Warning: spoilers ahead for The Rings of Power episode 6What in Eru’s name is happening in the final moments of The Rings of Power episode 6? After weeks of slow-build setup, Amazon’s The Rings of Power finally pulls the trigger on its battle for the Southlands. Adar’s Orc army has targeted this region populated by Men and taken it upon themselves to move in… after evicting the locals, of course.
The Southlanders are barely a match but, as luck would have it, the land’s true king recently befriended the only Elf in Middle-earth whose mission is wiping out every last one of Morgoth’s servants. Even more fortunate still, Halbrand and Galadriel found themselves an army of Númenóreans willing to join the fight, and thanks to these timely reinforcements, the Southlands is saved from Adar’s Orcs.
Alas, celebrations prove premature. As the soldiers enjoy mugs of ale and the stench of rotting Orcs, the Southlands rumble violently. A torrent of rushing water and humid smoke bellows forth followed by fire, darkness and fissures in the ground. Here’s what really happened in The Rings of Power episode 6’s ending.
The Rings of Power episode 6’s tragic twist ending starts when a shocked Theo discovers the precious bundle recovered during battle wasn’t The Rings of Power’s mysterious black sword hilt, but an ordinary axe, with the real artifact secretly in Waldreg’s possession. Though the handover isn’t shown onscreen, Adar must’ve switched items when he first heard the pounding hooves of Númenórean cavalry.
Exiting Tirharad’s tavern just before the Númenórean army strikes, Adar mentions a « task » for Waldreg, but the details are left unspoken and the renegade Southlander disappears for the remainder of the battle. Before Númenórean steel met Orc flesh, Adar must’ve quickly given Waldreg the sword and told him where to take it. Waldreg then slipped away quietly as the battle raged. Adar gets spotted riding away on horseback with the « sword, » but his escape is a calculated maneuver to trick Galadriel into chasing a half-blunt axe while Waldreg slithers away unseen with the real deal.
It’s no coincidence that Adar picked Waldreg – a relative newcomer to his sinister operation – for this task. Using the sword requires the user to summon its magical blade using their own blood as a sacrifice, but as Theo’s attempts demonstrate, there’s a certain knack to this trick. Since Waldreg is the only person other than Theo to actually use the weapon (he was the one hiding it in the first place), the Southlands’ tavern landlord is already adept at drawing out the blade’s inner sorcery, which he does effortlessly during The Rings of Power episode 6’s final moments.
Previously in The Rings of Power, Ismael Cruz Córdova’s Arondir explained that the black sword hilt was a « key » imbued with ancient and dark magic from the era of Morgoth, and also pointed out an identical weapon embedded into the walls of the Elves’ Ostirith tower. Arondir only needed to cast his eyes a little lower and the answer would’ve revealed itself. Underneath the stone sword at Ostirith is a suspiciously sword-shaped slot that Adar must’ve known existed in advance. Theo’s black sword serves as the key to this very slot, and turning it brings down the stone dam built into the Ephel Dúath mountains, unleashing a cascade of river water from top to bottom.
A major question The Rings of Power leaves unanswered is who created this cataclysmic keyhole, because it probably wasn’t the Silvan Elves keeping watch at Ostirith. The Rings of Power already revealed the Southlands was controlled by Morgoth during the First Age, so one can only assume the geographical trap was left by either Sauron or Morgoth himself as part of their contingency plan to regroup in the Southlands in the event of defeat. The Ostirith Elves either never noticed it, or assumed it was just a convenient holder for their arrows. Either way, the keyhole’s location adds another reason to why the Southlands specifically was chosen.
Since Adar arrived in the Southlands, his Orcs have been busily digging underground tunnels, with one confirming, « The tunnel is complete, my Lord » in The Rings of Power episode 5. Captured humans and Elves, meanwhile, were forced to dig trenches above ground. Initially, the Southlanders (and most viewers) would’ve assumed these tunnels were made for the purpose of launching sneak attacks, since an Orc attacked Theo in his home by popping up through the floorboards. The Rings of Power episode 6 reveals a deeper purpose behind Adar’s subterranean excavation project: a waterway.
After Waldreg uses Theo’s black sword to release the river running through Ephel Dúath, the torrent rushes into the tunnels prepared by the Orcs over The Rings of Power’s past five episodes. This water then gushes through the trenches Arondir and his fellow prisoners were digging, and it rapidly becomes clear that the purpose behind all of these gullies was carving a path for water to flow from Ostirith to a nearby volcano.
Whoever masterminded The Rings of Power’s black sword plan – whether it be Morgoth, Sauron or Adar – the ultimate intention was for river water to flow beneath a huge volcano near Tirharad, triggering an eruption that razes the nearby plains and turns the Southlands into a wasteland where nothing grows and nothing good lives. The smoke spewing from the volcano creates a plume of blackness that gradually covers the Southlands and blocks out the sun. In The Lord of the Rings, Mordor is well known for its permanent darkness, regardless of whether the time is day or night. That darkness appears to begin with Waldreg’s turn of a sword hilt in The Rings of Power episode 6, meaning this explosive ending represents the founding of Mordor.
Confirmation comes when the captured Orcs begin chanting « Udûn » in unison (also the episode’s title). In Tolkien’s lore, Udûn is a massive valley in Mordor stretching from the north-west corner to the Isenmouthe. The Rings of Power’s destruction of the Southlands shows precisely how that huge valley was carved but, more importantly, means the volcano Waldreg’s black sword activates is almost certainly Mount Doom, where the One Ring will be forged and destroyed.
J.R.R. Tolkien writes little on what Mordor looked like before Sauron’s Second Age rule, and even less on how the Dark Lord made it his home. The Lord of the Rings’ appendices and The Silmarillion only specify that once Sauron resurfaced in Middle-earth in the aftermath of Morgoth’s defeat, he settled in Mordor and set about building the battlements and fortifications seen throughout The Lord of the Rings. Sauron’s presence and magics are said to have turned Mordor into a blackened, barren wilderness. The Rings of Power adds its own embellishments to Tolkien’s telling, revealing the sad chain of events that led to Mordor’s creation.
Many viewers would’ve naturally assumed Adar has been carrying out Sauron’s will, but The Rings of Power episode 6 drops a huge bombshell. Joseph Mawle’s evil Elf claims that he and Sauron had a disagreement over the treatment of Orcs, with Sauron willing to experiment on his soldiers, and Adar feeling parental and protective. Adar believes he killed Sauron during this confrontation, and while The Rings of Power viewers will know he’s wholeheartedly mistaken, the conversation proves Adar and Sauron aren’t necessarily on the same page in terms of their goals. Adar seeks to create a land suitable for the Orcs’ home (hence the cover of darkness), whereas Sauron will be seeking to reestablish dominance over Middle-earth.
Because Adar and Sauron’s intentions don’t align, the Southlands’ future in The Rings of Power isn’t clear. Adar doesn’t exactly have many Orcs left to resettle thanks to the Númenóreans. On the other hand, Sauron is nowhere to be found, giving the Orc-father a free run at seizing the newly transformed land he helped create.
One of the most curious elements from The Rings of Power episode 6’s ending is Galadriel’s reaction compared to everyone else’s. As the Southlanders and Númenóreans run for their lives from flying chunks of molten rock, Galadriel simply stands and watches the black ash and fire wash over her. Though Galadriel’s strange reaction is difficult to decipher, one interpretation is that she’s dejected by the realization Sauron’s forces just beat her. Galadriel has dedicated her life to quelling darkness in Middle-earth, and the Southlands is the closest she’s come to achieving that goal. Just as Galadriel was beginning to enjoy the taste of a major victory, the ruptured landscape forces her to accept a complete and utter failure to protect the Southlands, as well as a demoralizing blow to her long-held aspirations of revenge. In this moment of misery, The Rings of Power’s Galadriel genuinely doesn’t seem to care whether she lives or dies.
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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power continues Thursday/Friday on Prime Video.