Following the absolutely embarrassing finale to The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power‘s first season and its full realization of their incarnation of Sauron, showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have teased the Dark Lord’s character as being “complexly evil” in the vein of such iconic television characters as “Tony Soprano or Walter White”.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in light of the season ending reveal that Galadriel’s companion Halbrand was actually the Black One in disguise all along, McKay explained that while Tolkien’s version of the villain was “an all encompassing evil that everyone is afraid of, and is so powerful, it doesn’t even have to be manifested physically,” and Jackson’s cinematic interpretation was “an image of an eye, he’s the eye on the tower,” he and Payne “felt Sauron should be a character in his own right.”
“We wanted to study the currents running within him in a way that hopefully would reward audiences as they follow him moving forward as he becomes the Dark Lord,” said the showrunner. “You now know him as a person outside the name ‘Sauron.’”
“In some ways, we wanted to do an origin story for Sauron,” he added. “We didn’t want to make a show that was about the hunt for Sauron, but we love the idea of Sauron as a deceiver who could, hopefully, deceive some of the audience.”
Jumping off from his partner’s point, Payne then interjected, “There’s something that Milton does in Paradise Lost that we talked about a lot. Where he makes Satan a really compelling character.”
“In some ways, he’s the first antihero where he’s compelling and you can’t take your eyes off of him,” he opined. “Milton did that on purpose because he wants you to fall along with Adam and Eve. He wants Satan to be so persuasive that he also seduces [the reader] and you’re unconsciously won over, so that you perceive your own fallenness and your need for redemption.”
Further elaborating on their approach to the villain, Payne detailed, “In Tolkien, Sauron is a deceiver and we know that in Second Age he appears in ‘fair form.’ So what if he sneaks up on you and is able to get you to sympathize with him and get you to be on board with him so that once you actually realize who he is, that he’s already got his hooks in you?”
“So it’s not just as easy as, ‘This person is evil, I’m going to back away,’ because you’ve already formed some level of attachment to him,” he noted. “What if we could get the audience to go through a similar journey?”
Turning to their specific handling of Sauron in the series’ eventual second season, Payne asserted “Season one opens with: Who is Galadriel? Where did she come from? What did she suffer? Why is she driven? We’re doing the same thing with Sauron in season two.”
“We’ll fill in all the missing pieces,” he assured.
Drawing the interview to a close, McKay attempted to spark any sort of interest in their series’ future by drawing comparisons between the Dark Lord and a number of more popular “evil” characters, declaring, “Sauron can now just be Sauron. Like Tony Soprano or Walter White. He’s evil, but complexly evil.”
“We felt like if we did that in season one, he’d overshadow everything else,” he said. “So the first season is like Batman Begins, and the The Dark Knight is the next movie, with Sauron maneuvering out in the open. We’re really excited.”
Interestingly, McKay concluded his thoughts by claiming that “season two [will have a] canonical story” – so much so that “there may well be viewers who are like, ‘This is the story we were hoping to get in season one!’”
“In season two, we’re giving it to them,” he ultimately promised.
Notably, The Rings of Power will not be the first fantasy series to take inspiration from the Breaking Bad protagonist.
In 2013, following the conclusion of the Breaking Bad episode ‘Ozymandias’, Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin took to his personal blog to declare, “Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros.”
“(I need to do something about that),” he playfully added.