[Editor’s note: This story was originally published on October 7, 2019]
While Amazon has become an Emmys juggernaut with more intimate series like “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” those kind of character-based stories are not all the streaming service does – or plans to do. And no upcoming series proves that point more than Amazon’s long-awaited, multi-season television adaptation of material surrounding J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
Since it was originally announced in 2017, news about the show has come in fits and starts. In recent months, 20 new cast members joined the project and a synopsis of the series was reported by TheOneRing.net. In that synopsis, it confirms that locations that will be included in the series are Númenor, the Misty Mountains, and the elf-capital of Lindon. The story will take place in Tolkien’s Second Age era, millennia before the events of “The Hobbit.”
Including multiple trailers for the show, a handful of noteworthy details about the series have been released since its announcement. Perhaps the most startling: that the total price tag for the first season of the show is estimated to come in at $450 million. (By comparison, a season of “Game of Thrones” was estimated to cost $90 million, or about $15 million an episode.) According to New Zealand publication Stuff, the amount was ascertained by the NZ$160 million tax credit the production will receive for filming in the country. To receive a tax credit of that amount, the budget is estimated to come in at just shy of half a billion American dollars.
IndieWire has compiled a list of key details about the upcoming series. From its big shoes to fill as another Tolkien adaptation to its hush-hush casting, below is everything you need to know about Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
Season 2 Will Film in the U.K.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” filmed Season 1 during the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand. However, for the second season out of the planned five-season story, production is rumored to be moving to the U.K. or Scotland. Co-showrunner Patrick McKay told The Playlist that the second season will be part of a journey for the characters, hence the location switch up.
“I think if we answered in too much detail, we’d spoil where the journey is going in future episodes,” McKay mused. “Suffice to say in the story, in Tolkien’s world, journeys to other lands are a major recurring theme. And so I think that’s a thing to think about.”
McKay added, “The other thing I would say is Tolkien was writing about the British Isles. He was writing about his own backyard and his description of the nature and the air here and the light here and the grass here is a huge part of those books. And I think the opportunity to kind of bring the property home feels like one that’s pregnant with possibilities.”
Galadriel Battles for the Soul of Middle-Earth in Final Trailer
Ahead of the two-episode premiere of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” on September 2, Prime Video released an epic last look at what’s to come for the season. Elven warrior Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) leads an army to defeat an evil force in the tense trailer for the new series.
Episodes Will Premiere Weekly
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” will debut the first two episodes of the series on September 2 before switching to a one-episode-per-week release for the remaining six episodes, as Prime Video confirmed. Episodes will launch at 12 a.m. ET Fridays going forward, with Season 1 of the series concluding prior to HBO’s “House of the Dragon” even premiering, as critics speculated how both epic fantasy series would vie for viewers.
According to Amazon, “The Rings of Power” episodes will “launch at the same time around the world, so that all fans can experience them simultaneously.”
Actors Had to Graduate from “Scale Academy” on Set
Executive producer Lindsay Weber revealed that the entire cast was tasked with completing a multi-hour course on tricks to make the dwarves and harfoots look smaller than elves. Production employed “scale ambassadors” to make sure everyhing was proportioned correctly, from costumes to props.
“If a button on a jacket is the wrong size, it’s over,” Weber told Time.
Production tricks included oversized props, big hair and beards, and people wearing cardboard faces on top of their heads so their scene partners know where to look when delivering their lines.
Showrunners Penned an Uplifting Script in Response to “Peak Bleak” TV
“Game of Thrones” and “Succession” marked a turning point for the “The Rings of Power” co-creators. While both shows garnered Emmys and critical praise, McKay and Payne saw a hole in TV: an uplifting epic, not a depressing one. Back in 2018 when both showrunners were crafting the “Lord of the Rings” reimagining, McKay remembers thinking, “It’s like, how do you top the most debased thing you can do?” when watching other shows. “Sometimes that’s really good in certain shows, but it’s also relentless,” he added to Time.
The debates over the sexual violence shown in “Game of Thrones” continuing into prequel series “House of the Dragon” also precedes the premiere of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” At least for those wondering which fantasy series will best the other, “The Rings of Power” finds, well, power in offering a very different tone in the TV landscape.
Cast and Creators Promise an Immersive World Built In-Camera, Not Just CGI
Speaking at the 2022 TCA Summer Press Tour, the cast and creators of “The Rings of Power” were asked about working with so much green screen technology.
“I can see where there’s that sense of, ‘Gosh, there must have been all this green screen and CGI,'” Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who plays Queen Regent Miriel, said. “But to be honest, there was so much that’s built practicality. […] It was all about a 360-degree, as much as possible, in-camera-built world. So as an actor, we really had the ability to be in this world and really play.”
To emphasize the difference between Amazon Studios’ production of “The Rings of Power” and other CGI-filled fantasy shows, Addai-Robinson remembered her time on the former Starz original series “Spartacus.” Despite shooting entirely in New Zealand, she said she never shot on location in the island country. All her work was done on sound stages, later filled by CGI skies and surroundings.
But Queen Regent Mirial’s kingdom was realized with a combination of practical sets and locations before being fleshed out with CGI.
“Numenor is like a fully built, fully functioning city,” Addai-Robinson said. “There’s a real dock with real boats.”
Meanwhile, rather than standing behind foam rocks and feigning a fear of heights, her first day of shooting required a helicopter trip up the side of a mountain. Though scary at times, Addai-Robinson said she channeled the intensity she felt into her scene.
“My first day was on an unnamed mountain top — that’s what I’ll say, an unnamed mountain top,” she said. “I was trying to be cool about it, but obviously you have to get up there somehow, and there was this very memorable helicopter ride.”
Come September 2, fans will be able to see for themselves if such dedication to reality pays off in a similarly memorable experience — from the safety of home.
Prime Video’s Latest Trailer Teases a Dark Force
“Lord of the Rings” fans hotly debated the meaning behind the newest teaser for “The Rings of Power.” Shared on June 29, the “Lord of the Rings on Prime” Twitter account posted a short video featuring two hands coming together. “Nothing is evil in the beginning…” the caption read. While J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters of Sauron and Melkor didn’t exactly start out villainous, it seems that a darker force may have lured them to commit evil. So, what are the origins of the devastating wars across the Second Age? We’ll just have to wait on the edge of our seats to see…
Male (and Female) Orcs Are Up Close and Personal in “Out of the Darkness” Origin Story
In big news for the “LOTR” universe, “The Rings of Power” will feature female Orcs. Executive producer Lindsey Weber revealed to IGN that showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay were dedicated to portraying a different kind of Orc. “The very first page of their bible was about Orcs,” Weber said. “They have a real passion for them, they love practical prosthetics and design, and they felt that they needed exploration given that this is the Second Age and thousands of years before the events of the Third Age. It was really important to them to treat them as their own culture and explore their world on its own two legs in its own right.”
Weber added, “It felt appropriate that their look would be different, part of a wilder, more raw, Second Age, Middle-earth, closer to where the First Age ends. As we meet them, they’re not yet organized into armies, they’re a little more scattered and they’ve been scavenging. So it’s just a different time in their total story.”
Head of “The Rings of Power” prosthetic department Jamie Wilson shared that the Orcs had to hide because they were hunted for years: “This is really them coming back out as they reform under a so-called new leader who’s going to lead them forward,” he said.
The different look for the Orcs also is based in their “baby versions” onscreen for “The Rings of Power.”
“It’s them coming out from the darkness,” Wilson said. “So this is early on. So for example, if you go to past films about them, you’ll see them and they’re quite battle damaged and scarred and all that kind, because there’s been lots more battles. This is kind of before the next range of big battles. So there’s a lot more smooth texture. There’s still wrinkles, and lines, and shape, and form, but they’re not so battle scarred, but they are dealing with some skin conditions because of their exposure to the sun. They’re coming back out for the first time again. So it’s all a bit new. That’s why they’re not as dark skinned, necessarily not as muscle-y and not as battle worn as you’d seen in previous productions.”
In fact, only 25 percent of the actors play human characters.
“The Rings of Power” First Look Premiered During the 2022 Super Bowl
While not much plot was revealed, the epic expanse of “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” was teased in the first look trailer, which premiered during the 2022 Super Bowl on February 13. It seems like the estimated multi-million dollar special effects budget has gone to good use, as the snow-capped Misty Mountains shimmered and the thick, magic forests of elf-capital Lindon glistened, all leading up to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor.
A “Rings” War is on the Horizon
In January 2022, Prime Video released a teaser for the series to unveil the official show title: “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
“This is a title that we imagine could live on the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien’s other classics,” showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said. “‘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.”
A voiceover narration also gave insight into the recipients of the 20 Rings of Power from Tolkien’s “Ring Verse.”
“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky / Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,” the narration states. “Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die / One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne / In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”
Per an official series description, “The Rings of Power” 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 one of the greatest villains that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness.”
The statement continues, “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 reemergence 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 farthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”
2021 Cast Changes
In March 15, Australian actor Tom Budge announced on social media that he had parted ways with the series. “Hello loves, it is with great sadness that I am writing to tell you I have departed Amazon’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ television series,” Budge wrote on social media. “After recently seeing the first episodes shot over the last year Amazon has decided to go in another direction with the character I was portraying. I must thank the creative team for their encouragement towards trying something that I believed was new, exciting and beautiful.” The mystery remains as to which character Budge was portraying.
It Was Filmed in the Shire You Know and Love
It’s been a long and winding road for the production of “Lord of the Rings,” which was originally announced in 2017.
Like work most upcoming Hollywood television shows, production on Amazon’s upcoming “Lord of the Rings” series was halted in early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The closure came one month after the series started filming, and after New Zealand instituted protective immigration measures to protect the country from the coronavirus, including 14 days of compulsory self-isolation for citizens and visitors entering the country.
Production on the show resumed in late 2020. The series is set to premiere September 2, 2022.
What About the Cast?
“The Lord of the Rings” has a major budget for a television show, which helps explain the show’s sprawling ensemble cast of 39 talents. The Hollywood Reporter reported in July that Charles Edwards (“The Crown”), Will Fletcher (“The Girl Who Fell”), Amelie Child-Villiers (“The Machine”) and Hollywood newcomer Beau Cassidy had joined the show, but no details about the characters they will play are available.
Going back a few months, “The Lord of the Rings” fans received an early Christmas present in December 2020 when a slew of casting details about the upcoming series were announced. Amazon announced 20 cast members were joining the series: 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.
Though Amazon did not specify what characters any of the aforementioned talents would be portraying, one of the actors is a franchise veteran: Tait portrayed Shagrat, an antagonistic Black Uruk (Orc) in “The Return of the King.”
As for even older casting news, Variety reported in July 2019 that Australian actress Markella Kavenagh (“Picnic at Hanging Rock”) was in talks for the series, as a character named Tyra. No other details were given about the character, and neither Amazon nor Kavenagh’s reps actually commented on the news. In fact, Kavenagh is listed as “rumored” on IMDB.
October 2019 saw Collider report another significant-yet-secretive casting choice for the series, in English actor Maxim Baldry (“Years and Years”) and, later that month, Deadline report the casting of Joseph Mawle. Deadline added, “No details about the characters are being revealed but it is believed that English actor Mawle will play the series’ lead villain, Oren, opposite the young hero Beldor and female lead Tyra (Kavenagh).”
Back in September 2019, Will Poulter (“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” “Midsommar”) was reportedly cast as Beldor. However, in December 2019, Variety reported that Poulter would no longer be appearing in the series, due to scheduling conflicts. It was reported by Deadline that same month that Ema Horvath (“Like.Share.Follow.”) had joined the cast. It was also reported that Morfydd Clark (“His Dark Materials,” “Dracula”) had joined the cast as a young Galadriel (the character that Cate Blanchett played in the movies).
Amazon also announced a cast list at the 2020 Winter Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour: Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman.
On April 19, Amazon Studios announced new character images for Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) and single mother Brownyn (Nazanin Boniadi).
For the Newbies, It’s Based on Epic Source Material
Chances are fairly high you already know about the source material of this particular Amazon series, but in case you don’t: Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings” series is based on author J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel series of the same name. A sequel series to Tolkien’s 1937 novel “The Hobbit,” “The Lord of the Rings” consists of three novels: “The Fellowship of the Ring” (published in July 1954), “The Two Towers” (published in November 1954), and “The Return of the King” (published in October 1955). (Take notes, George R.R. Martin.)
Both of these stories exist in a world of mythical creatures such as wizards, dwarves, elves, orcs, and of course, hobbits. “The Hobbit” follows the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, as he embarks on an incredibly dangerous adventure far away from the safety of his home in the idyllic Shire. During his travels, he found the One Ring and took it home with him. “The Lord of the Rings” begins with an older Bilbo giving the Ring to his younger cousin Frodo, who is then tasked—with the aid of the Company of the Ring—to destroy the ring in the Fire of Mount Doom in Mordor, where it was forged and the only place it can be destroyed.
Since their original publications, there have been multiple adaptations of both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” in a number of media (radio, television, film, stage), in both live-action and animated formats. But most notably, both “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” (also as a trilogy) were adapted to the big screen, in major live-action motion pictures directed by Peter Jackson.
As for Amazon’s series, the show is expected to explore new storylines that occur before the events of the “The Fellowship of the Ring” film.
There’s A Lot of Hype to Live Up To
As mentioned, the most well-known adaptations of these novels have been the live-action feature films directed by New Zealand director Peter Jackson. Jackson’s approach to the trilogy (in films released from 2001-2003) was a true critical and financial success story, with the conclusion to the trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” becoming the second film to ever make over a $1 billion (following “Titanic”) at the box office and tying with “Ben-Hur” and “Titanic” for the record of most Oscars won. In fact, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” swept the Oscars that year, winning in all 11 of the categories for which it was nominated.
Out of 30 total Oscar nominations received over the course of three films—in categories ranging from to Best Makeup to Best Picture—“The Lord of the Rings” won 17.
To this day, “The Lord of the Rings” cast—Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, Ian McKellan as Gandalf, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christoper Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, and Andy Serkis—remains beloved, with the new series’ existence leading to questions about whether or not movie cast will show up.
It’s Actually a Prequel Series
When the Amazon series was originally announced, there was an assumption was that it would be a retelling of the trilogy of books, just like the movies. But then in March, it was confirmed that the series would actually be a prequel series, with rumor swirling that it would center on a young Aragorn (portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in the movies). However, in the lead-up to confirmation, Middle-earth maps posted by the official Amazon “The Lord of the Rings” Twitter profile showed lands that would’ve only existed long before the character’s time. (Though the show will feature the island of Númenor, the home of Aragorn’s ancestors.)
The Amazon series, then, will actually take place during the Second Age of Middle-earth.
For reference, “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” novel and film trilogy are set thousands of years after the Second Age, toward the end of the Third Age. The Second Age, on the other hand, is most notable for being the time period when Sauron (the titular lord of the rings and very integral to the Second Age) created the One Ring to rule all the other Rings of Power. By the time Smeagol had come across the Ring, it had been lost for over 2,000 years.
If you’re wondering how much ground can be covered in the series with the Second Age as its setting, note that the Second Age spans 3,441 years.
It Cost a Pretty Penny to Make Middle-earth a Reality (Again)
The first season of Amazon’s show will be the most expensive season of television ever produced. Season 1 has a $465 million budget. Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke stated in May 2021 that she was “pretty confident” that the show will draw the required viewership to make the money worth spent.
Back in 2017, when it was reported that Amazon had bought the rights to “The Lord of the Rings”—winning a bidding war against Netflix—the number reported with that sale was $250 million. That number alone made it the most expensive television series ever, but later, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the whole series would end up costing more than $1 billion, due to production expenses (casting, producers, visual effects, etc.).
“The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy’s own Elijah Wood reacted to that particular figure during an interview, saying, “That’s crazy to me.” For context, the Peter Jackson trilogy grossed $2.92 billion worldwide. The combined budget for all three films was $281 million.
Prepare for Another Epic Journey
That $250 million rights deal for “The Lord of the Rings” also came with a five-season commitment for the series. A guaranteed five seasons should also guarantee at least one full story told from beginning to end, even though there’s always the possibility of more, depending on the series’ success. The deal also allowed for the potential of spin-off series, which could mean the potential for even more of Middle-earth outside just this adaptation. In November 2019, Deadline confirmed that Amazon had officially ordered a second season of the series and that it was already in the works. According to the report, the official early renewal means that there will be a shorter wait time between the first two seasons come release.
However, the series may not ever get out of the Second Age—which is, again, 3,441 years long, so it’s got a lot to work with—as, according to Tolkien scholar and “The Lord of the Rings” consultant Tom Shippey, the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien has refused to grant Amazon permission to film anything other than the Second Age, as to not alter the history of the more fleshed out Third Age. “But you can add new characters and ask a lot of questions, like: What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it,” Shippey explained. “But it must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say. That’s what Amazon has to watch out for. It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries which Tolkien has created. It is necessary to remain ‘Tolkienian’.”
Shippey also revealed that there will be 20 episodes in the series’ first season.
What’s Going on Behind the Scenes?
In July 2018, it was announced that writing duo JD Payne and Patrick McKay would develop “The Lord of the Rings” for Amazon, serving as the series’ executive producers and showrunners. While it was a big move forward in terms of the series’ development, this particular news was a shock, especially because of the scale of the series. Prior to the news, Payne and McKay’s IMDB pages were empty, save for their uncredited writing job on “Star Trek Beyond.” But Star Trek” producer J.J. Abrams was reportedly one of a number of high-profile producers who recommended Payne and McKay for the position.
Since then, Payne and McKay have also written the screenplay for “Untitled Star Trek Sequel,” as well as an earlier draft of the “Flash Gordon” feature film, and the upcoming “Jungle Cruise” film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. To the casual or super fan observer, there is still nothing visibly tangible under the duo’s belts. But they have written plenty of unproduced screenplays and have been writing together since their high school debate club days in 1997. While fans may not know Payne and McKay yet, people in the industry do—and Amazon found their work strong enough to be put in charge of such a major property.
J.A. Bayona (“The Orphanage,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) will serve as director for the series’ first two episodes. He’ll also be credited as an executive producer, alongside his producing partner Belén Atienza.
In addition to Payne, McKay, Bayona, and Atienza, here is the rest of the creative team behind Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings”: executive producers Lindsey Weber (“10 Cloverfield Lane”), Bruce Richmond (“Game of Thrones”), Gene Kelly (“Boardwalk Empire”), and Amazon’s former head of genre programming Sharon Tal Yguado; writer and executive producer Gennifer Hutchison (“Breaking Bad”); writer and executive producer Jason Cahill (“The Sopranos”); writer and 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 and co-producer Helen Shang (“Hannibal”); and writing consultant Glenise Mullins.
According to Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke, the writers room is “working under lock and key: “They’re already generating really exciting material. They’re down in Santa Monica. You have to go through such clearance, and they have all their windows taped closed. And there’s a security guard that sits outside, and you have to have a fingerprint to get in there, because their whole board is up on a thing of the whole season.”
Charlotte Brändström Will Direct Two Episodes
Charlotte Brändström, who served as a director on Netflix’s “The Witcher” and “Jupiter’s Legacy,” has been tapped to direct two episodes of the Amazon series.
“I’m very excited to be guided through Middle-earth by J.D.’s and Patrick’s vision and immerse myself in the iconic world of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a great privilege to be in New Zealand to work with Amazon Studios’ outstanding ensemble of creative talents,” Brändström said in a statement in May 2021.
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