September 2nd has passed and with it the much anticipated premier of Amazon Prime’s show, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Excited after the show’s premier—and as a Tolkien fan since I was 11—I decided to share with you some of the things that will help you out as you watch Amazon Prime’s new series.
Consider yourself warned.
I’m going to be rattling off facts and stories that Tolkien made up and tell you what the lore says, and there’s every possibility that I’ll say something that is going to turn out to be a big reveal later in the series. There’s at least one plot point coming that I’m pretty sure is going to be a major reveal in the show, but we’ll get to that later.
With all that said, let’s get on to what you need to know about.
Middle Earth in the Second Age
The first thing you need to know is that Sauron was not the first Dark Lord.
The first Dark Lord was Sauron’s old boss, Morgoth, who was essentially an evil god. One of the Valar (think of them as gods or higher angelic beings), Morgoth led a rebellion against his fellow higher beings by poisoning the Two Trees and stealing the jewels, the Silmarils, that were made by the elves.
This is important because at the time there was no sun or moon and the trees (and to a lesser extent the jewels) were the source of all light in the world.
Helping Morgoth were corrupted Maiar (think of them as lesser angels), many of whom became the Balrogs. One of the Maiar had a talent for manipulation and changing his shape. His name was Sauron.
The War of the Jewels and the War of Wrath
Long story short, the elves (the Noldor, the elves who managed to journey into Valinor in the far West) followed Fëanor, the elf who had made the Silmarils, in pursuit of Morgoth for stealing the jewels and poisoning the trees.
What followed was a couple of episodes of kinslaying and betrayal, with the creation of the sun and the moon sprinkled in for good measure, which culminated in the Valinor forsaking the elves and refusing to help them in their crusade against Morgoth.
Anyway, Fëanor and his kin (which included Galadriel) arrived in Middle Earth, made an alliance with the elves who had remained in Middle Earth (the Sindar), and with the newly awakened men. Together they laid siege to Morgoth’s fortress, trying to get the Silmarils and vengeance.
It… did not go well.
Fast Forward to the War’s End
So, Morgoth broke out, took over most of the world, killed off something like three different High Kings of the Elves (including Fëanor) with the help of his army of Orcs, Balrogs, and Dragons. And on two different occasions destroyed hidden, impregnable fortresses.
The third hidden, impregnable fortress of the elves was actually destroyed by the dwarves, but that’s a different story.
Morgoth was eventually tricked and one of the Silmarils was stolen from his crown by Beren and Luthien (the first human-elf romance).
It then wasn’t until their grandson-in-law, Eärendil, took that Silmaril across the sea to Valinor as a gift (and as proof that the elves had finally learned their lesson about material goods and what not) and begged the Valar to help save them from Morgoth that things started to change.
The Dark Lord gets his comeuppance… and then some
With the elves forgiven, the Valar journeyed back to Middle Earth and brought such destruction that it LITERALLY CHANGED THE FRIGGIN’ MAP!
The eastern-most edge of the map in the Silmarillion is the western-most edge of the map in The Lord of the Rings. That’s how much damage they brought in order to defeat Morgoth.
The humans, elves, and dwarves that survived had to get on boats to escape the wrath of the Valar. But when the seas had settled and Morgoth was finally put in unbreakable chains (again), the survivors were allowed to settle the map of Middle Earth as we know it.
The set-up for the Second Age
Eärendil’s two sons (who were both half-elves) were given the choice of whether they wanted to be immortal elves or humans. One brother chose to be a human, and he and his followers were given the Atlantis-like isle of Númenor as their home. These Númenoreans had longer lives than most humans and, because of their kinship with the elves, enjoyed a high level of prosperity and culture unknown in the rest of the world.
The only catch was that the Númenoreans were forbidden from sailing West and seeking out immortality with the Valinor.
The other son of Eärendil chose to remain an elf and decided to be the standard bearer for the new High King of the Elves, an elf named Gil-Galad. His name is Elrond.
That is the world as it stands at the beginning-ish of the Second Age of Middle Earth.
Who can you expect in the show?
I’ve already mentioned the two most important characters that you’ll recognize from the movies: Galadriel and Elrond. There are a couple of others that you’ll recognize from either flashbacks in the movies or from various other forms of media, but we’ll get to them.
Everyone else is still several thousand years away from being born.
What do we know about Galadriel?
As I mentioned, Galadriel was one of the first group of elves to return to Middle Earth in pursuit of Morgoth. This makes her older than almost everyone else in the show.
But what’s pretty cool, and probably why the showrunners decided to use her, is that Tolkien himself said very little of her during this time. All that he really says is that at the beginning of the Second Age she lived with her husband, Celeborn (not to be confused, by the way, with Celebrimbor, who we’ll discuss later).
But this is not a Galadriel who has been used to ruling. She and Celeborn only became the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien much later, and while both of them were related to royalty, they weren’t the rulers of anything. At this time, she was just in the service of High King Gil-Galad.
I am really excited to see what Morfydd Clark, who is really a fantastic actress, brings to one of the most iconic Lord of the Rings characters.
Who exactly is Elrond at this point?
Elrond, as I mentioned earlier, is the elven son of Eärendil and thus the descendent of the only two pairings of men and elves in history thus far. Naturally, his daughter will make the third.
(The show has promised a fourth human-elf romance, but it is unclear yet whether that resulted in any children like the other three).
He is also the descendant of two major kings of the Elves, both of whom were betrayed and killed. In fact, his great-great-grandfather was Thingol, who was the father of Luthien, who (it should be noted) was betrayed by dwarves and murdered in his own hall during the First Age.
This is the root of Elrond’s (and all of the other Wood Elves from Mirkwood to Lothlorien) distrust of the dwarves, and why he was so cold to Thorin and his party during The Hobbit (at least in the movies, the book was a bit different).
At this point, Tolkien describes him as the “standard bearer of Gil-Galad,” a place of honor but also an obscure political office during times of peace. It does mean that he will be tasked with leading an elven army against Sauron (to disastrous effect), but it’s clear that that hasn’t happened yet by the start of the show.
At some point in the story, Elrond will lead a band of refugees to a hidden valley to escape Sauron’s orcs. This refuge will be called Imladris, but Bilbo and Frodo will know it as Rivendell.
Robert Aramayo will play him in the show.
Celebrimbor: The Wraith before he was a Wraith
It has been eight years since Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was first released to consoles. This game, in addition to giving us insights into the lives of the Sauron’s orcs, introduced us to Talion, a Gondorian Ranger, who is brought back to life after being possessed by the spirit of Celebrimbor.
While the game is not canon (I’m sorry, but Shelob turning into a hot goth girl was really dumb), it did introduce many people to Celebrimbor as the elf who forged the Rings of Power, including the three for the Elves.
Now, in the show, he’s not going to be a ghost. Instead, he’ll be played by Charles Edwards. In Tolkien’s texts he was described as being the second greatest smith of the elves, even going so far as to forge the Doors of Durin (the ones where you had to “speak friend and enter”) for the dwarves of Moria.
At the start of the show, he is the king of Eregion (it’s the region south and east of the Shire), the greatest smith of his age, and a cultural bridge between the Noldor elves and the Dwarves.
Hobbits don’t feature much in the history of Middle-earth. They took part in no great battles, wrote no great songs, nor “did anything unexpected,” in Tolkien’s words.
At least, not officially.
It was not until well into the Third Age (the time after the Last Alliance of Elves and Men) that the three clans of Hobbits settled across the Brandywine river and founded their little realm called The Shire.
While there’s no real lore about when the Hobbits first came into being, they did start along the River Anduin (for those who didn’t slave away over Tolkien’s geography, it’s the big river between Gondor and Mordor). Tolkien also states that they likely had contact with the people who would later occupy Rohan, since Merry and Pippin found many similarities between their native languages.
This is important because the Eorlingas (the later Rohirrim) originated nowhere near the Anduin, which indicates that the hobbits were nomads, traveling from place to place and eating an untold number of mushrooms along the way.
This seems to be what the show is implying with the Hobbits (including Nori Brandyfoot played by Markella Kavenagh) being shown as much more ragged and rough than the settled Bagginses and Tooks of the movies.
There’s a lot of potential with this and the showrunners will have a lot of opportunities to make the “Little People” shine.
Durin’s Folk and the Kingdom of Khazad-dum
So, as I mentioned earlier, the Dwarves of the Second Age are on pretty good terms with the Noldor elves (the Sindar elves still haven’t forgiven them and won’t until Gimli and Galadriel’s friendship), and trade flourishes, particularly with the Dwarven Kingdom of Khazad-dum.
Khazad-dum, or Moria, is the source of Mithril, a silvery metal that, when forged, is lighter and more durable than steel.
Now we get to the part that may break the lore. Actor Peter Mullan plays Durin III, the king of Khazad-dum who, in the legendarium, was gifted with one of the seven rings of the dwarves. But his son (played by Owain Arthur) is also named Durin.
The problem is that the dwarves believe in reincarnation so that when a dwarf is born who so resembles and acts like a forebear, they give that dwarf the same name. That’s the case with the various Durins.
Now, that’s not to say that they are the reincarnates of past dwarves. The wording is a little tricky, so they might be able to have their cake and eat it too by saying that both father and son are very alike to the point of being almost the same person. So, there is a possibility it could work out.
Amazon announced pretty early on that they had cast Sophia Nomvete, a woman of color, as a dwarf princess in Khazad-dum.
As a Tolkien aficionado and as a student of Anglo-Saxon history (the same history and literature that inspired Tolkien), I want to be very clear on this: I have absolutely no problem with her, and I’m excited to see her bring life to an entire gender of characters that we haven’t been able to see thus far.
Isildur and the Númenoreans
We’re going to get a lot of Númenor with this show.
First off, let me say that we are going to get to see Isildur and his father Elendil (played by Maxim Baldry and Lloyd Owen), the members of the Faithful, and the ones who will eventually defeat Sauron.
But at the show’s beginning, they’re not anywhere close to that level of prestige. Instead, they’re just sailors.
Númenor in the time of Elendil
By the time of the show, Númenor has been around for thousands of years with its inhabitants, though mortal, able to live three times the length of normal men.
But the kings of Númenor, and many of the people as well, grew jealous of the elves’ immortality and, with the help of a certain Dark Lord wannabe, started getting it into their heads that maybe there was a way they could force the Valar to make them immortal. This would, of course, mean breaking the one rule the Valar had given them: sailing west into Valinor.
But not all of the Númenoreans felt that way. Sticking to the western part of the island, these people called themselves the Faithful and they were led by Elendil (his sword, Narsil, is going to get stepped on by Sauron one day). Elendil is, of course, joined by his children, Isildur (who will one day cut the ring from Sauron’s hand and will found the country of Arnor), Anárion (who will found the country of Gondor), and their sister Eärien (invented for the show and played by Ema Horvath).
The Faithful are scorned and mocked by the other Númenoreans, and even persecuted by the king. What that looks like we’ll have to wait and see.
Speaking of the King
Númenor at this time is going to be a mess. To simplify matters, the show seems to be skipping around a lot in terms of years. This makes sense because there are two times in which the Númenoreans fight against Sauron, a time almost a thousand years apart.
Nothing really happens the first time that they beat him, but the second time everything changes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Right now in Númenor there is a small crisis of succession going on. King Ar-Palantir (all the kings take Ar- at the beginning of their name to signify royalty) has named his daughter Míriel as heir. This wouldn’t be the first time that a woman has taken the throne, but the problem is that his nephew Pharazon is popular and exceedingly ambitious.
You’ll have to wait to see how that plays out, but it’s gonna be good.
Now we get to a character that Amazon has only revealed as “The Stranger.” Played by David Weyman, all that we know so far is that he’s going to appear in Middle Earth in a meteor, falling in a fiery ball to the ground only to be discovered (we assume from footage in the trailers and a few odd promotional stills) by the Hobbits.
I’ve got three theories about who the Stranger could be.
Warning: There’s definitely a spoiler or two ahead.
Annatar, the Lord of Gifts
Annatar is the name that Sauron takes when he approaches the elves, particularly Celebrimbor, when he offers to teach them secret arts in magic and metallurgy.
In the First Age, Sauron was the second in command after Morgoth, but his main talent was in magic and manipulation. In several instances, he was able to turn himself into a different creature or monster altogether. During the Second Age, he used his shape-shifting ability to turn into a pleasant and wise being.
Eventually, Sauron will lose this ability to change shape into something nice-looking after the destruction of [REDACTED] where he [REDACTED] the [REDACTED] into [REDACTED] [REDACTED].
Gandalf, the Grey Pilgrim
The stills of the Stranger show him looking very ragged, and the stills of his hand holding an apple doesn’t jive too well with Annatar seducing the elves and men into doing something stupid.
What does fit that image are the Istari, the Wizards, who were sent by Valar into Middle Earth to aid and advise the various peoples on how to best fight against the enemy. Especially Gandalf. Him being found first by hobbits would be an incredibly sweet beginning for the greatest friend and mentor of both Bilbo and Frodo.
Tolkien’s lore states that the Istari were first sent to Middle Earth in the year 1000 of the Third Age, but there is an obscure line about how Gandalf spent a long time among the elves yet unknown to them.
This, and his ragged appearance, plus his impressive beard, make his identity as Gandalf seem plausible.
But there is a third possibility.
Glorfindel was a hero of the First Age. Scratch that, he was the hero of the First Age.
A descendant of a noble house (kinda like everyone else in Tolkien’s world), Glorfindel was welcomed into the hidden city of Gondolin. When Gondolin was eventually betrayed and the armies of Morgoth began to overrun it, it was Glorfindel who led a rear-guard action that allowed a few elves to survive the massacre.
And not only that, but he fought a balrog in single-combat and won (before being killed by gravity), a feat only achieved two other times in Middle Earth history (one of those times obviously being Gandalf).
As a great warrior, the Valar cared for him and eventually sent him back to Middle Earth with the enhanced powers similar to a Maiar (the same beings that both Sauron and the Balrogs belong).
Tolkien gives three possible dates for when he was sent back to Middle Earth from Valinor, all of them corresponding to the rise of Sauron’s power in the Second Age, when the show takes place.
There is one thing that makes me think that maybe it isn’t him, and that’s the fact that the Stranger is shown with a full beard. None of the elves are ever described as having beards, but then again neither are they ever described as having pointed ears
We’ll just have to wait and see who the Stranger really is.
What other goodies can we expect to see?
The trailers and other teasers have given us a glimpse of other things that we can expect to see, including a huge number of really cool-looking orcs and trolls. And there was also a shot of a roaring Balrog to get our blood pumping.
But they aren’t the only servants of Sauron we can expect our heroes to run into. One of the—ahem, many—trailers featured a few seconds of a clip showing a character fighting against what looked like a giant wolf.
While it’s possible this was a warg, one of the wolves favored by the orcs as mounts, it’s also possible that it was a werewolf. Now, Tolkien’s werewolves were not lycanthropes but instead monstrous wolves with the intelligence of men who were called gaurhoth by the elves.
And if the werewolves make an appearance, then we can reasonably expect vampires to do so as well. Like the gaurhoth, these aren’t the vampires of modern tradition but more just bat-like monsters. They might also be fallen Maiar since the only vampire mentioned in Tolkien’s work is able to change her shape just like Sauron can. In fact, she served as Sauron’s messenger during the First Age. Maybe she’ll be back.
This is all just conjecture and possibly even impossible since Amazon doesn’t have the rights to the Silmarillion, where almost all of the stories of werewolves and vampires come from. But it would still be cool, and I hope we can see more nameless monsters like the Watcher in the Water.
There’s one last thing I’d like to wildly speculate on and that’s the appearance of Joseph Mawle on the show’s IMDB page. While there are fifteen actors without a listed character, Joseph Mawle is perhaps the most widely recognized.
My theory originally was that he might play Celeborn, but I’m no longer sure. When he was first cast, it was rumored that he would play the show’s antagonist. That could mean Sauron as Annatar, but that could also mean an orc commander or even an evil man in service to Sauron. That still might be true, but it hasn’t been confirmed one way or another.
Honestly, I don’t know who he’s going to be but I know that, like the Stranger, it’s going to be cool.