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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's all the latest news 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. Back in 2017 when news of the show broke, Deadline reported that Amazon reportedly 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 sure-to-be-pricey show. The Hollywood Reporter speculates that the whole shebang could cost more than $1 billion.

The basics:  What, when and where?

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 spin-off 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. Since the deal was announced in November 2017, expect to hear some news on the series before November 2019. 

In a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said the company hopes to air the show sometime in 2021.

WHERE... Salke also told Deadline that the new show could return to New Zealand, where the Peter Jackson movies were shot. "I think we might be in New Zealand. I don't know," she said. "But we're going to have to go somewhere interesting that could provide those locations in a really authentic way, because we want it to look incredible."

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's involved?

No cast members have been announced as of May 2019, but back in July 2018, Amazon announced that 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.

One Twitter user asked actor Sean Astin, who played Samwise Gamgee in the Peter Jackson trilogy, if he'd be involved in the new series. His answer? "Um, I'm gonna watch it!"

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.

"I think they're going to send us some scripts to see if we can help them along," Jackson said. "I wish them all the best and if we can help them we certainly will try."

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. Not much to see yet, but 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.