In 2017, Amazon Originals splashed into the news when it purchased the global rights to a television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for a cool $250 million. The modern Lord of the Rings films, directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from the beloved novels by J. R. R. Tolkien, are among the most profitable and awarded films of all time. The importance of these written works can’t be understated; they are definitive works of fantasy about power, courage, and loss; mythopoeic masterpieces credited with launching the genre into the modern age.

Now, as the new show’s premiere looms closer, Amazon has begun unveiling major pieces of the puzzle, including some curious decisions about the plot breaking from the source material, a swath of characters who will be featured, and our long-awaited first looks at footage from the series. At Comic-Con, Tolkien superfan Stephen Colbert moderated an afternoon of pageantry that kicked off with composer Bear McCreary leading an orchestra and a choir in selections from the show’s score (!). As you might expect, the Comic-Con panel answered some questions while raising other headscratchers. Quipped Colbert, “I don’t know who the hell some of those people are.”

Let’s break it all down together. Read on for everything we know about the series so far.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – Main Teaser | Amazon Prime Video

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What Did the Rings of Power Panel at Comic-Con Reveal?

At Comic-Con, Rings of Power debuted its longest trailer yet. Running a full three minutes, the new trailer tees up the stakes of the story, with Galadriel warning that the elves have not defeated ancient evil forever, as they mistakenly believe. “Evil does not sleep,” she warns. “It waits.” The evil, of course, is Sauron. (We don’t catch a glimpse of him here, but knowing what we know about the source material, this big baddie definitely approaches.) “He has not one name, but many,” Galadriel says. The trailer glimpses some of the story’s breathtaking settings, from the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm to the island of Númenor. We even see some fan favorite Tolkien creatures, from orcs to sea monsters to a motherfucking balrog (!).

Attendees at the panel were also treated to five exclusive clips: one in which Elrond and Durin compete to see who can break the most rocks, with Durin’s dwarven brethren heckling Elrond mercilessly; another in which Nori, a new Harfoot character, approaches a mysterious man who’s crash-landed in a pit of fire (more on Nori and the Harfoots below); another in which new elven character Arondir fights a prison pit full of orcs; another in which Elrond and Galadriel reunite, with Galadriel promising to “tell him everything”; and one last clip, in which Galadriel is sailing into golden light on a boat, with the captain claiming that she’s “going home.”

Chatting with the cast and creatives, Colbert joked that he wants to be a hobbit, and promised to get to the bottom of “why some elves have haircuts and others don’t.” Meanwhile, in proof that the man is verifiably crazy, Colbert also revealed that when the showrunners offered him a chance to screen the entire season ahead of time, he declined. (I can’t relate!) But the biggest reveal came when the panel hinted that the Third Age isn’t off the table. Though Amazon has until now hinted that the story will focus exclusively on the Second Age, the creators said, “Somewhere down the road, who knows what could happen.”

It’s a great time to be a Tolkien fan, friends.

What will the series be called?

Amazon announced in early 2022 that the series will be called The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. “This is a title that we imagine could live on the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien’s other classics,” said show-runners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. “The Rings of Power unites all the major stories of Middle-earth’s Second Age: the forging of the rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the epic tale of Númenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Until now, audiences have only seen on-screen the story of the One Ring—but before there was one, there were many… and we’re excited to share the epic story of them all.”

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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – Title Announcement | Prime Video

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What will the series be about?

An official synopsis from Amazon confirms key details about the world-spanning series, including its setting. The synopsis reads:

This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.

In a preview of the series at Empire Magazine, more details about the setting have emerged, courtesy of concept artist John Howe. “This isn’t the Middle-earth you remember,” he said. “This is a world that’s very vibrant. The elves are not hidden away in Mirkwood or lingering in Rivendell. They’re busy constructing kingdoms. The dwarven kingdom of Moria is not an abandoned mine and the Grey Havens is not yet an abandoned city. I loved having the opportunity to explore that unseen history.” Howe also suggests that we’ll see the elves in a new context entirely, saying, “We’re finally sailing on the oceans of Middle-earth. They’re daunting and enterprising and are almost colonizing the world. They were a lot of fun to imagine. It’s something neither the Lord Of The Rings nor Hobbit movies went anywhere near.”

When Amazon released a map of Middle Earth as a teaser about the series, captioned, “Welcome to the Second Age,” it revealed a pivotal plot clue. You see, the history of Middle Earth is divided into four ages. (You’re likely most familiar with the Third Age, the latter years of which see the action of The Lord of the Rings transpire.) The Second Age sees the rise and (temporary) defeat of Sauron, the big baddie from the original films. So the official synopsis’s reference to “the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen” confirms an appearance from Sauron, while the mention of Númenor suggests a storyline familiar to fans of the novels.

Fans have speculated that Amazon will tell Tolkien’s epic tale of the Fall of Númenor, given its choice to release a map that prominently features the island. During the Second Age, men with Elvish heritage settled the island of Númenor, where they became great seafarers. The Númenoreans lived in days of peace and glory until they fell under the sway of Sauron, who promised them the eternal life they coveted in the Elves in exchange for their aid in his war against the gods. As punishment, the gods transformed the formerly flat Earth into a globe. The ocean subsumed Númenor, drowning everyone on the island but Sauron. The surviving Númenoreans, who were sheltered on their ships, fled to Middle Earth, where they founded Gondor and gave rise to a long line of kings, which would one day include Aragorn.

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Awhile back, Amazon released a first image from the series to celebrate the wrap of filming in New Zealand. While Vanity Fair confirmed that the image is from the show’s first episode, the identity of the person pictured remains unconfirmed. The image contains a major clue: two glowing trees, spotted in the distance. These trees are likely Telperion and Laurelin, also known as the Two Trees of Valinor. These trees light the known world and come to define an age called The Years of the Trees. Melkor, from who trained Sauron as his lieutenant, incites a war with the gods over his creation of the Silmarils, three jewels crafted with the light of the trees within them. The epic conflict ends with the destruction of the trees, forcing the gods to invent the sun and the moon to light the known world. This all happens way, way pre-Second Age, suggesting that the Amazon series may turn the clock back even further.

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The first image from Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series.

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Will any characters from the films reappear?

We’ll be seeing a host of familiar characters. Chief among them is Sauron, whose greed, evil, and hunger for absolute power shaped the trajectory of the Second Age. In the first teaser trailer, we get a glimpse at Elrond, lord of Imladris, a relative of the Númenorean kings and a chief leader in the Last Alliance between elves and men. Amazon has also confirmed the return of Galadriel, Elrond’s mother-in-law, who possessed a ring of power and had great knowledge about the nefarious dealings of Sauron. Morfydd Clark, who plays Galadriel, hints at a different interpretation of the character. “I had to find that balance between someone who has got an element of the eternal but hasn’t yet seen it all,” she told Empire. “Don’t expect the same character that you meet later on.”

According to Vanity Fair, as the series begins, Galadriel is hunting down the last remnants of Sauron’s evil collaborators, who killed her brother. The synopsis’s mention of the elf capital of Lindon suggests that we can expect to visit Galadriel in her home world. If the new clip’s sumptuous visuals of a port city and a woodland glade are anything to go on, we’ve likely already seen sneak peeks of Lindon.

Also returning from the Peter Jackson films are the orcs, Sauron’s familiar force of evil henchmen—but for the first time ever, their corpus will include henchwomen. Speaking with IGN, where first-look photos of the new orcs have been revealed, executive producer Lindsey Weber said, “There’s some female Orcs that I truly loved. But there’s one Orc in particular, who’s very, very tall and strong, who has a particularly enjoyable fight with one of our Elven characters that I suspect will be, or hope will be a favorite among fans.”

Film fans remember the orcs as a massive legion of armed forces, but during the Second Age, orcs were recovering from their near-extinction at the end of the First Age, meaning that a small population of down-on-their-luck creatures was scattered throughout Middle-earth. “Everyone thought, ‘Yay, they’ve been wiped off Middle-earth,'” said Jamie Wilson, head of the show’s prosthetics department. “But really, they regressed into the dark in small little groups, and hid away, and lived in tunnels and sort of under Middle-earth, because the only way they could hide, because of course they were hunted for so long. So this is really them coming back out as they reform under a so-called new leader who’s going to lead them forward.” Their “so-called leader,” of course, is Sauron, who disguised himself as “Annatar” during the Second Age.

When asked if Rings of Power would ever show the creation of orcs during the First Age, Wilson smiled coyly and said, “Well, that would just be telling you too much.” Book readers know that orcs were first created when big baddie Morgoth captured elves, then used torture and sorcery to twist them into orcs. Judging by Wilson’s comments, it sounds like Rings of Power isn’t closing on the possibility of exploring this history.

Which characters from the books will we meet?

For every Tolkien character that movie fans came to know and love, there are hundreds of other characters still waiting for their close-up. The Rings of Power is poised to bring some of those characters into the spotlight—and it’ll really, truly be a close-up. A series of character posters released by Amazon introduce us to 23 characters from a hands-eye view, focused tightly on the characters’ hands, rings, weapons, and other identifying clues. Check out the full line-up here at Deadline.

Slowly but surely, Prime is breadcrumbing us with information about just who these hands belong to. Five characters are now confirmed: Celebrimbor, the forger of the Rings of Power; Sadoc Burrows, a Harfoot elder; Poppy Proudfellow, a Harfoot; and Largo and Marigold Brandyfoot, two more Harfoots. Some of these characters are familiar, while others are not. The Harfoots were created wholecloth for Rings of Power, though they exist within Tolkien’s hobbit sandbox (more on that below). But Tolkien fans will remember Celebrimbor, a familiar figure from the novels with a large role to play in Middle-earth’s history. “We’re dealing with one of the greatest villains that’s ever been created in Sauron,” Payne told Empire. “And one of the central figures in the story is the character of Celebrimbor. He’s an Elven smith who was manipulated into helping create the Rings of Power. We’re excited to be bringing him to Middle-earth. He’s very mysterious.”

New first-look images of Celebrimbor are available at Fandom, where we see the Lord of Eregion at home with Elrond. Eregion is located close to the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm, which leads to a historic collaboration between dwarves and elves, noted frenemies. The beginning of Celebrimbor’s unexpected alliance with the dwarves, which Rings of Power Season One promises to chart, spells bad news for Middle-earth. Sauron, disguised in a new form and calling himself Annatar, befriended the elves of Eregion to instruct them in metalwork, working closely with Celebrimbor to craft 16 of the 19 rings of power. Celebrimbor and his kinsmen were tricked into designing rings with a binding magic that linked them to the One Ring, allowing Sauron to control and manipulate their wearers. Actor Charles Edwards says of the character, “He’s searching; he wants something which is as yet unknowable. We find him in quite a confused place. But this rocks his belief in himself and makes him vulnerable, and vulnerable to predators. He’s become very single-minded about wanting to conquer, creatively, and to come up with something that’s going to be the be-all and end-all.”

Is Peter Jackson involved?

As soon as the news broke about Amazon’s purchase of the rights, fans wondered about the potential involvement of Peter Jackson. At first, Jackson stated that he wasn’t at all involved, saying, “I understand how my name could come up, but there is nothing happening with me on this project.” Later, Jackson changed his tune, saying, “I think they’re going to send us some scripts to see if we can help them along. I wish them all the best and if we can help them we certainly will try. It’s a big task.”

Jackson’s iconic films cast a long shadow—one that the Rings of Power team is painfully aware of. “Anyone approaching Lord of The Rings on screen would be wrong not to think about how wonderfully right [Jackson] got so much of it,” McKay told Empire. “But we’re admirers from afar, that’s it. The Rings of Power doesn’t try to compete with him.”

Who’s attached to the series?

The Rings of Power will follow a whopping 22 major characters. Some of those castings of returning characters, we know: Morfydd Clark will play a young Galadriel, Robert Aramayo will play a young Elrond, and Maxim Baldry will play Isildur. But we’ll also meet some Tolkien characters who have yet to appear onscreen. Owain Arthur will play Prince Durin IV, prince of the bustling Dwarven realm of Khazad-dûm (you’ll remember it as the subterranean cavern where Gandalf fell to his not-death). Charles Edwards will play Celebrimbor, whose skills with metallurgy and magic lead to the forging of the rings.

And some characters, The Rings of Power is creating wholecloth. Sophia Nomvete will play a Dwarven princess named Disa, while Ismael Cruz Córdova will play Arondir, a silvan elf involved in a forbidden love affair with human healer Bronwyn, a single mother living in Middle-earth’s Southlands. Charlie Vickers will play Halbrand, a human who falls into dire circumstances alongside Galadriel. New images tee up two more new characters: Theo (played by Tyroe Muhafidin), a human child holding what looks like the shards of Narsil, and the healer Bronwyn (played by Nazanin Boniadi), standing dramatically by a creek. Amazon has revealed that Theo is Bronwyn’s son.

How will The Rings of Power change the source material?

Thinking outside of Tolkien’s box seems to be a priority for the show. In an exclusive preview at Vanity Fair, show-runners JD Payne and Patrick McKay revealed that compressing the lengthy timeline will be their biggest break with canon. “We talked with the Tolkien estate,” Payne told Vanity Fair. “If you are true to the exact letter of the law, you are going to be telling a story in which your human characters are dying off every season because you’re jumping 200 years in time, and then you’re not meeting really big, important canon characters until season four. Look, there might be some fans who want us to do a documentary of Middle-earth, but we’re going to tell one story that unites all these things.”

It’s looking like this single, united story will require some other breaks with canon. Sir Lenny Henry will play the Harfoot Sadoc Burrows, an ancestral type of hobbit described by Tolkien as having darker skin. But, and this is important, hobbits as we know them didn’t come along until the Third Age, meaning that adding hobbit characters to a Second Age story is a major break with the canon. Henry sees it as a step forward for inclusivity in fantasy, saying:

“I’m a Harfoot, because J.R.R. Tolkien, who was also from Birmingham, suddenly there were Black hobbits. I’m a Black hobbit; it’s brilliant. What’s notable about this run of the books, it’s a prequel to the age that we’ve seen in the films. It’s about the early days of the Shire and Tolkien’s environment, so we’re an indigenous population of Harfoots. We’re hobbits but we’re called Harfoots. We’re multi-cultural. We’re a tribe, not a race, so we’re Black, Asian, and brown—even Maori types within it.”

The Silmarillion, from which the show will draw heavily to adapt Second Age stories, is not about “the early days of the Shire,” as Hobbits don’t meaningfully materialize in Middle Earth, much less settle the Shire, until the Third Age. But Payne and McKay seem to think the show needs a dose of hobbits. “One of the very specific things the texts say is that hobbits never did anything historic or noteworthy before the Third Age,” McKay told Vanity Fair. “But really, does it feel like Middle-earth if you don’t have hobbits or something like hobbits in it?”

Over at Empire, Henry went on to further detail what viewers can expect from these Harfoots—and it sounds similar in tone to the hobbit hijinks viewers know and love from the Jackson films. “We’re a nomadic tribe, moving with the weather and the fertility of the crops,” he explained. “We have big caravans on wooden wheels and we’re very good at hiding things, because humans are much bigger than us and bring trouble. We’re the traditional Tolkien little guy. Traditionally, the little people in this world provide comedy but also get to be incredibly brave. You’re going to see us run the full gamut of emotions and actions in this adventure.”

Some of the show’s changes will be welcome—namely, its commitment to broadening the notion of who lives in Middle-earth. Ismael Cruz Córdova, who plays Arondir, will be the first person of color to play an elf onscreen in a Tolkien project. Sophia Nomvete plays a Dwarven princess named Disa, making her the first Black woman to play a dwarf in a Tolkien project, as well as the first female dwarf. Both Arondir and Disa make appearances in the first teaser trailer, with Arondir firing an arrow and Disa raising her hands in worship. “It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like,” Lindsey Weber, executive producer of the series, told Vanity Fair. “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.”

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A general view of the Shire is seen at the Hobbiton Movie Set where Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed in Matamata, New Zealand.

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That said, despite their ambitions to think outside the box, the Rings of Power showrunners have great reverence for the source material. “It was like Tolkien put some stars in the sky and let us make out the constellations,” Payne told Empire. “In his letters [particularly in one to his publisher], Tolkien talked about wanting to leave behind a mythology that ‘left scope for other minds and hands, wielding the tools of paint, music and drama.’ We’re doing what Tolkien wanted. As long as we felt like every invention of ours was true to his essence, we knew we were on the right track.”

How many seasons will there be?

A curious catch of Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien estate was a long-term commitment: in order to secure the rights, Amazon had to agree to produce five seasons of the series, and to begin production within two years of signing the deal. According to the Empire Magazine preview, Payne and McKay are playing the long game and thinking five seasons ahead. “We even know what our final shot of the last episode is going to be,” Payne said. “The rights that Amazon bought were for a 50-hour show. They knew from the beginning that was the size of the canvas—this was a big story with a clear beginning, middle and end. There are things in the first season that don’t pay off until Season 5.”

Will it be any good?

We’ll let you decide, but the earliest reviews are a good omen. Vanity Fair screened the first three episodes, saying, “The show is a lavish, compelling mix of palace intrigue, magic, warfare, and mythology—and there are enough mysteries to power a thousand podcasts. Some characters will be familiar, and they will be the initial attraction as viewers watch their legendary fates unfurl. But the entirely new faces may ultimately become even more involving, since their destinies are literally unwritten.”

When will it air?

The series will debut on September 2, 2022. Get ready to celebrate hobbit-style with a flagon of ale. After that, episodes will air weekly on Fridays. In the meantime, watch this space for updates as we continue to learn more.

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