Ever since Amazon announced it would be launching a new, very expensive Lord of the Rings television series in 2017, there’s been very little actual information for hardcore J.R.R. Tolkien fans to chew on. A little Easter-egg-studded synopsis, a timeline setting, a cast without character names, a single image tease, and a release date are really all they’ve had to go on for almost five years. But with that premiere date of September 2, 2022, growing ever closer, Amazon has finally unveiled the name of the series itself: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. With little else to go on, why not spend some time overanalyzing Amazon’s press release and what LOTR: TROP (yep, get used to it) might mean about the show itself.
“The Rings of Power unites all the major stories of Middle-earth’s Second Age: the forging of the rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the epic tale of Númenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men,” showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay wrote in Amazon’s release. “Until now, audiences have only seen on-screen the story of the One Ring—but before there was one, there were many … and we’re excited to share the epic story of them all.”
The previously announced timeline of the Second Age of Middle Earth already alerted some fans as to what they might expect. But if you’re less of a “reread the books and rewatch the movies—extended editions, of course—every year” kind of person and more of a “can’t tell a Bilbo from a Frodo” kind of person, then it might be helpful to know that the Second Age of Middle Earth took place thousands of years before anyone named Baggins went on any kind of adventure. A lot of fun and exciting things happened during that era (just the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, nothing major), but this freshly announced title and video draws attention to probably the most important event: the forging of the Rings of Power. The video’s voice-over recites part of Tolkien’s “Ring Verse”:
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Sure, you’ve heard about The One Ring, a.k.a. The Ring of Power, a.k.a. The World’s Worst Accessory, but if you recall from either the books or the haunting Cate Blanchett–narrated prologue to Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the forging of the 20 Rings of Power involved Sauron (he wasn’t always just a flaming eyeball, you know) bamboozling, well, pretty much everyone. According to Sauron, the rings he created would allow the bearer dominion over the members of their race—but secretly Sauron created a master ring that would control the rest. (“One ring to rule them all” might ring a bell.) The most skeptical were the elves, who landed three rings for themselves. “The Elf-lords hid from [Sauron],” Tolkien wrote, “and his hand never touched them or sullied them.” More disastrously, the dwarves snagged seven rings. But most disastrous of all was the nine rings used in the seduction of mankind. “Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them,” Tolkien wrote.
Mankind’s lust for power is a key part of the legacy of the rings and may provide Amazon with exactly the kind of palace intrigue they’re looking for in their infamous search of “the next Game of Thrones.” Sauron, who was, according to Tolkien, able to transform himself into one handsome devil, used the offer of powerful jewelry to turn nine great kings and warriors into his most fearsome foot soldiers: “Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”
Not much is known about the men Sauron corrupted into Ringwraiths, so there’s plenty of opportunity for the Amazon series to introduce these human characters without viewers knowing which ones might eventually fall under Sauron’s control.
The title promises that the series will cover dwarves, elves, men, and one flaming eyeball masquerading as a seductive blacksmith, but what about the most famous creatures of all in Middle Earth: the hobbits? Strictly speaking, everyone’s favorite furry-footed, pipe-leaf-smoking friends are not part of the Second Age of Middle Earth. But the official synopsis Amazon released last year promised “unlikely heroes were tested.” The word “unlikely” invokes Gandalf’s line from the book: “So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!”
The concept of the “unlikely hero” is crucial to Tolkien scholarship, and the role of the hobbits as innocent audience proxies in the fantastical world Tolkien created has become an essential way to give audiences or readers a clear entry point into the story. How the Amazon series will reconcile their potential presence in this story with their absence from Tolkien’s text remains to be seen. Speaking of Gandalf, it’s also unlikely he would appear in a story like this one. As old as he is, he didn’t come to Middle Earth until the Third Age. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any familiar characters in this Amazon series. Elves, for instance, live a very long time and there are some in Frodo and Bilbo’s adventures—Elrond, Galadriel, and her husband Celeborn to name a few—who witnessed the forging of the Rings of Power.
The press release also mentions Númenor, Tolkien’s answer to Atlantis. This island, populated by men and women gifted with long lives, rose to prominence in the Second Age only to sink under the sea due to—you guessed it—the power-hungry ways of mankind. (There’s even more opportunity for palace intrigue on Númenor, where a nasty succession battle that would make the Roy family blush closes out the Second Age.) The release also mentions the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, which provided one of the more memorable visuals from Peter Jackson’s prologue, when a Númenorian hero and Aragorn’s distant relative, Isildur, cuts the Ring of Power (and some fingers) off Sauron’s hand, effectively ending the Second Age. This, presumably, is where the Amazon series will conclude.
The most mysterious elements in the mix here are still The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power showrunners Payne and McKay, who don’t have a single produced credit to their name that speaks to any expertise in the matters of Middle Earth, or the fantasy genre in general. Then again, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were relatively untested when they launched Game of Thrones. Plus, at least Payne and McKay know how their story will end.