Our journey back to Middle-earth begins in just a matter of days.
The first episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will be released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday. The series, produced by Amazon Studios, is set millennia before the events in J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and explores the beginnings of the fabled rings. The show takes several cues from Tolkien’s novels and its appendices, but is not directly based on any of the source materials.
These are uncharted waters. Yet, even a few minutes into the show, the setting feels familiar. It takes plenty of inspiration from Peter Jackson’s films, both aesthetically and through its style of exposition. This is very much a world that echoes the Middle-earth we’ve seen on screen before.
In the series, creators Patrick McKay and J D Payne expand upon the Second Age, a time that is only covered by Tolkien in the appendices of the original novels. Those passages were added to offer an insight to the backstory of The Lord of the Rings, but McKay said they are, in a way, “complete in themselves”.
“When you think about the breadth and depth of that mythology Tolkien created, it's vast and bottomless. It’s an ocean of ideas,” McKay says during a virtual press conference.
“We hoped that maybe if we sewed all these disparate pieces together from across the books, it would be something that would work for fans and non-fans alike.”
A new legacy
McKay says Tolkien left an abundance of clues and starting points from which to build the show’s story, so much so that writing it felt like a collaboration with the Oxford professor.
“You have these iconic rings: three for the Elves, seven for the Dwarves, and nine for the Men, and we asked what these cultures were like before the rings,” McKay says. “What would have happened in them that would make the rings an attractive offer? What problems were the rings solving?”
True, the story takes place thousands of years before Bilbo Baggins stumbled upon the all-powerful ring and eventually — and somewhat begrudgingly — left it to his cousin upon Gandalf’s request, but fans will still find a few recognisable characters within the show.
Front and centre of these is Galadriel, who was unforgettably portrayed by Cate Blanchett in the Jackson films. From the outset, it is clear that Galadriel will be a driving force in the show, as the royal Elf ventures with a small group of fighters to the darkest recesses of Middle-Earth, tracking down Morgoth and his forces — who were believed to have been defeated. Although Middle-Earth is seemingly at peace, Galadriel — to the dismay of many around her — is not convinced.
The lore of 'LOTR'
The character, portrayed this time around by Welsh actress Morfydd Clark, is a few thousand years from becoming the Lady of the woods of Lothlorien and displays a set of traits many may not associate with the character at first.
“I think the wisdom and serenity of Galadriel in the Third Age is hard-earned and comes from getting things wrong,” Clark says. “I’m playing a younger Galadriel but not a young Galadriel. I was exploring what naivety and youth could look like on someone who’s already thousands of years old and what I kind of struck on was arrogance. She doesn’t know the limits of her knowledge and mistakes can come from that.”
Another character fans will recognise is Elrond, played by Hugo Weaving in the original trilogy. Robert Aramayo plays the younger character in the series and says it was gratifying to depict a half-Elven character as “someone who feels complicated and affected amongst mortals” and displays a different side of himself while in the company of Elves.
“It was fun to explore,” he says. “To allow the mortality to emerge from him. And when ... among immortals, a different kind of understanding.”
Meet the Harfoot hobbits
Even for those in The Rings of Power who do not have a counterpart in Tolkien’s writings, it is easy to feel invested in their ambitions and fates. One of these is Marigold Brandyfoot, a Harfoot hobbit portrayed by Sara Zwangobani.
“The Harfoots are an ancestor to the hobbits,” she says. “They are a migratory tribe, they’re nomadic and follow the seasons in order to survive. They stay hidden from the wider world due to what happened to them in the Great War and they decided to retreat from the world to keep safe. One of their magic qualities is to manage to stay hidden.”
Marigold is a matriarch of the tribe, Zwangobani says, and will stop at nothing to ensure their safety.
“She’s tough but she has a twinkle in her eye. She is married [to Largo Brandyfoot], who keeps her happy and humorous but those rules are being challenged by her daughter.”
Marigold’s daughter, Elanor, is another interesting character. Portrayed by Markella Kavenagh, she is more inquisitive than her mother and feels like she’s destined for something big; yearning to explore the world beyond the Harfoots’ migratory routes.
“She’s very resolute, tough but also inquisitive,” Kavenagh says. “I think it was quite important to ground that curiosity in something that didn't appear selfish or naive, but actually works to help improve the quality of life for Harfoots."
As the Harfoots are noticeably more diminutive than the other characters in the show, Kavenagh says it was as much a creative challenge working with scale as it was a technical one, particularly when she shared a scene with a character from another race.
“You know, you’re about to cry in a scene or something and then you’ve got a tennis ball staring at you instead of eyes. It was things like that, but we had a great team and amazing skill levels.”
An Elven adventure
Ismael Cruz Cordova plays Arondir, an Elven soldier who, while stationed for decades in the village of Tirharad, develops feelings for Bronwyn, a human woman. Arondir may not be the most loquacious character on the show, but his tacit expressiveness makes him one of the most memorable.
"There's a lot of communication. The words perhaps are not there but that's not to be mistaken with how much we can say and do with our bodies and what we express through our eyes," he says.
Like most of the actors pegged to the show, Cordova had little information about his character but developed him by applying the physicality of the soldier and merging it with what he knew about Elvish lore.
"I started training as a solider," he says. "The way Elves emote is different. The way they relate to life as eternal is very different. You don't see them cry often, and when they cry it's because of something quite deep that hurts them.
"Their physicality is like a human's, but there's also a panther aspect of it, a crocodile as well. It was important for me that you could sense his prowess and how his senses were working. There's so much more operating and that helped me reach the steeliness and resolve of the character."
Between the intertwined stories of the Harfoots, the Elves, the Dwarves, and the Humans of Numenor, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power promises to take viewers on a ride that may prove to be as expansive and rousing as Jackson’s take on the original novels. While it may be too early to judge from two episodes, the makings of an epic adventure have definitely been put in place.
The show, which has a five-season production commitment estimated at a jaw-dropping $1 billion, has been touted as the most expensive to ever be made. However, only time will tell whether the series will earn its coin or build up to a lacklustre conclusion a la Game of Thrones.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will be released on Amazon Prime Video in the UAE on Friday