J.R.R. Tolkien fans, get ready to return to Middle-earth. Amazon Studios is working on a new prequel series set in the Second Age of Tolkien’s fictional world, thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The first season will hit Amazon Prime Video in 2021, despite a pause in production due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The series was first announced in November 2017, when Amazon issued a press release confirming the acquisition of global television rights for The Lord of The Rings and its intent to produce a prequel series. The most recent update involves a large group of new cast members confirmed for the show. Here’s everything we know about the still-untitled series so far.
The premiere date
After facing some COVID-related production delays, the first season of Amazon Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings series has wrapped filming. It will premiere on September 2, 2022. To accompany the news, Amazon also released the first glimpse at the new show.
Co-showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay quoted one of Tolkien’s fan-favorite heroes when sharing the news.
“As Bilbo says, ‘Now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey.’ Living and breathing Middle-earth these many months has been the adventure of a lifetime. We cannot wait for fans to have the chance to do so as well.”
Amazon preemptively renewed its LOTR series in November 2019. However, there’s currently no word on when the series will begin production on its second season.
In December, following months of uncertainty regarding the status of the series, Amazon Studios released a long list of actors who will be joining it in unidentified roles.
The actors announced in the latest wave of casting include Spartacus and Arrow actress Cynthia Addai-Robinson (pictured above) and Maxim Baldry, who was previously reported to be joining the series and is now confirmed. They’re joined by Ian Blackburn, Kip Chapman, Anthony Crum, Maxine Cunliffe, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Thusitha Jayasundera, Fabian McCallum, Simon Merrells, Geoff Morrell, Peter Mullan, Lloyd Owen, Augustus Prew, Peter Tait, Alex Tarrant, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, and Sara Zwangobani.
The diverse ensemble includes actors from New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., among other locations.
Doctor Who and Years and Years actor Baldry (pictured below) is expected play one of the lead roles in the series, according to a March report from Deadline. The British actor’s character in the series hasn’t been identified yet.
Amazon Studios first announced some of the primary cast members for the series in January 2020.
Robert Aramayo (pictured below), who played young Ned Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones, replaced Will Poulter as one of the show’s other lead characters, currently known as Beldor. Poulter was forced to exit the project due to scheduling conflicts.
Joining Aramayo and Baldry in the cast is Owain Arthur (A Confession), Nazanin Boniadi (Hotel Mumbai), Tom Budge (The Proposition), Morfydd Clark (His Dark Materials), Ismael Cruz Córdova (The Mandalorian), Ema Horvath (The Gallows Act II), Markella Kavenagh (The Cry), Joseph Mawle (Birdsong), Tyroe Muhafidin (Caravan), Megan Richards (Wanderlust), Dylan Smith (I Am the Night), Charlie Vickers (Medici: Masters of Florence), Daniel Weyman (A Very English Scandal), and stage actor Sophia Nomvete.
In mid-March, production on the billion-dollar Amazon series was halted due to concerns surrounding coronavirus. At the time, filming was nearly completed on the first two episodes of the series, according to Deadline.
Production was able to resume in May with updated safety standards, but due to an already scheduled 4-5 month hiatus after the first two episodes were completed, the series isn’t expected to start filming again until late summer.
Sticking to the canon
Tolkien purists can breathe a sigh of relief, as Amazon’s deal for the rights to the Lord of the Rings series reportedly includes quite a few rules regarding the show’s faithfulness to the source material.
Speaking to the German Tolkien Society, Tolkien scholar and series supervisor Tom Shippey indicated that the Tolkien estate has veto power over any content in the series that doesn’t correspond with the author’s vision for the saga.
“The Tolkien estate will insist that the main shape of the Second Age is not altered,” said Shippey. “Sauron invades Eriador, is forced back by a Númenorean expedition, returns to Númenor. There, he corrupts the Númenoreans and seduces them to break the ban of the Valar. All this, the course of history, must remain the same.”
Shippey also confirmed that the Third Age of Middle-earth — in which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set — is off-limits for the series, suggesting that there won’t be any hobbits to be found in the show.
Going big behind the camera
Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel series delivered some big news to eager fans when it was announced in July 2019 that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona would helm the first two episodes of the show.
Bayona will direct from scripts penned by a writing team led by JD Payne and Patrick McKay and that also reportedly includes Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad) and Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones). Bayona will also serve as an executive producer alongside Payne, Hutchison, and McKay, as well as Lindsey Weber (10 Cloverfield Lane), Bruce Richmond (Game of Thrones), Gene Kelly (Boardwalk Empire), Sharon Tal Yguado, Jason Cahill (The Sopranos), and Justin Doble (Stranger Things).
Best known for his Jurassic World sequel (pictured above), Bayona first gained Hollywood’s attention with his critically acclaimed 2007 horror film The Orphanage, which earned him multiple awards. He later directed the disaster drama The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland, and then helmed the supernatural drama A Monster Calls, featuring Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson in key roles. Known for crafting dark, epic thrillers with plenty of emotional resonance, Bayona also directed the first two episodes of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful series.
Amazon Studios’ Salke also said negotiations with Peter Jackson were ongoing, with no decision made yet regarding his potential involvement.
Contrary to a widely circulated, May 2018 report indicating the first season of the series will follow a young Aragorn (the character portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Amazon’s series will, in fact, be set thousands of years earlier in the history of Middle-earth.
— TheOneRing.net (@theoneringnet) May 16, 2018
That early report was initially challenged when Amazon released a map of Middle-earth at the time when the series is set. The map revealed several landmarks in Tolkien’s fictional universe that seemed to indicate the show’s timeline would begin hundreds of years before Aragorn was even born.
According to Tolkienthot:
UNLESS MY MEMORY FAILS ME, IT WAS BUILT APPROX. 2000 YEARS (OR CLOSE) INTO THE SECOND AGE. HOWEVER:
It was destroyed after Sauron’s defeat by The Last Alliance of Men and rebuilt thousands of years later when Sauron returned.
Minas Anor didn’t become MINAS TIRITH until AFTER Osgiliath and Ithil were lost by Gondor. I’m beginning to become quite confident that show most definitely isn’t about Young Aragorn.
This is WAY before he was born. Give or take 931 years.
That assessment was then confirmed by Amazon with a post on Twitter indicating that the show will be set during the Second Age of Middle-earth — a period of several thousand years that encompassed the rise of the villain Sauron and the creation of the One Ring. (For reference, Aragorn was born several thousand years into the period known as the Third Age of Middle-earth, which encompassed the events of both The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings films.)
In February 2019, Amazon released an interactive map of Middle-earth featuring the lands that will be featured in the upcoming live-action series.
????️ ???? Explore the map: https://t.co/z9WOqI9Seo
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) February 15, 2019
The map was revealed via a pair of posts on Twitter, with the first introduced with a passage from the original saga reading, “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky …” A follow-up post offered a link to the interactive map, which lets users zoom in and out on various locations throughout Middle-earth.
A second map was released in March 2019, offering a few more details about the landscape at the time of the series.
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne. In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. pic.twitter.com/hRmGQbOhLj
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) March 6, 2019
Another interactive map was released a day later, and this one was accompanied by official confirmation of the series’ setting in The Second Age of Middle-earth.
Welcome to the Second Age: https://t.co/Tamd0oRgTw
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) March 7, 2019
Wait, how much money?
Several months after Amazon’s acquisition of the rights to The Lord of the Rings series, more details of the deal emerged, with The Hollywood Reporter indicating that the series has a five-season commitment and a budget that will collectively amount to more than $1 billion. That massive sum — one of the largest budgets any series has ever been granted from the start — doesn’t include the spinoff series that’s also expected to come out of the primary show.
The entire arrangement is contingent on the series beginning production within two years, so the project appears to be on a fast track.
Also mentioned among the reported details is the potential for “material from the films” to be used in the series, and the possibility that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchise director Jackson could also be involved in the show. According to the report, Jackson’s attorney, Peter Nelson, “helped start a dialogue between Jackson and Amazon” regarding the series. Whether Jackson gets involved is entirely up to him, the report claims.
The first reports regarding Amazon entering a bidding war for the rights to properties related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit series emerged late in 2017, with CEO Jeff Bezos personally involved in those negotiations. According to Variety, Amazon had designs from the start on producing a multiseason television series based on the books, with Bezos hoping that the show can become the “next Game of Thrones” (in terms of ubiquity).
While it’s rare for a CEO to engage in such matters directly, Tolkien’s work is a particularly valuable property.
The show will be produced by Amazon Studios in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, and could be a major coup for Amazon, which has had success with original series like Transparent and The Man in The High Castle, but has yet to produce a “must-see” series like Game of Thrones or Netflix’s Stranger Things. The yet-to-be-named series will be an Amazon Prime exclusive.
From the start, there were some eye-popping numbers involved in the deal. The rights payments alone for the property are reportedly in the $200 to $250 million range. According to the report, that payment had to be made sight unseen before a single line had been written or actor had been cast.