A “Rings Of Power” Travel Guide To Middle-earth In The Second Age

Middle-earth has been described by some literary critics as a living, breathing character in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and in every adaptation of said writings, one as vividly realized and as crucial to the great tales as Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn, or either of the Bagginses; perhaps even more so than any of those characters, as Middle-earth is the sphere in which all of the great tales unfold (well, disc-turned-sphere…long story, we’ll get to that). No character undergoes as much radical development throughout the story as Middle-earth itself, which is altered irrevocably – though sometimes subtly – every time an Age of Middle-earth ends and a new one begins. Tolkien postulated that, sometime long after the events of The Lord Of The Rings, Middle-earth’s history would naturally segue into ancient human history, meaning that Middle-earth is our earth and continues to be a character in our modern-day “great tales”.

Rings Of Power
Romenna | aboutamazon.com

But of course, the version of Middle-earth in which we currently reside hardly resembles the one depicted on most maps of Middle-earth (tucked into most editions of The Lord Of The Rings right between the index and the back cover, which makes it frustratingly inaccessible to readers until after they’ve finished the book), and that version of Middle-earth bears as many distinct differences as it does similarities to the version of Middle-earth described in the written records of the Second Age, which ended roughly three-thousand years before the events of The Lord Of The Rings…the version of Middle-earth that will star in Amazon’s The Rings Of Power, a story of complex human drama immediately preceding the War of the Last Alliance in which the Second Age came to a sudden end.

As the title of today’s post makes clear, this is a travel-guide to Middle-earth of the mid to late Second Age – one which I hope you will bookmark for future reference, so that you never get confused while watching The Rings Of Power. I’ll briefly go over the histories of each new location in season one up to the point where the story opens, and in most cases no further than that, so you won’t get spoiled for events in future seasons if you don’t want to be.

But first, a couple things to keep in mind regarding this version of Middle-earth. When The Rings Of Power opens, Middle-earth is only just starting to heal after centuries of war and its inhabitants are almost single-mindedly focused on rebuilding everything they sacrificed at the end of the First Age to achieve that peace…although a sizable chunk of Middle-earth (encompassing the Elven kingdoms of Gondolin, Nargothrond, and Doriath) is lost forever beneath the seas, having been “rent asunder” by gods and dragons during the War of Wrath. The gods have long ago departed Middle-earth without fixing any of the damage they caused, leaving many Elves, Dwarves, and humans displaced in the wilderness.

Also, the world is canonically flat throughout most of the Second Age. I know, I know, it sounds like such a big deal – but honestly, it’s surprisingly irrelevant. The only instance in which I could see it being brought up in The Rings Of Power is if the characters travel into the furthest eastern, southern, or northern regions of Middle-earth where the sea and land presumably just stops and the void begins (Tolkien was helpfully nonspecific about how any of it worked). Traveling west past the island of Númenor would eventually yield the same result, but is strictly forbidden to all save the Elves; for in that direction lies Valinor, the Undying Lands of the gods. And that is, incidentally, where we start our journey around Middle-earth…

Tirion

Rings Of Power
Tirion | theonering.net

The paradisiacal region of Valinor was once home to the Noldor, High Elves with an innate passion for exerting their mental and bodily capacities to create great works of art. The Rings Of Power looks back to these days of innocence (which some might call ignorance) when the Noldor built a tall and many-towered city named Tirion in the Cleft of Light that cut through the mountains surrounding Valinor, allowing the soft glow of the Two Trees to escape the blessed land and spill out over the ocean. Here, under the leadership of King Finwë, dwelt the three princes of the Noldor, Fëanor, Fingolfin, and Finarfin, and their individual families – including Fëanor’s seven mighty sons, and Finarfin’s daughter, Galadriel.

Sadly, I doubt we’ll spend much time in Tirion outside of a few vague flashbacks establishing Galadriel’s origins and her close relationship with her brother Finrod – Amazon literally can’t go into too much detail regarding any of the characters who make up her extended family without straying into territory covered by The Silmarillion; the rights to which are currently being withheld by the Tolkien Estate. But that’s okay. By the beginning of the Second Age, the only character still living in Tirion worth mentioning by name would be Finarfin, one of a handful of Noldor Elves who didn’t leave Valinor to pursue Morgoth into Middle-earth after the Dark Lord stole the light of the Two Trees.

Forodwaith

Rings Of Power
Galadriel in the Forodwaith | game-news24.com

The vast northern expanses of Middle-earth, between the Grey Mountains and the edge of the world, are a cold and forbidding place unlikely to ever heal from the grievous wounds inflicted upon the land in ages long past by the Dark Lord Morgoth, who built two great underground fortresses, Utumno and Angband, at either end of the Northern Waste and traveled between them frequently until Utumno was destroyed and he was forced to retreat to Angband, where his lieutenant Sauron awaited his arrival. Together, they erected three hollow mountains above the gates of Angband, which issued poisonous gases and foul smoke to burn and degrade the land around Angband for many miles.

During the War of Wrath, dragons falling out of the sky crashed into Angband and destroyed its fortifications, allowing the gods to storm in and capture both Morgoth (whom they promptly tossed into the void, never to be seen or heard from again) and Sauron (whom they offered a pardon, which he refused before fleeing into the east). The remnants of Morgoth’s armies, including orcs, trolls, dragons, and even a couple of Balrogs dispersed across the Northern Waste, and those that did not succumb to the bitter cold and toxicity of the air burrowed into the ground and hid or at last entered Middle-earth and found strange new lands to defile with their presence.

Early in The Rings Of Power season one, Galadriel leads an expedition into the Waste to hunt for traces of Sauron (I’m interested to know whether she’s following a lead or trusting her intuition), and encounters a ferocious ice-troll dwelling in the ruins of a fortress – not Angband, but one of its outposts, I’m sure. She also discovers the mark of the Lidless Eye burned into a room with dead orcs trapped in its walls like flies in amber, implying that Sauron did in fact pass through the fortress on his way out of Angband, although whether he stopped to recruit some orcs in a ritual-gone-terribly-wrong or was ambushed by them is unclear at present.

Lindon

Rings Of Power
Lindon | tomsguide.com

A thin sliver of the old country that had crashed into the sea during the War of Wrath, Lindon in the early Second Age became a haven for displaced Noldor Elves, Silvan Elves, and Dwarves whose cities beneath the Blue Mountains had caved in, all gathered under the guardianship of Gil-galad, a young Elf of Finarfin’s house who unexpectedly became High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth following the deaths of all his close male relatives in rapid succession. Gil-galad had spent most of the First Age on the Isle of Balar, where he and the Elven shipwright Círdan harbored Elves fleeing from the wars with Morgoth, and in Lindon he served much the same function. His realm lay at a pivotal crossroads from which Elves could either return over the seas to Valinor or journey deeper into Middle-earth’s uncharted wilderness.

Many Elves, including Galadriel and Celebrimbor, initially chose the latter option and established kingdoms of their own in Middle-earth after departing Lindon. In The Rings Of Power, however, both characters return to Lindon to join Gil-galad for dinner and to take counsel of him one last time before embarking on adventures of their own…with Galadriel setting sail into the west, and Celebrimbor borrowing Gil-galad’s young herald Elrond to help him broker a treaty with the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm.

Lindon was described in songs as a realm both “fair and free”, and it appears to have never had a capital city in the same way other Elven kingdoms did, nor is Gil-galad ever mentioned as having a throne. Where Galadriel and Celebrimbor actively sought power and dominion over Middle-earth, Gil-galad appears to have sought only to shelter and protect people, regardless of whether they were Noldor or not, and to have never desired the trappings of rulership that were thrust upon him at a young age. I find him a particularly interesting character for that reason.

Eregion

Rings Of Power
Celebrimbor | winteriscoming.net

In the year 750 of the Second Age, Celebrimbor declared himself King of Eregion, a small and at the time sparsely-populated region in the foothills of the Misty Mountains west of Khazad-dûm. It may have seemed a strange decision to Gil-galad, but Celebrimbor had an ulterior motive that he appears not to have disclosed to anyone: like all Noldor Elves (and especially those of Fëanor’s house), he desired to make beautiful things with his hands, and he had heard rumors that the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm were in possession of Middle-earth’s sole vein of mithril, a precious metal that they had used to embellish their deep halls. He therefore befriended the Dwarves, and collaborated with the Dwarven smith Narvi to build a magical gate for Khazad-dûm’s west entrance, inlaid with mithril designs.

The Rings Of Power is probably set a few hundred years after the founding of Eregion, around the year 1600 of the Second Age (although Amazon is compressing the timeline to make it more manageable, so characters born thousands of years later are already alive and characters who ought to be alive are already dead, so don’t read too much into the exact date), at which point Celebrimbor would have built the city of Ost-in-Edhil and established the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, a guild of Elven jewelsmiths who would later go on to forge the Rings of Power with assistance from a stranger named Annatar. We’ve already caught glimpses of Celebrimbor’s study in promotional images; I just hope that before the end of season one, we get to see him and the Gwaith forge something.

Khazad-dûm

Rings Of Power
Khazad-dûm | chicagotoday.news

Roughly four-thousand years before the Fellowship of the Ring entered Khazad-dûm and found themselves hopelessly lost in its dark and unmapped ruins at the end of the Third Age, visitors to the Dwarven kingdom beneath the Misty Mountains would have feared no “holes and pitfalls” after stepping foot through the magical gates; for at the time, darkness had not yet fallen upon Khazad-dûm, nor had it earned the nickname of Moria, meaning “black chasm” in the Sindarin tongue of the Elves (although some may have already been using the moniker in a derogatory context regardless of what truth there was to it).

Khazad-dûm under the reign of King Durin III is a bustling hub of commerce located in the exact middle of Middle-earth with entrances on both sides of the Misty Mountains to allow for easier access to everybody – Noldor Elves from Eregion, Silvan Elves from Greenwood, Dwarves from the Blue Mountains to the Iron Hills, Harfoots from Wilderland, and Men from across the entire southern half of the map as far as the isle of Númenor. Ironically, even after receiving Rings of Power, the Dwarves were never again as powerful as they were in these days. Their reserves of mithril dwindled in the Third Age, prompting the Dwarven miners under the reign of King Durin VI to dig deeper in search of hidden mithril veins that could revitalize Khazad-dûm’s dying economy…but instead they awoke an ancient horror that had long slept coiled around the base of Caradhras, a Balrog of Morgoth known to the Dwarves of later years as “Durin’s Bane”, for it slaughtered the king and most of his people.

Amazon is compressing the timeline to such an extent that these events, which canonically didn’t occur until the year 1981 of the Third Age, might be depicted in a future season of The Rings Of Power, with Prince Durin IV, King Durin III’s son, taking the place of King Durin VI. At any rate, the eventual fall of Khazad-dûm is already being foreshadowed in the show’s trailers, the latest of which included a short sequence of a leaf falling through a series of caves and tunnels lined with mithril-veins before suddenly catching fire and disintegrating…followed almost immediately by a shot of a Balrog, which I guess could be any Balrog but certainly looks a hell of a lot like Durin’s Bane as portrayed in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, with ram horns and a gaping maw emitting heat. All I’m saying is don’t get too attached to the Dwarven characters in The Rings Of Power

Wilderland

Rings Of Power
Wilderland | kpcnews.com

Everything that lies between the eastern foothills of the Misty Mountains and the western eaves of Greenwood (later Mirkwood), including the Anduin river valley, Dimrill Dale, Lórien, and the Gladden Fields, was known to the Hobbits of the late Third Age as “Wilderland” because it was a wild and unkempt corner of Middle-earth, but what they did not know (or no longer remembered) was that in the Second Age their ancestors lived in Wilderland along the west banks of the Anduin at least as far north as Rivendell and probably as far south as Khazad-dûm’s east gate. They were divided into three distinct subgroups, of whom the most numerous were the nimble Harfoots, a southerly subgroup who were friendly with Dwarves in ancient times.

The Rings Of Power follows a tightly-knit nomadic clan of Harfoots as they travel around Wilderland doing their level best to stay out of the affairs of Elves, Dwarves, and Men…which is peculiar for many reasons, one being that the Harfoots were canonically “the most inclined to settle in one place”. Of course, Amazon has been using the term Harfoot rather liberally, as if it applies to any and all prehistoric Hobbits, including the more adventurous Fallohides and the boat-building Stoors, which could be the only explanation we ever get for this apparent discrepancy – although I for one would be slightly disappointed if we never got to meet any true Stoors and Fallohides in future seasons.

I can understand why, in season one, Amazon wouldn’t want to overcomplicate matters by distinguishing between three different groups of Hobbits in a story that’s already straining to include Harfoots in the first place, but if The Rings Of Power follows the Harfoots on their great migration out of Wilderland and over the Misty Mountains (as I strongly suspect will be the case, given that we have to spend five seasons with them and they don’t have any relevance to the War of the Elves and Sauron), then it would make sense for them to run into Fallohides and Stoors at some point on that journey. Heck, throw in a pair of Fallohide brothers named Marcho and Blanco, and you have yourself a whole Shire origin story just waiting to be told…because that’s definitely something people are clamoring to see.

Tirharad

Rings Of Power
Bronwyn and Arondir in Tirharad | syfy.com

The only non-canonical location on this list, Tirharad or “south-watch” in Sindarin, appears to be a small village located somewhere in the Southlands of Middle-earth where humans whose ancestors worshiped Morgoth during the First Age were exiled to live out their days under the surveillance of Silvan Elves. The whole situation is very unusual. For one thing, we don’t know who exiled these people to begin with; I’m assuming they were a Noldor Elf, someone who would bear a grudge against all of Morgoth’s followers, but then who or what gave them the authority to command humans and why would they entrust the responsibility of surveilling these humans to Silvan Elves, those least affected by Morgoth? I’m very confused.

Several-hundred years later, most of the inhabitants of Tirharad have probably forgotten Morgoth’s name entirely, but at least one Silvan Elf, by the name of Arondir, remains in the nearby watch-tower to guard against future threats – although as he falls in love with a human woman named Bronwyn, he begins to realize that the threat to Tirharad is far greater than the threat its people pose to him. Tirharad is the site of several action sequences we’ve seen in the trailer, including a one-on-one fight between Bronwyn and an orc intruder, an epic confrontation between Arondir and a legion of orcs led by the mysterious “Adar”, and what is presumably the climactic battle of season one, in which Galadriel and a Númenórean army led by Tar-Míriel are involved in liberating the village from orcs.

Númenor

Rings Of Power
Númenor | rollingstone.com

Situated in the middle of the Sundering Seas between Valinor and Middle-earth, the star-shaped island of Númenor juts suddenly out of the water, its irregular geography and sheer cliffs a testament to the strange, violent manner of its birth – lifted straight out of the ocean depths by Ulmo, god of the sea, while the earth was still pliable following the War of Wrath, to be a new homeland for humans who had fought alongside the Elves throughout the First Age. Following a star, these “Elf-friends” ventured across the ocean in a fleet of ships to find their island prepared for them, and visitors from Valinor already waiting for their arrival with gifts including plants, flowers, and songbirds.

Over the next thousand years, the Númenóreans enjoyed peace and prosperity under the leadership of wise, long-lived kings and queens who were initially sympathetic to the plight of the Elves in Middle-earth and as resistant to Sauron as their ancestors were to Morgoth. Since they were forbidden to travel west to Valinor and visit their friends, they sailed east and south along the shores of Middle-earth in search of new lands where they could satisfy their thirst for adventure. Along the way, they liberated many humans from the dominion of Sauron and demanded little in return save for wood with which to build larger ships.

But as time went on and the Númenórean mariners found themselves revisiting lands they had already explored, their eyes turned westward once more and they became gradually convinced that something in Valinor was being withheld from them, namely the gift of immortal life that was granted to all Elves. And as their curiosity gave way to wariness and thence to suspicion, they became…less kind. Canonically, it was in the year 1700 of the Second Age, during the reign of Tar-Minastir, that the Númenóreans first sent troops to Middle-earth to aid King Gil-galad in the wars against Sauron and were so impressed by their own military prowess that they began wielding the same violent force on the people under their protection in the hopes it would make them feel powerful.

Amazon is tweaking the timeline so that all of this (and a great deal more) will occur during the lifespan of Tar-Míriel, the last Queen of Númenor, who canonically lived between 3117 and 3319 of the Second Age. Tar-Míriel is still Tar-Míriel, and will still do everything that Tar-Míriel actually did in her lifetime…she just so happens to also fill the role of Tar-Minastir by leading the Númenórean armies to Middle-earth shortly before the forging of the Rings of Power, and I suspect that the characters around her, particularly non-canonical characters, will similarly play a variety of parts that Tolkien assigned to a multitude of thinly sketched-out characters across the sprawling narrative of the Second Age because he was writing a timeline, not a television series.

To cite one example, Isildur is a Númenórean mariner in The Rings Of Power so that we may witness the rapid evolution of the mariners from explorers to colonizers through his eyes, whereas if Amazon had opted to adapt the stories of the Second Age as written, with obligatory time-jumps between seasons to cover the entire three-thousand year period, we’d need to meet several different Númenórean mariner protagonists over the course of five seasons to tell the same story, and I can see where that would get redundant. Personally, I’m still a proponent of the anthology approach and would very much have liked to see that show, but I trust that The Rings Of Power‘s showrunners and writers can convey with a limited number of characters existing simultaneously to each other what Tolkien only managed with multiple characters existing at different points on a timeline of epic proportions.

Armenelos

Rings Of Power
Tar-Míriel | ew.com

I’ve talked about Númenor, but said nothing yet of its capital city – Armenelos, possibly the greatest city in all of Middle-earth at the time, rivaled in size and splendor only by Khazad-dûm. Interestingly, the name Armenelos isn’t written in The Lord Of The Rings or its appendices, so Amazon shouldn’t be able to use it…but they already have, on the official map of Middle-earth they released way back in February of 2019 to promote The Rings Of Power before the series even had a title. It’s not even the only place-name on that map that comes to us from The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales, but it’s a location we know for a fact we’ll visit in season one because we’ve already seen images of the city, so it would be really weird if Amazon just never uses the name in the show.

In fact, they wouldn’t be allowed to refer to any of the places on their own official map of Númenor by name without apparently overstepping their agreement with the Tolkien Estate, unless (as I’ve long suspected) they got more out of the agreement than just The Lord Of The Rings and its appendices (well, we know they also got The Hobbit, but that’s not gonna be much help to them in this case). Even the map of Númenor that John Howe must have been tracing from when he designed Amazon’s map of Middle-earth is only found in Unfinished Tales. And I promise this is relevant, because there are several stories and characters that Amazon could only use if they had the rights to Unfinished Tales – a notable example being Annatar, a familiar name to many Tolkien fans but one which never appeared in The Lord Of The Rings.

Oddly, a couple of place-names didn’t make it onto Amazon’s map and one of those is Andúnië, the city where Elendil and his family lived near the end of the Second Age – which leads me to believe that they’re being relocated to Armenelos for budgetary purposes in season one. Of the two coastal cities that did make the cut, Romenna is the city I believe was depicted in the opening shot of the first teaser trailer and in many subsequent trailers; it is also the seaport from which Tar-Míriel and her navy will likely set sail for Middle-earth, due to the city’s close proximity with Armenelos and eastward-facing harbor.

Honorable Mentions:

Rings Of Power
Lorien | br.pinterest.com

Amon Lanc, another name from Unfinished Tales that appeared on Amazon’s official map, this one referring to the tall bald hill rising out of southern Greenwood where the Silvan Elves under King Oropher (and later Oropher’s son, Thranduil – yes, that Thranduil) dwelt throughout the Second Age, before a shadow fell upon the forest and forced them to relocate northwards. Amon Lanc then became known as Dol Guldur.

Himling, Tol Fuin, and Tol Morwen, a string of islands off the northwestern coast of Middle-earth that remained above sea-level after Beleriand was submerged. I’m not sure if The Rings Of Power intends to take us to any of these islands, but their presence on Amazon’s official map is intriguing seeing as only Himling has ever previously appeared on maps of Middle-earth included in The Lord Of The Rings. Tol Fuin, the remnants of the Dorthonion highlands where Galadriel’s brothers Angrod and Aegnor dwelt throughout the First Age, could be significant if certain leaks are to be trusted…

Lond Daer, a Númenórean seaport and colony in Middle-earth founded by the great mariner Aldarion sometime between 750 and 800. Pelargir and Umbar, two seaports constructed later in the Second Age which gradually supplanted Lond Daer in significance and were absorbed into the empire of Gondor, do not appear on Amazon’s official map.

Lórien, or Lórinand as it was likely still being called in the Second Age, is the forest east of Khazad-dûm that canonically became Galadriel’s domain during the Second Age, although when exactly and how soon after Celebrimbor founded Eregion remained a mystery even to Tolkien. The conspicuous absence of Galadriel’s husband Celeborn in The Rings Of Power promotional materials has led some to theorize that Celeborn is already settled in Lórien waiting around for Galadriel throughout season one.

Which of these locations are you most excited to see onscreen, either for the first time in years or for the first time ever, when The Rings Of Power premieres next month? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Genshin Impact” Version 3.0 Teaser Reveals New 5-Star Characters

SPOILERS FOR GENSHIN IMPACT VERSION 3.0 AND 3.1 AHEAD!

If you play Genshin Impact and are active on Twitter, chances are you had already come across the leaked character models of nearly every upcoming character from Version 3.0 through at least Version 3.4, long before HoYoverse gave in and officially revealed most of them in a recent teaser trailer for the upcoming region of Sumeru. The Sumeru character leaks have been (and continue to be) unavoidable – everywhere you turn, there’s fan-art of the most popular characters, redesigns of the characters that fans wish were more culturally and historically accurate (most if not all of them, if we’re being honest), and out-of-context screenshots from the ongoing 3.0 beta of the characters and NPCs we’ll be meeting straightaway when we enter Sumeru near the end of August.

Genshin Impact
Sumeru | pcgamesn.com

The teaser trailer lays the groundwork for the Sumeru Archon Quest, which is expected to be larger in scope and potentially much longer than the controversial Inazuma Archon Quest. The six characters highlighted in this new trailer, those being Al-Haitham, Al-Tighnari, Cyno, Dehya, Nahida, and Nilou, are each rumored to play a significant role in the Sumeru Archon Quest (and that’s pretty much all I’ll say on that topic, because while this post is spoiler-tagged so we can talk about the characters themselves – primarily their kits and potential playstyles – I don’t want to completely ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the new Archon Quest by revealing story spoilers), but that’s not the only thing these characters have in common.

While there was initially some debate over Dehya’s rarity, leakers now unanimously agree that all six of these characters (including Dehya) belong to the five-star character class – the higher of the two character classes in Genshin Impact. Five-star characters, with their unique burst animations and high base stats, are generally considered stronger or more efficient than their four-star counterparts; therefore, most are only available on limited-time banners that rerun at random intervals, often coinciding with events in which said character plays a significant role. On the one hand, that makes them harder to obtain if you’re not willing to spend actual money on the Primogems you need to pull for characters – but on the other hand, it’s easier to guarantee a specific limited-time five-star for yourself than any specific four-star or even a Standard Banner five-star like Diluc or Jean.

Anyway, I could have told you that everyone in this trailer was a five-star based solely on the fact that Collei and Dori, two four-star characters rumored to be heavily involved in the Sumeru Archon Quest, don’t appear even briefly…the reason being that Collei and Dori, like all four-star characters, will be readily available on the permanent Standard Banner within a month of their first rate-up on Al-Tighnari’s banner – so no one will ever have any incentive to pay for them (and frankly, I wouldn’t pull for Dori even if HoYoverse was paying me, much less spend money on her).

Speaking of Al-Tighnari’s banner, there’s an interesting and surprisingly credible rumor going around that the on-field DPS Dendro bow-user will become the first new five-star to be placed on the permanent Standard Banner since Genshin Impact‘s launch, which is the kind of information that could either negatively affect his banner sales (especially if he’s one of the weaker five-stars, as Standard Banner five-stars tend to be) or potentially boost them (if fans of the character collectively jump at the chance to obtain Tighnari before he ironically becomes harder to obtain amongst a bunch of other five-star units).

Me, I’m saving all my Primogems for Cyno and Dehya, the only two playable characters in Sumeru (at least that we’ve seen) whose skin isn’t literally paper-white, making them by default the darkest-skinned five-star characters in Genshin Impact…although neither character’s skin is actually dark, mind you. In the real world, and almost certainly in the regions of South Asia and North Africa that inspired Sumeru, they’d be considered either light-skinned or white. In almost any other video game, including other gacha games by Chinese game developers like Dislyte, they’d be considered either light-skinned or white. Hell, even in Genshin Impact itself, when compared to brown-skinned four-star characters like Kaeya and Xinyan, and the unambiguously brown NPCs we’re starting to see throughout Sumeru, they’d be considered either light-skinned or white.

Genshin Impact
Cyno | in.ign.com

Some indignant players have cited the existence of Kaeya and Xinyan as indisputable evidence that the character designers at HoYoverse couldn’t possibly be guilty of perpetuating racism and colorism through their work, and in fact they’re actually progressive and ahead-of-the-curve, which is the type of excuse that I would maybe take seriously if Genshin Impact had, like, four playable characters at most…but as of this writing, that number is closer to fifty-four. And need I remind you that Kaeya and Xinyan are four-star characters, and thus nonsalable? The only reason these two characters and a couple of NPCs from Sumeru have brown skin is because they’re not made to sell, and if that ever changed for any reason, they’d be whitewashed.

That’s what this comes down to, ultimately. Genshin Impact‘s most desirable characters, its five-star characters, are intended to be desirable in every sense of the word (with the exception of Qiqi, a literal child), and their character designs almost inevitably conform to colorist notions of what is “desirable” because the beauty standards of China and Japan, HoYoverse’s two largest markets, are deeply rooted in colorism. HoYoverse didn’t create the problem, and they’re not the only corporation (nor even the only game studio) perpetuating it, but they also didn’t need to get themselves so deeply entangled in this mess and that’s what’s really frustrating about the whole situation.

Genshin Impact‘s fictional world of Teyvat is comprised of seven regions, and the three that have been released to date – Mondstadt, Liyue, and Inazuma – are inspired by late Medieval or early Renaissance-era Germany, Qing Dynasty China (well, to some extent), and Edo Period Japan, respectively. At those specific points in each country’s history, all three would have been predominantly ethnically homogeneous. Sumeru, however, isn’t based on just one country, but rather an amalgamation of something like thirteen different countries between Morocco in the west and India in the east – most of which are and have long been ethnically heterogeneous and racially diverse, by virtue of being situated at the junction of Africa, Asia, and Europe.

That’s why I have no sympathy for HoYoverse in this situation: because if you’re aware, as the game developers must have been after doing even the slightest bit of research into South Asian and North African people and their cultures, that you can’t ever commit to portraying these people and their cultures with even a modicum of respect, then you ought to either commit to the challenge and all of the responsibilities that come with it, or stop and think of a different story setting you can “borrow” from the real world that won’t have detrimental real-world consequences on the people whose cultures and history you’re “borrowing” if you mess up, as you inevitably will if you do what HoYoverse did, which is to stubbornly plow ahead without consideration for the consequences.

Genshin Impact
Dehya | Twitter @maegixx

Even if you dismiss the lack of skintone diversity amongst the playable characters because “there are some pale or light-skinned people in South Asia and North Africa” (nobody’s saying there aren’t, by the way – we’re saying that it’s colorist for the playable characters from Sumeru to all be white or light-skinned, while the NPCs are tan or brown, but whatever), there’s still a stark difference between HoYoverse’s approach to the previous three regions and their current approach to Sumeru. For instance, the game developers very deliberately singled in on a specific time-period in Japanese history as the basis for Inazuma, to ensure that while they played around with more fantastical elements their focus remained clear and their vision remained cohesive. But with Sumeru, they’ve blenderized so many different cultures it’s impossible to tell which one is even the main ingredient in this dreadful concoction – which is spiked with a heavy dose of orientalism and exoticism for good measure.

That lack of focus behind-the-scenes is attested to in-game by Sumeru’s very own geography, which ranges from a humid rainforest on the borders of Liyue, to an arid desert in the far west where Sumeru butts up against the region of Natlan…with nothing in between but a few miles of sparsely-forested wasteland to ease that abrupt transition. We can see it again reflected in the whimsical architecture of Sumeru City, which bears little resemblance to anything in the real world, and in the fantastical flora and fauna of the rainforest area (the desert won’t be released until Version 3.1). And I’m sad to say it’s a recurring theme throughout the character designs – Al-Tighnari, Al-Haitham, Dehya, Nahida, and Nilou are Arabic/Amazigh/Persian in name only, and Cyno…isn’t even that.

Al-Tighnari, the first Dendro five-star in Genshin Impact, fittingly bears the name of an early 12th Century Arab agronomist and botanist…which makes it all the more upsetting that his design is unspeakably ugly and poorly-researched. He’s wearing a navy-blue hoodie (you can zoom in for yourself, it’s a literal hoodie) with mismatched sleeves because Genshin Impact‘s character designers are obsessed with asymmetry, navy-blue gloves (with rust-colored finger-pads, because why settle on just one hideous color when you can have the whole rainbow?), big rubbery-looking navy-blue bangles hanging off his arms, navy-blue lace-up boots, baggy navy-blue pants with red stripes down the sides, and a severe navy-blue bob hairdo with lime-green highlights. On top of all this, he has the ears and tail of a fennec fox…a navy-blue fennec fox, to be precise. I’ll be right back, I have to aggressively scrub my eyes with soap.

Genshin Impact
Tighnari | pcgamesn.com

Ah, that’s better. Where were we? Oh yes, the next character on the list isn’t going to be playable until Version 3.4 or Version 3.5 at the earliest, but Twitter is already thirsting over Al-Haitham because he’s a tall and mysterious white man in a skin-tight, semi-transparent black bodysuit with one shoulder exposed (he has more muscle definition than Itto, I’ll begrudgingly give him that). Al-Haitham is rumored to be a Dendro sword user, although his release is still so far off that there haven’t been any leaks regarding the rest of his kit or potential playstyle. His design is sleek and futuristic, comprised of a lot of harsh angles and sharp lines; I don’t hate it, I just hate that it was probably chosen at the cost of the beautiful traditional clothing of any number of South Asian or North African cultures.

Cyno, whose name is derived from the Ancient Greek word for “dog”, kúōn, is an on-field main DPS Electro polearm user who lives in the desert area of Sumeru amidst the crumbling ruins of a civilization that once worshiped anthropomorphic gods similar to those of Ancient Egypt – including a jackal-headed deity whom Cyno emulates with his long-eared hat. I like the hat and its adorable ear-piercings, don’t know how I feel about the rest of Cyno’s outfit, which is relatively skimpy in comparison to most male characters in the game…it feels a bit like one of those ridiculous Halloween costumes for (white) adults that exoticize and fetishize Ancient Egyptian culture, but I’m hoping it’s not really that bad. We can’t see the entire outfit, to be fair.

I have similar concerns regarding Dehya, who is essentially wearing ripped jeans and a crop-top – not exactly what I would have picked out for a character who shares her name with a legendary 7th Century Amazigh queen, but maybe that’s just me. Nonetheless, Dehya is easily the best-dressed and most well-designed of the Sumeru five-stars (in my entirely unbiased opinion as an admirer of tall, muscular, claymore-wielding women), I just wish her design incorporated more…well, any elements of traditional Amazigh clothing. Between now and her estimated release date around Version 3.4 or Version 3.5, there’s still plenty of time to tweak her design slightly, HoYoverse (just please don’t lighten her skin any more, dear lord).

Nilou, described in the trailer as a dancer defying tradition, is rumored to be a sub-DPS or burst-DPS Hydro sword user releasing in Version 3.1, although we’ll meet her sooner than that during the Sumeru Archon Quest, as she’s presumably involved in the rapidly growing uprising against the Akademiya’s authoritarian rule of Sumeru. More research appears to have gone into her design than into certain other characters – Nilou even utilizes traditional Persian dance moves in her signature burst animation, and her outfit, ornate headdress, and tattoos are inspired by the costumes of Persian dancers from the time of the Sassanid Dynasty in what is now Iran. Unfortunately, her outfit has been sexualized to the point where she closer resembles orientalist stereotypes of belly dancers at first glance.

Finally, there’s Nahida – whose kit and playstyle haven’t leaked yet, although she’s currently rumored to be a Dendro catalyst-user releasing in Version 3.2, around the same time the Sumeru Archon Quest wraps up. Her outfit contains no discernible references to the traditional clothing of South Asia and North Africa, and honestly it’s a painfully average design on top of that; she’s wearing a simple, flower-shaped white dress with a couple of emerald-green accoutrements that clash terribly with her paper-white skin and hair. As fan-artists have been quick to demonstrate, Nahida really needed a brown skintone to complement the whites and greens in her clothing and hair if this was the route HoYoverse was insistent on taking with her design.

Genshin Impact
Sumeru City | gamewith.net

Well, that’s all of them. Unless there are a couple of four-star characters released in the near future whose designs really blow me away (I might pull for Collei, but I’ve already vowed never to use Dori even if I accidentally obtain her on the Standard Banner), I plan to save my Primogems for Cyno and Dehya…and yeah, that’s pretty much it. Sumeru and its five-star characters have disappointed me greatly – but my disappointment with HoYoverse is nothing compared to the hurt that South Asian, Southwest Asian, and North African fans have felt upon seeing some of these characters meant to represent them and their people, which is why I feel it’s important to actively call out the game developers and demand better…because it’s bad now, but it’s only going to get worse when the region of Natlan, inspired by pre-colonial South American and Mesoamerican cultures, comes out in Version 5.0, unless HoYoverse does something about it now.

Sauron Looms Large Over New “Rings Of Power” Trailer

POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOR THE RINGS OF POWER AHEAD!

We got played, and honestly I can’t even be mad…because of course Sauron wasn’t going to let himself be exposed in a trailer for The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, not without first seizing an opportunity to manipulate all of the fans (myself included) too over-eager and impatient for a glimpse of Sauron to notice for ourselves that the fine-featured fellow in the picture below, with the ice-blue eyes and the bleach-blond buzzcut, initially misidentified as Anson Boon playing Sauron, not only was not Anson Boon or Sauron, but wasn’t even a man…and embarrassingly, all of this went unnoticed by fans and a fair number of professional journalists for hours, until it was much too late to prevent the terms “Sauron” and “Annatar” from trending on Twitter. Oops…

Rings Of Power
Bridie Sisson as…well, I wish I knew | nerdist.com

Here’s what happened. A new full-length trailer for The Rings Of Power debuted at San Diego Comic-Con during a memorable Hall H presentation hosted by Stephen Colbert, and as well as being the best trailer yet, it also gave us our first really good look at the series’ villains – including the aforementioned buzzcut-sporting figure, who first appears onscreen while Tar-Míriel, Queen Regent of Númenor, is talking about how “evil does not sleep, it waits”, and then again near the end of the trailer to breathe fire off the ends of their blackened fingertips while a deep, gravelly voice informs us that “[we] have been told many lies of Middle-earth”, so forgive me if I got the impression that this character was the big bad.

Everyone seems to have independently reached the conclusion that this was Sauron after watching the trailer, and it really shouldn’t be too difficult to see why, but somehow we as a fandom also collectively became convinced that Anson Boon was the actor playing this random character we had already collectively decided was Sauron, and when I say convinced I mean we had heretofore respectable news-outlets quoting us on this and everything. In hindsight, looking at an image of Anson Boon and comparing it to the screenshots of the pale, androgynous figure played by actress Bridie Sisson in the trailer, the two…don’t look very much alike, but you have to understand that this was a moment in Tolkien Twitter. Perhaps not our finest moment, but a moment nonetheless.

Anyway, right as Sauron made it into the top trends on Twitter, a couple of fans who had remained clear-headed throughout all the chaos must have thought to check Bridie Sisson’s socials because somehow it was discovered that the actress had posted about being in the trailer, even helpfully pointing out exactly where she was so that fans wouldn’t miss her cameo…or, you know, accidentally confuse her with Anson Boon or something. A couple of fans misinterpreted this as confirmation that Sauron was being played by Bridie Sisson in The Rings Of Power, and the whole situation has only continued to spiral out of control from there.

The truth of the matter, or at least what I currently understand to be true, is that Sisson’s character is an entirely original character who just so happens to have connections to Sauron. There is no evidence to suggest she is playing Sauron or that Sauron has been “gender-bent” in The Rings Of Power (whatever that means in this context, given that Sauron is canonically a shape-shifter). Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Anson Boon – who was only ever rumored to have been cast in The Rings Of Power, anyway – is actually playing Sauron. That’s certainly not his voice we hear near the end of the trailer, nor is it Sisson’s. Finally, and most frustratingly, there is no evidence to suggest that we saw Sauron at any point in the new trailer.

So we’re back to square one when it comes to locating and identifying Sauron…but we’re in good company, at least! When The Rings Of Power opens, Galadriel can be found searching for faint traces of the Dark Lord in the far north of Middle-earth where he was last seen during the War of Wrath, while in Númenor Tar-Míriel consults the far-seeing palantír for information and is assaulted with haunting images of the devastation awaiting her and her people, and somewhere in the wilderness Bridie Sisson’s character appears to also be hunting Sauron, though not with the intention of killing or ensnaring him – quite the opposite, in fact.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel | syfy.com

Sisson’s character wields a metal staff topped by the symbol of the Lidless Eye, which is one of several reasons I initially assumed she was Sauron – but looking at it again, I think it’s far more likely that she’s a devotee of Sauron whose vestal garments and close-cropped hair are meant to signal to the audience that she has humbled herself before the Dark Lord in exchange for everlasting life…or rather, the promise of everlasting life, which admittedly doesn’t mean a whole lot coming from the Base Master of Treachery. I assume that’s why Sauron gives his followers nifty little magical abilities, to keep them distracted.

All of this is just an educated guess on my part, but I believe the priestess is trying to find Sauron because she saw the meteor fall from the sky and interpreted it as a sign that her god-king’s triumphant return is nigh. She might be on the right track, for regardless of where Sauron is and what form he’s currently taking, he is back and his presence can be felt throughout this trailer. The darkness, only alluded to until now, is no longer just a vague patch of shadow lingering on the edges of the map, but a growing ink-blot in its very center – a coagulation of many tangible evil creatures and entities emerging simultaneously from the deep woods and waters as if in answer to a summons.

Even the trailer thumbnail depicts a ferocious orc emboldened to attack Arondir after the Silvan Elf seemingly stumbles upon one of their hidey-holes in the Southlands of Middle-earth. Adar, a High Elf captured by Morgoth during the First Age and tortured to the point where he now half-resembles an orc himself, leads them – and while some of the rumors I’ve heard regarding Adar indicate that he genuinely cares for the orcs under his command and is only reluctantly aligned with Sauron, I don’t know if that necessarily means he’s a nice person. Piecing together all the clips of Arondir in this trailer and others, we can see he spends a lot of time in the same sheer-sided pit filled with orcs, werewolves, and other beasts, and I’m inclined to believe this is an arena where Adar throws his prisoners-of-war to fight until they drop dead of exhaustion, if they’re not eviscerated long before then.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel at the tomb of Finrod | buzzfeed.com

I’m not too worried for Arondir, though – at least he’s a Silvan Elf, so he can always defy gravity if it comes down to that. His mortal lover, Bronwyn, on the other hand, is a village apothecary who knows her limits and isn’t ashamed to take refuge in a closet when an orc breaks into her house, looking for the magical ancient sword she literally just gave to her son Theo…or maybe it just wants to know if she sells allergy medications? I’m very excited to watch this sequence in full and judge for myself whether it’s as creepy as the trailer makes it out to be, because I’ve always seen potential for horror in Middle-earth and I want an adaptation of Tolkien’s works to capture that feeling of paralyzing dread that I experienced as a kid reading The Two Towers for the first time and being so terrified by the description of Gollum crawling “down the face of a precipice….like some large prowling thing of insect-kind” that I would stack heavy books on top of The Lord Of The Rings at night to prevent him from escaping.

That also partially explains why I’m disappointed in The Rings Of Power for reusing the design of the Balrog from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring – not because it’s a poorly-designed monster by any means (on the contrary, it’s arguably one of the most iconic monsters in cinematic history), but because it’s never terrified me the way Tolkien’s vague description of the creature did…and I almost think the reason for that is that Jackson’s Balrog is so monstrous, it starts to feel less like a sapient being capable of feeling malice towards the Fellowship and more like an animal of limited sentience defending its territory. So I’m a little conflicted, seeing it again – on the one hand, it’s a strong visual link to the movies that I think more casual fans will really appreciate, and on the other hand, it’s just never been how I envision the Balrog.

I’m similarly divided over whether to consider the sea-monster that attacks Galadriel’s ship “evil” or merely aggressive – speaking of The Fellowship Of The Ring, this seemingly out-of-place underwater action sequence reminds me of a perplexing moment during the Council of Elrond where Glorfindel suggests tossing the One Ring into the ocean and Gandalf warns him that there are “many things in the deep waters”, as if anyone there knows what the hell he’s talking about. This is never elaborated on in the books, because I’m sure that to Tolkien it was primarily a throwaway excuse for why the Fellowship couldn’t just go down to the beach and dispose of the Ring in the process, but The Rings Of Power might have a chance to expand on this by showing us the extent of Sauron’s influence under the Sundering Seas.

Who wants to bet that some of these sea-monsters will also be involved in the Downfall of Númenor, circling the submerged island like giant vultures and picking off survivors? I’m not sure why this horrible thought just occurred to me, but you’ve got to admit it would make for some truly gruesome television.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel’s ship | polygon.com

Then there are the wildcards – the morally-ambiguous characters like Halbrand, who will make a selfless choice in one dire situation only to selfishly save his own skin in the next, and the morally-confused characters like Meteor Man, who is apparently capable of leveling forests with shock-waves released from his body but for better or worse can’t remember what he’s supposed to be doing with all of that power bottled up inside of him. Bronwyn’s son Theo is an interesting example of a character that seems to have good intentions, but whose path is leading him too close to the shadow for him to escape unharmed, while the Dwarven prince Durin IV, in his effort to unearth the reserves of mithril buried beneath Khazad-dûm, is literally getting too close to the shadow lurking in the mountain kingdom’s core.

So while unmasking Sauron is the top priority for Galadriel and her allies amongst the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, they really ought to consider turning inwards and confronting the darkness that has taken hold of their own hearts…before it’s too late to prevent the corruption from spreading. The trailer places a lot of emphasis on this grand idea that the Free Peoples are somehow going to conquer the enemy in battle, with Galadriel seemingly persuading Tar-Míriel and the Númenórean army to abandon their isolationist policies and join her in fighting back against Adar and/or Sauron – but if Gandalf were there to counsel them, he would say that “victory cannot be achieved by arms”, and he would be right, for military victories can be too quickly undone for their consequences to be meaningful.

To defeat the enemy requires a strength of will, a humility, and a tendency towards selflessness, all of which are qualities that…simply aren’t found in any of the people making important decisions for Middle-earth during the Second Age. The fact that the Hobbits (and presumably their Harfoot ancestors) do embody these virtues is exactly why they shouldn’t play a large role in the events of the Second Age, because they would fundamentally alter the course of the histories. I think of Hobbits as being kind of like Eru Ilúvatar’s answer to the folly of Men and the pride of Elves in the Second Age – that’s why they spring up suddenly in the early Third Age without any warning and why no one knows exactly where they came from, because like wizards they arrived precisely when they were meant to.

And while we’re on the subject of Hobbits and wizards…two days ago when I still thought Bridie Sisson’s character was Sauron, I had planned to end this post by asking who Meteor Man could be if not Sauron, and I was afraid to even speak into existence the thought that was formulating in my head; that he might in fact be Gandalf the Grey, arriving in Middle-earth by unconventional means roughly one-thousand to two-thousand years ahead of his canonical date-of-arrival in the early Third Age. I don’t know what it is about the thought of Gandalf undergoing a series-long arc of realizing the hidden potential of Harfoots in the mid-to-late Second Age that irks me, but something about it just doesn’t sound right!

Thankfully, with the confirmation that Sisson is playing an original character and not Sauron, those of us who don’t want to see Gandalf in The Rings Of Power can rest easy (for the time being). Sauron’s identity is still a mystery, as is the Meteor Man’s, and the two could still be one-and-the-same – something that, while it would undoubtedly present its own set of issues, wouldn’t annoy me nearly as much as Gandalf showing up for the sake of fanservice and being purposefully planted amongst the Harfoots from the very beginning of his stay in Middle-earth as if it isn’t thematically relevant that he canonically came across them by chance during the Long Winter and was so impressed by their “tough uncomplaining courage” that he became invested in ensuring their survival…hmm, I guess I figured out what irks me about the whole idea.

Rings Of Power
Meteor Man | inverse.com

Apologies for the small rant, that’s just where my head is at right now. Leaving all of that aside, however, this trailer genuinely moved me, gave me the shivers at all the right moments, and made me feel like The Rings Of Power is in pretty good hands. Closer to release, we might get a final trailer (I’d say it’s almost a certainty if Amazon decides to play the first two episodes in select theaters, as TheOneRing.net has previously reported; because then they’d have to sell tickets, and the day tickets go on sale is when movie studios like to drop a new trailer as a little incentive), but as of right now I need no further convincing – I’m sold. Are you?

Trailer Rating: 10/10

“The Rings Of Power” 2nd Trailer – It’s A Wandering Day In Middle-earth

“The past is dead. We either move forward, or we die with it.”

So says Elendil in the new full-length trailer for The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, but for Amazon’s sake, they had better hope the past still has a little bit of life left in it, because if this billion-dollar venture of theirs is going to prove commercially successful, it needs to convince casual fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works and people who have never read his writing or watched the film adaptations of his novels that they could care enough about the events of Middle-earth’s ancient history to sit down and watch roughly eight hours of streaming television based on the Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings. I hope this trailer does the trick, because I don’t know if we’re getting another one before the series premieres in early September.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel | slashfilm.com

The strategy at play in this new trailer is very simple. From the opening shot of Númenor’s coastal capital city viewed through a ravine speckled with seabirds and monuments honoring long-dead kings to the final shot of Sadoc Burrows leading a small group of scruffy yet intrepid Harfoots far afield over rolling green hills in search of a new home, the trailer aims to shock-and-awe its potential viewers with the kind of spectacular visuals that streaming services often struggle to deliver consistently…and very rarely in the first season of a new show. It’s what Middle-earth deserves, of course, but it’s also what will get people talking about The Rings Of Power to their friends and family, because you don’t need to have read the books or seen the movies to know that the show looks incredible.

For anyone wondering why these trailers haven’t given away many story details yet, I think you have your answer – it’s because Amazon believes that such details not only wouldn’t be relevant to anyone who hasn’t read The Lord Of The Rings (and more specifically its Appendices, further limiting the amount of people for whom the content of the story itself would convince them to watch), but could potentially give casual viewers the impression that the show is overly convoluted and inaccessible, which is definitely not what Amazon wants. That’s just my amateur analysis, of course, but in my mind it makes sense to assume you’re losing viewers every time you throw decontextualized pieces of information and unfamiliar names at them in a trailer.

If you’ve read the Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings and are reading this post, I’m going to assume you’re already aware that The Rings Of Power is set during the Second Age and depicts Middle-earth in its heyday – the way it would have appeared before countless wars reduced its fair cities and proud towers to rubble; before Sauron and his orcs pillaged Ost-in-Edhil, before a Balrog stalked the hallways of Khazad-dûm, before the seas rose to swallow Númenor whole, before the Elves allowed the forest to reclaim their homes in Lindon. The question now is whether more casual fans will recognize any of these locations as the same ones they saw ruined or abandoned by the time of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, or whether they’ll be sufficiently wowed that it won’t matter if they do or not.

Who, indeed, could be unmoved by the sight of Khazad-dûm in the days before its fall, “not darksome but full of light and splendour” as Gimli so eloquently described it in The Fellowship Of The Ring? To be honest, Tolkien left so much unsaid regarding Khazad-dûm that in this case, even the books won’t adequately prepare you for what The Rings Of Power has in store – in a single screenshot from the trailer, we’re instantly transported back three-thousand years to a time when “the light of sun and star and moon” showered down upon the Dwarven city through many vents and windows in the high ceilings and, by means of mirrors mounted on walls and pillars, zig-zagged away into the mines and cavernous places deep beneath the Misty Mountains – nourishing not only the Dwarves, but an entire underground ecosystem including a forest and a hanging garden.

Rings Of Power
Khazad-dum | Twitter @LesbianBoromir

That’s just one example of a location and an entire archaic culture constructed in reverse by The Rings Of Power‘s Emmy-award worthy team of concept artists (headed up by the legendary John Howe), production designers, prop-makers, weapon-smiths, armorers, costume designers, hair and makeup artists, and God (or possibly Jeff Bezos) only knows how many others who must have been involved in helping restore Middle-earth to its former glory with all the delicacy and dedication of archaeologists on a dig-site. I could go on for hours, quite frankly, but I think you get the gist: The Rings Of Power is visually stunning and aesthetically pleasing, and that’s likely to be the show’s main selling-point until Amazon feels they can afford to push the story and characters equally as hard (the way Netflix eventually did with The Witcher).

And that’s not to say they haven’t been marketing the story and characters at all; just that it hasn’t been their top priority. At least this new trailer features actual dialogue from Galadriel, Marigold Brandyfoot, Elrond, Gil-galad, Arondir, Elendil, and Durin IV (this is the first time we’re hearing most of these characters speak, as a matter of fact, and while we’re on the topic I have to mention that Robert Aramayo’s Elrond in particular sounds just right – I still don’t know how I feel about his short tousled hair, but he’s won me over with his voice, poise, and mannerisms). There’s also a much stronger focus on the Elves, Dwarves, and Humans, as opposed to the Harfoot-centric first teaser narrated by Elanor Brandyfoot.

Regarding the Elves, what stood out to most fans were all the flashbacks to events in the First Age – events recounted only briefly in the Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings. Amazon doesn’t have the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s posthumously-published compendium of First Age myths and legends, The Silmarillion, which would have allowed them to go into greater detail on certain subjects like the Years of the Trees, Fëanor, the Silmarils, and the War of Wrath, so I’m still a little wary of getting my hopes up for things I don’t think The Rings Of Power can actually show us, but I can’t deny that every time the trailers slip in a sneaky reference to something covered extensively in The Silmarillion it makes me wish they had those rights so they could show us what they’re just vaguely referring to.

I suspect the Tolkien Estate is clinging onto those rights because they know better than anyone that fans will always want to see more than Amazon is currently able to show, and that as demand for The Silmarillion grows, they can gradually drive up the price and force Amazon to fork over another $250 million before filming on season two gets underway. And The Silmarillion is only the beginning! Imagine what Amazon would be willing to pay for the rights to Unfinished Tales and its references to the mysterious Blue Wizards…

Rings Of Power
Galadriel | theplaylist.net

Anyway, what Amazon has been able to show us – even without needing to draw on The Silmarillion – is the same vista of Valinor under the light of the Two Trees that was first revealed to us in an image released almost one year ago, just from a slightly different angle. Later, when Elrond starts mansplaining to Galadriel that it’s time for her to “put up [her] sword” and relax because the enemy has been defeated, Galadriel’s simple yet chilling response – “you have not seen what I have seen” – is intercut with crimson-tinted images of Galadriel covered in ash and of bodies floating in deep water, meant to look like Amazon’s interpretation of the Sinking of Beleriand and the War of Wrath (not that Galadriel canonically played any part in that war, but I’ll let it slide because that never made sense to me anyway, sorry Tolkien).

We also catch a few more quick glimpses of what each of our Elven protagonists are up to in season one, from Galadriel fighting an ice-troll in the Forodwaith to a captive Arondir wrestling giant wolves in a pit (not entirely sure what that’s about, but I’m assuming the parallels to Finrod’s last fight are intentional?), as well as more Elven cities – including what looks like Ost-in-Edhil, where the Rings of Power will be forged. As a side-note, I’m not sure whether to be amused or frustrated that there’s been no mention of Rings (of Power, or otherwise) in any of the three teasers released. I guess season one is all one long, slow-burn backstory for why the Rings were made, but to not even foreshadow the Rings seems like a missed opportunity.

Well, there is one moment in the trailer that could be interpreted as backstory for the Rings – but it involves Durin IV, a semi-canonical character whom Tolkien probably only bothered naming because he needed to get the total number of Durins to seven. Durin IV probably lived near the end of the Second Age and never had anything to do with the creation or distribution of the Rings of Power, yet his ancestor Durin III was actually a close friend of the Ring-maker Celebrimbor and the only Dwarf-lord to whom Celebrimbor personally gifted one of the Seven Rings (according to the Dwarves)…so naturally, in the show, their roles have been swapped. Durin III is now a peripheral character (albeit played by Westworld‘s Peter Mullan, so he’s sure to be a scene-stealer), while Durin IV is the friend of Celebrimbor.

And it’s Durin IV whom we see holding aloft a chunk of raw mithril and proudly declaring “the beginning of a new era”, heavily implying that this is the first discovery of mithril in Khazad-dûm…which somehow feels like a more significant act of timeline-compression than I think it is. It doesn’t really affect anything; it just means that Celebrimbor must have had a different reason for settling in Eregion outside the west gates of Khazad-dûm besides wanting dibs on all mithril leaving the Dwarven kingdom. I just wonder what this is setting up for the future, because to my mind there’s only two options – one involves the creation of Galadriel’s Ring of Power, Nenya, and the other would necessitate moving the Fall of Khazad-dûm forward by roughly four-thousand years…and that’s what scares me about this change.

Rings Of Power
Durin III | gossipify.com

Just because the writers are already having to compress thousands of years of history into just five seasons of television doesn’t mean they should actively seek out opportunities to do more of that. Timeline-compression works best when it’s helping the story flow more smoothly to its destination (an example of this being Peter Jackson’s decision to do away with the seventeen-year long gap between Bilbo’s birthday party and Frodo leaving the Shire in The Fellowship Of The Ring), not when it’s forcing an epic story to shrink itself down to a more manageable size (like what’s at risk of happening in the case of Númenor).

I still firmly believe Amazon could have left the timeline just the way it was and gotten away with changing out the entire cast of human characters every season to emphasize the fear of mortality and decay prevalent among humans (and to some extent all the Free Peoples) throughout the Second Age, but I respect that, for whatever reason, they wanted a story where Isildur and Ar-Pharazôn are contemporaries of Celebrimbor, and they made the timeline work for them. We’ll have to wait until September to see if it pays off, but right now the sequences in Númenor certainly look compelling; particularly if you’re a fan of political intrigue tropes, as I am.

We see Ar-Pharazôn (still just Pharazôn at this point) riling up a colorfully-dressed crowd of Númenórean citizens with one of his speeches, presumably railing against the Elves and their leaders. Elendil’s daughter, Eärien, a non-canonical character described as politically-minded and opinionated, watches from the sidelines with an unreadable expression (it’s safe to assume that she’ll become one of Pharazôn’s allies, the “King’s Men”, in future seasons…and suffer the same terrible fate as all who join him in defying the Ban of the Valar). Tar-Míriel, the Queen Regent of Númenor, wanders through the streets of Armenelos with eyes fixed on the sky – from which particles of ash appear to be falling.

Elendil and Isildur, though not yet leaders of the Faithful, also appear – and The Rings Of Power foreshadows their future significance in the War of the Elves and Sauron by having them befriend and assist Galadriel after she washes up on the shores of Númenor with Halbrand, a probably non-canonical human character of indeterminate origins (I say probably because there’s a chance he’s the future Witch-king of Angmar or another of the nine Nazgûl, most of whose identities Tolkien never disclosed). Halbrand appears to part ways with Galadriel in Númenor – at one point in the trailer, he stands in the same large room where Ar-Pharazôn has been spotted in other images, and the two could very well become allies or rivals depending on what goes down between them there.

Rings Of Power
Tar-Miriel | ew.com

In the last ten seconds of the trailer, the focus returns to the Harfoots and their discovery of the mysterious Meteor Man – whose crash-landing we’ve now seen from various different angles, but this time we get the view from directly above…and there’s really no denying that, for a moment, as he’s lying there in a fetal position in the middle of a burning crater, he strongly resembles the Eye of Sauron as described by Tolkien in The Fellowship Of The Ring“a single Eye….rimmed with fire, [that] was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing”. Coincidence? Deception? Or a hint that this conveniently amnesiac stranger is in fact Sauron, coming to interrupt Middle-earth’s long peace after centuries in hiding?

Based on their dialogue, Galadriel and Gil-galad at least seem fairly certain that Sauron was not defeated during the War of Wrath, and they warn of a darkness creeping back into the world from the deep woods and waters where it long lurked, as if answer to a summons. Gil-galad’s monologue on the subject accompanies footage of orcs marching in torchlit procession behind a tall, gaunt commander with long black hair and eyes like dark hollows in a pale face – not Sauron, but an original character supposedly named Adar, played by Game Of Thrones‘ Joseph Mawle and rumored to be a High Elf (possibly even one of Galadriel’s brothers) captured and corrupted by the darkness.

So as you can see, there’s actually a good amount of substance to this trailer, more than I think the majority of people will pick up on given that every story detail is intentionally presented without any context in an effort to avoid confusing people that could all too easily backfire if Amazon doesn’t provide viewers enough reasons to watch The Rings Of Power. The cinematic scope of the series and its top-notch production design will lure in folks who might otherwise scoff at fantasy, while its breathtaking CGI will earn high praise from those disillusioned by the shoddy work that Marvel Studios has been rushing out in the past few months (if I were Marvel, I’d be pushing back the release date of She-Hulk because it’s gonna be a bloodbath on Twitter when people start comparing screenshots from both shows).

Nostalgia for the Peter Jackson movies is also an important factor to take into consideration, although I could see it going both ways – on the one hand, there will be fans of the movies who are just happy to revisit Middle-earth even if it looks, sounds, and feels a little bit different…and on the other hand, you’ll have the violently angry stans spamming Amazon’s comments with hate because they can’t accept that Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-earth is not necessarily the definitive one.

Rings Of Power
Elrond and Gil-galad | cnn.com

There’s obviously a lot of overlap between stans of Jackson’s films and fans of Tolkien’s writings, but at this point I think the latter are on average slightly more likely to tune into The Rings Of Power simply because there are a significant number of “purists” who didn’t like the movies and probably won’t end up enjoying the series either, but will either watch it for the sole purpose of complaining, or just to see what all the fuss is about. The upside to there so being so few new adaptations of Tolkien’s work over the past decade is that fans haven’t experienced anything resembling a “fatigue” yet, so we don’t not watch these things.

Will it be enough? I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but right now I want to know whether Amazon’s marketing strategy has been working for you – if so, I’d be interested to hear why, but if not, I’d be equally interested in hearing from my readers what Amazon could and should be doing to hook the hardcore fans, but even more importantly the casual viewers who only know The Rings Of Power through its trailers and promotional materials. Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10