Amazon's spending a lot of money on The Lord of the Rings TV show. In fact, the Middle Earth series looks set to become the most expensive show of all time, with the first season alone costing the streamer upwards of $450 million. Yes, you read that right, $450 million for one season. Luckily, Jeff Bezos reportedly earned on average $321 million a day during the pandemic, so we won't see Amazon going under if no one except the GamesRadar+ team watches.
Of course, that's not going to happen. Everyone and their Grandmas are going to watch this inevitably great series, which is set thousands of years before J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved books – in the Second Age of Middle Earth history. Filming is currently taking place in New Zealand, and Amazon has revealed an official synopsis and cast list. So, what else do you need to know? Here's everything we know so far about The Lord of the Rings TV show.
Lord of the Rings TV show: release date
The Lord of the Rings TV show currently has no release date. However, we do know that production is fully underway, with filming taking place in New Zealand. There were reports that the streamer was trying for a December 2021 release date, which would have made sense pre-pandemic. However, due to these unforeseen circumstances, there's no real knowing when we will see Middle Earth back on screens.
Reports previously indicated that the first two episodes – directed by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's J.A. Bayona – will be filmed back-to-back before a four-to-five-month hiatus. In this time, the showrunners would see what's working and then map out the already-commissioned season 2. Deadline reports that season 2 may even film back-to-back with some later episodes from the first season, hence the need for a break and to have a solid two-season plan before venturing forward.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke corroborated this timeline, explaining: “It’ll be in production in two years. 2021 is the hope. But there are other people who wish it was 2020.”
Filming began in early 2020, with Bayona posting a behind-the-scenes image of a tree. "The light from our set accidentally cast on top of a tree and it made it look like a strange cloud from a Miyazaki movie. #nightshoot," he captioned the image on Instagram.
However, the shoot soon stopped due to coronavirus. After a few months, though, things were reportedly underway again, with Bayona and the cast and crew working under new COVID laws to complete their work. New Zealand continuously had the coronavirus under control much better than many other countries, so it's no surprise that they were able to allow people back to work much sooner than in other countries such as the United States. Filming remains ongoing.
The Lord of the Rings TV show synopsis
Amazon has released an official synopsis for the series, teasing new and familiar characters that will appear in the series. As we already knew, the show will depict "the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history". In other words, it takes place thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stories.
"It will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness," the statement reads. "Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth."
Excitingly, the synopsis names some locations that have been mentioned but never seen on screen before. "From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone," it reads.
The Lord of the Rings TV show writers, directors, and cost
Writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay will act as co-showrunners on the new series. Speaking of their appointment, they said in a joint statement: "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."
Joining them as a consultant is Bryan Cogman, who is best known for rising from as assistant on Game of Thrones to writing some of the HBO fantasy series' best episodes. Also announced to be writing episodes for the Lord of the Rings TV show are Gennifer Hutchinson (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Helen Shang (Hannibal), Justin Dohle (Stranger Things), and Stephany Folsom (Toy Story 4).
Meanwhile, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona will helm the first two episodes of the first season (Amazon has signed on to produce five seasons) and will act as an executive producer. Wayne Che Yip – whose credits include episodes of Hunters, Preacher, Utopia, and Doctor Who – will direct four follow-up episodes.
There are also some other extremely exciting behind-the-camera persons, including costume designer Kate Hawley (Edge of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad), production designer Rick Heinrichs (Sleepy Hollow, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and visual effects supervisor Jason Smith (Super 8, Avengers). Concept artist John Howe, who worked on Jackson's trilogy, will also have the same position on the show.
“This team is our Fellowship, assembled from around the world, all walking the road together to try and accomplish something far greater than any of us could on our own,” McKay and Payne said in a statement.
And what an incredible fellowship, indeed, but not a cheap one. The first season alone will set Amazon back an incredible $450 million, making it the most expensive TV show ever made, beating the final season of Game of Thrones, which cost HBO an estimated $90 million. "What I can tell you is Amazon is going to spend about $650 million [New Zealand dollars] in season one alone," New Zealand's Minister for Economic Development and Tourism, Stuart Nash, told Morning Report. "This is fantastic, it really is... this will be the largest television series ever made."
Amazon has not confirmed the report. It has previously been estimated that the Lord of the Rings series could become the first-ever TV show to cost upwards of $1 billion, after including costs of production, rights, and marketing for multiple seasons – the rights to Tolkien's world were reported to have cost Amazon $250 million. That's enough money to make Smaug blush.
Lord of the Rings TV Show cast
Amazon initially finally confirmed the first 15 names joining the main cast. They are Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman.
However, after filming multiple episodes, Budge dropped out of the series due to creative differences. It isn't known which character he was playing. "It is with great sadness that I am writing to tell you I have departed Amazon's Lord Of The Rings television series," he wrote on Instagram. "After recently seeing the first episodes shot over the last year Amazon has decided to go in another direction with the character I was portraying…"
One of the biggest announcements from the group is Game of Thrones alumni Joseph Mawle, a veteran television and film actor best known for playing Benjen Stark, has joined the cast. The Hollywood Reporter claims that the actor will likely play the villain Oren, though no character in the source material appears to be called this. Then there's Robert Aramayo, who – like Mawle – previously played a Stark in Game of Thrones, having appeared as a young Ned Stark. He replaced Midsommar's Will Poulter as the leading male star in the show.
Variety previously reported that His Dark Materials and Saint Maud actress Morfydd Clark has signed on to play a young Galadriel. The character – one of the three elves given a ring of power – was portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson's movies. The announcement works with the Lord of the Rings TV series' Second Age setting, as Galadriel is over 7000 years old by the time the events of the movies take place.
Variety also first reported that Markella Kavenagh, an Australian actress best known for starring in the Romper Stomper TV show, joined the cast as the show's female lead. Details regarding her character are being kept very under wraps, though she has a name: Tyra. Ema Horvath – who appeared in the Blumhouse horror Like.Share.Follow – has also been cast in a main role.
Following the above announcements, Amazon revealed a further 20 names joining the cast. The Accountant actor Cynthia Addai-Robertson and Years and Years’ Maxim Baldry – previously reported by Variety as heading a lead role – were two of the key names. Joining them are legendary British comedian Sir Lenny Henry, who has also appeared in Broadchurch in recent years, and Peter Mullan, best known to HBO fans for his role as James Delos in Westworld.
Rounding out the names are Ian Blackburn (Shelter), Kip Chapman (Top of the Lake), Anthony Crum (The Wild), Maxine Cunliffe (Power Rangers Megaforce), Tryston Gravelle (The Terror), Thusitha Jayasundera (Broadchurch), Fabian McCallum (You, Me & The Apocalypse), Simon Merrells (Good Omens), Geoff Morrell (Top of the Lake: China Girl), Lloyd Owen (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles), Augustus Prew (Kick-Ass 2), Alex Tarrant (Tatau), Leon Wadham (Power Rangers Beast Morphers), Benjamin Walker (Jessica Jones), and Sara Zwangobani (Home and Away).
Last but not least is Peter Tait, who appeared in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as Shagrat, a Black Uruk who discovered Frodo after the Hobbit had been poisoned by Shelob. Perhaps he'll be playing another monster? No specifics about anyone's roles have yet been officially confirmed.
In other casting news, Sir Ian McKellen – who played Gandalf in the three Lord of the Rings movies and The Hobbit trilogy – has said that no other actor could play the wise wizard. “What do you mean, another Gandalf?” McKellen told Graham Norton when asked whether someone could take over the role. “I haven’t said yes because I haven’t been asked. But are you suggesting that someone else is going to play it? Gandalf is over 7,000 years old, so I’m not too old.”
The Lord of the Rings TV show: number of episodes
Reports have indicated that we could be looking at potentially five seasons of The Lord of the Rings TV show, though only the first has so-far been confirmed. That would certainly make the eye-watering budget make sense as an investment.
But how many episodes in season one? We have confirmation that there will initially be eight episodes – though this could, of course, expand. There's no word yet on how long each episode will be, though we suspect, with a show of this stature, that we're looking at hour-long episodes. That is, however, just an educated guess.
The Lord of the Rings TV show will feature familiar characters
As noted, Morfydd Clark will reportedly play Galadriel. This works within the setting and also opens the doors to a few other familiar faces.
Reports have indicated that we can expect Elrond, played by Hugo Weaving in the movies, and plays a key role in Tolkien's work. During the Second Age, Elrond establishes Rivendell as a refuge for the Elves. As seen in The Lord of the Rings, he plays a key part in defeating Sauron. Speaking of the Dark Lord...
There's also word that Sauron will play a key part in the series. Considering how "The Lord of the Rings" title refers to Sauron, it makes sense that the villain will be part of the TV series. There's no word on casting for Sauron or Elrond.
Clark has spoken about filming the series, though remained coy about her role. “The amount of [people working] on this show is continually mind-blowing,” Clark said. How mind-blowing? “One guy’s job consists just of seeing how dust reacts to footsteps and breath! That would never have even crossed my mind before.”
Clark doubles down on the sense of scale we can expect from The Lord of the Rings TV show by saying, “Other than something like Marvel, I don’t think things could get much bigger than this.” Intriguing.
The Lord of the Rings TV Show: nudity?
A series of casting calls and one new crew member has indicated that the Amazon Prime fantasy series could feature sex and nudity – something that has fans wondering whether the new series may borrow too liberally from Game of Thrones.
TheOneRing.net reported that The Lord of the Rings TV show has hired ‘intimacy coordinator’ Jennifer Ward-Lealand, whose job typically revolves around making actors feel comfortable and safe during sex scenes.
Then, there’s one filed more under rumor but no less interesting in this context – a casting call that asks for actors “comfortable with nudity” for a project that may or may not be The Lord of the Rings TV show.
Whether we can expect raunchy Hobbit scenes remains to be seen. For now, Amazon has not spoken about the topic – though the amount of kickback from even just these preliminary reports may have Amazon reverse course.
The Lord of the Rings TV show setting
Welcome to the Second Age: https://t.co/Tamd0oRgTwMarch 7, 2019
Despite theories to the contrary, the Lord of the Rings TV show takes place in the Second Age – counting out a potential series centered on a young Aragon (Strider was not born until the Third Age).
The setting was revealed when Amazon posted an image of the island of Númenor; home to Aragorn's people, the Númenoreans (who are, to massively simplify things, humans with a very long lifespan). They lived there until their home was destroyed, making it a ruin by the events of the main Lord of the Rings story. Fans are eager to get an insight into the world that came before the movies, with many hoping to see how Sauron rose to power. Perhaps we will even see the forging of the One Ring (which happened in the year 1600 – the Second Age lasted 3441 years).
Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey has also revealed that Amazon had no choice in the matter when it came to the Lord of the Rings TV show's setting. Despite the streaming service spending $250 million on the rights to Tolkien's work, the author's estate has made it mandatory that the show does not cross over with the events of Jackson's movies – Lord of the Rings or Hobbit.
“It's a bit of a minefield – you have to tread very carefully”, he told Deutsche Tolkien. “The Tolkien estate will insist that the main shape of the Second Age is not altered. Sauron invades Eriador, is forced back by a Númenórean expedition, returns to Númenor. There he corrupts the Númenóreans and seduces them to break the ban of the Valar. All this, the course of history, must remain the same.
“But you can add new characters and ask a lot of questions, like: What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it. But it must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say. That’s what Amazon has to watch out for. It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries which Tolkien has created. It is necessary to remain ‘Tolkienian’.”
The Tolkien estate has denied the claims, though Amazon has yet to officially say anything on the matter.
Amazon has confirmed that the Lord of the Rings TV show will be filmed in New Zealand; the country that provided the astonishing setting of Peter Jackson's trilogy. Showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said of bringing the series back to 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." Expect lots of aerial shots of snowy peaks, rolling hillsides, and craggy cliff faces.
The Lord of Rings TV show won't involve Peter Jackson
Sadly, Peter Jackson, who directed the film trilogy, has confirmed he is not involved with Amazon's TV adaptation. He said at a New York Comic Con panel last year that he's "kind of looking forward to it" as a viewer instead. "I was a guy who didn't get to see the Lord of the Rings like everybody else because I had to make it", Jackson explained, "so I'm looking forward to seeing somebody else's take on the Tolkien world."
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