The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

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The Lord of the Rings:
The Rings of Power
The series' 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 byJ. D. Payne
Patrick McKay
Theme music composerHoward Shore
ComposerBear McCreary
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes8
Production
Executive producers
Producers
  • Ron Ames
  • Chris Newman
Production locations
  • New Zealand (season 1)
  • United Kingdom (season 2–)
Running time65–72 minutes
Production companies
DistributorAmazon Studios
Release
Original networkAmazon Prime Video
Original releaseSeptember 1, 2022 (2022-09-01) –
present

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

Amazon bought the television rights for The Lord of the Rings from the Tolkien Estate 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. Tolkien's grandson Simon Tolkien was consulted on the development of the series. Per the requirements of Amazon's deal with the Tolkien Estate, it is not a continuation of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The 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' 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 of several months during that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Amazon moved production for future seasons to the United Kingdom, where filming for the second season began in October 2022.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered on September 1, 2022, with the first two episodes, which Amazon stated had the most viewers for a Prime Video premiere. The rest of the eight-episode first season ran until October 14. It has received generally positive reviews from critics. The second season is expected to be released in 2024.

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]

Episodes[edit]

SeasonEpisodesOriginally released
First releasedLast released
18September 1, 2022 (2022-09-01)October 14, 2022 (2022-10-14)
28[3]2024 (2024)[4][5][6]TBA

Season 1 (2022)[edit]

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
1"A Shadow of the Past"J. A. BayonaJ. D. Payne & Patrick McKaySeptember 1, 2022 (2022-09-01)
2"Adrift"J. A. BayonaGennifer HutchisonSeptember 1, 2022 (2022-09-01)
3"Adar"Wayne Che YipJason Cahill & Justin DobleSeptember 9, 2022 (2022-09-09)
4"The Great Wave"Wayne Che YipStephany Folsom and J. D. Payne & Patrick McKaySeptember 16, 2022 (2022-09-16)
5"Partings"Wayne Che YipJustin DobleSeptember 23, 2022 (2022-09-23)
6"Udûn"Charlotte BrändströmNicholas Adams & Justin Doble and J. D. Payne & Patrick McKaySeptember 30, 2022 (2022-09-30)
7"The Eye"Charlotte BrändströmJason CahillOctober 7, 2022 (2022-10-07)
8"Alloyed"Wayne Che YipGennifer Hutchison and J. D. Payne & Patrick McKayOctober 14, 2022 (2022-10-14)

Season 2[edit]

Charlotte Brändström is directing four episodes of the second season, with Sanaa Hamri and Louise Hooper directing two each.[3] It is expected to be released in 2024.[4][5][6]

Cast and characters[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In July 2017, a lawsuit was settled between Warner Bros., the studio behind Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The 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,[21] with a starting price of US$200 million.[2] HBO pitched a remake of the Lord of the Rings films which Tolkien's estate was not interested in, and Netflix pitched multiple connected series focusing on characters such as Aragorn and Gandalf which reportedly "completely freaked out the estate". Amazon did not pitch a specific story but promised to work closely with the Tolkien Estate so they could "protect Tolkien's legacy", which they were unable to do with previous adaptations.[22] Amazon emerged as the frontrunner by September 2017 and entered negotiations.[23][24] Uncommonly for programming developments at the studio, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was personally involved with the negotiations.[24] Bezos was a personal fan of The Lord of the Rings,[2] and had previously given Amazon Studios a mandate to develop an ambitious fantasy series of comparable scale to HBO's Game of Thrones.[21]

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",[21] 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 Amazon 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.[25] 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.[21][23] Warner Bros. Television was not involved in the project because Amazon Studios wanted to produce it themselves. Amazon was working with the Tolkien Estate, the Tolkien Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema (the Warner Bros. division who produced the films).[21] New Line was reportedly included to allow the use of material from the films.[23] The Tolkien Estate imposed creative restrictions on the series,[21][26] and the deal stipulated that production begin within two years.[23]

The first season was reported to focus on a young Aragorn in May 2018.[27] Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, said a month later that the deal for the series had only just been officially completed.[28] The studio met more than 30 potential writers,[29] including the Russo brothers and Anthony McCarten,[22] and 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.[30][31] 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, including 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.[7] These events were covered in a five-minute prologue in the Lord of the Rings films,[32] and the pair wanted to expand this into "50 hours of television".[2] In contrast with the other experienced writers being interviewed, Payne and McKay had only done unproduced or uncredited writing. They were championed to Amazon by director J. J. Abrams who worked with them on an unproduced Star Trek film,[2][22] and were hired to develop the series in July 2018.[33] Payne said their pitch felt like "an amazing, untold story" that was "worthy of Tolkien",[30] 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.[34]

Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, said in December that he and his producing partners would read some scripts for the series and offer notes on them, but he later stated that this did not happen. 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.[35] Payne and McKay were confirmed as showrunners and executive producers in July 2019, when the project's full creative team was revealed.[36][37] Additional executive producers include Lindsey Weber, Callum Greene, J. A. Bayona, Belén Atienza, Justin Doble, Jason Cahill, Gennifer Hutchison, Bruce Richmond, and Sharon Tal Yguado.[36][37][38] Prime Video officially ordered a second season in November 2019,[25] and announced the series' 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]

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.[7] Tolkien's estate was prepared to veto any changes from his established narrative,[26] including anything that contradicted what Tolkien wrote in other works.[7] The writers were free to add characters or details,[26] and worked with the estate and Tolkien lore experts to ensure these were still "Tolkienian".[7] They referenced letters that Tolkien wrote about his works and mythology for additional context on the setting and characters.[7][39] 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".[40] 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.[41] A disclaimer is featured in the series' end credits stating that some elements are "inspired by, though not contained in, the original source material".[42]

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' final shot, while working on the first.[43] 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.[7] 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' Elves mostly speak Quenya, a language described as "Elvish Latin" that is often just used for spellcasting in the Third Age.[44] Dwarvish and Orcish are also heard, along with English, Scottish, and Irish dialects.[44][45] 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.[46]

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.[47] 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, aspiring to tell a timeless story that matched Tolkien's own intention to create a mythology that would always be applicable.[46]

Casting[edit]

Salke stated in June 2018 that the series would include some characters from the films,[48] and the showrunners intended for the new actors to look like they could feasibly grow up to be their film counterparts.[7] In January 2020, Amazon announced that the series' main cast would include Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman.[49] Aramayo and Clark were cast as younger versions of the film characters Elrond and Galadriel, respectively.[50] Amazon's co-head of television Vernon Sanders noted that there were still some key roles that had yet to be filled.[49] In December, Amazon announced 20 new cast members: Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Maxim Baldry, 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.[51] Baldry, Owen, and Walker portray Isildur, Elendil, and Gil-galad, respectively, characters that appeared in the films during flashbacks.[7][17][50] Budge revealed in March 2021 that Amazon had decided to recast his character after filming several episodes.[52][53] Charles Edwards was cast to replace him that July.[2][54] Will Fletcher, Amelie Child-Villiers, and Beau Cassidy were also added to the cast then.[54]

In early December 2022, Sam Hazeldine was revealed to have replaced Joseph Mawle in the role of Adar for the second season. Amazon also announced the casting of Gabriel Akuwudike, Yasen "Zates" Atour, Ben Daniels, Amelia Kenworthy, Nia Towle, and Nicholas Woodeson.[20] A week later, Amazon further announced the casting of Oliver Alvin-Wilson, Stuart Bowman, Gavi Singh Chera, William Chubb, Kevin Eldon, Will Keen, Selina Lo, and Calam Lynch.[55]

Design[edit]

Illustrator and concept artist John Howe said in August 2019 that the series would remain faithful to the designs of the film trilogies.[56] Payne and McKay later clarified that the series is not a direct continuation of the films,[7] per Amazon's deal for the series,[35] 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.[7] Production designer Ramsey Avery said his biggest challenge on the series was making Middle-earth feel both familiar and new. He approached this by attempting to create a "vibrant and rich and golden" world that was distinct from the films, in which "everything is on its decline, and it's fading".[57] 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.[58]

Filming[edit]

In June 2018, Salke said the series could be produced in New Zealand, where the film trilogies 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".[48] Amazon confirmed in September 2019 that filming for the first season would take place in New Zealand.[59] Scotland had also been considered as a location.[60][61] Filming for the season began in Auckland in February 2020,[49][62] with J. A. Bayona directing the first two episodes.[63] Production was placed on hold in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic,[64] and this shutdown segued into an already planned production break that allowed footage from the first two episodes to be reviewed and writing on the second season to begin.[65] Filming resumed at the end of September.[66] Wayne Che Yip and Charlotte Brändström directed the rest of the season's episodes.[67][68] Around a third of filming took place on location around New Zealand.[69] Production for the first season officially wrapped on August 2, 2021.[70]

The week after filming ended for the first season, Amazon announced that it was moving production of the series to the United Kingdom starting with the second season. Factors that played a role in the change included Amazon already heavily investing in UK studio space for other productions as well as New Zealand's restrictive pandemic-era border policies.[71] The Tolkien Estate also wanted the series to be filmed in the UK since Tolkien was inspired by locations there when writing his books.[72] Pre-production for the second season was expected to begin in the UK in the second quarter of 2022,[73] taking place concurrently with post-production for the first season which was continuing in New Zealand until June 2022.[71] Filming on the second season began on October 3,[74] with Brändström, Sanaa Hamri, and Louise Hooper directing.[3]

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.[75] Shore was confirmed to be in talks for the series a year later,[76] when composer Bear McCreary was reported to be involved as well.[75] Their hiring was officially announced in July 2022, with McCreary composing the score and Shore writing the main title theme.[77] McCreary was contractually prohibited from quoting any themes that Shore wrote for the films.[78]

McCreary said the series was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to work on such an ambitious score, and he hoped to create a "continuity of concept" between the series and Shore's work on the films. He wrote more than 15 new themes for the series.[79] Though Shore's main theme was composed independently of McCreary's work, McCreary felt it "fit together so beautifully" with his own music.[80] A soundtrack album featuring Shore's main theme and selections from McCreary's score for the first season was released on August 19, 2022.[81] Additional albums featuring McCreary's full score for each episode were also released.[82]

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.[26][83] 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.[83] 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.[56]

Amazon considered the reveal of the series' full title in January 2022 to be crucial due to it beginning the series' 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.[84] 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.[85] 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.[84][85] 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".[86]

A new book chronicling the events of Middle-earth's Second Age was announced in June 2022. Titled The Fall of Númenor, it was compiled and edited by Tolkien scholar Brian Sibley from Tolkien's writings about the Second Age. The book was published in November 2022 following the release of The Rings of Power's first season, to capitalize on new interest in Tolkien's works arising from the series' release.[87]

Release[edit]

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered on Prime Video in the United States on September 1, 2022. Episodes are released around the world at the same time as the U.S. release,[88] in more than 240 countries and territories.[89]

Reception[edit]

Viewership[edit]

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. The company stated that this was the biggest premiere ever for the service. 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.[90] By December 2022 the series had been watched by more than 100 million viewers globally and was Prime Video's most watched series ever. Sanders called it "a tremendous success... it has more than paid off".[91]

Critical response[edit]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported an 83% approval score for the first season based on 475 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "It may not yet be the One Show to Rule Them All, but The Rings of Power enchants with its opulent presentation and deeply-felt rendering of Middle-earth."[92] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 71 out of 100 based on reviews from 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[93]

Accolades[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
2022 Hollywood Music in Media Awards Original Score — TV Show/Limited Series Bear McCreary Nominated [94]
People's Choice Awards The Sci-Fi/Fantasy Show of 2022 The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Nominated [95]
2023 Art Directors Guild Awards Excellence in Production Design for a One-Hour Period or Fantasy Single-Camera Series Ramsey Avery (for "Adar") Pending [96]
Excellence in Production Design for a Commercial Brian Branstetter (for "Title Announcement") Pending
Costume Designers Guild Awards Excellence in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Television Kate Hawley (for "A Shadow of the Past") Pending [97]
Critics' Choice Awards Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Ismael Cruz Córdova Nominated [98]
Golden Reel Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Broadcast Long Form Dialogue / ADR Robby Stambler, Damian Del Borrello, Stefanie Ng, Ailene Roberts, Ray Beentjes, Gareth Van Niekirk (for "Udûn") Pending [99]
Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Broadcast Long Form Effects / Foley Damian Del Borrello, Robby Stambler, Paula Fairfield, James Miller, Chris Terhune, Gareth Van Niekerk, Ryan A. Sullivan, Goeun Everett, Richard Wills, Jonathan Bruce, Amy Barber (for "Udûn") Pending
Outstanding Achievement in Music Editing – Broadcast Long Form Jason Smith, Michael Baber (for "Alloyed") Pending
Movieguide Awards Best Mature Audience Television "Alloyed" Pending [100]
Epiphany Prize Television "Alloyed" Pending
Faith & Freedom Award Television "Alloyed" Pending
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Pending [101]
Society of Composers & Lyricists Awards Outstanding Score For Television Bear McCreary Pending [102]
Visual Effects Society Awards Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode Jason Smith, Ron Ames, Nigel Sumner, Tom Proctor, Dean Clarke (for "Udûn") Pending [103]
Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project Dan Wheaton, Nico Delbecq, Dan LeTarte, Julien Gauthier (for Númenor City in "Adar") Pending
James Ogle, Péter Bujdosó, Lon Krung, Shweta Bhatnagar (for Khazud Dûm in "Adrift") Pending
Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project Kurt Debens, Hamish Bell, Robert Kelly, Gabriel Roccisano (for Volcano Destruction in "Udûn") Pending
Rick Hankins, Aron Bonar, Branko Grujcic, Laurent Kermel (for Water and Magma in "Udûn") Pending
Outstanding Compositing and Lighting in an Episode Sornalingam P, Ian Copeland, Nessa Mingfang Zhang, Yuvaraj S (for Tirharad Cavalry Charge in "Udûn") Pending
Outstanding Special (Practical) Effects in a Photoreal or Animated Project Dean Clarke, Oliver Gee, Eliot Naimie, Mark Robson (for Middle-earth Storm in "Adrift") Pending

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