After a season of wandering, swimming, crawling, and riding across Middle-earth and a nearby island, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has reached its first season finale. The prologue is well and truly complete with characters in the right place, certain mysteries revealed, and a special set of artifacts appearing in the world. Of course, there’s still plenty of story to cover — fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings know just how much ground remains to be covered in its nooks, crannies, and appendices — and plenty to discuss as we await the program’s second season.

Actors Morfydd Clark, Markella Kavenagh, and Charles Edwards spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about the season’s concluding chapter and how its big revelation changes viewer’s appreciation of the characters.

Spoiler alert: The following reveals details about the plot of the season 1 finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. If you have not watched the episode and wish to avoid spoilers, stop reading here. 

Three Rings for the Elven-Kings Under the Sky

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(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

As seen in the episode, Celebrimbor (Edwards) — with inspiration from a person we’ll discuss later — finally began his great work: turning the mithril shard into objects of power. Initially thinking he might forge a crown from the material, he instead makes three rings, the Three referenced in the Ring Poem.

No matter their numeric significance, they are the objects the Elvish smith hopes will prevent his people from diminishing in Middle-earth, which will either force them back to Valinor or to perish (after a fashion). According to Edwards, the diminishing was something Celebrimbor and High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) were discussing for some time, possibly even before the first leaf in Lindon fell. “I like to think that Gil-galad goes to Celebrimbor every now and again with problems and quandaries,” the actor said.

Of course, as established in his episode 2 conversation with Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Celebrimbor’s ambition in crafting something powerful enough to halt the diminishing of the Elves has a personal dimension: attaining the renown of his grandfather, Fëanor, the Noldor craftsman who created the Silmarils. In that regard, Edwards thinks Celebrimbor regards the Rings forged in the finale as “a new kind of power [and] that he’s on the road to something which excites him. It may not be for everybody’s benefit in the long run, but currently he’s excited by it … He’s pursuing it with a zeal that perhaps is unwise.”

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In terms of the actual forging, it arrives in a way some may not have expected – even in comparison to the brief glimpse of the moment in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. Edwards mentioned a piece of fan art often seen online, perhaps inspired by the same Finnish tales that inspired Tolkien, of Celebrimbor using a huge hammer and tongs to pound a Ring of Power into existence. The depiction in the series speaks more to the finer touch this version of Celebrimbor would seek in his art.

“You need delicacy. You need nimble fingers. You need detail,” Edwards explained. “And the apparatus that was created I just thought was wonderful because it in itself it was a thing of beauty, and Celebrimbor probably designed it himself.” Indeed, Celebrimbor devising the Rings — and the contraption to make the alloy — independent of a certain person’s aid is a key part of the lore maintained in the episode. “And the tweezers that are needed to put the jewels in place, and then you’ve got to gently tap them all around, all that, it’s micro work,” he added.

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The notion of a more delicate process for these Rings makes sense. They are the Three for the Elven-kings under the sky after all.

One thing we did not get to discuss with Edwards is the change in lore their creation as depicted here brings into existence: the Three are said to be last of the Rings made before Sauron crafts his Ruling Ring, and because they were made without his direct guidance, they evade his direct control even if they are still bound to him. In terms of the story being told here, crafting them first makes sense as they seemingly answer the Elves’ problem and make their access to the Unseen World a purer pursuit. Although, this later aspect is something to consider for season 2.

Nine for Mortal Men Doomed To Die

Ema Horvath is Eärien in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Prime Video)

Throughout the first season, Eärion’s (Ema Horvath) role in events has been up for debate. Initially, it appeared she might come to represent a portion of Elendil’s (Lloyd Owen) family who side with the King’s Men. But thanks to a surprise visit with Tar-Palantir (Ken Blackburn), we predict a new role for her: Queen Míriel’s (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) eyes. This is entirely based on the king’s words she happened to intercept and, presumably, her decision to gaze into the palantír at his urging. Combined, it suggests she will come to share in the vision Míriel, Galadriel (Clark), and Tar-Palantir have all seen in the stone. If that will change her political affiliation is anyone’s guess, but being told by the king to return to the old ways should be a pretty powerful motivation.

Perhaps more surprising was Míriel and Elendil choosing to rededicate themselves to the Faithful as they approached the bay in Armenelos, Númenór’s capital city. Their cautious faith in the old bonds between their people and the Elves has already cost them so much. In fact, we would have gladly accepted a season 2 Elendil throwing in his lot with the King’s Men until swayed back by absent son Anarion or, perhaps, the reappearance of Isildur (Maxim Baldry) as a response to his losses. But, somehow, watching these two support one another in their beliefs was more satisfying and, we think, the first glimpse of the sort of king Elendil might make some day.

But it is also interesting that, in this episode, we see only Men of Númenór and not any of the “low men” we’ve come to know across the season. For even Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) proved false in that regard.

One for the Dark Lord on His Dark Throne

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Charlie Vickers is Halbrand

(Photo by Prime Video)

While we always kept Halbrand on our suspect list, and even suggested he was the will of Sauron, the moment of revelation still proved to be unexpected and moving. Sauron was indeed hiding as the false-Aragorn, twisting everything he told Galadriel across the season into, surprisingly, an unending string of dark truths. He did steal the king’s crest from a dead man. He did evil things. And we’re even willing to accept his claim as the true king of the Southlands considering the only other viable claimant to that title was cast out of the Door of Night at the end of the First Age.

With that in mind, we’re left to ponder the new tales Sauron spun for Galadriel this week. Was Morgoth really a clenched fist at his throat? Legend tells that Sauron was swayed to the Dark Lord’s cause fairly early (although he did initially serve the Vala Aulë in the earliest days of the world), but how much of that was a magnetism Morgoth was known to exert on the Maiar even before the creation of the universe?

Another curious detail he offers to his companion: his intent to heal the world. According to Tolkien, Morgoth’s malice is in the very stuff of the world in the same way Sauron will eventually pour the greater part of his power into the One Ring. Presumably aware of that, is Sauron telling a dark truth once again by claiming a desire to fix what his old master broke? Even before he was seduced by Morgoth, Sauron (then called Mairon) was obsessed with order, and perhaps, there is a true intent in cleansing all things via access to the Unseen. Then again, despite claiming to feel the presence of The One (an allusion to Elvish concept of God) again, can Sauron even perceive what a benevolent order of light would look like after spending so many thousands of years in the darkness and corruption of Morgoth?

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Meanwhile, Galadriel must now live with the fact her quest of vengeance made her, in Clark’s words, “very vulnerable.” So much so, in fact, that the actor believes “she would’ve been very vulnerable to the One Ring during this season.” This made her particularly susceptible to Sauron’s trick.

“It was a mixture between grief and kind of the toxic blindness of vengeance that made her the perfect person for him to meet floating about in the sea,” she said.

At the same time, adventuring with Sauron also put her in “a much better place” than when she left Middle-earth. Clark also credits the opportunity to engage with people like Míriel, Isildur, and Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) with inspiring the ultimate change in her perspective.

“The colors are starting to come back to her where she can interact differently with people,” she said. “[Prior to this] she was alone. And I think no matter whether you’re an Elf, a human, or a Hobbit in Tolkien’s world, being part of a community is kind of the most important thing.”

Granted, she also conceded that Galadriel’s isolation was her own doing, even if it was in reaction to her grief over the loss (perceived or otherwise) of so many people dear to her during the First Age wars.

All that adventuring with Halbrand inspired something else among the fanbase: a community shipping the duo — some of whom continued to ship the two characters as a light-dark power couple even after learning Halbrand is Sauron.

Is it terrible i still ship Galadriel and Halbrand ? –Megan

Galadriel is a stronger she than me. One speech like that from Halbrand and I would be … forwarding all Amazon packages to Mordor. –Sylvia

Clark appreciated the response as it meant “we’ve done our job well,” but added that the relationship between the two characters was never meant to be a romance as such – particularly in the Tolkien tradition.

“He was so varied in his idea of what was an important relationship,” she explained. “And he wrote amazing romances, obviously, like Beren and Lúthien. But also, Sam and Frodo is one of the greatest relationships of all. So I’m quite glad that — and I think the writers did this quite cleverly — that there is ambiguity to how they’re feeling about each other. But whatever it is, it’s big.”

Whether or not that connection will appear again is a question for another season.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

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And with Halbrand revealed as Sauron’s ruse, the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is still left without an identity, but now perceives a role as an Istar. As he subsequently explained to Nori (Kavenagh), the term means “wise man” or “wizard” in the common tongue and it is associated with the Five Wizards (or Istari) who venture to Middle-earth in subsequent days to aid the Free Peoples in their eventual war with Sauron.

Provided, of course, the Stranger is not one of those five himself. Considering the three wanderers name him an Istar, we can assume he is a Maiar like Gandalf, Saruman, or Sauron. But the question remains, is he a Maia Tolkien readers are familiar with? Considering his constellation can only be seen in the east Middle-earth region known as Rhûn, we are inclined to believe he might be one the Blue Wizards. As previously mentioned, Tolkien wrote few words about them beyond their names (both in Valinor and Middle-earth), their mission to the East, and their varying degree of success.

And now that he has some of his wits back, the Stranger is, indeed, headed East.

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(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

He’s also not doing this alone as Nori will be his traveling companion. A role she not only wanted, but was encouraged to take up by friends and family; an astonishing thing considering how little the Harfoots wanted to do with outsiders or the wider world when the story began. Kavenagh was herself surprised at the turn events and still believes a part of Nori “wanted them to go, ‘No, stay. Please stay.'”

“It’s something she’s always wanted to do but she’s always been met with some kind of resistance,” she added. “And even though that’s been frustrating, it’s also been comforting in a way because she doesn’t actually have to do it and now, she’s doing it. There’s a part of her that’s even more terrified and definitely surprised but also so grateful to have that encouragement.”

Daniel Weyman in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power character poster

(Photo by Prime Video)

Also encouraging: the bond Nori forged with the Stranger.

“When they first met, she recognized a fear in him that she also feels and a loneliness that she also felt, even though she was surrounded by really close loved ones,” she explained. Through that, she was able to humanize the Stranger, but he also humanized her in a way. And now that he can speak the Harfoot language, “I think that will also make sure that their relationship reaches equilibrium in a way.”

But as Hobbits thousands of years after Nori will come known, adventure changes a person. Will this keep her from eventually reuniting with the other Harfoots some day?

“She wants her dedication of family and she wants her interest in adventure to be able to coexist,” Kavenagh said. “She hopes to see them again. But I think she’s also not oblivious, and she’s aware of the fact that it might not happen, at least for a very long time.” And, perhaps, at that point, her desire for family and adventure will also find equilibrium.

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Ahead of the season 1 finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the series brought its stars to New York Comic Con to celebrate the journey so far and promote where things are going. Though Prime Video dropped a new trailer for final episode, questions linger about how the episode will tie things together. And there’s lots to mull over, from the fiery debut of Mordor in episode 7, “The Eye,” to the tease of Sauron’s highly-anticipated entrance into the series as seen in the new video.

While we mulled over those developments, members of the cast – Charles Edwards (Celebrimbor), Nazanin Boniadi (Bronwyn), Sara Zwangobani (Marigold Brandyfoot), Leon Wadham (Kemen), Benjamin Walker (Elven High King Gil-galad), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Queen Regent Míriel), and Daniel Weyman (The Stranger) – met with Rotten Tomatoes  during press roundtables last week to preview the finale.

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

It was revealed earlier in the day that Prime Video officially greenlit The Rings of Power for a second season and the production is moving from New Zealand to London for the episodes, although some filming will take place in New Zealand.

“I think our understanding is correct through the origination of the original location for [Peter] Jackson’s movies,” Edwards said. “But Tolkien, of course, wrote in England. So one could argue it’s taking it back to pre-Jackson times. Whatever the reasons were for the move, we’re not trying to do that. But we’ve got a wonderful base set up in England, and we’re looking forward to getting going.”

Given the fact that Rings of Power is an adaptation of material that was never fully completed and referenced in a timeline of events in The Lord of the Rings appendices, with some non-canonical characters featured throughout, the cast shed light on the collaborative process in bringing these people to life.

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

“Right before I took on the role and moved to New Zealand,” Boniadi said, “I point blank asked them, I said, ‘Does she have agency?’ Because I don’t want her to just serve a male storyline. I don’t want her to be there as a device for the men around her. Does she have her own drive? Her own ambitions? Her own sorts of reasons to be? And they assured me that she did.”

With that detail as a baseline for Bronwyn, the de-facto leader of a Southland village, Boniadi tipped her hat to the “walking encyclopedias” that are showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. And with their knowledge as her guide, she channeled some big-screen influences that came before her.

“I brought elements of great female warriors,” she continued. “Like Michelle Yeoh, Sigourney Weaver — I love the reference of Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain. So there are things that you can play with, but then still anchored everything.”

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Walker used the unsettling notion of being a warrior during peacetime, and the heaviness of a leader’s responsibility, to tap into playing Gil-galad.

“Gil-galad, in a time of peace is very uncomfortable,” he added. “Because of the amount of experience that he has, he, when everyone’s at a party, is laying in bed staring at the ceiling. He’s in a constant state of, What’s around the corner? And I like that about him. It’s fueled by his love of Middle-earth. These are the Elves that chose to stay on this disgusting, dangerous rock with a bunch of creatures that’ll try to kill each other. And we’re going to try and help them. I think there’s something noble to that.”

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While High King Gil-galad and Queen Regent Míriel have yet to appear on screen together, Addai-Robinson found a common leadership thread connecting their characters and how they are perceived by other: “I was always fascinated with the idea that when you’re by yourself, versus even for the job that we’re in [as actors], people have an expectation of us, and we have to sort of present a different version of ourselves when we’re with family or just by ourselves. So I always found that to be really interesting.”

It’s not surprise that these actors hold deep connections to their roles given all the personal creative work they undertook to enrich these characters and make them their own, and it’s a sentiment Addai-Robinson shared of playing Miriel.

“I am at this stage protective with Miriel, because she’s become very important to me,” she said. “I felt a lot of safety in being in her skin. And I want to maintain the integrity of who I believe she is. So, I think playing Miriel is going to mark a very important pivotal chapter just in my own life, and sort of where we are at in the world. And when I talk to people, [the show] means so much to them. It has defined their childhood or adolescence or adulthood. And now it gets to be that for me, so it’s something that has really become very precious and important.”

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Drawing from scratch, however, is Wadham (pictured above right with costar Trystan Gravelle as Pharazôn), whose character Kemen was created specifically for the series. Acknowledging the grandiose opportunity and responsibility to develop a new character in a way that could appropriately fit into Tolkien’s wider story world, Wadham admitted his first priority was to do the research.

“I started with the facts about Númenór and the facts about Pharazôn that existed,” he revealed. “Those were clear footholds.” From there, he drew upon his own background growing up in Wellington, New Zealand around, as he put it, “ambitious politicos” to bring life to the role.

“I was around a lot of young politicos growing up,” Wadham added. “People who were ambitious, who were involved in New Zealand’s political parties, who wanted to find their own way up that ladder, and had a lot of passion, and not a lot of experience, necessarily. And I thought that that was something fun to do. I thought about The Godfather. I thought about Succession. I thought about my friends, my annoying brother, who was so cocky. And I would just sort of try those flavors out.”

For Tolkien fans in the know, Kemen’s father Pharazôn ends up doing some very bad things once Sauron establishes a wider influence in the world. We had to wonder if it was possible that Kemen will follow in his dad’s footsteps and go full villain.

“That’s what’s exciting to me about the character,” he teased. “Everything is in place for him to become an absolute monster. There’s still a chance that he could be redeemed. His connection to [Lloyd Owen’s] Elendil and his family means that he could be tipped in either direction.

“He’s got this deep desire for his father’s respect. But if he gets it, he’s doomed. So the best thing for him, for everyone really, would be for that relationship to kind of be severed. But all he wants is for him to take him in, properly.”

Daniel Weyman (The Stranger) in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Creating characters from scratch is one thing, but according to Weyman, who plays the mysterious giant known simply as the Stranger, doing so without the ability to convey anything through spoken word is a whole other challenge unto itself.

“They started at nothing,” he revealed. “When I was starting to approach it, I was happy enough to accept that because then I could get close to a totally clean slate. And once I have a clean slate, irrespective of where they want it to go to, I have the building block. And then the next scene was a layer, and then the next. They’ve been pretty good at filming chronologically. Generally, I feel I’m building and using sense memory, because of the physicality. And so actually, that guards against sort of overplaying stuff from whatever future they’re going to run it to.”

As for the Stranger, the theories surrounding the mysterious giant continue to spread. Tapping into his character’s silence, Weyman remained tight-lipped about his true identity. Although, he admitted to enjoying all the different fan theories online.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “And they’re all so eloquent about why they’re coming up with theories.”

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Obviously, when a man of few understandable words and great power falls from the sky, a big sense of hesitancy and distrust can come with allowing this being into your community. It’s a challenge Zwangobani’s Marigold has wrestled with throughout the season. And it wasn’t until episode 7 that we saw her finally accept the Stranger as a force for good, instead of evil.

“I think the germ of that actually started when the Stranger helped with the cart,” she said. “Marigold kind of went, Oh, we’ll give this a go and see what happens. And then they went on their migration, which is one of my favorite bits in the show. You could see the Stranger becoming part of their family. He literally became this sort of second surrogate child after [Megan Richard’s] Poppy.”

A running through-line with each cast member we spoke with was the immense gratitude they feel about playing a part on such a landmark project. And considering the interpretation is built upon a variety of cultures and races this time around, Zwangobani described her involvement as “an incredible honor and a privilege.”

“When I was a kid, there was like a soliloquy, but not much in the way of diversity in the fantasy genre,” she added. “And so, now, to be able to play Marigold Brandyfoot, and have this diverse world, and know that there are kids out there who now have something that they can latch onto and see themselves, is just incredible. But also it brings another flavor to the Tolkien universe that I think is really important because, part of these themes were about different races trying to get along and different realms trying to work together. And I think that adding more diversity in the mix can only add to that theme.”

Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

After five years of curious maps, teaser images, and wild speculation, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has finally arrived with a two-part premiere. The debut episodes, first and foremost, return viewers to Middle-earth. It is a familiar vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world, as the production leaned as heavily into the work of Middle-earth illustrator John Howe as Peter Jackson did for his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies (Howe worked on both). But beyond the recognizable architecture and clothing, Rings of Power also introduces viewers to a time thousands of years before the events of any of the films. It is a seeming age of peace that will, in time, be shattered as tensions rise and an evil fans know all too well returns to seize his moment.

But in the meantime, let’s take a look at what Rings of Power establishes about its world to see why this is the prelude to the Shadow’s return. Also, let’s make some educated guesses on where the Lord of the Rings really is as the series begins.

Galadriel’s Prologue

Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

When Rotten Tomatoes spoke with actor Morfydd Clark, who portrays a younger Galadriel in the series, she mentioned she was surprised to deliver the series’ prologue.

“I think it now makes sense to me. I love that the elves are the living embodiments of history,” she said. “With the prologue, it was like, [Galadriel] could be saying this at any time, because she exists always.”

Indeed, Galadriel’s status as the oldest living elf remaining in Middle-earth (more or less) was, ultimately, the reason Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens chose the character to bring audiences up to speed in their adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. But they only came upon that idea after several different approaches, including excising the prologue entirely.

For Rings of Power, though, a prologue is absolutely essential as it quickly sketches out all the important details a viewer will need to know about the First Age. Close readers of Tolkien’s stories will, of course, quibble with some of the details Galadriel glossed over, but the broad strokes are here: Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, destroyed the Two Trees which gave the realm of Valinor light in the eldest of elder days. Enraged at this, a group of elves journeyed to Middle-earth vowing to make war upon him. That conflict would last for centuries, but ultimately end with the Enemy cast out of the universe and his allies fleeing for cover.

Charles Edwards and Robert Aramayo in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Specific details matter in Tolkien tales and we imagine more of that history, as Clark suggested, will come to light as the series unfolds and the elves confront their role in it. In episode 2, for example, Elrond (Robert Aramayo) references Morgoth’s theft of the Silmarils, three magnificent jewels crafted by Celebrimbor’s (Charles Edwards) grandfather, Fëanor. That theft, as much as the destruction of the Two Trees, inspired the Elves to journey to Middle-earth. And the tale, particularly as Elrond described it, compels Celebrimbor to attempt a similar feat of craft — something that will make the god-like powers of the Earth cry.

Similarly, Galadriel focuses in on the death of her brother, Finrod (Will Fletcher), over her brothers because it ties into her fear of Sauron’s return. Also, the understanding that the elves fought Morgoth and Sauron for centuries should underscore High King Gil-Galad’s (Benjamin Walker) desire for an established (and announced) peace. The shot within the prologue of orc and elf alike drowning despite clear signs of a recent, fiery battle is the show’s only reference to a great upheaval at the end of the First Age that saw most of the settled regions in Middle-earth buried under the ocean. That cataclysm may also inspire Gil-Galad’s wish to look ahead and Celebrimbor’s plans to build on an epic scale — the world they knew in the First Age has literally been swept away by nearly a millennium of war and it is finally time to truly establish a new, peaceful, elven domain.

Which is all to say the prologue, in its own way, established that this is the time for Sauron to return.

Elrond and Durin Create Unexpected Ties

Owain Arthur in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Courtesy of Prime Video)

But before we get to the new Dark Lord, let’s focus for a moment on one of the more unlikely friendships the series establishes: Elrond and Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) of Khazad-Dûm. Although clearly angry about the perceived slights in regards to his wedding and the births of his children, Durin treasures the relationship he has with the elven diplomat. It is a new idea established for the series and creates an interesting demarcation from Tolkien’s lore. Although occasionally allies, the dwarves and elves are rarely friends, so the chummy nature of the duo’s relationship is fascinating to see. Although, it also echoes, in a way, the hospitality Elrond will show to Thorin and Company thousands of years later in The Hobbit.

It is also an interesting way to presage the friendship that will exist (for a short time, anyway) between Durin’s folk and the elves of Eregion. Eventually, Celebrimbor will gift them with a gate to Khazad-Dûm’s western entrance — the fabulous, password-locked door which is featured in The Lord of the Rings, but is notably missing in Rings of Power’s second episode. It is a present that feels more likely to be welcomed by a prince who managed to keep an elvish tree alive in the depths of the mountain than a king fearful of some other ambition emerging from Lindon.

Although, on the issue of Durin and his father — also named Durin — we’ll just note that having two Durins in the series creates an interesting tension, as the balrog sleeping deep beneath Khazad-Dûm is also known as “Durin’s Bane.”

Celebrimbor Crafts To Heal the World

Charles Edwards in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Frances Carter/Prime Video)

Coming back to Celebrimbor for a moment, his wish to create something as beautiful as the Silmarils — in fact, his belief that beautiful craftwork can heal Middle-earth itself — is not only the opening lines in one of the Second Age’s great tragedies, but a way for Sauron to, ultimately, deceive the Elf.

It also speaks to something Edwards mentioned himself when we talked to him about Celebrimbor’s goals. As he explained it, “Tolkien was very suspicious of the pursuit of science and machinery.” In Christopher Tolkien’s forward to The Silmarillion, a compilation of his father’s First Age tales, he also speaks of Tolkien’s wariness towards the elves’ love of craft and how their desire to create — an art best reserved for (essentially) God and the beings he charged to shape the world — brings about so much grief in their lives.

But at this point, a final lesson about elven craft is still in Celebrimbor’s future. Both he and Elrond look with full hearts to not only restore what has been lost in Middle-earth, but to forge something new. And their optimism is refreshing, even if we’ve walked through the rubble of their efforts in The Lord of the Rings, and, in the case of The Lords of the Rings Online, some of us have watched as our game avatars literally trek through those ruins.

Does Poppy Want an Adventure?

Megan Richards and Markella Kavenagh as Poppy and Nori in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

From these first episodes, it is easy to assume Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) is a backwards echo of beloved Hobbit companion Samwise Gamgee (played by Sean Astin in the Jackson films). Some differences are already apparent, though. As Richards put it when we asked if Poppy really wants an adventure, “She loves scolding Nori.” But like Sam, she follows Nori (Markella Kavenagh) “with a love and loyalty of her friendship.” Although, this is in itself different as issues of class have yet to appear in Harfoot society. Nori and Poppy appear as equals, where Sam is, ultimately, Frodo’s gardener.

Nevertheless, like’s Sam’s often-stated wish to see an elf before their quest begins, Richards said, “There is an intrigue within her. Poppy is so strong minded that she wouldn’t do anything that she doesn’t want to do. [And] it is exciting to get to go on those adventures.”

As the Harfoots are one of Tolkien’s least-detailed groups, it will be interesting to see how they — and Poppy and Nori in particularly — develop and depart from their Halfling successors as a culture and as characters.

Theo and the Dark Blade

Tyroe Muhafidin in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

While there is a lot of ground to cover in the Southlands — starting with Tirharad and the nearby Elf watchtower seemingly existing within the borders of Mordor — the broken blade Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) finds hidden in a barn near his home is one of the most provocative elements introduced in the region so far. It is easy to assume it is a Morgul blade, not unlike the one the Witch King of Angmar uses to stab Frodo on Weathertop, but its design and ability to regenerate with a little blood sacrifice is altogether new and disturbing. The word “morgul” translates to “black sorcery ” or “necromancy,” and Galadriel’s highlighting of Sauron as a sorcerer in the prologue would suggest the sword ties back to him.

There are a handful of famous swords in Middle-earth: Narsil – the sword that will cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand – and its reforged form, Andruil; First Age blades Orcrist and Glamdring, which will come into the possession of Thorin and Gandalf; and another pair of First Age swords that were forged from a meteorite while another would end up becoming the sword wielded by the Kings of Númenór. But of all the First Age swords Tolkien named, none are associated with the Enemy. The only dark weapon of note in the Elder Days was Morgoth’s mace, Grond, which would inspire the name of the battering ram used against Minas Tirith in The Return of the King.

Of course, it is too early to speculate what the blade means for Theo and his village – they have more immediate problems to deal with – but we can’t help but wonder if Theo is, perhaps, the Witch-King as a boy. The character’s origins are never spelled out by Tolkien, meaning it is possible he will end up possessing one of the Nine Rings given to mortal men. His experience with the blade may also lead him down a road of sorcery that will lead, inevitably, to Sauron.

Where, Oh Where, Has Our Dark Lord Gone?

Daniel Weyman in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power character poster

(Photo by Courtesy of Prime Video)

And that brings us to the Dark Lord himself. Although he rarely leaves Galadriel’s thoughts, the rest of Middle-earth seems ready to write him off for good. But we all know how this works and that he is out there somewhere, perhaps even in plain sight.

The most obvious possibility is, of course, The Stranger (Daniel Weyman). He speaks a language Poppy and Nori cannot parse. He exhibits an ability to sum up resources like Gandalf when challenged and can seemingly absorb the lifeforce of others (fireflies for example) to aid his own designs. The wonder and apparent threat of the character makes him a prime suspect, but we think this is a red herring (or a Middle-earth equivalent). He may be of the Maiar, the same order of being as Gandalf and Sauron, but we doubt his humbled appearance and circumstances are something the prideful Sauron could abide for more than a second.

Another possibility: He is already in contact with Celebrimbor. According to Tolkien, Sauron appears to him as Annatar, a fair elf with a knowledge of ringlore. Annatar’s own design may be the reason Celebrimbor needs to build his forge by the spring. If this is the case, Sauron will appear as one of the most fair Elves ever to be seen and will, no doubt, inspire a robust #SexySauron community online.

Charlie Vickers as Halbrand in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Matt Grace/Prime Video)

Meanwhile, the Dark Lord could be hiding in Galadriel’s midst as the wandering Halbrand (Charlie Vickers). Handsome, mysterious, unscrupulous, and seemingly on the run, Sauron could be adopting his sympathetic form and story to gather direct intel on his only apparent opponent. And considering that the pair are about to make their way to Númenór, it may also be an opportunity for Sauron to learn more about a potential foe across the sea. But like The Stranger, he may also be a too-obvious place for Sauron to hide.

Referring back to Tolkien, his tendency was to retreat to the East to rebuild his strength and armies. So, perhaps, that will be where we find him in a few episodes’ time.

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Harfoots do not drink ale. The halflings featured in Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power are a migratory group thousands of years from settling in the Shire and cultivating the right crops for beer. But as Dylan Smith, who plays Largo Brandyfoot, told Rotten Tomatoes when we spoke to him at Comic-Con International: San Diego in July, the group still have fermented beverage stowed in their carts.

“They drink a berry juice,” he explained. “Depending on how long it’s been sat in the barrel, a blackberry wine would be our choice of celebratory cocktail.”

That level of detail is the hallmark of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s world — known as Arda to the most devoted readers or, more generally, as Middle-earth. From his time in service during World War I to his death on September 2, 1973, Tolkien established genealogies, histories, cultures, and languages spanning the creation of his universe (aka Eä) to the early parts of Middle-earth’s Fourth Age, a time when Man took complete control of the world and its more fantastical aspects slipped away into myth and legend.

Ironically, Rings of Power concerns itself with the era Tolkien sketched in the least detail: the Second Age. It is a time before most of the old, ruined kingdoms Frodo and the Fellowship wander through in The Lord of Rings were founded, but the legacy of the First Age’s great wars still dominates the emerging cultures of a land experiencing a wary peace. Of course, by saying it is the least developed of Tolkien’s time periods still means there are plenty of familiar characters charting the wilds and names connected to the legends the Fellowship tell and hear millennia later. Detail, after all, is a Tolkien specialty and it still represents a lot material. That gives Rings of Power a unique opportunity to be both familiar and refreshingly new all at once.

One example: the Harfoots themselves. Tolkien never specified when or how Hobbits came into existence, but offered that they emerged from three halflings tribes who wandered up and down the River Anduin (and nearby tributaries) for many generations before migrating west to the Shire. Rings of Power uses this historical imprecision to imagine a group of migrant Harfoots near the beginning of the Second Age. As Smith explained, they follow a precise, but lengthy circular path to maintain their existence.

“We have spots, which we plant so we can restore our goods,” he said. “They are our lifeline because we’re pretty meager.”

Harfoots The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Their story in the series is anchored by Largo’s daughter, Elanor (Markella Kavenagh) — Nori for short – who’s thirst for adventure will be recognizable to fans of The Hobbit‘s Bilbo Baggins and his nephew, Frodo of the Nine Fingers. Although, Kavenagh believes that call to adventure is rooted in a Halfling’s hyper-evolved sense of fear.

“It can either instill this sense of needing to avoid moving out and stepping out of your comfort zone, or it can instill this yearning to find a way out of it,” she explained when we spoke to her in August. “I think that’s what Nori has, for sure, she thinks that to actually confront the problems you have to take risks … She leads with the idea that a fear of risk can be greater than the risk itself sometimes, and that you do have to take it.”

Nevertheless, the opportunity to spend more time in a Halfling community affords the series the chance to see why they are so close-knit and resistant to dealing with the “Big Folk.”

As Sara Zwangobani, who plays Nori’s mother Marigold, put it, “‘Nobody goes off trail and nobody walks alone’ is their motto and their mantra. That they all look out for each other and that they stick together, and that they protect each other from the outside world.”

That sense of protectiveness and community definitely comes off as warm and inviting. It may be something suggested of the Shire in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — certainly in their film versions — but appears very much as a new element in Rings of Power‘s Second Age.

Daniel Weyman in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power character poster

(Photo by Prime Video)

Meanwhile, Nori’s adventure speaks to something genuinely new in Middle-earth: a mystery with no apparent or easily-won answer from Tolkien lore. As the series begins, she encounters a Stranger (Daniel Weyman) who does not seem to fit into any of the usual categories in Middle-earth, but as viewers will soon see, he demonstrates some abilities which may lead fans to suspect he is an old and familiar character.

“I think what’s clear is that we want to allow the audience to experience this character,” Weyman said. “We don’t want to know what his intentions are at the very beginning. That’s going to be part of the joy of watching this character. It’s already giving us lots of things, people are already discussing online; having differing opinions, arguing rumors, supposition. Of course, it is too early to guess just who he might be. For the moment, he is just a confused person Nori feels compelled to help.”

But the mystery of the Stranger may speak to one of the other questions the series poses in its early hours: Where is the Lord of the Rings himself? In one of the show’s most familiar aspects, the worry about Sauron is the chief concern of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). And although she is one of the most established characters across the three major ages of Middle-earth, Rings of Power still brings a fresh perspective to the character as her quest for Sauron becomes an all-encompassing and personal mission inspired, at least in part, by the fact she is still alive.

“She’s lost so many people she loves [in the First Age wars],” Clark said. “And, also, just for an elf to lose someone [when] they’re meant to be there forever [is painful.]”

In the First Age, Sauron was the chief lieutenant of the previous Dark Lord, and though defeated, his whereabouts remain unknown to the elves of Middle-earth. That uncertainty, even before the series begins, is too much for Galadriel to bear. “[The elves] can’t escape their past, they were there for it. So that was really interesting to explore,” Clark said.

Benjamin Walker in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Her need for answers does not appear to be shared by the other elves of the era. At this time, the various elvish communities are ruled by High King Gil-Galad, a name famously referenced in The Lord of the Rings (the novel, anyway), but a character rarely presented in the present-tense action of a Tolkien story. Actor Benjamin Walker breathes life into him and said one of his key features is that he “never rests.” As high king — a role audiences really haven’t seen in previous Middle-earth movies — there is always a concern in maintaining the peace and warding against the possible return of evil.

“These are the elves that chose to stay and protect Middle-earth,” Walker explained. “I think he takes that infinitely seriously.”

Charles Edwards and Robert Aramayo in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

To that end, Gil-Galad assigns Elrond (Robert Aramayo, pictured above right) to assist the great elf craftsman Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards, pictured above left) in new project southeast of the elvish capital. The former is one of the most famous elves in Tolkien’s work (portrayed by Hugo Weaving in the Peter Jackson Middle-earth movies), while the latter is one of the most infamous as he crafted almost all of the Rings of Power. But at the series begins, neither are aware of what songs and stories will tell of their accomplishments and, for the moment, are just working toward Gil-Galad’s command. Or course, as Edwards explained, Celebrimbor has a personal goal within the work to be done.

“He wants to do good and to be of benefit,” he said. “[But] like many creative people, he also wants a reaction, and congratulation, and adulation.”

That personal dimension will, in time, lead to a great strife which Edwards mentioned is part of Tolkien’s own “wariness” about the elves passion for craft and creation.

Owain Arthur and Sophia Nomvete portrait for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

And as trailers and other clips have revealed, Celebrimbor’s goal will lead Elrond to a diplomatic mission within the halls of Khazad-Dum. Not yet known as the Mines of Moria, the great dwarven kingdom is in ascendancy during this era and is represented by two wonderful dwarf characters: Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and his wife Disa (Sophia Nomvete).

“There is a huge heart to the dwarves,” Arthur said of Durin’s folk, who often defaulted to comedic relief in previous Middle-earth projects. Some of that humor remains, but Arthur said their big hearts will be more fully delved as the series continues. “If they love, they love with passion and fire. If they’re angry or upset, then there’s nothing that will get in their way. As an actor, that was great to explore those extremes every time. You are going to see layers to them and the inner battle that’s going to occur as the series goes on,” he said.

One example of that is Disa herself, who introduces a warm, maternal side to the Dwarves. Although, as Nomvete mentioned, those are just the first dimensions of the character viewers will see when they meet her.

“The breakdown for this character, even from the audition, was ‘warm, strong, maternal, powerful, formidable,'” she said. “There could have been different ways to go, but we chose to have moments of every single one of those adjectives and just make her into this ball of loveliness.”

Also, prepare to have the Khazad-Dum theme, composed by Bear McCreary, stuck in your head after you watch the two-part debut. Like the dwarves themselves, it is unexpected, powerful, and memorable.

The sense of progress and peace in the elvish and dwarven parts of Middle-earth is not necessarily shared in the Southlands. The men who inhabited the region allied with Sauron and his master, Morgoth, during the First Age, and are closely watched by the elves. Or, from the manish point of view, the elves are occupying the land in the name of “protection.” One such occupied space is the village of Tirharad, populated by men living a hardscrabble existence as a group of Silvan Elves (Legolas’ people) keep an eye out on the area from a nearby tower.

Nazanin Boniadi and Ismael Cruz Córdova in

(Photo by Prime Video)

Although the tension between elves and humans is noted throughout Tolkien’s work, it comes into sharp contrast via its depiction in the series and the forbidden love affair between Tirharad’s healer, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), and Silvan Elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova). Although such unions between elves and humans are not unheard of (indeed, some of Tolkien’s best stories revolve around the concept), it is discouraged as it always leads to tragedy. At the same time, viewers will quickly see the relationship is laced with a sweetness both familiar and new.

“[Bronwyn is] the poor man’s human, and in a similar way, I think Ismail’s character, Arondir, is the poor elf’s elf,” Boniadi said of the two characters. “So, I think we have that in common in the sense of not being in the upper echelons of our own kind.”

Those commonalities are complicated, however, by their communities’ respective disdain for one another, and even Bronwyn’s wish to redeem her people.

“She wants to free the Southlanders from the shackles of their history,” Boniadi said. “But she’s also shunned within her own people because she’s in love with an elf and because she’s a single mother to a rebellious teenage son.”

For his part, Cordova added part of what makes Arondir sympathetic is his willingness to believe the men of the south can change.

“I don’t know what came first – maybe it’s the love for Bronwyn that makes him want things to be different or that he does believe [the Southlanders can change] and then falls in love with her. But I think he does have a deep admiration for the race of men,” he said.

Finally, in the farthest west where men can travel, is the island nation of Númenór. It is, perhaps, the location Tolkien fans have most longed to see as it is well known and yet remote. Created by the Great Powers of Arda as a reward for the tribes of Men who fought against Morgoth in the First Age, it is home to a long-lived race of mariners and seafarers.

Although, as the series begins, it faces a crisis of leadership. Its king nears the end of his long life and his daughter, Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), assumes the day-to-day duties of leadership and the title of Queen Regent.

“I think what’s interesting to navigate was just having that sort of internal sense of something is shifting, something is about to happen, and she grapples with that on her own,” Addai-Robbison said of her character’s predicament.

Her ascension also reignites a tension between two political groups either aligned or opposed to their vows from the First Age.

“There are those who want to follow the elves, the old ways — The Faithful,” explained Leon Wadham, who plays a Númenórean royal named Kemen, “and [there are] The King’s Men, the people who are looking to forge a path out of the shadow of the elves to create their own legacy independently. I think at present, these two factions are living semi-harmoniously. Things are becoming more and more delicate, I’d say.”

Trystan Gravelle in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Matt Grace/Prime Video)

Isolated to some extent, Míriel’s decision about that conflict will put Númenór on its path in the season (and seasons) to come. But she has one person she can lean on for counsel: her cousin Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle). That name also looms large in the history of Middle-earth, but when viewers meet him, he is a chancellor looking out for both his cousin and their nation.

“There’s a lot of, dare I say, new responsibilities and new challenges for Pharazôn. It’s something that he relishes firmly for his people … but I think that would put years on a man,” Gravelle said.

The conflict between Faithful and King’s Men also weighs heavily on the heart of Elendil (Lloyd Owen), a tall mariner who will eventually become king of the Middle-earth realm known as Arnor. But according to Owen, he is “on the fence of those two sets of convictions, feelings, and loyalty” as the series begins.

“There’s a great division between head and heart for him too,” he added. Although his heart (and family history) place him squarely on the side of elves, Owen said his pragmatic sensibilities could see him leaning to the King’s Men for the safety of his children, themselves also at crossroads in their lives and beliefs.

Maxim Baldry in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Prime Video)

The characters of Númenór, in many ways, represent that balance between the series’ aim to tell the familiar story Tolkien sketched out while bringing a new and deeper sense of character and immediacy to their actions. One challenge many of the actors agreed about in this regard is the knowledge of their characters’ future actions.

“I tend to just be present, and just explore what’s happening around him at the minute,” said Maxim Baldry, who plays Elendil’s son Isildur — a legend in his own right. “You meet Isildur at a point where he is on the cusp of adulthood, and yearning for something that’s deeper … I didn’t want to think too much about the ending, because that’s not where he is right now.”

Clark added, “It was really interesting to just be playing them, knowing who they would become, but that these characters don’t know, and that we had to keep reminding ourselves that these characters don’t know where they will end up.”

And although The Rings of Power invites fans of Middle-earth to return to a place that is familiar, viewing it from the standpoint of its newer elements and story may be the best way to appreciate its world-establishing debut. Although fans and viewers may know where the story goes, the previously unknown journey should be a thrill to those fresh to the Second Age and those who recognize so much of the history about to unfold.

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Roughly five years have passed since Amazon Prime Video first announced its Lord of the Rings prequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. In those years, there has been much speculation about its setting, characters, and tone. All the while, Amazon carefully crafted a narrative as it produced maps, teaser images, a title card video, 23 character posters, a teaser trailer during the 2022 Super Bowl, and a longer tease released on July 14.

The teasers offer fans a fuller glimpse of Middle-earth in the Second Age, a time when the title character is recovering from his defeat in the most great war against the Darkness, familiar Elf characters are finding new footing, and the word “Hobbit” has yet to be coined. The teaser mainly concerns itself with Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Harfoots going about their decidedly separate business sometime before the shadow of Sauron rises again, but it seems an unexpected visitor from the sky will upend all their goals.

But the new preview is just one aspect of the key jewel in the service’s iron crown of proposed big-budget genre shows, so let’s take a closer look at what we know about the show so far and what we can glean about their take on the Second Age.

What’s It About? 

The Lord of the Rings Amazon Original Series premieres Sept. 2, 2022

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

Click to open a larger image in a new tab

On January 12, 2020, Amazon posted a new series description:

Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. 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.

Showrunner/Executive Producers Patrick McKay and JD Payne on the set of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

In a January 19, 2022, statement, executive producers and showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne (pictured above) offered a little more clarity on what to expect and how it relates to the Rings of Power title: “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.”

In Tolkien’s history, those tales span millennia, but as the showrunners revealed in a February 2022 Vanity Fair interview, there will be some time compression to bring key characters from the latter half of the Second Age to its earlier moments. The era is also a time of immortal Elves and long-lived Men, so a continuity of cast is expected.

Both teasers also suggests the program will adopt a narrative structure similar to Game of Thrones. The characters, or groups of characters, will be on separate journeys until key moments of convergence. And considering at least three of them will converge with the Lord of the Rings himself at some point, charting how they arrived at their encounters with Sauron should prove for interesting drama.

Part of the tale will focus on the Elf craftsman who is tricked into forging the Rings of Power. Another part will center on the Harfoots, Second Age relatives of the Hobbits who live a nomadic existence and encounter a mysterious stranger, while yet other parts center on the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, the Men of Númenor, and the Elven survivors of the First Age. As seen in the July teaser, each group is dedicated to their own pursuits. The Elves wish to maintain their hard-won peace even as one of their kind believes the Enemy is still out in the world nursing its wounds. The Dwarves are dedicated to bringing about a new beginning with something which or may not be the fabled metal known as Mithril, an aim which may lead to trouble as an Elf literally appears on their doorstep. The Númenóreans are in ascendance and, so it seems, ready to let go of the past — an attitude which may prove to be their undoing.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Prime Video)

Previously, some Tolkien fans worried a Game of Thrones approach would fill Middle-earth with sex and violence, but the showrunners went on record saying the show is meant for all ages — minus some scary scenes, like the snow-troll glimpsed in both teasers.

In a June 2022 interview with Empire, McKay said the show will also feature plenty of action and “set-pieces, creatures, battles, and white-knuckle fights to the death.” Although, he also suggested those things will be more intimate than the large-scale engagements of the Lord of the Rings film series. In lieu of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, a fight may be more about the Orc “up in your face” or the fact a character has never killed anyone — even an Orc — and must process that action.

Payne, meanwhile, said the first season represents the first 10 chapters of a 50-part tale that will told over five seasons. He also claimed some ideas in season 1 may not pay off until the last season and that he and McKay know the final shot of the series finale. We imagine it might feature a certain pair of Hobbit-kind Stoors fishing on the Gladden River, but it is always possible it could be a moment much later in the Third Age.

The July teaser — and some early brief teases a week prior — suggest the being caught up in the meteor glimpsed by many of the main characters will also be a major part of the first season’s story. Dubbed “Meteor Man” in some fan circles, he is also likely the Stranger the Harfoot characters encounter. The sudden importance of the meteor, and a truly curious shot of the being absorbing the its fire at 2:07 of the recent preview, may lead some to assume he is, in fact, Sauron. But other mysterious strangers roam Middle-earth in the Second Age, so it it still possible the mysterious Meteor Man is someone less dedicated to cruelty and malice.

Who’s In It?

Amazon Studios announced 15 series-regular cast members during the Television Critics Association winter press tour, on January 14, 2020.

Row 1 (in tweet below):
Robert Aramayo
Nazanin Boniadi
Joseph Mawle
Owain Arthur
Ismael Cruz Córdova

Row 2:
Sophia Nomvete
Tyroe Muhafidin
Tom Budge
Charlie Vickers
Morfydd Clark

Row 3:
Ema Horvath
Daniel Weyman
Markella Kavenagh
Dylan Smith
Megan Richards

On December 3, 2020, Amazon Studios announced another 20 cast members: Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Maxim Baldry, Ian Blackburn, Kip Chapman, Anthony Crum, Maxine Cunliffe, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Thusitha Jayasundera, Fabian McCallum, Simon Merrells,​ Geoff Morrell, Peter Mullan, Lloyd Owen, Augustus Prew, Peter Tait, Alex Tarrant, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, and Sara Zwangobani. Budge subsequently parted ways with the production in March 2021.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Super Bowl Teaser Trailer

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

Aramayo, who U.S. audiences know as young Ned Stark from seasons 6 and 7 of Game of Thrones, plays Elrond, the eventual lord of Rivendell (as played by Hugo Weaving in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies). When the television series begins, though, he is an ambitious young Elf living in the Elven capital of Lindon and trying his hand at politics. He is briefly glimpsed in the first teaser (around the 0:44 mark) looking down at a sword resting against a stone. Context is missing, but it is always possible this shot comes from a look back at the climactic battle of the First Age. More on that later. In the second teaser, he can also be seen entering the splendor of Khazad-dûm and attempt to talk Galadriel from her war posture.

Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

His Dark Materials actress Clark portrays this younger version of Galadriel, the role played by Cate Blanchett the movies. In the series, her journey sees her hunting the remaining dark forces from the First Age of Middle-earth in an attempt to avenge her brother’s death. As it happens, two of her siblings — Angrod and Aegnor — were slain in the Dagor Bragollach, a costly First Age battle we may even see a moment of half-way through the recent teaser (around 1:14). She even tells Elrond her memories of that event eclipse even the horrors he experienced in the First Age. The conversation seemingly sets them up as adversaries, an interesting possibility as they will eventually become family in days to come.

In the earlier preview, another moment of First Age struggle centers on an unidentified Elf who cries out just as Orcs storm his position. The actor in the brief shot resembles Weyman, McCallum, Wadham, and Crum, so it is still possible this moment could be a more recent skirmish with Orcs. Curiously, Amazon subsequently confirmed Weyman as playing “The Stranger” and linked him to the poster of the robed hands holding an apple. If the Elf (pictured below) is the Stranger, than our guess at his identity moves away from Sauron to an Elf called Glorfindel, a hero of such renown in the First Age, he was eventually allowed to return from the Elven form of death back to Middle-earth. Could the meteor be the series’s more explosive take on how his second life begins? One strike against this possibility: the Stranger seemingly appears 1:40 sporting a beard. Facial hair is quite a rarity among the Elves.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Super Bowl Teaser Trailer

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

Galadriel herself is all over the first teaser. At one point, she can be seen brandishing a curious-looking dagger some have speculated is a reference back to the Two Trees from the program’s first publicity still. The still and the dagger offer some credence to the notion that a prologue recounting events of the First Age (and earlier eras when time worked differently) may occur. This idea is only supported by the July trailer, which opens with a shot of the Two Trees and a mention of “a time when the world was so young, there had not been a sunrise. But even then, there was light.” Indeed, in Tolkien’s mythology, the Trees were the second source of day and night before the creation of the sun and the moon. The light of the Trees matter as Galadriel’s hair was said to capture some of their light and that belief may have ultimately influenced all the woe which befell Middle-earth in the First Age. Is her zeal to find the Enemy influenced in some small part by guilt?

Another possibility introduced in the early July teases: Galadriel is seen aboard a white ship with many other Elves sailing west and approaching some great light. They may be trying to return to the Undying Lands they abandoned as the First Age began, but as fans of Tolkien’s work know, she and others of her kind are banned from entering the Uttermost West at this point in Middle-earth’s history. Will a dramatization of this ban leave her adrift in the great sea only to be found by a Man of Númenor?

Vickers plays Halabrand, a Man running from his past, but nonetheless thrown onto Galadriel’s trajectory. In the earlier teaser, the character can only be seen in the distance at roughly 0:27, when a raft is tossed across the waves. His hand is also likely seen when Galadriel’s ears are revealed at the 0:46 mark. As he is a new character, little is known about him, but he is the character holding the weapon with the horse-shaped pommel in one of the poster images, leaving some Tolkien fans to wonder if he is a very early ancestor of the Rohirrim. Indeed, the July trailer features more seeming references to the horse-lords at 1:50 with Men on horseback wearing helmets with a decidedly Rohan-like feel to them despite that kingdom not coming into existence for several thousand more years. Halbarand himself is also glimpsed several times in, announcing at one point that, including a moment (at 1:57) in which he says “the past is dead. We either move forward or die with it.” Nevertheless, he remains an enigma.

Mawle most recognizably played Benjen Stark on HBO’s Game of ThronesVariety reported in October 2019 that sources say he will play a villain named Oren. (Could he be a certain King of Númenor, the eventual Witch-king of Angmar, or the Dark Lord himself?) He is notably absent from both teasers, only strengthening the thought that he might be a recognizable villain.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Super Bowl Teaser Trailer

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

In July 2021, Kavenagh was said to be in talks to play a character called Tyra — a name new to Middle-earth. Shortly after the teaser aired, Amazon confirmed the character’s name: Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot. She is a Harfoot who, along with Richards’ character, encounters an enigmatic being who is likely Weyman’s Stranger. Granted, the Stranger’s identity is said to be one of the show’s central mysteries. Her voice opens the teaser with a positively Baggins-like (or should we say Tookish?) wish for adventure. In the June 2022 Empire interview, Kavenagh referred to Nori as “inquisitive and resolute,” but that her wish to see more of the world causes plenty of trouble. She can also be seen at 0:15 of the earlier teaser, wishing for something more than the customary wandering of the Harfoots. She can also be glimpses throughout the second trailer reacting to various things. Henry, unseen in the video, will play a Harfoot elder called Sadoc Burrows who is probably none-too-pleased by the presence of the Stranger.

Coinciding with the Empire story, Amazon also confirmed Richards, Smith, and Zwangobani are all playing Harfoots — Poppy Proudfellow, Largo Brandyfoot, and Marigold Brandyfoot, respectively. Although no additional details were offered, Amazon linked the characters to some of the poster images from earlier in the year. Poppy is the character holding figs, Largo grips the handle of either a farming implement or a weapon, and Marigold is the one clutching a potentially pregnant belly. In the Empire piece, Henry mentioned the Harfoots “have big caravans on wooden wheels and we’ve very good at hiding.” This idea is also expressed in the July teaser with a Harfoot character claiming their job is to protect each other safe while the other peoples rein over things like grain and halls of stone.

The addition of Harfoot characters is a partial departure from Tolkien lore as he never declared exactly when either Harfoots or Hobbits first appeared in Middle-earth. Nevertheless, don’t expect to see Bag End or familiar Shire landmarks anytime soon. What we know of early halfling days has them inhabiting the banks of the River Anduin or roaming the wilds; the teasers and Henry’s comments also indicate a fairly nomadic existence.

Nazanin Boniadi and Ismael Cruz Córdova in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Córdova plays Arondir – a silvan Elf created for the series. His story intertwines with Boniadi’s Bronwyn, a mortal woman, single mother, and healer living in the south of Middle-earth. The pair are engaged in a frowned-upon love affair that is not without precedent even if their respective cultures find the pairing unpalatable. Arondir can be seen displaying an Elvish aptitude for archery at 0:28 of the earlier teaser and subsequently leaping onto what we believe to be a Haradrim Mûmakil (around 0:48). This athleticism may not work out well form him as he is once again in combat in the July trailer (at 2:03), gracefully avoiding a malnourished Warg or wolf. He is also clearly chained to something in the shot, suggesting he will be a prisoner of someone before too long.

Bronwyn is curiously absent from the teasers. She is featured on one of the posters, though, brandishing a crescent-shaped blade. Amazon subsequently released a clearer photo of her in mid-April and she made a very brief appearance one of the July ad spot alongside Arondir as they witnessed the meteor crossing the sky.

Meanwhile, in the Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm, Arthur plays Prince Durin IV (spotted at 0:43 of the earlier trailer) while Nomvete plays Princess Disa (briefly glimpsed at 0:45). We imagine one of them will come into contact with a Dwarven ring of power — once they are forged, of course.

Charles Edwards in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Frances Carter/Prime Video)

Which brings us to Charles Edwards’ Celebrimbor. The Elvish smith lives in Eregion, an Elf settlement not too far from Khazad-dûm. His choice to learn ring lore from Sauron (under the guise of an Elf called Annatar) will cause so much fear and doubt in the centuries to come. But as the series begins, Celebrimbor is lord of the realm and, according to Edwards in a June 2022 Fandom interview, “actively trying to turn Eregion into a place of excellence. And he is working with the Dwarves towards that end to try and capitalize on their talents and their creativity.” A descendant of the Elven lord and craftsman Fëanor — whose great works caused the strife of the First Age — Edwards said the Celebrimbor of the series is a composite of the ideas Tolkien presented in the LOTR appendices, but never completely locked down — vain, cautious, and yet gullible. His desire to create the greatest expression of craft, and surpass Fëanor’s legendary Jewels, opens the way for Sauron to tempt him with the secrets of ring lore. Presumably, the scroll he holds in his character poster contains the very secrets Sauron offers him as Annatar.

Baldry’s character, Isildur, is also tied to the fate of the Rings even if the first season sees him as a young prince of Númenor and a sailing man. Curiously, though, neither of these characters are in the teaser despite their importance to the overall tale. Although, that explosive moment toward the end may bring Celebrimbor and the Dwarves together even more closely.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Super Bowl Teaser Trailer

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

Walker appears in the trailer at the 0:37 mark. Amazon later confirmed he is playing Gil-Galad, the High King of the Elves in Middle-earth. In his brief moment, he sees a comet or meteor crossing the skies above Lindon. The significance is unclear, but in Tolkien lore, at least one sword of the First Age was forged from space material. Perhaps a second will be made. Meanwhile, Walker subsequently told Empire that while the High King deploys people like game pieces to help preserve a hard-won peace, he also “strives to bring out the best in everyone.” In the July teaser, he warns Elrond that a second Darkness would wash over Middle-earth. We imagine those strong words will inspire the younger Elf to take up his diplomatic mission to Celebrimbor’s domain and, eventually, Khazad-dûm.

The earlier teaser ends with a mystery pair of hands reaching out for one another. The smaller would seemingly be that of Nori. While we speculated the larger hand could belong to anyone from one of the Blue Wizards (who arrived before the forging of the One Ring in at least one of Tolkien’s accounts of the age) or Sauron himself, Amazon’s subsequent confirmations leads to Weyman’s Stranger. Then again, just who is the Stranger? If he is the same Elf glimpsed at 0:48, he could be Glorfindel. But we can’t leave behind the thought that he might be Sauron’s “fair” form. And if he is the mystery character who first appears among the Harfoots in the series, it could establish a whole new side to the Lord of the Rings.

Tyroe Muhafidin in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

In mid-April, Amazon released a new photo of Muhafidin as a character called “Theo.” In the picture, he holds the broken sword featured in one of the character posters. While the streaming service offered no other details about the character, claims he is Bronwyn’s son and, therefore, lives in the south of Middle-earth where a confluence of Elves, Haradrim, and even some Numenoreans loyal to Sauron will lead to conflicts. Will Theo grow up to be counted among Sauron’s army? That broken blade definitely puts him in a Morgul frame of mind.

The Fellowship of Creatives

J. A. Bayona attends the 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' premiere at Wizink Center in Madrid on May 21, 2018 (Photo by Gabriel Maseda/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

(Photo by Gabriel Maseda/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In July 2019, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona (pictured) signed on to helm the first two episodes of the series. The filmmaker behind The Orphanage made key choices about the program’s tone and overall look. He is joined by producing partner Belén Atienza — both will be credited as executive producers — and, of course, Payne and McKay.

Back in the writers room, they were joined by executive producers Lindsey Weber (10 Cloverfield Lane), Callum Green, Bruce Richmond (Game of Thrones); writer/executive producer Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad); writer/executive producer Jason Cahill (The Sopranos); writer/executive producer Justin Doble (Stranger Things); consulting producers Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones) and Stephany Folsom (Toy Story 4); producer Ron Ames (The Aviator); writer/co-producer Helen Shang (Hannibal), and writing consultant Glenise Mullins.

Additional staff include co-executive producer Wayne Che Yip, director Charlotte Brändström, and producer Christopher Newman.

The creative team also includes costume designer Kate Hawley (Suicide Squad); Academy Award-winning production designer Rick Heinrichs (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) for the first two episodes and Ramsey Avery (10 Cloverfield Lane) for the remained of the season; Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor Jason Smith (The Revenant); and renowned illustrator/concept artist John Howe.

“This team is our Fellowship – assembled from around the world, all walking the road together to try and accomplish something far greater than any of us could on our own,” Payne and McKay said in a statement. “We feel humbled and extremely lucky to be surrounded by such inspiring and talented women and men.”

When Will It Premiere?

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Prime Video)

After years of a presumed 2021 debut, Amazon finally announced in late summer that year that the program will instead premiere on Friday, September 2, 2022. Episodes will stream weekly.

“I can’t express enough just how excited we all are to take our global audience on a new and epic journey through Middle-earth!” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “Our talented producers, cast, creative, and production teams have worked tirelessly in New Zealand to bring this untold and awe-inspiring vision to life.”

SPOILER ALERT: Tolkien book readers will know the information below, but if you haven’t read the novels, then some of this could be considered spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.

It Takes Place in the Second Age of Middle-earth

Lord of the Rings series map (Amazon Prime Video)

(Photo by Amazon Prime Video)

Click to open Amazon Prime Video’s interactive map in a new window.

When the program was first announced, it seemed obvious that it would take place relatively contemporaneous to the events of Tolkien’s novel, but other eras were also immediately available. In Tolkien’s wider mythological framework, LOTR’s titular character, the Dark Lord Sauron, is nearly as old as the universe itself — which means the series could take place in any of the historical ages of Middle-earth (or even the earlier prehistory when the world was shaped by beings with even greater power than Sauron).

Amazon’s first map rendered a number of geographic features specific to the Third Age, including the East Bight of Mirkwood Forest, a square-ish indentation next to the “I” and “N” in “Rhovanion.” The bight was the result of deforestation by a group of Northmen circa 1200 years into the Third Age as they settled in the region. Additionally, the forest would only become known as Mirkwood once Sauron sought refuge there, around 1050 of the Third Age, and his malignant spirit infected the woods formerly known as Greenwood the Great. Other aspects of the map — like the complete lack of Beleriand from the First Age and the use of “Calenardhon” to denote the region near Isengard and Fangorn Forest — definitely set the map, and seemingly the series, in a Third Age context.

Click to open The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring map from 2001 in a new window.

But fans who were hoping to see some of the great stories from earlier days dramatized with Amazon’s production values are in luck. Stories like the sinking of Númenor — Tolkien’s take on the Atlantis myth, in which Sauron corrupted an island of seafaring men to invade the forbidden shores of the world’s far West — and the founding of the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor could make for some spectacular television.

While it seemed Amazon and developers JD Payne and Patrick McKay had a more specific, later Third Age tale in mind, a March 7, 2019, update of the map changed everything. The map now includes the island of Númenor — a very specific marker of the Second Age — and has removed the place names “Minas Arnor” and “Minas Ithil” from the Gondor region. Following the update, the official Lord of the Rings on Amazon Twitter account put all the speculation to rest with one simple sentence: “Welcome to the Second Age.”

And in September of that year, Payne and McKay announced New Zealand would play the “primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle-earth” in the series. The country is, of course, no stranger to Middle-earth as it served as the production home for both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. In a number of ways, it is fitting that a story of the Second Age would be filmed there as well.

So what does this mean? For one, the series will undoubtedly focus on Númenor. To understand the island’s significance, we need to go back to the end of the First Age and the downfall of the Dark Lord Morgoth.

A final confrontation with the first Dark Lord required the collective might of Elves, Men, and the Valar (a high form of angel tasked with shaping and governing the world on behalf of the Elvish conception of God, Eru Illúvatar). Morgoth weakened himself across thousands of years in a protracted conflict between the Elves and Men who dared to oppose him, and was finally cast into the Void. The Valar looked favorably on the Men who aided in the conflict and created a refuge for them in the great sea: the island of Númenor — established halfway between Middle-earth and the Valar’s home in the Far West land of Aman, the Undying Lands.

Now, here’s where things get complicated. By “Men,” we mean the half-elven descendants of two First Age joinings between Elves and Men: Lúthien and Beren and Idril and Tuor. Given the choice to follow the fate of Men or the fate of Elves, those who chose the fate of Men settled on Númenor alongside another group of Men whose loyalty to the Valar was rewarded with greatly extended lives. But because Eru established that no Man may be immortal, death was an eventuality to their kind. Nonetheless, the kings of Númenor established a high culture of seafarers and explorers. While banned from landing on the shores of Aman, a continent reserved for immortal beings like the Valar and the Elves, the rest of the world was their plaything.

This makes them different from the Men in Middle-earth, who either hid from the War or openly sided with Morgoth. And as the Númenóreans began to establish their kingdom, the Men loyal to Morgoth soon became loyal to his greatest lieutenant, Sauron.

Sauron Will Be an Integral Character

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, screencap, 2014. ©Warner Bros.

(Photo by Warner Bros.)

At this point in Middle-earth history, Sauron had the ability to take on a “fair” physical form. So instead of the Great Eye of the film series, he will need to have a humanoid, often Elvish, shape. Sauron is a very active participant in the events of the Second Age, and not just in creating the Rings of Power, so he will need to be played by an on-screen actor.

Early on, Sauron began building an army of Orcs, loyal Men, and other creatures. He even controlled territory in the southern region of Middle-earth before Númenóreans began establishing settlements on its shores. Skirmishes were inevitable, leading to Númenor taking up more and more of its resources in a battle against Sauron until, after hundreds of years, they raided his home in Mordor and physically took him prisoner.

Of course, because Sauron was a master manipulator dedicated to perverting all Eru and the Valar established, he allowed himself to be taken back to Númenor. Once there, he began a campaign to sway the king, Ar-Pharazôn, to his side. After a number of years, Morgoth cults — with Sauron as their chief priest — operated in the open and Sauron became a key adviser to the king, promising faith in Morgoth would allow them to step foot in Aman and obtain immortality. Those still loyal to the Valar eventually decamped to Middle-earth, allowing Sauron’s scheme to come to fruition — much to the despair of the Númenóreans.

Oh, also, he did all of this while leaving the One Ring back in Mordor.

The Fall of Númenor is one of the great stories in Tolkien’s mythology (although many also enjoy the incomplete Second Age tale “The Mariner’s Wife”). Since it takes place over a great span of years, there is room for the series to build up characters such as Ar-Pharazôn and Elendil, the Númenórean who defied Sauron and helped establish the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor in Middle-earth.

We Will See Some Familiar Characters

Charles Edwards and Robert Aramayo in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Thanks to the way Tolkien mapped out the longevity of certain characters, there are a handful of well-known Lord of the Rings figures around to witness the events of the Second Age and the Fall of Númenor. Though nothing indicates any of the film series’ actors will reprise their roles, the Second Age setting allows room for some familiar characters.

Elrond Half-elven (Aramayo above right with Edwards’ Celebrimbor), as his name implies, is a direct descendant of the First Age unions between Men and Elves who chose the fate of Elves. It makes him directly related to the kings of Númenor. During this time, he and Gil-Galad, the High Elven king in Middle-earth, had their own problems with Sauron. They saw the Númenóreans as allies — at least, until Sauron corrupted the seafarers. Nonetheless, it is possible we will see Elrond implore the Númenóreans to restore their ties with the Valar.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Super Bowl Teaser Trailer

(Photo by Amazon Studios)

With news of Clark’s (pictured above) casting as Galadriel, an appearance by Celeborn (played by Marton Csokas in the films) is highly likely. Both hail from the First Age, with Galadriel possessing a firsthand account of an Elvish migration from Aman to Middle-earth. Celeborn’s history is a little more imprecise, as Tolkien could never decide if he was born in Aman or Middle-earth. But both are, by human standards, impossibly old and witnesses to just about every historic event in Middle-earth up until they departed with Frodo to Aman at the end of The Lord of the Rings. As with Elrond, their concerns are local (with Sauron’s forces encroaching on their kingdom by the River Anduin), but it is always possible they will be around to sow the seeds of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, the epic battle that could very well close out the series as a whole a few years from now.

And Some New Faces As Well

Benjamin Walker in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

Should the series continue beyond Númenor’s downfall, it is possible audiences could see two of the five Wizards arrive in Middle-earth. Though the Fall of Númenor left the Valar estranged from the world, they sent five Maiar spirits in the shapes of frail old men to rally the people of Middle-earth against Sauron (who survived the Fall, only losing his “fair” appearance). While most of the Wizards arrived in Middle-earth a thousand years into the Third Age, the two Blue Wizards Tolkien never really developed may have arrived during the Second Age, just after the Fall. Only mentioned in his unfinished tales, the pair quickly made their way to the East and either succumbed to Sauron’s influence or died as they failed to sway the Easterlings away from the Dark Lord. Presuming Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien estate includes unfinished material like the tale of the wizards, they would be ideal characters to utilize in the series. They could be villains, fallen heroes, or anything in between.

Another character worthy of inclusion is the legendary Elf hero Glorfindel. While he “died” during the Fall of Gondolin in the First Age of Middle-earth, he eventually returned from Aman, possibly alongside the Blue Wizards, to aid both men and Elves in their struggle against Sauron during the Second Age. He makes a notable appearance early in The Lord of the Rings as he helps deliver Frodo to Rivendell. But after attending the Council of Elrond, Glorfindel drops out of the narrative until Aragorn’s wedding to Arwen. While other on-screen adaptations have substituted recurring characters for Glorfindel rather than introduce a new character to their stories — Jackson replaced him with Arwen (played by Liv Tyler), giving her an early heroic moment, while animated film director Ralph Bakshi subbed in Legolas — he is an interesting character out in the wide world during the period indicated on the map and fans would be thrilled to see him. (Orlando Bloom played Legolas in Jackson’s films.)

Other characters definitely alive at the time include Tom Bombadil, who himself suggests he’s the oldest consciousness in the world, and Legolas’ father Thranduil (played by Lee Pace in Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy), who has a pretty interesting story in his own right.

The Devices of the Enemy

Orcs in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

As Sauron assails all of Middle-earth in this period, he has vast resources of Orcs and Men at his disposal. But fans of the films will recognize his phantom lieutenants, the Nazgul, as a significant part of this army.

By the time Sauron is in Númenor, the nine kings of Men will already have their rings. For much of the Second Age they enjoyed the wealth and prosperity Sauron promised the rings would give them, but they were his wraiths by the time he left with Ar-Pharazôn. Presumably, they kept his affairs in order even as his capture halted the war against the people of Middle-earth.

Should the series continue beyond the fall, they could become active antagonists against the likes of Elrond, Galadriel, and Elendil’s sons Isildur and Anárion — conflicts that will eventually lead to the Last Alliance.

Orc in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

That battle is still some time away and, as recently revealed by IGN, the Orcs are in disarray as the series begins. They are also in an earlier stage of development, leaving them looking a little bit more like Elves — the first Orcs were Elves corrupted by Morgoth — and less equipped for war than their Third Age counterparts. The IGN article also makes reference to their rabble uniting under a new leader, so it is possible an Orc character will yet find some sort of prominence within The Rings of Power.

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Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most-adapted tales in the history of the English language, and Steven Knight, creator of gritty period series Peaky Blinders and Taboo, is the latest talent to have taken on the task.

We all know the story: crotchety miser Ebenezer Scrooge has a Christmas Eve night visitation from his dead former partner Jacob Marley, who warns him of three ghosts who will attend him as he walks through visions of Christmases past, present, and future.

This new FX presentation, directed by Nick Murphy (The Awakening), stars Guy Pearce as Scrooge and Andy Serkis as a grumpy Ghost of Christmas Past and promises a darker take on the 1843 novella that made a superstar of its author: “A Christmas Carol is a spine-tingling immersion into Scrooge’s dark night of the soul,” the promotional materials promise.

“It is a darker retelling. There’s no question,” Serkis told Rotten Tomatoes. “It’s a unique retelling in that respect because… Scrooge in this is not some sort of old miser character. He’s actually a tough businessmen… who is in denial and doesn’t want to really engage with his own moral relativism.”

We caught up with the stars to get a feel for the new adaptation — and it indeed feels scary. Here are five ways this Christmas Carol one-ups previous efforts.

1. This Cool Scrooge Resonates With Modern Audiences

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

Scrooge is not as crotchety here as in previous interpretations of the character; in fact, the character may resemble more real-life people than ever before. Pearce offered a personal assessment of his character.

“They really wanted somebody this time who still had been affected in life the way that we know Scrooge has been, but that his demeanor and his presence in the world was more of a businessman, as a leader who is a kind of a cocky, confident, swaggering kind of asshole, basically,” Pearce told Rotten Tomatoes. “I think it was important for Nick, our director, and for Steven, our writer, to get away from the crotchety old man who exhibits on the surface the pain and damage that he’s experienced in his life. And the fact that he’s turned away from the world and plays somebody who’s actually up front to the world and says, ‘Come on, bring it on. Bring on your questions about who I am and what it is, because I’ve got a really good response for you.’ And kind of like that, be a little bit more affronting and aggressive. And so, in a way, we still get to the point where we drag him through his past, and we make him look at the things he’s done to people, and we crack open the soul that is a damaged soul.”

2. This Ghost of Christmas Past Plays Dirty

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Andy Serkis as Ghost of Christmas Past. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

But his Scrooge will face a harder fight in Knight’s version, Pearce confirmed: “It’s a tougher journey because the Ghost of Christmas Past is a really hard nut to crack.”

“The Ghost of Christmas Past is jaded,” the character description offers. “He’s been sent to make lost souls repent before, why should Scrooge be any different? He prods and pokes where it hurts, transforming himself into those known to his charge, finding a place of pain, shame and self-knowledge. But can he get Scrooge to recognize himself, and repent?”

3. The Ghost of Christmas Present Has a Much More Personal Relationship With Scrooge

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Charlotte Riley as Lottie/Ghost of Christmas Present. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

Charlotte Riley appears as the Ghost of Christmas Present, while Jason Flemyng is the Ghost of Christmas Future. Both ghosts are updated here with new twists on the characters.

“She plays my sister who has died some years before,” Pearce said, “and she has now come back as the Ghost of Christmas Present. And — particularly after the ruthlessness of Andy Serkis’ Ghost of Christmas Past, who shape-shifts into all sorts of characters through my past, and he’s really tough on me — then she comes in as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and it’s my long lost dead sister, so it’s so emotional and so touching and painful. And then it’s capped off with Jason playing sort of ruthless again, but silent like the silent-killer kind of attitude, as the Ghost of Christmas Future.”

4. Steven Knight’s Take Is Indeed Chilling

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Jason Flemyng as Ghost of Christmas Future. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

One of the most unsettling features of the new story is how closely it hews to issues — and personalities — we face today, which is a very intentional choice. Serkis said he knew he was in for something special when he heard Knight was attached.

“When I heard that there was another version of Christmas Carol being made, I kind of thought, ‘Wow, OK. Again? Another one?'” he said. “But as soon as I knew that Steven Knight was writing it, I knew that now, ‘This is going to be an interesting take,’ because I knew this was going to be the beginning of a journey into his exploration of Dickens in other stories as well, which is the case.”

Knight and the stars had previously talked about “stripping down” the story, which Serkis expounded on for Rotten Tomatoes.

“When we say ‘stripping down,’ it was more about not getting bogged down in the sort of tropes of a costume drama, Victorian drama, and allowing it to live afresh as a really contemporary piece of writing,” he said. “And therefore, and so, even though you’re what you, of course, allowing the visuals, you do that work, you want to feel that the character is alive and very present and not sort of imagining what it might be like to have been alive in the 19th century. You’re not doing that. You’re actually saying these are people, people are people, and we still have the same issues, problems. We need to unpack the difficulties of the human condition in this, in a very modern way to make this story resonate with a fresh audience.”

5. Serkis’ Costuming Challenge Continues Here Even If He’s Not a CG-Enhanced Character

A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- Pictured: Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge, Andy Serkis as Ghost of Christmas Past. CR: Robert Viglasky/FX

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/FX)

Serkis, known especially for his CG-enhanced performances like Gollum and Caesar in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes franchises, faced a different sort of challenge here.

“[The costume] was so heavy. It was like going from the sublime to the ridiculous. I couldn’t possibly have more makeup or costume to bear, but it was great, actually. It was nice to play a character in the flesh, and it was a particularly challenging character, not least because it was like sensory deprivation actually wearing this costume. I had long locks of hair and an additional beard. I had an eye that I couldn’t see out of. I had scars all over my face. I had long nails, so once I got into costume, I was able to kind of get into the character and stay there. I had to.”

To compound his costuming issues, they filmed in summer.

“It was pretty brutal at times,” Serkis said. “I just had to at least take the hat off and get the top layer off as much as I could. But — actor problems.”

A Christmas Carol airs Thursday, December 19 at 7:30 on FX.

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THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, 2001 (New Line Cinema)

(Photo by New Line Cinema)

TV is set for an onslaught of high-profile fantasy epics in the next few years, and we at Rotten Tomatoes can’t wait. Witness the buzz around The Lord of the Rings television series in development at Amazon — acquired for $250 million and expected to ultimately cost more than $1 billion — along with the Gormenghast series announced in 2018 by FreemantleMedia North America, and HBO’s endless plans for the Game of Thrones world. It’s a big change from the genre’s historical position in the medium.

It may be strange to think of it now, but Game of Thrones was a risky proposition when HBO first began development of the series, and its prospects were buoyed by the fact that its more fantastic elements appeared later in the narrative (we had to wait so long for those dragons). Prior to that, fantasy was relegated to syndicated fare like Conan the Adventurer and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Xena: Warrior Princess was an outlier in terms of quality storytelling, but its occasionally cheesy effects proved to the television executives that fantasy TV was too expensive, while other series proved it was often built on poor story standards. GoT changed that perception, even if the fantasy shows that emerged in its wake — The Shannara Chronicles and Shadowhunters for example — proved closer in story quality to the BeastMaster television series.

But The Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones prequels are not the only promising fantasy series in development at the moment. A number of classic fantasy epics and novels will become television thanks to the power of streaming services like Amazon, cable options like BBC America, and other outlets that are worth spotlighting. There are also a few notable series not yet scooped up by the powers in television that we think should get the TV treatment as soon as possible. So here is a handy list of the fantasy series currently in development and a couple we hope will follow them.


UPDATED: The Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings series map (Amazon Prime Video)

(Photo by Amazon Prime Video)

TV Release Date: most likely 2021

Based On: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, an epic tale of four Hobbits, a Wizard, an Elf, two Men and a Dwarf attempting to destroy the Dark Lord Sauron’s master weapon without letting him discover their plan. A war across most of Middle-earth ensues.

The Fanbase: The obsessive devotees of Tolkien’s legendarium and fans of the Peter Jackson film series.

Everything We Know So Far: Amazon is committed to produce a five-season series based on The Lord of the Rings in partnership with Tolkien’s estate and the various rights holders of the Rings and Hobbit film series. Amazon renewed the series for season 2, while season 1 is still early in pre-production in New Zealand, Deadline reported in November. The renewal necessitates a break in filming season 1, so that the writers room can reassemble and address season 2 plotting and scripts — possibly facilitating simultaneous or back-to-back filming of seasons 1 and 2.

While early reports speculated that the series would focus on a younger Aragorn, who roamed the lands of Middle-earth as a Dunedain ranger under various names like Strider and Thorongil, Amazon’s own teases contradict that theory. In February 2019, Amazon released an interactive map of Middle-earth extending into the far east region not included on maps Tolkien made himself; though he sketched out some topography for the area in his notes. The streaming platform also included this enigmatic quote from Tolkien’s Ring Poem: “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky.” But after weeks of teasing, the map finally changed to reveal a Second Age setting — the time in which the Elven rings were forged and the Dark Lord Sauron conquered lands in the southern parts of Middle-earth.

The streamer also released the series’ social media pages on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

In July of 2019, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona signed on to helm the first two episodes of the series. He and producing partner Belén Atienza will also serve as executive producers.

Game of Thrones season 6 - Benjen Stark (HBO)

(Photo by HBO: Joseph Mawle as Benjen Stark in 'Game of Thrones')

The cast includes Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Joseph Mawle, and Morfydd Clark as Galadriel. In March of 2021, Tom Budge announced his departure from the series, citing the producers’ decision to take his character in a different direction. That same month, Wayne Che Yip took over directing duties in New Zealand.

Read More: “Everything We Know About The Lord of the Rings Amazon Series”

It’s Most Like: The Lord of the Rings film series. Since the TV rights to Tolkien’s work remained with his estate, hammering out a deal with the likes of Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, and MGM suggests Amazon has an interest in making the series visually consistent with Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: The Lord of the Rings films are all Certified Fresh at 91%, 95%, and 93% respectively. The Hobbit films less so — 64%, 74%, and 59% — but they were always at a disadvantage by adopting the tone of LOTR. The tale of Sauron and the various people he encounters in the Second Age share the scope and thematic consistency of Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel.

The Witcher: Blood Origin

The Witcher stars Henry Cavill (Netflix)

(Photo by Netflix)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: The world created by Witcher novelist Andrzej Sapkowski and Netflix’s Witcher television series.

The Fanbase: The various factions of Witcher fans who come to the series thanks to the novels, video games, Netflix series, and that song.

Everything We Know So Far: On July 27, 2020, Netflix announced its intention to produce a 6-episode limited series based on a key aspect of Witcher lore. 1200 years before Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) walked the Continent, a conjunction of the spheres forced the worlds of monsters, elves, and men to become one land. And out of the tumult, the first Witcher was born. Laurence O’Fuarain stars as Fjall, a fierce warrior whose search for redemption leads him into unlikely company. Declan de Barra serves as showrunner while The Witcher’s Lauren Schmidt is also onboard as an executive producer. Production is expected to begin in July. Unfortunately, Jodie Turner-Smith, who was cast as another lead character, dropped out in April over scheduling conflicts.

It’s Most Like: Well, The Witcher, but the prominence on Elves does offer it a slight Lord of the Rings vibe as well.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: The first season of The Witcher produced a Tomatometer score of 67%, but an audience of 91%, so the program will likely please fans of the Continent and its history.

Game of Thrones Prequels

Drogon in Game of Thrones season 7 "Eastwatch" (Macall B. Polay/HBO)

(Photo by Macall B. Polay/HBO)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: The yarns of history or myth A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin likes to tell while characters eat sweet meats and plot their next move in the Game of Thrones. Also based on the short stories and longer histories the author publishes while he is not finishing The Winds of Winter.

The Fanbase: Game of Thrones fans, which is a large part of HBO’s subscriber base at this point.

Everything We Know So Far: At one point, HBO president Casey Bloys said there could be as many as five prequel series after Game of Thrones completed its run in 2019. Developed with Martin, multiple premises were in an informal competition for a programming slot. All of those initial programs failed to become series, but a new round of spinoff development began in 2021.

In the interim, the first prequel to get the greenlight in a 10-episode, straight-to-series order, is called House of the Dragon. The announcement was made at the October 29, 2019 HBO Max presentation on the Warner Bros. lot in in Burbank.

House of the Dragon

The series, set 300 years before the events of Game of Thrones, tells the story of House Targaryen. Emmy-winning director Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) and Ryan Condal (Colony) will partner as showrunners and will also serve as executive producers along with Martin and Vince Gerardis. Sapochnik will direct the pilot and additional episodes of the series, which will be written by Condal.

Martin responded to the news on his blog.

House of the Dragon has been in development for several years (though the title has changed a couple of times during that process). It was actually the first concept I pitched to HBO when we started talking about a successor show, way back in the summer of 2016. If you’d like to know a bit more of what the show will be about… well, I can’t actually spill those beans, but you might want to pick up a copy of two anthologies I did with Gardner Dozois, Dangerous Women and Rogues, and then move on to Archmaester Gyldayn’s history, Fire & Blood.”

Martin released Fire & Blood, the first volume of a two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros, in November 2018. Centuries before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire series, the Targaryens fled Valyria and landed at Dragonstone. The book begins with Aegon the Conqueror, who married his sister and created the Iron Throne. The second prequel would cover the events in that novel up through the Dance of Dragons, a bloody, great civil war between Targaryens for the Iron Throne that saw sibling slay sibling and dragon battle dragon.

Did someone say “dragon battle”? Yes, unlike the now-deceased first prequel, the second story should feature some of the most fearsome of the Targaryen dragons, including Balerion (The Black Dread), the only Westeros dragon to have lived in Valyria and whose skull is seen filling the basement of the Red Keep in Game of Thrones.

“But… let me make this perfectly clear… I am not taking on any scripts until I have finished and delivered Winds of Winter. Winter is still coming, and Winds remains my priority, as much as I’d love to write an episodes of House,” Martin wrote in his October 30, 2019 blog post, following news of the series order.

In his September post, Martin gave an update following the intense media attention to news on the second prequel: “Yes, it is based on material from one of my books. (FWIW, those who have read Fire & Blood will realize it contains enough materials for a dozen shows.) This one has a title, but no one else has revealed it, so I had better not either. (But it’s not the obvious title.)

“It has a script and a bible, and both of them are terrific, first rate, exciting. They’re the work of Ryan Condal,” he wrote. “He’s a helluva strong writer, and a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, Dunk & Egg, and Westeros in general. I’ve loved working with him, and if the Seven Gods and HBO are kind, I hope to keep on working with him for years to come on this new successor show, the title of which is… Ooops. Almost slipped. Can’t say yet. I can say that there will be dragons. Everyone else has said that, so why not me?”

Across late 2020 and early 2021, a cast formed including Rhys Ifans, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Sonoya Mizuno, Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke, Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy and Fabien Frankel. Considine plays King Viserys Targaryen, a kindly ruler of the Seven Kingdoms whose unusual plan for succession leads to the Dance of Dragons. The other castmembers either play his relatives or other ambitious people within the realm looking to use the instability for their own gain.

Read more: Everything We Know About HBO’s Game of Thrones (Dead) Prequel

Tales of Dunk and Egg

In January of 2021, word broke that HBO is also developing as series based on Martin’s “Dunk and Egg” novellas. Currently known as Tales of Dunk and Egg, the proposed program is set 90 years prior to Game of Thrones and will center on Ser Duncan the Tall, aka Dunk, and his squire, Egg, as they journey around Westeros. It is unclear how important Egg’s destiny as King Aegon V Targaryen will be to the program, though.

Four Other Prequels

Beyond House of the Dragon and Dunk and Egg, four other projects are in the works at HBO. These include an animated series of which little is known, a program Bruno Heller is developing about House of the Dragon supporting character Lord Corlys Velaryon – although it is unclear if it is a direct spinoff of that series – a show focusing on Princess Nymeria and the founding of Dorne 1,000 years before Games of Thrones, and another set in the King’s Landing slum of Flea Bottom.

They’re Most Like: Game of Thrones.

Chances They Will Be Certified Fresh Hits: Unless they’re colossal train wrecks, the prequel series will be hits. Until its eighth and final season, GoT never dipped below 90% Fresh on the Tomatometer. And with a new production staff coming in, the senioritis that plagued GoT‘s final year shouldn’t be a factor.

The Kingkiller Chronicle

The Kingkiller Chronicle book covers - by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW Books)

(Photo by DAW Books)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: Patrick Rothfuss’s as-yet incomplete trilogy – which began with The Name of the Wind and continued in The Wise Man’s Fear – and other works Rothfuss set in the same reality. The main series tells the tale of a famed scribe and biographer listening to the stories of an adventurer, arcanist, and musician named Kvothe, who appears to have settled into a retirement as an innkeeper.

The Fanbase: Fantasy lovers and musicians like Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Everything We Know So Far:  Lionsgate has been developing a series, film, and video game series based on Rothfuss’s novels since 2015. In November of 2016, Miranda signed on as a “creative producer” for the film and TV aspects of the project. The films – the first of which is to be directed by Spider-Man’s Sam Raimi – will concern Kvothe’s chronicle, while the TV series will explore other aspects of Rothfuss’s world. Both the author and Miranda are said to be developing characters for the series, which was in development at Showtime. In February of 2019, Showtime president Gary Levine told reporters showrunner John Rogers (Leverage) and “a group of writers” were working on the series with input from Manuel, but offered no further details. The premise reportedly revolved around two traveling musicians a generation prior to the events of the main novels and eventual film series. By that September, Showtime passed on the series, but left Lionsgate’s television division free to shop it around to other outlets. Reportedly, a number of scripts have already been written and at least one set-to-launch streaming service may be in the process of reading them. In November of 2020, Miranda said working on His Dark Materials gave him a new perspective on the material and that it just needs the right director and script to make the whole thing work.

It’s Most Like: Other fantasy epics with a wonderful Interview with the Vampire–esque narrative conceit.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: It all depends on when it happens. Since the movie appears to be further along in development, it remains to be seen how much crossover will exist between it and the series. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempted cohesion with the film franchises for the first couple of years, but eventually needed narrative distance. And without that strong tie to the films, it is unclear if fans will take to new characters without Kvothe as a unifying force. Also, this is assuming the film itself is a Certified Fresh hit.


HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 28: Jennifer Fox attends the Los Angeles premiere of "Velvet Buzzsaw" at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre on January 28, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images); Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea: The Farthest Shore paperback cover (Simon & Schuster, Inc.)

(Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images; Simon & Schuster, Inc.)

Based On: The Earthsea novels and stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Set on a planet of small archipelagos, various cultures, and a real magic tradition, the first novel centers around Ged, a young mage who comes of age while trying to escape a demonic shadow he conjured into being. Sadly, Le Guin passed away before anyone could make an Earthsea adaptation that reflected her core concept for the world: a fantasy setting composed mainly of brown-skinned people accepting the inevitability of death.

The Fanbase: Almost every fantasy and science fiction fan on the planet.

It’s Most Like: Itself. The Earthsea series set the standard for so many that followed.

Everything We Know So Far: Optioned for films by Nightcrawler’s Jennifer Fox (pictured) shortly before Le Guin’s death in 2018, A24 and Fox revealed in September of 2019 they will develop the project as a television series.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Adaptations of Earthsea have not fared well. Studio Ghibli’s Tales from Earthsea, directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro, rests at a Rotten 43% on the Tomatometer and almost equally bad audience score of 46%. Le Guin was disappointed in its focus on combat and an externalized villain, despite praising its visual beauty. An earlier Sci-Fi Channel miniseries fares a little better with an audience score of 53%, but has no official Tomatometer score. Le Guin was not a fan, as it cast Shawn Ashmore as the brown-skinned Ged among other liberties taken with the material. Her criticisms of the adaptation are far more entertaining than the show itself. All of which means that any new adaptation has an uphill battle as it begins its development as a television series — at least the Tomatometer bar is set low.

The Wheel of Time

(Photo by )

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: The epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan and concluded by Brandon Sanderson — whose own Mistborn series is getting the film-franchise treatment — after Jordan’s death in 2007. Set in a world that is both Earth’s distant past and far future, the cycle of time is threatened by a Shadow of ultimate evil. It searches for “The Dragon Reborn,” a being of light fated to clash with the Shadow. Various enemies and allies of both sides appear as the main characters learn more about their fate and even cross into parallel worlds. Each book in the latter half of the series — books eight through 14 — hit No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller list.

The Fanbase: Probably every fantasy fan you know.

Everything We Know So Far: Amazon and Sony Pictures Television announced in February 2018 that they are developing the series in concert, and at a London press event on Oct. 2, 2018, they announced that they ordered the one-hour action-fantasy to series, with Rafe Judkins (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chuck), who adapted the novels for television, serving as showrunner and executive producer. Rick Selvage and Larry Mondragon of Red Eagle Entertainment, Ted Field and Mike Weber of Radar Pictures (Beirut, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) are executive producers. Consulting producer Harriet McDougal edited the Wheel of Time novels written by her late husband Jordan and is the current copyright holder. In June 2019, Rosamund Pike signed on to star in the series as Moiraine, a woman who leads a group of youngsters across the worlds in an attempt to find the Dragon Reborn. Pike will also serve as a producer on the series. That August, the streaming service announced the five fresh faces who will play those young men and women: Madeleine Madden as Egwene Al’Vere, Marcus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara, Barney Harris as Mat Cauthon, Zoë Robins as Nynaeve, and Josha Stradowski as Rand Al’Thor (pictured above). In September that year, Hawaii 5-0’s Daniel Henney joined the cast as al’Lan Mandragoran, the last scion of Malkier’s noble line. In March of 2021, Amazon released a very brief tease of Pike’s Moiraine declaring “Do not underestimate the women in this tower.”

Wheel of Time (Tor Books)

(Photo by Tor Books)

It’s Most Like: The Lord of the Rings, which may be a problem as Amazon’s five-season LOTR series is also in the works.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: It’s hard to say. Judkins boasts credits on CF seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fresh season of Chuck, but his primary credits also include a co-producer role on the 27%-scoring first season of Hemlock Grove; that said, the disastrous Netflix supernatural series starred Bill Skarsgård, who’s gone on to roles like Pennywise in CF horror film It and the mysterious prisoner in another supernatural series, Hulu’s CF hit Castle Rock. The key issue now is whether or not Amazon will have money to develop another property with an epic scope once LOTR begins production.

The Sandman

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (DC Comics)

(Photo by DC Comics)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: The DC/Vertigo comic book series by writer Neil Gaiman and a variety of artists, including Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Michael Zulli, and Jill Thompson, in which Dream of the Endless – the manifestation of dreams across the cosmos – faces a dilemma when his self-imposed obligations make it impossible for him to continue to function as he has for millennia. Of course, before he can deal with that internal conflict, he must put his realm, the Dreaming, back in order after being held prisoner on Earth for 75 years.

The Fanbase: Goths, Tori Amos fans, and people who started reading books for fun at a really early age.

Everything We Know So Far: After nearly 30 years of attempts to adapt The Sandman into a feature film, Warner Bros. Television and Netflix struck a deal for a direct-to-series adaptation — which is, really, The Sandman’s best destiny outside of the comics. Gaiman will executive produce alongside Krypton’s David S. Goyer — the pair was also attached as executive producers on the last feature film attempt — while Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg will co-write the pilot alongside Gaiman and serve as showrunner.

Following the announcement, Gaiman took to Twitter to clear up some confusion about his role in the series. Among the nuggets he offered: the series will be set in the present day — outside of flashbacks to certain incidents in history, we’re presuming — and not the late 1980s/1990s setting of the original comic book series. He will be involved “much more than American Gods” but “less than Good Omens.” He also hopes “we can make something on television that feels as personal and true as the best of the Sandman comics did.” The first season will be 11 episodes and comprise the story told in the comic’s first seven issues (now known collectively as Preludes & Nocturnes) and “a little bit more.” We’re hoping a single-issue tale like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Calliope” or “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” becomes that “little bit more.” Although, we’ll be stunned if “The Sound of Her Wings” is held back until season 2. The cast includes Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Asim Chaudhry as Cain and Abel; and Boyd Holbrook as the Corinthian.

It’s Most Like: Good Omens, which is no surprise as Gaiman began writing the series around the time he and Terry Pratchett were writing the novel upon which the recent Amazon series was based. Both span thousands of years of history and see characters learning they are more than their titles. Then there’s also the whimsy to consider, and another role in which Michael Sheen could dress all in white. Although, the Corinthian is a far less agreeable chap than Aziraphale.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Good Omens was a Certified Fresh hit at 82% on the Tomatometer. Readers seemed to like it a bit more, as it has a 92% audience score. American Gods, also based on Gaiman’s work, came out of its second season with 75% on the Tomatometer and an 82% audience score. Considering Gaiman intends to be more involved in The Sandman than he was during American Gods’ reportedly troubled second season, we predict a high Tomatometer score when the Sandman series eventually debuts. Though the comic was a magnet for Gothy types, it really appeals to just about everyone who gives it a shot. Presumably, its best qualities will make it irresistible to Netflix subscribers and reviewers alike.


GORMENGHAST, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Steerpike, 2000 (BBC/courtesy Everett Collection)

(Photo by BBC/courtesy Everett Collection)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: Mervyn Peake’s mid-20th century novel trilogy — Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone — and the incomplete follow-ups centering on Titus Goran, reluctant heir to the immense Castle Gormenghast and the surrounding domain. But even as Titus grows up knowing he must eventually become a ruler, an ambitious kitchen boy plots his downfall.

The Fanbase: Writerly types like Neil Gaiman.

Everything We Know So Far:  Gormenghast fan Gaiman, Doctor Who scribe Toby Whithouse, and Star Trek: Discovery’s Akiva Goldsman set up a new version of Gormenghast for FremantleMedia North America in 2018 without a streaming platform or broadcaster attached, but in August 2019 the project landed at Showtime. While the 2000 BBC adaptation of Gormenghast, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers (pictured above), focused on the first two novels, the new series will cover all three of Peakes completed novels and the two further stories he outlined prior to his death in 1957.

It’s Most Like: Historical fiction with a few fantasy trappings.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Unlike most of the other projects in development, Gormenghast is notable for a distinct lack of magic despite its fantasy setting. Like the grounded first season of Game of Thrones, the more realistic world will set it apart from Middle-earth and the Hyborian Age.

The Chronicles of Narnia

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, Aslan, 2005, (c) Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: The seven Narnia novels by author C.S. Lewis, in which a group of WWII-era British school children gain access to a parallel realm known as Narnia. There, the Great Lion Aslan – a manifestation of Jesus Christ – teaches the children life lessons while giving them dominion over the land. The series eventually pivots from the Pevensie children to their cousin Eustace Scrubb, who goes from being a right git to a proper hero of Narnia. Santa Claus also makes a cameo appearance.

The Fanbase: Fans of high fantasy with overt Christian allegories.

Everything We Know So Far: On October 3, 2018, Netflix announced it acquired the film and television rights to the Narnia book series. The plan includes both films and television series, which suggests there may be a way to include the prequel novel, The Magician’s Nephew, in the story cycle. Mark Gordon, Douglas Gresham, and Vincent Sieber will serve as executive producers for the television series and as producers for features. In June 2019, Coco co-writer Matthew Aldrich signed on to oversee the adaptation as an overall creative director for both the television series and the planned films. In early 2021, Netflix film cheif Scott Stuber mentioned Narnia is still in the works.

It’s Most Like: As Lewis and Tolkien were friends and sparring partners, similarities between Narnia and Middle-earth abound, right down to walking trees. As realized in other media, though, Narnia is not as fully formed as Tolkien’s Arda, with the world, costumes, and critters seeming more traditionally European in concept.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: The Narnia film series followed a downward slope with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe obtaining a Certified Fresh 76% on the Tomatometer, Prince Caspian following it up with a 67%, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader striking out with a 50% score. But as the series eventually changes protagonists, the switch to Eustace always made Narnia a tougher theatrical sell. He may fare better on television.


Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982 film Conan the Barbarian (Universal Pictures)

(Photo by Universal Pictures)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: The stories of Robert E. Howard featuring Conan the Cimmerian who roamed a fictional “Hyborian Age” said to occur after the destruction of Atlantis, but before the rise of “modern” civilization. An accomplished warrior in his teens, Conan became a pirate, thief and mercenary before claiming the throne of Aquilonia in his forties by strangling the man who was sitting in it at the time.

The Fanbase: Everyone from fantasy authors like Robert Jordan to filmmakers like Oliver Stone and former president Barack Obama, as well as fans of the Conan films like 1982 Universal Pictures release Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured).

Everything We Know So Far: At one time, Amazon was developing a series based more directly on Howard’s stories than later authors’ work or the Marvel Comics series of the 1970s and ’80s. Colony co-creator Ryan Condal was onboard to write and produce with Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik attached to direct the pilot. But years went by with no further developments and both Condal and Sapochnik moved on to House of the Dragon. In September of 2020, word broke indicating Netflix now had the property with Pathfinder Media set to produce. But as before, news on Conan is surprisingly scarce.

It’s Most Like: A Dark Age version of Thrones in which men wear fewer garments.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: In light of the significant change, this one is tough to call. Netflix’s experience with fantasy (The Witcher, Cursed) is encouraging, but without any creatives attached to the project, the program is even more of a wildcard than it was during the Amazon years.

The Dark Tower

NIGHTFLYERS -- "All That We Left Behind" Episode 101-- Pictured: Sam Strike as Thale -- (Photo by: Jonathan Hession/Syfy/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images); Vikings: Halfdan the Black (Jasper Paakkonen) from HISTORY’s “Vikings”. ‘Moments of Vision’ mid-season five finale airs January 24. Photo by Jonathan Hession Copyright 2019

(Photo by Photos by Jonathan Hession -- Sam Strike in 'Nightflyers' Syfy/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; Jasper Paakkonen in 'Vikings' History)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: Stephen King’s flagship fantasy series The Dark Tower. Across eight novels, a number of short stories and numerous connections to his other writings, the series details the journey of gunslinger Roland and his band of friends as they attempt to reach the Dark Tower — anchor point of the multiverse — before the Man in Black can destroy it. Once there, Roland discovers he’s played out this cycle before, clearing the way for film and television adaptations to be sequels of the original novel series.

The Fanbase: King’s wide audience and fantasy lovers who manage to get past the rough first chapters of The Gunslinger, the cycle’s first novel.

Everything We Know So Far: Originally intended as a companion piece to 2017’s The Dark Tower film centering on the life of Roland (played by Idris Elba) in Mid-World, the series will instead start over with NightflyersSam Strike (pictured above left) as Roland and VikingsJasper Pääkkönen (pictured above right) as the villainous Man in Black. Considering the film’s poor performance (17% on the Tomatometer), it is probably for the best. In early 2020, Amazon passed on the project, although executive producer Glen Mazzara said he hoped the series will find a home elsewhere. One year later, we doubt Roland will ever make it to the Dark Tower in live action.

It’s Most Like: Like a number of fantasy series from the 1970s and ’80s, it openly wears its Tolkien inspiration everywhere. In fact, King says as much in a foreword to the novel series. But it grows by leaps and bounds as King discovers a way to tie Mid-World to Derry, Maine, and his other favorite locations.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: It seems The Dark Tower may be unworkable as either a film or television series. Or, at least, too expensive and unwieldly for companies already engaged in creating things like The Lord of the Rings and The Witcher. In terms of critical reception, any such series would need the full resources of a streaming service or cable outlet to be welcomed favorably.

The Ruin of Kings

The Ruin of Kings book cover. Credit: Macmillan Publishers/Annapurna Pictures

(Photo by Macmillan Publishers/Annapurna Pictures)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: The first novel in author Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons series. Young thief Kihrin discovers he may be of the royal bloodline, and he may also be at the center of a prophecy stating that he will end the empire. There are a lot of conditional statements in his life, making him sound more like the most timid Skyrim player to ever live. But the Black Brotherhood, after buying him as a slave, may provide motivation enough for him to care about his foretold destiny.

The Fanbase: Since the book only debuted in February 2019, the fanbase is still forming.

Everything We Know So Far: Annapurna Television optioned the rights shortly after The Ruin of Kings was published. Presumably, the search is underway for key creatives and a home for the program.

It’s Most Like: Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings with its mix of prophecies, scrappy heroes, gods, witches, zombies, and even krakens.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Even odds. A Chorus of Dragons is such a new concept that a simple logline makes it sound utterly derivative of other popular series. But with fantasy, it is all in how those well-worn creatures and tropes get used. And if reviews of the novel are to be believed, The Ruin of Kings mixes those elements in an unexpected and worthwhile way.

The Broken Earth

The Broken Earth trilogy (Orbit)

(Photo by Orbit)

TV Release Date: TBD

Based On: N.K. Jemisin’s novels about a world in which the single supercontinent, Stillness, is ravaged every few centuries by a dramatic climate change known as “The Fifth Season.” The most recent Fifth Season proved to be particularly bad, leading some to believe the end is at hand. The society of Stillness is broken into races, castes and species. Those divisions help and hinder the people’s efforts to weather the possible apocalypse. Set against this landscape is the tale of three women with the power to both calm and agitate seismic activity under Stillness. All three books in the series won the Hugo Award for best novel.

The Fanbase: The voting bodies of both the Hugo Awards and the Nebulas, who nominated The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate for best novel in their respective years.

Everything We Know So Far: The Fifth Season was optioned by TNT in August of 2017 with Sleepy Hollow’s Leigh Dana Jackson set to write the pilot. Heroes’ Tim Kring was also set to serve as an executive producer. There has been no news since, but development on even a simple (from a design perspective) high-school drama can take forever.

It’s most like… Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind with a touch of Game of Thrones.

Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: As suggested above, it could be a strong counter-program to Amazon’s The Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings series with a strong emphasis on female characters and ecological disaster. At the same time, TNT is not known for long-running fantasy series – unless you count the fantastic elements of The Librarians – with its last true fantasy project, The Mists of Avalon, debuting back in 2001. That miniseries falters at 44% on the Tomatometer, but it should be noted that TNT was very different entity at the time. The current leadership could offer The Broken Earth the money and support it needs to be a special voice in fantasy television.


Elric of Melniboné

Book cover Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone: The Weird of the White Wolf (Nelson Doubleday)

(Photo by Nelson Doubleday)

Based On: The novellas – and later novels – of Michael Moorcock featuring Elric, a frail albino who also happens to be the 428th and final emperor of Meliboné. Though quite weak, Elric’s sword, Stormbringer, offers him renewed health and vitality, but it requires a constant supply of souls to keep it powered. At odds with traditional Meliboné society, his antics cause him troubles at court and lead to his own nephew plotting a coup against him.

Why We Want a TV Series: In its setting, it may remind some of Lord of the Rings and Conan, but Moorcock actively wrote Elric as an antithesis of the Cimmerian wanderer. Heady, weird, and expressly anti-ConanElric’s chances of success commercially or critically are a long shot. But then, an enterprising producer could position a series based on Moorcock’s stories as a compelling alternative to Conan.


Dragons of the Hourglass Mage book cover (Wizards of the Coast)

(Photo by Wizards of the Coast)

Based On: The Dungeons & Dragons role-playing scenarios by Laura and Tracy Hickman and the later tie-in novels by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. In the world of Krynn, dragons dominate and dragonlances are the only weapons mortals not adept in magic can use to kill them. In the first trio of novels, the Heroes of the Lance fight to restore order to the realm. Since then, nearly 200 Dragonlance novels have been published.

Why We Want a TV Series: While seemingly obscure, a properly developed Dragonlance series would have the potential to fill the void left by Game of Thrones when it ends in 2019. The upcoming Dungeons & Dragons film is said to be based on Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first Dragonlance novel, but a full series devoted to the game mechanics of D&D and the world of Krynn could be something revolutionary. And as Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role proves every Thursday, there is an audience for stories steeped in the role-playing tradition.

Got another fantasy novel or series you think a smart network or streaming service should adapt? Let us know in the comments. 



(Photo by Courtesy of Amazon)

This weekend, Amazon revealed the writers they hired to create their Lord of the Rings streaming series. Viewers still have not seen any credited work by JD Payne and Patrick McKay, so a lot of fans are still wondering just who are these guys who are going to take us back to Middle Earth?

Rotten Tomatoes did some research on the writing team of Payne and McKay. Through the latest announcements and some previous interviews with the writers, here is everything we found out the two men charged with brining Middle Earth to streaming.


(Photo by © Amazon)

Normally when a Network buys a show, they green light a creator’s take; to snag Lord of the Rings, Amazon won the bidding (rumored at $250 million) without any concept in place. Then they interviewed writers and creators to entertain different takes on the franchise. Payne and McKay won.

“It’s such a vast world, there are so many different ways to go with that property,” Head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke (pictured) said. “We had an abundance of enthusiasm in the creator/writer community for the project. So there was a lot of time spent talking about different takes. The next phase is a big development process as they build out this world.”


(Photo by © Paramount)

They’re not only writing the next Star Trek but have been attached to adaptations of Flash Gordon, Godzilla Vs. King Kong, Micronauts, Midas, Goliath, The Deadliest Warrior, and Boilerplate. They also worked on Star Trek: Beyond with Roberto Orci on a script so this will not be their first ride on the Starship Enterprise, although Doug Jung and Simon Pegg ended up finishing Beyond.

Payne and McKay wrote the upcoming Jungle Cruise movie for Dwayne Johnson, based on the Disneyland ride. Now, if they can get a whole movie out of a ride, then the Tolkien trilogy – plus prequel and appendices – should be more than enough source material for a long-running TV series.


(Photo by Courtesy of Amazon)

Payne gave an interview in 2014 to discuss his faith and his screenwriting career. Tolkien is a text often related to the Mormon Church, so perhaps he can bring that angle to the series.

During college Payne served in a mission in Rome. It was there he truly fell in love with telling stories. “While in Italy, in the hours and days and months of interacting incessantly with thousands of people, I became fixated upon the power of story,” McKay told MormonArtist.

Of course, many have cited religious parallels between Tolkien’s work and Mormonism and other religions. Since the show will not be adapted directly from the book, perhaps Payne will have a chance to draw new connections between religion in our world and in the world of Middle Earth, if he chooses to.


(Photo by © New Line)

According to Amazon’s press release, Payne and McKay met in a high school debate club. The 2014 interview puts their meeting in 1997. That’s two decades of writing and developing together, and by 2014 they had written 15 screenplays together, according to the Payne interview.

“Our worldviews are sometimes contrasting, but always complementary,” Payne told MormonArtist. “Between the two of us, we almost never get stuck, be it in brainstorming, pitching, drafting, revising, or any other part of the process.”

In an interview with TrekCore, McKay detailed more of their high school collaborations. They directed a play and then began wrrting one together. Payne went to Yale for engineering and McKay went to a creative writing grad school in Washington, D.C. but they remained partners.


Various sources report that the series will take place before The Fellowship of the Ring, with Tolkien site reporting that their sources say it will be about a young Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen’s character in the trilogy.

So, they’ll be called on to write original work – of sorts. Some of the original screenplays the duo have written include The Black List screenplay Escape. Law Zero was also to be an original futuristic sci-fi action movie for Warner Brothers, but it never got made.


(Photo by © New Line)

In the press release announcing their gig on Lord of the Rings, Payne and McKay said, “We feel like Frodo, setting out from the Shire, with a great responsibility in our care. It is the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime. The rich world that J.R.R. Tolkien created is filled with majesty and heart, wisdom and complexity.”

Now do those sound like guys to follow into Mordor or what?

Amazon will soon bring the history of Middle-earth to its subscribers with a Lord of the Rings prequel series detailing previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.

The possibilities for the series are endless as Tolkien devised thousands of years of history to precede the War of the Ring. Some of these legends – mainly concerning the First Age of Middle-earth – are not part of the Rings license and will not be part of the series, but the movements of Sauron and other geopolitical events with direct ties to The Lord of the Rings offer a multitude of options.

We’ve collected a few story line options from the histories that Amazon has to chose from. Rank them below. Don’t see your favorite story line below? Tell us in the comments!