For most of the past decade, TV producers have been desperate to find ‘the next Game of Thrones’, and now Amazon apparently reckons it’s found it: Lord of the Rings.
The retail giant has reportedly spent an astonishing $250 million to secure the rights to an ongoing TV show set in Middle-earth, with a commitment to multiple seasons and the potential for a spin-off, all to air exclusively on its own Amazon Prime Video streaming platform.
When is the Lord of the Rings TV series coming out?
Right now… uh, we don’t know. It was only announced that Amazon was buying the rights in November 2017, so the final show is probably a long way off still.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon's contract requires it to enter production within two years, which makes November 2019 the deadline for production to kick off, meaning 2020 is likely the earliest it will hit our screens. Jennifer Salke, Amazon's head of TV and film, even said that airing in 2021 "is the hope," so even 2020 might be quite optimistic at this point.
Whenever it turns up, it'll be an exclusive to Amazon Prime Video, Amazon's rival to Netflix. You can get Prime Video as one of several benefits from a general Prime subscription, with other perks including free next-day shipping and Prime Music.
Prime normally costs £79 a year, but you can always try it for free through a free trial. There are also rumours that Amazon is in talks to launch a totally free, ad-supported version of Prime Video in the future, but it's all uncertain right now.
Cast and crew
The show is a long way off having a full cast, and we don't even know much about who will be creating it behind the scenes. The first official announcement came in July 2018, with news that writing duo JD Payne and Patrick McKay would be "developing" the series, though Amazon stopped short of confirming if they would be writers or showrunners.
You won't have seen anything they've written yet, but they were involved in adapting Disney's Jungle Cruise theme park ride into an upcoming Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt film, and were also busy working on the script for the untitled Star Trek 4 (now unlikely to go ahead) for producer JJ Abrams.
Perhaps more excitingly, in July 2019 it was announced that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona will be directing the first two episodes of the series, and will be an executive producer for the remainder.
You can find even more of the crew in what might be the first ever 'crew trailer' for a TV show, which Amazon itself billed as the reveal of its Fellowship:
Meet our Fellowship. pic.twitter.com/Npouu6ZlRt— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) July 27, 2019
Then just after Comic-Con we get the first little tease of casting: word from Variety that Markella Kavenagh is in talks to play a character called Tyra. And that's it - that's all we know. A character name that may just be a placeholder, and an actor you've probably never heard of.
What’s the show about?
Again, we don’t know much, but we do know a little. For one, the show “will explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,” according to Amazon’s statement - which we now know means before both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Over a series of tweets, Amazon teased the show's setting using lines from the famous 'one ring to rule them all' poem, culminating in a tweet that simply said: "Welcome to the Second Age." When his hiring was announced, director J.A. Bayona later confirmed that audience will "discover the wonders of the Second Age, with a never before seen story.”
The teaser tweets also came with a map which you can find below:
There are a few key things to note here. For those unaware, the 'Second Age' is the period in Middle-earth history when Elrond founded Rivendell and Sauron began to build his power base in Mordor and forge the One Ring. It also saw him wage war with the Elves and other Middle-earth races not once, but twice - the latter including the battle in which the Ring is cut from his hand, immortalised in the prologue to the LotR films.
It's a period that lasts over three thousand years, so we still don't know exactly when - or where - the show will be set. As you can see from the place names on the map, this is a Middle-earth very different to the one seen in the films so far, with different kingdoms, cultures, and names.
Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion of the isle of Numenor in the west - this is the island that the Elves left Middle-earth for, and if the show pays a visit - as looks likely - it'll be the first time it's ever been seen on screen.
Amazon apparently "may use material from the films," and there's even a chance that original director Peter Jackson will come on board as an executive producer, so whatever happens it's likely this will exist in the same universe as the film series, rather than rebooting it entirely.
Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins also explained that Amazon will “bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings,” so we know it will at least partly draw on Tolkien’s writing.
There’s one big unadapted prequel - The Silmarillion - but since it reads more like a history textbook than a novel, it would be tough to adapt into an ongoing show. Still, Amazon could be taking it as a source of loose inspiration - and what we know from the tweet above supports this.
There are also a number of published books based on Tolkien's notes and unfinished writings, such as The Children of Húrin or the Unfinished Tales compilation. Anyone keen to figure out what Amazon's show will cover could do worse than reading all these books, as it's almost certain that Amazon will be drawing on one (or more) of them to tell its story.
The original setting rumour spotted on the Lord of the Rings fan site The One Ring claimed on Twitter that the first season of the show will focus on a young Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen's character from the films. There's a lengthy Twitter thread digging into the details of what such a show might look like (with plenty of niche Tolkien references to back it up), but the most recent developments about the show appearing to be set in the Second Age seem to go against this.
We do know that Amazon has signed a multi-season deal - so it’s clearly confident about the show - and also has the option for a second spin-off TV series if everything goes well.