Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ TV series will film in New Zealand

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 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, including the show’s main creative team, announced on July 27.

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Lord of the Rings TV series creative team

J.A. Boyana (Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomThe Orphanage) is set to direct the first two episodes of the Lord of the Rings TV series, with writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay as showrunners. Payne and McKay’s writing credits include an unproduced Star Trek sequel, 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.”

In July 2019, Amazon posted a video revealing more of the show’s creative team, including the writing staff (whose credits include Hannibal and Breaking Bad), the producers, and the creative force behind the show’s aesthetic: costume designer Kate Hawley (Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim), and production designer Rick Heinrichs (The Last Jedi). The soundtrack composer hasn’t been announced yet – a daunting task compared to Howard Shore’s iconic Lord of the Rings score.

Lord of the Rings TV series news

Amazon Studios announced on Sept. 17, 2019 that the Lord of the Rings series is in pre-production and heading back to familiar territory: like Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogy, the TV show will film in New Zealand.

“As we searched for the location in which we could bring to life the primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle-earth, we knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff. And we’re happy that we are now able to officially confirm New Zealand as our home for our series based on stories from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings,” Payne and McKay said in a statement. “We are grateful to the people and the government of New Zealand and especially Auckland for supporting us during this pre-production phase. The abundant measure of Kiwi hospitality with which they have welcomed us has already made us feel right at home, and we are looking forward to deepening our partnership in the years to come.”

On social media, the announcement was short and to the point.

In a series of social media posts that included an expanding interactive map on Amazon’s website, Amazon revealed its Lord of the Rings series would take place during Middle-earth’s Second Age—thousands of years before Sauron would create the One Ring, lose it, and launch a war against Men.

It shot down the longstanding rumor that Amazon’s first Lord of the Rings series would focus on a young Aragorn. Apart from being a concept that many fans weren’t too keen on, it would’ve come with its own can of worms that included a young actor being compared (often unfairly) to Viggo Mortensen and trying to craft a story that didn’t feel like it was simply filling in the blanks in a story we might’ve gotten part of in Appendix A.

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 the 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.”

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Lord of the Rings TV series cast

The show’s first lead actor was reportedly cast in July 2019: Markella Kavenagh, who according to Variety is in talks to accept the role. She’s an Australian actress who recently had roles in the TV shows Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Cry, and Variety says her character’s name may be Tyra. However, we’ll take that last part with a pinch of salt, because there are no Tolkien characters named Tyra, and this is the kind of show that might use codenames during the casting process.

Will Poulter (Black Mirror: BandersnatchMidsommar) has been cast in what’s been described as a leading role, Variety reported. Little is known about his character, including the name.

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. He 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.”

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Lord of the Rings TV series plot

Little is known about the plot of the Lord of the Rings TV show aside from that it will take place during the Second Age, a span of almost 3,500 years that spans from the banishment of Morgoth—Sauron’s one-time master who was a force of evil—being banished all the way up to the war between a One Ring-wielding Sauron and the Men and Elvish forces who united to take him down

Apart from a vague sense of when it will occur in Tolkien’s history, there’s no indication of what the series might look like, which aspects it will tackle, or if we might recognize characters from the Lord of the Rings trilogy such as Elrond, who was born during Middle-earth’s First Age and started ruling Rivendell during the Second Age, or Galadriel, who was born during the Years of the Trees (which pre-date the First Age by a lot) and is much older. Galadriel is the original and the only bearer of Narya, one of the three Elven Rings of Power, while Elrond is given the ring Vilya by Gil-galad, the High King of the Nöldor, before Gil-galad dies in the war against Sauron.

And given his prominence at the end of the Second Age, Sauron is highly likely to be a major player at some point.

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Lord of the Rings TV series release date

The Lord of the Rings TV series does not yet have a projected release date given the lack of a cast, confirmed episode count, and even a vague idea of what year the show will air.

Sarah Weber

Sarah Weber

Sarah Weber is the former editor of Daily Dot’s Parsec section, where she wrote about geek culture. She previously worked as a reporter and editor at community newspapers in the Midwest and was recognized by the Ohio Associated Press for news reporting.