'Evil is here': Sauron takes center stage as 'The Rings of Power' season 2 delves into darkness

 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.'
"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power." | "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."

BRAY STUDIOS, Berkshire — Middle Earth will once again hit the big screen this August for season 2 of Amazon Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” — and this time, villains, notably J.R.R. Tolkien’s infamous dark lord Sauron, will take center stage.

On a chilly day in late April 2023, The Christian Post and other media visited the vast set of “The Rings of Power” in Bray Film Studios near Windsor, just outside of London.

There, flanked by storyboard art and 3D models of sets, showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay revealed that season 2 of the series, which takes place thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, is “darker” than the previous season, focusing mainly on the villains that perpetuate the central conflicts of Tolkien’s beloved series.

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The second season will open with Sauron once again demonstrating his shape-shifting abilities. In season 1, shipwrecked human warrior Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) was shown to be Sauron in disguise, much to the horror of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). This season, they said, will show how the eventual dark lord of Mordor uses his manipulation powers to turn character’s “greatest strengths” into their “greatest weaknesses” and gain influence across Middle Earth.

"You remember in season 1 how it didn’t end exactly as [Sauron] would have hoped; Galadriel cast him out, and he's left with basically nothing," Payne recounted. "She has the three rings. He has no friends, he has no army, he has no allies, no weapons, basically no resources except for his own cunning."

While season 1 was about the "heroes and setting the table with Galadriel, the dwarves, Númenor and Southlanders, Payne said the second season will focus on the villains and Sauron. 

"We're going to watch as he uses deception, manipulation, lies, coercion, cunning to start to set the chess pieces in motion. He's going to go to this person over here and sort of set this group against that group over there and start using people's inherent trusts and mistrusts and fears against them to start to set up the situations that are all beneficial to him."

New lands and characters will be introduced in the forthcoming season, showrunners teased, but will largely focus on the continuing stories of those introduced in season 1, including Galadriel, Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) Prince Durin (Owain Arthur), Disa (Sophia Nomvete), Elendil Lloyd Owen and Isildur (Maxim Baldry). 

“We saw in season 1 that Galadriel, who in our estimation is one of the great heroes of Middle-earth, her pride and her PTSD were a crack that [Sauron] could get into and manipulate her to get everything he wanted,” McKay said. “Now, he’s going to do that with everybody.”

"What is going to be happening over the course of season 2 is every single one of these societies and heroes that we set up in season 1 are now facing serious cracks in the foundation that Sauron can exploit," McKay said. "What we're hopefully going to start to realize as the season goes on is that this is not a story about several different worlds; this is a story about one world, and Sauron is the spine that connects all of it."

A still from 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.'
A still from "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power." | Amazon Prime Video

Expanding the scope and scale of 'The Rings of Power'

To bring Middle Earth — stretching from the island kingdom of Númenor to the far reaches of the Southlands — to life, along with its orcs, dwarves, elves, humans and other creatures, Amazon utilized an estimated $465 million budget, making it the most expensive series ever produced.

While season 1 of "The Rings of Power" was epic in both scale and production, according to showrunners, season 2 expands on those strengths, as demonstrated, for example, by the series' signature action scenes.

In keeping with the “Rings of Power" tradition, season 2 will feature epic battle scenes (including one involving orcs CP had the privilege of witnessing), which Ben Cooke, the series' supervising stunt coordinator, said are “ramped up” this time around. 

He said many of the actors perform their own stunts, focusing on horseback riding, intricate wire sequences and elaborate fight scenes. Clark, he said, has become a skilled horsewoman as continues to embody Galadriel.

Scenes are shot in various locations, from dense forests to open fields, each requiring meticulous planning and execution.

“The only thing we haven't done is cars, … [but] cars and motorcycles don't really work in this genre,” he said with a laugh. 

Still from 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.'
Still from "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power." | Amazon Prime Video

While season 1 was filmed in New Zealand, season 2 was recorded at Windsor Crown Estate Land in England. Finley Bradbury, the supervising location manager for the U.K., detailed how the design and logistics came together to create a functional and visually stunning set.

“We had drawings from New Zealand to start with, which gave our construction team something to sink their teeth into straight away,” he says. “All the gold panels, doors and intricate handles were shipped over, but the walls, floors and all the plasterwork were rebuilt here.”

Countless props, including 90 versions of the rings of power, costumes and wigs were also made specifically for season 2. Creators paid careful attention to the details of Middle Earth. For the orcs alone, for example, 1,500 pairs of silicon ears were made, along with handpainted prosthetics, foam appliances and bespoke teeth and lenses.

“The orcs themselves take about two-and-a-half hours to apply with two people,” Sarah Gower, head of prosthetics, told reporters. “[This season] is a lot darker, a lot more evil, so for us, it’s super exciting, because there are a lot more orcs than season 1. So for us, being prosthetic nerds, it’s a lot of fun.”

What’s next for key characters?

In addition to the storylines of protagonists, including Sauron and Galadriel, other fan favorites — including Durin IV, Míriel and Pharazôn — will be further explored in season 2. 

“There’s quite a few new characters, but really, it's following the journeys of the characters we've invested in for a season,” the showrunners said. “There’s a smattering of new folks in the mix who may also continue to rise into major players in the future.”

Owain Arthur, who plays dwarven prince Durin IV in “The Rings of Power,” told reporters that the second season will continue to delve into the marriage between Durin and his wife, Disa, and showcase a more intimate view of the dwarven society, highlighting both its grandeur and its domesticity.

"We're going to see a lot more of the culture of the dwarves in season 2," Arthur said. "You’ll see more of Durin and Disa living their lives, but in a slightly different way. … At the end of season 1, Durin is disavowed by his father, putting him in a place he's never been. He's always known life as a prince, in line for the throne, but now [things are tricky]."

He said Disa again serves as a “pillar” for her husband, a dynamic particularly poignant as Durin faces emotional turmoil in season 2.

“They love each other like a furnace,” he said. “It's unstoppable, the passion they have for each other, and the love they have and respect that they have for each other, it’s just there the whole time.”

The actor also reflected on the close bond between Durin and the elf Elrond, a standout aspect of the first season that resonated with audiences for its genuine portrayal of male friendship.

"I was shocked how people picked up on that," Arthur said. "We'd worked together quite a lot, actually, and therefore carried a lot of emotions and a lot of history through with us on set. But for that to be picked up by people, that was a that was a shock, a pleasant shock."

 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power'
"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" | Amazon Prime Video

At the end of season 1, Míriel, the queen regent of the prosperous island nation of Númenor, finds her life turned upside down after being blinded by fire and discovering her father died. In season 2, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who stars as Míriel, says the queen regent must navigate a fractured Númenor, a task made more complex by the loss and questions that her people harbor.

“It's a very juicy place to end in one season and begin in the next,” she said. “Númenor is going through its ever-shifting sort of change, societally speaking, and we'll definitely see how that plays out over the course of season 2.”

Addai-Robinson emphasized that Míriel’s blindness is not a weakness but something that will serve as an asset in the forthcoming season.

"She still needs to lead her people. … I never viewed it as a weakness or something that was going to be debilitating. If you lose a sense, your other senses are heightened. You're using every tool in your arsenal, so to speak, to still make sure you are getting a sense of the world and mood of the people around you. And you'll see that play out as well in season 2.”

The tension between Míriel and Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle), her cousin and advisor, is another pivotal aspect of the forthcoming season as the political landscape of Númenor is poised for significant upheaval.

Weighing in on Pharazôn’s ambitions and how they might intersect with Míriel’s condition, Gravelle said: "Her vision for Númenor is still strong, but Pharazôn has his own vision, and who has the biggest perspective? … You have to be sort of utilitarian in whichever way it goes. And I think somebody like Pharazôn realizes that because it's not all sunshine and rainbows. You do have to sometimes practice the dark arts, but you're just being very functional and practical for the good of people.”

Honoring Tolkien’s commitment to redemption

But while “darkness, horribleness and misery” are all parts of Middle Earth, so are hope and heroism — also central themes of season 2, showrunners said.

Tolkien, a devout Christian, sought to portray evil and darkness as critical elements that helped shape the moral and thematic framework of his stories. 

“All across the map, even though there's great darkness, there are also heroes that are there as well,” Payne said. “In the end, it will be hopeful.”

'The Rings of Power'
"The Rings of Power" | Amazon Prime Video

The showrunners said what differentiates Tolkien’s stories from many popular epics is his dedication to redemption and the “earnestness” that comes with Middle Earth.

They stressed that he wasn’t “nihilistic and postmodern" throughout his work. Rather, he saw darkness as providing the necessary opposition to make the heroes' journey compelling and meaningful.

"We're talking a lot about darkness and horribleness and misery, and that's all a part of it — Tolkien takes you there — but the other thing that we really love about Tolkien and this material is that there's hope everywhere, too. We know there's an unnamed wizard heading out to parts unknown and exploring the huge parts of the map we've never seen before on screen or even in the books, only talked about in myth and rumor. Perhaps that destiny is going to tie back into the rise of Sauron over here," McKay said.

"In Tolkien, even the villains often have something redemptive at the center of it," Payne said. "Even Sauron, in his own twisted way, thinks he's healing Middle Earth. There's always a core there that isn't just darkness for darkness's sake."

McKay added, "There's an earnestness to Middle Earth and stories in Middle Earth, and we happily embrace that. It's really if to be cynical and roll your eyes and be postmodern and winky, winky, winky, and we're just not going to play that game."

They added that the moral struggles and nuance within Tolkien's universe presented the opportunity to pose the question even more fully to viewers in season 2: What side are you fighting for?

“It’s something that everyone has to struggle with in Tolkien. … Evil isn't something over there that's other; evil is here,” McKay said.
"Sauron is able to take the things that you want to do that are good and turn those against you," Payne added. "It's the ring personified. The ring offers you ultimate power. And when you give someone power, you see what's really inside them. ... When you see Sauron having relationships with people, he doesn't have normal relationships, because he empowers them, in theory, after a good end. But then you watch as both that end and the person who is being empowered to work towards it are twisted by their proximity to and interactions with Sauron."

"We go deeper into him. ... How did he become that way? And why? What does he really want, and how is his dream to pursue that going to test and twist him more than he might already be?”

Season 2 of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” will debut on Prime Video on Thursday, Aug. 29, premiering globally.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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