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'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power': Everything You Need to Know Before Watching

Brush up on your Lord of the Rings knowledge!

A massive statue above the kingdom of Númenor
From a trailer for The Rings of Power, the first shot of the kingdom of Númenor
Amazon Prime Video

Ever had a billion dollars, a love of The Lord of the Rings, and a desire to make a TV series? That's what Amazon is doing with The Rings of Power. It's a tremendous undertaking at a time when the fantasy genre is having a real moment. 

And while Amazon has spared no expense advertising this series so far, there are a ton of questions to be answered about what this show is and whether it's something you want to sit down and watch when it hits Prime Video on Sept. 2.

Here's what you need to know.

Is The Rings of Power a prequel?

In many ways, yes. The Rings of Power takes place before the events of The Lord of the Rings, so for the sake of simplicity this series is a prequel to the films.

The Rings of Power takes place thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings. It's a time period in Middle-earth referred to as the Second Age, because time in this world is divided across globally impactful events. The Third Age, where Sauron is a big glowy eye and is hunting for his ring, is very far away from the events of this series. Sauron is very much person-shaped in this series. 

Additionally, where the films were adapted from the three books written by J.R.R. Tolkien, the TV series is not so thoroughly sourced. Amazon was unable to secure the film rights to The Silmarillion, Tolkien's collection of stories from before The Lord of the Rings. Instead, this series will be based on the appendices in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien left a ton of notes about the history of Middle-earth in his very popular trilogy, including an abridged history of many of the events within The Silmarillion. 

If you're confused about what exactly this means for this series, you're not alone. Even in The Silmarillion, there aren't the same kind of rich details regarding the events of the Second Age you get in The Lord of the Rings. That means Amazon's writing team has a lot of space to fill with things Tolkien didn't explicitly outline. It's made some Tolkien fans nervous about the show being respectful of the source material.

Do I need to watch or read anything before starting it? 

You don't need to have seen The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit to enjoy The Rings of Power. Similarly, if you have seen those films, but it's been awhile, you're fine. It's not necessary to have recently consumed the extended editions of every film, and the same goes for all of the books. 

It's certainly not going to hurt if you've seen them recently, or if you've read The Silmarillion at some point. And don't fret if you're ever lost about something in an episode. We'll be posting recaps and explainers as early as possible, and we've got a terminology guide for the show too. 

What is it about?

A young Galadriel standing in silver armour with a fiery explosion behind her in a village
Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

If you've watched or read The Lord of the Rings, you know it focuses on Sauron's Control Ring. This golden ring was created as a way to manipulate the leaders of the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men who received powerful magic rings as gifts. Sauron's ring, often called The One Ring, corrupted an effort to bring the people of Middle-earth together after a great war against Sauron's old boss, Morgoth. 

The Rings of Power, as the name suggests, is the story leading up to the creation of Sauron's ring. It's the history and politics of Middle-earth after a brutal war and the efforts to grow and thrive after. We're going to see Dwarven kingdoms at their most glorious instead of the ruins we see in Lord of the Rings. We'll follow a younger, impulsive and battle-hardened Galadriel long before she becomes the powerful, ethereal being we meet in the movies. We're going to see how the great Kings of Men went from being a great and powerful empire to the shattered, scattered remains haunted by the Ringwraiths they created through their own greed and malice. 

Instead of a single quest, like The Lord of the Rings, you can expect to see many beautiful and twisting paths leading the audience to what will ultimately be a fairly dark conclusion. 

Will familiar characters show up?

There are two popular characters from The Lord of the Rings with much more significant roles in The Rings of Power -- Galadriel and Elrond. In Lord of the Rings we see these two as rulers of their own realms, largely unable to leave those realms because their power keeps those places alive and protected. In The Rings of Power, each of these characters is younger and with far less status. Galadriel is a young warrior commander on a quest to avenge the death of her brother, while Elrond seeks to achieve status through political means. 

The rest of the characters you have seen before are either not even close to being born yet, or they haven't yet arrived in Middle-earth. This is so far back in the past that Hobbits as we know them don't exist and their ancestors have not yet found The Shire. Hobbits come from three different kinds of halfling, one of which are Harfoots. These Harfoots are nomadic, and move around a lot to stay safe. We're going to get to know at least one tribe during Rings of Power, but not much else is known. 

If you're wondering about Gandalf, he's probably not going to show up. Gandalf, and the other four Wizards of Middle-earth, aren't sent to fight Sauron until the Third Age. It's possible that the writers could fudge the timeline a little and show us a wizard before the end of the series, but it's extremely unlikely we will see one as a major character. 

Is Amazon ruining The Lord of the Rings by making stuff up?

Rings of Power

The Dwarven Princess Disa, a new character for the Amazon series The Rings of Power.

Amazon

Nope, these are nonsense words from people on Twitter who like to be mad at things. I'm going to let J.R.R. Tolkien himself answer this, with a quote from a letter he wrote in 1951.

I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many others only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.

Since Amazon doesn't have access to a concrete, beat-for-beat story that tells you what every character was doing in the Second Age, there's a lot of space to be filled in. What you're going to see in The Rings of Power is exactly what Tolkien describes above, new minds telling a new set of stories within the larger beats created by the grand storyteller for the universe. There are certain lines Amazon shouldn't cross, especially when it comes to outright rewriting a story point Tolkien has established, but outside of those larger plot points there's a lot of room for other stories to be told respectfully. 

In the previews for the series we've already seen pieces of this. Tolkien only ever mentions a single female dwarf in all of his storytelling, and it's more or less done to further develop a prominent male character. We know Dwarven women exist, and they must have done things in their mountain halls, so having a character like Disa to follow in Rings of Power is a great, fairly low-stakes way to respectfully expand Tolkien's universe. The same can be said of the Harfoots, nomadic ancestors to the Hobbits we all know and love. Tolkien created Harfoots, but they were never a part of any larger story he told. This is a great opportunity to have some fun with a group most people already know they love. 

Nothing is being ruined, at least based on what we know so far. 

How many episodes are there?

This first season is going to be eight episodes, but Amazon has already announced it will be making at least five seasons. Unless the first season or two are catastrophically bad in terms of viewership, you can expect this show to be a topic of conversation for the foreseeable future.