The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

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The Lord of the Rings:
The Rings of Power
The series's title, "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power", in glowing gold letters in front of sparkling dust.
Genre
Based onThe Lord of the Rings and appendices
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Developed by
  • J. D. Payne
  • Patrick McKay
Theme music composerHoward Shore
ComposerBear McCreary
Country of originUnited States
New Zealand
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes6
Production
Executive producers
Producers
  • Ron Ames
  • Chris Newman
Production locations
  • New Zealand (S1)
  • United Kingdom (S2–)
Running time65–72 minutes
Production companies
DistributorAmazon Studios
Release
Original networkPrime Video
Original releaseSeptember 1, 2022 (2022-09-01) –
present (present)

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is an American fantasy television series based on the novel The Lord of the Rings and its appendices by J. R. R. Tolkien. Developed by showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay for the streaming service Prime Video, the series is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, and in consultation with the Tolkien Estate.

Amazon bought the television rights for The Lord of the Rings for US$250 million in November 2017, making a five-season production commitment worth at least US$1 billion. This would make it the most expensive television series ever made. Payne and McKay were hired in July 2018. The series is primarily based on the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, which include discussion of the Second Age, and Tolkien's grandson Simon Tolkien consulted on the development of the series. Per the requirements of Amazon's deal with the Tolkien Estate, it is not a continuation of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies. Despite this, the production intended to evoke the films using similar production design, younger versions of characters from the films, and a main theme by Howard Shore who composed the music for both trilogies. Bear McCreary composed the series's score. A large international cast was hired, and filming for the eight-episode first season took place in New Zealand, where the films were produced, from February 2020 to August 2021 (with a production break for the COVID-19 pandemic). Amazon moved production for future seasons to the United Kingdom, where filming for the second season began on October 3, 2022.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered on September 1, 2022, with its first two episodes, which Amazon stated had the most viewers for a Prime Video premiere. The rest of the eight-episode first season is running until October 14. It has received generally positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for its cinematography, visuals and musical score, but some criticism for its pacing.

Premise[edit]

Set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the series is based on author J. R. R. Tolkien's history of Middle-earth. It begins during a time of relative peace and covers all the major events of Middle-earth's Second Age: the forging of the Rings of Power, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the fall of the island kingdom of Númenor, and the last alliance between Elves and Men.[1] These events take place over thousands of years in Tolkien's original stories but are condensed for the series.[2]

Cast and characters[edit]

  • Morfydd Clark as Galadriel: an Elven warrior who believes evil is returning to Middle-earth.[2] The series shows the character's journey from a warrior to the "elder stateswoman" that she is portrayed as in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The showrunners based her initial depiction in the series on a letter in which Tolkien described a young Galadriel as being of "Amazon disposition".[3] Clark said her fluency in Welsh made it easier to learn Galadriel's Elvish lines.[4] Amelie Child-Villiers portrays a young Galadriel.[5]
  • Lenny Henry as Sadoc Burrows: a Harfoot elder.[2][6] Henry described the Harfoots as "the traditional Tolkien little guy... the little people in this world provide comedy but also get to be incredibly brave".[7]
  • Sara Zwangobani as Marigold Brandyfoot: a Harfoot[8]
  • Dylan Smith as Largo Brandyfoot: a Harfoot and Marigold's husband[8]
  • Markella Kavenagh as Elanor "Nori" Brandyfoot: a Harfoot with a "yearning for adventure" who is the daughter of Marigold and Largo.[9][4]
  • Megan Richards as Poppy Proudfellow: a curious Harfoot[2][6]
  • Robert Aramayo as Elrond: a half-Elven architect and politician.[2] Aramayo was interested in exploring the pressure that Elrond faces living up to the legacy of his father, Eärendil, as well as the fact that Elrond chose to be immortal, unlike his brother Elros, whom Elrond had to watch grow old and die.[4] Elrond goes from being optimistic and eager to world-weary and closed-off through the series.[3]
  • Benjamin Walker as Gil-galad: the High King of the Elves, who rules from the realm of Lindon.[10] The character is mentioned in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in a poem called "The Fall of Gil-galad", and Walker said the series would expand on that. He highlighted the character's "odd gift of foresight. He's prescient, and he's ahead of the curve. He can kind of feel the pulse of evil rising."[4]
  • Ismael Cruz Córdova as Arondir: a Silvan Elf with a forbidden love for the human healer Bronwyn,[2] similar to Tolkien's love stories about Beren and Lúthien and Aragorn and Arwen[3]
  • Nazanin Boniadi as Bronwyn: a human mother and healer who owns an apothecary in the Southlands[2]
  • Tyroe Muhafidin as Theo: Bronwyn's son[11]
  • Charles Edwards as Celebrimbor: the Elven smith who forges the Rings of Power,[2] he is a "brilliant artisan" known throughout Middle-earth who is friends with the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm.[4]
  • Daniel Weyman as a stranger who falls from the sky in a flaming meteor[9][12]
  • Owain Arthur as Durin IV: the prince of the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm.[2] It took three hours to apply Arthur's Dwarven prosthetics each day.[4]
  • Charlie Vickers as Halbrand: a human running from his past whose destiny is entwined with Galadriel's. He is created for the series and does not appear in the source material.[2]
  • Sophia Nomvete as Disa: Durin IV's wife and princess of the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm.[2] Disa and the other female Dwarves have facial hair, but they don't have large beards like the male Dwarves in the series.[4]
  • Lloyd Owen as Elendil: a Númenórean sailor and Isildur's father who will eventually be a leader in the last alliance between Elves and Men[13]
  • Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Míriel: the queen regent of Númenor,[13] an island kingdom ruled by Men descended from Elrond's half-Elven brother Elros[14]
  • Trystan Gravelle as Pharazôn: a Númenórean advisor to queen regent Míriel[13]
  • Maxim Baldry as Isildur: a Númenórean sailor who will eventually become a warrior and king.[2] The writers wanted to explore Isildur's story more than the source material so the audience would feel that it ends in tragedy rather than foolishness. Co-showrunner Patrick McKay compared the character to Al Pacino's Michael Corleone from The Godfather (1972).[3]
  • Ema Horvath as Eärien: Isildur's sister, who was created for the series.[13]
  • Joseph Mawle as Adar: an Uruk who is the leader of the Orcs that have been capturing humans to dig their tunnels in order to reshape the Southlands[15]
  • Leon Wadham as Kemen: Pharazôn's son[13]

Episodes[edit]

No.TitleDirected by [16][17]Written byOriginal release date [18]
1"A Shadow of the Past"J. A. BayonaJ. D. Payne & Patrick McKaySeptember 1, 2022 (2022-09-01)
After the Dark Lord Morgoth was defeated, the Elf Finrod died searching for his servant Sauron. Finrod's sister Galadriel vowed to continue the search, and finds an abandoned fortress in the northern wastelands of Forodwaith which bears Sauron's mark. Her companions insist that they return to the Elven capital Lindon, where High-king Gil-galad proclaims the war against Morgoth's forces to be over. He grants Galadriel and her company the honor of sailing to Valinor where they can live an eternal life at peace. In the Southlands of Middle-earth, Elves watch over Men descended from allies of Morgoth. To the disapproval of the others, the Elf Arondir has developed a close relationship with the human healer Bronwyn. Together they discover that the village of Hordern has been destroyed, while Bronwyn's son Theo finds a broken sword bearing Sauron's mark. Near Valinor, Galadriel chooses to turn back and continue the search for Sauron, jumping from the ship into the Sundering Seas. At the same time, two curious Harfoots, Nori Brandyfoot and Poppy Proudfellow, discover a strange man inside a meteor crater.
2"Adrift"J. A. BayonaGennifer HutchisonSeptember 1, 2022 (2022-09-01)
Swimming back to Middle-earth, Galadriel comes across a raft with human survivors of a shipwreck. They are attacked by a sea monster and only one survives, Halbrand of the Southlands, who explains that he is fleeing from Orcs. He and Galadriel work together to survive a storm. Nori and Poppy keep the stranger secret from the other Harfoots and give him food and shelter. He does not speak their language, but uses fireflies and apparent magic to indicate that he is searching for a constellation of stars that Nori does not recognize. Arondir investigates tunnels beneath Hordern and is captured. Bronwyn returns to her own village, Tirharad, where an Orc attacks her and Theo. They kill it and use its head as proof of danger to convince the rest of the town to leave. Gil-galad sends the half-Elf Elrond to assist the great Elven-smith Celebrimbor, who is planning to build a powerful new forge. Elrond suggests they seek help from the Dwarves, and goes to his friend Prince Durin IV in Khazad-dûm. Durin is angry that Elrond has not visited in 20 years, but his wife Disa convinces him to hear Elrond's proposal.
3"Adar"Wayne Che YipJason Cahill & Justin DobleSeptember 9, 2022 (2022-09-09)
Galadriel and Halbrand are picked up by a ship captained by Elendil, who takes them to Númenor, an island kingdom ruled by Men. Relations between the island and the Elves have grown strained, and Queen Regent Míriel denies Galadriel's request for a ship back to Middle-earth. Galadriel visits Númenor's Hall of Lore with Elendil and discovers that the mark of Sauron is actually a map of the Southlands where a new realm for evil forces is planned. She also learns that Halbrand, who is imprisoned after fighting some Númenóreans, is the king of the Southlands. As the Harfoots prepare for their seasonal migration, the stranger is revealed while trying to read some star maps. He comes with them as they migrate, pushing Nori's wagon since her injured father is unable to. Arondir has been captured by Orcs and taken to a construction camp digging underground passages so Orcs can travel during the day. His Elven compatriots have also been captured and are killed during an attempted escape. After slaying a Warg, Arondir is taken to the leader of the Orcs named Adar, which the Elves speculate to be one of the names of Sauron.
4"The Great Wave"Wayne Che YipStephany Folsom and J. D. Payne & Patrick McKaySeptember 16, 2022 (2022-09-16)
Míriel has a vivid dream of the tidal-wave destruction of Númenor. Chancellor Pharazôn encourages discord between the Númenóreans and Elves. Halbrand manipulatively advises Galadriel, then Pharazôn. Míriel shows Galadriel the vision of Númenor's destruction in a palantír. Galadriel persuades Míriel to wage war against the Orcs in the Southlands and war preparations begin. Isildur and his friends are kicked out of the Sea Guard, but then join the war effort. Adar appears to be a scarred elf from the Elder Days. Adar releases Arondir to give a surrender offer to the humans taking refuge in the Elven watchtower. The Orcs learn that the ancient artifact evil sword hilt they seek is in the tower. The Dwarves have found mithril and keep it a secret, but Elrond discovers the mine. King Durin III sends Prince Durin IV to discover what the Elves of Lindon are up to.
5"Partings"Wayne Che YipJustin DobleSeptember 23, 2022 (2022-09-23)
While protecting Nori and the other Harfoots from a wolf pack, the stranger's use of magic injures his own arm. As he heals it using conjured ice, Nori attempts to help him but accidentally connects to his mind, blasting and frightening her away with a shockwave. In Númenor, Galadriel convinces Halbrand to join the expedition to Middle-earth after retelling her battles and losses against Sauron. At the same time, Kemen, son of Pharazôn, attempts to destroy the expedition ships, believing Galadriel and Míriel will take the fall and allow Pharazôn to rise to power with the people's support. However, he is caught by Isildur, who is rewarded with a spot on the expedition crew. In Lindon, Gil-galad reveals to Elrond his knowledge of and intention to use the Dwarvish mithril to extend the existence of the Elves. Elrond admits this discovery to Durin, and they return to Khazad-dûm to try to convince King Durin. In the Southlands, half of the townspeople led by Waldreg cave into Adar's demands and join him, believing him to be Sauron. Theo shows the broken sword to Arondir, who realizes it is a key to help warp the Southlands into Sauron's realm of evil. Seeing their watchtower as a target, the remaining townspeople prepare for battle against the approaching Orc army.
6"Udûn"Charlotte BrändströmNicholas Adams & Justin Doble and J. D. Payne & Patrick McKaySeptember 30, 2022 (2022-09-30)
Adar and the Orc army find the watchtower abandoned. While they search the grounds, Arondir destroys the tower, causing it to collapse onto the Orc army. The townspeople, who moved down the valley to another village, cheer as they prepare for the next assault. Arondir hides the broken blade, professes his love to Bronwyn, and promises a life together after the battle. The battle begins, and while the villagers appear victorious, many of the enemy they killed were actually the traitorous townspeople disguised as Orcs. The rest of the Orc army attacks from the shadows, killing many and severely wounding Bronwyn. As more villagers die, Theo reveals the location of the broken blade to Adar to save Bronwyn. After journeying across the sea, the Númenórean army approaches and slay or capture the remaining Orcs. Adar gives Waldreg a task before attempting to escape, only to be captured by Galadriel and Halbrand. They interrogate him, discovering his origins as one of the Moriondor or Uruks, Elves corrupted by Morgoth. He taunts them, feigning memory of killing Halbrand's Southlander family and claiming to have killed Sauron. As Halbrand is hailed as the King of the Southlands, Theo realizes the broken blade they recovered was a decoy while the true blade had been carried back to the watchtower by Waldreg. He plants it into a mechanism causing a nearby dam to open. Water rushes through the Orc tunnels towards Orodruin and clashes with magma, resulting in a phreatomagmatic eruption and a pyroclastic cloud that approaches the village.
7TBACharlotte BrändströmTBAOctober 7, 2022 (2022-10-07)
8TBAWayne Che YipTBAOctober 14, 2022 (2022-10-14)

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Background and announcement[edit]

In July 2017, a lawsuit was settled between Warner Bros., the studio behind the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies, and the estate of author J. R. R. Tolkien upon whose books those films were based. With the two sides "on better terms", they began offering the rights to a potential television series based on Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to several outlets, including Amazon, Netflix, and HBO,[19] with a starting price of US$200 million.[2] Amazon emerged as the frontrunner by September and entered negotiations.[20][21] Uncommonly for programming developments at the studio, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was personally involved with the negotiations.[21] A fan of the franchise,[2] Bezos had previously given Amazon Studios a mandate to develop an ambitious fantasy series of comparable scale to HBO's Game of Thrones which made Amazon the lead contender for the project.[19]

On November 13, 2017, Amazon acquired the global television rights for close to US$250 million. Industry commentators described this amount—before any production costs and without any creative talent attached to the project—as "insane",[19] although some considered the project to be more of a reputational risk for Amazon than a financial one due to Bezos's wealth.[2] Amazon's streaming service Prime Video gave a multi-season commitment to the series that was believed to be for five seasons, with the possibility of a spin-off series as well. Despite this, Prime Video had to give a formal greenlight to future seasons before work could begin on them.[22] The budget was expected to be in the range of US$100–150 million per season, and was likely to eventually exceed US$1 billion which would make it the most expensive television series ever made.[19][20] Warner Bros. Television was not involved in the project because Amazon Studios wanted to produce it themselves. Amazon was working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema (the Warner Bros. division who produced the films).[19] New Line was reportedly included to allow the series to use material from the films.[20] The Tolkien Estate imposed some creative restrictions on the series,[19][23] and the deal stipulated that production begin within two years.[20]

Creative team[edit]

In April 2018, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film director Peter Jackson had begun discussing his potential involvement with Amazon,[20] but by June he was not expected to be involved in the series.[24] Later that month, Head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke said discussions regarding Jackson's involvement were ongoing, and added that the deal for the series had only been officially completed a month earlier. The studio had been meeting with potential writers about the project and intended to have a game plan for the series and a writing team set "very soon", with the hope that the series could debut in 2021.[25] The studio asked for story pitches based on anything in Tolkien's The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and its appendices. These included prequel stories focused on characters such as Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf.[26][27] J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay pitched a series that explored the major events of Middle-earth's Second Age, thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings, include the forging of the Rings of Power, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the fall of the island kingdom of Númenor, and the last alliance between Elves and Men.[3] These events were covered in a five-minute prologue in the Lord of the Rings films,[28] but the pair wanted to expand this into "50 hours of television".[2] Payne said it felt like "an amazing, untold story" that was "worthy of Tolkien",[26] and McKay added, "We didn't want to do a side thing. A spinoff or the origin story of something else. We wanted to find a huge Tolkienian mega epic, and Amazon" agreed.[29] Payne and McKay were hired to develop the series in July 2018.[30] They were an unlikely choice, having only done unproduced or uncredited writing before the series, but their vision aligned with Amazon's and they were championed to the studio by director J. J. Abrams who worked with them on an unproduced Star Trek film.[2]

In December, Jackson said he and his producing partners would read some scripts for the series and offer notes on them,[31] but otherwise he would enjoy watching a Tolkien adaptation that he did not make.[32] Bryan Cogman joined the series as a consultant in May 2019 after signing an overall deal with Amazon. Cogman previously served as a writer on Game of Thrones, and was set to work alongside Payne and McKay in developing the new series.[33] In July, J. A. Bayona was hired to direct the first two episodes of the series and serve as executive producer alongside his producing partner Belén Atienza.[34] Later that month, Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss were in discussions with several outlets regarding signing an overall deal, including with Amazon who were interested in having the pair consult on The Lord of the Rings;[35] they ultimately signed a deal with Netflix instead.[36] At the end of July, Amazon announced that Payne and McKay would serve as showrunners and executive producers for the series, and revealed the full creative team that was working on the project: executive producers Bayona, Atienza, Bruce Richmond, Gene Kelly, Lindsey Weber, and Sharon Tal Yguado; co-producer Ron Ames; costume designer Kate Hawley; production designer Rick Heinrichs; visual effects supervisor Jason Smith; and illustrator/concept artist John Howe, who was one of the chief conceptual designers on the films.[37][38] Special effects company Wētā Workshop and visual effects vendor Wētā FX were also expected to be involved in the series as they were for the films.[39] Additionally, Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey was revealed to be working on the series,[38] but he was no longer involved by April 2020;[40] other Tolkien scholars and "lore experts" remained involved.[41]

Following development of the first season, Cogman left the series to focus on developing new projects. Kelly also left the series,[42] while Yguado left when she exited her role as Amazon Studios' head of genre programming.[2] Callum Greene joined as a new executive producer by December 2020,[42] after previously serving as producer on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013).[43] Heinrichs was eventually replaced as production designer by Ramsey Avery.[44] In March 2021, Wayne Che Yip was announced as director for four episodes of the series, and was set as a co-executive producer.[16] Charlotte Brändström was revealed as director for another two episodes in May.[45] That August, Jackson said he had not been contacted again about seeing scripts for the series. Amazon explained that the deal to acquire the television rights for The Lord of the Rings required them to keep the series distinct from Jackson's films, and the Tolkien Estate were reportedly against Jackson's involvement in the project. Despite this, the showrunners had privately discussed the series with Jackson and Yguado had championed his inclusion before her exit.[31] The second season was revealed that month to have an all-female directing team.[27]

Seasons[edit]

Prime Video gave the series a multi-season commitment, believed to be for five seasons, as part of the initial deal with the Tolkien Estate,[20][19] though the streaming service still had to give a formal greenlight to future seasons before work could begin on them.[22] In July 2019, Shippey stated that he believed the first season of the series was supposed to consist of 20 episodes.[23] In November, Amazon officially ordered a second season of the series, and scheduled a longer-than-usual four or five month production break after completion of filming on the first two episodes. This was to allow all the footage for the first episodes to be reviewed, and so the series's writers room could be reconvened to begin work on the second season before filming on the first season continued. This gave the series the option to film the first two seasons back-to-back, as the Lord of the Rings films had been.[22] Amazon announced that the first season would consist of eight episodes in January 2020,[46] and revealed the series's full title, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, in January 2022. Payne and McKay felt the title could "live on the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien's other classics".[1]

Writing[edit]

A writers room for the series had begun work in Santa Monica by mid-February 2019. Salke described extensive security measures that were being taken to keep details of this writing secret, including windows being taped closed and a security guard requiring fingerprint clearance from those entering the room.[47] In addition to Payne and McKay, writers on the series include Gennifer Hutchison, Helen Shang, Jason Cahill, Justin Doble, Bryan Cogman, and Stephany Folsom, with Glenise Mullins acting as a consulting writer.[37][38] The writers room was set to be disbanded once production on the series began, but would be reconvened during the four or five-month break in filming that was scheduled following production on the first two episodes. The writers were expected to map out the second season and write the majority of its scripts during this production break.[22]

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are set during the Third Age, while the First and Second Ages are explored in other Tolkien writings such as The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth. Because Amazon only bought the television rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the writers had to identify all of the references to the Second Age in those books and create a story that bridged those passages. These are primarily in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, but also in certain chapters and songs.[3] Tolkien's estate was prepared to veto any changes from his established narrative,[23] including anything that contradicted what Tolkien wrote in other works.[3] The writers were free to add characters or details,[23] and worked with the estate and Tolkien lore experts to ensure these were still "Tolkienian".[3] They referenced letters that Tolkien wrote about his works and mythology for additional context on the setting and characters.[3][48] Simon Tolkien, a novelist and the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, consulted on the series and helped develop its story and character arcs. He is credited as a "series consultant".[49] The showrunners disagreed with suggestions that the series was only "vaguely connected" to Tolkien's writings. McKay said they felt it was "deeply, deeply connected" and a "story we're stewarding that was here before us and was waiting in those books" to be told.[50] A disclaimer is featured in the series's end credits stating that some elements are "inspired by, though not contained in, the original source material".[51]

Payne and McKay knew the series was expected to run for five seasons and were able to plan elements of the final season, including the series's final shot, while working on the first.[52] Because they were mostly not able to adapt direct dialogue from Tolkien's Second Age stories, the writers attempted to repurpose Tolkien's dialogue that they did have access to while also taking inspiration from religious texts and poetry. They tailored the dialogue to different characters using dialects and poetic meters.[3] Leith McPherson returned from the Hobbit films as dialect coach and noted that Tolkien's fictional languages evolve over time, so they are different for the Second Age compared to the Third. The series's Elves mostly speak Quenya, a language described as "Elvish Latin" that is often just used for spellcasting in the Third Age. Dwarvish and Orcish are also heard, along with English, Scottish, and Irish dialects.[53][54] The biggest deviation made from Tolkien's works, which was approved by the estate and lore experts, was to condense the Second Age from thousands of years to a short period of time. This avoided human characters frequently dying due to their relatively short lifespans, and allowed major characters from later in the timeline to be introduced earlier in the series.[2] The showrunners considered using non-linear storytelling instead, but felt this would prevent the audience from emotionally investing in the series. They said many real-life historical dramas also condense events like this, and felt they were still respecting the "spirit and feeling" of Tolkien's writings.[55]

After the series was revealed to have hired Jennifer Ward-Lealand as an intimacy coordinator, Tolkien fans expressed concern that it would include Game of Thrones-style graphic sex and violence.[56] Payne and McKay said this would not be the case and the series would be family-friendly. They hoped to evoke the tone of Tolkien's books, which can be "intense, sometimes quite political, sometimes quite sophisticated—but it's also heartwarming and life-affirming and optimistic."[2] They also said they did not want to be influenced by modern politics, instead aspiring to tell a timeless story that matched Tolkien's own intention to create a mythology that would always be applicable.[55]

The first season features several locations not previously seen in the film adaptations, including the Elf-capital Lindon and the island kingdom of Númenor,[57] but it also revisits familiar locations from the films such as Khazad-dûm, which is in ruins during the Lord of the Rings films but is shown in its "full glory" during the series.[2] One of the groups that the series includes are the Harfoots, depicted as precursors to the popular Hobbit race from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.[2][58] Payne and McKay explained that they felt the series would not truly feel like Middle-earth to the audience without Hobbits. Tolkien's writings state that the Hobbits were not known during the Second Age, so they chose to explore the Harfoots instead, saying they were "satisfyingly Hobbit-adjacent". The Harfoots are depicted as having a secretive society and their story takes place in the "margins of the bigger quests" which was compared to the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.[2] McKay said the first season was about "reintroducing this world and the return of evil",[29] focusing on introducing the Second Age of Middle-earth and the heroic major characters rather than telling a "villain-centric" story.[3] Despite being mentioned in a synopsis for the series and being a major character in the Second Age,[1] the Dark Lord Sauron was reported to not be appearing in the first season at all.[41] McKay said the season was influenced by dialogue from the second chapter of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, "The Shadow of the Past", which he paraphrased as "After a defeat and a respite, a shadow grows again in a new form."[29] Bayona said the season would hint at the presence of Sauron, and the overall story was about "the repercussions of war and the shadow of the past". He was influenced by his own childhood growing up in Spain following the Francoist dictatorship.[2]

Casting[edit]

Salke stated in June 2018 that though the series would not be a remake of the films, it would bring back some characters from them.[59] By July 2019, casting for the series was taking place around the world, with casting directors working in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.[60] Casting for extras also began in New Zealand at that time.[61] Due to the secrecy surrounding the series, many actors did not know what roles they were going to play when they were cast.[2] Markella Kavenagh was in talks to portray a character referred to as "Tyra" at the end of July,[62] a series regular role.[60] Will Poulter was cast as one of the series's leads, reportedly called "Beldor", in September.[63][64] The role was described as being "one of the more coveted jobs" for young actors in Hollywood before Poulter's casting.[64] Maxim Baldry was informally attached to the series in a "significant role" in mid-October,[65][66] while Joseph Mawle was cast later that month. Mawle was reportedly playing the series's lead villain, referred to as "Oren".[67] In December, Ema Horvath was cast in another series regular role;[68] Poulter was forced to leave the series due to scheduling conflicts, with his role set to be recast;[69][70] and Morfydd Clark was cast as a young version of the character Galadriel, who was portrayed in the films by Cate Blanchett.[71]

Robert Aramayo was cast in the lead role for the series, replacing Poulter, in early January 2020.[72] He was later revealed to be playing a young version of the character Elrond, who was portrayed by Hugo Weaving in the films.[73] A week after Aramayo's casting, Amazon officially announced his involvement along with the casting of Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Horvath, Kavenagh, Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman. Amazon's co-head of television Vernon Sanders noted that there were still some key roles that had yet to be filled.[74] One of these key roles was confirmed to go to Baldry in March, when his deal for the series was completed.[66] Baldry replaces Harry Sinclair as Isildur, who appeared in flashbacks during the films.[73] In December 2020, Amazon announced 20 new cast members for the series: Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Baldry, newcomer Ian Blackburn, Kip Chapman, Anthony Crum, Maxine Cunliffe, Trystan Gravelle, 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.[75] Owen and Walker portray Elendil and Gil-galad, who were briefly played by Peter McKenzie and Mark Ferguson in the films.[13][3][73]

In March 2021, Budge announced that he had departed the series after filming several episodes. He explained that Amazon had reviewed the first episodes and decided to recast his character,[76] who was reported to be Celebrimbor.[41] Charles Edwards was cast to replace him as Celebrimbor in July,[2][77] when Will Fletcher, Amelie Child-Villiers, and Beau Cassidy were also added to the season's cast.[77] Seven of the series's main actors are New Zealanders, and overall a third of the first season's 124 speaking roles went to New Zealand actors.[39] The rest of the cast came from Australia, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[75]

While promoting the first season at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2022, the showrunners said they would give a role in the second season to television host and avid Tolkien fan Stephen Colbert, who was moderating the series's panel at the convention.[78] A month later, they said the character Círdan would be introduced in the second season.[79] The character briefly appeared in the Lord of the Rings films portrayed by Michael Elsworth.[80]

Design[edit]

It was Jackson's understanding in December 2018 that the series would be set in the same continuity as the films and Amazon wanted to be consistent with the designs that were created for them,[32] which illustrator and concept artist John Howe reiterated in August 2019, saying the showrunners were determined to remain faithful to the designs of the film trilogies.[81] Payne and McKay later clarified that the series is not a direct continuation of the films,[3] per Amazon's deal for the series,[31] but they did not want it to "clash" with the films and tried to have similar designs. They took advantage of Howe's experience working on Jackson's adaptations, as well as that of costume designer Kate Hawley who worked on the Hobbit films. Other influences included the 1977 animated television adaptation of The Hobbit by Rankin/Bass.[3]

Howe had filled 40 sketchbooks with drawings for the project by May 2022, and said the biggest difference between the films and series was the latter visited new locations, such as the oceans of Middle-earth.[82] Avery's biggest challenge was making Middle-earth feel both familiar and new. He chose to build as many practical sets as possible, wanting the series to "feel real and honest... to make sure that the actors had a world that felt inhabitable". Payne said being on set "was like going to Middle-earth every day for work". Avery used different styles for each location, such as Lindon's "tree-like columns" which were inspired by Gothic architecture. He added "arboreal details" to reflect the Elves' love of nature. Khazad-dûm was designed to be "less severe" than the film version, using a "sensitivity toward the stone" rather than "harsh lines and gargantuan statues" to show the kingdom before the Dwarves "got greedy". Avery compared the large wheels on the Harfoot wagons to the round Hobbit doors seen in the films.[44]

Payne, McKay, and Avery put a lot of focus on Númenor, which Payne explained was because "it's never been seen before. People have some ideas of what Elves look like or what Dwarves look like and what those kingdoms might look like. But Númenor was, in some ways, a blank canvas." They planned out the entire city,[13] and made sure that this reflected Tolkien's description of it originally having Elvish influences but becoming more "Mannish" as it was developed. Tolkien also compared the city to Venice, so Avery took inspiration from that city and its connection to water.[83] He used the color blue in a lot of the city's locations to emphasize the culture's relationship with water and sailing.[44] Númenor's "looming marble structures" and "bold shapes, rich colors, and geometrical ornament[s]" were inspired by Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, and the rest of North Africa and the Middle East.[44][83] The distinct shape of the sails on Númenórean ships were based on the ceremonial headwear worn by Gondorian kings, the descendants of Númenóreans, in the Third Age. Avery worked with experts to ensure the ships were still functional with the unique sails.[83] The main Númenor set was almost 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) and was described as "an entire seaside city" with buildings, alleyways, shrines, graffiti, and a ship docked at the harbor inside a large water tank.[13][84] There were additional sets for specific locations within the city. The sets were built with a lot of real materials that were cheaper to source in New Zealand than the "movie fakery typically used to save time and money on sets in Los Angeles". Avery's team also created a form of Roman concrete using seashells that they used in the alleyways to show some of the history of the city. To further help immerse the actors, Avery used real plants, fruits, and incense on set so the "smells were right".[84] Yip described the Númenor sets as "breathtaking... we were there for weeks, but every day I'd notice a new detail".[13]

Jamie Wilson was the head of prosthetics for the series after previously working on the film trilogies. He noted that there had been advancements in the technology available since the films were produced, including encapsulated silicone that looks much more like real skin than previous techniques. The prosthetics team also worked closely with the series's visual effects department for digital "tweaks" to the prosthetics. The showrunners were particularly interested in the series's depiction of Orcs and ensuring that practical effects were used where possible. Wilson explained that the Orcs in the series were intended to be "younger"-looking than those in the films, since these groups are just emerging from hiding. Because of this, the series's Orcs feature less battle-scars than those in the films and are also lighter-skinned with some skin conditions caused by new exposure to the sun.[85]

Filming[edit]

New Zealand[edit]

Salke said in June 2018 that the series could be produced in New Zealand, where the films were made, but Amazon was also willing to shoot in other countries as long as they could "provide those locations in a really authentic way, because we want it to look incredible".[59] Pre-production on the series reportedly began around that time in Auckland,[86] while location scouting also took place in Scotland, including around the Isle of Skye, Portpatrick, Scourie, Perthshire, and Loch Lomond.[87] Amazon and Creative Scotland held talks about the series being based at new studios that were under construction in Leith, Edinburgh.[88] In December, Amazon held a "crisis meeting" with David Parker, then New Zealand's Minister of Economic Development, after the studio threatened to take the production out of the country due to the lack of available studio space in Auckland.[89] New Zealand's Major Screen Production Grant, which provides tax rebates for productions, was offered to Amazon, but Parker did not propose any special deal because he wanted the series to be made "on terms that are good for New Zealand".[90]

Amazon chose to film the first season in New Zealand, where the Lord of the Rings films were made, including on location at the Coromandel Peninsula, Fiordland, Piha, and Rangitikei.

Amazon decided to film in New Zealand, and were reportedly influenced by the New Zealand government's reassurances that the country was safe following the Christchurch mosque shootings in March 2019, as well as concern regarding the potential effects of Brexit in Scotland. Production was set to primarily take place in Auckland, but additional filming was expected to take place in Queenstown and other locations around New Zealand.[91] Auckland was chosen as the primary filming location in New Zealand because the Wellington studios that the films were produced in were being used by the Avatar films at the time. Leases for the series at Kumeu Film Studios and Auckland Film Studios took effect in July,[86] and Amazon officially confirmed that the series would be filmed in New Zealand in September 2019 after completing negotiations with the New Zealand Government, the New Zealand Film Commission, and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED). The studio said filming would begin in the "coming months", with some specific locations still being discussed with ATEED. Payne and McKay said the creative team chose New Zealand because they needed "somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains" that could also meet the production requirements of the series.[92][93]

Through New Zealand's Major Screen Production Grant, all film and television productions receive a 20 per cent tax rebate, with those that offer "significant economic benefits" able to negotiate for an additional 5 per cent rebate.[94] To gain access to the latter, Amazon signed two Memoranda of Understanding in December 2020 with the New Zealand Film Commission, Tourism New Zealand, and the country's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).[95] One memorandum outlined Amazon's overall obligations in exchange for the extra refund, and the other was specific to the first season. Further memoranda needed to be signed for future seasons. The agreements allowed Tourism New Zealand to promote the country using material from the series, while Amazon would work with the Film Commission to help grow the country's screen sector and with MBIE to run an "innovation program" to benefit New Zealand companies and research groups.[95][94] Details of the memoranda were revealed in April 2021,[94] when New Zealand's Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, Stuart Nash, revealed that Amazon was spending NZ$650 million (US$465 million) on the first season, making it eligible for NZ$160 million (US$114 million) in tax rebates. James Hibberd at The Hollywood Reporter noted that the US$465 million amount "almost certainly" included additional costs to the season's production budget, including the startup costs of building sets, costumes, and props that would be used in future seasons as well.[96] Salke soon confirmed this, describing the cost as a "crazy headline that's fun to click on, but that is really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series".[97] In August, Amazon announced that it was moving production of future seasons to the United Kingdom and would not preserve the terms of the memoranda that they had signed. Nash confirmed that the series was no longer eligible for the additional rebate (around NZ$33 million or US$23 million).[98][99]

Season 1[edit]

J. A. Bayona directed the first two episodes.

Table reads with the cast began in New Zealand by mid-January 2020, ahead of the start of filming in early February,[74][100] under the working title Untitled Amazon Project or simply UAP.[101] The production was based in Auckland, primarily at Kumeu Film Studios and Auckland Film Studios,[86] as well as Kelly Park Film Studios.[102] J. A. Bayona directed the first two episodes,[34] and acknowledged the "massive expectations" for the series, especially following the "high bar" set by Jackson's films.[2] Óscar Faura was the cinematographer for the two episodes after serving the same role on all of Bayona's previous films.[103] As part of the production's approach to secrecy, actors were often stopped from entering sets that they did not have scenes in.[12] Different techniques were used to make the Dwarf and Harfoot actors appear smaller than the rest of the cast, including oversized props and prosthetics, and actors looking over the heads of their scene partners.[28]

Location filming took place around Auckland in February.[104] Filming for the first two episodes was expected to continue through May,[105] followed by a longer-than-usual four or five month production break to allow all the footage for the episodes to be reviewed and so the writers could begin work on the second season.[22] Production was set to resume in mid-October and continue until late June 2021.[105] However, filming was placed on hold indefinitely in mid-March 2020,[101] after 25 days of filming,[27] due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 800 cast and crew members were told to stay home.[101] Filming was allowed to resume in early May under new safety guidelines from the New Zealand government, when the majority of filming for the first two episodes was confirmed to have been completed. Instead of finishing the episodes then, the filming shutdown segued into the intended production break and the two episodes were set to be completed once filming on further episodes was ready to begin.[106] The crew took advantage of the extended break in filming to refine the designs and scripts for the season, including adjusting the ending of the season to better align with the second-season storylines that the writers were working on.[107] The series was one of seven film and television productions that were granted exemptions to allow cast and crew members to enter New Zealand while its borders were closed to non-New Zealanders due to COVID-19. The exemptions were granted before June 18 by Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford, and applied to 93 members of the production as well as 20 family members. Around 10 percent of the series's crew were believed to be non-New Zealanders, and many of them had remained in the country during its pandemic lockdown and did not require exemptions.[108] Pre-production for further episodes began by July 2020,[108] and filming resumed on September 28.[109]

Bayona completed filming for his episodes by December 23.[110] Production on further episodes was set to begin in January 2021 following a two-week Christmas break.[110][111] Yip confirmed that he had begun filming his episodes by March,[16] and Brändström was in New Zealand for production on the series in May.[45] Aaron Morton and Alex Disenhof were the cinematographers for their episodes.[112][113] Walker said in June that he was unsure how much longer the cast was required to stay in New Zealand, saying the production's timeline was "a bit nebulous" and Amazon would "let us go when they're done with us";[114] many of the series's international cast members were unable to leave New Zealand during filming due to the country's restrictive pandemic-era border policies putting limits on who could leave and return as well as requiring a two-week quarantine for anyone entering the country. This meant many actors were trapped in the country for nearly two years,[98][115] and Boniadi said the cast "became a fellowship [who] were forced to lean on each other. We didn't have anybody else. We were on an island, away from our support systems, mid-pandemic." Addai-Robinson added, "We had to be there for each other in a way that is different from other on-location jobs. It really was about that protective bubble, and trying to focus on the task at hand." Other cast members helped Nomvete and her husband look after their newborn baby during filming.[12] The closed border also meant that Amazon executives could not visit and monitor the expensive production.[98]

In July 2021, several stunt performers alleged that a senior stunt supervisor for the production had created an "uneasy environment" that contributed to an unsafe workplace. At least three stunt performers were seriously injured on the set, including stuntwoman Dayna Grant who suffered a head injury in March and was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and upper spinal injury; fans crowdfunded NZ$100,000 to help Grant pay for surgery.[116] Stuntwoman Elissa Cadwell was injured when she struck her head falling into a water tank while rehearsing a stunt in February 2020. Amazon notified New Zealand's workplace health and safety regulator WorkSafe a week later, when Caldwell was recovering from her injuries after being treated in hospital.[117] Amazon paid Caldwell NZ$500,000, in part to help her return home to Australia. Responding to the allegations, the production's head of safety Willy Heatley said the injury rate was 0.065 percent across the 16,200 days of stunt work since filming began, and this was mostly due to "common stunt-related sprains, bruises and muscle and soft tissue strains".[116]

Filming wrapped on August 2, 2021.[118] 38 filming locations were chosen for the season. 15 were in Auckland,[102] and the others included the Hauraki Gulf, the Coromandel Peninsula, the Denize Bluffs in the King Country, Mount Kidd in Fiordland, Piha, Rangitikei,[39] Kahurangi National Park, Central Otago, and Queenstown.[102] Unlike the films, the series used New Zealand's coastlines,[3] including an unnamed beach in the South Island that was only accessible by boat or helicopter. This was used for the entrance to Númenor's harbor because it had surrounding rock formations that matched with concept art of "King Stones" at the entrance to the harbor.[84] The showrunners intended to film in the Waitomo Caves for scenes set in the city of Khazad-dûm, but this proved to be impractical.[3] More than 1,000 New Zealanders were contracted for the season and around 700 more were indirectly engaged by it.[39]

United Kingdom[edit]

At the end of filming for the season, the crew were unsure when filming for the second season would begin though there was expected to be a hiatus of at least one year to allow post-production on the first season and writing for the second season to be completed. Amazon retained its lease on Auckland Film Studios and Kumeu Film Studios, and reportedly Studio West also, for the duration of the hiatus, which allowed the series's sets to remain at the studios and prevented other productions from using the space.[39]

The week after filming ended, Amazon announced that it was moving production of the series to the United Kingdom starting with the second season. At that time, Amazon was in the process of booking studio space in the UK,[98] with Scotland reported to be the frontrunner for new shooting locations.[119] The company planned to ship all of the sets that were built for the first season to the UK, and hire a new UK-based crew since the majority of the first season's crew was New Zealand-based.[98] Factors that played a role in the change included Amazon already heavily investing in UK studio space for several other productions; a belief that the UK would be a "more economical choice" following the high cost of making the first season in New Zealand;[115] the opportunity to film in other European countries near the UK as was done for the series Game of Thrones;[98] the Tolkien Estate wanting the series to be filmed in the UK since Tolkien was inspired by locations there for his books;[119] and the fact that New Zealand's restrictive pandemic-era border policies had prevented Amazon executives from visiting and monitoring the production, while many international cast members (more than half of whom are British) were unable to leave the country for nearly two years during filming of the first season.[98] Amazon had offered in August 2020 to pay for the use of hotels and rental properties as private quarantine facilities to give the production more flexibility with travel, but this idea was rejected by the New Zealand government due to the need for additional services related to quarantining.[120] In the UK, 80 per cent of expenditure is eligible for a 25 per cent tax rebate through the government's "high-end television" tax relief program.[121][122]

The cast and crew expressed regret that they were not returning to New Zealand for the second season. Executive producer Lindsey Weber called it a "hard departure" and said they would not have been able to make the first season without the New Zealand crew, many having worked on the films as well.[102] However, McKay felt that because Tolkien was inspired by the UK for his writings they would be "bring[ing] the property home" with the second season which would be an "opportunity... pregnant with possibilities". He also suggested that future seasons would be visiting new lands within Tolkien's world that would justify having new filming locations.[123]

Season 2[edit]

Pre-production for the second season was expected to begin in the UK in the second quarter of 2022,[124] taking place concurrently with post-production for the first season which was continuing in New Zealand until June 2022.[98] Bray Film Studios and Bovingdon Airfield, both outside of London, were set to be the initial production locations for the season.[124] The showrunners were scouting for additional filming locations in June 2022,[12] and the cast was preparing to travel to the UK in August ahead of an October filming start.[27] Production for the second season began in the UK on 3 October 2022.[125]

Visual effects[edit]

In addition to Wētā FX, visual effects for the first season were created by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Rodeo FX, Method Studios, DNEG, Rising Sun Pictures, Cause and FX, Cantina Creative, Atomic Arts, and Outpost VFX. 1,500 visual effects artists worked on the season,[126] which has more than 9,500 visual effects shots.[127] Visual effects producer Ron Ames said the effects were completed to a theatrical resolution so they could be shown on screens ranging from televisions to IMAX.[126] Effects work for the season included shots featuring Dwarf and Harfoot actors appearing small beside the other cast, set extensions, and big effects sequences.[126]

Music[edit]

Howard Shore, the composer for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, was reported to be in discussions with Amazon about working on the series in September 2020. He was said to be interested in developing musical themes but not necessarily composing the entire score.[128] Shore was confirmed to be in talks for the series a year later,[129] when composer Bear McCreary was reported to be involved as well.[128] Their hiring was officially announced in July 2022, with McCreary composing the score and Shore writing the main title theme.[130] McCreary said the main theme was created independently of the score, but he felt the two "fit together so beautifully".[131]

McCreary began working on the series in July 2021, and said it was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to work on such an ambitious score with the creative freedom that he wanted. He spent two months writing new musical themes based on the scripts, which he compared to writing a symphony, and then used those to compose nine hours of music for the first season over eight months. He wanted to honor Shore's musical legacy and hoped to create a "continuity of concept" between the series and films, with the 15 new themes he wrote for the season being added to the "pantheon of memorable melodies" that Shore had written. He did note that his music would reflect the series's depiction of "these societies at their peak" compared to Shore's music for the Third Age which had "a wistfulness and a melancholy".[132] McCreary used different approaches for the different groups in the series: the music for the Elves features "etheral voices" and choir, the Dwarven music has "deep male vocals", the Harfoots have music based in natural sounds, and the harmonic language for Númenor has Middle Eastern influences.[133]

The score for each episode took four days to record, using up to 90-piece orchestras at Abbey Road Studios and AIR Studios in London as well as a 40-person choir at Synchron Stage in Vienna. For the choral music, McCreary pulled text from Tolkien's writings and worked with the series's language experts to write new lyrics in Tolkien's fictional languages, including the Elvish languages Sindarin and Quenya, the Dwarvish language Khuzdûl, Black Speech, and the Númenórean language Adûnaic. Soloists were recorded in Los Angeles and across Europe playing folk instruments such as the hardanger fiddle, nyckelharpa, bagpipes, and bodhrán drums. McCreary was still writing music for the first season in Los Angeles while recording for most of the episodes took place, but he was able to conduct the orchestra for the final episode at AIR Studios in April 2022.[132]

Two singles from McCreary's score, "Galadriel" and "Sauron", were released on Amazon Music on July 21, 2022.[130] They were followed by a full soundtrack album featuring Shore's main theme and selections from McCreary's score. The album was released on all major streaming services on August 19 and will be physically released by Mondo on CD (October 14) and vinyl (January 13, 2023). The Amazon Music version of the album includes two exclusive tracks.[134] Additional soundtrack albums featuring the full score for each episode will be released after the episode premieres.[135]

Marketing[edit]

Early promotions for the series on social media used several maps of Middle-earth's Second Age, as well as excerpts from the novel The Lord of the Rings.[23][136] The maps were designed and created by illustrator John Howe and overseen by Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey to ensure they were accurate to Tolkien's works.[136] Howe and Shippey spent a lot of time working on the maps, which were based on Tolkien's maps of Númenor during the Second Age as well as his maps of the Third Age. Despite their efforts, HarperCollins received complaints from fans shortly after the maps were released online regarding two mistakes that were made on them.[81]

Amazon considered the reveal of the series's full title in January 2022 to be crucial due to it beginning the series's marketing campaign at the start of its premiere year. Instead of just using visual effects to create the title reveal, the studio released an announcement video in which the letters of the title are physically cast from molten metal while an excerpt of the "Ring Verse" from The Lord of the Rings is read in voiceover. The video was directed by Klaus Obermeyer, who worked with special effects supervisor Lee Nelson under advisement by veteran special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull.[137] They filmed the video with foundryman Landon Ryan in late 2021 in Los Angeles, after experimenting with different combinations of metals, as well as sparkler dust, argon pours, and liquid hydrogen, to create the desired look. The final metal was a mixture of bronze and aluminum which was poured into moulds of compressed sand that could be used multiple times. The pouring was filmed at 5,000 frames per second with a Phantom Flex4K camera so it could be shown in ultra-slow motion.[138] For the final title card, the forged letters were inscribed with Elvish writing and placed on a large piece of redwood. Staff from the Tolkien fan website TheOneRing.net and entertainment journalists were invited by Amazon to watch the filming of the video.[137][138] Prologue Films provided previsualization for the sequence as well as compositing and additional visual effects. They recreated the final title card digitally, taking care to maintain the "integrity of the live action shots and lighting".[139]

Twenty-three "character posters" for the series were released on February 3, though unusually they do not feature actor or character names and focus on the hands and torsos of the characters rather than their faces. Amazon said this was to "fuel fan speculation and discussion",[140][141] and it did lead to speculation and analysis about who each character could be.[141][142] A first look at some of the series's main characters was then revealed on February 10 along with story details,[2] before the first teaser trailer was released on February 13, during Super Bowl LVI. TheOneRing.net hosted an official "watch party" for the trailer on YouTube,[143] while some "high-profile" fans were flown to Bellver Castle in the Balearic Islands, Spain, to help promote the teaser globally.[144] Commentators noted that the teaser did not reveal many new details about the series,[145][146][147][148] but Graeme Guttmann of Screen Rant felt it did not hold back on "epic" spectacle.[145] The Hollywood Reporter's James Hibberd also described the teaser as epic, and felt it showed off the series's large budget,[146] while Susana Polo at Polygon said it "wastes no time reintroducing viewers to the lush fantasy setting many know" from Jackson's film adaptations.[147] Writing for IGN, Amelia Emberwing said the most successful aspect of the teaser was that "it feels like The Lord of the Rings" and appeared to balance the "serenity and dangers of Middle-earth" like the films did.[148] In contrast, Jack Butler of National Review had felt the first look images were "Tolkienesque" but was less sure about the teaser, which led him to think that the series would be more reliant on visual effects than the "grounded approach" of Jackson's films.[149] Kevin E G Perry of The Independent was even more critical of the visual effects, saying the trailer looked "cheap" and like a "cut scene from an old Final Fantasy computer game".[150] RelishMix reported that the teaser trailer had 80.34 million views in 24 hours across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, which was the third highest among those airing during the Super Bowl according to their metrics.[151] Amazon reported 257 million views within 24 hours, which they said was a record for any film or television trailer released during the Super Bowl.[144]

The early marketing material led to a "cacophony" of online fan discourse, including concerns about accuracy to the source material and the series's compression of Tolkien's Second Age timeline. Discussing these responses for The Escapist, Darren Mooney said "extreme reactions" from online media fans were now expected due to cultural forces, "an entire online economy running on manufactured outrage", and the "near-religious reverence" that modern fans have for media. He said the online reaction was likely not representative of general opinions on the series and noted that Jackson's films, which were "beloved by mainstream audiences", faced similar complaints from Tolkien fans.[152] In response to the fan concerns, Amazon invited several Tolkien critics, fan websites, and influencers to a screening in May 2022. They were flown to Merton College, Oxford, where Tolkien worked as a professor, and shown 20 minutes of completed footage from the series.[48][153] They also talked to the showrunners and Howe.[82] Justin Sewell of TheOneRing.net said they were unable to discuss details, but the footage "looks like it should, sounds like it should, and feels like a return to the comfortable universe we all love", addressing the concerns of most of the fans in attendance.[153] Kaitlyn Facista, writing for the Tea with Tolkien blog, said the footage immersed her in Middle-earth in a way that the teaser trailer did not,[48] and she was impressed by the showrunners' knowledge of the source material. Others reported that the screening and discussion with the showrunners made them "cautiously optimistic" about the series. Corey Olsen, an academic and podcaster known as the "Tolkien Professor", felt after meeting the showrunners that the series was in "very good hands".[154]

Television host and avid Tolkien fan Stephen Colbert moderated the series's panel at San Diego Comic-Con.

An "exclusive sneak peek" of the series was made available to Amazon Prime members for 48 hours on July 6, before being widely released online, ahead of "Amazon Prime Day" on July 12 to 13.[155][156] This was followed by a second teaser trailer on July 14 which Hibberd described as "a more extensive look at the show's rendition of Middle-earth".[157] Cydney Contreras at E! Online said the teaser and locations were awe-inspiring and breathtaking,[158] Jim Vorel of Paste said it was "visually splendid" and reflected the large budget,[159] and Gizmodo's Germain Lussier said it felt like fans of Middle-earth were "going home".[160] Adam B. Vary and Wilson Chapman at Variety acknowledged the locations and visuals, but felt the teaser did not explain the story for audience members who were unaware of Tolkien's writings.[161] Writing for Forbes, Scott Mendelson said the teaser was likely not connected enough to the Lord of the Rings films in terms of cast and story to entice general audiences, putting it on par with other fantasy properties inspired by the films that were not successful.[162] Blake Hawkins at Comic Book Resources felt the teaser's inclusion of more Tolkien mythology and lore would help assuage the concerns of Tolkien fans,[163] but TechRadar's Matt Evans said it was unlikely to win over those fans. He explained that many fans had come to accept the changes Jackson made to adapt The Lord of the Rings, but the same could not be said for his Hobbit films. Evans felt The Rings of Power would likely be treated similarly to the Hobbit films due to it being a "blockbuster ploy to keep our money" which was "the absolute antithesis of Tolkien's work". He added, "being a good fantasy show on its own merit is simply not going to be enough. It has to be truly great to justify its own existence".[164]

The series was promoted at the San Diego Comic-Con in late July with a meet-and-greet between 21 cast members and a group of Tolkien fans; a private dinner with the cast, crew, Amazon executives, and media; branding on San Diego trains and at the convention's entrances;[165][166][167] and a two-hour panel moderated by Stephen Colbert, who was flown in for the day as a surprise for those in attendance. The panel began with McCreary conducting a 25-piece orchestra and 16-person choir, performing a suite of his original score. A full trailer and five clips were shown, and Colbert interviewed the cast and crew.[165][78] Marketing executive Sue Kroll said the convention was "our first real opportunity to show fans our dedication" to the source material.[168] Several outlets included the series on lists of "winners" at the convention,[168][169][170][171] such as TheWrap whose staff said Amazon "took the exact right approach" to its Comic-Con presence.[169] For IGN's list, Adam Bankhurst said the panel "changed the conversation" and created positive "buzz" for the series in a way that the teaser trailers did not.[170] The trailer from the panel was also released online,[172] and Vary noted that it explained the series's premise, unlike the teasers. He and several other commentators highlighted the appearance of a Balrog.[166][173][174][175] James Whitbrook at Gizmodo said there was a lot going on in the trailer and it was "looking quite fantastic",[173] while Jack Shepherd of GamesRadar+ called it the best look yet at the series.[174]

A final trailer for the first season was released in late August, during the week before the series premiere. Multiple commentators pointed out that the trailer came following the premiere of rival fantasy series and Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon, and some suggested that this was a way to remind audiences that The Rings of Power would be premiering soon as well.[176] Also that week, Prime Video announced a promotion with Samsung that would see 8K footage from the series displayed on large LED screens at the "Samsung 837" experience center and Time's Square in New York City, Piccadilly Circus in London, and Piazza del Duomo in Milan.[177] A new book chronicling the events of Middle-earth's Second Age, titled The Fall of Númenor, was compiled and edited by Tolkien scholar Brian Sibley from Tolkien's writings about the Second Age. The book will be published in November 2022, following the release of the first season of The Rings of Power, to capitalize on new interest in Tolkien's works arising from the series's release.[178]

Release[edit]

The first two episodes were screened at premiere events in August 2022, in Los Angeles,[179] Mexico City,[180] Mumbai,[181] New York City,[182] and London.[183] They were also shown in free fan screenings on August 31 in around 200 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, Argentina, Colombia, Australia, and New Zealand.[184] The episodes premiered on Prime Video in the U.S. on September 1. The other six episodes of the first season are being released weekly from September 9 to October 14. Episodes are released on Prime Video around the world at the same time as the U.S. release,[185] in more than 240 countries and territories.[186]

Reception[edit]

Viewership[edit]

Before The Rings of Power premiered, it was widely compared to fellow fantasy series House of the Dragon by commentators asking which would "win".[187] According to Whip Media, who track viewership data for the 21 million worldwide users of their TV Time app, House of the Dragon had 20 percent more followers than The Rings of Power at the start of August 2022.[188] Writing for Quartz later that month, Adario Strange compared Google Trends data for both series and found that there was low audience interest in both until July 2022, at which point House of the Dragon jumped up to "100 out of a possible 100 in terms of interest" while interest in The Rings of Power remained low.[189] The executive producers of The Rings of Power stated that they did not feel any competition with House of the Dragon, and Lindsey Weber said this had been "manufactured by the media for headlines".[190]

Amazon announced that The Rings of Power had been watched by 25 million viewers globally in the first 24 hours that the first two episodes were available on Prime Video.[191] The company stated that this was the biggest premiere ever for the service.[192][193] It was the first time that Amazon had publicly stated viewership data for Prime Video and the company did not specify how much of an episode a user needed to watch to count as a viewer.[194][195] Jennifer Maas at Variety felt that a fair comparison between the series and House of the Dragon was not possible based on the company's self-reported data; the single-episode premiere of House of the Dragon reportedly had 10 million U.S. viewers across HBO and HBO Max.[196]

Analytics company Samba TV, which gathers viewership data from certain Smart TVs and content providers, reported that 1.8 million U.S. households watched the series' first episode within four days of its release. This dropped to 1.3 million for the second episode, indicating that roughly a quarter of the audience chose not to continue watching after the first. These numbers are considerably lower than the 4.8 million U.S. households that Samba reported as watching House of the Dragon in its first four days, and was also behind the premiere numbers for Netflix's Stranger Things season four (2.9 million) and Disney+'s Obi-Wan Kenobi (2.1 million) earlier in 2022.[197][198]

Whip Media calculated that for the week ending September 4, three days after The Rings of Power's debut, it was the second-highest original streaming series for U.S. viewership behind Disney+'s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (excluding House of the Dragon due to its concurrent release on the television network HBO).[199] It also stated that The Rings of Power had the fifth-highest debut, in terms of three-day viewership following the premiere, in TV Time's history and retained 87 percent of the viewership during the second episode (compared to House of the Dragon retaining 74 percent of viewership for its second episode).[200]

The Rings of Power was streamed for 1.253 billion minutes in the US for the week of August 29–September 4 according to Nielsen, acquiring the first rank among both the original and overall titles category. This marked the first time an Amazon series had debuted atop the Nielsen charts.[201] Data by analytics company MUSO revealed that it was the second-most pirated TV show worldwide for the week of September 6–12, accounting for 25.3 percent of all unlicensed downloads and streaming.[202]

Critical response[edit]

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Critical reception by episode

Percentage of positive critics' reviews tracked by the website Rotten Tomatoes[203]

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power holds an 84% approval rating based on 383 reviews by critics.[203] On Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the series premiere has received a score of 71 out of 100 based on 40 critic reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[204]

The first two episodes received generally positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for its cinematography, visuals and musical score and some criticism for its pacing and characterization.[205][206][207] Kevin Perry from The Independent praised the series saying that it "rummages around in JRR Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' appendices and comes up with gold".[208] Darren Franich from Entertainment Weekly expressed a negative opinion, calling it "a special catastrophe of ruined potential, sacrificing a glorious universe's limitless possibilities at the altar of tried-and-true blockbuster desperation" while criticizing the characterization of Galadriel.[209]

While praising the overall production, Ed Power from The Irish Times and The Daily Telegraph was critical of the Harfoots' affected Irish accents and saw the characters as a depiction of offensive stereotypes of Irish people.[210][211][212] Other Irish critics and publications agreed,[213][214] though some were less critical of this element.[215][216]

Audience response[edit]

A day after the series premiered, Amazon began holding reviews of it on Prime Video for 72 hours to ensure each review was "legitimate" and not coming from internet trolls. James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter called this an unusual step, but Amazon stated that it was a policy the company had introduced for all its series earlier in the year. Hibberd said this was partially due to review bombing by users who were posting "numerous negative reviews for [the series] due to its perceived cultural or political issues rather than its actual quality". However, Hibberd also found that the majority of negative reviews focused on other reasons such as the story, acting, and pacing. He felt the audience rating would increase if the series could "deliver consistent quality over time... [and] win people over" in a similar way to the concurrent Disney+ series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.[217] Average reviews on IMDb and Google were slightly higher than the Rotten Tomatoes audience score at that point, but were polarized with the majority of reviews being the highest or lowest possible score.[218] Analysis company Brandwatch found 60 percent of online discussions about the series in the few days following its premiere to be negative and focused on slow pacing, poor writing and acting, reliance on visual effects, and differences from Tolkien's writings. The other 40 percent praised the series for promising plotlines, intriguing characters, "breathtaking" cinematography, and respect for Tolkien. Discussing this data for TechRadar, Tom Power said many of the negative responses were from Tolkien fans that likely did not want the series to be made in the first place, or more casual fans who had been influenced by that group's views. He attributed the positive responses to "TV aficionados" and other fans.[219] Cindy White at The A. V. Club described some of the fan discourse as "a fight between loyal [Tolkien] fans who simply want to preserve the integrity of the thing they love and a multinational corporation looking to cash in on that devotion",[220] and Anthony Palomba, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia, also partially attributed the responses to "super diehard people" who did not necessarily reflect the views of general audiences.[221] Shaun Gunner, the chair of the Tolkien Society, agreed that responses to the series away from social media were more nuanced. He stated that among members of the society, some loved the series, others were unsure, but "very few people are just writing it off ... cautious optimism is probably where most people are at."[222]

Casting backlash[edit]

Star Lenny Henry revealed in October 2021 that he and other people of color had been cast as Harfoots, which was explained with Tolkien's description of the Harfoots as being "browner of skin".[223][58] Several non-white actors were also cast as Elves and Dwarves for the first time in the franchise. After this was revealed, Amazon received backlash from social media users complaining about these casting decisions,[2] including arguments that Tolkien only described Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits as white and these castings were therefore disrespectful to his writings.[224] The series's official social media accounts removed some of the comments which were deemed to be racist.[225] The producers said they expected to receive some responses like this, but wanted to ensure the series reflected "what the world actually looks like" and felt this approach to casting would be closer to the spirit of the books. Executive producer Lindsey Weber stated, "Tolkien is for everyone. His stories are about his fictional races doing their best work when they leave the isolation of their own cultures and come together."[2] Members of the cast praised this approach,[13] including Henry.[226] Cynthia Addai-Robinson reiterated Weber's comments, stating that Tolkien explores "people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and walks of life all coming together for a common cause. For me personally, as a viewer, I would have the expectation that [the series] would reflect the real world, as well as the world as I aspire it to be."[13]

The Escapist's Darren Mooney described these responses as "the reactionary backlash accompanying any modern project with female characters or characters of color".[152] Andrew Blair at Den of Geek discussed how this was an example of the increasing racist and sexist complaints made by certain online groups about different media projects over the prior decade (such as the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot and the Star Wars sequel trilogy), using some established techniques such as "spamming and overwhelming conversation". As part of the backlash on various online forums and comment sections, members of these groups often used the following quote which they incorrectly attributed to Tolkien: "Evil is not able to create anything new, it can only distort and destroy what has been invented or made by the forces of good." Blair felt this was "colossally lacking in self-awareness".[227] TheGamer's Ben Sledge compared the backlash to homophobic complaints about Ian McKellen's casting as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films. Sledge acknowledged the argument that Tolkien had hoped to create a mythology and fictional history for Britain in his writings, but said the assumption that all people in Britain's history were white was not historically accurate and did not apply to a fantasy story anyway;[228] Dimitra Fimi, a lecturer in fantasy and children's literature and specialist on Tolkien at the University of Glasgow,[222] wrote a piece with Mariana Rios Maldonado for The Conversation that concurred with Sledge in this view, discussing Britain's history of diversity, the freedom of adaptations to make changes where needed, and that Tolkien often did not discuss the biology of his characters but did suggest the existence of dark-skinned Elves in drafts of The Silmarillion.[224]

Discussion of the casting backlash continued after the series premiered,[229][230][231][232] including in analysis of the alleged review bombing on websites such as Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, and Google. Angus Dalton at The Sydney Morning Herald found that "many of the most-liked one-star Google reviews cite[d] the show's inclusion of black and brown actors". He discussed this with Helen Young, a lecturer of writing and literature at Deakin University as well as an editorial board member at the Journal of Tolkien Research, who suggested that there was only a small group of fans expressing these views but they were being amplified by "far-right political activists" to create a false narrative that "real fans of Tolkien don't want actors of color in their Middle-earth". Dalton also noted criticisms of Galadriel being portrayed as stronger than male Elves;[218] this included calling her a Mary Sue which Erik Kain, writing for Forbes, called "insanely stupid" due to her being depicted as a powerful character in Tolkien's writings and also because the series depicted her as both flawed and needing to be saved by men which is "not how Mary Sues work". Kain felt the "cacophony of outrage" surrounding the series had been stoked by the "demagogic YouTubers and self-serving influencers" who turned most major genre releases into similar politicized social media battles, which he traced back to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). He added, "For every reasonable critique out there, it seems half a dozen more pop up shrieking about how [the series] is too woke".[233]

In early September 2022, Puerto Rican star Ismael Cruz Córdova said he had been receiving messages featuring "pure and vicious hate speech" for several years due to his casting as an Elf.[234] Soon after, Lord of the Rings film actors Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, and Dominic Monaghan released a photo of themselves on social media wearing shirts featuring Human, Hobbit, and Elf ears with different skin tones along with the phrase "You are all welcome here" in Elvish. Fellow cast member Sean Astin released his own photo wearing a hat with the same design. Clothing featuring the design was made available for purchase, with half of all proceeds going to a charity that supports people of color. The Rings of Power cast also released a joint statement using the hashtag #YouAreAllWelcomeHere which similarly denounced the racism that several of their members had faced. Orlando Bloom, who portrayed Legolas in the original trilogy of films and The Hobbit posted a picture of himself with Cruz Córdova, tagging it friend in Elvish.[235][236]

Aftershow[edit]

An official aftershow hosted by Deadline Hollywood's Dominic Patten and Anthony D'Alessandro was revealed on September 3, 2022. Titled Deadline's Inside the Ring: LOTR: The Rings of Power, a new episode of the video series is being released soon after each episode of The Rings of Power debuts on Prime Video. The aftershow features interviews with cast and crew as well as exclusive "footage and insights" for each episode.[237]

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