I’m going full LOTR nerd in this post, so brace yourselves.

Heavy spoilers for Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War… and the Lord of the Rings movies I guess.

When I started playing Shadow of Mordor all those years ago, I fully expected Talion to be a somewhat empty vessel to tell the story of Celebrimbor and Sauron. Ironically, this is exactly how Celebrimbor saw Talion the whole time; a vessel. I fully expected that the end of his story would be to re-unite with his family in death. A predictable and therefore boring ending… right?

But the Tolkien universe has a way of making me really admire it’s most unexpected characters. For example; Boromir. We are given plenty of warning that Boromir will try to take the ring from Frodo, and so we have every reason to see him as just another two-dimensional bad guy who wants more power. And yet, it’s Boromir’s story of redemption and courageous ending that makes him one of the most admirable characters in the entire LOTR trilogy.

I had the same kind of realization with Talion — a character who wasn’t even created by Tolkien. I expected him to be my empty vessel of a character that I could control to murder a bunch of orcs. He had a very unoriginal origin story; murdered family, needs revenge. I fully expected him to care less about Middle Earth and just want to settle the score before he goes to the afterlife. And yet he surprises us. He gave up everything, even his soul, to help protect Middle Earth. However after seeing his story arc, you realize he’s a true Ranger, sacrificing every last ounce of himself to protect his people.

As you play through countless hours of Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War, you get to see the full terrifying fury of Celebrimbor as he dominates powerful orcs across Mordor. Every time an orc cowers before the Bright Lord, Celebrimbor’s commanding voice is fucking terrifying. Once Talion takes Isildur’s ring and is fully responsible for his own power, we get to see just how different of a character he is from Celebrimbor. He’s a horrifying ring wraith and lord of the undead, and yet when he dominates orcs his commanding presence is coming from a place of tranquility. Even when he’s crossed over to the other side, you can still sense the good in him.

We were told that the ring wraiths “were once great men”, but Talion’s story makes you believe and feel the truth to that statement. A ring wraith with an epic backstory. As we defeat each of the Nazgul, we get a glimpse of their backstory and how they ultimately came to be a Nazgul. Similarly, our playthrough of the game is Talion’s untold backstory to how he became a Nazgul. It enriches the LOTR lore that the Nazgul were “once great men.”