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Everything We Know (So Far) About Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Series.
In 2017, it was announced that Amazon would be creating a Lord of The Rings television series, and Tolkien fans everywhere were immediately equal parts enthused and curious. Since its announcement, information on this new series has been sparse and hard to come by, as Amazon is taking the secrecy of this project to a whole new level. However, fear not, my fellow Tolkienites – here is everything we know (so far) about the upcoming highly anticipated series.
Spoiler alert: there’s information gathered from books set in the Second Age, so if you’re a Third Ager die-hard from Peter Jackson's adaptations this is your warning of spoilers ahead.
What’s the Deal?
Amazon required the precious rights to The Lord of The Rings in an epic bidding war against Netflix – with the reported winning bid from Amazon coming in at $250 million, making the project the most expensive television series before production even started. In total, it is estimated that this series will cost more than $1 billion to create. It's reported that even Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos was involved in the negotiations, which is rare involvement on such a level, but makes sense given the value of the Tolkien property.
For comparison, The Lord of The Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson had a combined budget of $281 million for all 3 films.
The deal came in the form of a five-season commitment, with the first season being 20 episodes long. The deal also included rights for potential spin off series, so we’re bracing ouselves for an abundance of Tolkien content to devour over the next few years. This deal also came with a stipulation that production must start within 2 years, which is why Amazon has been so quick to begin development. But really, if you spent $250 million on something, you probably wouldn’t want to dilly dally either.
In late 2019, Deadline confirmed that Amazon had already officially ordered a second season of the series. With this news, it is likely that the wait time between the first 2 seasons will be drastically reduced.
Production, which is taking place in New Zealand, closed on March 17 due to COVID 19, one month after filming had started. The series was able to pick up filming in May, but due to a previously scheduled 4-5 month break after filming the first two episodes, it’s likely that filming won’t start up again until late summer. So far, it has not been announced if this will delay the vague 2021 air date.
JD Payne and Patrick McKay have been recruited as the executive producers and showrunners, which initially was a surprise for many fans, as the writing duo don’t have many credits behind their names. However, it is rumored that JJ Abrams, who worked with the pair on Star Trek Beyond, was one of many high-profile people who recommended Payne and McKay. (Additional nerd news: Payne and McKay have also written the screenplay for Untitled Star Trek Sequel) In addition to receiving credit as executive producer, along with his producing partner Belén Atienza, J.A. Bayona has taken the seat of director for the first two episodes.
Other producers and writers that are contributing to the series have an impressive collective portfolio of past projects, such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Stranger Things. The creative team also includes production designer Rick Heinrichs (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), costume designer Kate Hawley (Suicide Squad), and visual effects supervisor Jason Smith (The Revenant).
Amazon really isn’t messing around when it comes to the writing process of this series. Taking place in Amazon’s Santa Monica office, there are hefty security clearance measures to even get into the writer’s room, including fingerprint identification and a dedicated security guard who stands outside the room. Reportedly, even the windows are taped closed.
While there are plenty of rumored cast members and characters who will be appearing, Amazon released a cast list at the 2020 Winter Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour. During the tour, Vernon Sanders, Amazon co-head of TV, stated ‘We still have a few key roles to cast.’ Will Poulter was originally tapped to play Beldor (not to be confused with Baldor the Hapless), but later pulled out due to a scheduling conflict. Beldor will now be played by Robert Aramayo, who played young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones. It’s also been confirmed that Morfydd Clark has been cast to play a young Galadriel. According to Deadline, Maxim Baldry has been cast as one of the lead roles. Upon hearing the news of the series, one of our first questions was: is Peter Jackson involved? Apparently, negotiations with Jackson are ongoing and no decision has been made yet on his possible involvement.
What Will the Series Be About?
So, we’re caught up on who is involved. But the big question remains: what will the series be about?
The initial and very hyped rumor was that the series would focus on a young Aragon. However, the Middle-Earth maps later posted by Amazons official twitter profile showed locations that only existed before Aragon’s time, like Barad-dûr, which was first destroyed after Sauron’s defeat and then rebuilt thousands of years later upon his return.
Most notably, the map posted on Twitter included the island of Númenor. Númenor was the home of Aragon’s ancestors, and was created as a refuge in the great sea by the Valar (high beings tasked with the creation of the world on behalf of the Elvish God, Eru Illúvatar) for the Men who aided them in the conflict against Morgoth. Although blessed with extremely long lives, the Númenóreans were not immortal, and were forbidden by the Valar from sailing west from fear they would reach the Undying Lands, a land only immortals could step foot on. After many years, Sauron turned his sights on Númenor, and corrupted the King, persuading him and his followers that if they were to worship Morgoth (the Dark Lord) they would be granted immortality. Under the advisement of Sauron, the Númenóreans broke the ban of the Valar, sailing west, resulting in the sinking of Númenor, the demise of the Númenóreans, and the killing the body of Sauron, thus leading him to no longer be able to take the form of a human.
The island of Númenor is a very specific marker of the Second Age of Middle-Earth, which means the series will not be retelling of the Lord of The Rings trilogy, but rather it will be a prequel series. Since we’ve only been treated to a live-action look at Middle-Earth towards the end of the Third Age (The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings) this will be the first production company to tackle this age. While there are some major events that happen during this time, like the creation of the One Ring by Sauron, the Second Age spans 3441 years, meaning the show has quite a bit of time and content to play with – and perhaps the potential for series longevity. According to Tom Shippey, consultant to The Lord of The Rings and Tolkien Scholar, the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien refused to give permission to Amazon to film anything other than the Second Age. While Amazon have creative freedom to fill in some of the gaps in this time period that may not have been addressed by Tolkien in the books, even the ability to create new characters (AKA Beldor), the series must not contradict anything Tolkien said, and must remain ‘tolkienian’. In addition, the Tolkien estate has final say over all the content, ensuring that nothing contradicts Tolkien’s vision or alters the course of history for Middle Earth – so you can rest easy, Tolkienites.
Lastly, as pointed out above in the hasty and brief retelling of Númenor (you’re welcome), at this time in Middle Earth history Sauron had the ability to take physical form, which means we can likely expect to see Sauron as a human in the series – which, to me, is the cherry on top of this delicious and highly anticipated project. This series is just another reason we can’t wait for 2021. Now, excuse me while I go binge watch the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and cry at how beautiful it is.
Click here to view Amazons interactive map.
If you want to learn more about Middle-Earth and the Second Age, I recommend reading The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales.