It’s a good year to be a fantasy nerd. Shadow And Bone just dropped on Netflix, a second season of The Witcher is deep into post-production, The House Of The Dragon is dropping set photos left and right, and Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings series is…well, it’s coming, it’s just taking its sweet time. Despite being literally the most expensive TV show ever filmed, and capitalizing on a built-in fanbase of millions around the world, The Lord Of The Rings hasn’t quite captured the attention of mainstream media just yet, or gotten people chattering outside of the Tolkienverse fandom.
That’s going to change soon, though. The first season is set to wrap post-production in early August, and before then we’ll likely see an official still from the set, maybe even a brief teaser. At this point, a title reveal would be nice. But until then, we have the exciting news that Charlotte Brändström has indeed joined the series’ production team as a director on two episodes of the first season, becoming the first woman to helm a piece of official Tolkienverse media (an important distinction from Fran Walsh directing key scenes in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, something for which she does not get enough credit).
I want to give a shoutout to Fellowship Of Fans, a YouTube channel specializing in frequent and reliable updates on Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings series, including exclusive reporting based on admirable sleuth work. Fellowship Of Fans broke the news that Brändström was probably involved in the Amazon series some time ago, and their reporting has once again been proven accurate. With the prevailing trend in Tolkien fandom these days being to wildly exaggerate and hyperbolize any potential scoop (I’m not naming names, but…you know), Fellowship Of Fans’ high quality of reporting is extremely important.
But today, it’s been made official by Amazon themselves. Brändström is working on two episodes of The Lord Of The Rings, and multiple cast members – including Nazanin Boniadi and Ismael Cruz Córdova – have already congratulated her on social media. She joins J.A. Bayona and Wayne Che Yip as confirmed directors on the series, although we still don’t know for sure which episodes she’s directing.
Brändström, a Swedish-French director with an International Emmy Award nomination to her name, has had a long career in the TV industry, spanning multiple studios – but she’s probably best known for directing two episodes of The Witcher, something that bodes well for her work on The Lord Of The Rings. She has also directed episodes of The Man In The High Castle and Counterpart for Amazon, Outlander, Grey’s Anatomy, Arrow, and, most recently, Jupiter’s Legacy for Netflix (which I am very slowly making my way through, by the way. It’s not a very good show, but since I haven’t gotten up to either of Brändström’s episodes yet, I don’t really have anything to say about it that has any impact on the conversation at hand. But at this point, I’m continuing solely because I want to get a broader idea of her work.
The significance of a woman working to bring this new iteration of Middle-earth to life can’t be understated. The backbone of the Tolkien fandom has always been women, and it’s been kept alive this long by women, by people of color (particularly women of color), and by LGBTQ+ people – but that makes it all the more important that we acknowledge that this is only a small step in the right direction. A certain group of people will wring their hands about how a white cisgender woman directing two episodes of a Lord Of The Rings series is proof that “wokeness” is ruining Tolkien, but the truth is there’s not enough diversity behind the scenes yet, and I will continue to push Amazon to do better, especially when it comes to hiring Black people and people of color for leadership positions where their input can’t be ignored or sidelined.
Beyond that, there’s not much else to say. The announcement of Brändström’s involvement was accompanied by a photo of her standing in a mountainous environment in New Zealand, but it’d be pretty cool to see something substantial at this point – like a title logo, maybe? Please, Amazon? Anything so that I don’t have to keep calling it The Lord Of The Rings and then backtracking every five seconds to explain that it’s not actually The Lord Of The Rings!
So what do you think? Where have you experienced Brändström’s work before, and what qualities do you foresee her bringing to the series? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Amazon Prime’s effort to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium to life on the small screen (in a series still tentatively titled The Lord Of The Rings, after Tolkien’s most well-known work) has been beset with obstacles and setbacks from the very start: from the battle with Netflix for the rights back in 2017, to the long and arduous process of actually getting cameras rolling in New Zealand, only to have COVID-19 lockdowns go into effect a month later, resulting in a string of delays. Along the way, they’ve suffered accidents, stirred up controversy, and they’ve even had one of their lead actors drop out due to scheduling conflicts (luckily, before the series started filming).
“After recently seeing the first episodes shot over the last year Amazon has decided to go in another direction with the character I was portraying…,” Budge wrote. “I must thank the creative team for their encouragement towards trying something that I believed was new, exciting and beautiful. And I sincerely thank the extraordinary cast and crew for their love, support and friendship over what has been a very difficult and unusual experience. Alas, some things just cannot be.”
We still don’t know which character Budge was intended to play, or how large his role was (large enough at least to warrant an argument over creative differences), which makes it hard to either express strong feelings about this news or say anything for certain about what went down behind the scenes. My best guess is that Budge’s role was changed dramatically in the editing room, and/or that his role was decreased. Budge’s language is vague enough that he might have left voluntarily, he might have been fired…we simply don’t know. But his departure makes one thing obvious: Amazon will need to recast his character urgently, and presumably refilm all the scenes Budge had already shot. And that’s going to mean more delays, and…yeah, you know the drill by now.
Obviously I wish Budge all the best, I’m deeply sorry for him, and I hope this is simply a case of opinions clashing, not an indicator of any toxicity behind the scenes. There’s been discussion on Twitter about what Budge described as the “difficult and unusual” filming experience, though he might just be referring to the lockdowns, delays, and new safety guidelines implemented on set, as well as the fact that very few of The Lord Of The Rings‘ cast have been able to leave New Zealand in the last year. But because I already know certain sites will jump on this news and wave it around as proof that The Lord Of The Rings is doomed or that the showrunners are disrespecting Tolkien, I think it’s important we try not to jump to conclusions just yet: there’s nothing here to say that Budge’s creative differences with Amazon had anything to do with a debate over fidelity to Tolkien, still less to say that Budge would have been on Tolkien’s side in that hypothetical debate. That may very well be the case, and if so it would certainly be disheartening, but it’s too early to determine that when we still don’t even know who Budge would have played!
But what do you think? What are your feelings on The Lord Of The Rings following this news? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.
One such region is Númenor, the “breathtaking island kingdom” mentioned by Amazon in their synopsis as one of the focal points of the series. “Breathtaking” is indeed an accurate descriptor: although the reign of the Númenóreans was relatively brief in the grand scale of Middle-earth’s history, they are incredibly significant to Tolkien’s saga – representing the very height of human vanity, and arguably one of the furthest falls from grace since the rebellion of Melkor in the First Age and the Kinslaying of the Elves in Valinor. In the Second Age, thousands of years before the time of Aragorn, his Númenórean ancestors built a vast empire spanning the oceans and unmapped coasts of Middle-earth…an empire that would ultimately collapse into ruinous calamity, at least partly because Tolkien had a lifelong obsession with the Atlantis myth and had to take it out on his fictional characters. And now Amazon’s Second Age series (which for some reason is still titled The Lord Of The Rings) will take us on an epic journey alongside the Númenóreans, through their heyday and their terrible fall.
To understand Númenor, we have to go back to the First Age of Middle-earth, and the frequent alliances between Men and Elves that forged a seemingly unbreakable bond of friendship between the two races. The First Age ended in a glorious triumph of good over evil, with Middle-earth’s entire pantheon of gods, the Valar, arriving in a divine cavalcade to finally defeat the dark lord Morgoth and disperse or destroy his armies of orcs and dragons: but defeating a dark lord is hard work, and sometimes requires you to destroy large portions of the world to do so – and thus, there was a refugee crisis in Middle-earth as Men and Elves had to flee from their ancestral homelands, trying to get out ahead of the rapidly disintegrating coastlines and crumbling mountain ranges. Thankfully for Men, the Valar were feeling pretty generous and decided to simply lift an island out of the sea as a gift to humans and compensation for their countless sacrifices. This island, most commonly known as Númenor, had many names: but one – Andor – literally means “The Land of Gift”.
As if that wasn’t enough, the gods also decided to give significantly longer lives (around 200 years, on average) to the Númenórean people, so they could enjoy their Land of Gift even longer and reap the benefits they had earned. This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t.
But throughout the early Second Age, the Númenóreans were content with what they had: their star-shaped island and its farms, forests, rivers, seashores, and single mountain. This mountain, named the Meneltarma, rose out of the center of the island and was crowned by a holy shrine and a nesting-place of many sacred eagles. But because Númenor was situated directly in between Middle-earth and the divine lands of the Valar in distant Valinor, and because the Meneltarma was so tall, a person standing at the mountain’s summit on a clear day could just about see the shores of paradise to the west (because the earth was canonically flat in the Second Age). Elves from Valinor sometimes even visited Númenórean shores and delighted Men with their company and rich gifts, which had no equal in Middle-earth. But the Valar strictly prohibited Númenóreans from returning the favor and sailing to Valinor.
The first king of Númenor was Elros, the long-lived twin brother of Elrond Half-elven, but Amazon’s Middle-earth series will likely begin sometime after his reign – during an era of “relative peace”, as their synopsis claims, and presumably not long before the forging of the One Ring in Second Age 1600. I suspect the series will open in the waning years of Tar-Meneldur’s reign, a blissful period of time depicted in The Mariner’s Wife, Tolkien’s only nearly complete tale of the Second Age. This would naturally segue into the story of Meneldur’s son, Tar-Aldarion: under whose reign the kingdom became an empire, with fleets of ships (often personally piloted by Aldarion) constantly departing to Middle-earth’s shores, setting up outposts and colonies there. His rule was not tyrannical or cruel, but his restlessness was an omen of worse to come. And after his death, his colonists became hostile to the indigenous peoples they encountered, and hurt the earth in their hunt for resources.
Prior to Aldarion’s reign, a group of forest-dwelling Men known as the Drúedain had also lived in Númenor – but as the empire expanded and its people became more dissatisfied with the gifts they had been given, the Drúedain predicted the doom that would soon follow, and they abandoned the island over the next few centuries, returning to Middle-earth and disappearing from history for thousands of years: until the Third Age, when they would reappear as the Wild Men in Rohan and Gondor. In them, I see the perfect viewpoint characters for Amazon’s series, as they embody the down-to-earth, hobbit-like qualities of Tolkien’s most iconic heroes.
By this point, war was raging between the Elves and the dark lord Sauron on the mainland – though this would not have initially affected Númenor had its colonies in Middle-earth not become so crucial to the kingdom. Tar-Minastir and his successors sent forces across the sea to aid the Elves in battle, provoking Sauron to turn the full force of his hatred towards the island. He was able to bring at least three Númenórean lords into his service using Rings of Power, and they became terrible Ringwraiths. But even on the island itself, the shadow of Sauron inspired darkness in the hearts of Men: kings became as greedy for life as they were for power and wealth, and their fear of death led some to resent the immortal Elves or speak openly against them. Elven ships stopped coming from Valinor. Those who still held the Elves in reverence were called the Faithful.
Upon the death of Tar-Palantir, the last good and wise king, his daughter Tar-Míriel’s throne was quickly usurped by her cousin, a reckless and easily corruptible man named Ar-Pharazôn. He rejected the Elves and their help entirely, and concentrated his power solely on maintaining the empire he had stolen. In his arrogance, he sent a great armada to Middle-earth to capture Sauron, and the dark lord willingly surrendered himself up to the king, gaining free passage into Ar-Pharazôn’s court – and eventually an enviable position as his most trusted counsellor and right-hand man. Seduced by Sauron’s charismatic malice, Ar-Pharazôn ran his empire as the dark lord saw fit: inciting violence and panic among his citizens (remind you of anybody else?), and instituting a new religion based around the ancient evil of Morgoth, for whose temple Sauron demanded a steady flow of human sacrifices. These victims were often political prisoners from among the Faithful, Sauron’s chief enemies.
As Ar-Pharazôn’s life neared its natural end (and lifespans were steadily diminishing in Númenor, as the Valar slowly retracted their gifts), the king turned to Sauron in desperation, demanding a cure for death. Sauron, seizing his opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, instructed him to build a fleet of ships capable of sailing into the west – breaking the ban of the Valar – and storming paradise: for only in the uttermost west of Valinor could deathlessness be obtained. Ar-Pharazôn was too far gone to see through his lies and immediately started building his fleet: but the Faithful, led by Elendil of Andúnië, built their own in secret, preparing for the inevitable catastrophe.
In Second Age 3319, Ar-Pharazôn’s mighty fleet departed into the west, with the king himself joining his army on the perilous journey – while Sauron remained in his lofty temple, laughing at the ignorance of Men. Ar-Pharazôn reached Valinor and set foot in the undying lands of the gods, but the Valar, themselves afraid of the king’s power, prayed to the One Above All, Eru, to help them in that hour…and, well, they got more than they bargained for. Not only were Ar-Pharazôn and his army crushed beneath a mountain, but Númenor itself was unmade, and the island descended into the abyss. Most of the population died, and the few that survived were the Faithful, escaping in their own ships back to Middle-earth. Eru also took the extra measure of reshaping the earth into a globe so that mortals could never again reach Valinor, but would instead spend their days sailing west in a never-ending, self-destructive search for paradise.
And as for Sauron, who was caught up in the downfall…he died so hard that, even though his soul escaped intact, he was never again able to appear beautiful to Men or Elves. His greatest weapons, which had been seduction and deception, now became brute strength and violence. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing Elendil and the Faithful back to Middle-earth and continuing the fight against their new “kingdoms in exile” all the way into the Third Age, when Aragorn – Elendil’s last legitimate heir – was instrumental in his ultimate defeat.
And there you have it. The moral of this story is that (a) imperialism is evil, obviously, and that (b) you should be content with what you have – because the gods can take it away, and they will likely do some planetary redecorating while they’re at it.
But what do you think? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
TheOneRing.net has long served a dual function as the largest online community of J.R.R. Tolkien fans and a base of fandom research into any and every adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings: in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, a vast network of spies frequently wrote in to the site from the Peter Jackson trilogy’s set with spy reports that gave fans a first taste of what Jackson was concocting down in New Zealand, preparing them for many of the trilogy’s biggest and most controversial moments; both perfect page-to-screen translations and drastic (and often controversial) divergences from the text. TheOneRing.net developed a good reputation for their work, and eventually became a semi-official channel for New Line Cinema, tirelessly relaying new information to the fans while providing necessary feedback to the studio. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy undeniably benefited from that unprecedented level of communication between the filmmakers and their audiences.
These days, TheOneRing.net (or TORN, for short) does not yet enjoy the privilege of being able to officially coordinate with Amazon Prime Studios regarding their upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work – and thus, I’ve had to take many of their recent reports with a grain of salt. But last night, after a lot of hinting and teasing, TORN proved that they are indeed back in the game, having gotten their hands on the very first official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings series. IGN was later able to confirm its authenticity with their own sources, and I myself am fairly confident this is the real deal. It doesn’t read like a fake, which would likely have thrown in some hyperbolic details about what to expect, just to cause chaos and commotion in the fandom.
Rather, the synopsis merely goes over much of what we already knew about the series, adding a little bit of context for general audiences and some intriguing sentences that caught my eye. Let’s break it down:
“Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”
Confirmation, if you needed it, that the series is in fact set in the Second Age of Middle-earth (which you can learn more about here on my blog), and that the title “The Lord Of The Rings” is still deliberately misleading. This period of time is bound to be darker and more brutal than the era of The Lord Of The Rings proper, though Amazon is setting the stage for a story with similar themes and characters. Some of the very same characters will, in fact, cross over…but more importantly, Amazon is promising us “unlikely heroes”, a character archetype that is pivotal to the enduring success of The Lord Of The Rings and sorely lacking from the myths of Middle-earth’s earlier history.
During TORN’s livestream, guest star Molly Knox Ostertag (the host of last year’s popular Tolkientober fan-art challenge) tackled this subject quite eloquently, explaining that the “little guy” is what makes Tolkien’s work so approachable even after so many decades: because we can all relate to small, ordinary people like Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam, whose small, ordinary acts of kindness end up saving the world. Readers need to have an emotional investment in a character or a relationship in order to keep reading, and hobbits are so down-to-earth, so humble and so unassuming, that it’s hard not to get invested in them and their journeys through Middle-earth. The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s posthumously-published compendium of First Age myths, was initially unpopular with fans because it lacked hobbits or any hobbit analogues that could keep readers grounded amidst all the epic battles, tragic romances, and stories of somber heroes doomed to die gruesomely. The Second Age has that problem too, which is what Molly Ostertag noted: unless we have a “little guy” to get attached to, where’s the emotional investment? That’s why the mention of “unlikely heroes” makes me hopeful this issue will be remedied without having to bring in hobbits, who don’t really exist yet in the Second Age, at least not as we know them.
With the scope of this series sprawling across the entire map of Middle-earth and even beyond it, the presence of small characters and microcosmic stories is that much more essential. But speaking of what lies beyond the map, let’s touch on that for a moment – the synopsis does confirm that we’ll explore regions of Middle-earth that have never been glimpsed in any previous Tolkien adaptation, like Númenor and Lindon. The “furthest reaches of the map”, however, could very well refer to the mysterious lands east and south of Mordor. And who better to explore these lands and their unique cultures than the two Blue Wizards, who (according to Tolkien’s last writings on the subject) arrived in Middle-earth’s uncharted east during the Second Age, and there proved to be pivotal in the war against Sauron? When this topic came up on the livestream, Molly Ostertag suggested that the Blue Wizards should be depicted as a lesbian couple – yes, yes to all of that. I’ve long felt that one or both of the Blue Wizards should be a woman of color, and the thought of two queer women of color using magic in Middle-earth is indescribably empowering.
The synopsis ends by talking about “legacies” that will live on long after our main characters are dead and gone, implying to me that some of the main cast might revolve periodically throughout the course of the series. This wouldn’t surprise me: the Second Age spans over three-thousand years, and even the longest-lived humans of that era couldn’t survive that long if they tried (and trust me, they did). But while it could be an interesting and shocking gimmick for a few seasons, it could also prevent audiences from ever becoming attached to any season’s human cast – as the immortal Elves would likely be the only constants from one season to another in that case. Compressing the timeline into a few hundred years isn’t ideal either, though, so I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what Amazon has in mind.
That’s pretty much all there is to say about The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis, but there is one last thing I want to add. Near the end of TORN’s livestream last night, host Justin posed a thought-provoking question to each of the guests: what they wanted to see or hear next from the series? There were a lot of good answers, but I knew right away what my answer would have been, if I were asked.
I want TheOneRing.net to be as intimately involved with the Amazon series’ production as they were with Jackson’s trilogy. Although the level of coordination between TORN and New Line Cinema was unprecedented, it was beautiful because of how it allowed our fandom a firsthand experience of the adaptation of our favorite story and the ability to observe the filmmaking process up close, and gave the studio a trusted outlet through which to speak directly to fans. On that fateful night that Return Of The King pulled off a clean sweep in thirteen Oscars categories, Peter Jackson and his crew even opted out of the New Line Oscar Party and attended TORN’s fan-event instead. These days, it’s traditional for studios to give all their biggest scoops and press releases to the major Hollywood trades, allowing news to spread more quickly to a wider audience, but taking a step back from fans in so doing. The creation of a link between Amazon and TORN would go a long way to making all fans feel a lot more welcome…while allowing Amazon a window into the Tolkien community that can help them gage what fans want to see.
So what do you think? Does The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis pique your interest, or leave you underwhelmed? Do you want to see Amazon honor those old bonds of fellowship with TORN? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!