For the past week or so now, we’ve been treated to a bevy of information concerning Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series. We’ve been talking about The Rings of Power quite a bit ever since it was announced, but we finally have our first look at it thanks to character posters, first look images and a teaser trailer. The show, which will take place during the Second Age of Middle-earth, is one that J.R.R.Tolkien explored the least in his writings, which paves the way for a lot of creation on the part of the writers and showrunners. So, now that we’ve seen some of the show and learned a lot from Vanity Fair’s extensive coverage, including a massive behind-the-scenes article, let’s break down what has me excited for the show and why I’m also concerned.
Excited: The Scope
The Superbowl teaser (see above) wasted no time in showcasing the scope of the series. We’re treated to a wide shot of a port on the technologically advanced island of Númenor, a location we’ve not seen before on screen. Despite that, the port will instantly look familiar, as the architecture will certainly call to mind the look and feel of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s films. This is certainly intentional, as the Númenoreans who migrate east to the primary continent in Tolkien’s Legendarium, are the ones who go on to found Gondor (and Arnor).
The massive statue in the port will also call to mind the massive statues of Argonath, as seen in The Fellowship of the Rings. This shot alone makes the show feel rich and detailed. Looking at a still of the shot will showcase a slew of neat details, such as the flat top of the mountain Meneltarma in the distance, the scaffolding on the bridge on the left, showcasing the constant state of construction and development, the ships of Men (not elves) and the sun banner on the bridge.
It’s not just Númenor though. Wide shots of horses running over the New Zealand wildlands certainly bring to mind the original films and make the show feel big and epic, as opposed to confining the action in the woods, like Amazon’s The Wheel of Time did for much of its runtime, which made the world feel small. The horses and their riders also call to mind Rohan, perhaps we’ll see the early days of that kingdom, which only forms in the Third Age (when The Lord of the Rings takes place).
Concerned: The New Characters and Cast Size
Tolkien has written some of the most iconic and legendary characters in all of literature, never mind the fantasy genre. As such, it’s a bit worrisome that there are so many new characters written specifically for the show. Tolkien’s characters are some of the most beloved in the genre, so new characters will automatically be compared to his standards and if they fail to meet that bar, there will inevitably be backlash or alienation towards the new additions. The show is based on notes and passing comments, so naturally, there is going to have to be new characters added, but it does seem like there’s a vast array of new names added to the narrative.
What’s more is that we learned that there will be 22 primary characters to juggle in this series, at least in the first season. With only eight episodes to start with, this seems like a lot of characters over a finite amount of screen time. Sure, we don’t have 22 protagonists or anything of that nature, but based on the cast size and the various locations teased so far (some of which may not even be part of the Second Age, more on that below), I worry that the show will be so densely packed with characters scattered across the map that we won’t resonate and connect with them as a result. Considering the cast size, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been more prudent to stick with the characters Tolkien wrote and beef up their roles to allow for more screentime and character development. As it stands, it looks like there’s going to be a lot of bouncing around, from Galadriel in the North and western shores, the South for the love story of Bronwyn and Arondir, Elrond meeting with the dwarves, the Númenoreans, the harfoot and the “meteor man” and of course, Celebrimbor. This show feels BUSY and I worry it’s too busy for its own good.
Excited: The Look and Feel
This ties nicely into my thoughts on the scope of the show but I’m also really digging the overall look and feel of the show, based on the limited footage we’ve seen so far. The show feels respectful to the overall design in the Jackson films (and some of the crew from those films are working on this show) thanks to costumes and locations that feel similar enough while also doing their own thing.
As mentioned, Númenor is riffing heavily on Jackson’s iconography of Gondor but the Elven realm of Lindon, never before seen in live-action, feels very much part of the Elven culture we’ve seen before. The same can be said for the costumes, which feel like they could exist in the same universe, but are different enough to showcase that this show takes place sometime before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Concerned: The Compressed Timeline
The biggest red flag for me that’s been revealed thus far is that the show will compress thousands of years of history into one generation. From a TV scheduling standpoint, I get it. The production won’t have to recast the mortal characters of the show every season and we as audience members won’t have to start from scratch each season.
That said, the time jumps are supremely important to the narrative of the second age. Ar-Pharazon, a character we know to be in the show, is the King ofNúmenor and finds himself consumed by the fear of growing old and dying, something the elves of the world don’t have to worry about. This fear is the perfect condition for Sauron, as Anatar, to sow his seeds of destruction. The show can tell us he’s afraid, but to actually see this would have been more impactful. What’s more, is that half the cast is elven, so they won’t age throughout the entire run of the show, and the Númenoreans and Dwarves themselves will outlive the humans. By the looks of it, most of the characters in the show are not “lesser humans”, so it’s not like the whole cast will be shuffled each season. Time will tell if the compressed timeline is the way to go, but I feel glossing over events as opposed to showcasing the slow and creeping simmer of events may undermine key narrative beats.
Excited: The Attention To Detail
Based on what the showrunners have been saying about the show, I must admit that it does feel like they at least understand this world. Time will tell if they’re the right ones for the job, this IS their first credit on IMDB after all and they know they’re not the most experienced individuals. But they are applying their education and love of Tolkien to the show. Apart from the details in the opening shot I mentioned, one such example of this is how the characters will be speaking in the show. They’ve talked about how accents were very important to the worldbuilding and dialects would be shaped by culture and location in one of the Vanity Fair articles.
“The harfoots speak with an Irish lilt whereas the elves speak in elevated British phrases. “We even came up with hero meters for each different race in Tolkien,” Payne says. “Some of them will speak in iambs. Some of them will speak in dactyls. Some of them will speak in trochees.” That in-depth approach might please Professor Tolkien, whose specialty was philology, a.k.a. the history of language.
Concerned: Uninspired Teaser
The Superbowl teaser, by design, was made to showcase very little footage of the show and whet our appetites for more. Considering this was the first look of the show and a reintroduction to Middle-earth for many, I found the teaser to be wildly average. There was no tease to the overall story or who these characters are, so we’re just left with a string of disconnected images that doesn’t exactly strike me as memorable to the casual audience. Considering the big pockets of Amazon, I would have considered a two-minute trailer that showed more of the world while hinting at the story. Most people aren’t reading the Vanity Fair articles to fill in the blanks, so most people probably didn’t realize they saw Elrond in the footage, for example. The teaser ends with what might be a wizard (if so, that wouldn’t make sense) holding hands with the harfoot character. While I’m sure it’s significant to the story, it’s not the shot you want to end your debut teaser for the most expensive show ever made. A shot of Celebrimbor (absent from the teaser) picking up a hammer in front of a forge would have been more exciting, for example.
Excited: A Look Into The First-Age
By the looks of it, we won’t just get the Second Age in The Rings of Power. By the looks of it, the shot below is from the time of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth. We see elves fighting against his legions with fire in the distance. This scene looks like it’s likely Dagor Bragollach, the Fourth Battle in the Wars of Beleriand. We can see fires in the top righthand side of the shot, which could be from Thangorodrim, the volcanos that Morgoth raised from the ground to house his lair, Angband. The fires of the volcanos would kill two of Galadriel’s brothers, which is critical information for the primary narrative of the show as we know she starts the series wandering the north, hunting down the remnants of Morgoth’s legions and those responsible for the death of her brothers. But how can the show adapt part of the First Age? Well, Amazon has the rights to anything mentioned in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels, including the Appendices found at the back of The Return of the King, where much of this information can be found. So if they have the rights to it and it fits the narrative, why wouldn’t we see flashbacks. The first image of the show also hints at the First-Age, thanks to the Two Trees of Valinor being shown in the distance. In terms of visual iconography and events, this era is really heavy-metal, so it’s no surprise Blind Guardian adapted The Silmarillion into a concept album titled Nightfall in Middle-earth.
Concenred: Overeliance on CGI
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films are known for being transportive cinematic experiences. They brought us into Middle-earth, a place that doesn’t exist but could have based on the footage. This is because so much of the film was shot practically and on location. CGI was used to enhance scenes or to film the impossible. Most of this goodwill was undone when Jackson returned for The Hobbit, which was shot largely on green screen and on digital.
Based on the teaser, there is potential that the show is following in the footsteps of The Hobbit. The opening shot of Númenor, while impressive in scope and detail, does look artificial. That sense of something being off visually, the uncanny valley, continues in the teaser with the shot of the waterfalls and Galadriel scaling the icy cliffs. It all feels very CGI and the teaser didn’t do a good job at showcasing the tangibility of this world. I hope we get featurette at some point that highlights miniatures and sets to put our minds at ease on this.
Conerned: Season One Will Be An Intro Season
There are a lot of major events that happen in the Second Age and a lot of them involve the rise of Sauron. But it seems the Dark Lord will be absent in the first season thanks to comments from the showrunners. If that’s the case, will the titular Rings of Power not be forged this season? Those rings are very much the inciting incident for the rest of the age, which we’ve written about before and if we have to wait until the next season to start the story proper, that may alienate and frustrate viewers. Of course, the showrunners could be pulling a fast one on us. Sauron may not be in the show, but perhaps Anatar will be, who is the Dark Lord in his “fair” form.
Going back to that Vanity Fair article, the showrunners had this to say:
“We wanted it to be about introducing these worlds and the peoples who dwell in them and the major heroes and characters, some of whom you know, and some of whom are new. Season two we go a little bit deeper into the lore and the stories people have been waiting to hear.”
Time will tell if not diving into the story head-on will bear fruit. But what about you? What has you excited and what are you concerned about?