Is a Lord of the Rings prequel a good idea? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself since Amazon announced a new TV show based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal series in early 2017. On one hand, a return to Middle-earth sounds like the perfect escapism from today’s world. Peter Jackson‘s original trilogy, based on Tolkien’s three Lord of the Rings novels The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King was, by my estimation, just about perfect, and still takes up valuable real estate in my heart. Nostalgia runs super deep for the source material, so revisiting Tolkien’s lush fantasy realm would be a real treat for fans like me.
But then I remember Jackson’s overstuffed Hobbit trilogy and worry that any attempt to recapture that initial magic may be a fool’s errand. Indeed, Amazon’s proposed new series sounds almost too ambitious, and given the sped-up production timeline and mounting obstacles, it could be a massive failure in the making. Or it could be a Game of Thrones-sized cultural event, a show that busts through the gates and takes everyone by surprise. One thing remains true: I am fascinated by what this thing has the potential be, and every new announcement gets me even more excited. If they pull it off, this could be the biggest thing in TV.
Here’s everything we know about Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel series so far.
New Line Cinema
Middle-earth will return to New Zealand
Amazon announced that showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay will film their new Lord of the Rings series in New Zealand, returning the franchise to the country where Peter Jackson shot his six films. “As we searched for the location in which we could bring to life the primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle-earth, we knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff,” said Payne and McKay in a statement.
Pre-production on the series has already begun, and will start filming in Auckland soon.
The Lord of the Rings creative fellowship has formed
At the 2019 summer Television Critics Association press tour, Amazon revealed the creative team behind the new Lord of the Rings prequel series.
Meet our Fellowship. pic.twitter.com/Npouu6ZlRt— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) July 27, 2019
The show features writers, directors, producers, costume designers, visual effects artists, and more with credits from some of your favorite films and shows. Which ones? Oh, just Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Avengers, Stranger Things, Crimson Peak, Edge of Tomorrow, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Westworld, The Leftovers, and Fringe… To name a few.
The cast is also starting to shape up
Several actors have recently joined the cast in key roles. Game of Thrones actor Robert Aramayo will star in the series as a character named Beldor, described as the “young hero.” He’ll be joined by another Game of Thrones actor, Joseph Mawle, who is set for an unspecified role. Morfydd Clark, who will soon appear in the A24 horror film Saint Maud, will play a young version of Galadriel. The rest of the announced cast includes Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Daniel Weyman, and Maxim Baldry
J.A. Bayona to will direct the pilot
Deadline reports Amazon has tapped Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom‘s A.J. Bayona to direct the first two episodes of the series. He will also serve as an executive producer with his producing partner Belén Atienza.
Amazon paid $250 million for the rights
New Line Cinema
After a bidding war with Netflix, Amazon finally obtained rights to Tolkien’s series for a cool quarter of a billion dollars back in 2017, a negotiation brokered between Tolkein’s estate, book publisher HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, which produced Jackson’s films. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the massive deal includes a five-season commitment and states that the show must be in production within two years. It’s been almost two years since the purchase, which means we can likely expect a slew of new information to pour in soon.
It could be the most expensive show in TV history
That $250 million rights package was already massive, but once production and casting costs are factored in, THR estimatesÂ that this thing will cost over $1 billion. When courting the book rights, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos allegedly told his staff he wanted to find the next Game of Thrones; dumping billions of dollars into another beloved fantasy property is one way to do that, we guess. But will it pay off? That’s a steep price tag for a show that hasn’t even gotten off the ground.
The first season might be 20 episodes
In an interview with the German Tolkien fansite, Deutsche Tolkien, Tom Shippey—a Tolkien scholar who is part of the show’s creative team—mentioned that “there’s supposed to be 20 episodes for the first season.” That’s a high number for an hourlong streaming series, which are typically in the 10 to 12 episode range, but for an epic series like Lord of the Rings, not totally surprising.
New Line Cinema
A second season was already ordered
While a release date for season one has yet to be announced, the series has already been picked up for a second season, according to Variety. The renewal isn’t too surprising, given the series’ deal with the streaming platform. Amazon opted into a multi-season commitment when acquiring the series, but each new season needs to be formally picked up by the streamer.
It might be about the rise and fall of Númenor
Last May, Lord of the Rings fan site TheOneRing.net reported that “multiple sources” confirmed to them that Amazon’s prequel series would focus on a young Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen‘s character in the film trilogy. They went on to state that the series will not cover the War of the Ring, as featured in Jackson’s trilogy, but would instead draw inspiration from the book’s appendices, which get into Aragorn’s family history and his role as the heir of Isildur and the rightful king of Gondor.
[BREAKING] We have confirmed from multiple sources that @AmazonStudios new billion-dollar #LOTR series will open its first season centered on a young Aragorn.— TheOneRing.net (@theoneringnet) May 16, 2018
Let's discuss whats available and how this opens up Tolkien's Legendarium. A thread. #Tolkien
But then in February 2019, Amazon created an official Twitter account for the new series, which hints that instead of focusing specifically on young Aragorn, it might instead go all the way back to the origins of his ancestors. An map posted to the account shows that the island of Númenor will exist during the show’s timeline. For those unaware, Númenor was a mythical island akin to Atlantis, that was risen from the sea and then destroyed and sunk back under during the Second Age of Middle-earth. The island was home to the Dúnedain, a race of man, some of whom fled before its destruction and established the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor.
Aragorn was a descendant of the Dúnedain and the rightful king of Arnor and Gondor, a throne he ascends to at the end of the Lord of the Rings book trilogy. Depending on how many years the show is set to chronicle, it’s possible that it could eventually catch up to the films and to a young Aragorn before his reign, making those initial rumors correct.
Peter Jackson might be involved
Creatively speaking, the only writers currently attached to the project are John P. Dayne and Patrick McKay, who are acting as showrunners, according to Deadline. The duo were supposedly recommended by J.J. Abrams, who worked with them on the upcoming Star Trek 4. The series will have a full writers room, so we can expect more names to pop up as the pre-production process rolls along.One name that has been tossed around is none other than Peter Jackson. According to Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, the company has been in talks with Jackson about his possible involvement in the series. That could mean the visual continuity of the series will be in step with what Jackson and his team created. That would make the best sense; if you want to tap into the well of nostalgia, and if you’re already in coordination with the original film studio, might as well go all in.
We don’t know what role Jackson would play in the new series, though executive producer and creative consultant is a safe bet. Salke has also said she’s in talks with Tolkien’s grandson, Simon, whose involvement actually means a great deal. When the film trilogy was announced, Simon had agreed to cooperate with the filmmakers, which caused a riff between him and his father, Christopher, who did not wish to associate and who cut Simon off from the family inheritance. Though the two were briefly estranged, they have since reconciled. It’s unclear how the elder Tolkien feels about Simon’s involvement in this new series, and just what the family is providing to Amazon, but it’s good to know the estate is seemingly more on board this time around.
The series will resume filming in 2020 in New Zealand.
Production was halted earlier this year due to COVID-19, but because New Zealand has the pandemic under control, it can resume filming later this year. According to reports, production will pick back up in September.
Images: New Line Cinema
Originally published on January 18, 2019.