The Southlands may seem to be a somewhat new Tolkien location, but a check at the map reveals they are destined to become the Dark Land known as Mordor. Amazon confirmed this in a featurette ahead of the show’s release, which placed the name of the Southlands exactly where Mordor is written on the traditional Lord of the Rings map. Just below the words was the distinctive shape of Lake Núrnen, named in The Return of the King. « Neither [Sam] nor Frodo knew anything of the great slave-worked fields away south in this wide realm, beyond the fumes of the Mountain by the dark sad waters of Lake Núrnen, » Tolkien wrote.
The Southlands do not seem to perfectly correspond with Sauron’s future land of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings; they encompass a far greater area. Still, there are troubling hints the region explored in The Rings of Power really does lie at the center of Mordor. According to the Elves, this was once a barren land – presumably signifying historic volcanic eruptions that turned it into a waste. When the eruptions ceased, the volcanic ash would weather away, releasing elements such as magnesium and potassium into the soil and transforming the Southlands into some of the best farmland on Middle-earth. But The Rings of Power seems to hint volcanic activity is beginning again, with crops mysteriously dying even as the Orcs begin to plunder the villages. The Return of the King may further suggest at the Orcs’ true purpose in The Rings of Power. It refers to slave-worked fields near the shores of Lake Núrnen, and it is entirely possible the villagers are being taken from their homes to become the first generation of these slaves.
However wise Gil-galad may be, it is clear he has underestimated the evil lurking in the shadows of Middle-earth. Sauron is on the move, his power growing once again in the Southlands, and he is sure to act even more openly now the Elves have abandoned their watchtowers. The Rings of Power really does chart the darkest days of the Southlands.