What Brought The Tolkien Community Joy In 2020

2020 was nothing if not a hellish year that tested us in ways we hadn’t even thought possible back in 2019. But now, with the year finally ending and a new one about to begin, I thought it would be nice to look back and find some things that brought us in the Tolkien community just a little bit of joy and normality amidst all the chaos and confusion. Whether it was casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon series, or familiar faces reuniting for a good cause, Tolkien fans found a respite from the year’s awfulness in small, simple, pleasures that gave us each a smile and a laugh, and/or kept us at least partially sane throughout 2020.

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insider.com

I’ve tried to be comprehensive, but it’s been a long year, and I have forgotten much that I thought I knew. So if I’ve missed something important, be sure to tell me and I’ll happily correct my error! As I am just one Tolkien fan in a very big and very diverse fandom, these are merely my personal experiences. With that out of the way, let’s revisit some of the year’s few joyous Tolkienesque highlights.

As soon as lockdown orders went into place around the world, many of us immediately took the opportunity to crack open our old copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, with the intention of returning to Middle-earth for some much-needed comfort. But actor and director Andy Serkis went further than the rest of us would or even could, reading the entirety of The Hobbit aloud in a hyped-up livestream event with the full permission of HarperCollins (for whom he then recorded a new audiobook of The Hobbit). The 12-hour long livestream was hugely successful – raising more than £283,000 for charity – and hugely satisfying for Tolkien fans, as Serkis was able to trot out his iconic Gollum voice during the character’s single, memorable sequence in the book. I myself have read The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, The Silmarillion, and assorted bits of Unfinished Tales aloud to family members even prior to this quarantine, and can confirm that, while taxing on the vocal cords, it’s a truly delightful experience to partake in (I personally like to do different voices and accents for all the characters, not just the ones I’m especially good at, but, well, I’m not claiming to be a better reader-alouder than Andy Serkis…or am I?)

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Andy Serkis as Gollum | lotr.fandom.com

The rest of us social distancing stay-at-homes, unable to monetize our reading experience in quite the same way, took to social media to share the joys of Middle-earth for free with people we don’t know and who probably don’t want to have their timelines continually clogged by abnormally long Twitter threads documenting our reactions to literally every single thing in each of the books and movies. Some of us did monetize our experiences, and were forced to distort Howard Shore’s beautiful score to avoid copyright infringement. There were too many of these to count, but a few I particularly enjoyed included a first-time viewer’s twelve-part reaction to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, artist and animator Noelle Stevenson live-tweeting the movies while enjoying a lembas bread snack, and a live-tweet of Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic The Lord Of The Rings adaptation that is perfect viewing once you hit that stage of quarantine where days are blurring together and nothing makes sense anymore, least of all reality, so you might as well just roll with the fact that, yes, Aragorn is rocking that mini-skirt.

Not wanting to let Andy Serkis have all the fun, almost the entire main cast of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings reunited for a livestreamed event hosted by actor and comedian Josh Gad, and attended by Jackson himself as well as the trilogy’s lead screenwriter, Philippa Boyens. It was, as they say in The Shire, a party of special magnificence: gathering on their individual computer screens, the Fellowship and more teamed up for trivia, re-enactments of famous scenes, and fond reminiscences. It was all too brief, but by that point we were growing used to brief and fleeting joys, and it felt refreshingly fun. Hearing Sean Astin recite his empowering speech from the end of The Two Towers also provided us with an excuse for a good old-fashioned ugly cry, which was sweet of him.

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Lord Of The Rings On Prime cast | newshub.co.nz

But even as the old cast was re-assembling, a new cast was coming together in New Zealand – the one corner of the world that was, for the most part, unaffected by COVID-19. Two huge casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon Prime adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work bookended this strange year; the first in January, prior to the pandemic, and the second earlier this very month. We welcomed a number of diverse and exciting actors to Middle-earth, such as Nazanin Boniadi, Sophia Nomvete, Morfydd Clark, Peter Mullan, and Lenny Henry, and we debated endlessly about who they could be playing, here on this very blog and on fan-forums everywhere (speaking of which, the homepage of TheOneRing.com is active again as of this month, after several years). Almost a year into production on the first season, and we still don’t actually know! We’re not even sure if this is the full cast yet, or if more are still to come.

But with production on the season’s two-part pilot apparently complete and director J.A. Bayona having just departed New Zealand, it does appear that production is now underway on the rest of the season after a number of delays due to COVID that forced the entire series to halt filming throughout the spring and summer. Amazon Prime has been keeping this whole project unusually secretive, so much so that we still don’t even have an official title (which, let me tell you, is getting on my nerves). We know it takes place in the Second Age, we know a little bit about the behind-the-scenes crew, and…that’s it, mostly. In the absence of concrete information, rumors have spread like wildfire and driven some pretty controversial fandom discourse (though it gave me a chance to share my knowledge of The Mariner’s Wife with the world, so I’m not entirely unhappy about that). Thankfully, a new YouTube channel named Fellowship Of Fans has been keeping us up to date with consistently reliable news from the set, and I highly recommend you subscribe now so you don’t miss a thing.

One can hope, however, that we’ll learn more official details sooner rather than later – especially with the Tolkien Estate having announced earlier this year that a new collection of previously unpublished writings by J.R.R. Tolkien is coming in 2021, which will provide new insight into a wide variety of subjects, including the Second Age of Middle-earth, something they wryly note will be “Of particular note, given the impending Amazon series”. How much of what’s in this book, titled The Nature Of Middle-earth, will actually be new is up for debate, but I’m extremely excited for it nonetheless.

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Tolkientober artwork by me

But the greatest Tolkien-related joy of 2020 (and the one in which I participated the most eagerly) has to have been the Tolkientober event: a month-long art challenge organized by Noelle Stevenson’s wife, artist and animator Molly Knox Ostertag – who, incidentally, was also recently awarded a Forbes 30 Under 30 honor. Tolkientober brought us together through the inclusive power of art, and allowed us a sneak peek of some of the next generation’s great Tolkien artists. I don’t claim to be one of those, but I did have a lot of fun sharing my works with the Tolkien community on Twitter, and it helped me rediscover my passion for drawing and sketching: something I had put aside pre-pandemic to focus on writing. Tolkientober, a casual, judgement-free, noncompetitive event aimed at spreading good vibes around the internet, taught me how to balance my talents better and renewed my confidence in my art, and for that I will always be thankful.

But enough about me. What I want to know is what your favorite moments were: so if my list is any way incomplete, share your own thoughts in the comments below and tell me about your experience as a Tolkien fan in 2020 – see you all in the new year!

Is Kaya Scodelario In The Lord Of The Rings Or Not?

We’re all hungry for more news and information about Amazon Prime’s adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, and so, unsurprisingly, many of us have taken up the habit of theorizing to try and piece together our own news and information. But while many theories have no basis in factual evidence, there’s one that’s been making the rounds recently that actually sounds pretty plausible. I speak of the rumor that actress Kaya Scodelario has possibly joined the cast of The Lord Of The Rings and is moving to New Zealand to begin filming.

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The theory came to my attention when it was posted by TheOneRing.net on their Twitter account, but their post did not credit the original theorizer, kayascodsnews, a Kaya Scodelario fan account on Instagram that actually did some very nifty sleuth work and managed to construct a fairly elaborate and convincing theory about Scodelario’s new whereabouts.

As they noted in their theory, Scodelario has been talking on her Instagram about moving away from her home country (the United Kingdom) to an unidentified new location: but she seems to only plan on moving for a year, suggesting that this is for her career, not for any personal reasons. Just a few days ago she embarked on a flight, which she mentioned in her Instagram story would last up to 27 hours – pretty much the exact time it takes to fly between the U.K. and New Zealand. As a going-away present, Scodelario’s friends gifted her a poster for The Hobbit with their faces edited over the thirteen Dwarves and other characters: a funny gesture, or something with a little more significance? If Scodelario has already told that many of her friends that she’s working on The Lord Of The Rings, then she’s not doing a very good job of keeping Amazon Prime’s secrets: but it wouldn’t be at all uncommon for this to happen. Besides, Amazon Prime has been a bit too secretive for my taste recently: since the main cast reveal, we’ve gotten hardly anything from any of their official channels.

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Celebrian | tor.com

That’s the extent of the theory, and since then we’ve had no updates: Scodelario hasn’t yet confirmed where in the world she is now. But with all this in mind, let’s imagine for a minute that Scodelario is, in fact, onboard The Lord Of The Rings series in what I have to assume will be a major role. Who would she be playing? TheOneRing.net pointed out that she bears a striking resemblance to Liv Tyler, who portrayed Arwen Evenstar in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and deduced that Scodelario could be playing Arwen’s mother, Celebrían (she can’t be playing Arwen herself, because Arwen isn’t born during the time period when the Amazon Prime series takes place; during the Second Age, over three-thousand years prior to the Quest of the Ring). In the histories of Middle-earth, Celebrían is a bit of a background player until the Third Age, when she gets abducted and brutally tortured by Orcs, leading to her eventually leaving Middle-earth entirely and setting sail for the West. In the Second Age, all we really know about her is that she’s the daughter of the Elven lady Galadriel, and accompanied her during several of her travels. At some point, she met and fell in love with Elrond Half-elven. For an actress like Scodelario (who has had major roles in several franchises, including the most Pirates Of The Caribbean movie) to be attracted to this role, the character’s story would almost certainly have to be expanded through original material – which isn’t a problem, if you ask me, but anything that diverges even slightly from the books is bound to court with controversy. Whoever she’s playing, Scodelario’s recent success as an action star in the horror-thriller Crawl suggests to me that her character would have some sort of action element (and on a side-note, Scodelario’s sister in Crawl was played by Morfydd Clark, who will play Galadriel in The Lord Of The Rings according to all sources: would it be so much of a stretch for Scodelario to now play her daughter?).

The Lord Of The Rings
yahoo.com

But now we’re moving away from the facts. Simply put, we don’t know whether Kaya Scodelario is in The Lord Of The Rings: it’s possible she’s filming something else entirely (the Resident Evil reboot, for instance), or not filming anything at all. It’s possible she’s not even heading to New Zealand. But while this is merely a rumor for right now, it’s a rumor with a grain of truth – which means we shouldn’t discount it just yet, but should instead keep a close eye on Scodelario’s next move.

What say you? Does it seem likely to you that Scodelario has joined the cast, or are you wary to jump to conclusions? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Maxim Baldry To Star In “The Lord Of The Rings”!

Technically, I reported on this quite some time ago, back when Maxim Baldry’s name first came up in association with Amazon Prime’s long-awaited adaptation of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, because, at the time, it seemed legit. However, as the months have crept by and we have begun to hear more information about the streaming series’ production and filming in New Zealand, Maxim Baldry’s name has been…let’s say, suspiciously absent from the conversation. To the point where it seemed like his casting had been a piece of misinformation (something that has plagued the Lord Of The Rings series since the beginning, with sites like TheOneRing.net often pushing hyperbolic and conjectural narratives about the series on their Twitter account).

Our fears were apparently confirmed when Baldry was left off an important cast list released by Amazon Prime themselves. A total of fifteen actors and actresses were officially cast and sent off to New Zealand to begin their strenuous physical training and start work on the series, including Robert Aramayo, Nazanin Boniadi, Markella Kavenagh, Morfydd Clark and others. But Baldry, whom, at the time, I and many other fans considered to be one of the main stars, was still nowhere to be seen. His social media gave no hint of any involvement (for comparison, most of the other confirmed stars have been using their social media to keep us up to date on their time in New Zealand, including sightseeing, hiking trips and visits to Lord Of The Rings trilogy locales such as the Hobbiton film set).

Maxim Baldry
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And then last night, out of the blue – Maxim Baldry is onboard the Amazon Prime series, according to Deadline (who also broke the original story of his joining the cast). They have now acknowledged that their initial report was only partially accurate: while he has been circling the project for some time, only recently has he worked out a deal with Amazon and settled into what Deadline are calling “a lead role” – not to be confused with the lead, who is believed to be played by Robert Aramayo. This matches up with what Amazon Co-head of TV Vernon Sanders said about the series: that there were still “a few key roles to cast”.

As for who Maxim Baldry is playing, that’s an open question as of right now. But the British actor, best known for his work on Years And Years, seems to have a very important place in the series. And that’s why I’m returning to what I think was my original assumption, and putting out a guess that he’s playing Annatar the Giver of Gifts, one of the many forms of the shape-shifting villain Sauron, who you might remember from Peter Jackson’s trilogy as being a giant eye in the sky. Baldry’s slender build, delicate features and long mane of dark hair lend themselves naturally to the Dark Lord, who often disguised himself as an Elf during the Second Age of Middle-earth, when this series is set. Annatar, Sauron’s most iconic alter ego, was an Elven lord who claimed to have been sent from the realm of the gods to bring a message of reconstruction and reform to Middle-earth, only to deceive his victims into enslaving themselves to his will. If not Sauron, then my other fan-cast for Maxim Baldry would be the young and peaceful Elven King Gil-galad, leader of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and one of Sauron’s chief rivals during the Second Age.

Who do you think Maxim Baldry is playing, and why do you think it took him so long to get onboard with the series? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Who’s Who In The “Lord Of The Rings” Cast?

Amazon Prime has officially announced the fifteen members of the main recurring cast for the first season of their The Lord Of The Rings, a massive fantasy series that will dive deep into the uncharted expanses of time and space between J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic creation-narrative The Silmarillion, and the events of his most well-known work, The Lord Of The Rings. In this mostly unknown and unexplored region of the Tolkien legendarium, there are three-thousand years of stories, subplots and character arcs that can absolutely be stitched together into the five-season series that Amazon is hoping to create: and now they have a cast to help them with that daunting task.

A cast that, for the time being, is just that: a bunch of names and random headshots that really doesn’t give us any clear picture of what’s going on in Middle-earth at this point in the fantasy world’s history – are most of these characters original, devised by the Amazon Prime writer’s room? Or are they Tolkien characters, and we just don’t know it yet? Who is playing who?

That’s why I’m here: to make extremely random and imaginative conjectures based on a handful of vague hints, and, hopefully, get something right. I’m likely wrong about most or all of these predictions and theories, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

That being said, let’s start out with Robert Aramayo, first on the cast-list and the man presumed to be the series’ central protagonist. Aramayo’s real character name is unknown, but it is known that he replaced fellow Brit Will Poulter, who was supposed to play “Beldor”. While no character with that name exists in Tolkien’s canon, Poulter’s striking resemblance to Hugo Weaving – who portrayed Elrond Half-Elven in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy – led many to believe that Poulter was playing a younger version of Weaving’s character, and that “Beldor” was merely a code-name. Aramayo doesn’t bear the same resemblance to Weaving, but he’s not entirely dissimilar, either. If Poulter was playing Elrond, then it seems certain that Aramayo is, as well.

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There’s another (small) bit of evidence that points to Beldor being Elrond: in an unofficial character breakdown, a character named “Neldor” was mentioned as being very similar to Beldor. Frankly, Neldor makes the most sense as a code-name for Elrond, since it’s literally just the word Elrond with the letters scrambled, but I think Neldor is more likely to be Elrond’s canon twin brother, Elros – the first king of Númenor, and forefather of the Dúnedain. And who better to play Elros than the only other member of the cast (so far) who looks anything like Robert Aramayo: Welsh actor Owain Arthur? Arthur has similar facial features to Aramayo, but is also noticeably older, meaning he could convincingly portray the Half-Elf’s mortal brother, who chose to live and die as a human.

We don’t know who’s playing Elrond, but it looks like Welsh actress Morfydd Clark is almost certainly playing a younger version of the Elven heroine Galadriel, as was reported some time ago. Clark could easily pass as Cate Blanchett’s twin, and has an ethereal aura that would befit a character of Galadriel’s nobility and majesty.

Similarly, it seems definite that Australian actress Markella Kavenagh is playing the character of “Tyra”, an elf or non-human character with an optimistic, naive worldview and an eager curiosity. This has been reported since she was cast several months ago, and it hasn’t changed once. Kavenagh is playing Tyra: of that I’m certain. I’m not yet certain whether Tyra is a code-name, but I do think she’s an original character – my theory is that she’s a rustic Silvan elf, and I will not be swayed in that opinion until proven wrong. A lot of people want to believe she’s actually Celebrían, the future wife of Elrond and mother of Arwen Evenstar, but those people are wrong. Sorry.

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If I had to guess who is playing Celebrían, it would be Ema Horvath, a young Slovak-American actress who was cast a while ago: she doesn’t look like the type of actress who could play “warm and maternal…Eira” or “self-sufficient single mother…Kari”, so I have to assume she’s playing another character, whom we haven’t seen yet in either character breakdowns or leaked audition tapes. Celebrían is as good a choice as any. though another possibility is Tar-Ancalimë, the first ruling Queen of Númenor.

But let’s get back to that self-sufficient single mother for a moment, because I think Iranian-British actress Nazanin Boniadi is the perfect fit for the role of Kari, whose audition tapes revealed a conflicted character struggling with a dangerous secret that could turn her people against her. Either that or she’s Erendis, a proud, fiercely determined Númenórean noblewoman who has a prominent role in Middle-earth history, and was the subject of one of Tolkien’s most emotional, intimate dramas. Boniadi would kill it in either role. I’ve also seen suggestions that she could be a gender-bent Celebrimbor, and I would love that too.

Who's Who In The "Lord Of The Rings" Cast? 3
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The series needs a villain, and I think both Daniel Weyman and Joseph Mawle make strong cases for why they should play Sauron, better known in this age of Middle-earth as Annatar, the giver of gifts and deceiver of men. Both men have strong, harsh features and a gaunt, almost sinuous look – personally, I’d take Mawle as Sauron and Weyman as his right-hand man, the Witch-King of Angmar, but maybe that’s just me. Sauron is an important role, and has to be cast right: in fact, since the character is a notorious shape-shifter, I wouldn’t mind seeing a number of different actors (or actresses) take on the role over the duration of the series, just to keep us constantly on our toes about who to trust. That way, the heavy burden wouldn’t just be on one actor’s shoulders, but would be passed around from episode to episode, allowing for the demigod villain to have a certain incorporeal feeling.

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The character of “Hamson” is as good as Sauron is evil – described in breakdowns and audition tapes as a kind, loving farmer trying to preserve his fading health long enough to see his family through the winter, I imagine Hamson to be a rugged, rustic middle-aged man: basically, actor Dylan Smith. Otherwise, I could see Smith taking on the role of Loda, “an earthy man” whose daughter is training to be an apprentice in her village community.

Which brings us to Megan Richards, who I think fits the role of Loda’s daughter perfectly. This character doesn’t yet have a name, but had an important role in Loda’s audition tape, which saw the father and daughter duo conversing about a stowaway living in their house. With her charming, expressive features, Richards would be a sturdy emotional core for the series: a simple character wound up in a number of extraordinary circumstances. Alternatively, she could be playing one of Tyra’s sisters.

Next up, we have the youngest member of the cast, Australian child actor Tyroe Muhafidin. This boy has elf-ears, no questions asked: his ears are about as pointed as a human being’s can be, and I think it would be a waste to cast him as a human child, or anyone other than an elf. But are there any elf-children running around in the Second Age of Middle-earth? There are a couple: in one version of Galadriel’s backstory, she was the mother of a son named Amroth, who went on to become a noble elf-lord and the subject of a tragic love-song. Or, with a little timeline-altering, Muhafidin could be playing one of Elrond’s twin sons, Elladan or Elrohir. Those are the only elf-children I can think of off the top of my head, but there are very few kids in the Second Age – most likely, Muhafidin is playing a young version of a character who will become important as an adult in future seasons of the show.

Charlie Vickers is my pick for the character of “Cole”, who is described simply as a “charismatic” young fellow with a heavy burden and a melancholy attitude. Even after much brain-wracking, I can’t quite decide who this character might be in the Tolkien canon: perhaps the gloomy, pessimistic Celeborn? Imagining a “charismatic” Celeborn is somewhat difficult, so perhaps Vickers is playing a human – I keep coming back to Aldarion, the world-weary adventurer who set sail from Númenor to explore the edges of the world and found himself halfway across Middle-earth, leaving his family far behind him and largely abandoning the cares of his kingdom.

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Aldarion’s closest friend among the Elves was the last king of the Noldor, the immortal Gil-galad. This is a role I wouldn’t mind seeing race-bent, especially because Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Córdova seems like such a good choice: not only does he have a curiously timeless look, but his eyes are almost as striking as Elijah Wood’s – reminiscent of the pale starlight that the Elves adore so much. I could picture Córdova’s Gil-galad as a solemn, mature young leader and a keen judge of character.

Sophia Nomvete, an Iranian-African actress, is an exciting casting choice, and I want to see her in an exciting role: this could be as a queen reigning over lands in Middle-earth, or even as one of the two Blue Wizards who visited the far east and helped rally the fight against Sauron from behind his front-lines, causing irreparable damage to his war effort. The fates of these two wizards are a long-running subject of debate in the Tolkien fandom, and we’ve never seen them onscreen – the closest we got was a throwaway reference to them in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

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Finally, we have to figure out who Australian actor Tom Budge is playing: no easy task, considering that most images of him show the actor sporting a large, downright Gallic mustache. But once you look past the facial hair, I think it’s easy to envision Budge as an elf: perhaps even the foolhardy Celebrimbor, who will probably have a large role in the show as the creator and craftsman behind the forging of the Rings of Power. But Budge could also be playing a villain – in particular, I could see him as one of the nine mortal men ensnared by Sauron and transformed into the horrible Ringwraithes.

So all fifteen have been accounted for, and where does that leave us? Well, technically, nowhere, since these are all just guesses. I’ve tried my best to check off all the many characters listed in the unofficial breakdowns and audition tapes, but even so, a couple are still missing: who’s playing the maternal “Eira”, or irascible “Brac”? Which of these is the charismatic but cunning “Aric”, who made such an impression on us several months ago?

I leave you to come up with your own guesses, and tell me what you think of mine: share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Amazon’s “Lord Of The Rings” Finds Its Galadriel!

We have breaking news from Amazon Prime’s upcoming Middle-earth streaming series that is bound to make every Tolkien fan sit up in their seats and take notice. The character of Galadriel has apparently been cast, and will have a significant role in their adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unpublished and posthumously published writings, which detail the ancient histories of Middle-earth. Galadriel, who appears prominently in Tolkien’s works as a military commander and authority figure, was inevitably going to be a lead character in the series, but the casting is shockingly unexpected.

Amazon's "Lord Of The Rings" Finds Its Galadriel! 7
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Morfydd Clark, a Welsh actress best known for her role in His Dark Materials, has apparently landed the coveted role of the immortal Elven lady portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Clark bears a striking resemblance to the ethereal Australian actress in whose footsteps she will follow, giving us a clear indication that Amazon Prime is looking to establish continuity between their new series and Jackson’s classic films.

The character of Galadriel, whom we will meet at a crucial point in her long and complicated life, is best known for her grace, elegance and patient wisdom, founded on centuries of experience fighting wars against the forces of darkness: but Galadriel is not all about moral purity and Elven excellence – in the Second Age of Middle-earth, when the Amazon series is set to take place, Galadriel is still recovering from the traumas of an age-long battle against the first great evil, Morgoth, and is seeking a new dominion in the wide, unclaimed expanses of Middle-earth after having turned down the forgiveness of the Gods for her part in aiding a rebellion against divine wisdom. The Galadriel whom we will meet in the show is bold, headstrong, and brash – nothing like the cool, collected woman we see in the Third Age.

How do you feel about this exciting new development? Share your thoughts in the comments below!