In 2017, Amazon Originals splashed into the news when it purchased the global rights to a television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for a cool $250 million. The modern Lord of the Rings films, directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from the beloved novels by J. R. R. Tolkien, are among the most profitable and awarded films of all time. The importance of these written pieces can’t be understated; they are definitive works of fantasy about power, courage, and loss; mythopoeic masterpieces credited with launching the genre into the modern age.
Now, as the new show’s premiere looms, major pieces of the puzzle have been unveiled, including some curious decisions about the plot breaking from the source material, a swath of characters who will be featured, and our long-awaited first looks at footage. With just days to go until the premiere, Amazon is still breadcrumbing viewers with sneak peeks and new footage—including a glimpse at what the dwarves are getting up to deep beneath the Misty Mountains. In a new teaser trailer, we get our best look yet at Khazad-dûm, the subterranean realm of the dwarves. Fans of the Peter Jackson films may recognize this region as the derelict ghost-town of Moria, but thousands of years earlier, during the time of Rings of Power, it was the center of dwarven life—a booming metropolis characterized by wealth, power, and technological innovation. In the trailer, it’s clear that the dwaves are keeping a secret. Could it be the discovery of mithril, the rare and valuable material they began mining during the Second Age?
“Dwarves are a people with a very detailed mythology, and a very serious view of their own history and their own destiny,” co-showrunner J.D. Payne said in a clip accompanying the trailer. “We wanted to really treat dwarves seriously.” You hear that, folks? No more comic relief dwarves here.
In a preview of the series at Empire Magazine, more details about the setting have emerged, courtesy of concept artist John Howe. “This isn’t the Middle-earth you remember,” he said. “This is a world that’s very vibrant. The elves are not hidden away in Mirkwood or lingering in Rivendell. They’re busy constructing kingdoms. The dwarven kingdom of Moria is not an abandoned mine and the Grey Havens is not yet an abandoned city. I loved having the opportunity to explore that unseen history.” Howe also suggests that we’ll see the elves in a new context entirely, saying, “We’re finally sailing on the oceans of Middle-earth. They’re daunting and enterprising and are almost colonizing the world. They were a lot of fun to imagine. It’s something neither the Lord Of The Rings nor Hobbit movies went anywhere near.”
When Amazon released a map of Middle Earth as a teaser about the series, captioned, “Welcome to the Second Age,” it revealed a pivotal plot clue. You see, the history of Middle Earth is divided into four ages. (You’re likely most familiar with the Third Age, the latter years of which see the action of The Lord of the Rings transpire.) The Second Age sees the rise and (temporary) defeat of Sauron, the big baddie from the original films. So the official synopsis’s reference to “the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen” confirms an appearance from Sauron, while the mention of Númenor suggests a storyline familiar to fans of the novels.
Fans have speculated that Amazon will tell Tolkien’s epic tale of the Fall of Númenor, given its choice to release a map that prominently features the island. During the Second Age, men with Elvish heritage settled the island of Númenor, where they became great seafarers. The Númenoreans lived in days of peace and glory until they fell under the sway of Sauron, who promised them the eternal life they coveted in the Elves in exchange for their aid in his war against the gods. As punishment, the gods transformed the formerly flat Earth into a globe. The ocean subsumed Númenor, drowning everyone on the island but Sauron. The surviving Númenoreans, who were sheltered on their ships, fled to Middle Earth, where they founded Gondor and gave rise to a long line of kings, which would one day include Aragorn.
Awhile back, Amazon released a first image from the series to celebrate the wrap of filming in New Zealand. While Vanity Fair confirmed that the image is from the show’s first episode, the identity of the person pictured remains unconfirmed. The image contains a major clue: two glowing trees, spotted in the distance. These trees are likely Telperion and Laurelin, also known as the Two Trees of Valinor. These trees light the known world and come to define an age called The Years of the Trees. Melkor, from who trained Sauron as his lieutenant, incites a war with the gods over his creation of the Silmarils, three jewels crafted with the light of the trees within them. The epic conflict ends with the destruction of the trees, forcing the gods to invent the sun and the moon to light the known world. This all happens way, way pre-Second Age, suggesting that the Amazon series may turn the clock back even further.
Will Any LOTR Film Characters Appear in Rings of Power?
We’ll be seeing a host of familiar characters. Chief among them is Sauron, whose greed, evil, and hunger for absolute power shaped the trajectory of the Second Age. In the first teaser trailer, we get a glimpse at Elrond, lord of Imladris, a relative of the Númenorean kings and a chief leader in the Last Alliance between elves and men. Amazon has also confirmed the return of Galadriel, who possessed a ring of power and had great knowledge about the nefarious dealings of Sauron. Morfydd Clark, who plays Galadriel, hints at a different interpretation of the character. “I had to find that balance between someone who has got an element of the eternal but hasn’t yet seen it all,” she told Empire. “Don’t expect the same character that you meet later on.”
According to Vanity Fair, as the series begins, Galadriel is hunting down the last remnants of Sauron’s evil collaborators, who killed her brother. That journey brings Galadriel across the Sundering Seas, a Tolkien landscape we’ve never seen on film before. There she encounters Halbrand, a new character created for the series, with whom she must work together to survive the fearsome waves aboard a precarious raft. While Rings of Power will explain Galadriel’s journey of becoming the wise ruler of Lothlorien, it will also expand on how she affected the lives of people across Middle-earth—including humans like Halbrand. Charlie Vickers, who plays the character, said of their fateful meeting, “There’s a chance, had he not met her, that his life might have not gone on. I think that’s interesting. In that moment, when they first meet, they are survival to each other. It’s like if he hadn’t met her, he was still stuck on this raft in the middle of the Sundering Seas. So I think that their fates crossing paths opens up this whole world for Hal and makes him question so many things in his past. It also makes him reassess the kind of man he might be in the future.”
Also returning from the Peter Jackson films are the orcs, Sauron’s familiar force of evil henchmen—but for the first time ever, their corpus will include henchwomen. Speaking with IGN, where first-look photos of the new orcs have been revealed, executive producer Lindsey Weber said, “There’s some female Orcs that I truly loved. But there’s one Orc in particular, who’s very, very tall and strong, who has a particularly enjoyable fight with one of our Elven characters that I suspect will be, or hope will be a favorite among fans.”
Film fans remember the orcs as a massive legion of armed forces, but during the Second Age, orcs were recovering from their near-extinction at the end of the First Age, meaning that a small population of down-on-their-luck creatures was scattered throughout Middle-earth. “Everyone thought, ‘Yay, they’ve been wiped off Middle-earth,'” said Jamie Wilson, head of the show’s prosthetics department. “But really, they regressed into the dark in small little groups, and hid away, and lived in tunnels and sort of under Middle-earth, because the only way they could hide, because of course they were hunted for so long. So this is really them coming back out as they reform under a so-called new leader who’s going to lead them forward.” Their “so-called leader,” of course, is Sauron, who disguised himself as “Annatar” during the Second Age.
When asked if Rings of Power would ever show the creation of orcs during the First Age, Wilson smiled coyly and said, “Well, that would just be telling you too much.” Book readers know that orcs were first created when big baddie Morgoth captured elves, then used torture and sorcery to twist them into orcs. Judging by Wilson’s comments, it sounds like Rings of Power isn’t closing on the possibility of exploring this history.