Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series Rises: Inside ‘The Rings of Power’

zaib055April 11, 2022

As lifelong kind fans, Payne and McKay understand the anxiety some feel about the show. “We know what it’s like to be anticipating something and to be terrified that it won’t be what you hope,” says McKay. “We’ve been those guys many times over.” The duo can officially settle some concerns.

After news broke that Amazon had hired an intimacy coordinator for its New Zealand set, some fans feared that the production might have lost sight of what makes Tolkien Tolkien. “My worry would be if it becomes a Game Of Thrones in the Second Age,” says Dimitra Fimi, a Tolkien scholar and lecturer at the University of Glasgow. “That wouldn’t be what one would associate with Tolkien’s vision. It would also be derivative.”

Showrunners Patrick McKay (left) and JD Payne (right) on the New Zealand set of The Rings of Power.BEN ROTHSTEIN/AMAZON STUDIOS.

So will there be Westerosi levels of violence and sex in Amazon’s Middle-earth? In shorts, no. McKay says the goal was “to make a show for everyone, for kids who are 11, 12, and 13, even though sometimes they might have to pull the blanket up over their eyes if it’s a little too scary. We talked about the tone in Tolkien’s books. This is material that is sometimes scary—and sometimes very intense, sometimes quite political, sometimes quite sophisticated—but it’s also heartwarming and life-affirming and optimistic. It’s about friendship and it’s about brotherhood and underdogs overcoming great darkness.”

Another concern: Is the series going to put hobbits in the Second Age? In short (so to speak), yes and no. “One of the very specific things the texts say is that hobbits never did anything historic or noteworthy before the Third Age,” says McKay. “But really, does it feel like Middle-earth if you don’t have hobbits or something like hobbits in it?” The hobbit ancestors in this era are called harfoots. They may not live in The Shire, but they are satisfyingly hobbit-adjacent. McKay and Payne have constructed a pastoral harfoot society that thrives on secrecy and evading detection so that they can play out a kind of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead story in the margins of the bigger quests. Two lovable, curious harfoots, played by Megan Richards and Markella Kavenagh, encounter a mysterious lost man whose origin promises to be one of the show’s most enticing enigmas.

Amazon’s series will also broaden the notion of who shares the world of Middle-earth. One original story line centers on a silvan elf named Arondir, played by Ismael Cruz Córdova, who will be the first person of color to play an elf onscreen in a Tolkien project. He is involved in a forbidden relationship with Bronwyn, a human village healer played by Nazanin Boniadi, a British actor of Iranian heritage. Elsewhere, a Brit of Jamaican descent, Sir Lenny Henry, plays a harfoot elder, and Sophia Nomvete has a scene-stealing role as a dwarven princess named Disa—the latter being the first Black woman to play a dwarf in a Lord of the Rings movie, as well as the first female dwarf. “It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like,” says Lindsey Weber, executive producer of the series. “Tolkien is for everyone. His stories are about his fictional races doing their best work when they leave the isolation of their own cultures and come together.”

When Amazon released photos of its multicultural cast, even without character names or plot details, the studio endured a reflexive attack from trolls—the anonymous online kind. “Obviously there was going to be push and backlash,” says Tolkien scholar Mariana Rios Maldonado, who is not affiliated with The Rings of Power, “but the question is from whom? Who are these people that feel so threatened or disgusted by the idea that an elf is Black or Latino or Asian?”

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