Executive Producer Philippa Boyens is pretty pleased with the casting for The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
“It’s exciting — we’ve been sitting on it for a little bit,” she says. “[But] it all seemed to come together in an organic way, which is what you want, I think. Suddenly, the right people come to the role.”
Boyens says that bringing in Otto as narrator was not an immediate decision. Rather it was one that gradually emerged.
She explains that Éowyn eventually felt like the natural way into the bloody and grim tale from Rohan’s past.
“Her voice was familiar,” she says. “And then I think it started to come easily for the writers.”
She hopes that it will also help locate the story for film fans who are unfamiliar with deeper cuts from Middle-earth’s history.
Yet that was not the only reason — an oral tradition felt fitting.
“It’s also so fragmentary, what we are dealing with in terms of the source material. It’s little bits of references here and there … so the oral tradition felt kind of right. The oral tradition of her telling the tale, passing the tale on.”
She doesn’t divulge to whom. But one guesses it is likely her grandson, Barahir. Tolkien not only names Barahir in The Lord of the Rings (solving any potential rights-access issues that would arise with her son, Elboron), he is also an in-world scholar and the author of The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.
Helm Hammerhand: a complex and epic role
Boyens says that both the film’s director Kenji Kamiyama, and Warner Bros SVP and producer Jason DeMarco, were well aware of Brian Cox from his recent voice role in the English dub of Blade Runner: Black Lotus.
“They’re huge fans, of course,” she says.
“Weirdly, years ago — and this is me aging myself — I tried to go and see Brian’s performance as Titus Andronicus.”
She describes how this 1987 run of the Shakespeare tragedy directed by Deborah Warner has attained a legendary status.
“It was just one of those ones which was fresh and shocking,” she says.
“And it [the Andronicus role] wasn’t a role — this is from Brian himself — that many of the other actors were interested in taking on. But he connected to it. I couldn’t get a ticket, but I had a couple of friends saw it who were just blown away. And they talked about the way in which his rage was fuelled by this grief. And the underlying horror that was in the storytelling.
“And that kind of resonated with me when we were thinking about the Helm role. Because it just — it spans a lot of different emotions.”
She says the role — and the film — is about delving into Helm’s choices.
“And the mistakes he made as well. And then his acknowledgement of those mistakes. Was there an acknowledgement of those mistakes?” she asks.
At different points she notes Helm’s hot-temperedness, and how he almost certainly under-estimated the Rohirrim lord, Wulf, who after he is outlawed leads the Dunlending invasion of Rohan.
“[Yet], I saw the tales of him slipping out [of the Hornburg] during the siege and attacking the camp for his people as literally someone trying — even with their bare hands – to protect the people as the king should,” she adds.
“So he was a true manifestation of the king-protector.”
Helm’s heirs and the overthrow of Edoras
The grim reality, though, is that Helm is unable to protect his children.
His eldest son, Haleth, is slain when Edoras is overrun and taken by Wulf’s forces while Helm is forced to take refuge in the Hornburg. We touch only briefly on Helm’s other son but I conclude that his Hama’s fate will remain the same tragedy that it is in Appendix A.
Boyens describes the first as a shocking and powerful moment. Powerful, perhaps, for readers, to finally see things they’ve long envisaged through Tolkien’s descriptions; shocking for film fans to see the unexpected — Edoras besieged and overthrown.
On the other hand, Tolkien leaves the fate of Helm’s daughter unclear. In fact, he never names her even though Freca’s bid for her hand in marriage for his son, Wulf, is a key catalyst for war. Boyens concedes that we simply do not know a lot about her.
“Where we turn to, very deliberately, is to Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians. Alfred the Great’s daughter,” Boyens says, and proceeds to provide a rapid-fire education on an era of British history that I’d barely known of until now.
“She never ruled as a queen per se; she’s known as the Lady of Mercians. But she seems to step in when her people needed her.
“Æthelflæd was also really ingenious, which comes into play in the script. [It] was an idea that Kamiyama had, and they (he and the writers) played with that. I can’t tell you too much about it. But it’s about how you save your life when you have very little to work with?”
It’s a statement that seems to suggest that Helm’s daughter – who they’ve chosen to name Héra – will play some key role after the fall of Edoras to Wulf, and the death of Haleth.
“And I really don’t think that Professor Tolkien would hate this,” Boyens says. “Because I always see him as a bit of a Mercian himself being from the Midlands.”
Héra: so named as a nod to the Anglo-Saxon
Unsurprisingly, the name Héra is chosen for alliterative effect: Helm, Haleth, Hama, Héra. Yet Boyens reveals that wasn’t initially the case.
“Someone suggested another name and I went: “Nope, it’s gotta start with “H”, sorry”,” she says.
“Actually, Fran Walsh named her. I told her we were stuck. It’s actually Héra (I get a quick pronunciation lesson and discover the é functions a little like the “ai” in hair) — that’s why it has the accent. Not so much based on the Greek [goddess] Hera, but a nod to the Anglo-Saxon.
“And I like to think she wasn’t a character that [the writers] tried to create wholesale — pulling things out of thin air. Héra is very much drawing from sources that fit with the storytelling that Tolkien himself is drawing on.”
In case you’re wondering, Boyens confirms that neither Fran Walsh nor Peter Jackson have an official production role. It’s more that, since they’re long-time collaborators and have so much experience within Tolkien’s Middle-earth, they’re sometimes just a natural sounding board for ideas.
“I also want to give a shout out to Gaia Wise who voices Héra. I think you guys are going fall in love with her. She is fantastic, she’s amazing. She just had such innate sense of who the character is and how to play her. She was great.
“She had a very natural sense of fiery-ness, but without it being petulance defiance.”
Mûmakil, mercenaries and money
While we’re discussing events at Edoras, conversation inevitably veers toward the Mûmakil that were prominent in the initial concept art released in January.
“In order to understand the use of those [ideas],” Boyens says, “you need to understand the character of Wulf and the position that Wulf is in — and had found himself in. And who he would be turning to.”
At this point she pulls in another fact, mentioning the great wealth of Wulf’s father, Freca.
“His father was not an insignificant Lord of Rohan. He had indeed grown fat and prospered,” she says, referencing Helm’s comment in Appendix A about Freca’s large waistline.
Boyens doesn’t expand any further, but my own guess is that The War of the Rohirrim will establish Wulf as the organising mind behind coordinated assaults on Gondor and Rohan, using resources wealth from his father to secure the assistance of Corsairs and Haradrim.
As Appendix A states:
Four years later (2758) great troubles came to Rohan, and no help could be sent from Gondor, for three fleets of the Corsairs attacked it and there was war on all its coasts. At the same time Rohan was again invaded from the East, and the Dunlendings seeing their chance came over the Isen and down from Isengard.
It was soon known that Wulf was their leader. They were in great force, for they were joined by enemies of Gondor that landed in the mouths of Lefnui and Isen.
A human struggle that becomes increasingly claustrophobic
If this sounds like a very human — and political — struggle, Boyens concurs. I suggest the absence of elves, dwarves and hobbits makes it a very different tale to The Lord of the Rings that most know.
She indicates that this was one of the reasons for choosing Helm’s story.
“It’s not about the Ring, it’s not about the Dark Lord. All of that is very peripheral to the story.”
She says it’s also the attraction of examining honour, revenge and familial ties — on both sides.
For Helm, there’s madness born of grief from the loss of the child. With Wulf, there’s his relationship with his father, and with Héra.
“He is his father’s son, but he has a different character. So he does actually offer [to wed] her and the writers asked: ‘Why?’ What was driving him? Was it just his father demanding that he do this? Was it his ambition? What was at play there?”
Even the historical grievances of the Dunlendings — that the lords of Gondor gave what the Dunlendings felt was their land to the Rohirrim — should come through in the film.
She says that all those things are in the Helm tale.
“When I talked to Kamiyama about it, it resonated with him. So that was the genesis,” she says.
“And there’s a moment in the film, which is incredibly gut-wrenching and powerful where Wulf commits himself to a course of action he cannot turn away from. And once he does that, the story darkens.”
She says it was here that the screenwriters Phoebe Gittins and Arty Papageorgiou really connected with Kamiyama.
“So, yes, it begins with these quite large-scale battles, but it actually becomes more intense and … claustrophobic,” Boyens says.
“And the nature of the film changes almost into a ghost story.
“As the siege takes hold, as the rumours of horror begin to spread. And I can give you a little tease and let you know that, although we said this isn’t about The Ring and this isn’t about the Dark Lord … there are the White Mountains and there are creatures [out there].”
Somewhat to my relief she squashes speculation that she might be referring to the Dead of Erech. Instead, she suggests that orcs inhabited the area — a historically more agreeable inclusion.
“Also, I can just add — and I thought it was, again, really interesting in the way that Kamiyama approached this — this was a long, cold winter that was hurting everyone.”
This suggests that there won’t be space to see Gondor’s own struggles. Gondor may come to the rescue in the end, but it seems the focus will be squarely on a life-and-death struggle within Rohan.
She won’t even confirm or deny the presence of Saruman the White in the film. We’ll just have to wait and see.
About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis.The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net and other staff.
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According to Deadline, Brian Cox is set to perform the English voice role for Helm Hammerhand in Warner Bros. Animation’s upcoming anime feature, The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
Helm Hammerhand is described as the protaganist of the tale, but the real surprise is the inclusion of Miranda Otto. Otto will reprise her Éowyn role from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and serve as the film’s narrator.
The story outline given to Deadline is as follows:
The anime feature, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, is set 183 years before the events chronicled in the original trilogy of films. A sudden attack by Wulf, a clever and ruthless Dunlending lord seeking vengeance for the death of his father, forces Helm and his people to make a daring last stand in the ancient stronghold of the Hornburg — a mighty fortress that will later come to be known as Helm’s Deep. Finding herself in an increasingly desperate situation, Hera, the daughter of Helm, must summon the will to lead the resistance against a deadly enemy intent on their total destruction.
Helm’s daughter is not named in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings. However, the story describes how relations between Helm and Wulf’s father Freca sour dramatically after Freca attempts to use her as a political pawn. Her ultimate fate is one of the mysteries of the ensuing war.
Warner Bros. Animation has also released a new piece of concept art that appears to show Helm at the gate of his eponymous fortress. It’s reminiscent of this scene during the depths of the Long Winter:
One night men heard the horn blowing, but Helm did not return. In the morning there came a sun-gleam, the first for long days, and they saw a white figure standing still on the Dike, alone, for none of the Dunlendings dared come near. There stood Helm, dead as a stone, but his knees were unbent.
The Lord of the Rings: Appendix A.
The voice ensemble also includes Lorraine Ashbourne (Netflix’s Bridgerton), Yazdan Qafouri (I Came By), Benjamin Wainwright (BBC One’s World on Fire), Laurence Ubong Williams (Gateway), Shaun Dooley (Netflix’s The Witcher), Michael Wildman (Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), Jude Akuwudike (Beasts of No Nation), Bilal Hasna (BBC’s Sparks) and Janine Duvitski (ITV’s Benidorm).
Just two rounds remain in this year’s Middle-earth March Madness – we’re down to the final four, facing off against each other in the Semi-Finals! Who has the strength to rule over all?
Let’s take a look back at the Quarter Finals – where none of the battles was as tight as might have been predicted. In a pairing which presented voters with a tough choice, the stout-hearted hobbit overcame his long-shanked foe; Aragorn was defeated by Samwise, with the Ranger unable to claim much more than a third of the vote. This result may surprise some, but then, Master Gamgee has always proved to have hidden strengths and depths.
Division II saw Galadriel going nuclear on Gollum, but still losing to the tricksssy one! Who would have thought that one of the River-folk could overcome a high elf, and a margin of two thirds to one third?
The mighty Maiar match was also not the closely fought duel one might have expected; it must indeed have been Gandalf the White who entered the lists, as he thrashed Saruman, taking over 85% of the vote!
Finally, in Division IV two elves faced off; a high (but half) elf against a woodland dweller. Thranduil may have ridden in on his war moose, but in the end, it was Elrond who came out victorious, claiming about three quarters of the vote.
And now we are down to just FOUR. Samwise vs Gollum – there’s no love lost between these two! Will the faithful gardener be able to overcome ‘Stinker’, or if he lets his guard down, will Gollum defeat the ‘stupid, fat hobbit’? Will it just devolve into a contest of name calling?! You decide!
Gandalf vs Elrond – will the wizard finally teach Half-elven a lesson, for failing to throw Isildur and the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom at the end of the Second Age? Or does Rivendell’s ruler have a trick or two up his voluminous sleeves? It’s up to you – VOTE NOW!
And then there were eight… It’s Quarter Finals time in this year’s Middle-earth March Madness – and Round 3 was a decisive round indeed. The people have spoken, and made it clear that alter-ego interlopers shall go no further; every duel in the last round was won easily by the Professor’s creations.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock) put up the best fight, taking a third of the vote against Elrond. Only two other non-Tolkien characters managed to climb over 20%: Karl Urban’s Leonard McCoy (Star Trek) fought hard but was no real competition for Galadriel, with the high elf in the end claiming more than three quarters of the vote. Alas, another Sean Bean character bites the dust prematurely; Eddard Stark (Game of Thrones) clawed his way to almost 29%, but could not hope to defeat the valiant Samwise Gamgee.
Martin Freeman’s John Watson (Sherlock) was thrashed by Gandalf, and David Wenham’s Carl (Van Helsing) received a similar humiliation at the hands of Gollum. At least, however, they made it into double figures; poor Rudy (Sean Astin) could only manage 7.13% against Gondor’s king. Aragorn’s triumph in that pairing will come as no surprise to anyone.
It was perhaps the ‘schizophrenic’ contests which were most interesting in this round; Christopher Lee faced himself as both Saruman and Count Dooku (Revenge of the Sith), and we wondered which way Lee Pace fans would vote, when having to choose between Thranduil and Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy). Once again, the Middle-earth characters reigned supreme; Count Dooku couldn’t even manage to wrestle 9% of the votes away from Saruman.
So here we are at Round 4 – denizens of Tolkien’s realm all the way! The choices are tougher now; does Sam stand a chance against Strider? Will Gandalf and Saruman throw some break-dance moves in their fight, and will Saruman come out victorious? (Is he facing Gandalf the Grey or Gandalf the White? – you decide!) In the mighty battle of the elves, can Thranduil of the woodland realm possibly pose a threat to Elrond Half-elven? And is there anything the tricksssy Gollum can do, to give him a chance against Galadriel?
Quarter Final voting is open NOW, and runs until 10pm EST on Saturday 31st March. The Semi Finals will then start on Sunday 1st April. You can also take part in the ‘exit polls’ on Facebook, if you want a second chance to voice your opinion! Who looks set to take the ultimate crown this year…? VOTE NOW![Elite Eight] [Round 3 Bracket] [Round 2 Bracket] [Round 1 Bracket]
Sweet Sixteen – the lucky few who have made it through Round 2, to fight again in this year’s Middle-earth March Madness. Let’s take a look at how things stand, as you get ready to vote in Round 3…
Division I has had more than its share of tough choices, with beloved characters facing each other. Round 2 saw Samwise defeat Gimli, Aragorn thrash Frodo with over three quarters of the vote, and Sean Astin’s Rudy beat Dominic Monaghan’s Charlie Pace (from Lost). The big news is that a Sean Bean character still lives! Eddard Stark (Game of Thrones) beat Viggo Mortensen’s Frank Hopkins (Hidalgo), and now faces none other than Master Samwise in Round 3. How to choose?! Do you want to see Eddard Stark make it all the way to the final? Or are you hoping to see Sam face Rudy in Round 4 (assuming that Rudy can get past Aragorn, that is)? Tough decisions to be made…
In Division II, Galadriel soundly defeated Faramir, but Cate Blanchett’s Hela (Thor: Ragnarok) is out! Karl Urban’s Dr McCoy must have had the backing of USS Enterprise to help him come through, in a narrow victory (51.67% to 48.33%). (Hmm, I wonder what would have happened if Hela had been facing Karl Urban as Skurge – also Thor: Ragnarok – instead?) Gollum didn’t have too much trouble against King Theodon; David Wenham’s Carl (Van Helsing) vanquished Miranda Otto’s Mary Ann (War of the Worlds), and now needs to be on his guard against the tricksssy Gollum in Round 3.
The most overwhelming victory came in Division III, with poor Dwalin no match for Mithrandir – Gandalf took over 90% of the vote in that duel! But perhaps shockingly, Martin Freeman’s John Watson (Sherlock) was able to outwit the mighty Magneto, winning by a margin of less than 1%; and this, in spite of our Facebook ‘exit poll’ suggesting that Magneto would win 60-40! No chance, then, of Sir Ian’s two characters meeting in a later round; Christopher Lee, on the other hand, is throwing down against himself in Round 3, with both his Saruman and his Count Dooku (Revenge of the Sith) having been victorious in Round 2. Does a Sith Lord stand a chance against one of the Maiar? They’re both pretty treacherous, having both turned against their original allies and beliefs; but is a lightsaber a match for a wizard’s staff? You decide – vote now!
Finally, Division IV – where Hobbit elves and villains reside with their alter-egos. As expected, Tauriel was no match for Elrond, and was defeated by almost 64%. Hugo Weaving’s other character Agent Smith (The Matrix), however, was unable to stand up to the brainpower of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes. Will Sherlock take over Rivendell in Round 3, to make it the Last Holmely House? (Sorry – couldn’t resist…)
Lee Pace has to fight himself in Round 3, with his Thranduil and his Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy) both winning their Round 2 battles with ease. Pace fans (is there a name for the Pace Army?), whom will you choose??
Round 3 voting is open NOW, and goes until 10pm EST on Wednesday 28th March. Round 4 will then be launched on Thursday 29th. Don’t forget to check out the ‘exit polls’ on Facebook, to see how the duels might play out. And let us know who you’re hoping will become ultimate champion this year, in the comments below! VOTE NOW! [Round 3 Bracket] [Round 2 Bracket] [Round 1 Bracket]
Who has made it through to the second round of Middle-earth March Madness 2018? There were some tough battles in the first round – and difficult choices for voters to make! Frodo vs Pippin; Gandalf vs Bilbo; Kili vs Nori… Whilst we may have a pretty shrewd idea who might win in such contests, it’s tough to have to see some of these characters fall at the first fence…
Some of the results are what one might expect. Galadriel easily overcame Eomer in Division II, with almost three quarters of the vote. In the same bracket, Andy Serkis’ Caesar put up a tough fight, but in the end he was no match for Cate Blanchett’s Hela (from Thor: Raganok), who took just over 60% of the vote. No-one would be particularly surprised to see that Magneto beat John Thornton (Richard Armitage’s dreamy role in North and South, but clearly no match for an X-man); and perhaps it was inevitable, in the clash of mighty wits, that Sherlock Holmes (as played by Benedict Cumberbatch) would beat Oscar Wilde (Stephen Fry).
More surprising was the victory in Division I of Gimli over Boromir. In a closely fought duel, the dwarf took just over 51% of the vote, dismissing any hopes of a Boromir vs Eddard Stark show down in Round 3. Fans will be relieved to know, however, that for once a Sean Bean character has stayed alive – thus far! – with Stark beating Will Turner (Pirates of the Caribbean) to go through to the second round. Now he faces Frank Hopkins, as played by Viggo Mortensen in Hidalgo. Be sure to vote for Eddard if you want to see a Sean Bean role survive to the end!
Another upset was the defeat of Ian Holm’s Bilbo by Faramir. The Lord of Gondor’s success may be short lived, however – he faces Galadriel in Round 2.
In Division IV, Elrond demonstrated that he should have gone with the Company to the Lonely Mountain; he defeated Smaug with a fairly convincing victory of 57.95% to 42.05%. Now the high elf will face the movie elf, Tauriel, in Round 2; we have a pretty good idea how that will go down, but if Tauriel fans come out and vote, you never know…
Round 2 voting is open NOW, and goes until 10pm EST on Sunday 25th March. We’ll announce winners and launch Round 3 on Monday 26th. You can also find some fun ‘exit polls’ on Facebook – a chance to see how people are voting in one or two of the face-offs. Want Samwise to defeat Gimli? Hoping John Watson might overcome Magneto? Keen to see Count Dooku bested by The Doctor? Then join the Madness and VOTE NOW (below)! [Round 2 Bracket] [Round 1 Bracket]