The first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” have finally premiered on Prime Video, kicking off season 1 of the prequel series about the Second Age of Middle-earth about a time set several thousand years before the events of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.
During this era of peace and prosperity, there are subtle signs of re-emerging evil as many characters’ lives come crashing together. Among them are the lumbering giant (Daniel Weyman), who crash lands on Middle-earth via a meteor, and the Harfoot, Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), who discovers him.
Now that the first two episodes are streaming, both Weyman and Kavenagh address the many theories about the stranger’s true identify, including a popular one that he’s Gandalf, the wise and powerful wizard originally played by Sir Ian McKellen in Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the novels. [Warning: Spoilers for the first two episodes of “The Rings of Power”.]
The Nomadic Harfoots
While Hobbits are canon, and led J.R.R. Tolkien’s previous books, Harfoots are new to the overall franchise. The characters, notably the Brandyfoot family – Nori (Markella Kavenagh), Largo and Marigold Brandyfoot (Dylan Smith and Sara Zwangobani) – and their friend, Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards), make their debut after the showrunners extracted their story from a section of Tolkien’s writing, “Concerning Hobbits,” where the author wrote about the nomadic community’s wandering days.
More specifically, Smith explains, “they’re refugees from the last great war. They’ve deemed their only means of survival is to keep moving along secretive paths and have the ability to disappear at the snap of a finger. And what is all of that for? It’s not just eating another meal, it’s so that they can keep laughing, keep playing, keep that innocence alive. But it’s under unbelievable duress and they are the only ones in the world that have no agency over the story. They are the only ones in the world that are pure victims to whatever political negotiations go on.”
Nori, meanwhile, is the curious one of the bunch, unafraid to test the limits of her community’s comforts and wants to know more about the world beyond Rhovanion. “She loves pushing boundaries. She’s a troublemaker,” Kavenagh says. “But she just wants to improve the Hartfoots’ quality of life and does so by taking risks. She leads with the idea that a fear of risks can be greater than the risk itself.”
Poppy, however, is not as adventurous, and often balances out Nori’s curiosity with reason. “Poppy’s kind of the one who likes to draw her back in. But there’s still an intrigue there and there’s such a love for her friendship that she goes with her and that’s where you find them in the beginning,” Richards says.
It’s because of that, Nori is able to convince Poppy to go along with her to find where the meteor that streaked through the skies of Middle-earth crashed. And it’s there they encounter a giant covered in ash amid the burning wreckage. Not wanting to leave him behind, Nori and Poppy pull him out of the rubble and care for him as he regains his ability to communicate.
The only thing the Harfoots know about the lumbering giant is that there’s a constellation possibly pointing to where he needs to go and his magical connection with fireflies — and possibly other creatures of Middle-earth.
The Lumbering Giant’s True Identity
Not long after the character was revealed in the trailers did theories start popping up about the Stranger’s true identity. Among them is the popular one: That he’s actually Gandalf, even though the character’s whereabouts in the Second Age were never revealed by Tolkien. (But his relationship with the Harfoots in the prequel series could explain Gandalf’s admiration and protection of the Hobbits thousands of years later.)
Of course, there are others, suggesting the Stranger may, in fact, be more of an evil presence. He could be Sauron himself, or more likely, Saruman, a great-turned-evil wizard previously played by Christopher Lee in the films.
When asked about those theories and when audiences will learn about his character’s identity, Weyman says, “I would think, hopefully, people will have as much fun watching his story as I had filming it. And I suppose the best thing to say is that while we were working, I, at each point in the story, knew exactly where the character was and who he was and what he was going through.”
He adds, “So, from my point of view, it was quite an easy task to follow that through.”
While Weyman knew who the Stranger was from day one, Kavenagh did not. “[We were] finding it out week to week,” she says. “I mean, you’ll see when you watch it why it was also kind of beneficial because of how the Stranger is and how Nor is as well.”
She adds, “But yeah, it was an experience.”
That said, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who makes her debut as Queen Regent Míriel in episode three, suggests there’s “a real joy in just letting it unfold.”
“We enjoy all the fan theories and we have those ideas. But even for some of us, we don’t ultimately know the way in which our characters are going to have these experiences,” she says. “And the audience will also get to see it as it unfolds as well.”
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