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In 2017, Amazon Originals splashed into the news when it purchased the global rights to a television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for a cool $250 million. The modern Lord of the Rings films, directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from the beloved novels by J. R. R. Tolkien, are among the most profitable and awarded films of all time, racking up $2.9 billion at the global box office and earning 15 Oscar awards during their run. The importance of Tolkien’s novels can’t be understated; they are definitive works of fantasy about power, courage, and loss, mythopoeic masterpieces credited with launching the genre into the modern age.
In September 2019, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Amazon would film its series in New Zealand, where the Jackson films were famously shot (and where Lord of the Rings fans drive over $27 million a year in tourism). And then it was... nothing on the news front for a while. Recently, Amazon has begun unveiling major pieces of the puzzle, including some curious decisions about the plot breaking from the source material, plus a swath of characters who will be featured. A short teaser also aired during the Super Bowl, giving us our long-awaited first look at footage from the series.
The teaser provides a peek at key settings (Lindon, anyone?) and familiar characters (Galadriel and Elrond make appearances), but also tees up some tantalizing mysteries. Who's doing the talking? Why is Galadriel Free Solo-ing up a mountainside? And to whom do those clasped hands belong? Check out our full breakdown here, and read on for everything we know about the series so far.
What will the series be called?
Amazon announced in early 2022 that the series will be called The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. In the clip, molten metal mixes with the elements as a woman (presumably Galadriel) narrates Galadriel's familiar words from the Fellowship of the Ring prologue, saying, “Three rings for the Elven kings under the sky. Seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone. Nine for mortal men, doomed to die. One for the dark lord on his dark throne in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.”
“This is a title that we imagine could live on the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien’s other classics,” said show-runners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. “The Rings of Power unites all the major stories of Middle-earth’s Second Age: the forging of the rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the epic tale of Númenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Until now, audiences have only seen on-screen the story of the One Ring—but before there was one, there were many… and we’re excited to share the epic story of them all.”
What will the series be about?
An official synopsis from Amazon confirms key details about the world-spanning series, including its setting. The synopsis reads:
This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien's pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.
In a new preview of the series at Empire Magazine, more details about the setting have emerged, courtesy of concept artist John Howe. "This isn't the Middle-earth you remember," he said. "This is a world that's very vibrant. The elves are not hidden away in Mirkwood or lingering in Rivendell. They're busy constructing kingdoms. The dwarven kingdom of Moria is not an abandoned mine and the Grey Havens is not yet an abandoned city. I loved having the opportunity to explore that unseen history." Howe also suggests that we'll see the elves in a new context entirely, saying, "We’re finally sailing on the oceans of Middle-earth. They’re daunting and enterprising and are almost colonizing the world. They were a lot of fun to imagine. It’s something neither the Lord Of The Rings nor Hobbit movies went anywhere near."
When Amazon released a map of Middle Earth as a teaser about the series last summer, captioned, “Welcome to the Second Age,” it revealed a pivotal plot clue. You see, the history of Middle Earth is divided into four ages. (You’re likely most familiar with the Third Age, the latter years of which see the action of The Lord of the Rings transpire.) The Second Age sees the rise and (temporary) defeat of Sauron, the big baddie from the original films. So the official synopsis's reference to "the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien's pen" all but confirms an appearance from Sauron, while the mention of Númenor suggests a storyline familiar to fans of the novels.
Fans have speculated that Amazon will tell Tolkien’s epic tale of the Fall of Númenor, given its choice to release a map that prominently features the island. During the Second Age, men with Elvish heritage settled the island of Númenor, where they became great seafarers. The Númenoreans lived in days of peace and glory until they fell under the sway of Sauron, who promised them the eternal life they coveted in the Elves in exchange for their aid in his war against the gods. As punishment, the gods transformed the formerly flat Earth into a globe. The ocean subsumed Númenor, drowning everyone on the island but Sauron. The surviving Númenoreans, who were sheltered on their ships, fled to Middle Earth, where they founded Gondor and gave rise to a long line of kings, which would one day include Aragorn.
Amazon has released a first image from the series to celebrate the wrap of filming in New Zealand. And while Vanity Fair confirmed that the image is from the show's first episode, the identity of the person pictured remains unconfirmed. Tolkien fans suspect that the city pictured is Osgiliath, seen in the Peter Jackson trilogy when Frodo and Sam pass through on their way to Mordor, after the city had long ago been reduced to rubble. Osgiliath is a solid hypothesis, given that it was built near the end of the Second Age, and once stood proud as a reflection of Numenorean splendor. The city came under threat from Sauron's forces during The War of the Last Alliance, making it a compelling setting for a series planning to unravel the rise of Sauron. Key to it all are those troublesome rings that fans of the films remember so well. “Rings for the elves, rings for dwarves, rings for men, and then the one ring Sauron used to deceive them all," show-runner Patrick McKay told Vanity Fair. "It’s the story of the creation of all those powers, where they came from, and what they did to each of those races.”
The first look image contains a major clue: two glowing trees, spotted in the distance. These trees are likely Telperion and Laurelin, also known as the Two Trees of Valinor. These trees light the known world and come to define an age called The Years of the Trees. Melkor, from who trained Sauron as his lieutenant, incites a war with the gods over his creation of the Silmarils, three jewels crafted with the light of the trees within them. The epic conflict ends with the destruction of the trees, forcing the gods to invent the sun and the moon to light the known world. This all happens way, way pre-Second Age, suggesting that the Amazon series may turn the clock back even further.
Will any characters from the films reappear?
We'll be seeing a host of familiar characters. Chief among them is Sauron, whose greed, evil, and hunger for absolute power shaped the trajectory of the Second Age. In the teaser trailer, we get a glimpse at Elrond, lord of Imladris, a relative of the Númenorean kings and a chief leader in the Last Alliance between elves and men. Amazon has also confirmed the return of Galadriel, Elrond’s mother-in-law, who possessed a ring of power and had great knowledge about the nefarious dealings of Sauron. According to Vanity Fair, as the series begins, Galadriel is hunting down the last remnants of Sauron's evil collaborators, who killed her brother. The synopsis's mention of the elf capital of Lindon suggests that we can expect to visit Galadriel in her home world. If the new clip's sumptuous visuals of a port city and a woodland glade are anything to go on, we've likely already seen sneak peeks of Lindon.
Which characters from the books will we meet?
For every Tolkien character that movie fans came to know and love, there are hundreds of other characters still waiting for their close-up. The Rings of Power is poised to bring some of those characters into the spotlight—and it'll really, truly be a close-up. A series of character posters released by Amazon introduce us to 23 characters from a hands-eye view, focused tightly on the characters' hands, rings, weapons, and other identifying clues. Check out the full line-up here at Deadline.
Some of the photos don't tell us much beyond a character's race (for example, it's safe to say that these gold-stained hands belong to a dwarf), but others hint at familiar characters from The Silmarillion. No doubt this hand belongs to Sauron, judging by the familiar gauntlet and sword. This hand, clutched around what looks like the Scepter of Annúminas, likely belongs to Elendil, who rescued the scepter during the fall of Numenor and brought it to Middle-earth, where he founded the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor. This hand could belong to Cirdan the Shipwright, judging by the rope, though some Redditors suggest that it might be Isildur (Elendil's son, who famously cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand), judging by the scar. These hands, holding a white blossom, hint at Nimloth, a tree that grew at Armenelos, the capital city of Númenor; Nimloth was eventually destroyed by Sauron during the downfall of Númenor. It all tees rather nicely into the teaser trailer, which ends with two hands, one small, one large, clasped together. (Our money is on a hobbit and a human joining hands, but it's hard to say.)
Eagle-eyed fans have spotted one familiar character in the teaser trailer: Finrod Felagund, brother of Galadriel, who was captured and brutally tortured by Sauron, only to ultimately sacrifice his life to save his compatriots. Knowing what we know about how Galadriel is on a quest for revenge, the blink-and-you-missed-it glimpse of Finrod suggests that The Rings of Power is prepared to descend into all the darkness of this back story.
What’s young Aragorn got to do with anything?
Turns out, nothing. Early reports about the series speculated that it would follow the adventures of young Aragorn, whose path prior to his introduction in The Fellowship of the Ring was long and winding. However, when Amazon tweeted, “Welcome to the Second Age,” which took place thousands of years before Aragorn’s birth, speculation was debunked.
Is Peter Jackson involved?
As soon as the news broke about Amazon’s purchase of the rights, fans wondered about the potential involvement of Peter Jackson. At first, Jackson stated that he wasn’t at all involved, saying, “I understand how my name could come up, but there is nothing happening with me on this project.” Later, Jackson changed his tune, saying, “I think they’re going to send us some scripts to see if we can help them along. I wish them all the best and if we can help them we certainly will try. It’s a big task.”
Who’s attached to the series?
The Rings of Power will follow a whopping 22 major characters. Some of those castings of returning characters, we know: Morfydd Clark will play a young Galadriel, Robert Aramayo will play a young Elrond, and Maxim Baldry will play Isildur. But we'll also meet some Tolkien characters who have yet to appear onscreen. Owain Arthur will play Prince Durin IV, prince of the bustling Dwarven realm of Khazad-dûm (you'll remember it as the subterranean cavern where Gandalf fell to his not-death). Charles Edwards will play Celebrimbor, whose skills with metallurgy and magic lead to the forging of the rings.
And some characters, The Rings of Power is creating wholecloth. Sophia Nomvete will play a Dwarven princess named Disa, while Ismael Cruz Córdova will play Arondir, a silvan elf involved in a forbidden love affair with human healer Bronwyn, a single mother living in Middle-earth's Southlands. Charlie Vickers will play Halbrand, a human who falls into dire circumstances alongside Galadriel. New images tee up two more new characters: Theo (played by Tyroe Muhafidin), a human child holding what looks like the shards of Narsil, and the healer Bronwyn (played by Nazanin Boniadi), standing dramatically by a creek. Amazon has revealed that Theo is Bronwyn's son.
How will The Rings of Power change the source material?
Thinking outside of Tolkien's box seems to be a priority for the show. In an exclusive preview at Vanity Fair, show-runners JD Payne and Patrick McKay revealed that compressing the lengthy timeline will be their biggest break with canon. “We talked with the Tolkien estate,” Payne told Vanity Fair. “If you are true to the exact letter of the law, you are going to be telling a story in which your human characters are dying off every season because you’re jumping 200 years in time, and then you’re not meeting really big, important canon characters until season four. Look, there might be some fans who want us to do a documentary of Middle-earth, but we’re going to tell one story that unites all these things.”
It's looking like this single, united story will require some other breaks with canon. Sir Lenny Henry will play a Harfoot, an ancestral type of hobbit described by Tolkien as having darker skin. But, and this is important, hobbits as we know them didn't come along until the Third Age, meaning that adding hobbit characters to a Second Age story is a major break with the canon. Henry sees it as a step forward for inclusivity in fantasy, saying:
“I’m a Harfoot, because J.R.R. Tolkien, who was also from Birmingham, suddenly there were Black hobbits. I’m a Black hobbit; it’s brilliant. What’s notable about this run of the books, it's a prequel to the age that we’ve seen in the films. It's about the early days of the Shire and Tolkien’s environment, so we’re an indigenous population of Harfoots. We’re hobbits but we’re called Harfoots. We’re multi-cultural. We’re a tribe, not a race, so we’re Black, Asian, and brown—even Maori types within it.”
The Silmarillion, from which the show will draw heavily to adapt Second Age stories, is not about "the early days of the Shire," as Hobbits don't meaningfully materialize in Middle Earth, much less settle the Shire, until the Third Age. But Payne and McKay seem to think the show needs a dose of hobbits. “One of the very specific things the texts say is that hobbits never did anything historic or noteworthy before the Third Age,” McKay told Vanity Fair. “But really, does it feel like Middle-earth if you don’t have hobbits or something like hobbits in it?”
Some of the show's changes will be welcome—namely, its commitment to broadening the notion of who lives in Middle-earth. Ismael Cruz Córdova, who plays Arondir, will be the first person of color to play an elf onscreen in a Tolkien project. Sophia Nomvete plays a Dwarven princess named Disa, making her the first Black woman to play a dwarf in a Tolkien project, as well as the first female dwarf. Both Arondir and Disa make appearances in the teaser trailer, with Arondir firing an arrow and Disa raising her hands in worship. “It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like,” Lindsey Weber, executive producer of the series, told Vanity Fair. “Tolkien is for everyone. His stories are about his fictional races doing their best work when they leave the isolation of their own cultures and come together.”
What does it mean that the series will be filmed in New Zealand?
In a joint statement, show-runners JD Payne and Patrick McKay said, “As we searched for the location in which we could bring to life the primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle Earth, we knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff.” New Zealand is also famously home to the hillside settlement of The Shire.
With production costs rumored at a mind-boggling $1 billion, making this the most expensive television show in history, Amazon is sparing no expense. The decision to return to New Zealand promises continuity for fans of the Peter Jackson films, as well as a clue supporting speculation about a Fall of Numenor plot. Jackson’s films didn’t spend much time in coastal locations, as regions like Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor are all located inland. However, when Payne and McKay mention “pristine coasts,” it calls to mind coastal locations like Numenor.
How many seasons will there be?
A curious catch of Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien estate was a long-term commitment: in order to secure the rights, Amazon had to agree to produce five seasons of the series, and to begin production within two years of signing the deal.
Though Amazon is contractually obligated to produce five seasons, it made news by ordering a second season before production has even begun on the first season. With the first season of the show still in pre-production, Amazon plans to film the first two episodes of Season One in early 2020, then go on a four to five-month hiatus, presumably for Payne and McKay to sketch out the plot architecture of Season Two. They may also move to a schedule of shooting Seasons One and Two simultaneously, allowing the production to avoid shooting during a frosty New Zealand winter.
Will it be any good?
We'll let you decide, but the earliest reviews are a good omen. Vanity Fair screened the first three episodes, saying, "The show is a lavish, compelling mix of palace intrigue, magic, warfare, and mythology—and there are enough mysteries to power a thousand podcasts. Some characters will be familiar, and they will be the initial attraction as viewers watch their legendary fates unfurl. But the entirely new faces may ultimately become even more involving, since their destinies are literally unwritten."
When will it air?
The series will debut on a date that means something to Lord of the Rings super fans: September 2, 2022, also known as Bilbo Baggins' birthday. Get ready to celebrate hobbit-style with a flagon of ale and a mysterious disappearance. After that, episodes will air weekly on Fridays. In the meantime, watch this space for updates as we continue to learn more.
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