Everything We Learned From Genshin Impact’s Eventful Version 2.8 Livestream

The Genshin Impact Version 2.8 livestream will be remembered by viewers for exactly two reasons – firstly, because it finally gave us a teaser trailer for the upcoming region of Sumeru, and secondly, because the official English livestream abruptly stopped and rewound itself precisely two seconds after said teaser trailer began playing (after numerous instances of that same problem occurring earlier in the stream), then went offline entirely before the trailer could finish, forcing viewers to hop on social media and find the video elsewhere. Coming after a string of leaks related to Sumeru that have left Genshin Impact‘s fanbase reeling, the lagging livestream and botched trailer release can only be interpreted as an ill portent for the near future.

Genshin Impact
Sumeru | Twitter @genshinmains

So…what did we learn? Genshin Impact‘s livestreams serve as previews for upcoming patches, highlighting new characters, events, features, and the 2.8 livestream was no different, although I felt that there were fewer announcements and new details regarding each of the aforementioned aspects of the game than usual – perhaps because so much has been leaked already, but even the fact that there were no small QoL (quality-of-life) updates came as a bit of a surprise, and not a welcome one, either. Honestly, even with the lag, we still got a better look at Sumeru (releasing in Version 3.0) than the Golden Apple Archipelago, which will be returning in Version 2.8 as a temporarily explorable region for the first time since Version 1.6, accompanied by a bunch of cleverly-designed minigames. You’d think that would be a bigger deal than the livestream made it out to be.

Based on the snippets of gameplay we saw, I think the minigame I’m most excited for is Reminiscent Regimen, a co-op event where two (or more? I think just two) players can participate in unique combat challenges involving boats and wind-currents, all in the middle of the ocean. At the start of one particularly intriguing challenge, players find themselves on a floating platform high up in the air and must descend towards the surface of the ocean through a process of gliding and eliminating enemies on platforms. Plunge-attacks will probably come in handy here; just make sure that you’re actually lined up with the platform before plummeting into the water and getting stuck down there while your friend(s) complete the challenge without you.

Then there are the Event Domains, which are specifically tailored to match the personalities of the four playable characters who will feature prominently in the Version 2.8 storyline – Fischl, an imaginative cosplayer of the Adventurers Guild’s Mondstadt branch; Mona Magistus, a penniless astrologist of unknown origins, but believed to be from the upcoming region of Fontaine; Xinyan, a Liyue-born pioneer of rock-n’-roll music who also, coincidentally, spent time in Fontaine learning the guitar; and Kaedehara Kazuha, a wandering swordsman and poet exiled from his homeland of Inazuma. It’s a well-traveled group we have here, and we can see that reflected in their respective Domains, which range from eerie to downright trippy.

Fischl’s is by far the largest and most elaborate, at least from what we can see. Her Domain houses an entire castle with stacks of circular turrets like chimney-pots, steep walls lined with windows, and lovely gardens, hedge-mazes, and fountains. It’s clearly inspired by Neuschwanstein and other fairytale castles of Bavaria, the region of southern Germany on which Mondstadt is based (although funnily enough, we have yet to see any castles like it in Mondstadt proper). There’s a twist, of course, because Fischl isn’t just a princess, she’s also an interdimensional traveler, and so the castle is upside-down and suspended in mid-air, with various pieces standing right-side up and other bits jutting out horizontally. The purple-hued sky above is shattered, exposing a gaping black hole directly above the castle. Fun.

Genshin Impact
Fischl’s Domain | Twitter @genshinmains

But as a Xinyan main, I’m particularly excited to explore her Domain as many times as Genshin Impact will allow me if it means I’ll get to learn more about one of my favorite characters who has been sadly underutilized by MiHoYo (probably because she’s one of exactly two brown-skinned playable characters, and burdened with a poorly-designed kit). Apparently, these Domains all have lore attached to them, which I think we can definitely see with Mona (whose Domain is filled with glowing stars, astrological symbols etched on the floor and walls, and cosmic panoramas visible through the windows) and Kazuha (whose Domain is a darkly-lit Inazuman mansion with creaky wooden floors built around an atrium with a large tree), so I hope there’s a good reason for why Xinyan’s Domain is all thorny vines, rope-bridges, and weird floating doorframes opening onto nothing.

Unfortunately, neither Xinyan nor Fischl is set to receive their own Hangout Event in 2.8, but players will get a chance to interact with the new playable character Shikanoin Heizou in a Hangout Event titled Trap ‘Em By Storm, presumably referencing Heizou’s use of the Anemo Element and the fact that we’ll inevitably be helping the world-famous detective from the Tenryou Commission as he goes around Inazuma City solving petty crimes (which, on the one hand, means Itto and the Arataki Gang might be involved…but on the other hand, it means Kujou Sara will definitely be involved and I don’t know if I can stomach having to cooperate with her).

As for Heizou’s kit, I think everything we suspected about him has turned out to be true. He’s Genshin Impact’s first male catalyst user – and MiHoYo even invented a whole new playstyle exclusively for him. Instead of standing still and using his catalyst to hurl fireballs or ball-lightning or some similar projective at an opponent from a short distance, the way all of the female catalyst-users do, Heizou can get right up in an enemy’s face and hit them repeatedly with his fists and feet, infusing his punches and kicks with Anemo energy that activates the Swirl reaction when it comes into contact with Pyro, Hydro, Electro, and Cryo. We love to see it, we really do, but I can’t help but wonder when MiHoYo will give us a female catalyst-users who can do the same – or if they’ll ever give us a more graceful and serene male-catalyst-user.

Heizou will have an increased drop-rate on the first event banner of Version 2.8, during which players will also have a shot at obtaining Kazuha, one of the strongest five-star characters in the game. To go along with his first rerun since his debut just over a year ago, Kazuha is also finally getting a Story Quest centered around him – titled Acer Palmatum, which if you’re wondering is the Latin name of the Japanese maple tree (the same tree we see growing in his Domain).

MiHoYo released a couple of screenshots from the Story Quest during the livestream, of which the most interesting (and potentially concerning) shows Kazuha with glowing purple eyes, using a hammer infused with Anemo energy to forge a sword. Kazuha is the descendant of renowned Inazuman swordsmiths who just barely escaped slaughter at the hands of the Raiden Shogun’s homicidal puppet (long story), and I believe that we’ll learn a lot more about his family and their secret practices, along with lore related to Kazuha’s nameless friend who died in a one-sided duel with the Raiden Shogun herself before the story opens, and whose reforged sword this appears to be (does that mean Kazuha’s nameless friend will finally…get an actual name? The fandom has been calling him “Tomo” – short for tomodachi, or friend in Japanese – for so long that I don’t know if they’ll accept a new name at this point).

Moving on, both Klee and Yoimiya will apparently rerun alongside each other during the latter half of Version 2.8 – and both characters have their fans, although I can’t say that my love for Yoimiya is strong enough that I’m willing to spend all my hard-earned Primogems on her. I got Arataki Itto on his rerun, that’s enough new five-star characters for me until at least Version 3.2, when Scaramouche (the Raiden Shogun’s aforementioned homicidal puppet) is rumored to become playable. I’m exhausted, but good luck to everyone trying to pull five-stars in 2.8.

You’ll also have the option to purchase the game’s very first five-star outfit in 2.8, although you’ll first need to get your hands on the five-star character Diluc, who, to be fair, is available in the standard banner. Diluc’s new outfit or “skin” comes with unique special effects and idle animations, and – as noted in the stream – does not feature the character’s Pyro Vision, which he wears on his belt in his default skin. Some have speculated that Diluc’s new outfit will have lore attached to it regarding the Fatui Harbingers and the Pyro Delusion that they gave to Diluc’s father, which would theoretically allow Diluc to use Pyro without needing his Vision. There will be a combat event at the Dawn Winery centered around Diluc, so keep an eye out for that if you want to learn more.

A four-star character will receive a new skin simultaneously with Diluc in 2.8, and it’s…Fischl, who I don’t think urgently needed an upgrade the way other characters do (ahem, Kaeya), but hey, I guess it’s nice to have options. Her new skin doesn’t have any neat features like Diluc’s (at least that I know of), but it does switch her eye-color from light green to red, which I’m glad Fischl’s voice-actress pointed out during the livestream because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have noticed. It’s a cool detail, though. I really hope it’s important.

Towards the end of Version 2.8, there will be another event much like the one currently ongoing, so if you’re having fun constructing cute little robots to place in your Serenitea Pots be sure to check out Evermotion Mechanical Painting – during which, players will be able to design even more steampunk furnishings with the assistance of another mustachioed NPC from Fontaine named Horatio or Archibald or something. I think MiHoYo comes up with some of these random events because they just want to drop bits of Fontaine lore, which is amusing because Fontaine is probably over a year away, but I’ll admit, having the guy selling robots suddenly reveal that his gadgets are part of the Hydro Archon’s hunt to find an alternative energy source for her people does make me interested to know what kind of crisis is going on there.

Genshin Impact
Sumeru | Twitter @nahidadailys

And that, of course, brings us to the final topic covered in today’s livestream, albeit more briefly than intended – Sumeru, the realm of the Dendro Archon Kusanali and the region we’ll have to explore before we can move on to Fontaine. I will try to refrain from discussing certain leaks that have come out recently and dampened my enthusiasm for the release of Sumeru by a considerable amount, but just enough was revealed in the teaser trailer today that I think we can safely have a conversation about the pervasive colorism and orientalism in Sumeru without even touching on those leaked character designs. I mean, let’s start with the fact that every NPC from Sumeru we’ve ever seen in-game and now every NPC we see in Sumeru in the teaser trailer is pale.

With the exception of Xinyan, Kaeya, and, depending on the lighting, possibly Baizhu, every other playable character and human NPC in Genshin Impact currently is either pale or a light shade of white (or gray, in the isolated case of Rosaria), and even the two characters who are clearly darker-skinned are whitewashed constantly in fan-art, so frankly it comes as no surprise that MiHoYo is perpetuating colorism with character designs. They’ve been doing that all along. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating that a region we know was explicitly modeled after parts of South Asia, Southwest Asia, and North Africa is made up almost exclusively of blindingly white people in the game (again, this is without even getting into the leaks), when these areas are in actuality very diverse.

There are, of course, light-skinned people in all of these areas, and if there was a broad range of diversity in the characters we’ve seen from Sumeru thus far then having a few light-skinned or pale characters to reflect that wouldn’t be a problem. But when they’re all pale, NPCs and playable characters alike, what that says to me is that MiHoYo (not necessarily the individual artists and animators who work there, but definitely their bosses) simply doesn’t care about accurately portraying the diversity of these regions, much less challenging the colorist beauty standards that have caused so much damage in Southwest Asia and India particularly.

But adjusting the characters’ skin-tones would be an easy fix, one that MiHoYo could probably make at the last minute if they were so inclined. I think it’s much too late to fix the even larger issue here, which is that Sumeru and its characters were doomed from the beginning to look like an awkward mishmash of widely differing aesthetics and mythologies thrown together haphazardly in a blender because…that’s exactly what MiHoYo did. They made a diluted orientalist milkshake out of Egypt, India, and all of Southwest Asia.

Genshin Impact
Cyno | in.ign.com

It’s a shame, too, because the painstaking accuracy and attention to detail in Genshin Impact‘s worldbuilding is one of the primary reasons this game is beloved, at least by me, and I had hoped the developers would care more…or at all…about upholding their reputation for accuracy. But I’ll honestly be shocked if they do anything to fix any of these problems before the release of Version 3.0. I just don’t think they care, and the only way they’ll maybe start to care is if the backlash grows louder and people don’t pull for a certain upcoming five-star character from Sumeru (just to be clear, not Cyno – he’s lighter than Xinyan, but darker than everyone else in Sumeru, and I want his banner to do well).

Have you seen the leaks or are you doing your best to steer clear of spoilers entirely? Either way, share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Genshin Impact’s Inazuma’s Archon Quest Foreshadows How The Story Will End


It’s been a while since the Inazuma Archon Quest was neatly wrapped up in Genshin Impact Version 2.1 (a little too neatly and hurriedly, in most players’ opinions), but while the Quest itself hasn’t aged particularly well and is widely considered one of the weakest purely from a storytelling perspective, thematically it’s aged like a fine Osmanthus wine. I firmly believe that everything that took place in Inazuma during the course of that Archon Quest is foreshadowing what will unfold nearer the end of the game’s overarching storyline, when every playable character we’ve met thus far will have to make a choice for themselves, much like the one Raiden Ei had to make at the end of the Archon Quest – a choice between true freedom or the illusion of security.

Genshin Impact
Raiden Shogun | pockettactics.com

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we get into my speculation about where Genshin Impact is headed (and let me be clear about one other thing; it is just speculation for now, because the game’s ending is at least five or six years away), let’s go over what we know for sure – which is how the Inazuma Archon Quest started and ended.

When the game opens, the nation of Inazuma is surrounded by a mile-high barrier of thunderstorms that makes it inaccessible to players who haven’t completed the Mondstadt and Liyue Archon Quests (Given that Inazuma is an island chain in the middle of the ocean, you’d think such drastic measures would be unnecessary, but official data from MiHoYo shows that in February 2022 alone exactly 45,961 players tried to sneak into Inazuma, over half of whom drowned or were struck by lightning and died, so I guess you can’t ever be too careful). This barrier was erected by the Raiden Shogun, a computer in the body of a puppet fashioned in the image of Raiden Ei, the true Electro Archon of Inazuma who had been holed up in a dream-space for almost five-hundred years meditating on the concept of Eternity (every Archon has a lofty Ideal, which they try to impose on the citizens of their respective nations with varying degrees of success).

Raiden Ei had made the difficult choice to leave her people in the hands of a literal puppet at a time when she was still reeling from the loss of her sister and most of her close friends in a war between the gods of Celestia and the technologically-advanced civilization of Khaenri’ah (the latter of whom were wiped off the face of the earth in what became known as the Cataclysm). She saw Eternity – or, as she understood it, permanent stasis – as the means by which she could not only delay her own inevitable decay and thus preserve the memory of her loved ones long after the rest of the world forgot them, but also protect Inazuma; for if her people never progressed, and their ambitions never exceeded their mortal limitations, the gods of Celestia would let them be.

For Inazuma to remain eternal, however, required a leader who would never change, one whose judgement could never be swayed either by counsel or degradation of the mind and who would never hesitate to eliminate any perceived threat to Eternity, regardless of what form that threat might take – a computer, essentially. Raiden Ei’s first attempt at computer programming resulted in a homicidal clone of hers stalking the Inazuman countryside for centuries, but with a few tweaks and adjustments she designed the Raiden Shogun to rule Inazuma in accordance with a strict set of rules she left behind, dictating in excessive detail exactly which aspects of Inazuman culture and civilization were insignificant enough that they could be allowed to change over time, and which must stay the same so that Inazuma would always remain Inazuma.

Genshin Impact
Raiden Shogun | ph.news.yahoo.com

It wasn’t long before foreign dignitaries like the Fatui Harbingers and corrupt individuals in the Shogun’s own court began pulling the puppet’s strings and manipulating her relatively straightforward programming to further their own agendas, with the Fatui being the first to suggest that the Shogun should close Inazuma’s borders to outsiders (the irony!) and forbid Inazuman citizens from traveling abroad. Ei was aware of some of this from her dream-state, but naively believed that the Raiden Shogun was still in control of the situation.

About a year before Genshin Impact‘s story opens, the Fatui successfully convinced the Raiden Shogun to take the same drastic measures towards Vision-wielders in her own nation. Visions, for context, are gemstones that fall from the heavens into the hands of ordinary people, allowing them to manipulate one of the seven elements – almost every playable character in Genshin Impact besides the protagonist has one, although the Archons and a handful of other characters don’t actually need theirs to manipulate the elements. To receive a Vision is to be marked by the gods for greatness, and it’s generally believed that they’re given to people with unusually strong ambitions.

It’s not hard to understand why the Raiden Shogun was deceived into believing that Visions were antithetical to Eternity. Vision-wielders are supposed to change the world, for better or worse (or at least, that’s what they believe), but in Inazuma every substantial change was immediately reversed by the Shogun and its instigators punished with death. Rather than kill every Vision-wielder in Inazuma in one fell swoop, the Raiden Shogun merely ordered them all to relinquish their Visions into the hands of the Shogunate so they could be inlaid upon the Statue of the Omnipresent God outside the Shogun’s palace…although why, exactly, is still unclear and there are several theories regarding the identity of the Statue’s model, who resembles neither Raiden Ei nor her deceased sister.

This “Vision-Hunt Decree” led to a bloody civil war in Inazuma when the inhabitants of Watatsumi Island rose up in resistance to the authoritarian Shogun’s forces with a little help from certain high-ranking members of the Yashiro Commission and Shuumatsuban. The player arrives in Inazuma right at this crucial moment in the nation’s history, and after roughly ten minutes of training and fighting alongside the Resistance, we find ourselves standing before the throne of the Raiden Shogun. The nefarious Fatui plot to manipulate the Shogun’s programming is exposed, and the Shogun single-handedly puts an end to every player’s dream of a playable La Signora by cutting the Fatui Harbinger up into very small pieces.

The important bit comes a little later, after we defeat the Shogun, break into Raiden Ei’s dream-space, and convince her that what she’s doing is hurting the people of Inazuma – not just Vision-wielders, but everyone. She agrees to abolish the Vision-Hunt Decree right away, but it takes her until her second Story Quest to accept that her understanding of Eternity was flawed from the very beginning, that nothing in the world can be made to last forever, and that only by embracing change and adapting in response can Inazuma continue into the future.

And that right there is the same lesson that I think every Vision-wielder in the game will have to learn for themselves nearer the end of Genshin Impact’s story. I apologize if it took me a while to make my point, but I’m here now, and let me explain why I feel this way.

What we know for certain about Visions is what I’ve already told you, that they fall from the heavens and can help level the playing field for ordinary folks by allowing them to use one of the seven Elements in combat and in their daily lives, which is pretty useful for accomplishing heroic feats even if it won’t necessarily buy you a house or put food on the table (see: Mona Megistus). What we don’t know is where Visions actually come from, who or what higher power is in charge of distributing them, what purpose the Visions serve in the long-run besides making Genshin Impact’s combat system more engaging, whether there’s any logic to who gets one and who doesn’t…essentially, we know nothing, and everything we think we know is based on what random characters in-game think they know, which itself isn’t a whole lot.

That hasn’t stopped fans from speculating, and there’s a bunch of really compelling theories on all of these topics out there if you’re interested. I don’t have anything particularly revolutionary to say regarding the potential origins of Visions – I’ve long believed that they come from Celestia, and that one or more of the gods up there on that floating island in the sky (assuming that’s really Celestia, and not an elaborate decoy) are in charge of making Visions and then sprinkling them over Teyvat, and my own theories use that idea as a baseline, so if I’m wrong about that, then I’m wrong about everything else too.

Genshin Impact
Celestia | gurugamer.com

But I don’t think I’m wrong. Raiden Ei explicitly tells us that Visions aren’t handed out by the Archons, as was once believed to be the case, which leaves Celestia as the only entity (or group of entities) we currently know of that (a) apparently dwells in the skies above Teyvat, (b) probably has the means to create and distribute Visions, and (c) definitely likes to throw things at the earth; mostly these creepy glowing pillars called “Nails” that they’ve historically used to impale entire cities whenever they’re displeased by something, but who’s to say that Visions couldn’t do damage on a similar scale, not just to one city but to every town where Vision-wielders live?

So why would Celestia, notoriously ambivalent about humans in general and all-too-eager to eradicate anyone who oversteps the boundaries between mortal and deity, reward the most ambitious and strong-willed humans on the planet with increased power? Well, I want you to think long and hard about what every character has done with their Vision, not in regular combat but in the story itself and in the lore, and then I want to know the results of your findings because, as far as I’m aware, the only time someone’s Vision has actually allowed them to do something that they might not otherwise have accomplished was when Kazuha used his dead friend’s Vision to save us from the Raiden Shogun during the Inazuma Archon Quest – and the fact that it wasn’t even his Vision is telling.

Simply put, I don’t think Visions are a reward so much as they are an incentive, provided by the gods in Celestia, to just keep doing what you’re doing until you eventually die in battle, fall off a cliff, or run out of stamina while swimming to Inazuma and drown. They haven’t, to my knowledge, helped anyone do…anything, really. Instead, they keep their wearers locked into the roles that Celestia deems safe or inconsequential, roles from which it’s hard to break free because one of the caveats of owning a Vision is that if your ambition changes for any reason, your Vision will stop working…and most people don’t want that to happen, so they keep playing the part that Celestia chose for them their entire lives.

But as we’ve learned from NPCs like Zhiqiong in the Chasm, you don’t need a Vision to be ambitious. Of course, because Zhiqiong became interested in learning the truth of the world and ventured deep into the Abyss searching for answers, it makes sense why Celestia wouldn’t reward her with a Vision (although by the next time we see her, maybe she’ll have been granted one in the hopes that it will get her to stop poking around in places she shouldn’t). But still, it just goes to show that people can accomplish great deeds on their own without having any access to the Elements – and when you think about it, there are even a couple of playable characters who can already deal massive amounts of physical damage without using Elemental reactions.

And on top of that, let’s not forget that in Kamisato Ayaka’s recent story teaser depicting how she got her Cryo Vision during a duel with her brother (supposedly when her desire to help her family was at its strongest), she starts using Elemental-infused attacks shortly before the Vision appears on her person…and maybe, just maybe, that means every Vision-wielder in the game already has the ability to use the Elements in much the same way that the protagonist does, even without a Vision. Heck, maybe everyone in Teyvat has that ability, they just don’t know it yet.

Now, it might be harder to learn than to simply rely on your Vision to do all the work for you, but a major theme throughout Genshin Impact is that humans need to start relying on themselves instead of their gods, because gods are fickle, they’re unreliable, they’re emotionally unavailable, they don’t understand what’s best for humans and they can’t make good choices for humans. I mean, there’s a reason why every Archon Quest in the game thus far follows a similar formula – we come in, we have a heart-to-heart with an Archon, and we convince them to either step down or at the very least take a step back from ruling their respective regions so that their citizens can flourish and reach their true potential.

Genshin Impact
Venti | pcgamesn.com

Venti, the Anemo Archon of Freedom who once ruled over Mondstadt, made the choice to put all of his power into the hands of his people without any assistance from the protagonist, a long time before the story opens. Zhongli, the Geo Archon of Contracts, also got there pretty quickly – the hard part was helping him safely abdicate his throne without causing turmoil in Liyue and ensuring that humans and adepti would be able to work together to combat future threats without Zhongli holding them together. Raiden Ei, the Electro Archon of Eternity, is the first Archon we’ve met who needed to witness firsthand just how much pain and suffering she had already caused and how much more she would cause unless she changed and allowed Inazuma to change with her.

Ironically, this entailed letting people keep their Visions – the very thing I think every Vision-wielder will have to give up willingly near the end of Genshin Impact‘s story when the total reverse of this situation plays out, assuming they can embrace what will surely be a radical change for them and wouldn’t rather remain tethered to Celestia by whichever one dream or ambition of theirs allows them to feel special. I believe some will make the choice without a moment’s hesitation; some will first need to know that they can survive without their Visions; and some will need to rethink their entire outlook on the world.

I briefly toyed with the idea that every Archon’s willingness to relinquish their own power foreshadows how the characters of their same Elemental type will react to being asked to relinquish their Visions, but like most theories that hinge on nonexistent correlations between characters of a certain Element, I just couldn’t get it to work. By that reasoning, Keqing, as an Electro character, should be as resistant as Raiden Ei, but she’s canonically “a skeptic without equal when it comes to the value of Visions”, having unsuccessfully attempted to discard and destroy her Vision on numerous occasions.

Perhaps this entire theory is a stretch, but I hope that my reasoning is at least somewhat sound. I felt comfortable putting this theory out in the world because I know I’m not the first person to be suspicious of either Visions or Celestia (in-game, everyone seems to trust the gods unreservedly, but we know better because we’ve been to Enkanomiya and read Before Sun And Moon), but I haven’t seen anyone speculate that the Archon Quests are foreshadowing something and I think there’s a case to be made for why it’s humans parting with their Visions and finally stepping into their own power and embracing the divinity that already lives within them (ooh, I snuck a little bit of Gnosticism in there at the end just to get your interest piqued for my next post on the subject, I feel so clever).

Genshin Impact
Enkanomiya | pcgamer.com

No, but seriously, we need to have a talk about how in Genshin Impact, all humans are divine – not just playable characters, but also (and perhaps especially) the regular NPCs we interact with every day. As I said, that’s another post for another time. Right now, I want to let you ruminate on what I’ve said and expand on it if you think I’m onto something here. I’m still new to theorizing about Genshin Impact‘s future, so if I’ve misinterpreted anything or left out any crucial information, feel free to remind me, and don’t forget to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Miranda Otto Returns to Middle-Earth To Narrate “War Of The Rohirrim” Anime

When Miranda Otto scored the coveted and contested role of Éowyn in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers back in 1999, she probably didn’t anticipate that twenty-three years later she’d be asked to reprise the role once more – and that this time around, Éowyn wouldn’t just be a supporting character in someone else’s story, but the star and selling-point of a completely new story set in Middle-earth hundreds of years before the events depicted in The Lord Of The Rings.

War Of The Rohirrim
Eowyn | spotern.com

For better or worse, we live in a wild world where both Warner Brothers and Amazon Prime have the ability to tell new stories set in Middle-earth (the rest of us will have to wait until sometime around 2050), but as long as they continue to use this power responsibly by fleshing out the stories of Middle-earth’s ancient history found in the Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings, you won’t see me complaining. And that is exactly what Warner Brothers is aiming to achieve with their upcoming feature-length anime film, War Of The Rohirrim, which has just today enlisted Miranda Otto to narrate the epic tale of one of Éowyn’s ancestors, King Helm Hammerhand.

Helm (who will be voiced by Succession‘s Brian Cox in the anime), lived about two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred years before Éowyn, roughly. He was the ninth King of Rohan, and of all the Kings after Eorl the Young by far the most belligerent. In the eighteen years he reigned, he managed to alarm or offend most of his relations, ultimately incurring an invasion of Rohan in the year 2758 that inconveniently coincided with a blight and a resulting famine brought about by the Long Winter, the effects of which were felt all across Middle-earth. Rohan’s enemies took control of the city of Edoras and the golden hall of Meduseld, while Helm and the Rohirrim were forced to retreat to the fortress of the Hornburg in the White Mountains, where they endured a terrible siege for at least five months, probably six or seven. Friends and foes alike froze to death in the heavy snow, people started eating each other to survive – it was not a happy time.

Both of Helm’s sons died in the war, one while defending the doors of Meduseld and the other during the Long Winter…but Helm also had a daughter, and we don’t know anything about her besides the fact that she existed and that four years prior to the invasion of Rohan she was the subject of a brawl between Helm and a local baron named Freca, who unwisely suggested marrying her off to Freca’s own son Wulf (voiced by Luke Pasqualino of Shadow And Bone), at which point Helm “smote Freca such a blow with his fist that he fell back stunned, and died soon after”, which in turn led Wulf to seek vengeance for his father’s death by joining forces with the Dunlendings and planning the assault on Edoras.

War Of The Rohirrim
War Of The Rohirrim concept art | ign.com

The Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings aren’t devoid of female characters entirely, but they’re filled with women like Helm’s daughter who aren’t so much characters as they are placeholders for characters – and even that is a generous description, when you take into consideration all the blank spaces on the family trees where there ought to be women’s names, the dates of their births and deaths, the details of their lives alongside those of their husbands, brothers, and sons (all of whose exploits Tolkien recorded in occasionally excessive detail). These women are implied to have existed…Tolkien just didn’t care enough about any of them to give us more information than that.

But this new generation of writers entrusted with adapting his work do care, or at the very least everything I’ve seen so far from both The Rings Of Power and War Of The Rohirrim gives me the impression that they care about expanding and diversifying the world of Middle-earth to include more women (and not just white women, either) and therefore create more opportunities for actresses in this franchise who might otherwise have a total of three or four roles to choose from. Helm’s daughter, now named Hera (and voiced by Gaia Wise of A Walk In The Woods), will apparently play a major role in War Of The Rohirrim as she leads a resistance movement opposed to Wulf.

Additionally, Bridgerton‘s Lorraine Ashbourne – the wife of Peter Jackson’s close friend and frequent collaborator Andy Serkis – has been cast in a supporting role in the film, although we don’t have any details regarding her character. Serkis may or may not have been involved in getting her the part, but regardless her casting forms another link between War Of The Rohirrim and Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy that now includes Miranda Otto, Jackson’s co-writer Philippa Boyens, and concept artists Alan Lee and John Howe, who probably won’t stray too far from the aesthetics they established for Rohan over twenty years ago that have remained iconic and beloved.

None of this is all that surprising, seeing as Warner Brothers has probably had the entire cast and crew of Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy on speed-dial for the last two decades waiting for just such an opportunity to present itself, but if nostalgia for Jackson’s trilogy is what both Warner Brothers and Amazon will be trying to elicit from audiences throughout their respective marketing campaigns for War Of The Rohirrim and Rings Of Power (and that certainly seems to be the case), then Warner Brothers will have the upper hand in that fight as long as they own the rights to the trilogy and can continue to use all the same imagery and all the same actors without needing to worry about accidentally benefiting their competitors.

War Of The Rohirrim
Eowyn vs The Witch King | cbr.com

Leaving all that aside, who else is just excited to hear Miranda Otto as Éowyn again? I know I am. Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

New “Rings Of Power” Images Raise Hopes And Concerns For Amazon’s Epic Series


Empire Magazine’s July issue is currently hitting newsstands all across the country, and those lucky enough to have grabbed a copy already will no doubt be enjoying reading through exclusive interviews with the cast and crew of Amazon’s The Rings Of Power, accompanied by beautiful images from the set – all of which I’ve already seen, mind you, because someone leaked grainy photos of the photos in the magazine a couple days ago, but now that the high-resolution versions of these images are available to us all I figured I ought to share my thoughts and rank the images in order of how much I like them.

Rings Of Power
Durin IV, Elrond, Celebrimbor, and Gil-galad | Twitter @fellowshipfans

I won’t be talking about the interviews in this post, because to be quite honest there’s not a lot of new information contained in the interviews. With the exception of showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay boldly declaring that they have all five seasons of The Rings Of Power mapped out (right down to the final shot of the final episode), most of it is stuff we’ve heard before. There are also one or two images that I’ve left out of my ranking, because they’re behind-the-scenes shots of actors surrounded by cameras and not very indicative of how the scenes will look with finished special effects and proper lighting and everything. With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s get into it!

My favorite of the new images is the one I’ve chosen to position at the top of the post, so that it will be the thumbnail on Twitter and other social media platforms. This is probably a scene from an early episode of season one in which Galadriel (second-from right, with her back to us) is invited to the banquet-table of King Gil-galad of Lindon (seated at the far right), giving her a chance to catch up with old friends like Elrond half-Elven (third-from-left) and Celebrimbor (third-from-right), and make new friends like Durin IV of Khazad-dûm (at the far left). There’s a character seated directly between Elrond and Celebrimbor with their face obscured, which has led to speculation that this is Tar-Míriel of Númenor.

Rings Of Power
Celebrimbor and Gil-galad | Twitter @fellowshipfans

Celebrimbor appears to be leading the attendees in a toast – perhaps in response to Durin IV announcing his betrothal to Princess Disa, or Galadriel reporting on her fight with a snow-troll in the Forodwaith? Note that Gil-galad hasn’t raised his glass, and in fact wears a distinctly dour expression on his face. Maybe Celebrimbor is trying to hog the spotlight? For The Rings Of Power to characterize him as an attention-seeking peacock might seem blasphemous on the surface, but if you think about it, it’s only natural that the last and currently the least-accomplished of the Fëanorians would want all eyes on him. I mean, he falls for Sauron’s flattery, doesn’t he?

The composition of the image is absolutely exquisite – if I didn’t know this was a still from The Rings Of Power, and you told me it was a long-lost pre-Raphaelite painting, I’d believe you. The same can also be said of our next image, which depicts Gil-galad presenting Galadriel with a crown of golden laurel-leaves during some kind of coronation ceremony in Lindon. Canonically, however, Galadriel was already living in Lindon by the time Gil-galad settled there and established his kingdom on her land, and she’s significantly older than him at any rate, so until we know the context of this scene it’s just…amusing, that’s all.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel and Gil-galad | Twitter @fellowshipfans

But anyway, if it weren’t for the fanciful Medieval armor worn by Galadriel and the extras surrounding her, and the close-cropped hair on most of the male Elves, this image would probably be my favorite. You know how there are certain photos that just deserve to be made into thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles that you can display on your coffee table to impress house-guests? This is one of them, and I would buy that, Amazon, so…take notes.

Rings Of Power
Gil-galad | Twitter @fellowshipfans

If you couldn’t tell, I quite like the look of Benjamin Walker as Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth. He’s one of the only male Elves in The Rings Of Power with the classic flowing locks that I, at least, still associate with Elves because (a) Peter Jackson’s movies have left me with a clear mental image of how an Elf “should” look, and getting my brain to accept short-haired Elves is gonna take some work, (b) Tolkien described male Elves as having long hair on multiple occasions, and even went so far as to say that High Elves find long hair to be particularly beautiful, so it has a basis in canon, and (c) long hair looks good on guys, obviously.

Rings Of Power
Arondir | Twitter @fellowshipfans

Another great candidate for a puzzle, but this would be that puzzle that stays unfinished for days because once you got the tower and the panoramic landscape out of the way you’re left with hundreds of identical cloud-colored pieces that nobody wants to take (yes, I will drive the jigsaw-puzzle metaphor into the ground before we’re through with this). In this picture, a character believed to be Ismael Cruz Córdova as the Silvan Elf Arondir stands atop a watchtower and looks out over a mountain valley dotted with farms, croplands, roads, rivers, and little forests.

Tolkien fans are divided over where in Middle-earth this is, with the prevailing theory being that the watch-tower is situated in the southern crook of the Ephel Dúath or Mountains of Mordor, far south of what will one day become the barren Plateau of Gorgoroth. According to this theory, Arondir is looking out eastward across a Mordor not yet ruled by Sauron, one that is still green and fertile and inhabited by both humans and Elves. In the distance, there’s a glimmer of light on a lake that could very well be the inland Sea of Núrnen.

Rings Of Power
Mountains Of Mordor | engadget.com

Alternatively, that glimmer of light is the ocean, and this watchtower is just outside of Mordor’s margins in north Harad with the jagged peaks of the Ephel Dúath on the right – which would mean that Arondir is looking west, not east. So confusing. Either way, we know that this is somewhere in the south of Middle-earth because Arondir and his human lover Bronwyn live in a village with the Sindarin name Tirharad, which roughly translates to “south-watch” or “watch over the south”, a name that I now think refers specifically to this tower looming over the village and the surrounding countryside. But who built it, and why?

Rings Of Power
Disa and Durin IV | Twitter @fellowshipfans

Despite the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm being the subjects of one of the three Empire Magazine covers released for this issue, there are surprisingly few images of Dwarves in the actual magazine – just one, in fact, but it’s a beautiful close-up on Prince Durin IV and Princess Disa sitting together and staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. Durin holds a distinctive golden leaf, which says to me that the couple are in Lindon – obviously trees with golden leaves could grow elsewhere in Middle-earth, but since we already know Durin will be in Lindon for Gil-galad’s banquet, it’s reasonable to assume Disa joins him. Maybe this is their honeymoon?

Then again, Tolkien wrote of Dwarven women in the Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings that “they seldom walk abroad except at great need” (not that The Rings Of Power should be beholden to that one line, by any means), so perhaps this scene takes place after Durin returns to Khazad-dûm with a small souvenir from Lindon for his wife or wife-to-be. They really seem like a sweet couple, and I’m interested to see what role they have to play in the story of the forging of the Rings of Power, given that it wasn’t Durin IV but Durin III (his father, in the show) who received one of the seven Rings given to the Dwarves by Celebrimbor and Sauron. That means there are plenty of options for where to take this story.

(With that said, I am once again begging The Rings Of Power costume designers to let us see Disa and Durin IV in new outfits. I love these fits, I really do, but this is Dwarven royalty we’re talking about here, and it’s not like Khazad-dûm’s princes and princesses don’t have money or resources to spend on extravagant clothes. I want to see opulence!)

Rings Of Power
A snow-troll in the Forodwaith | Twitter @fellowshipfans

Okay, so Amazon’s cheating a little bit with this one. We’ve already seen this image in the teaser trailer, it’s just been cleaned up a bit. But it’s nearer the top of my list because it’s improved my opinions on the teaser trailer. I didn’t love that whole scene with the snow-troll in the cave when I first saw it, but now I’m actually excited to see more of this grotesque creature with its wicked tusks and its long tangled beard filled with chunks of ice and stone. I feel for that poor Elf played by Kip Chapman who’s probably not going to make it out of the first episode alive, just based on the size of that troll’s claws and the speed with which it moved in the trailer.

Rings Of Power
Elanor Brandyfoot | Twitter @fellowshipfans

You cannot tell me that Markella Kavenagh is not well-cast as a hobbit after seeing this image – I’m sorry, you just can’t. We know next to nothing about her character, Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot, but I would not be surprised if she turns out to be the distant ancestor of one Frodo Baggins, based solely on the striking resemblance between Kavenagh and Lord Of The Rings-era Elijah Wood that becomes almost uncanny when you put Kavenagh in a curly wig, as the Rings Of Power costume designers have done. They already have the same big blue eyes and delicate facial features, now all that Kavenagh’s character is missing is her very own Ring of Power – but who knows, she might get one of those too by the end of this show.

Rings Of Power
Largo, Elanor, and Poppy | Twitter @fellowshipfans

I’m lumping together all of my favorite Harfoot pictures because they’re all sort of similar, and I like them roughly the same amount. I actually adore this picture in particular because it’s just so sweet – we have Dylan Smith as Largo, Markella Kavenagh as Elanor, and Megan Richards as Poppy Proudfellow, and they have all leaves or herbs in their hair and they’re smiling and holding hands, and it’s like something straight out of one of those cheerful 17th Century Dutch paintings portraying the idyllic country life. I don’t know what the Harfoots have to be smiling about, but I’m sorry that they probably won’t be smiling for long, as there’s a rumor floating around that several Harfoots will die before the end of season one.

Rings Of Power
Sadoc Burrows and the Harfoots | Twitter @fellowshipfans

More Harfoots, and a better look at Sir Lenny Henry as Sadoc Burrows, their leader. In this scene, which presumably follows hard on the heels of Meteor Man crashing to earth and being discovered in the woods by Elanor Brandyfoot, Sadoc takes the initiative and ventures out into the night armed with only a lantern to investigate. Maybe they’ll find evidence of Meteor Man’s crash landing, but Elanor will find the man himself and hide him from her disapproving village elders, or perhaps Sadoc goes to the crash-site after Elanor brings the stranger into their camp to find out where he really came from and what he’s up to – there’s so many possibilities, and absolutely none of this has any basis in canon which unfortunately makes it really difficult to theorize.

Rings Of Power
Harfoots on the move | Twitter @fellowshipfans

Even more Harfoots, and now they’re on the move. I don’t love this image, mostly because it looks very much like a soundstage with fake trees and a forest path that’s slightly too flat and well-tended to be believable. But the Harfoots themselves are impossible to dislike, and I must say, I do think it’s adorable that they all wear odd little bits and bobbins in their hair like small fairy-wings or tiny antlers. It’s Willow by way of Cecily Mary Barker, which is weird when you remember that this is still supposed to be Rings Of Power and not any of those things, but hey, it’s something new at least, so let’s give it a chance. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, they still have time to change course before season two starts filming.

Rings Of Power
Sadoc Burrows | Twitter @fellowshipfans

There’s so much going on in this photo, it’s hard to know what to take away from it, exactly. You’ve got Lenny Henry in the foreground, dancing and wearing a bushel of wheat as a crown….and then you’ve got the Harfoot children’s choir off in the lower left-hand corner but they’re wearing oversized bonnets made of wheat, and I think they’re supposed to resemble corn dollies (it’s a European thing, look it up)…and then up in the top-left corner you’ve got these unspeakably ugly fairy garden lanterns that look like they were bought off Etsy…and the whole scene is illuminated by this unrealistically golden light that makes it look like the cover of Better Hobbit-holes & Gardens.

In this smorgasbord of aesthetics, I’m not seeing any Neolithic or Bronze Age design influences. Now, you could argue that it’s my own fault for expecting those influences to be present when Amazon never actually promised that the Harfoots would be portrayed as a Bronze Age culture, and that was always kinda just me extrapolating on the hints in the character posters and the fact that The Rings Of Power is set over three-thousand years before The Lord Of The Rings so it made sense (and still makes sense) to me that the Harfoots of the mid to late Second Age would be as different from Hobbits of the late Third Age as the Beaker people of 2500 BC were from British people of the late 19th Century…and you’d be right, but I still feel cheated that what I got instead were ghastly fairy garden lanterns.

I’d have put this image much higher in my rankings were it not for those lanterns, because I’m totally onboard with the idea of prehistoric Hobbits worshipping fertility deities like Yavanna in the hopes of more bountiful harvests. That tracks. But now, not only will I be worried for the next few months that the Harfoots don’t belong in The Rings Of Power to begin with (because as much as I’ve tried to suppress that fear and tell myself it’ll all work out in the end, the ominous feeling of dread hasn’t ever fully gone away), now I’ll also be worried about those lanterns popping up and ruining the vibe of otherwise perfect scenes.

Rings Of Power
Arondir | Twitter @fellowshipfans

Ismael Cruz Córdova is hot enough that him being the only thing in this image isn’t really the problem – rather, the problem is that the photographer has only given me a sliver of Cruz Córdova to admire, and I can’t even see the intricate detail-work on his character’s unique wooden armor, because he has his back partially turned, so I’m left without anything to focus on…except, of course, Ismael Cruz Córdova’s chiseled features and remarkably beautiful eyes, which in this light appear gold. This man’s mere existence is almost enough to convince me that male Elves with short hair aren’t such a bad idea after all.

Rings Of Power
Elrond half-Elven | Twitter @fellowshipfans

I’m sorry to have to put Elrond so far down on the list, but this close-up tells me nothing about his character. He’s standing at a window, looking out, and…that’s about it. The most interesting thing about this image isn’t even Elrond, it’s the lighting, which is actually quite atmospheric. But it’s not enough to outweigh the blandness of the outfit, the stiff pose, and the fact that the hairstylist on this show clearly had a personal vendetta against poor Robert Aramayo.

Rings Of Power
Celebrimbor | Twitter @fellowshipfans

Twitter was not very kind to Charles Edwards when they found out he was playing Celebrimbor, and while I admit that Edwards isn’t anything like the Celebrimbor I envisioned when reading Unfinished Tales, I think there are significantly more nuanced discussions to be had regarding this casting than just “he looks different than how I imagined, therefore he will be a terrible Celebrimbor”. For instance, we could be questioning the logic behind casting a fifty-two year old actor to play Celebrimbor, whose older cousin Galadriel is played by an actress in her early thirties. What’s up with that, anyway?

And even if we try to look past that, the image itself offers nothing of great interest to look at instead. For whatever reason, Celebrimbor is depicted standing in the middle of a sparsely-decorated hallway, wearing a shapeless green garment and a sullen expression. There’s no ornament on his person nor any detail in the set dressing behind him to suggest that the subject of this image is the greatest blacksmith, craftsman, and jeweler of his generation, or that he will soon put an army of like-minded artists to work forging the Rings of Power in Eregion. If he has any Rings on his fingers, even lesser ones, we can’t see them.

Keep in mind that, despite Celebrimbor’s prominent role in the non-canonical but supposedly very entertaining Shadow Of Mordor video games, he’s only mentioned three times in the text of The Lord Of The Rings and not once in Peter Jackson’s films, so most of the people looking at this image won’t recognize his name or remember his role in the story. They’ll just see a regular-looking guy, and that’s what worries me. Forget trying to appease Celebrimbor’s diehard fans, this image really needed to give casual fans something familiar to grab hold of; something that would tell them who this guy is, and why they should care about him. And it doesn’t.

Imagine if we had seen Celebrimbor standing at his anvil in the heat of the forge, surrounded by the jewel-smiths of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, contemplating his next move and perhaps running his hands over a ring mold (I don’t know the first thing about blacksmithing, so forgive me if that’s not the correct term) – or anything, really, that would give casual fans a hint as to Celebrimbor’s importance while reassuring diehard fans that this is still Celebrimbor, despite the new look. There was potential here, but sadly, it was squandered.

Rings Of Power
Halbrand | Twitter @fellowshipfans

I have my suspicions regarding Halbrand, the character depicted in this photo drinking with friends or comrades. We don’t know where he comes from, we don’t know how he and Galadriel end up on a raft in the middle of the ocean, drifting towards Númenor, and we don’t know what happens to him after they arrive on the island (mind you, there have been several detailed leaks concerning Galadriel’s interactions with Tar-Míriel, Ar-Pharazôn, Elendil, and pretty much everyone on Númenor). Halbrand is an enigma, and I believe Amazon wants to keep it that way for at least as long as season one is airing. He’s the original character most widely speculated to be either Sauron in disguise or one of the future Nazgûl.

The image itself, however, is boring. Halbrand is plainly dressed, the background seems deliberately blurred so as to hide what is presumably Númenórean architecture, and the characters sitting around Halbrand are just a bunch of disembodied arms and hands. I feel like this is probably a scene involving some important characters being hidden from us, including Ar-Pharazôn (I have no evidence for that claim, just a gut instinct).

Rings Of Power
Bronwyn, Arondir, and Theo | Twitter @fellowshipfans

My least favorite image of the lot has to be this one. It’s so overwhelmingly cluttered you’d think that someone or something here would catch my eye, but the composition and lighting ensure that even the main characters are almost indistinguishable from the extras in the background. Bronwyn and her son Theo stand on either side of the Silvan Elf Arondir, placing this scene somewhere in or around the village of Tirharad. It’s hard to make out, but Arondir is holding the hilt-shard of the broken sword featured on Theo’s character poster – he appears to be offering it to someone we can’t see.

Well, what do you know, that’s the last of ’em. At this point, I don’t think anything is likely to keep me from watching The Rings Of Power, but I’ll be honest, I was surprised by how many of these new photos left me a little underwhelmed – and I can’t tell if that’s just Amazon’s marketing team choosing weird stills from the first few episodes to highlight because they’re trying not to spoil later episodes, or if they genuinely have no idea how to sell this show. A lot of these pictures are just close-up images of characters we don’t know yet that tell us little to nothing about who they are or why we ought to care, and if Amazon is worried about saying too much in their marketing campaign they should just focus on blowing fans’ minds with incredible visuals, beautiful scenery, and the kind of big-budget VFX you can’t get from most TV shows.

But now that you’ve seen all the images, I want to hear what you think; which ones got you excited for The Rings Of Power, which ones disappointed you, and which you think are promising or maybe need some time to mull over. Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!