Spoilers up to episode 3, book spoilers and potential spoilers for the show ahead.
Unlike House of the Dragon, which is based on an in-universe text written by George R.R. Martin, The Rings of Power is loosely adapted from a series of notes left by J.R.R. Tolkien at the end of Return of the King and passing comments in The Lord of the Rings itself. As such, the show lends itself to plenty of theories, such as who the Stranger is and where Sauron could be. As the so-called resident Tolkien lore guy, I wanted to share some theories on who the mysterious Halbrand could be.
An original character written for Rings of Power, Halbrand is one of the show’s bigger mysteries. Played by Charlie Vickers, best known for his work on Medici: Masters of Florence, he’s a castaway who ends up meeting Galadriel before being whisked away to the island nation of Númenor. Right away, the writing of the show tells us to keep an eye on this guy, as he tells Galadriel “looks can be deceiving”. We eventually learn that this is due to his royal lineage, as he’s a King in hiding, but I think the statement can be more loaded than that.
The most obvious, but admittedly less obvious and less interesting theory is that Halbrand is Sauron in disguise. The Dark Lord is a known shapeshifter who often took on the guise of a charming individual to corrupt them from within. Halbrand seemed to take on a fascination with the smiths while on Númenor, but I see this as being a red herring. Sure, Sauron will want to forge the Rings sooner than later, but it won’t be on Númenor. I think it’s certainly possible that Sauron is already manipulating Celebrimbor behind the scenes, hence the elf’s arbitrary deadline for his forge tower. But Halbrand has shown he has quite the silver tongue and is a capable fighter with a family lineage that was aligned with Morgoth, Sauron’s former master, so we can’t dismiss that Halbrand is Sauron at this point.
More interestingly though is the idea that Halbrand could eventually become a Nazgûl, specifically even the Witch-king. Tolkien left the origins of the Ringwraiths very vague, which would allow for ample room to create their backstories with the approval of the Tolkien Estate. Now that Halbrand is on Númenor and looking to start a new life, his noble background could pave the way for him to become a lord on the island. One of the key pieces of information we know about the Witch-king is that he was possibly a lord of Númenor (three of the nine hail from the island nation). Halbrand’s royal lineage and family’s loyalty to Morgoth would make him a suitable candidate for the leader of the Wraiths and Sauron’s number 2. The dent in Halbrand being specifically the Witch-king is he’s not truly a lord of Númenor, nor was he a sorcerer as the Witch-king is described as being. But he could still potentially be one of the Nine. Indeed, not the hero Galadriel seeks.
A third and final possibility is that Halbrand will become the King of the Dead, leader of the Army of the Dead. Once again tapping into his royal roots and the fact that Halbrand is on Númenor, he could form a bond with Isildur, who will go on to co-found the Kingdom of Gondor. It’s said that the King and his men once served Sauron but changed their loyalty to assist Isildur and Gondor to fight for them when called. The show could be changing the Sauron detail to Morgoth and we could get the same outcome. But he rejected the call during the War of the Last Alliance, where Isildur cuts the Ring from Sauron’s hand, and Isildur would curse the King and his men. We know Halbrand is a survivalist and isn’t afraid of letting others take the fall in order to save himself, as evident by the raft scene, so the motivations and character traits do line up nicely with this theory.
Rings of Power has perhaps more mystery boxes than we thought it would and the problem with mystery boxes is that we build theories in our heads and fandoms tend to get upset when those theories don’t pan out (case in point, Star Wars). So hopefully we don’t get too many years of theorizing, but as we’re only a few episodes in, it’s still fun to dissect scenes and characters and wonder where this show is heading.