he’s doing, which for me meant completely immersing myself in Halbrand’s character. But all of Sauron’s subconscious work is in the back. But yes, he does say a line, I think in the fifth episode: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry about everything. I’m sorry for your brother.” What 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 it when he basically says exactly what Sauron is going to do with the rings by giving it to Galadriel as advice – “Identify what it is that your opponent fears the most… and give them a way to master it.” so 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 both of us, let me keep it.” The latter doesn’t even make sense as Halbrand. Why should it be better for her if he stays in Númenor? It only works if he’s Sauron.
He says in the final that he wants Galadriel as his queen. Is there real attraction and? interest there, or was that just a power play?
I just see it as power games. Any attraction or interest to her is through this cosmic connection. He’s been there a long time and so is she. It’s not often that he meets someone close to his level. So that must have been exciting and exciting for him. But when he says that to her, it all goes back to his fear or hope for personal gain – that’s what she is to him at the time. She is a means for him to return to power with her by his side. That will be more effective in the short term, but I don’t think he will be happy in the long run unless he is in power and alone.
If he says he wants to heal Middle-earth, what kind of world is he imagining? 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 really appreciates beauty. And I think his goal was to create an independent paradise, separate from Valinor, to hate the gods because he hates and fears the gods so much. It is about reorganization and rehabilitation. Tolkien says he wants to rid Middle-earth of wasteful friction. If you look at the state of the world, you look at the Southlands and the scattered tribes and warring factions, everything is unclear. In his mind, healing Middle-earth is reorganizing everything and having him as sole ruler. It develops the beauty and wonder and majesty of Middle-earth, but everything has to be really structured and organized. The only way it will satisfy him is if he is in charge and he can order things exactly the way he wants.
For season two, the showrunners have told me that the season is very Sauron-focused, that he’s very out and about, operating and manipulating. What can you tease with 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 him in this period of repentance. We are entering this period of seeing his plans unfold. You are with him when he moves the pieces on the chessboard. There are parts of the lore that are so rich and so exciting and exciting and things that I loved to read The Silmarillion that we’re going to see. Those really famous stories are going to unfold next season.
And finally, actors in genre scenes and movies often have to keep secrets. But this was a pretty big one that had heavy speculation. Have you had any tough times where you didn’t spill this along the way?
Since the first episode aired, I’ve had friends say to me, “You’re Sauron.” These are some of my best friends and I’ve had to let them hang, or send them 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 it next to my face and say, “You look just like this man.” Even around cast members, when I first heard about it, [Galadriel actress Morfydd Clark] was the only one I could tell. It is therefore a relief to be able to share it.