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In the Season 1 finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 08 "Alloyed", Sauron* has revealed himself to Galadriel and says to her:

* in the form of Halbrand

Sauron (speaking in the form of Finrod in a vision to Galadriel): My task was to ensure peace. But I learned that was Sauron's task as well.
[...]
He was seeking a power not to destroy Middle-earth, but to heal it. Just as your fellow Elves are seeking to do this very moment.

Sauron: When Morgoth was defeated, it was as if a great, clenched fist had released its grasp from my neck. And in the stillness of that first sunrise, at last, I felt the light of The One again.
And I knew if ever I was to be forgiven... That I had to heal everything that I had helped ruin.

Galadriel: No penance could ever erase the evil you have done.

- The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power S01E08 "Alloyed" (emphasis mine)

Was this just an attempt to deceive Galadriel? Or was Sauron, at one point, truly sorry and was seeking forgiveness for what he had done under the service of Morgoth by "healing" Middle-earth? In the books, did Sauron, at one point, have a similar show of regret for his actions?

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    So let me get this straight: Adar killed Sauron who then {with something else first happening} went sailing for a long time until Galadriel happened to swim by? 😂 Oct 14, 2022 at 14:57
  • @KorvinStarmast Maybe he wanted to catch up with Ulmo. Oct 14, 2022 at 21:44
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    @suchiuomizu More likely Ossë. He was in the Melkor camp for a while.
    – Spencer
    Oct 15, 2022 at 16:15

2 Answers 2

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As far as I can see, Tolkien left the matter of Sauron's repentance not entirely clear-cut. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien wrote:

When Thangorodrim was broken and Morgoth overthrown, Sauron put on his fair hue again and did obeisance to Eönwë the herald of Manwë, and abjured all his evil deeds. And some hold that this was not at first falsely done, but that Sauron in truth repented, if only out of fear, being dismayed by the fall of Morgoth and the great wrath of the Lords of the West.

So "some" believed that the repentance was genuine (and presumably others did not). In any case, whether he truly repented or not he soon fell into his old ways:

But it was not within the power of Eönwë to pardon those of his own order, and he commanded Sauron to return to Aman and there receive the judgement of Manwë. Then Sauron was ashamed, and he was unwilling to return in humiliation... Therefore when Eönwë departed he hid himself in Middle-earth; and he fell back into evil, for the bonds that Morgoth had laid upon him were very strong.

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    Pride, in your second quote, is surely the root there and IIRC, Gandalf made some remark about Sauron's pride in either Two Towers or RoTK in the books. Oct 14, 2022 at 14:05
  • Regarding the first quote, I've always understood "in truth repented, if only out of fear" as meaning that he didn't repent because he felt like what he had done was wrong, but rather the consequences of what he had done were not to his liking. ("I do not want the Valar doing to me what they just did to Morgoth, I better straighten out.")
    – chepner
    Oct 27, 2022 at 19:00
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Charlie Vickers, the actor who played Sauron in The Rings of Power was interviewed in various publications, and suggested that it was made deliberately vague in the TV show if Sauron did actually repent:

NYT: You once mentioned that you found useful things in Tolkien’s letters, although you didn’t specify which ones. I took that as a possible reference to the period in which Sauron sought redemption. But then the showrunners talked recently about another way to read Sauron-as-Halbrand: as a power addict. What was it that you found in Tolkien that helped shape your portrayal?

Vickers: I think the repentant Sauron is a really interesting thing. But I like to leave it ambiguous because it was ambiguous in Tolkien’s writing, such as in Letter 131, and in “Morgoth’s Ring,” in the History of Middle-earth series. He spoke of Sauron repenting “if only out of fear.” I think his repentance is fascinating — and this is why I don’t want to say necessarily how I interpreted it as an actor — because it creates two different [possibilities] for Halbrand.

If you look at him as if he’s genuinely repentant, and he wants to escape this dark path and live as someone who’s been humbled, then Galadriel inadvertently draws him back to this power. She says to him in the smithery, “There’s no peace here,” and that scene illuminates this whole idea for him of: “Well, you’re right, there is no peace for me as a regular person. My peace is in power. I need to rule. I need to lead.” And she literally gives him the keys to the kingdom and sends him back down the rabbit hole. That is, if you view him as repenting genuinely.

But, if you view his repentance as an act, then it leans more into his deception, and his deception of her, in that she’s a tool for him to get back to where he wants to be. You rarely see Halbrand alone before the finale, save for this moment when he’s in the smithery, staring at his pouch, making his decision. Otherwise, you mostly see him through the eyes of other characters.

- ‘The Rings of Power’: Charlie Vickers on That Monster Revelation. The New York Times (emphasis mine)

EW: Throughout the season, we've watched as Halbrand has gone on an almost redemptive journey, and at times, he appears to be seeking peace or even forgiveness. Do you think there's some truth in that, or is that all a smokescreen?

Vickers: I think it's fascinating to look at. It's interesting because Tolkien speaks of Sauron as repentant. He quite clearly says that he is repentant, and he is ashamed. He says it in The Silmarillion, and he says it in some notes in Morgoth's Ring. But he always puts the words "out of fear" right after "repentance." I think fear can lead one to genuine repentance, and I think he fears the gods and he fears retribution. He kneels before Eönwë and is humbled and brought low. So, I think Halbrand is an example of him in this repentant stage.

Whether or not you view that repentance as genuine completely colors his actions of the season. You can look back at his actions, and they can be genuine repentance and it all makes sense. But if you look at him as manipulating everything and using Galadriel to bring him back… Of course, there are some coincidences that happen along the way, which play into his hands. But he is able to manipulate people.

I have a clear answer as to what worked best for me, but I like to leave it kind of ambiguous for the audience because it creates a bit of interesting discussion. It makes it cool to look back on and leave it to interpretation, I think.

- Sauron speaks! That Rings of Power actor opens up about the big finale reveal. Entertainment Weekly (emphasis mine)

Deadline: There are obvious similarities, like Halbrand and Sauron are both skilled smiths. What are some of the more subtle clues about Halbrand’s true identity that you as an actor dropped along the way during the season that we may have missed?

Vickers: [...] I was hoping that this would happen when creating the character that people were going to be like, is he genuinely repentant, is genuinely trying to be a good man and start a new life? Or is he just manipulating his way through it? So when you look at that scene and you think, well, he’s conflicted, he’s just by himself, he’s not showing this to anyone, you could argue that, well, perhaps he is genuinely repentant.

But I remember making that scene and thinking, in Middle Earth, there is always someone watching and the gods are watching and he fears the gods.

So I think for me, as I was performing it, it was about accentuating the subtle differences within that repentance and not being too obvious with either manipulation or overt conflicts. Like, I really want to be a good man. I think I tried to walk the line. And as well as that the showrunners, the writers put in some really cool little hints along the way, lines like to Galadriel, ‘I’m sorry about your brother.’ Or I think his second line on the raft is ‘Looks can be deceiving’. [...]

- Behind ‘Rings Of Power’s Sauron Reveal As Actor Speaks About Secret Identity & Clues Fans May Have Missed. Deadline (emphasis mine)

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