The Society of Composers & Lyricists announced their nominees today and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power received recognition. Congratulations to Bear McCreary for his nomination in Outstanding Score for Television for his exceptional work on The Rings of Power. The SCL Awards ceremony is being held on February 15, 2023.
Full list of nominees in the category are:
Outstanding Score For Television Nicholas Britell – Andor Siddhartha Khosla – Only Murders In The Building Bear McCreary – The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Theodore Shapiro – Severance Cristobal Tapia De Veer – The White Lotus
It’s that time of year… awards season has begun! While the Emmys are many months away, many critics groups and craft guilds will be honoring the best in film and television for 2022 over the next few months.
Already The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has received a nomination for the People’s Choices Awards for Best Sci-fi/Fantasy Show (losing out to Stranger Things) and Bear McCreary received a Hollywood Music in Media Award nomination for Best Score – TV Show/Limited Series (losing out to the composers of 1883.)
Today, the 28th Annual Critics Choice Awards television nominations were announced. While Rings of Power did not get nominated for Best Drama Series, congratulations are in order to Ismael Cruz Córdova for being nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series! Ismael recently received the breakthrough actor award for television at the Critics Choice Association’s 2nd annual Celebration of Latino Cinema and Television in November.
The Critics Choice Awards will be broadcast live on The CW on Sunday, January 15, 2023.
Earlier this week, TORn staffer greendragon had the chance to sit down with composer Bear McCreary. Greendragon was fortunate to be invited to attend a recording session for the Rings of Power soundtrack in London last April; it was an incredible experience, watching skilled musicians bring McCreary’s score to life. So she was thrilled to have the chance to catch up with the composer, and see how he’s feeling about Season One – and what might be in store for Season Two of The Rings of Power.
McCreary is a huge Tolkien fan himself, and he shared how Peter Jackson’s movies – and in particular, Howard Shore’s score – were important influences in his growth to become the composer he is today. He discussed the luxury of time which Amazon’s big budgets provide, and the importance of music to enhance and communicate emotion and drama. He also revealed that he has already started work for Season Two!
At their panel today at New York ComicCon, Prime Video unveiled a new trailer, for The Rings of Power season finale next week:
This was the first Rings of Power panel appearance since the series debut, and included not only the trailer (which does not contain very much which hasn’t been seen before), but also a surprise sneak peek at some footage from the finale episode, which will be available to stream on Prime Video next week, at 12:00am ET on Friday, October 14th.
The one interesting reveal at the very end of the trailer is a glimpse of Celebrimbor’s forge in action. It seems strange that we have yet to see Annatar using his persuasive powers on the elves, and yet already they are thinking about forging rings. Will all be explained and revealed in the season finale? There are many loose ends to tie up; and presumably some will be left dangling for Season Two…
Fans will be able to go deeper into the canals of Númenor, the mines of Khazad-dûm, the halls of Lindon, and more, as host Felicia Day takes a fresh and insightful look at the groundbreaking series and what it takes to bring Middle-earth to life. Each episode will feature exclusive interviews with cast and crew, including Morfydd Clark, Owain Arthur, and the show’s creators, JD Payne and Patrick McKay, that will take us behind the scenes with jaw-dropping stories and Easter eggs you won’t want to miss. Fans can listen to all eight episodes of the podcast for free on Amazon Music.
The third Rings of Power reveal today was a clip of a song which will feature in the Season Finale, from Fiona Apple.
Further details can be found in Prime Video’s press release:
Today, in their first panel appearance since the debut of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, seven of the series’ cast took a bite of the Big Apple on New York Comic Con’s (NYCC) Empire Stage in a lively panel moderated by actor, producer, New York Times best-selling author, and newly announced host of the show’s official free podcast on Amazon Music, Felicia Day (The Guild, Supernatural). The panel also included a first look at an exclusive new season finale trailer, and a surprise sneak peek at some never-before-seen footage from the highly anticipated finale episode, which will be available to stream on Prime Video at 12:00 a.m. EDT, Friday, October 14.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been a global sensation in its first season, garnering over 25 million views for the first two episodes over the series’ premiere weekend. Additionally, according to Nielsen, The Rings of Power also delivered 1.25 billion minutes streamed in the U.S. during (or over) its premiere weekend, making it the No. 1 show on their overall and original streaming charts. This is the first time a Prime Video series has debuted at No.1 on the Nielsen chart, and The Rings of Power was also the only series that crossed the 1 billion minutes streamed threshold for the week.
Cast members Cynthia Addai-Robinson (“Queen Regent Miriel”), Nazanin Boniadi (“Bronwyn”), Charles Edwards (“Lord Celebrimbor”), Leon Wadham (“Kemen”), Benjamin Walker (“High King Gil-galad”), Daniel Weyman (“The Stranger”), and Sara Zwangobani (“Marigold ‘Goldie’ Brandyfoot”) participated in an hour-long panel that offered behind-the-scenes stories from the set, and some teases about the long-awaited first season finale.
Although showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay weren’t able to attend NYCC in person, they sent a special message from the show’s UK set, where production has just begun on Season Two of the series. In addition to welcoming fans to the panel, they also shared some behind-the-scenes footage and their excitement about the final episode of the season.
Fans were treated to an exclusive first look at a dynamic new trailer, recapping all of the key action to date and providing a sneak peek at what’s still to come in the epic season finale. The new trailer promises exciting payoffs for viewers next week, teasing Mordor will rise, heroes will fall, and all will be revealed, all to the sound of Bear McCreary’s score, titled “Sauron.” And was that a scene with Celebrimbor’s forge in action? Tune in on October 14 to find out!
Amazon Studios also surprised the NYCC panel attendees with an exclusive first clip from the season finale, revealing how key storylines across the different realms of Arda have finally converged, leading to a moment that viewers across the globe have been waiting for since the series title was first revealed!
Panel moderator and Tolkien super-fan Felicia Day also had some exciting news of her own—she’s the host of the upcoming The Official The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Podcast—and she shared a special podcast trailer as well. In this groundbreaking new series, which will be available for free on Amazon Music, Day will share unique details, behind-the-scenes stories, and the most exciting and surprising moments through unprecedented access to the cast and crew, including showrunners J.D. Payne and PatrickMcKay. Listen to all eight episodes of the official companion podcast on Amazon Music beginning October 14. Download the Amazon Music app today.
Today, Amazon Studios also released “Where the Shadows Lie,” a new song performed by Grammy-winning artist Fiona Apple, from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Season One: Amazon Original Series Soundtrack). Available exclusively through Amazon Music, the song was written by series composer Bear McCreary and appears in the season finale of the acclaimed new series on Prime Video. Set to McCreary’s powerful and ethereal score, with Apple’s haunting vocals at the forefront, the song is inspired by the iconic Ring-verse written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As written, the poem was composed by the Free Peoples of Middle-earth about the origins of the Rings of Power and their relationship under the power of the One Ring. The song was produced by McCreary, Apple, and Andrew Slater, and engineered by Jason LaRocca and David Way. Listen to “Where the Shadows Lie” (feat. Fiona Apple) HERE .
Amongst my earliest recollections of being introduced to Tolkien there remains one etched in my memory that I remember so clearly to this day. It was an evening in the fall of 2001. I was accustomed to step out at dusk to catch the sunset near a plumeria tree outside my house which would shed its leaves and yellow flowers around that time of year. I’d watch for the first of the stars to appear, and then head home.
I lived in a little city in India back then, and after a day at college, I was relaxing in my living room watching MTV, when the video for Enya’s “May It Be” happened to come on.
That evening after watching Enya’s video for the very first time, I was ponderous in a way I hadn’t really been before.
Perhaps it was the season, or the stage of life I was at. But something about the visuals, the words, the characters, had touched me, spoken to me; and it set me on a journey of discovery into the Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth, and Tolkien.
It’s been over 20 years now, and though I now live far from that home in a land where the stars are strange (to borrow a Ranger’s phrase) and a lifetime seems to have passed since those days, the music of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films has somehow managed to remain a constant companion through the seasons of my life.
Howard Shore’s score has always been, for me, the singular aspect of those films that contributed immensely in elevating the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
So when it was announced that the score for Amazon’s The Rings of Power TV series would be scored by Bear McCreary, I was both apprehensive and excited.
My apprehension stemmed from having spent two decades associating Howard Shore’s music with the sound of Middle-earth – how could anyone surpass, or even match, the heights of that achievement?
And yet my excitement was hesitantly brewing, as I had recently watched Apple TV’s Foundation, fallen in love with the soundtrack, and discovered that it was scored by a composer named Bear McCreary. Only time would reveal whether Bear’s music for Middle-earth would move me in the same way Shore’s did 20 years ago.
And so finally last weekend, on a grey and rainy Spring evening in Australia, separated in time and space from the once young college boy who accidentally discovered Middle-earth, I settled in, this time willfully, and with a slight shiver running down my spine, to journey anew, back to that place of wonder.
PROLOGUE: GALADRIEL & FINROD, MORGOTH & SAURON
As the first strains of choral music play over the dark screen and a voice begins to speak, the mood feels aptly Tolkienesque, in an Elvish sort of way – ancient and fair – but also young and fresh, in a manner of speaking, as if the song were newly written, and being newly sung, within the world unfolding before me.
It coalesces in my mind when the Elf-children are revealed – this is the music of the Elves in their youth in Valinor, in a time when their world is still young, their children numerous, their happiness untainted.
The choral music gives way to a subtle thematic melody as a small girl crafts a boat and sets it upon a stream. The music rises delicately as the boat floats downstream, then slowly unfurls to take the shape of a swan, wings outspread, and begins to sail proudly upon the rippling water; before its course is interrupted by a stone pelted by one of the Elf-children.
As a tall, fair Elf comes over and lifts it up out of the water, the theme weaves its way back into the music. It segues from doubtfulness to hope as Finrod the Elf-lord converses with his little sister Galadriel under a tree in a verdant field of grass, counseling her regarding the nature of darkness and light. Then leaving her to ponder his words, he departs homeward; and the theme builds gloriously, reaching a crescendo in a chorus of Elven song as he mounts a hill and gazes upon the fair city of their home, Valinor, whose tall towers and rippling waterways lay bathed in the golden light of the Two Trees.
But soon another theme asserts itself – strident and dissonant. The Two Trees begin to darken as the shadow of the Great Foe, Morgoth, looms over them, and we witness their destruction and the consequent darkening of Valinor.
It made me wonder if this is what Morgoth’s theme might’ve sounded like woven amidst the Music of the Ainur. It is not immediately discordant, but rather rallying, and depending on one’s predisposition could very well induce a desire to ally oneself with it.
Now amid the darkness of their home, the Elf-lords unite to take an Oath in resistance of Morgoth’s evil, and leaving the land of Valinor behind, they sail in legion across the Sundering Seas to Middle-earth, and to war. The soaring music ushers their arrival in this land of untold perils, where battling for centuries against strange creatures beyond count, on land and high in the flaming skies, they witness the ruin of Middle-earth. Galadriel’s theme bears out a sombre tone as she treads the ashen, smoke-filled battleplains in the aftermath of war – laying in reverence the high-helm of a fallen Elf-lord upon a mound of countless others borne by those who fell in battle beside him.
As the Age rolls on, Morgoth’s theme comes to represent the evil that has spread across all Middle-earth. It is soon assumed by Sauron, his most devoted servant, and a choir intones in Black Speech as we see his armoured form in a forbidding Northern fortress commanding forces of Orcs that have multiplied and gathered under him.
We learn now that Finrod was killed in attempting to fulfil his vow to seek out Sauron, and once again, the Galadriel / Finrod theme plays out solemnly, as she weeps over his once-fair body now marred and lying in state.
A mysterious motif interrupts this moment as she looks upon a mark branded cruelly upon his breast. Her theme rises once again as she takes the dagger from Finrod’s hands and claims his vow as her own.
Despite his brief appearance, Finrod’s death felt extremely poignant, and I found I had a lump in my throat when he lay in state. It is clear to see why Galadriel assumed his task to hunt down the Enemy.
Galadriel’s theme now sweeps up dramatically as we are told how the Elves hunted for Sauron to the ends of the earth, over mountains and across seas, as year gave way to year, and century to century. And though for most Elves the pain of those days was all but forgotten, for Galadriel the fight against Sauron had become personal, and so she ever led her company on.
Now far in the Northernmost Waste, the Forodwaith of Middle-earth, menacing vocals sound out as she and her company descry the towers of an ancient fortress rising like black mountain-peaks amidst the frost and bitter snow. Then Sauron’s theme blares out as deep within a chamber they discover an enigmatic sigil – the same mark that once branded Finrod’s body – left here now as a trail for Orcs to follow. They had finally found a trace of Sauron.
RHOVANION: THE HARFOOTS, ELANOR ‘NORI’ BRANDYFOOT
We are now introduced to the Harfoots in the region of Rhovanion, the Wilderland of Middle-earth. They are a simple wandering folk, a little people living in closeness with the earth, never settled in one place but moving their dwellings with the passing of the seasons.
Their music is rustic and sylvan, almost nomadic, like it could precede what later becomes Howard Shore’s themes for the Hobbits and the Shire in their comfortable refinement.
There’s a separate theme for Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot, who along with her companion Poppy Proudfoot, and the other Harfoot younglings are thrilled in their perky-eyed cheekiness to find a blackberry bush. Delighting in simple pleasures seems to be an innate trait of the Little Folk since their beginnings.
Nori’s theme is appropriately lighthearted and sprightly, if tinged with hints of wonder and expectation of something larger than might exist just beyond their horizons. It grows pensive as she asks of her mother Marigold…
Haven’t you ever wondered what’s out there? How far the river flows or where the sparrows learn their new songs they sing in spring?
The music for the Harfoots too takes a poignant turn as Marigold, her deep brown eyes filled with kind understanding, reminds Nori of the simple truths that keep their kind safe.
Elves have forests to protect, Dwarves their mines, Men their fields of grain, even trees have to worry about the soil beneath their roots. But we Harfoots are free from the worries of the wide world. Nobody goes off trail and nobody walks alone. We have each other.
It is a tender moment of motherly wisdom imparted to a daughter, and a reminder that although the Harfoots may be simple, they are not unwise.
I found myself already loving the Harfoot characters, despite their fabrication for this series, and I think it is a testament to the cast, the writers, and everything else that went into making the Harfoots believable within this world.
Elrond, the Herald of Gil-galad, is ushered in with strains that seem reminiscent of Howard Shore’s Rivendell theme, as he sits (Frodo-like) quite carefree on a tree-branch in a golden wood.
Here his theme seems to be in its inception still, yet in a reflection of his person, it soars briefly, bordering on aspirational, offering glimpses of greatness.
He greets Galadriel, now returned from her journeying, and as they look upon the tapestry of a ship sailing West to Valinor, a choral motif is briefly heard.
Then as he reflects upon the tapestry while conversing with Galadriel, he wonders aloud…
“I hear it’s said that when you cross over, you hear a song. One whose memory we all carry.”
… and the choir intones a lyric to a different melodic line.
We will later discover that this choral lyric is indeed the very song Elrond is talking about.
LINDON & GIL-GALAD
Now the choral music builds as Elrond, Galadriel, and many other Elves assemble in a court encircled by many golden-leaved trees deep in the heart of Lindon, summoned there by Gil-galad.
The high and lofty vocals might represent a motif not dissimilar to Elrond’s Rivendell theme in The Lord of the Rings; for in this Second Age, Gil-galad is the High King of the Elves in Middle-earth, and though their capital city is in Lindon in the North-west, his authority is acknowledged by all their companies even to the furthest Southern and Eastern lands.
It sounds out victoriously as he declares that their days of war are over – their days of peace now begun.
But now Galadriel’s theme softly presents itself as she kneels ceremoniously before Gil-galad and he lays a circlet upon her head, bestowing upon her and the other Elven heroes of her company the permission to leave his realm and board the ships, to return home once more to Valinor.
Later that night, while the Elves celebrate, Galadriel’s theme plays out in poignant tones as she regards the carven image of Finrod in a forest-glade and converses once again with Elrond about the choice before her – to accept the gift of Gil-galad and depart Middle-earth forever, forsaking her vow, or to refuse his gift and persevere in her search for Sauron.
A LEITMOTIF FOR VALINOR
A subtle rising choral piece plays when Gil-glad mentions the Blessed Realm.
It is the motif briefly heard earlier when Elrond looked upon the tapestry when he greeted Galadriel.
It is also the same melodic line which played at the beginning when we saw Galadriel with the other Elf-children in Valinor and we heard how…
Nothing is evil in the beginning. And there was a time when the world was so young, there had not yet been a sunrise, but even then, there was light.
THE SOUTHLANDS, BRONWYN & ARONDIR
The theme for the Southlands is bucolic but dismal, as the Men who live here seem to be a rather simple farming folk settled in villages, but it is said their ancestors once sided with Morgoth, and the Elves still distrust them for that treachery.
The theme is shared by the Elves too; for they have established their presence in these regions for decades in their duty to watch over these Men and their lands.
It ushers in two Elves, Arondir and Médhor, who arrive at the village of Tirharad and head to an inn seeking news.
Arondir steps out onto the inn’s backyard to meet a woman, Brownyn, standing there beside a well, and a tender new theme forms as she hands him a bottle containing seeds of alfirin, a flower which he once knew as a child, but whose petals she herself crushes to form a healing salve. The theme continues as she questions him regarding healers among their kind, and he in turn explains the nature of their wounds and the role of Elvish healers.
The theme for the Southlands returns once again as Arondir heads back with his companion Medhor to Ostirith, an Elvish outpost set high upon a cliff-face. Upon receiving news that Gil-galad has declared the days of war ended, and the Elf-watchers free to return home, Arondir looks morosely across the wide vales far below, the theme sounding ever more forlorn.
As Revion the Watchwarden joins him atop the tower and they regard the lush green fields under the golden sunlight, Arondir remarks about the change to this once-barren land, and the Southlands theme brims briefly with new hope; but it returns to grimness as Revion reminds him that although the land may have the changed, the people have not.
The theme for Bronwyn & Arondir returns as he considers their impending separation, and later reminds her that although he seems unable to articulate why he has returned to see her, he has already spoken it in every way but words.
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a man who has brought his sick cow to Bronwyn, and Sauron’s theme hints amid the music as they learn the cow has been poisoned from grazing near the neighbouring village of Hordern. The theme rises prominently as Arondir and Bronwyn set out urgently for Hordern.
While Bronwyn is away, her son Theo shows his friend Rowan a mysterious broken sword he had discovered in a nearby shed. It bears the enigmatic sigil of Sauron, and now it holds Theo’s gaze as he holds it up, seemingly alighting in fire as the choir erupts in Black Speech over Sauron’s theme.
Arriving on the borders of Hordern, the theme for Arondir and Bronwyn returns as they share a tender moment when he confesses that hers is the only kind touch he has known in all his days in that land. But dark clouds formed from a rising smoke remind them of their purpose in coming to Hordern, and Sauron’s theme rises in urgency as they run up a hill to look down upon the village all aflame.
CELEBRIMBOR & THE RINGS OF POWER
Meanwhile in Lindon, Elrond and Gil-galad discuss Galadriel’s decision to return to the West, and having passed beyond his sight, Elrond shares his doubts about convincing her to take ship.
But Gil-galad counsels him to look to his own future in Middle-earth now, and thereupon Celebrimbor joins them.
His first appearance is accompanied by a short, rather ominous choral line.
It is the same piece that played over the title card of the show “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER” (S1E1 at 17:27).
Celebrimbor is of course the primary artificer of the Rings of Power – their threads are bound by this motif.
THE SONG OF THE ELVES
Away upon the Sundering Seas, Galadriel and the Elven heroes gather on deck and prepare in ceremony to pass into the Uttermost West.
The leitmotif for Valinor heralds their arrival to the confines of the Blessed Realm. The choir begins to intone as the dark and forbidding clouds part, permitting the golden light of Valinor to shine forth, and a phalanx of white birds flies out to greet them.
Gazing in wonder at the ever widening cloud-wrack and the light of Valinor blazing forth ever brighter, the Elves in unison begin chanting a verse, almost as if the memory of a song long-forgotten were suddenly wakened fully in them.
It is the choral piece we heard when Elrond conversed with Galadriel by the tapestry in Lindon.
But while the accompanying Elves sing it and begin moving forward to enter into the light, Galadriel remains silent, filled with doubt about her choice to leave Middle-earth, and steps slowly back. Thondir’s call to take his hand grows distant.
The music rises and she recalls her discourse with Finrod when as a child she had questioned him about discerning which lights she must follow – the ones shining in the sky or those reflected as brightly in the dark waters below.
The Galadriel / Finrod theme rises profoundly as she remembers his counsel:
Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.
Perceiving now his words and comprehending her choice, she turns away from the light, a tear escapes her, and she leaps from the ship.
The clouds close in again to shut out the light, darkness engulfs the waters, and all music is silenced.
Above the lands in Middle-earth the skies have grown strange. The music grows portentous and a queer motif begins to take shape. From Lindon and Eregion in the North, to Rhovanion and as far as the Southlands, Elves, Men, and Harfoots gaze in bewilderment as a star seemingly in flight streaks across the firmament leaving a blazing trail in its wake. The wind picks up and the trees too herd their young nearer to safety.
Gil-galad picks up a leaf that falls before him and regards it questioningly. The motif builds as he turns it over and sees a darkness spreading across its veins. Sauron’s theme interleaves with this new motif.
Away in Rhovanion, Nori approaches the crater where she descried the mysterious heavenly body crashing in an explosion of flame. Sauron’s theme segues into the new theme and the choir erupts as she looks down into the crater in amazement to see a man lying curled up at its center.
I find it interesting how the themes for the Stranger and Sauron seem intertwined. I don’t necessarily think it suggests the Stranger and Sauron are the same person or that they are allied – the Stranger could be one of the protagonists sent to contend with Sauron – but it certainly seems to hint that there is a close connection between them.
WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE
The music for the end credits is strangely ominous, the choir transitioning from deep male guttural voices to high female vocals, culminating on a seemingly unresolved note.
If I may say so, the credits sequence quite gave me Gollum’s Song vibes, and felt very reminiscent of the end credits of The Two Towers, which itselfhad a powerfully ominous ending complemented by Emiliana Torrini’s haunting vocals.
I am the type of person who likes my first experience of a soundtrack to be within the context for which it was written, and I am refraining from listening to any music until I watch the show. My thoughts here are therefore based on first watching the episode, and then subsequently listening to its accompanying score (Amazon is releasing definitive albums for each episode after their respective airdates; here is the album for Season 1: Episode 1: A Shadow of the Past).
After having watched Episode 1, I feel I can lay aside my apprehensions about Bear’s association with the music for Middle-earth. I was afraid it might’ve sounded like any other “epic” movie music (which my ears have become a little more aware of in things I’ve watched ever since discovering the music of The Lord of the Rings films); but I am so ecstatic that Bear’s score feels uniquely organic to Middle-earth, and evocative of it.
While it is different from Shore’s, it still feels complementary to it, and in the words of Bilbo Baggins, I sheepishly venture to admit that “I think I am quite ready for another adventure”.
About the author
I have been associated with TheOneRing.net since the early 2000s. I consider myself a casual fan of Tolkien, Peter Jackson’s films, and Howard Shore’s scores. I am not a writer or musician, but I enjoy pondering over and talking about the music and songs of these adaptations in my own amateur way; and describing how they make me feel. I am more interested in the thematic and evocative nature of this music than in the analysis of its structure and composition.
Here are some interviews I have conducted in the past with vocalists from The Lord of the Rings films.
Plan 9 & David Long – Composed and performed diegetic music for Frodo’s “chicken dance” at Bilbo’s Birthday party, Merry and Pippin’s Drinking Song at the Green Dragon Inn, “A Elbereth Gilthoniel” which Frodo and Sam hear when watching the Wood-elves leave Middle-earth, and Éowyn’s Dirge at the burial of Théodred.
Miriam Stockley – Performed “The Footsteps Of Doom” in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Hilary Summers – Performed “Gilraen’s Song” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition).
The debut of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime Video is in many ways a new age of Middle-earth adaptation. Set firmly in the Second Age, thousands of years before the events of the The Hobbit, this TV series sets out to explore the the age of settlements in Middle-earth when the civilizations of elves, men and dwarves were at their peak.
It’s an era many Tolkien fans never expected to see on screen, as J.R.R. Tolkien had only bullet-pointed the big things that end up relating to the events of the Fellowship. So how did a TV series based on the appendices, or notes at the end of The Return of the King, end up with a billion dollar budget?
Let’s look back:
November 15, 2017
In a surprise announcement nobody saw coming, Amazon and the Tolkien Estate announce a new alliance — the TV series rights to The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings books, and everything contained in them. The deal included tons of stipulations:
Only a TV series, no films or made-for-TV-movies
Multiple TV series are OK
Must be in production within two years (to avoid development issues like what happened with The Hobbit films)
Cannot retell what’s been told on screen
Tolkien Estate or family must be involved
Additional rights to characters and stories may be available on a case-by-case basis
$1 billion budget for Season 1 (including the rights purchase price)
How does this differ from the rights Peter Jackson used to win all those Oscars? J.R.R. Tolkien had sold the film rights to United Artists (founded by Charlie Chaplin) back in 1968 to help his family cover any death & estate taxes that were to come upon his passing. Later he claimed it was his own naivety that these rights were sold in perpetuity — basically for all time. The film rights would never again revert back to the Tolkien family for total control, and Saul Zaentz bought those rights from UA in 1976, immediately making animated films from Rankin & Bass and Ralph Bakshi, then later working with Peter Jackson. Saul Zaentz died in 2014, his LOTR rights were sold to Embracer Group in 2022, and Amazon acquired United Artists/MGM in 2022.
The only thing not included in those forever rights were to a TV series “over 8 episodes long”, and the family realized TV production may actually be able to tell some stories at quality and scale. They requested pitches from all of Hollywood, and it was Jeff Bezos personally who shared his love for the books and offered an amount showing that passion: $250 million. It was perfect timing as the streaming wars were just heating up, and Amazon had just created a department called “Amazon Studios” which had been searching for a major franchise to use as the tentpole and foundation for their video experiment.
Christopher Tolkien announces he is handing over management of Middle-earth to the next generation. His life-long focus on the expansion of Middle-earth was primarily through book form. With his oversight, the deal with Amazon was done, creating a canvas for the next generations of Tolkien family to make their mark on the Legendarium. Christopher Tolkien would pass on to greener shores three years later in January 2020, at the age of 95.
After receiving Spy Reports, TheOneRing.net reports that Amazon’s massive TV series will be about YOUNG ARAGORN. The single-sourced news breaks the internet and trends above the royal baby’s birth, but is never confirmed by the studio. Four years later, ESQUIRE confirms the early rumors as one of many pitched to the studio.
Dream job confirmed! Writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay announced as the showrunners for the Lord of the Rings TV series. While unknown to any fan, and with an empty IMDb credits page except for an unproduced Star Trek script, these guys were well known to Hollywood insiders as insanely talented script doctors (a job that never gets credited) and Tolkien uber-geeks. They couldn’t help but be compared to another big fantasy show with two unknown showrunners: Game of Thrones.
After nearly a year of of silence, innuendo and discourse, LOTR on Prime springs to life with a single tweet: Welcome to the Second Age. A map is revealed showing Númenor, a place fans never thought they would ever see.
Who’s in charge of LOTR? Amazon drops a surprise creative team video introducing showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, along with an all-star team of peak TV writers, legendary Tolkien artist John Howe, and Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey.
The inclusion of Tom Shippey allows fans to breathe a sigh of relief as a trusted name in Tolkien scholarship is on board to make sure the lore is managed fairly. Amazon later chooses to abandon this LOTR youtube channel and posts all future content on the broader Prime Video channel.
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.
Production begins in New Zealand as Amazon finally announces the cast of of what NZ locals called “Untitled Amazon Project.”
COVID-19 takes the world by storm. Production is shut down as the entire island nation of New Zealand goes into lockdown. Nobody is allowed into the country.
Summer (or NZ Winter) 2020
Production resumes in NZ under new pandemic protocols, one of the first countries in the world to get back to work. Tons of movies & TV shows try to film in NZ but find that LOTR is so large it has hired nearly all the best entertainment people in the entire country. The country’s covid-zero policy limits who can fly into the country on a very selective basis with long hotel quarantines. This in effect leaves the LOTR creative team to film the show they want with minimal studio involvement (Amazon Studios are based in Los Angeles). It also limits what marketing can do, as there are no press set-visits due to lockdown. The entire show basically becomes a big dark secret and leaks are few and far between.
Reports of nudity in Amazon’s LOTR show reach fever pitch. Based on casting descriptions for background extras “comfortable with sheer clothing” and the hiring of an “intimacy coordinator” the fan reaction was loud and swift. Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway eloquently laid out the responsibility to the lore here on TORn.
Show synopsis leaks to the TheOneRing.net as this site begins to receive bits of information from people excited about the work they are doing on the production.
TORn reports that Tom Shippey is off the project, later confirmed by Dr. Corey Olsen (The Tolkien Professor), beginning a long and tense conversation between fans and studio. In the absence of official releases, incomplete information will continue to fill the air for the next year and a half.
In the weeks after we reported several other high-profile departures include lead designer Rick Heinrichs, the pause or possible disbanding of the writers room, and an unsubstantiated narrative began taking form of a troubled production playing loose with lore.
Whereas we had a constant trickle of information and leaks during Peter Jackson’s productions, this was an explosion of information on the secretive show — and a method of delivery that Amazon would employ for official releases going forward.
Aug 2 – Untitled Amazon Project (UAP) wraps production in New Zealand with a massive party for the large crew & cast. NZ is still in lockdown with strict restrictions on travel into the country.
Aug 3 – First OFFICIAL image from the LOTR show is released featuring… the light of the Two Trees before the First Age! No context is provided of who the foreground character is or what we are looking at, only that it is a still from the opening of the first episode. Fans debated what is going on as this is clearly not the Second Age, not Numenor, not even in the Middle-earth map they had released earlier. Does Amazon have rights to this era? What story are they telling? Without any context, an all-star fan group spent hours analyzing every pixel.
Aug 12 – Amazon Studios in Los Angeles announce Season Two production is moving to the UK – allegedly to the surprise of all involved including actors, producers, vendors, workshops and even the NZ government who had offered a generous tax break on the basis of a production keeping kiwis employed for multiple seasons.
An unmarked package arrives at TORn HQ — a wooden box with a copy of the complete LOTR saga — and leather bookmark at the first page of the Appendices. We confirm for the first time that Amazon’s rights begin and end within the pages of that one book — The Lord of the Rings (and any Second Age references they might glean from The Hobbit) — but every single word is up for expansion. For example , the two-sentence mention of Harfoots in Chapter One begat an entire storyline for a set of TV show characters.
The title of the show, after nearly 5 years of mystery, is revealed to be The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Amazon reawakens with a new name — Prime Video — and launches a deluge of official releases
Feb 3 – 22 character posters given to 22 influencer and media outlets (without context of who the torsos belong to) keep fans guessing who and what we are looking at.
Feb 10 – Vanity Fair publishes a FIRST LOOK with photos from the production, interviews with the showrunners, and a complete overview of the billion dollar mysterious show. TORn chatted with the co-writer of the article for even more details.
Feb 13 – Super Bowl trailer. FINALLY some footage! We spent 6 hours analyzing the trailer!
Feb 15 – The infamous “Superfans” video
While TORn parterned with some of the best voices in fandom for an epic 6-hour trailer review livestream featuring Ph.Ds, tiktokers, studio and media execs, stan twitter and lore YouTubers, Prime forged in secret another Super Bowl trailer review. Flying out dozens of fans to the Spanish island Mallorca to an old castle ruins in the middle of the night, they showed them the trailer, then filmed an hour long discussion about the excitement of the trailer. But the final edit posted to YouTube was three minutes of cringe with very little discussion about Tolkien or Middle-earth, instead focused on inclusion and diversity. Participants in the video were shocked how it was edited. While nearly all fans agree that representation matters, the video was tone deaf for the time and place and target audience. Given the frustrations of a near-blackout of information for three years combined with a series of no-context releases, it was a stunningly bad effort that was quickly deleted. They do know that what matters to Tolkien fans is… Tolkien. Right?
Online discourse really heated up in the wake of this monster drop of releases. A lot of the old, tired voices of hate and bigotry — some of the same ones that took issue with Ian Mckellen playing Gandalf because he was gay — now started criticizing the idea of diverse cultures in Middle-earth. To be clear, Tolkien rarely describes skin color, and he made a conscious effort to write stories that everyone around the world could see themselves in. This would come to dominate social media chatter about the show for the next six months, but cooler minds knew better than to focus on it.
Prime Video flies out Tolkien influencers from around the world to London for a preview of the show. The “London 30” represented nearly 10 million core followers from eight different countries, with over a dozen published books on Tolkien between them. This second effort at working with Tolkien fans went much better, with an intimate setting and controlled environment. Some got more enthusiastic about the show, but more importantly most everyone came away with confidence in the creative leadership — a vacuum that had existed since the Tom Shippey news a year earlier.
Separate from Amazon and Tolkien Estate, the film rights to LOTR long-held by Saul Zaentz are sold to video game publisher Embracer Group for a rumored $2 billion. Everyone expected Amazon and Jeff Bezos to win the auction for the rights — after all, they had already spent $250 million just for TV rights, half a billion dollars producing one season, and $8 billion for MGM which included some Hobbit rights. Spinoff movies and games are going to happen no doubt, independent of the TV show.
The screenings of power! Prime begins previewing the first two episodes to fans around the world. LA, Mexico City, NYC, Mumbai and London all got big preview event screenings, which fans were invited to.
Then on August 31, Prime Video rented hundreds cinemas in eight countries for free screenings of the two-part pilot directed by J.A. Bayona.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power debuts on Prime Video streaming service at 9pm ET Thursday Sept 1, before settling into its weekly release of 11:59pm ET every Thursday night.
Since that first announcement in November 2017, this five-year journey to TV screens, full of rumors, leaks, fan events and a pandemic, has been an incredible experience for all involved — but especially the hard working cast and crew that have grown closer together through all the trials and tribulations. We can’t help but see many parallels to the Peter Jackson films, where that cast formed lifelong bonds of family and friendship. This new cast of LOTR really feels like a family as we journey into the next five seasons of this Middle-earth adaptation. Congrats to all for a well-reviewed start to the show!