Barrow-wights Abound In The Rings Of Power Season 2

There’s never been a better time to be a fan of three specific consecutive chapters of The Fellowship Of The Ring that have never been adapted from page to screen. The Old Forest, In The House Of Tom Bombadil, and Fog On The Barrow-downs make up a strange, at times surreal, and largely self-contained story that seemingly holds up the book’s overarching narrative instead of moving it forward – and for filmmakers Peter Jackson and Ralph Bakshi, that’s justification enough for their decision to pretend the Hobbits made it from the Shire to Bree without incident along the way. The plot is essentially unaffected (the Hobbits are given their swords by Aragorn, who conveniently has three small swords on his person), and moves to its destination quicker. But so much texture is lost. The world of Middle-earth is less rich, less vibrant, without Tom Bombadil and Goldberry; less dangerous, less of a character in its own right, without Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights. These chapters play an underappreciated role in making The Lord Of The Rings, and this year, they’re finally being paid their dues.

Cover of Empire Magazine, with artwork by Einar Martinsen, depicting the Barrow-wights - floating, skeletal figures with glowing pale blue eyes, draped in crimson rags and gold jewelry, advancing through a forest under cold moonlight.
Barrow-Wights (artwork by Einar Martinsen) |

As previously revealed by Vanity Fair, the upcoming second season of The Rings Of Power will feature Tom Bombadil, an enigmatic character who was already capering about in J.R.R. Tolkien’s head years before he started writing The Lord Of The Rings, but became so firmly grounded in Middle-earth as to now be frequently associated with the in-universe God. Recently, Empire Magazine confirmed that the Barrow-wights, terrifying adversaries of Bombadil, would also appear in season two; which did not come as much of a surprise to keen-eyed fans who had already caught fleeting glimpses of them in the trailer and accompanying behind-the-scenes video released over a month ago, but did allow us to get a much closer look at how Amazon is adapting these iconic monsters for television. So let’s get into it.

First, however, I feel like “barrows” and “wights” are sufficiently unfamiliar concepts to the general audience that a brief explanation is in order. Barrows, or tumuli, are tombs covered by a mound of earth, and while the practice of building them was fairly common across the world in ancient times, with examples everywhere from France to Japan to Australia, Tolkien’s barrows are distinctly English, while the incorporeal, undead monsters inhabiting these mounds come from Norse folklore. There are several words in Old Norse to describe such a creature, including draugr or vættr, which was translated into English as wight (an existing, if somewhat archaic Old English word that once applied to just about anything living, but came to refer almost exclusively to supernatural beings). Tolkien had probably also encountered the specific term “Barrow-wight” at least once, in Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris’ Grettis Saga (1869), which adapts the Old Norse word haugbúi or “barrow-dweller” thusly.

A Barrow-wight - a floating skeletal figure with glowing pale blue eyes, draped in crimson rags with a gold circlet upon its bony brow - hovering over Morfydd Clark as Galadriel, whose back is turned to the camera. She has gold hair braided on top of her head. She wears a dark cloak over a white tunic, and has a quiver of arrows and a bow strapped to her back. She is using her sword to ward off the Barrow-wight.
Galadriel vs A Barrow-wight |

Draugar, traditionally, are understood to be something other than ghosts, a kind of parasitic spirit that possesses and reanimates dead bodies for its own malevolent purposes, and may fiercely guard a treasure (hence their association with barrows in particular, which often housed a deceased ruler’s riches as well as their remains), or wander around by night in search of its prey. Tolkien’s wights check all the boxes. Though little is said of how they came to be, we know for a fact that they were not innate to the barrows:

“In the days of Argeleb II the plague came into Eriador from the South-east, and most of the people of Cardolan perished, especially in Minhiriath. The Hobbits and all other peoples suffered greatly, but the plague lessened as it passed northwards, and the northern parts of Arthedain were little affected. It was at this time that an end came of the Dúnedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits out of Angmar and Rhudaur entered into the deserted mounds and dwelt there.

— The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King: Appendix A; (iii) Eriador, Arnor, And The Heirs Of Isildur

In Unfinished Tales, the appearance of the wights in Cardolan is explicitly linked with the Witch-king of Angmar, mightiest of the nine Ringwraiths, whom Tolkien at one point conceived of as wights themselves:

“[The Witch-king] had known something of the country long ago, in his wars with the Dúnedain, and especially of the Tyrn Gorthad of Cardolan, now the Barrow-downs, whose evil wights had been sent there by himself.”

— Unfinished Tales: The Hunt For The Ring

Whether the wights were creations of the Witch-king or had merely fallen under his control is a mystery. During the events of The Lord Of The Rings, he again “roused” the wights in an (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to blockade the Shire and prevent Frodo Baggins from escaping to Rivendell. The wights may have perished off-page when the Witch-king was killed in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, or afterwards when the power of the Nine Rings was ended, but for my part I believe they were older than either Rings or Ringwraiths. The wight’s song speaks of a “dark lord”, which can be read as a reference to Sauron, of course, but looks forward to a time when he will lift his hand to bring about death and destruction on a cosmic scale, extinguishing the sun, moon and stars in a black wind. Sauron, for all his many faults, is not a nihilist (part of what makes him so interesting to me), and the wight’s imagined future sounds a lot more like the universe according to Morgoth.

All of which is to say that I personally have no problem with wights appearing in The Rings Of Power, an Age of the world before the wars in Arnor where they make their official entrance into historical record. The show could call them wights rather than Barrow-wights to clear up any lingering confusion, but even that I think is unnecessary as long as these wights are not already inhabiting the Barrow-downs east of the Shire – and from the looks of it, they’re not. The trailer and first-look images show Galadriel, Elrond, and a squadron of Elven warriors surrounded by wights in a swampy forest, while the Barrow-downs are described and consistently depicted in artwork as “a country of grass and short springy turf”, devoid of trees or visible water. One could argue this is the result of unchecked deforestation by Númenórean colonizers, and while I wouldn’t normally expect a commitment to fictional ecohistorical accuracy from a show, I remembered that the marketing for The Rings Of Power kicked off with a remarkably accurate map of Middle-earth in the early Second Age, so I checked…and the forests, while blanketing much of Eriador, deliberately skirt around the Barrow-downs.

The Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, a low hill of turf with a stone wall built into it, in which there is a door leading into a tomb.
Stoney Littleton Long Barrow |

So then, where are these wights from? That’s a question that has become especially relevant now that we’ve seen the wights up-close via Empire, because their costumes – specifically their headwear and jewelry – have raised legitimate concerns of orientalism. Regardless of whether or not The Rings Of Power‘s costume department meant anything by dressing monsters in what is seemingly SWANA and Central Asian traditional clothing, I believe it is important to amplify these concerns. The Rings Of Power, and all adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, have a responsibility to tackle head-on the orientalist and racist tropes that he wove into the text (again, whether intentionally or not). I would not see The Rings Of Power repeat the critical mistake Peter Jackson made when he opted instead to ignore and arguably even lean into the xenophobic connotations of a story about predominantly white heroes from the West cutting down hordes of nameless dark-skinned enemies out of the East, which in the aftermath of 9/11 made the films and books extremely popular amongst white Christian nationalists and Islamophobes (including Gimli actor and voice of Treebeard, John Rhys-Davies), who have dominated the fandom space and tried to shape mainstream perception of The Lord Of The Rings as an exclusively white and Christian story for the last two decades, in part because they were never challenged.

The Rings Of Power played an indirect role in exposing the fandom’s racism and revitalizing interest in the study of racist themes in Tolkien’s works, but has actually done surprisingly little in and of itself to challenge the status quo, and in some ways is decidedly regressive. Many fans raised eyebrows at the decision to erase important examples of gender nonconformity in Middle-earth by depicting most Elven men (and only the men) with short hair and Dwarven women without facial hair, while others noted how odd it was that most of the nameless Elven women in Lindon wear veils and nun-like garments. Some of these issues have been addressed heading into season two (there are more Elven men with long hair now, and Princess Disa is growing out her sideburns), but the Barrow-wights serve as a reminder that The Rings Of Power still has a long way to go in confronting the legacy of orientalism in Tolkien’s works that has overshadowed every adaptation. With the series expanding its scope to encompass the eastern lands of Rhûn, while in the real world, Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric against SWANA people is on the rise, it’s more important than ever that they make the effort.

What do you think of the Barrow-wights, their look, and the role they could potentially play in The Rings Of Power season two? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Tom Bombadil To Make Onscreen Debut In “The Rings Of Power” Season 2

I’m aware of how ridiculous this will sound, but J.R.R. Tolkien actually showed remarkable restraint as an author and worldbuilder. Yes, he seeded historical detail and mythology throughout his writings, and squeezed as much of it as possible into the Appendices to The Return Of The King, but as anyone who’s ever gone looking there for more info about the Entwives, or the Blue Wizards, or the cats of Queen Berúthiel can tell you, it’s still a pretty bare-bones summary of Middle-earth’s fictional history. The published Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales are a bit more useful, but sometimes, Tolkien would write something down and simply refuse to elaborate any further. And there’s no better example of this anywhere in his work than the character of Tom Bombadil.

Rory Kinnear as Tom Bombadil in The Rings Of Power, close-up. He has long curly reddish-brown hair and a beard. He is wearing a tall brown hat with a dark blue feather through it, and a blue-gray coat over a tunic of indeterminate color with a brown leather belt.
Tom Bombadil | Twitter @TheRingsofPower

Most people, if they’re familiar with Tom Bombadil at all, will know him as the capering curiosity who strays into the central narrative of The Lord Of The Rings, rescuing Frodo Baggins and his friends from a sentient and decidedly malevolent willow-tree in the Old Forest, entertaining them for a few nights at his home deep in the Withywindle river-valley before sending them on their way without even so much as a magical gift of no readily apparent purpose or a piece of advice that will prove particularly helpful in the future, the sorts of things that heroes typically earn from seemingly trivial side-quests. Nope, nothing of the sort. Technically, Tom comes back in the very next chapter and saves their lives again, this time from Barrow-wights, and he does tell the hobbits to help themselves to the wight’s treasures, including the swords that Merry, Pippin and Sam use throughout the rest of the book, so that’s something, but it’s not a gift from Tom, per se.

And with that, he’s gone (for real), and the hobbits very soon find themselves surrounded by dangers that push all memory of Tom Bombadil to the back of their – and our – minds, like an odd but not unpleasant dream. Most authors, upon realizing that they had accidentally written three straight chapters of what might arguably be called “filler”, would have either cut this section entirely or retroactively amended it to have some plot-significance, but J.R.R. Tolkien, thankfully, was not most authors. He left Tom in, and later justified his decision in a letter to Naomi Mitchison:

“Tom Bombadil is not an important person – to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’. I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function.”

— The Letters Of J.R.R. Tolkien, #144

As Tolkien makes clear, Tom actually originated in a poem published two decades prior to The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, and later republished in a 1962 collection of Tolkien’s poetry titled The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil (a slight misnomer, as only two of the sixteen poems feature him). The original poem follows Tom as he prances unconcernedly around the Old Forest in his iconic bright blue jacket and yellow boots, racking up a rogue’s gallery to rival Batman’s, including creatures such as Old Man Willow, the Barrow-wights, and Goldberry, who becomes Tom’s wife by the end of the poem. At this point, Middle-earth already existed in Tolkien’s mind, and had begun spilling over into the settings of his poetry and short stories, but he had not yet expanded the scope of his invented world’s history beyond the bleak First Age, in which a character as whimsical as Tom would have felt utterly out-of-place. It wasn’t until several years later, while writing The Lord Of The Rings, that Tolkien would finally yank Tom out of the nebulous space where he had existed and into the Middle-earth mythos – the book, conceived as a sequel to The Hobbit written in the same whimsical style, was getting out of Tolkien’s hands, becoming larger, darker, and more complex by the moment, and Tom Bombadil might have seemed like the perfect character to help get the story back on track.

It’s interesting to think about, the possibility that Tom feels like such an interloper in the story because he represents Tolkien’s last desperate attempt at “righting course” before he gave in and let the book lead him in a different direction entirely. When Tom conveniently shows up in the nick of time to save the hobbits from murderous willow-trees and the vengeful undead, a trick straight out of Gandalf’s playbook in The Hobbit, maybe it’s not so much for their sake as it is for Tolkien’s – but that’s just my speculation. Regardless of whether Tom responded to a subconscious cry for help from the author or not, once he arrived, he became as intrinsic a part of Middle-earth as characters that had lived there much longer, and even more so than most.

It’s not for no reason that fans have long speculated as to whether Tom and his wife Goldberry are the gods Aulë and Yavanna made flesh, or if Tom is Middle-earth’s maker, Eru Ilúvatar, Himself (a theory Tolkien rebuked, for what it’s worth). At the very least, Tom is older than anyone or anything else in the world. In his own words, “Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the King and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside.” Look past the use of third-person pronouns for a moment, and focus on the phrasing and ominous capitalization that seems to suggest Tom is not from “Outside”, i.e. the universe or Eä, where all the gods including Melkor (the Dark Lord of whom Tom speaks) were gathered before they descended to earth. Of course, if that were the case, it would mean Tom Bombadil was already on earth from the very very beginning, and we can’t even begin to comprehend what that makes him. The only other lifeforms of a possibly comparable age to Tom are the “nameless things” gnawing at the roots of the Misty Mountains, which are said to be older than Sauron; himself a lesser god. Maybe some questions are better left unanswered…

Rory Kinnear as Tom Bombadil, standing in front of Daniel Weyman as the Stranger, who is sitting in a wooden chair. Tom has long reddish-brown hair and a beard. He is wearing a tall brown hat and a blue coat over a tunic with a brown leather belt and yellow boots, carrying a wooden walking-stick. The Stranger has long gray hair and is wearing a moss-colored robe. They are in Tom's house, which has star-charts etched on the stone ceilings and rugged furniture.
Tom Bombadil | Twitter @TheRingsofPower

While we’ll never know for sure what Tom Bombadil is, I for one have made peace with that, because I’m frankly more interested in the function he serves, as Tolkien put it. He is more than merely “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside”, though that description may have been sufficient when used in 1937 by Tolkien, before The Lord Of The Rings had even begun to take shape. Allow me to share with you another illuminating excerpt from his letter to Naomi Mitchison:

“The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side….moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were, taken ‘a vow of poverty’, renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war.”

— The Letters Of J.R.R. Tolkien #144

It’s for this exact reason that the Council of Elrond decides against giving the One Ring to Tom when the matter is discussed. Ironically, it would have too little effect on him! He would never use it, but neither would he remember to hold onto it, and after a while he might throw it away or misplace it, and give it no further thought until Sauron was on his doorstep. Would that be selfishness on his part, or on the part of those who gave him the Ring? It is not within Tom’s abilities to destroy the Ring, anyway, so this course of action would only stall Sauron for a short time, during which he would muster more force with which to crush the Free Peoples.

Tom’s neutrality, so to speak, is as much a factor in the decision by multiple filmmakers to leave him out of adaptations of The Lord Of The Rings as his insignificance to the plot or his garish wardrobe and tendency to break into song in the middle of a sentence. Especially in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, where even the Elves are villainized for not doing enough to help humans and have to be “redeemed” by sending an army to the Battle of Helm’s Deep, or by Elrond hand-delivering Andúril to Aragorn in Dunharrow, it’s hard to imagine Tom Bombadil being let off the hook. I can all too easily envision a scenario where a staunchly isolationist Tom Bombadil has to be coerced into fighting Sauron somehow, or leading the Ents into battle against Saruman.

But I don’t yet know enough about how Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne operate to predict how they’ll utilize Tom in the fast-approaching second season of Amazon’s The Rings Of Power, which will become the first major film or TV adaptation to feature the character (a bizarre 1993 Finnish miniseries titled Hobitit technically has the distinction of being the first). Tom, played by Rory Kinnear of Black Mirror, will be one of the first characters that Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot and the Stranger will encounter in the lands of Rhûn, which stretch beyond the easternmost boundaries of Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth, encompassing an inland sea. Tom has come to Rhûn, the showrunners revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair, to see for himself what effects the power of Sauron seeping from Mordor is having on the plants and animals there. He’s built a house in the wasteland surrounded by cacti and lemon trees, with star-charts etched on the ceilings. He’s been waiting for the Stranger, who “he knows will eventually protect the larger natural world that he cares about.”

How large a role Tom plays in the story will, I think, decide how I ultimately end up feeling about his inclusion – if he shows up out of nowhere to save Nori and the Stranger from a carnivorous cactus, gives them directions, maybe teaches them both the same song that Frodo uses three-thousand years later in the barrow to summon Tom back to his side, and rescues them once more at most before vanishing, preferably never to be seen again on the show, that could work. But if at any point he starts to move the Stranger’s subplot along a little too forcefully, or if he takes any interest in the plot at all, I’m afraid of “contrivance” becoming an issue. Tom is an anti-contrivance, if you will, his house standing not at a figurative crossroads but somewhere on a scenic detour.

Rory Kinnear as Tom Bombadil, standing outside in a sandy garden of cacti, with beehives, lemon-trees, and pink flowers climbing the stone walls of his house. He has long reddish-brown hair and a beard, and is wearing a white tunic with rolled-up sleeves and yellow boots.
Tom Bombadil | Twitter @TheRingsofPower

As for his look, I have very little to say on the subject. His clothes are maybe a tad shabbier than I imagined, and he’s standing still in the first-look images, which I think is jarring because Tom Bombadil is so often described and depicted in artwork as “hopping and dancing”, “leaping up in the air”, “clattering in the kitchen”, “waving his arms as if he was warding off the rain”, or “charging through grass and rushes like a cow going down to drink”, but he’s instantly recognizable regardless, and I’m very excited to hear Kinnear speaking and singing in the Cornish accent he says he and dialect coach Leith McPherson settled on for the character. Oddly, there’s no sign of Goldberry anywhere. Maybe the showrunners want her to be a surprise, or maybe she’s elsewhere in Middle-earth, or not even Tom’s wife yet, but it’s a curious omission.

But I’ve rambled long enough. What are your feelings on Tom Bombadil? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Sauron Stuns In New “Rings Of Power” Season 2 Teaser


Specifically targeting those viewers who couldn’t make it through The Rings Of Power‘s slow-paced first season, the teaser trailer for the epic fantasy series’ upcoming second season promises high-octane action sequences, thrilling drama, and stunning visuals that the most expensive show in the history of television has to be able to deliver consistently (and probably shouldn’t need to convince anyone that it can). The drastic shift in tone is due at least in part to the fact that, in-universe, the character of Sauron is out in the open now and The Rings Of Power can finally employ him in its marketing campaign, instead of having to conceal their charismatic antagonist behind various red-herrings.

Charlie Vickers as Sauron in The Rings Of Power, wearing a black long-sleeved robe with ornate gold embroidery and a wide gold belt, standing surrounded by long-haired Elven warriors wearing armor and holding swords to his throat.  He has long blond hair.
Sauron |

Charlie Vickers returns as Sauron’s “fair form”, casting off the drab and filthy rags he wore while disguised as the human Halbrand throughout season one, donning new and more richly-embroidered garments of black and gold, with long golden-brown hair and pointed ears to fit the part of an Elf. There are several shots and lines of dialogue in the trailer that seem to indicate the writers are trying to follow the story as sketched out by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Silmarillion, in which Sauron posed as an Elven emissary from Valinor named Annatar to gain access to the powerful forges of Eregion and seduce the great jewel-smith Celebrimbor. In The Rings Of Power‘s non-canonical version of events, of course, Sauron (as Halbrand) already weaseled his way into Eregion and assisted Celebrimbor in making the Three Rings before Galadriel made him leave, so unless Elves are just totally face-blind, it’s hard to believe that the new hairstyle and fit will fool everyone in Eregion. Even if they don’t realize he’s Sauron (because Galadriel kinda left that part out when she told everyone that Halbrand was gone), surely they’d question how Halbrand turned into an Elf overnight?

Or maybe not. There’s a shot in the trailer of Celebrimbor, in his forge, shielding his eyes as a figure strides toward him through parting clouds, silhouetted against a bright white light, which I initially interpreted as the sunlight breaking through a hole in the wall, with the clouds being the smoke of war. But rewatching the footage, I feel that the imagery is heavily evocative of how The Rings Of Power depicted the light of Valinor, and of the cloud-wall surrounding the Undying Lands to the Uttermost West that rolls back to allow the grey ships of the Elves through. I would go so far as to bet that this scene is from the very first episode of the second season, and demonstrates how Sauron will get away with his ruse, by appearing only to Celebrimbor as an angel (for lack of a better word, and because that’s essentially what Sauron is, or was, before his fall). Remember, Celebrimbor was quite taken by Halbrand, and benefited greatly from their brief partnership, so Sauron may choose to keep the man’s face specifically for that reason. Maybe he doesn’t even have to set foot in Eregion to continue his corruption of Celebrimbor. Imagine your guardian angel secretly trying to lead you to your doom, now that’s the kind of dirty trick at which Sauron excels.

I am most intrigued at what Amazon apparently doesn’t consider a spoiler – you’d think that the shot, near the end of the trailer, of Sauron standing amidst the ruins of Celebrimbor’s forge, still wearing his fair form, but encircled by sword-wielding Elves in armor (including Celebrimbor himself, who appears to be missing his left hand), would be giving away a major plot-point, but if it’s not, that means that the writers might still have a few tricks up their sleeves, and maybe all is not as it seems. What is plain to see, however, is that the kingdom of Eregion is under siege by Sauron’s forces, and the aforementioned shot, as well as one of Celebrimbor frantically dumping rings (presumably the lesser Rings of Power) into the flames where they were made, strongly implies that their defenses will not hold.

The city of Ost-in-Edhil in Eregion. It is night. Flaming missiles are being launched from catapults set up on side of a river at the walled city on the other side.
The Siege of Eregion |

Before then, we can expect to see Eregion’s craftspeople reach the pinnacle of their creativity and innovation under Celebrimbor’s guidance (and Sauron’s instructions, whispered in his ear), with two more sets of great Rings, seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone and nine for mortal Men doomed to die, forged alongside the Three, which are safely – and secretly – situated on the hands of King Gil-galad of Lindon, the Lady Galadriel, and Círdan the Shipwright (the latter a character we have not met in any prior adaptation of Tolkien’s works). We catch a quick glimpse of Peter Mullan’s King Durin III holding what is very likely the Ring given to his clan, inset with a rough blue gemstone. No sign of the Nine, that I could find anywhere in the trailer or in the accompanying behind-the-scenes feature released on YouTube, but it may be that Sauron will come into possession of a great many Rings and then begin distributing them amongst Men in the third season.

Still geographically removed from Middle-earth’s problems but not far enough to protect them from the fallout, Númenor, the greatest kingdom of Men in Middle-earth, is seen in the throes of religious strife following the death of the old king and the return of his daughter Míriel from a crushing defeat on the battlefields of the Southlands with wounds to both her body and her pride. Míriel remains faithful to the traditions followed by generations of Númenórean monarchs before her, but there are many, even in her own court, who believe that the time has come to shrug off the burden of their old oaths to the Elves and the gods in Valinor. An Eagle of the West, regarded by the Faithful as heralds of the god Manwë, alights in the Court of the Kings, and Pharazôn, Míriel’s advisor, approaches the bird with sword unsheathed. Míriel is tortured by visions of a leviathan, some Lovecraftian horror with the face of a goblin shark and the body of a squid, rising up from the depths to swallow her and the island nation whole (I was deeply disappointed with the sea-monster in season one, so this, whether it’s a real creature or merely a metaphor for Númenor’s impending demise, is the shot that got me most excited for the new season).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the map, Elanor Brandyfoot and the Stranger trek through the lands of Rhûn, trying to piece together a more accurate picture of where the Stranger came from and where he’s supposed to be going by following the trail of the Mystics, the only three people in Middle-earth who knew who he was. Though the Stranger incinerated their flesh-and-blood bodies in the first season using his magic, and they evaporated into a swarm of butterflies, it seems we’re not done with the Mystics just yet, or perhaps, with the organization of which they were a part. A woman with bloody hands, wearing similar clothes to the Mystics we’ve seen already, is seen standing in a temple with sandstone pillars, while butterflies swirl around her. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I remain convinced that the Stranger is not Gandalf but one of the two enigmatic Blue Wizards, and that the Mystics are disciples of the other, who arrived in Middle-earth long before him. I say this because one of the very few descriptions Tolkien left behind of the Blue Wizards mentions that they founded “secret cults and magic traditions” in the East, which aligns so perfectly with everything we know about these Mystics, it’s aggravating to think that there are actually other alternatives.

Charles Edwards as Celebrimbor, wearing a dark red velvet gown, walking down an ornate flight of steps into a room of his forge, filled with smoke and a hazy golden light.
Celebrimbor |

Something fascinating that The Rings Of Power is doing (and not getting enough credit for) is diving into these corners of Tolkien’s lore that no one else has dared to touch, and expanding the general audience’s understanding of what Middle-earth can be. Don’t get me wrong, the writers have made their fair share of choices and changes, some of which have rubbed me the wrong way, but it’s that exact willingness to think outside the box that makes The Rings Of Power so enjoyable for me, because I genuinely never know what to expect. A wizard falling out of the sky into a nomadic tribe of proto-Hobbits, hints of romantic tension between Galadriel and Sauron, apocryphal origin stories for mithril, and now the rumor around town is that Tom Bombadil could show up in season two – yes, that Tom Bombadil, the same singing, dancing, bright yellow boot-wearing character who’s been cut out of every previous film adaptation of The Lord Of The  Rings because he would have been too bizarre and random for people’s minds to process. Whether they can pull that off is anyone’s guess, but you’ve got to respect that a show this expensive, whose creators have every incentive to stick to played-out stories, is still taking the path least traveled and not once apologizing for it.

Trailer Rating: 9/10

Peter Jackson To Return To Middle-earth With “The Hunt For Gollum”

As Warner Bros. continues to narrowly dodge financial ruin, no cherished classic or satisfyingly completed series in the studio’s vault is safe from being used as a lifesaver. The DC Comics universe is in the process of being rebooted for the trillionth time, Harry Potter is being reimagined for HBO Max, Game Of Thrones is spinning off into various new projects…inevitably, The Lord Of The Rings was going to get the same treatment once Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav realized that, collectively, the two Peter Jackson-helmed film trilogies set in Middle-earth grossed over five billion dollars at the global box-office, with every installment in the franchise being an undisputed success, and that interest in the world was still strong enough as of 2022 to earn Amazon Prime Video’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power the service’s strongest premiere viewing numbers ever.

Close-up image of Gollum, a gaunt, pale, wide-eyed bald creature.
Gollum |

So it should come as no surprise that a new live-action film set in the continuity of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth is already “in the early stages of script development” and slated to release in 2026. No, that announcement was boringly predictable, if anything. What did come as a shock was the series of increasingly mind-boggling reveals that the film would be produced by Jackson himself, co-written by Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, and directed by Andy Serkis, with Serkis also reprising the iconic and groundbreaking motion-capture role of the creature Gollum in a story set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, documenting Gollum’s hunt for his stolen Ring of Power, and the efforts by Gandalf and Aragorn to find him before the forces of Sauron. The film has the working-title “The Hunt For Gollum”, which seems apt.

My feelings in this moment are complicated. I’m happy for Peter Jackson – it would have been a terrible shame if the experience of making The Hobbit trilogy, which was by all accounts chaotic, exhausting, and often miserable for Jackson, had turned him off from ever again wanting to touch the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. And he deserves a better closer to this chapter of his career than The Battle Of The Five Armies, by far the worst of the six films; comprised almost entirely of mindless, weightless, CGI-reliant action scenes. The Hunt For Gollum, by contrast, is a small-scale (but high-stakes) tale of horror and mystery, expanding on Tolkien’s brief but chillingly vivid descriptions of Gollum’s time in Wilderland:

“The Wood-elves tracked him first, an easy task for them, for his trail was still fresh then. Through Mirkwood and back again it led them, though they never caught him. The wood was full of the rumour of him, dreadful tales even among beasts and birds. The Woodmen said that there was some new terror abroad, a ghost that drank blood. It climbed trees to find nests; it crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles.”

— The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring: Book I, Chapter II; The Shadow Of The Past

That single passage kept me awake and afraid at night as a kid, and Jackson comes from a background in horror, so I can begin to see why this story in particular might have lured him back to Middle-earth at last, even if only as a producer. Of course, it’s also exemplary of the challenge the writers face adapting this story, the same challenge that the creators of Daedalic’s Gollum video game could not overcome – Gollum is, to put it lightly, not a very pleasant character to spend time with, on his own. He also lacks agency. The Ring’s influence pulls him in one direction, Sauron’s influence in another, and then Aragorn comes along and quite literally drags him kicking and screaming off in a different direction entirely. He’s held captive by Orcs and by Elves for long periods of time, and even his escapes are pre-meditated rather than the product of his own cunning.

It seems likely, then, that the characters encircling Gollum will be the true protagonists, and the film will generate a lot of buzz and social media discourse depending on which roles are recast and which of the original actors return. Viggo Mortensen is likely a bit too old now at 65 to convincingly portray a version of Aragorn younger than the one audiences first met in the inn at Bree over twenty years ago, so brace yourselves for that recasting, but Sir Ian McKellen, 84, could still plausibly come back as the wizard Gandalf, and his character’s role in this story is just small enough (limited mostly to interrogating Gollum) to make it work, but pivotal enough to make it worthwhile and special. Lee Pace returning as Thranduil seems like a given, and Orlando Bloom could conceivably show up as Legolas. Evangeline Lilly’s original character Tauriel reappearing is maybe a bit far-fetched given how she basically tanked her entire career with her anti-vaccination stance, but not out of the realm of possibility, I suppose.

One thing we can expect is that The Hunt For Gollum will adhere to the established aesthetics of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth, though I’m taking the perhaps-too-optimistic stance that the main cast will not be exclusively white and predominantly male, as was the case on both of Jackson’s previous trilogies. All manner of bigots have sought to stake a claim on Tolkien’s invented world, and The Rings Of Power did the right thing by shaking them off. Their insistence that Jackson’s “true” version of Middle-earth asserts their worldview should be met with firm rebuttal by these filmmakers.

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, brandishing the sword Anduril in front of his face. He has shoulder-length dark brown hair, and wears a gray cloak over brown garments.
Aragorn |

Speaking of The Rings Of Power, the show will likely still be running in 2026, when The Hunt For Gollum arrives in theaters, and it will be quite interesting to see how these two separate iterations of Middle-earth influence each other. The Rings Of Power can’t exactly bring back an actor from the films at this point, but it can do more to win over diehard fans of the books by utilizing more of the lore, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly how they respond, by revealing some fan-favorite character set to appear in the upcoming second season (it would be most ironic if it’s Glorfindel, because of how many of the same people who hate The Rings Of Power for its “forced diversity” also hate that Jackson replaced Glorfindel with Arwen in The Fellowship Of The Ring). Then again, it’s Amazon we’re talking about, so they might just not promote the second season at all.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on The Hunt For Gollum, and the wide range of Tolkien adaptations on the market these days? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!