It’s been 18 long years since Peter Jackson wrapped his beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy (and seven relief-filled years since he put his other trilogy to sleep). Now, after a prolonged period of Hobbitlessness, fans will finally return to Middle-earth courtesy of Amazon, whose own Dark Lord has emerged with a benevolent gift for us mortals in the form of a LOTR series based on JRR Tolkien's extended mythology.
The show remains shrouded in mystery, with media reports generally focused on the Smaug-sized price tag ($250 million for the rights, $465+ million for production). But with filming wrapped and a release date cresting the horizon of 2022, some details have emerged. Here’s what we know so far.
What is the series about?
For those who don’t know their Silmarillions from their Sarumans, Amazon’s series will take place about thousands of years prior to Frodo and the Fellowship’s quest to destroy the One Ring — and thus the reign of warmongering Sauron — in the Lord of the Rings series. The era is referred to as the Second Age of Middle-earth.
The series, which began development in 2017, will reportedly draw heavily from The Silmarillion, Tolkien's posthumously published Middle-earth Bible that spans the entire history of the land he created, as well as Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.
According to an official plot synopsis first carried by TheOneRing.Net and later confirmed by Amazon, the series 'will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin.' It teases an appearance by 'the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen,' plus characters both 'familiar and new.'
Additionally, the synopsis mentions locations such as the Elven capital of Lindo, the island kingdom of Númenor and the Misty Mountains of Led Zeppelin’s discography.
Furthering its promise to go 'to the furthest reaches of the map,' Amazon's official LOTR page tweeted out an image of the map of Middle-earth as a flex to show how sprawling this could get.
While we’re reluctant to go too deep into the weeds and speculate much further— thus drawing the poison arrows of Tolkien’s well-versed fans in academia and on Reddit — Amazon recently released a promotional image depicting what appears to be the Two Trees of Valinor, a pair of monolithic trees that provided Middle-earth with its first rays of light before being poisoned.
Given that particular story takes place before the Second Age, fans are salivating at the idea that the LOTR series could be going back even further to the more Biblical First Age. It could also mean the introduction of Melkor — the original Dark Lord who indoctrinated Sauron and cloaked the realms in darkness — as the villain teased in the synopsis.
It’s worth noting, however, that the original trilogy also technically spanned the ages: The brilliant opening sequence of Fellowship of the Ring spanned centuries, telling the origins of the Rings of Power in montage and giving us the series' only glimpse of Sauron in action. Whether the series plans to Tree of Life its way through the history of Middle-earth before focusing on the Second Age remains to be seen, though rumor has it that director J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) will be introducing the Second Age as a whole in the first two episodes.
There’s heavy speculation that the series will follow Tolkien’s Fall of Númenor narrative, which posits the island kingdom as Middle-earth’s version of Atlantis in a wild tale that involves war, the Dark Lord Sauron and a cataclysmic series of events that reshapes the world — literally — from flat to round.
Tolkien produced reams and reams of story surrounding his creation, and reams more have been written analyzing his works. So while it’s fun to speculate what and who might emerge from Amazon, it’s probably best to wait to see what unfolds. If LOTR taught us anything, it’s the destructive power of singular obsession in isolation.
We can safely say that the series will feature many battles between men, orcs, elves and dwarves. It will likely be more violent in a post-Game of Thrones world. And it will contain tasteful-but-sexless nudity, which somehow prompted fans to create a for-naught Change.org petition to ‘keep Middle-earth free of nudity’.
Is any of the original cast returning?
So far, no returning actors have been announced. Considering the massive chasm of time between the series' material and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, having Frodo show up in Númenor would be a bit like a historical drama in which Queen Elizabeth hangs out with Genghis Khan. That kind of time-travel/crossover shenanigan is really more Marvel than Tolkien.
However, this is a world in which immortal elves and wizards walk the earth. While everything about her characters is being kept under lock and key, rumour has it that BAFTA-nominated Welsh actress Morfydd Clark (Saint Maud) will be playing a younger version of the powerful Elven queen Galadriel. The character — iconically portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Jackson's films — appears throughout Tolkien's works, including The Silmarillion. While Clark has been cagey about who she's playing — in an interview with Time Out, she only confirmed that the show takes place in the Second Age — the rumour of her role as Galadriel is one of the most persistent surrounding the show.
Elrond, played in the films by Hugo Weaving, is also said to return, given his involvement in the presumed source material. Weaving himself has dashed all murmurings of a return to the franchise (or any franchise, it seems), but the character could easily be recast.
Once and forever Gandalf Ian McKellen has expressed interest in returning, but it seems unlikely at this point that the actor will be breaking out the pipe-weed for this one.
Who is starring in the series?
Along with Clark, the cast includes a wealth of Welsh actors, all likely to be playing elves, as Tolkien based the Elven language on Welsh. She'll be joined by Owain Arthur, Trystan Gravelle and Lloyd Owen.
Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert Aramayo, Nazanin Boniadi, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Charles Edward, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers and Leon Wadham round out the cast.
Where is the series shooting?
After an 18-month production in the real Middle-earth (New Zealand) — and following accusations of an unsafe workplace for stunt performers — the show wrapped production in early August. It's now on an extremely expected journey through the world of post-production.
But in a twist not even a palantír-wielding wizard would have seen coming, Amazon just announced that the series already-greenlit second season will be shot in the UK. According to Deadline, the production will even go so far as to transport the series' elaborate sets to the UK.
The surprise move is motivated by a number of factors, among them COVID concerns, Amazon's ever-expanding footprint in the UK, the desire for actors to be closer to home for the long-haul production schedule, and a desire to expand the geographical scope of the series beyond New Zealand.
The relocation might seem insignificant to casual viewers, but it has huge implications. When Jackson chose to shoot his adaptations in New Zealand, it became a huge economic boon for the nation, providing jobs to local crew and cast and injecting millions into the local economy. The country's sweeping vistas essentially became Middle-earth, so much so that every live-action LOTR film (except this weird Russian one) has been shot on New Zealand soil. The films' popularity also led to a spike in tourism for the nation: at the height of its appeal, New Zealand credits the original trilogy for as much as a 50% spike in visitors. Even today, LoTR tourists plug millions into the economy.
The Amazon series also benefitted from a $165 tax rebate for filming in New Zealand, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The production's exodus — and with it the exodus of crew and extra jobs, plus millions spent locally on food and lodging — could have a serious economic impact on the New Zealand film industry and economy as Amazon's money is filtered to the UK, whose film industry took a huge hit amid the pandemic.
The news sent a shockwave through the New Zealand film industry and beyond, with many slinging blame at the government for its failure to secure a more binding commitment from Amazon, according to a report published Variety.
"It’s a shame and I feel for everyone who has put their hearts into this production. Season two was expected to begin later in 2022, so our role now is to work hard to keep the Kiwi screen sector employed,” New Zealand Film Commission CEO David Strong said in a statement carried by Variety.
What is the release date?
The series will debut on Amazon Prime on September 22, 2022, and will span eight episodes.
Has any footage or trailer been released?
Just the photo at the top of this page. But stay tuned for any new developments.