THE RINGS OF POWER: Middle-earth’s Second Age, Explained

We are just weeks away from Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Hype levels are at an all-time high. In July, the streamer released two epic trailers that shed light on what to expect in the highly anticipated (and expensive) series. And while the trailers show off some familiar faces—namely, Galadriel and Elrond—casual fans may not be clear about what’s actually going on. Where is the story of this new show taking place, and when? Why do we see Galadriel appear in the upcoming series but not Aragorn or the Hobbits? What is the mysterious Second Age of Middle-earth we keep hearing about in relation to The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power?

The Rings of Power is actually a prequel to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and, therefore, the show also acts as a prequel to Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. That trilogy, along with The Hobbit, takes place in the Third Age of Middle-earth. But the Amazon series takes place firmly in the Second Age. But what does that mean for the show? Well, for casual Lord of the Rings fans it means Rings of Power will have no Hobbits, no fellowship, and no references to the ultimate defeat of Sauron. But while that sounds limiting, there’s actually much to explore in the Second Age of Middle-earth—most of which we’ve never seen before in text or on the screen.

That’s because none of Tolkien’s novels take place in this age. We only learn about them from The Lord of the Rings’s appendices, certain portions of The Silmarillion, and in compilations like Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth. (You can find a handy reading guide for all references to the Second Age of Middle-earth Tolkien ever made over here on the Tolkien Fans subreddit.) Due to complicated rights, the show is only able to reference Second Age events as they appear in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, either from the appendices or from songs and references in the text. Additionally, the show creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay told Entertainment Weekly that they took some creative liberties with the official Second Age timeline for The Rings of Power storytelling purposes. (Don’t be too nervous; this happened in Jackson’s film series, too.) 

But what happened in The Lord of the Rings‘ Second Age, you ask? And what might we see in The Rings of Power? So many major, important events went down during this era of Middle-earth, so the show has plenty to explore. 

Here’s everything you need to know about The Lord of the Rings‘ Second Age—where it begins, where it ends, and what we can expect to see along the way.

The Beginning of Middle-Earth’s Second Age

The First Age of Middle-earth ended after an event known as the War of Wrath, which saw the defeat of the Dark Lord Morgoth. Before his ascent as the Satan-like figure of Middle-earth, Morgoth was known as Melkor, a Valar—or one of the lesser gods of the realm, who all answered to the main god, Ilúvatar. The war of the First Age saw the Men, Elves, and Valar joining forces to ward off Morgoth. They eventually found success, trapping him in a timeless void he could not escape. That long and grueling war reshaped much of the physical world, with parts of Middle-earth sinking into the sea. Afterward, the Elves headed West. New civilizations formed throughout Arda (or Earth in the Tolkien-verse).

The Second Age of Middle-earth officially kicked off with the foundation of two important locations: the Grey Havens and Lindon. Círdan founded the former, and Gil-galad, the highest authority among the elves, founded the latter. But it’s another location established a few decades later that is most associated with the Second Age: the island of Númenor

Númenor’s Rise During the Second Age of Middle-earth

A statue from Numenor reaches out its hand.  Lord of the Rings The Rings of Power will depict the Second Age of Middle-earth.
Prime Video

After the War of Wrath, the Valar took pity on the Men who fought to defeat Morgoth. The Valar gave them an island named Númenor. The island rose from the sea. The first king of Númenor was a Elros, son of Eärendil. Under his rule, the men of Númenor—also known as the Dúnedain—thrived, with lifespans that outpaced other Men in Middle-earth by several years. (If this sounds familiar, yes, Númenor was Tolkien’s take on Atlantis). 

The Númenóreans were a progressive people, known for their superior intelligence, advanced weaponry, and sophisticated culture. While many of them sailed to Middle-earth’s mainland to serve as teachers, the Valar forbade them to sail too far West so as not to disturb the Undying Lands. Mortals were not welcome there. They respected this command at first. However, the hubris of man eventually caught up to them. A faction of Númenóreans believed they deserved the same immortal lives as the gods and Elves. As they grew more power hungry, they started colonizing portions of Middle-earth during The Lord of the Rings’ Second Age. 

The Forging of the Rings of Power

photo of Galadriel wearing one of the rings of power
New Line Cinema

Meanwhile, in the shadowlands of Mordor, a lieutenant of Morgoth named Sauron was hatching a plan to bring his master’s evil back to Middle-earth. Sauron, once a Maia—or a spirit created by Ilúvatar to help the Valar shape Arda—was by now a master of trickery and darkness. He could transform his physical body. Sauron did this in an attempt to manipulate the Elves (the hardest of Middle-earth’s beings to sway). Disguised as the handsome Annatar, Sauron befriended several Elves—among them the Elf smith Celebrimbor—and taught them dark arts and sorcery. He eventually convinced Celebrimbor and his craftsmen to forge the Rings of Power as “gifts” for the Elves during the Second Age. We’ll definitely see this important part of the Second Age take place in The Rings of Power.

But in secret, Sauron forged his own ring with the intent of controlling the others. (One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.) His plan was almost immediately thwarted, however. The Elves sensed his treachery and hid three of their rings. Sauron gave the remaining rings to the Dwarves and Men. The Dwarves were mostly able to resist his power. However, the rings of Men expectedly them. Those Men became the Nazgûl. (The hooded figures who hunt Frodo in Jackson’s films). 

Sauron’s power rose, and a war known as the War of Elves and Sauron broke out to stop his reign. An army of Elves and Númenóreans were able to drive him back to Mordor, but there, his power and influence grew once more—this time, more insidiously. 

Sauron’s Arrival in Númenor

Desperate to put Sauron’s reign to an end, the 25th king of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, brought his armies to Middle-earth. They arrived at Sauron’s fortress, Barad-dûr, and forced him to surrender. Sauron feigned defeat and arrived in Númenor as a hostage. Secretly, he felt delighted. His capture meant easier access to the people of Númenor, who were easy targets for manipulation. 

Just as Sauron predicted, the Númenóreans fell under his spell. He corrupted Ar-Pharazôn and his people and promised that worshiping Morgoth would provide the eternal life they desperately craved. During this time, Ar-Pharazôn erected a 500-foot-tall temple to Morgoth on the island; a nasty place where humans were sacrificed and fervor and fanaticism grew. 

Drunk with power and under the influence of dark sorcery, Ar-Pharazôn attempted to lead his Númenórean army to the Undying Lands to confront the Valar and seize control. But, in a most significant act, Ilúvatar himself intervened. He trapped Ar-Pharazôn, changed the shape of Arda from flat to round (so mortals could no longer physically reach the Undying Lands), and sank the island of Númenor, killing all of its people. Sauron was on Númenor at this time, disguised as a man. The event robbed him of his ability to change forms, but did not kill him. Instead, he fled back to Mordor, where he once again licked his wounds and bided his time. 

Elves and Dwarves in the Second Age of Middle-Earth

A dwarf, Durin IV, with a braided beard in The Rings of Power.  Lord of the Rings The Rings of Power will depict the Second Age of Middle-earth.
Prime Video

Before the rise of Sauron and the sinking of Númenor, the Second Age experienced relative peace. It saw the aforementioned reconstruction of Lindon, the founding of Rivendell, and the development of Khazad-dûm. The Elves and Dwarves were the real winners of this era and we’ll see them thrive in the Second Age during The Rings of Power. In addition to establishing their prosperous dwellings, they were also able to (mostly) resist Sauron’s efforts. Elves like Galadriel, Elrond, and Gil-galad never fell for his trickery, and all played a role in his eventual defeat. And luckily for the Dwarves, their stubborn nature protected them from Sauron’s ring plot. Though they did develop an unhealthy obsession with treasure.

However, both races were deeply affected by the many wars of Middle-earth during this age and into the next. Following the War of Elves and Sauron, the Dwarves hid away in Khazad-dûm and sealed the gates. They prospered for a time, but after many years, they inadvertently summoned a creature known as a Balrog from the depths of the Misty Mountains. In the Third Age, the Balrog—along with Orcs and Goblins—eventually overtook the dwindling population of Khazad-dûm and turned the city into a tomb.  

The Second Age also marked the beginning of the decline of Elvish rule. It was clear the time of Man had come, and so they found themselves drawn by the Valar to the Undying Lands. 

But before they left, an alliance formed—one that marked the end of the Second Age and kick-started the events depicted in The Lord of the Rings.

The War of the Last Alliance Ends the Second Age of Middle-earth

Men and elves in armor in the battle against Sauron at the end of the Second Age. Lord of the Rings The Rings of Power will depict the Second Age of Middle-earth.
New Line Cinema

Before Númenor sank, one of its residents—a man named Elendil—foresaw the tragedy and escaped the island, surviving the catastrophe. Elendil was one of the few Men who remained faithful to the Valar during Sauron’s coup, and so he was spared, along with his kin and followers. These Men sailed to Middle-earth and established the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor—right next door to Mordor.

Sauron was none too pleased when he caught wind of this information. Having regained considerable strength after Ilúvatar’s intervention, he launched a surprise attack on Minas Ithil, a fortress of Gondor. His dark army took the city and burned its White Tree, a symbol of the realm. (Minas Ithil later became known as Minas Morgul.)  

Elendil’s sons, Isildur and Anárion, defended their kingdoms. Along with their father and Gil-galad, they formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Their mission: defeat Sauron for good. 

The Men and Elves spent years putting together an army, forging weapons, and preparing for war. They later joined forces with the Dwarves and marched to Mordor. Several battles occurred along the way, claiming lives and weakening both forces. The war culminated in the Siege of Barad-dûr, which lasted seven years. During this time, Anárion died when a rock cast from Barad-dûr crushed him.

Eventually, Elendil and Gil-galad were able to wound Sauron in combat, though both died in the process. Isildur then came forward and sliced the One Ring from Sauron’s hand, dispersing his spirit, defeating his army, and ending the Second Age. (The prologue of Jackson’s film trilogy depicts this battle, showing how Isildur comes into possession of the One Ring and kicks off the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.) 

Aftermath: The Beginning of Middle-earth’s Third Age

After the war, Isildur became king of Gondor and Arnor. He was later killed by Orcs, and the One Ring fell from his possession and into the hands of a Stoor Hobbit named Sméagol. The rest, as you say, is history. It took another age and alliance to finally put an end to Sauron (thanks, in part, to Isildur’s heir, Aragorn), but that doesn’t make the efforts of those in the Second Age less impactful. As you can see from this brief history, the Second Age was a fascinating time in Middle-earth’s history. A time of prosperity, war, fanaticism, and, ultimately, transformation.

The Rings of Power has a lot of ground to cover when it comes to the Second Age, but there’s also room for play. The trailers show both fidelity to Tolkien’s established events as well as new avenues of exploration. There are new Hobbit-like creatures called Harfoots, what appears to be some kind of Morgoth or Sauron acolyte, and a mysterious meteor man who could very well be the fallen Maiar himself. 

We’ll find out more about the show’s version of the Second Age when The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power hits Amazon Prime on September 2. 

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