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Lord of the Rings TV show: release date, first image, and more about the Amazon series

Sauron in The Lord of the Rings
(Image credit: New Line)

We may still have to wait a while longer for the Lord of the Rings TV show to arrive on our screens, but it's getting closer – the series is set to premiere on Amazon in 2022. In the meantime, though, there's plenty of information to unpack, from casting updates to plot details and even a first look image.

While Peter Jackson, the director of the original trilogy of Middle-earth movies, isn't involved in the show, Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings composer Howard Shore is in talks to return. We've got the full lowdown on the creative team behind the camera below, as well as all the confirmed characters and actors.

We also know that work on season 2 is already underway, with Amazon selecting filming locations for the next installment. And that's just the start of it – keep reading to find out everything we know so far about the Lord of the Rings TV show. 

Lord of the Rings TV show: release date

Lord of the Rings

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

The Lord of the Rings TV show release date has been confirmed by Amazon. The new series will launch on September 8, 2022. 

The streamer and bookseller announced the news in August 2021, meaning they're preparing fans over a year in advance to book time off to slowly devour the opening episode. Amazon must be happy with what they're seeing from the set: production has been underway for some time, with director J.A. Bayona, best known for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, previously posting a behind-the-scenes image back in May 2020. The intention, it was once believed, was that a December 2021 release date was on the cards, but that was disrupted by the COVID pandemic.

Even without the pandemic, though, there was always going to be a significant wait for The Lord of the Rings TV show to actually premiere. Deadline previously reported that there would be a four- to five-month delay after filming the first two episodes so that the showrunners could see what was working and what was not. There was speculation that season 2 would then film back-to-back with the first. One impact of this strategy was seemingly cast member Tom Budge leaving the show following "creative differences" – more on that in a minute.

The Lord of the Rings TV show first look

The Lord of the Rings TV show

(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon has released a first look at The Lord of the Rings TV show, with an image depicting a lone figure in a white cloak on a grassy hillside, looking out toward a grand city to their left. To their right, we can see what very much looks like the Two Trees of Valinor – which were long since destroyed in Bilbo's time – standing as shining, ethereal titans in the far distance.

These trees literally became the sun and the moon after they were devoured by Shelob's mother Ungoliant, so they're pretty important to Middle-earth. And considering the fact that the series will follow evil returning to this idyllic world, you probably shouldn't expect the two of them to remain standing for long.

The Lord of the Rings TV show synopsis

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Amazon has released an official synopsis for the series, teasing new and familiar characters that will appear in the series. 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 and directors

Aragorn in Lord of the Rings

(Image credit: New Line)

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. TheOneRing.net claims that Bayona's two episodes will be standalones. Wayne Che Yip – whose credits include episodes of Hunters, Preacher, Utopia, and Doctor Who – will direct four follow-up episodes, and Charlotte Brändström (The Witcher, Jupiter's Legacy) will helm two 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. 

Plus, original Lord of the Rings composer Howard Shore is in talks to return for the series. He scored the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as all three The Hobbit movies, and won three Oscars for his efforts.

Lord of the Rings TV show cast

Gandalf in Lord of the Rings

(Image credit: New Line)

Amazon initially confirmed the first 15 names joining the main cast as: 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, though TheOneRing.net claims it was Celebrimbor the ringmaker, who has since been recast. "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 names from the above group is Game of Thrones alumni Joseph Mawle, a veteran television and film actor best known for playing Benjen Stark. The Hollywood Reporter claims that the actor will likely play the villain Oren, though no character in the source material has that name. 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 show's lead male. 

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 having a lead role – are 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. A report from TheOneRing.net claims Henry plays an "early halfling," an ancestor of Hobbits as we know them, and could possibly be a Harfoot.

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).

Peter Tait will also be in the series. He 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 the last set of castings, Charles Edwards (The Crown), Will Fletcher (The Girl Who Fell), Amelie Child-Villiers (The Machine), and Beau Cassidy all joined the line-up as unknown characters.

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: budget

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 – just the rights to Tolkien's world were reported to have cost Amazon $250 million. That's enough money to make Smaug blush. 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...

The Lord of the Rings TV show: number of episodes and release schedule

Lord of the Rings

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

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. 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.

What's not a guess is The Lord of the Rings TV show release schedule – episodes are going to be released weekly. So, come September 2022, you don't need to book the whole day off to binge through the show. Unless you want to replay the episode over and over again looking for Easter eggs and references to Tolkien lore... "Dear my boss, I'm going to be ill on Sept-"

The Lord of the Rings TV show will feature familiar characters

(Image credit: New Line)

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. However, TheOneRing.net says that Sauron "will not be revealed" in the first season. 

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?

The Lord of the Rings

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

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.

But in another report, TheOneRing.net says the "nudity is sparse and not sexualized" and may be a lot darker than it first seemed, as part of the Elves' corruption into Orcs.

The Lord of the Rings TV show setting

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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.

Filming location

(Image credit: New Line)

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.

However, production will move to the UK for season 2 – Amazon has already set new two filming locations in England.

The Lord of Rings TV show won't involve Peter Jackson

(Image credit: New Line)

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."

While we wait for the LOTR series, check out which other shows you should be watching with our list of the best new TV shows coming in 2021 and beyond. 

Jack Shepherd

I'm the Entertainment Editor over here at GamesRadar+, bringing you all the latest movie and TV news, reviews, and features, plus I look after the Total Film and SFX sections and socials. I used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film