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Lord of the Rings Amazon prequel series: Everything you need to know

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

amazon-lotr-map

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

Amazon

A sprawling, insanely pricey fantasy TV series based on a fictional universe that was introduced in a series of incredibly popular and famously long and complex books? And books, at that, by an author with a double-R middle initial? No, it's not George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones. Instead, 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 acclaimed Peter Jackson-directed movies. Though this series, like the film saga, will be set in Tolkien's Middle-earth, the company says the original storylines will come from a time period preceding The Fellowship of the Ring

And the series 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 it'll cost to hire the actors and crew and actually make the show. The Hollywood Reporter speculates that the whole shebang could cost more than $1 billion.

Recent news

Casting update

In March 2020, we learned that British actor Maxim Baldry has signed on for a lead role, though his character's name has not yet been revealed. Baldry is perhaps known mostly to British viewers for roles in such shows as BBC One's Years and Years, but he appeared in a recent Doctor Who episode, and played the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in the dynamite HBO series Rome in the early 2000s.

This info fills out the official casting news Amazon delivered in January, when the studio officially announced numerous cast members for the series. 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. 

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.

Back to Middle-earth

It's no surprise that the show is filming mainly in New Zealand, home of the Peter Jackson films.

But as of early 2020, not a lot has leaked out about the early days of shooting -- and now, the coronavirus outbreak could certainly affect production, though we haven't heard of it specifically stopping anything on this show yet. J.A. Bayona is directing the first two episodes, and he posted a very vague Instagram photo showing a selfie he snapped on set that gives away absolutely nothing about the filming location, except it's huge and barren. Let's just say the man is outstanding in his field.

Cast member Sophia Nomvete dared to share a similar image, but we can see even less of the filming site. Still, maybe for now, it's enough to know that things are progressing. She captioned her image, "Calm before the storm," leading many to think she was just about to start filming.

And we've got to hand it to the always on top of things fan site OneRing.net. They've got spies everywhere, even if a traffic cone in Middle-earth looks pretty much like a traffic cone in regular Earth. OneRing.net has also reported that filming is happening near Auckland and a number of "hooded guys" have been spotted as part of the production. WinterIsComing.net is speculating that the "hooded guys" could be Ringwraiths, "human kings corrupted into Sauron's service who lived to do his bidding." Or, you know, maybe they were just crew members in hoodies who got cold. (Probably not.)

The basics:  What and when?

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... And that first show will be around for a while: The deal requires Amazon to commit to five seasons, as well as begin production within two years. Production news started to crank out right on schedule in late 2019, with news of a second season confirmed. Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said the company hopes to air the show sometime in 2021.

How to watch

As you almost certainly know, Amazon has moved well beyond an online bookstore (those were the days...), and has an entertainment arm of its own. Amazon 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.

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.

In George R.R. Martin's online post after the Game of Thrones finale in May 2019, Martin wrote, "Amazon scooped up Bryan Cogman, and put him to work on developing shows of his own, as well as helping out on their big Tolkien project."

Cogman wrote 11 episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones series and was a co-executive producer by the end of the show's run. Variety says Cogman will consult on the show. But when Amazon posted a short video in 2019, Cogman was listed as one of the writers, along with Gennifer Hutchison, Helen Shang, Jason Cahill, Glenise Mullins, Justin Doble and Stephany Folsom

J.A. Bayona, who directed 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is directing the first two episodes. "I can't wait to take audiences around the world to Middle-earth and have them discover the wonders of the Second Age, with a never-before-seen story," Bayona said in a statement.

Belén Atienza, Bruce Richmond, Gene Kelly and Lindsey Weber are executive producers, with Ron Ames as a co-producer.

What's it all 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. Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, said in the original Amazon press release that the Amazon team has "exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien's original writings." 

But not everything will be unfamiliar. Amazon reportedly has rights to use elements from the Jackson movies, though we're unsure what form that will take. Jackson himself told Metro U.K. that 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, and this series will take place in The Second Age, Amazon revealed in a tweet sent in March 2019. The famous One Ring of Lord of the Rings fame was forged in this time period by the Dark Lord Sauron, who seems likely to 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."

But probably not one particular character. Tolkien fan site The One Ring stirred buzz among fans in May 2018 by tweeting that the show's first season would be centered on a young Aragorn. Portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in the Peter Jackson movies, he was an acclaimed warrior and ranger who plays a major role in Lord of the Rings. But that rumor fell flat once Amazon confirmed the Second Age setting, since Aragorn wouldn't have been around then.

In February 2019, Amazon shared an interactive map showing the part of Middle-earth that'll 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 so far, 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.

You can bookmark the show's official site, as well as follow it on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. As news is revealed, there or elsewhere, we'll update this post.

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