One does not simply make a ‘Lord of the Rings’ TV series.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy gave the world an epic fantasy adaptation unlike anything we had seen before. The films were triumphs of fantasy worldbuilding that transported fans into the heart of Middle-earth and paved the way for adaptations like HBO’s Game of Thrones. Now Amazon hopes to compete with George R.R. Martin’s fantasy universe by returning to J.R.R. Tolkien’s.
Amazon announced in November that it had acquired the rights to create a Lord of the Rings TV series, just months after CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly challenged Amazon Studios executives to find the next Game of Thrones. The show is still in very early stages of development, but if it comes out in the next two to three years, it could find itself going up against one or more Game of Thrones spinoffs underway for HBO. Here’s what we know so far.
Lord of the Rings TV series news
While Amazon has confirmed it is working on a Lord of the Rings TV series, we know very little about what story it might tell. The company revealed the series would be set prior to Fellowship of the Ring—before Frodo hits the road on his quest to chuck the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Amazon has already promised multiple seasons of the show and a possible spinoff series set in Middle-earth.
On May 17, longtime Lord of the Rings fan site TheOneRing.net said it had heard from multiple sources that the first season of the Amazon series would follow a young Aragorn. Of course, there’s no telling how “young” a young Aragorn might be. He’s a royal Númenórean descendant, giving him a much longer life than ordinary humans. Though he looks 40-something in the Lord of the Rings movies, he tells Éowyn of Rohan he’s actually 87. A young Aragorn could be anywhere from 15 to 50.
— TheOneRing.net (@theoneringnet) May 16, 2018
According to Deadline, Amazon paid close to $250 million just for rights to the property. That’s a staggering number, especially when you consider the total production budgets of most major blockbusters are cheaper. And according to a March 15, 2018, report from Reuters, it just gets more expensive from there. The news service says production and marketing on the project could reach $500 million for two seasons (more than three times what Amazon paid for the first two seasons of The Man in the High Castle). That means Amazon must be betting interest in the show—and new subscriptions to watch it—will be huge.
Sharon Tal Yguado, head of scripted series for Amazon Studios, said development of the show would be a collaborative effort with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line.
“We are delighted that Amazon, with its longstanding commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings,” Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins, said as part of the initial announcement. “Sharon and the team at Amazon Studios have exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”
Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke announced at the Television Critics Association summer 2018 tour that Amazon has selected J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay to develop the Lord of the Rings series.
Payne and McKay’s writing credits include the untitled fourth Star Trek film, but the duo’s lack of experience in the wake of being appointed to tackle a $500 million Lord of the Rings series has some concerned.
“The rich world that J.R.R. Tolkien created is filled with majesty and heart, wisdom and complexity,” Payne and McKay said in a joint statement, per the Hollywood Reporter. “We are absolutely thrilled to be partnering with Amazon to bring it to life anew. We feel like Frodo, setting out from the Shire, with a great responsibility in our care—it is the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime.”
Lord of the Rings TV series cast
The Lord of the Rings TV series doesn’t have a writer or director, much less a cast, but that hasn’t stopped some Middle-earth veterans from chiming in.
Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, told BBC Radio2 host Graham Norton that he’d be game to come back as the gray wizard—though he has yet to be asked to reprise the role. The 78-year-old actor joked, “Gandalf is 7,000 years old, so I’m not too old.”
Gimli actor John Rhys-Davies, meanwhile, is siding with fans who don’t like the idea of another Lord of the Rings adaptation so soon after Peter Jackson’s definitive retelling.
“It’s not about doing it better, it’s about making more money, that’s all,” Rhys-Davies told Den of Geek. “If they think they can make more money, then they will.”
Lord of the Rings TV series plot
While we don’t know what story the Lord of the Rings TV series will tell, we can make some educated guesses as to where it could go. Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, Gimli, and even our Hobbit friends were around long before they volunteered to save Middle-earth. Frodo and Sam likely spent much of that time reading, gardening, eating, and doing other respectable Hobbit things that’d be pretty boring for TV.
But Tolkien’s ancillary works elaborate on more interesting backstories for Gandalf and Aragorn. Aragorn’s mother brought him to the elf city of Rivendell when he was just 2 years old after an Orc arrow killed his father. Elrond fostered young Aragon and kept his identity secret to protect the future king of Gondor. In his early years, Aragorn went on adventures with Elrond’s sons, befriended Gandalf, and fought preliminary battles against Sauron and his allies. Some of this background is mentioned in Lord of the Rings—remember the scene where Aragorn reveals he fought alongside King Théoden’s father?—but much of it has never been explored on screen.
Gandalf also did a great deal of adventuring beyond the main storylines of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit trilogy already dabbled in some of that history, including Gandalf’s journey to confront an evil force known as the Necromancer at the enemy fortress Dol Guldur.
Of course, there’s no guarantee Amazon will anchor its series in the backstories of familiar characters. The show will be “based on” Tolkien’s work. That leaves the door open for a looser reimagining of characters or events Tolkien merely mentions.
Lord of the Rings TV series release date
The Lord of the Rings TV series does not yet have a projected release date. Given that HBO bought the television rights to Game of Thrones in September 2008 and it didn’t appear on TV until spring 2011, we’re expecting a minimum of two to three years of development and production time.