TV & Movies

Is That Gandalf In The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power?

A mysterious magical figure sure looks like Gandalf — but can we be sure?

Originally Published: 
Daniel Weyman in 'The Rings of Power.'
Amazon Studios

At the end of the first episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a mysterious being falls like a meteor out of the sky. When curious harfoot Nori (Markella Kavanaugh) discovers him, he can barely walk, talk, or control his magical abilities. Soon, though, she coaxes him back to her community’s nomadic encampment, where she attempts to hide him in her tent — even though he’s much taller than she is, and his legs don’t fit. As the show’s second episodes progresses, she learns more about this mysterious visitor, as do viewers. He has long, scraggly gray-brown hair, adopts a ragged gray blanket as a cloak, and whispers messages to fireflies he traps in his hands. In other words, he looks a lot like Gandalf the Gray.

But is this stranger, played by English actor Daniel Weyman, really Gandalf, or are The Rings of Power showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay trying to pull a fast one on viewers? Evidence from the show, from interviews, and from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, upon which the show is based, point to contradictory conclusions. And when Vanity Fair asked McKay whether Gandalf would appear in the series, he didn’t offer a clear answer: “Maybe, but maybe not,” he hedged. “The mystery and the journey of it is all of the fun, I would say.”

For an analysis of all the available evidence, read more below.

Gandalf isn’t supposed to show up yet...

Based on the information that’s currently available, there are two potential theories. The first relies primarily on what Tolkien actually wrote in the Appendices and in other supplementary materials about the world he’d created. In Appendix B, which recounts the history of Middle-earth, he clearly states that the Istari, or Wizards, arrived in Middle-earth 1,000 years into the Third Age, the period during which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. The Rings of Power covers the earlier Second Age, which means that technically, this is too early for Gandalf (or Saruman, the other important Wizard in The Lord of the Rings) to appear.

According to Inverse, however, Tolkien later wrote that there were two other Wizards who traveled to Middle-earth earlier on, in the Second Age. Tolkien aficionados refer to them as the Blue Wizards, because they wore blue robes. Otherwise, there’s not much to know: Tolkien didn’t expand on this detail. Perhaps, in order to keep greater continuity with Tolkien’s timeline, this mysterious figure is one of the Blue Wizards, rather than Gandalf.

But that doesn’t mean Gandalf isn’t in the show.

Let’s be real: Although he hasn’t spoken yet, that guy looks, acts, and sounds a whole lot like Gandalf. Wenham has obviously taken pains to imitate Ian McKellen — who famously played Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. His gestures are eerily familiar, and the way he communicates with insects is straight out of The Fellowship of the Ring. (In that film, memorably, Gandalf gives a moth a message that helps him escape captivity.) Showrunners Payne and McKay have also shown they’re willing to massage other aspects of Tolkien’s mythology when it suits their storytelling purposes. They added harfoots, a precursor species to hobbits, to preserve a Lord of the Rings feel to the show, despite Tolkien writing that hobbits weren’t involved in this part of Middle-earth’s history. “One of the very specific things [Tolkien’s] texts say is that hobbits never did anything historic or noteworthy before the Third Age,” McKay tells Vanity Fair. “But really, does it feel like Middle-earth if you don’t have hobbits or something like hobbits in it?”

Tolkien’s timeline of Middle-earth also describes the Second Age lasting thousands of years, while Payne and McKay tell Vanity Fair they’ve compressed events into a single, shortened narrative. “If you are true to the exact letter of the law, you are going to be telling a story in which your human characters are dying off every season because you’re jumping 200 years in time,” Payne explains, “and then you’re not meeting really big, important canon characters until season four.” It seems possible that Gandalf is one of the “big, important” characters Payne refers to here — but viewers will have to keep watching to find out for sure.

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