[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 6, “Udûn.]
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power previews suggested Episode 6, “Udûn,” would be a big one, and they weren’t kidding. The newest installment solves mysteries that previously seemed settled and sent a massive plot twist plummeting through Middle-earth at the end — literally. And while we still don’t know who Sauron is after weeks of teasing, it seems one candidate from the list of possibilities can be crossed off.
The battle for the Southlands began with Adar (Joseph Mawle) leading his Orc children to the Southlands tower, where Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin), and the rest of the humans who stayed to fight were preparing for battle. The small but strong group successfully toppled the tower, crushing a slew of the Orc army. But Adar pressed on, waging part two of their battle in the neighboring village later on.
The loyal Southlanders barely pulled through a victory in the second fight, which saw Bronwyn gravely injured. To their horror, the survivors discovered they hadn’t been fighting Orcs in the second battle — they were killing their own. Adar sent the Southlanders who pledged fealty to him into this fight, their helmets shielding their faces. Arondir, Theo, the injured Bronwyn, and the rest of the good guys found themselves trapped in their tavern shelter with Adar killing them one by one until they handed over the black sword hilt.
Previous episodes revealed the hilt was a key, but what it unlocked remained a mystery. To save his mother, Theo turned the hilt over. (Before the fighting began, Arondir and Bronwyn finally kissed and declared they would live together as a family when the dust settled. Theo seems open to this as his bond with Arondir deepens. We’re still wondering if/when the mystery of Theo’s father will be solved.) When hope seemed lost, the cavalry arrived.
The thundering stampede of the Númenorean army charging toward the Southlands with Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) at the helm was a sweeping, sprawling sight that brought up the thrill of Peter Jackson’s similar battle sequences. This battle in the Southlands wasn’t nearly as large in scale as the movie trilogy’s most epic battles, but the fight and stunt choreography in The Rings of Power deliver refreshingly new action sequences that are delightfully unpredictable to watch. It saves the coolest stunts for Clark and Córdova, but even Arondir was starstruck when witnessing the commander of the northern armies in her combat glory. (One satisfying thing The Rings of Power has that Game of Thrones did not: characters in faraway places meet sooner rather than later.)
Galadriel set her sights on Adar immediately, and the battle ended when she caught him with the help of Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), who revealed he had crossed paths with the corrupted Elf in his past. Adar didn’t recognize him but asked if he had killed a loved one, perhaps a lover or child. Halbrand did not respond, leaning in for the kill instead. Galadriel stopped him before he could. With Adar as their captive, Galadriel started questioning the orc leader. And we now know Adar is not Sauron. Rather, he’s one of the very first Orcs.
“When I was a child, I heard stories of elves taken by Morgoth. Tortured, twisted, made into a new and ruined form of life,” Galadriel said to Adar, quoting a similar line from Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring. “You are one of them, are you not? The Sons of the Dark. The first Orcs.”
“Uruk,” Adar replied. “We prefer Uruk.” (Saruman made a new breed of Orcs in the Third Age called Uruk-hai.) During the interrogation, Adar claimed to have killed Sauron himself for hurting his “children.” Galadriel didn’t believe him, but his story explained the dark magic Sauron wielded at the Forodwaith stronghold seen in Episode 1 that saw dead Orcs sealed into the castle walls.
Adar revealed he’s trying to make a home for the Orcs, saying they’re just as deserving of life and home as any other race in Middle-earth. After a dark outburst from Galadriel (“it would seem I’m not the only Elf alive who has been transformed by darkness. Perhaps your search for Morgoth’s successor should have ended in your own mirror”), Halbrand urged her out, and he was notably silent when Adar asked who he was once more. Outside, Halbrand told the Southlanders he was their missing heir to the throne, and they cheered over the return of the king (I’m so sorry, I had to). And in a private moment, Galadriel and Halbrand seem to acknowledge feelings for each other.
This… weird moment aside (a romance for Galadriel? Do we have to?), I am still not convinced Halbrand isn’t Sauron. Until I’m told otherwise, I’m assuming this is all a front to eventually throw Galadriel for one hell of a loop. Not that the end of “Udûn” didn’t do that already.
Arondir never checked that the sword hilt was, indeed, still in its wrappings after the battle. The episode ended with the reveal that Adar got the hilt to Waldreg (Geoff Morrell) earlier, and he made it to the shrine that the hilt key unlocked, revealing the reason for the episode’s title.
“Udûn” is a place… in Mordor. It’s the name of the wide, depressed valley in northwestern Mordor that is seen in the LOTR movies. When Waldreg activated the hilt, the sword grew to full length. And when set into the stone, it set off a cataclysmic event that triggered the opening of a dam. The water rushed through the tunnels the Orcs had been carving through the Southlands and underneath homes all season long. The forced natural disaster caused a deluge of water and debris to fall into the opening of the nearby mountain, causing it to erupt, spewing lava all over the Southlands, its residents, and the Númenorean army.
We may not have met Sauron in this episode, but we witnessed the beginnings of his wasteland kingdom and the creation of Mount Doom. I, for one, screamed.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Fridays, Prime Video