«Lord of the Rings»: what we can expect from the TV series
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«Lord of the Rings»: what we can expect from the TV series

Luca Fontana
Zurich, on 05.07.2019
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
In 2017, Amazon Prime Video bought the rights to a «Lord of the Rings» TV series. Now, two years later, the director's name has been revealed. A good time as any to take a look at the facts and get rid of any rumours.

The still nameless «Lord of the Rings» TV series has got its first director. The Spaniard Juan Antonio Bayona is taking the helm, as Deadline reports. He's made a name for himself with movies such as «Jurassic World 2» or the tsunami drama «The Impossible». Bayona is to direct the first two episodes of the first season at least and will thus lay the foundations for the cinematic tone of the series.

In an interview with the industry magazine, Bayona said: «(...)as a lifelong fan it is an honor and a joy to join this amazing team,(...) I can’t wait to take audiences around the world to Middle-earth and have them discover the wonders of the Second Age, with a never before seen story.»

Director Juan Antonio Bayona.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona.
Flickr/Moritz Barcelona, CC BY 4.0

The series is really beginning to take shape. In November 2017, Amazon secured the rights to the series adaptation, paying as much as 250 million dollars – the highest amount ever paid for rights to a film and series adaptation. To put this into perspective: Dan Brown, the author of the world-famous «The Da Vinci Code», got «only» 6 million dollars for his novel adaptation.

The release, the budget and the showrunner

Amazon Studios is producing the series in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate, who hold the rights to all «Lord of the Rings» franchises, and New Line Cinema, the production studio behind the Peter Jackson movies.

What's sure: the series will take place within the universe established by the Kiwi. However, Bayona is free to explore his own artistic vision, as Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios, said to Deadline: «The scope and breadth of (Bayona)’s world-building is exactly the right fit for our ambitions for The Lord of the Rings.»

Head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke
Head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke
Chris Frawley/Amazon

Amazon is currently planning five seasons, with a total budget of 750 million dollars. In contrast: All eight seasons of «Game of Thrones» combined cost slightly less than 600 million dollars. This would make the «Lord of the Rings» series the most expensive television production of all time.

Authors JD Payne and Patrick McKay were already confirmed as show runners back in July 2018 – as recommended by «Star Trek» director J. J. Abrams. They wrote the script to «Star Trek 4» with him. Similar to D. B. Weiss and David Benioff on «Game of Thrones», Payne and McKay will take over the creative and administrative direction of the «Lord of the Rings» show.

Shooting is scheduled to begin this year. After all, the contract between Amazon and the Tolkien Estate maintains that production should begin no more than two years after its signing. The 2021 series could thus be available on Prime Video; a 2020 start seems unlikely, as Salke confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.

No Aragorn, Gandalf or Peter Jackson

Little is known about the actors involved or even the content of the series. Rumours that the series would be following a young Aragorn – played by Viggo Mortensen in the movies – or that Sir Ian McKellen would reprise his role as Gandalf have now turned out to be false: Aragorn and Gandalf will not play a role in the series.

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf
New Line Cinema

We know this since Prime's official «Lord of the Rings» Twitter account posted several versions of the map of Middle-earth at the beginning of this year. The last version depicts the island of «Numénor». Alongside the description: «Welcome to the Second Age.»

This confirms: the series will take place sometime in the Second Age.

The map of Middle-earth at the beginning of the Second Age.
The map of Middle-earth at the beginning of the Second Age.
Lord of the Rings on Prime, Twitter

At this point in time, Aragorn is yet to be born and Gandalf hasn't even set foot in Middle-Earth. Both only appear in the Third Age. What you must know: there are four ages in Lord of the Rings. The film trilogy takes place in the Third Age, with Aragorn's coronation marking the beginning of the Fourth Age.

With or without Aragorn: Amazon studio boss Jennifer Salke has confirmed to Deadline that characters from the films will be included in the series. Whether she's alluding to Elrond (Hugo Weaving) the Lord of Rivendell, for example, is unknown, even if it would make historical sense.

A third rumour that turned out to be untrue: director and scriptwriter Peter Jackson would reportedly return to the franchise. In May 2018, the Kiwi ruled this out himself, speaking to the Observer: «I’m not involved [with the] Lord of the Rings series, but I’m OK with it. I think they’re going to send us some scripts to see if we can help them along.»

What it's all about: Sauron's ascent and Númenor's downfall

So what will happen? The Second Age as historical framework provides a rough idea of the plot. In the beginning, after a devastating war against the evil Morgoth, the elves were forced to leave Middle-Earth and return to the West – to «Valinor», the land of the near-divine «Valar». Some follow the call, but many stay.

The island of Númenor, on the other hand, is the home of a human race created by the Valar, blessed with an extremely long life span and great wisdom. From the island they conquer large parts of Middle-Earth, building their cities later on – to the displeasure of the Elves, whose power dwindles more and more. At the same time, humans are striving to travel back to Valinor where they would attain immortality.

Aragorn, a descendant of Númenor.
Aragorn, a descendant of Númenor.
New Line Cinemas

The second half of the Second Age, which lasted for 3441 years, was shaped by Morgoth's student, Sauron. He would become the new Dark Lord. He constructs a fortress in Mordor with what is left of the Orc and Goblin armies: Barad-dur.

Sauron wants to corrupt all of Middle-earth. He forges the Rings of Power and promises that the balance of Middle-Earth would be preserved and that the continent itself could be modelled on Valinor. Secretly, Sauron creates the One ring to subjugate all.

Nevertheless, the people of Númenor defeat Sauron and take him prisoner on their home island – what the Dark Lord was planning all along. From there he succeeds in corrupting the population. Sauron returns to Mordor, and the Númenor attack Valinor. The Valar flood Númenor and erase their own Valinor from all maps. Since then, only special ships can reach Valinor from the «Grey Havens» via the «Straight Road».

The Grey Havens in «Lord of the Rings»
The Grey Havens in «Lord of the Rings»
New Line Cinema

Númenor's demise could be the brilliant series finale. Or the series could end in the prologue at the beginning of Jackson's «Lord of the Rings». He showed how the last survivors of Númenor, who never ceased to respect the Valar, made a final alliance with the Elves. In a desperate battle at the foot of Mount Doom, Isildur, Crown Prince of Humans, cut Sauron's ring from his finger to end the Second Age.

Ta-dah! Time for some Halfling's Leaf. Or do you prefer old Toby?

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Luca Fontana
Luca Fontana
Editor, Zurich
I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.»

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