Spend some time in Middle-earth and you’ll learn a lot of secrets. The cast and creatives for the highly-anticipated film were my shadows. Lord of the Rings prequel series, The Rings of PowerFor four days, at San Diego Comic-Con July. During my conversations with the showrunners, executive producer, and several members of the cast, I did my best to pick up clues about where the series may be headed—along with details about the immense production behind the epic saga.
It Rings of PowerThe most costly show created is already ‘The Expendables,’ which premieres on Prime Video Sept. 2. J.D. Patrick McKay and Payne have planned fifty hours of TV, which will be broken down over five seasons. The story is long. They pulled from Tolkien’s appendices, notes the author left at the end of The Return of the KingAbout the Second Age events, which took place thousands of years ago before heroes such as Frodo or Aragorn were born.
You can watch the entire series and not be concerned about the plot. This is the story. Minor spoilers You can stop reading right now. But if you want some background on the series and how Payne and McKay cooked up a story from Tolkien’s notes, forge ahead. I’ve seen two episodes of the show, and the information in this story comes primarily from the appendices.
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The Second Age marks a time when Middle-earth is at peace with its neighbors. It is the The FirstMorgoth the dark lord has been defeated and Sauron his servant are missing. Benjamin Walker is the High King Gilgalad, who rules over Lindon’s elves. Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) and his father, King Durin III (Peter Mullan), command the dwarves in Khazad-dûm. Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) presides over the island kingdom of Númenor.
Not everything is always as calm as you think. Anyone who was watched Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring movie may have noted the ruins of Númenor and Khazad-dûm and divined that those two realms meet bitter ends. Míriel’s rule will be challenged by Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle), and the dwarves will eventually awake an evil creature, the Balrog.
These threats are not the only ones. Galadriel, a young Galadriel is certain that Sauron has survived wartime and is building up power. Meanwhile, another elf warrior named Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and the human he’s romancing, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), encounter orcs. The nomadic hobbit ancestors, the harfoots Nori and Poppy, are able to find Daniel Weyman (a stranger) after being flung from the heavens in a meteor. It’s unclear if this man is good or evil. But bizarre occurrences generally don’t portend well for Middle-earth.
The title rings will be forwarded by Sauron, who is expected to rise to power eventually. There are three for the elves and seven for the dwarfs. Nine for mortal men. In secret, he will make one ring that can rule all. To defeat the dark lord they need to unite the elves with the men. However, the men and elves will not be able to take down the one ring and cause the chaos of The Lord of the Rings.
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It Rings of PowerOther characters will also be introduced or names dropped by the audience. It Lord of the Rings, including the powerful half-elven Elrond (Robert Aramayo); the elf-smith Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards), whom Sauron tricks into teaching him secrets of how to make the rings; Isildur (Maxim Baldry), Aragorn’s ancestor and the man who cannot bring himself to throw the one ring into Mount Doom; and Elendil (Lloyd Owen), Isildur’s father, who, with Gil-galad, forms the alliance between elves and men to stop Sauron.
These are some of the many surprising facts that I discovered about the creation and plot of the series while working with its creators and cast.
The creators pitched the show as a five-season version of the five-minute prologue in Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring
Charles Edwards in Celebrimbor; Robert Aramayo in Elrond The Rings of Power
Ben Rothstein—Prime Video
McKay described how he and Payne pitched the studio executives who weren’t necessarily die-hard Tolkien fans on their idea for a series based in Middle-earth’s Second Age.
“The way we boiled it down was, ‘Remember the first five minutes of the Peter Jackson movies when Galadriel says: The rings were made, three for the elven kings, seven for the dwarf lords, nine for mortal men. They were deceived. Sauron rose in power, almost ruling the whole world. We all had to band together to fight him.’ That five minute prologue, we’re going to tell it in five seasons.”
They were granted the go-ahead and have been involved in the production for nearly four and half years.
This show straddles several realms.
The Rings of Power
This sprawling series was created more than 3000 years ago, before the current events. It Lord of the Rings. It filmed the first season of its series in New Zealand. They also built practical sets such as cities that have water lapping against docks. Audiences will visit Númenor, Tolkien’s version of Atlantis. They’ll see Khazad-dûm, an ancient subterranean kingdom where the dwarves dug for treasure. They’ll get a glimpse of the elvish realm of Lindon. And that’s just the start.
“A saner person would do the Númenor show,” says executive producer Lindsey Weber. “That would be enough for 50 hours. Lindon Show. It would suffice. We have at least six to seven different worlds. It’s one thing to write—a little flick of a pen on a page—another thing to make seven living, breathing places inhabited by people—and all fabulous and beautiful and all ready to shoot at the same time.”
25 percent of actors portray humans.
An orc Rings of Power
Ben Rothstein—Prime Video
One quarter of the actors were cast in human roles. Nearly everyone else—orcs, elves, dwarves, harfoots—had to have prosthetics applied every day. The use of those prosthetics will come as some relief to fans who gushed over the practical effects in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the RingsFilm Trilogy, and lament his dependence on CGI in The HobbitMovies that were made after.
The Rings of Power showrunners say that they are great admirers of Jackson’s films. McKay calls them “an insane achievement.” They tried to learn from what succeeded in those movies while simultaneously forging a separate identity for their own series. “We love the practical, physical creatures, especially in the first few films,” says McKay. “We wanted to do that because that really works.”
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Different poetic meters were used by the showrunners for Middle-earth’s different populations
Nazanin Boniadi as Bronwyn and Ismael Cruz Córdova as Arondir in The Rings of Power
Ben Rothstein—Prime Video
Tolkien was an avid philologist, who loved poetry and language. The different Middle-earth inhabitants speak different languages, have different formalities, and use different poetic meters.
In trying to capture Tolkien’s voice, the showrunners were careful to make sure elves spoke like elves, dwarves like dwarves, and so on. Luckily, Payne is a student of Tolkien’s language who sent his son’s birth announcement out in both English and Elvish. When I asked him about the challenges of writing dialogue, he responded, “I don’t need food or water. The work of doing that is food and water itself.”
Many actors have Shakespearean roots.
It is clear how it will end. That was an opportunity for the showrunners.
Maxim Baldry in Isildur The Rings of Power
Prequels can be problematic because the reader often has a clear idea of where the story is heading. This is an example of how we already know that Sauron’s enemies will include an alliance consisting of men and elves. And we know a man named Isildur will manage to cut the one ring from Sauron’s hand but fail to destroy it.
“When you hear the story, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, what an idiot,’” says Payne. “This guy could have ended all this suffering but because of his pride, vanity, and greed, he didn’t.’ Knowing where that character is going, how do you make an audience fall in love with this character? You can see the struggles he experiences. It feels inevitable and tragic, but you get why he did it.”
McKay is in agreement that stories without predictable conclusions may still be interesting. He points to Titanic: The fact that the audience knows the boat is going to hit the iceberg gives the romance between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters a layer of tragedy and tension.
The hardest scene to shoot didn’t involve trolls or sea monsters
Owain Arthur is Prince Durin The Rings of Power
Ben Rothstein—Prime Video
The most difficult scene, according to Weber, was one in which Elrond competes in a rock-breaking competition with the dwarf Prince Durin IV as Durin’s subjects look on. “It is probably the single most complex and technical thing we shot, which you wouldn’t think because it’s a bunch of guys walking around the room,” she says. “But most of them are meant to be one size and one is meant to be another, and that is a very complicated math problem.”
She adds: “As the actors decide to move and touch each other and pick things up and put things down, every single one of those movements requires a magic trick.”
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All of the actors had to go through “scale academy”
Robert Aramayo is Elrond Rings of Power
Every actor took an intensive course covering all tips and tricks that made dwarves, harfoots, and men smaller than elves and men. You can see examples of this movie magic in the large props and big hair, as well as people with cardboard faces on their heads to help their scenes partners when they deliver their lines.
The show employed “scale ambassadors” whose sole job it was to make sure everything was properly proportioned. “If a button on a jacket is the wrong size, it’s over,” says Weber.
Tolkien was a frequent subject of conversation by the showrunners
J.R.R. was consulted by the creators. Tolkien’s grandson, Simon Tolkien. “Meeting him was the experience of a lifetime,” says Payne. They kept in touch with other estate members and the Tolkien clan. “At key moments they would weigh in, and we would write letters back and forth and communicate and make sure we were doing something all of us could agree on to move forward with the story.”
It was essential to compress time
Morfydd and Lloyd Clark portray Galadriel in The Rings of Power
Matt Grace—Prime Video
Appendices provide a detailed overview of thousands of years of epic storytelling. In the Second Age of Middle-earth, immortal characters of the Elf character live through the many trials and tribulations while mortal people die. Many fans are concerned that this show will reduce these events into a five-season series. McKay offers a defense.
“These events were laid out in the timeline, and there’s hundreds of years between them. Tolkien wasn’t writing a story. He was writing a faux history,” he says. “But now it needs to move like a story. It must be rich in detail and breadth. You need to feel connected and emotional. That means you can’t stop for 200 years and have half your cast die every two episodes. It’s not practical or satisfying to the viewer.”
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J.R.R. Tolkien made many revisions to his view of Galadriel. Morfydd Clark, Actor, used this to her advantage
Galadriel as Morfydd C Clark The Rings of Power
Matt Grace—Prime Video
Even casual Lord of the RingsFans will be familiar with the name Galadriel. Galadriel, just like all other elves is immortal. She is therefore alive in Second Age. It Rings of PowerShe is now set. She’s also there in the Third Age during the events of It Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote extensively on Galadriel, her adventures and revises the stories till his death. He contradicted himself over the years, describing her character, marriage, and the Second Age she lived in his notes.
These different threads were used by the showrunners to create the young version of Galadriel. Payne points out that Galadriel’s name roughly translates to “elf maiden with a crown of golden hair.” “That’s because when she would do sparring exercises and fight with a sword, she would do her hair up in braids on the top of her head,” he says. “So the idea of Galadriel as a warrior is built into Tolkien’s Legendarium. It’s just not something that we think of from the depictions that we’ve seen.”
Morfydd was very aware of this when he performed as Galadriel’s young man. “Tolkien changed his mind about her a lot,” she said. “You could debate her history until the cows come home. That was nice because there were quite a few structures of her I could pick from.”
Galadriel It Rings of Power is younger and different in temperament from the version fans have encountered onscreen in Peter Jackson’s films. In It Fellowship of the Ring, she’s an elder stateswoman, the serene elf in the woods. Frodo gives her the ring in the book. She tempts her to accept it, but she eventually realizes she will be deceived by its power, and so she declines the gift. It makes for a memorable and frightening scene in Peter Jackson’s films.
Galadriel It Rings of PowerYounger, stubborner, and more eager to pay retribution for her brother’s death at the hands Sauron, she is also determined. Clark wants to see what happens in her character’s life over the years so that she can become wiser and self-aware.
We can learn a lot from Tolkien’s vision of masculinity
Charlie Vickers in Halbrand The Rings of Power
Matt Grace—Prime Video
Aragorn, yes. He was an ardent warrior. His favorite pastime was sleeping on dirt or slaying Orcs. However, he helped Bilbo to write songs. He kissed Boromir’s forehead as Boromir died. Tolkien’s men are sensitive and caring. It’s the love between Frodo and Sam that shepherds them into Mordor.
“There’s a gentleness to it, to the characters he wrote,” says Clark. “The way masculinity is viewed there’s showing of emotion, pride in friendship and gentleness. The kindness of the characters has staying power.”
Of his character, the elf Arondir, Ismael Cruz Córodova adds, “Elves have a lot of what we think of as feminine energy in their posture and sensibilities. The fact that I was playing the role of a warrior led me to think about what masculine energy is. We played with staying in an open space, and you can see that tug of war of what he’s meant to be as a solider versus what he’s allowed to feel.”
It sounds similar to other male characters. It Rings of PowerAragorn would have benefited from more male bonding. Charlie Vickers told me of his character Halbrand, “What happens when a man hasn’t been loved his whole life? I think often something like power fills that void.” Maybe keep an eye on Hal, folks.
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