“When in Doubt, Always Follow Your Nose.” Does That Mean The Stranger Is Gandalf?

the stranger gandalf

The season 1 finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power opened up by revealing that the white-robed figures believed that the Stranger was actually Sauron all along. However, it was later proven that this was not the case, as the Stranger is actually an Istari or a Wizard, as he defeated these white-robed wraiths. Nori decided to accompany the Stranger on a journey, but neither of them knew where to go until the Stranger sniffed the air and said, “when in doubt, always follow your nose.” So, does that mean that the Stranger is indeed Gandalf?

Gandalf said the very same words to Merry back in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. This is subtle proof that the Stranger is indeed Gandalf but is yet to fully remember who he is and what his name is. All that he knows right now is that he is an Istar or a Wizard.

It was clear that the Stranger wasn’t Sauron, as the series wouldn’t have revealed his identity quite early in the season finale. Of course, we also know that the episode finally revealed who Sauron actually is and in whose form he has been hiding the entire time. As such, the only logical conclusion is that the Stranger is Gandalf. And his simple words were proof of that.

What Did The Stranger Mean When He Said, “When In Doubt, Always Follow Your Nose?”

After The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power spent seven episodes making us wonder who and where Sauron is, the opening scene of the season 1 finale threw a faint when it was shown that the three white-robed Mystics believed that the Stranger was actually their master, Sauron. In that regard, they spent a good part of the episode convincing him that he was the dark lord and that he would eventually remember who he was.

But thanks to Nori and her Harfoot friends, the Stranger realized who he actually was, as it was clear that he wasn’t the dark lord. He used his powers to defeat the white-robed figures that were wraiths hiding in the form of humans the entire time. And before the wraiths were defeated, they said that he was not Sauron but was actually an Istar.

true form

Back in the Harfoot caravan, the Stranger told Nori that he was yet to remember who he was, and that was the reason why he wanted to go to Rhûn to learn more about his identity and purpose. The only thing that he knows is that he is an Istar, which means Wizard in the common tongue.

Nori decided to go on an adventure with the Wizard as they were trying to get to Rhûn. Nevertheless, they both didn’t know which way to go until the Stranger used his nose to sniff the air. That was when he said that he now knew where to go because he was able to smell something sweet in the air. He told Nori the words, “when in doubt, Eleanor Brandyfoot, always follow your nose.”


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These words mean what they mean, as the Stranger had developed a keen sense of direction that made use of his sense of smell. He was someone who trusted his nose in the sense that he knew that only something that smelled sweet and nice would point him in the right direction. As such, while he wasn’t someone who had a good sense of direction, he trusted his nose to tell him where to go, as that was where he and Nori were headed at the end of the season.

Of course, those who didn’t watch Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings or have forgotten the events of the trilogy wouldn’t think too much about that statement from the Stranger. But those who’ve seen the movies countless times would understand that this was the clue that they all needed to confirm who the Stranger really was.

Does This Mean That The Stranger Is Gandalf?

Back in the events of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Fellowship got lost in Moria while escaping the Watcher just outside the gate of the fallen Dwarven city formerly known as Khazad-dûm. Gandalf didn’t know which way to go, as he and Frodo Baggins were talking. 

However, Gandalf suddenly knew which way to go as Merry asked him if he had finally remembered. That was when Gandalf said that he didn’t remember the way but was able to smell that the air wasn’t so foul in that direction. He said the words, “If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose.”

No one else in the entire The Lord of the Rings storyline said something similar. This points to the possibility that the Stranger is who a lot of us always thought he was. Yes, there’s a good chance that he was always Gandalf the entire time but was yet to remember who he was because his memories were still quite shaky.


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As a wandering Wizard, Gandalf developed a keen sense of knowing how to use whatever resource he had available to him. This allowed him to turn into a book of simple wisdom that had many teachings that were quite useful in many different daily activities. It was also that simplicity in his wisdom that allowed him to make friends with all sorts of different people from Middle-Earth, regardless of their stature in life. Of course, in JRR Tolkien’s legendarium, Olórin, which was Gandalf’s identity back in Valinor, was always the wisest among all of the Maiar.

The fact that the Stranger was able to impart to Nori the same kind of simple wisdom that Gandalf has always known for is what makes it clear that he is indeed Gandalf the Grey. That means that The Rings of Power is not only an introduction story to Sauron and how he forged the Rings of Power and the One Ring but also serves as a way of telling the stories of some of the characters that became prominent in the events of The Lord of the Rings. Of course, such characters include Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf himself.

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