BATS Theatre in Wellington, NZ is well-known to our Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie family. Many of the New Zealand actors from the films have performed there, and back in 2011, to save the theatre from eviction, Peter Jackson bought the building in which they are housed. It’s a local theatre which particularly supports new and emerging talent.

Now BATS Theatre are having a fundraiser, supported by Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop. Part of the fundraising effort includes a chance to win epic prizes, including having prosthetic make-up done by Taylor himself! You can read all about it here; there are only a couple more days to enter, so don’t delay, if you’d like to support a worthy cause and maybe win something incredible.

TORn Tuesday’s co-host Justin flew around the world — at his own expense — to experience the first showings of Prime Video’s huge The Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power with fellow fans in NYC and London. Now having seen it twice, after years of the most spoileriffic leaks, here is his review of the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime.

Producers Lindsey Weber, JD Payne and Patrick McKay introducing themselves to fans in NYC

Back in 2002, I sat down in a theater full of fellow Ringers at midnight as an unknown jovial British man with a deep voice walked out to introduce The Two Towers. Andy Serkis had come at the invite of TheOneRing.net to opening night. Nobody knew who he was other than the IMDb credit and 3 seconds of trailer time — and this guy looked & sounded nothing like Gollum. There was also a lot of chatter leading up to the release of The Two Towers that book lovers were terrified of — that the elves had been reassigned from the books to honor the last alliance at Helm’s Deep (ruining Tolkien’s greatest battlefield reunion in The Return of the King). Leaked set pics showed Arwen fighting at Helm’s deep. Jar Jar Binks all-CGI characterization had “ruined” Star Wars, and all-CGI Gollum was ready to ruin Tolkien. 

The lights dimmed. The screen showed the familiar landscapes. Then the camera dived INTO the mountain to replay one of the greatest scenes of Fellowship (natch, film history). Oh great, I thought, another film that does “when we last left our heroes” recap. And then the camera follows Gandalf as he falls into battle with Durin’s Bane, as an epic choral music laments their fall into the great chasm. I lept out of my seat! I couldn’t believe a movie had just shown me things I had never seen before, never expected, and a style of storytelling I didn’t think possible. The Two Towers changed my movie going life, and it is still my favorite of the trilogy.

My Rings of Power take after seeing the pilot episodes twice and really diving into the visual details:

Prime Video’s The Rings of Power brings back that feeling of discovery. It changes what television is capable of. It redefines multi-storyline TV. It completely immerses you in Middle-earth from the start, and delivers an incredible storytelling experience that stays true to the tone of Tolkien while necessarily charting a new path. 

The Rings of Power finally delivers on Gimli’s promise to the Fellowship that his kin would provide a warm welcome in Moria. We finally see dwarven culture at its pinnacle — a fully realized society that is well-fed, well-worked, and well-machined. These dwarves will feel familiar to Hobbit trilogy fans, with great-looking, practical makeup FX (allegedly supported by Weta Workshop), but it’s the characterizations that really take this culture beyond the comedy of the movies. Fans of deep lore will rewatch the dwarven scenes to spot the many Easter eggs of items lost to time in the books.

All the other lands and races are equally fully realized, even the orc culture. We are all aware of the amount of effort needed to accomplish creative at this level thanks to Peter Jackson’s Appendices. It’s obvious hundreds of top creative talent are collaborating on this show. There is a visible sense of pride in the work from all the details both visual and narratively. This is a billion dollar TV show and it shows. It takes that much support to realize Tolkien’s vast imagination — which is larger in the Second Age than the Third Age seen in the films. The Second Age just has more of everything. More societies. More cities. More arid lands. More areas to explore. More destruction. My biggest fear now is that future seasons of The Rings of Power may not get the same generous budget, knowing what enormous cataclysms are to come.

Writing on the show is peak television at its pinnacle. Prime has assembled an all-star fellowship of writers from the best shows on TV — Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Hannibal, Game of Thrones, and more. Absolutely no characters from the vast collective on this show feel cardboard, short changed, nor one-dimensional. Everyone quickly has motivations created and their place in society established. TV has never seen a character break as bad as Sauron, the lord of all the rings, and the pilot episodes set up the stakes for Middle-earth.

J.A Bayona was absolutely the right director to establish the look and feel of this show. From his water work with The Impossible to the dark tones of Penny Dreadful, Bayona captures the existential dread that Middle-earth may not know is coming. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay are living our collective fan dream overseeing this massive project. Their imaginations are reaching for the same great heights that JRR Tolkien famously attempted, yet still under the guardrails and guidelines he established. Tolkien envisioned filmmakers expanding his Legendarium with his “other minds and hands, wielding paint and music & drama” and these guys are up to the task. Having chatted with them many times over the last six months it’s clear that these other and hands are the right ones to continuing shaping the history of Middle-earth.

Fans may forget that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was full of no-name actors. It was Orlando Bloom’s first work, Billy Boyd’s first movie, and the biggest job for the hundreds of longtime kiwi actors. Rings of Power continues that tradition of unveiling top talent on the global stage. These folks are future stars. All the recent discourse of how they look and talk — also things fans also complained about in 2001 — is put to rest the minute the show starts. There is no wink at the camera or in-your-face notice me going on. These performances live in Middle-earth, period. Tolkien’s source text allow for a very expansive visual canon which the filmmakers are developing with the highest of standards. All the fears fans have of this “looking like television” are proven invalid. Better than other space and superhero TV shows, this is Middle-earth looking exactly like it should: the proper continuation of a $6 billion franchise and most-awarded film series of all time. 

Even if it’s not a continuation. We have covered the rights situation numerous times over the last 4 years on this site and on YouTube. Testament to loyalty to JRR Tolkien is the involvement of Simon Tolkien (the current elder family stateman) in the production of the show, and no less that 11 living Tolkien relatives showing up to the London premiere. It’s a privilege to have Royd Tolkien a longtime friend of TORn, but to have his family there at The Rings of Power premiere unlocked a feeling I didn’t know this franchise needed: full support of the sub-creator’s legacy, and a proper continuation of his life’s work. There’s a trust in the show there, now, that I didn’t know was missing.

Royd Tolkien & Justin at the London Screening
Tolkien Professor Dr. Corey Olsen, Clifford Broadway and Nerd of the Rings debate lore of the TV show in NYC

I’m looking forward to the many debates fans will have, and we will have at TheOneRing.net, over the choices made by the filmmakers. I’m reminded of the TORn staff that walked out of The Two Towers theatrical opening, disgusted that Frodo and Sam were at Osgiliath with an unrecognizable Faramir. My favorite film of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings has its detractors and I respect their perspectives, and The Rings Of Power will undoubtedly generate similar debates that can only strengthen our love of Middle-earth. Maybe we should bring back RINGER REVIEWS so all us fans can share our assessment of each of the 50 episodes to come.

As I walked out of that first screening, and now a second one in London, my one word review of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power two-part pilot remains:

PERFECTION.
No Notes.

Huge thanks to all the teams at Prime Video that have supported the fans throughout this journey of creation, for inviting hundreds of fans to these free screenings around the world, for all the support at Comic-Con and DragonCon, and for all the friendly (sometimes intense) conversations as we shared the excitement for this show. Fans are happy to be seen, and will be very happy with the finished product.

Tune in every Tuesday at 8pm ET for TORn Tuesday LIVE with Clifford & Justin, and chat anytime on the TORn Discord at https://discord.gg/theonering

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.”

We’re speaking via a slightly crackly telephone hook-up just a couple days after the voice casting announcement that includes the news that renowned Scottish actor Brian Cox will be Helm Hammerhand, while Miranda Otto makes an unexpected return to Middle-earth as Éowyn in a narrative role.

An oral tradition

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 concept art for The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim

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.

Boyens agrees with TORn’s suggestions about why Mûmakil might be present at the siege of Edoras.

“A lot of your supposition was right in that article from our viewpoint,” she says. She more or less adds only a single word to that: mercenaries.

“I think it works. I think it’s not against what you could infer from what we know.”

That might perplex some. But Tolkien Gateway seems to provide an element of support: the word “Variag” (as in the Variags of Khand) is a Slavic word derived from the Norse Varingar — “mercenary people”.  Moreover, Tolkien’s notes to translators imagined the Corsairs as “similar to the Mediterranean corsairs: sea-robbers with fortified bases”. During the 16th Century, the Barbary Corsairs of the Mediterranean regularly used wealthy backers to finance their raids, in turn paying them a share of the plunder.

“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.

War of the Rohirrim title lgo

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.

If you have a Tolkien/Middle-earth inspired poem you’d like to share, then send it to poetry@theonering.net. One poem per person may be submitted each month. Please make sure to proofread your work before sending it in. TheOneRing.net is not responsible for poems posting with spelling or grammatical errors.

‘The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.’ These words, spoken by Haldir in The Fellowship of the Ring, were undoubtedly true for Tolkien, having lived through two world wars; and each generation in turn lives through their own days of peril and uncertainty – and hopes to find love growing greater.

Recently, TheOneRing.net received a beautiful message from someone in Ukraine; we were inspired by their acknowledgement of the comfort they find in Tolkien’s writing, and in Peter Jackson’s films. With their permission, we are sharing their words here:

I am in Ukraine. I am want to thanks J. R. R. Tolkien and Sir Peter Robert Jackson for my happy childhood. I am thanks for them showing me courage, hope, and unity against of Mordor. Today for me as any time before, I understand why heroes from The Lord of the Rings fight so hard with sacrifice for freedom of Middle-earth and for freedom of all what is alive including nature (Ents).
I am pray for peace in Ukraine and for free world.
“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” — Galadriel.

The writer also reminded us that ‘Courage is found in unlikely places’ (Gildor). We wish light in dark places for all, and are grateful for the comfort and fellowship we find in Tolkien’s writing, and in the fandom. ‘…hope remains while all the Company is true’ – may we all ‘Be of good hope!’

According to Variety, Amazon has finally completed its $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM.

It was MGM’s precarious financial situation in the mid-2000s that delayed The Hobbit film series and contributed to the departure of Guillermo Del Toro from the production. Peter Jackson subsequently assumed the directorial role.

Amazon says it’s acquisition of “the storied, nearly century-old studio … will complement Prime Video and Amazon Studios’ work in delivering a diverse offering of entertainment choices to customers.”

Variety reports that the buy followed merger approval by the European antitrust regulator. That body’s review decided that overlaps between Amazon and MGM were “limited”.

Readers may recall that the Saul Zaentz Co. also recently announced the sale of its entire holding of Middle-earth IP, and that there is an ongoing legal stoush over whether Warner Bros./New Line Cinema still retains its LOTR/Hobbit film adaptations license. Given the above, it’s not impossible (though the chance is, perhaps, remote) that Amazon could eventually unite all the currently available Middle-earth film and television IP under its own banner.

MGM logo

In the early 1990s, Russian director Roman Mitrofanov began working on an animated version of The Hobbit. The effort ultimately fizzled in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but six minutes of footage survives and can be watched on Youtube to this day.

The footage functions more or less as a prologue that shows not much more than the destruction of Erebor and Dale by Smaug, and was clearly intended to be just the beginning of a complete adaptation.

It’s also full of delightful details such as the bells and the toy-market that Thorin Oakenshield describes to Bilbo during the Unexpected Party.

They built the merry town of Dale there in those days. Kings used to send for our smiths, and reward even the least skilful most richly. Fathers would beg us to take their sons as apprentices, and pay us handsomely, especially in food-supplies, which we never bothered to grow or find for ourselves. […] and the toy-market of Dale was the wonder of the North.

The Hobbit
Treasures under the Mountain, an incomplete Russian adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit from 1991.

The bucolic imagery of Dale also includes a brief view (at approximately 2 mins 12 secs) of several people flying kites over the town square. If one squints just right (the quality is only 360p), one might construe one as having the shape of a dragon even.

Peter Jackson’s rendition of Dale shares many of the same details. Of course, this should not be surprising — they pull from the same source. But an inspection of the text of The Hobbit reveals no mention the people of Dale having kites or gliders. There’s nothing similar in The Lord of the Rings, either, not even when Frodo reminisces with Glóin in Rivendell.

This prompts the question: might Jackson — or one of his crew — have seen the Russian animation, liked the concept, and been inspired to use the kites in a similar fashion as a beautiful and poignant foreshadowing device?

Props to Ringer Raurenkili for the find.

The PJ Dragon kite at Dale from The Hobbit