[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episodes 1 & 2.]
The “Meteor Man” in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is quite the mysterious figure. Called the Stranger for now, Daniel Weyman‘s character careened through the sky in a blazing ball of fire and crashed into Rhovanion (home of the harfoots) in the final moments of the series premiere, which debuted in tandem with Episode 2 on Thursday, September 1 at 9/8c on Prime Video.
While everyone in Middle-earth bore witness to his descent (truly everyone — his arrival gave us the first view of the ents!), his bombastic landing was only witnessed by the wide-eyed, rule-breaking harfoot Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh). Nori spends all of Episode 2 keeping the Stranger a secret from her hobbit-ancestor community with the reluctant help of her good friend Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards).
So, who is the Stranger? By nature of his concealed identity, the series is clearly prepping for a big reveal down the line. When that reveal will happen is anyone’s guess, plus journalists were only provided with screeners for Episodes 1 and 2 when reviewing the series, so only the cast and creators really know. Since we’re all in this together, let’s try to unpack this Meteor Man mystery together.
Here are our theories about who the Stranger in The Rings of Power could be.
I’ll admit that my initial gut feeling said the Stranger is Gandalf. Weyman’s shaggy hair, beard, and general stature alone resemble a young Ian McKellen enough that, at first glance, I thought the show might be trying to go for a young Gandalf. But then, logical thinking took over. What a concept!
Gandalf does not appear in Middle-earth until the Third Age, thousands of years away from The Rings of Power timeline. Amazon was given the rights to the Second Age of Middle-earth by the J.R.R. Tolkien estate under the condition that they don’t cover the Third Age, the subject of Peter Jackson‘s trilogies. Given Gandalf’s importance in the Third Age and the fact that — unlike Galadriel and Elrond — he doesn’t arrive in Middle-earth before then, it’s hard to believe Gandalf could be the Stranger.
But there could be a loophole in the fact that Gandalf was around long before the Third Age and long before he ever stepped foot in the Shire. Gandalf is part of the Maiar, a group of divine beings around since the beginning of time. Eru Ilúvatar, the One creator (God, basically), created the Valar to help him, and then he made the Maiar to help the Valar.
New Line Cinema
In the previous ages, Gandalf was in Valinor and known as Olórin. He was sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age with four other Maiar (including Saruman, known as Curumo, and Radagast, known as Aiwendil, both seen in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) to help bring down Sauron. They were sent to Middle-earth embodying old men and called the Order of Wizards (also called Istari).
The Stranger being Olórin/Gandalf would require a huge creative liberty, as it would bring him to Middle-earth thousands of years before he does in the books and possibly before the rest of the Order of Wizards. It also wouldn’t be like the wizards to arrive in such fiery fashion; they aimed to blend in when coming to Middle-earth. On the other hand, Gandalf does have a special ability to produce fire, so the literal great ball of fire the Stranger arrives in raises an eyebrow.
While he wasn’t one of the most powerful Maiar, Gandalf was the only wizard of the Istari to complete his mission in Middle-earth, earning him passage back to the Uttermost West. Saruman took the biggest turn from his mission, fully committing himself to Sauron eventually.
A Blue Wizard
What seems more likely than showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay including Gandalf is that the Stranger is Maiar, but not Gandalf specifically. They even implied as much when asked if there will be wizards in The Rings of Power by Vanity Fair.
“Well, I would say those are not the only beings, those names, in that class,” McKay said. “So maybe, but maybe not. And the mystery and the journey of it is all of the fun, I would say.”
“There are tiny little nods to Tolkien that could send you this way or send you that way,” added Payne. “And we are hoping people will like taking that and putting together a huge puzzle.”
In the few scenes we’ve seen of him in Episodes 1 and 2, the Stranger displays some magical abilities. The lives of the Istari pre-Third Age are fairly vague in Tolkien’s writing, so if they wanted a wizard but wanted to steer clear of the well-known ones, Meteor Man could be one of the two lesser known Istari wizards, Alatar and Pallando, also believed to be Blue Wizards. There’s much more written about Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White than the Blue Wizards in Tolkien’s writing, so their histories are a bit blurred. But Alatar was a Maia chosen to go to Middle-earth, and he brought his friend, Pallando, with him. They are also believed to have gone by the names Morinehtar and Rómestámo.
In The Peoples of Middle-earth, a volume in The History of Middle-earth, the Blue Wizards are said to have come to Middle-earth in the Second Age, long before the Istari is sent. They arrived around the time of the forging of the One Ring (you know the one) and were sent to weaken Sauron’s power in the eastern and southern areas of the land. The Stranger arrives in Rhovanion, located in the north-east of Middle-earth.
The Rings of Power is said to be building up to the creation of the One Ring. Having the Blue Wizards arrive a wee bit before the creation of the “precious” seems like a more tolerable creative liberty than having Gandalf arrive early. It’s also reasonable to think the Blue Wizards could have arrived in the Rhovanion region, given its location.
Could the Stranger be the Big Bad himself? For Nori and Poppy’s sake, we hope the hell not! But there are some in ways in which this would make sense. Galadriel, for starters, is convinced Sauron was not defeated after Morgoth (a Vala) fell; rather he’s waiting for the right time to strike again and building up a legion of orcs in the meantime. And we know the show is building up for a huge reveal when Sauron does inevitably return. The actor playing the ultimate villain has not been announced, and given that the Stranger is, well, a stranger, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Weyman is playing Sauron. But his character does seem ultimately harmless in the first two episodes.
After awaking from the fire, the Stranger seems harmless enough. He sleeps for a while, and then struggles to communicate with the two young harfoots, but he does try to communicate with them and does not try to hurt them. You could see this as a disguised Sauron putting on an innocent front as a means to his ends. And there are hints that the Stranger’s powers are dark magic, the most clear example being the beautiful constellation he makes with the fireflies that promptly kills all of them. Poor things. (Protect my daughters, Nori and Poppy, at all costs.) This could be the powers of a dangerous being, or simply the awesome powers of a divine being. And the Stranger does look remorseful when the fireflies die. Only time will tell if this was genuine or a front.
In Tolkien’s writing, Sauron adopted the disguise of a being called Annatar who pretended to be friends of the elves in the Second Age. Behind the scenes, he was plotting his return and the creation of the One Ring. And what’s more, Sauron is also a Maia — one of the most powerful, in fact. (Other Maia in Tolkien’s lore include the Balrog of Moria, which Gandalf fought in Fellowship.) McKay specifically noted that wizards are “not the only beings, those names, in that class.” Based on that, the Stranger could very well be a Maia, opening up the possibility that he is Sauron (a different being) or a Blue Wizard (a different name).
Another hint that the Stranger is Sauron could be the character’s promo poster (above), in which he’s holding an apple. In the Bible, apples symbolize betrayal. Could that be the show’s way of hinting the Stranger can’t be trusted, whether he’s Sauron or not?
Whoever Meteor Man is, suffice it to say we’re intrigued.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Thursdays, 9/8c, Prime Video