Of all the photos that have come out of the EW preview of their magazine edition that was just released, the one of the dwarves in barrels is almost certainly the most intriguing.

That’s because the previous barrel photos we’ve seen from the production diaries have shown the dwarves paddling downriver toward Laketown rather than packed away tightly inside their barrels as Tolkien described.

Highlight the above to reveal the spoiler, then read on for more spoiler analysis of what the new EW photo could mean for this key sequence of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

These production video scenes (see screencaps below) have led some to conclude that the lids may never go on the barrels at all. It also creates some small awkwardness if Bilbo never has the opportunity for barrel-riding — as Bilbo’s barrel-rider boast is the key reason Smaug decides to attack Laketown.

Looks like the lids go on!

Now the new EW photo shows that the dwarves — in this frame it’s Balin, Ori, Bofur, Bifur, Dwalin, Nori and Dori — in the process of getting packed away in their individual barrels.

In particular, the way Dwalin and Nori are curled up inside seems to indicate that lids WILL go on these barrels. They may all even be waiting on Thorin who, Tolkien wrote “had turned and twisted in his tub and grumbled like a large dog in a small kennel”.

Yet, to nitpick, Balin is supposed to be the one standing guard, and the last into his barrel. Yet there he is, top of frame, exchanging some word with Nori.

Where does Tauriel fit in?

So what will happen then? Do the Mirkwood elves march in and wake up the drunken butler, Galion, and roll out the barrels out with Bilbo catching a last-minute ride as per Tolkien?

Or is Tauriel involved somehow?

Here, it all gets hazy with supposition and guesswork.

Tauriel describes herself as the head of the elven guard. Tolkien tells of a chief of the guards who sat drinking with Galion, the butler of Thranduil.

Yet Evangeline Lilly’s couple of lines in Elvish that she gave on the Red Carpet in October 2011: “Come here” and “The cells are empty!” have made some wonder whether she might be a more sympathetic character and lend Bilbo a hand.

But why?

Well, factor in the “romance” sub-plot Aidan Turner spilled to Empire Magazine, and you might just have a motivation for Tauriel to help the dwarves out.

Maybe Tauriel will ensure she gets tipsy with Galion, and then Bilbo is able to lift the keys and free the dwarves.

Either way, it now seems a good guess that the barrel-riding (we hope) Bilbo pops the lids off the barrel once they’re downstream and well-away.

And these are the images that we’ve been seeing in the production diaries.

It seems likely that the dwarves will then make their way to Laketown under their own steam.

That means the elven rafters will probably fall by the wayside, although Bilbo’s pie-stealing scene may still remain. That’d be nice, thag you very buch.