“Fly, you fools!” Gandalf the Grey urges Frodo Baggins, just before he slips from the Bridge of Khazad-dûm into the deepest depths of the Misty Mountains. Trailing behind him is a gigantic, flaming monster. It’s been nearly 20 years since we saw that legendary Tolkien antagonist in The Lord of the Rings movies, but Episode 7 of The Rings of Power may have marked the Balrog’s comeback by showing us its origins.
Spoilers for Episode 7 of The Rings of Power ahead!
What is a Balrog?
Like most species from Tolkien’s fantasy epic, a complete Balrog bio would take several pages and cover centuries of fictitious history. Here are the fast facts:
- Balrogs are cut from the same cloth as Gandalf. They are Maiar, primordial spirits sent by the angelic Valar to help shape the world. However, they’re covered in flames because Morgoth persuaded them to join his evil cause.
- Balrogs tend to hibernate in underground fortresses, caverns, and mines until they’re called to join a dark cause or have their rest disturbed. The Balrogs were supposedly all dormant during the Second Age, but The Rings of Power is clearly rejiggering the timeline.
- Balrogs are constantly burning, and their weapons of choice are flaming swords, fiery whips, and their own bodies.
- The word “Balrog” exists in the myriad of languages invented by Tolkien for his tales, but almost always has the same definition: Balrogs are demons.
- There were likely only seven Balrogs. Only two have been named by Tolkien: Durin’s Bane and Gothmog.
Who (or what) is Durin’s Bane?
Durin’s Bane is the only known Balrog to have slept beneath the Misty Mountains (aka, the mines of Moriah, aka, the Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm) where most of the action between Elrond and Durin has taken place. The first time Durin’s Bane was disturbed was when the Dwarves woke it while greedily mining for more mithril. The bloodshed that followed led the Dwarves to flee Khazad-dûm and abandon their mithril ventures.
The Balrog went back to sleep after its rampage but was awoken nearly 1000 years after by the Fellowship of the Ring, which was traveling through Moria on their quest to destroy the One Ring. The confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog that followed inspired one of The Fellowship of the Ring’s most iconic scenes.
Durin’s Bane and Gandalf attack each other with various spells and mystical weapons. In the end, both fell from the collapsing Bridge of Khazad-dûm. While Gandalf defeats Durin’s Bane, he loses the body he had as Gandalf the Grey and is resurrected as Gandalf the White.
Was that Durin’s Bane in The Rings of Power?
While Tolkien’s writing claims the Balrogs were out of commission during the Second Age, we have reason to suspect the Balrog we see in the final minutes of Episode 7 is, in fact, Durin’s Bane. It not only looks almost identical to the Balrog we see in the movies but is also the only Balrog ever associated with Khazad-dûm. Why would The Rings of Power trouble itself with creating another Balrog when one that’s so well-known, and whose whereabouts during the Second Age are cloudy, is available to use?
Of course, if it is Durin’s Bane, then the stakes don’t feel very high. We know that Gandalf eventually defeats it. We also know that the Dwarves remain in their ancestral home way past this point in time, seemingly without a care about the demon lurking beneath them. (Unless the Amazon series plans to accelerate that timeline.)
Still, Rings of Power clearly has something in mind. Maybe Durin’s Bane was initially a bane to Durin III and IV, or maybe this is just establishing the Balrog’s presence for scenes set in the future. There’s also still the slim chance this is a different Balrog — perhaps the Misty Mountains are big enough for two. Whatever the case, we’re eager to see Amazon’s spin on a classic legendary Tolkien antagonist.
The Rings of Power airs Fridays at midnight on Amazon Prime Video.