This Lord of the Rings article contains spoilers for The Rings of Power.
The third episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power sees the show begin to stretch its wings narratively speaking, introducing several characters whose names will sound very familiar to Lord of the Rings fans, such as Isildur and Elendil, while digging deeper into new ones created specifically for the series, like Halbrand, the secret king of the Southlands. (Though I’m admittedly partial to the theory he’ll actually turn out to be the Witch-King of Angmar one day.)
The current story that takes place in the Southlands (read: future Mordor) is a similar original creation, involving the silvan elf Arondir, a soldier who has spent decades as part of the garrison keeping watch over Morgath’s old stomping grounds. And it also introduces what appears to be one of the show’s first original villains: a mysterious being who shares the episode’s title. His name is Adar.
Obviously, The Rings of Power’s ultimate Big Bad is none other than Sauron himself, but there’s a lot of narrative ground to cover between where the series is now and the point at which that mythical last alliance of men and elves joins forces to defeat him and the powerful One Ring he wears. (I mean, heck, Sauron’s yet to appear on the show, and while most of us have generally assumed his shapeshifting self is hiding in plain sight, we have no firm proof of this as yet.) And that means the show will need some other bad guys for our heroes to battle while the Dark Lord builds his armies, and it would appear Adar is definitely one of them.
Though we don’t officially meet the character until the episode’s closing moments, Adar’s presence looms large over much of The Rings of Power’s third installment. Orcs chant his name and everyone seems to be talking about what a badass he is. In fact, the orcs’ cult-like devotion to this mysterious figure is such that Arondir and several of the other elves being held prisoner in Adar’s encampment openly wonder if his name might be another word for Sauron. He’s busy orchestrating the construction of a vast network of secret underground tunnels throughout the Southlands and destroying all the human villages in their path along the way. We might not officially know this guy, but it seems pretty obvious that he’s a Bad Dude, and one with some kind of shady mission that has yet to be revealed.
Following an escape attempt gone horribly wrong, Arondir is dragged before Adar, but our only glimpse of this figure is heavily blurred. It’s impossible to tell what race Adar belongs to during the brief moments we see his face, merely that he is pale with rather long dark hair. But it seems obvious that, whether he’s a human or some kind of corrupted elf, he’s definitely not is an orc. (I’m going to guess elf of some kind, if only because Arondir helpfully points out that “adar” is an Elvish word.)
This naturally raises all kinds of questions: How did he, a non-orc, become so celebrated and respected amongst their kind? Where is he from? Is Adar his actual name or some kind of title—and is it covering for a name we’d otherwise recognize? What is he doing at the head of what is essentially an orc army? And what is he after, really?
Early in the episode, we learn that while the underground tunnel network is primarily used to allow orcs to travel Middle-earth in the daylight, it’s also helping the orcs search for something. What, precisely, we have no idea. Could it be a weapon of some kind? A magical talisman? Or even possibly a person? (Remember, a magical man did just fall out of the sky last week.) Almost anything seems possible, and that’s part of what makes this subplot fun.
In many ways, the fact that we have absolutely no idea who Adar is or what he wants is incredibly refreshing. As fun as it is to point out connections to other stories and characters within J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe, The Rings of Power only truly works if it’s telling us a story we haven’t seen before. That means there need to be elements of the show that aren’t tricks or puzzle boxes for us to solve—the online discourse that questions whether virtually every character onscreen is somehow secretly Sauron is already exhausting—and the insertion of new stories and characters is what helps this prequel feel both fresh and expansive.
Whether Adar is just another garden variety villain or the right hand of Sauron himself is something we’ll find out in due course, but it’s very clear that this is a figure with an agenda all his own, and that’s what makes his story worth watching.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.