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Rings of Power: Wizards and the Istari explained

Rings of Power: The season finale for Rings of Power confirmed that the Stranger was a wizard, most likely Gandalf but who are the Istari?

Rings of Power: Wizards explained - Gandalf the White

What are Wizards and the Istari in Lord of the Rings? Rings of Power episode 8 was the season finale for the first outing of Rings of Power. The fantasy series has been defined by its many mysteries, chiefly: who is Sauron, and who is The Rings of Power character The Stranger?

The Stranger takes the prize for the most dramatic entrance to Middle-earth ever. He was sent down to Middle-earth, presumably at the request of the Valar, in a meteor of fire. It left him lying in a sprawling heap of limbs, surrounded by flames. He was found by the young Harfoots, Nori and Poppy, and then tagged along on their journeys for the remainder of the season while occasionally dodging attacks from the white cloak cultists.

Speaking of those cultists, they finally caught up with the Stranger in the finale. They tried to convince him that he was Sauron (spoiler, he isn’t) before they ended up getting killed by the Stranger’s magic. But, not before they revealed that the Stranger was one of the Istari. That’s right. The Stranger is a wizard! So, we’re here to give you the rundown on wizards in Middle-earth. Here’s your guide to Rings of Power: Wizards explained.

What is an Istar?

The white cloak cultists, before they got destroyed by the Stranger, finally admitted that he wasn’t Sauron. In doing so, they said that he was an ‘Istar’. In Middle-earth terms, that means a wizard.

In the history of Middle-earth, there are five Istar, known collectively as the Istari. These are Saruman – who is their leader for the majority of their time – Gandalf, Radagast, and the two Blue Wizards. The Istari are Maiar, servants of the Valar. They were sent to Middle-earth to combat evil, specifically to stem the rise of Sauron.

Rings of Power: Wizards explained - Saruman in The Hobbit

Of course, not everything went to plan. Saruman became Sauron’s lieutenant, assisting him in The War of the Ring with his own army of Uruks. Radagast, meanwhile, became distracted by his own interests, and was largely absent from the effort to defeat Sauron. The Blue Wizards, too, did not end up becoming involved, and remained in the east of Middle-earth in Rhûn and Harad.

Only Gandalf fully lived up to his purpose, and when he was killed by the Balrog Durin’s Bane, he was sent back to Middle-earth once again by the Valar to complete his task, becoming Gandalf the White, the leader of the Istari. Though it hasn’t been confirmed, all the clues point to the Stranger being Gandalf due to his relationship with Hobbits, his links with fire, and his way of speaking.

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What magical powers do wizards have in Middle-earth?

How does magic work in Middle-earth? Magic is not well defined by Tolkien in Middle-earth, and remains largely mysterious. This means the powers of the Istari are often ambiguous.

Saruman and Gandalf are able to use spells in combat, such as creating fire and beams of life, channelled through their staffs. They also seem to have a degree of telepathy, and innate foresight. Saruman also uses magic through his singing, which he uses to cause the snowfall in Caradhras to force the Fellowship through Moria as we see in the Lord of the Rings movies. Radagast’s magic manifests itself through the power of animals and wildlife. The extent of the Blue Wizards’ powers, and their magical abilities, is unknown.

The powers of the Istari and their origins look like they might be on the cards for more exploration when Rings of Power season 2 rolls around, and we’ll be sure to get the identity of the Stranger confirmed once and for all.

For more deep dives into Middle-earth, check out our guide to the Galadriel. We’ve also got an article all about the wonderful Rings of Power cast.