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Amazon's Lord of the Rings prequel series: What to know about The Rings of Power

Journey back to Middle-earth with the upcoming jillion-dollar show. Here are all the details on the cast, plot and release date for series.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
6 min read

The new Middle-earth map shows the upcoming terrain of the Lord of the Rings series on Amazon.


A sprawling, insanely pricey TV series based on incredibly popular and famously complex fantasy books written by someone with double-R middle initials? No, it's not George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones. It's a prequel to J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga, soon to become an Amazon Prime original series.

Don't expect a retread of familiar territory. Amazon isn't going to remake the LOTR series that was last seen as several Peter Jackson-directed movies. Though this series, like the film saga, will be set in Tolkien's Middle-earth, Amazon says the original storylines will come from a time period preceding The Fellowship of the Ring

And the series will cost a lot of silver coin, or whatever the monetary unit is in pre-LOTR Middle-earth. Deadline reported that Amazon paid close to $250 million for the rights, making it the most expensive TV series ever. That doesn't, of course, include the money to pay the actors and crew and actually make the show. The Hollywood Reporter speculates the whole shebang could cost more than $1 billion.

First teaser video

During the Super Bowl, Amazon released the first trailer for the show. Not a lot of plot details were released as the trailer is full of quick cuts, but the scenery is gorgeous, so maybe we know where some of those big bucks are going.

Vanity Fair's inside look

On Feb. 10, Vanity Fair magazine published an inside look at the series that featured plenty of gorgeous photos. It's the juiciest helping of Lord of the Rings goodness so far, as we await the first trailer, expected to air during the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.

Highlights from the Vanity Fair article include images of Morfydd Clarke as the elven queen Galadriel, Robert Aramayo as elven statesman Elrond, and new characters, including dwarven princess, Disa, played by Sophia Nomvete, and Ismael Cruz Córdova's Silvan elf, Arondir,

CNET's Russell Holly explains why fans are so excited about the news that continues to trickle out.

New poster

On Feb. 3, Amazon shared a poster promoting the series, 

Title and teaser video

On Jan. 19, Amazon revealed that the series is called The Rings of Power. A brief teaser video shows the name of the series being cast in metal. A statement from showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay gave a slightly more informative plotline. It's nothing we didn't already know. The series "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."

First photo and release date

The show revealed its first somewhat mysterious photo in August 2021, also revealing that the show will be released on Sept. 2, 2022.

Amazon didn't explain the image, but fans speculated it might show the "two trees of Valinor," which are trees that brought light in ancient times. Others pointed out that in Tolkien's writing, those trees were destroyed before the setting of this series, so they could only show up in a flashback.

The series is set in Tolkien's Second Age, thousands of years before The Hobbit and LOTR.

"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," the synopsis reads in part.

What's this LOTR about?

You won't have seen these stories before, but you'll know the Middle-earth setting and likely some of the details from LOTR. Amazon reportedly has rights to use elements from the Peter Jackson movies, though we're unsure what form that will take. Jackson himself told Metro U.K. he won't be deeply involved, but that he might offer some assistance.

There are four ages in Tolkien's works. Lord of the Rings was set in the Third Age. This series will take place in The Second Age. The famous One Ring of LOTR fame was forged in this time period by the Dark Lord Sauron, who should be a major part of the new show.

Amazon's Salke told Deadline, "We're not remaking the movies, but we're also not starting from scratch. So, it'll be characters you love."

In February 2019, Amazon shared an interactive map showing the part of Middle-earth that will be depicted in the show. Users can zoom in on parts of the map and move around it. There's not a lot to see, but the map does show the island of Númenor, which rose from the sea and then was destroyed and sunk back under the waves, Atlantis-style.

As for the real location, it's no surprise that the show's first season filmed in New Zealand, home of the Peter Jackson films. J.A. Bayona directed the first two episodes and, in December 2020, posted a "farewell to Auckland" photo featuring some very dirty hobbity feet.

However, the show plans to film its second season in the United Kingdom, which left some Kiwis upset.

The basics:  What, when and for how long?

WHAT... Amazon bought the global TV rights to Tolkien's (it's pronounced Tol-KEEN) Lord of the Rings saga, though what exactly the company will do with those rights could evolve. Right now plans are for a multiseason series set in that pre-Fellowship time period called The Second Age. 

But there may be more than one show: Amazon's initial press release noted that the deal includes a potential additional spinoff series. Our guess is we'll have to see how the first show does before going there.

WHEN... The show will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 2, 2022.

HOW LONG... The series will be around for a while: The Tolkien deal requires Amazon to commit to five seasons.

How to watch

As you almost certainly know, Amazon has an entertainment arm. Amazon Prime Video is a premium on-demand entertainment service that not only licenses content but also makes its own. Amazon Studios has produced such original series as The Man in the High Castle and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as movies.

You need an Amazon Prime membership to access the content. But once you have one, you get unlimited streaming via Prime Video, which is now available in more than 200 countries.

The cast

Amazon has announced a long list of actors who'll star in the series, though there's not a lot of detail about the characters they will play. English actor Robert Aramayo, who played young Ned Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones, will star as Beldor, the leading role in the new series. Australian actor Markella Kavenagh will reportedly play a character named Tyra. British actor Maxim Baldry has signed on for a lead role, though his character's name has not yet been revealed. 

Other cast members include Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Joseph Mawle (Benjen Stark in Game of Thrones), Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers and Daniel Weyman.

And in December, Amazon dropped another list of cast members for the enormous series. They include Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Maxim Baldry, 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.

Who else is involved?

Godzilla vs. Kong screenwriters J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay will develop the show. "We feel like Frodo, setting out from the Shire, with a great responsibility in our care -- it is the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime," Payne and McKay said in a statement.

Bryan Cogman, who wrote 11 episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones, is listed as one of the writers, along with Gennifer Hutchison, Helen Shang, Jason Cahill, Glenise Mullins, Justin Doble and Stephany Folsom

Bayona, who directed 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is directing the first two episodes. Belén Atienza, Bruce Richmond, Gene Kelly and Lindsey Weber are executive producers, with Ron Ames as a co-producer.

This story was first posted in May 2019 and is updated as news is revealed.

Farewell to Middle-earth: celebrate 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' (pictures)

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