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After nearly three years of build-up since the project’s announcement in 2020, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has officially begun its long-awaited quest. On Thursday evening, the first two episodes of the show premiered on Prime Video, to mostly positive reviews.
And while audiences may recognize the familiar nostalgia evoked by sweeping shots of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, or even some characters from the original Peter Jackson film trilogy — main protagonists Galadriel, played by Morfydd Clark in the show and Cate Blanchett in the films, and Elrond, played by Robert Aramayo in the show and Hugo Weaving in the films — The Rings of Power brings deeper elements of Tolkien’s lore to the small screen, some of which may not be common knowledge to the casual fan.
Before diving headfirst into the series, here’s everything to know about its time period, the Second Age, prior to pressing play.
Led by showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, The Rings of Power is based off of the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, focused on the history of Middle-earth’s Second Age. For reference, the Jackson trilogy took place in the Third Age, thousands of years after the events of Rings of Power.
As for what the show is legally allowed to cover, Amazon only bought the screen rights to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the novels’ appendices, the last of which are located in Tolkien’s third volume, The Return of the King. It’s in the appendices that Tolkien outlines the events of the Second and Third Ages, including major events such as the forging of the Rings of Power and The Last Alliance of Elves and Men, both of which will likely play out in the show. The Second Age also depicts the rise and fall of Númenor, a kingdom of humans and the home of Isildur (Maxim Baldry), the one who ultimately cuts the One Ring from Sauron’s hand, but refuses to destroy it (Fans might remember these events from the opening scene of Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring). It’s this decision that ultimately leads to the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as the existence of the ring allows Sauron’s evil to endure in Middle-earth, even thousands of years later.
The show will also make references to The Silmarillion, a vital Tolkien text that chronicles Middle-earth’s creation and the events of the First Age, as well as some histories of the Second Age. However, Rings of Power can’t dive too deep into the The Silmarillion, since Amazon didn’t acquire the screen rights to the prequel story. While the inclusion of The Silmarillion could have expanded the scope of the show, Payne and McKay will likely use creative license in order to fill in any necessary gaps.
By the end of the second episode, the show’s characters, both new and old, have begun their respective arcs for the season, some journeying to new lands, and others encountering new friends — and enemies.
When we meet young Elrond (Aramayo), he’s living in the elven stronghold of Lindon. Thanks to the show’s immense production value, Lindon’s grandeur is a sight to behold, as viewers get a glimpse into the beauty of Tolkien’s imaginings of the elves in all their glory. Located on the far western side of the continent, Lindon is a gateway to paradise, serving as the connecting region between Middle-earth and the elves’ home realm Valinor, often referred to as the Undying Lands. It’s important to note that Lindon is different from what fans may remember as Rivendell, where Elrond presides as lord in Jackson’s original trilogy, and where the Fellowship of the Ring is ultimately formed.
Similarly, Galadriel anchors the first two episodes with her quest to defeat Sauron’s evil once and for all. While she’s a warrior-commander in Rings of Power, the last time audiences saw Galadriel in the Jackson trilogy, she was the Lady of Lothlórien, a land of trees in the Golden Forest. Played by Blanchett, the Lady of Lothlórien is compassionate, extremely powerful and unfathomably old, having lived thousands upon thousands of years. In Clark’s portrayal, audiences meet a younger Galadriel — one more fiercely determined, and perhaps more reckless, than the Lady she is to become in the Third Age.
Of the four diverging plotlines that begin in the first two episodes, one of them follows the harfoots — a nomadic group of Middle-earth dwellers that may remind viewers of the beloved hobbits such as Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin from the original trilogy. Like the hobbits, the harfoots are smaller than humans and elves, and live simple and cheerful lives. Indeed, harfoots are also ancestors to the hobbits of The Shire.
While co-showrunner McKay assured fans that Rings of Power is not “vaguely connected” to Tolkien’s works, but “[deeply rooted]” in the source material, the Rings of Power creators did take certain creative liberties in creating new characters and plotlines for the show to follow. In fleshing out the timeline that Tolkien laid out in the appendices, it’s also expected that Payne and McKay will likely move the order of some events around for the on-screen adaptation.
Although die-hard fans may object to the creation of new characters and stories in the adaptation, the new additions fit right into Tolkien’s lore. To start, the first two episodes established adventure-loving Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) — a character of Payne and McKay’s creation — as one of the main protagonists in the show’s harfoot plotline. Additionally, The Lord of the Rings is no stranger to elf-human love stories (like that of Aragorn and Arwen in the original trilogy), and another Rings of Power narrative centers on a forbidden romance between elf soldier Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and human healer Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi).
Payne and McKay expand the world even further with new stories that take audiences to places never seen before. Notably, in the second episode, Elrond travels to the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm. While the original films see the dwarf stronghold decimated by Sauron’s orcs, Rings of Power depicts Khazad-dûm, commonly known in the original films as Moria, at the height of its strength. It’s these storylines that — although perhaps not exactly from the source material — do well to expand the Lord of the Rings universe beyond that of just Frodo’s original quest to Mordor.
And with five seasons of Rings of Power to come, that leaves a lot of room for Payne and McKay to continue to play within the vast history of the Second Age.
New episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will release on Prime Video every Friday.
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