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Everything We Know About Amazon's Lord Of The Rings Series So Far

When Amazon announced on November 13, 2017, that it had beaten out the likes of Netflix and HBO to purchase the global television rights to The Lord of the Rings, fans everywhere let out one big collective... sound of some sort or another. Some shouted with joy, while others moaned in the fear that their beloved Middle-earth was about to be sullied.

In a certain sense, it was a bit surprising that a show was already being produced after two extremely successful trilogies were made out of the source material over the last two decades. Okay, so the Hobbit movies were only just okay, but the Lord of the Rings franchise was a watershed moment in cinema history, tackling a story many thought was too difficult to climb and walking away with a boatload of cash and a mantel full of awards. Needless to say, the series faces a tough act to follow.

Shows as huge as this one's aiming to be aren't produced overnight, and the months since the announcement have slowly begun to yield fruit from the rumor mill. Here's everything we know about Amazon's Lord of the Rings series so far.

$250 million was just the tip of the iceberg

When the news first broke that Amazon had won the bidding war over Tolkien's world, the biggest part of the story was their price tag, which came in at a colossal $250 million. How did they even get the rights? J.R.R. Tolkien's son Christopher had famously scoffed at any cinematic adaptation of his father's works, and as the executor of the estate, he put the kibosh on any dealings beyond the rights that had already been sold. But in 2017, Christopher retired from the Tolkien estate at the age of 93, opening a new era for the rights of the monumental world of Middle-earth. Amazon had swooped in, checkbook at the ready.

While this is a tragic development for some diehard fans, it's also an opportunity with a huge amount of potential. And while choices like actors and storylines will play a major role in deciding whether the new series does a good job of honoring Tolkien's creation, the fact that Amazon is looking at pouring upwards of a billion dollars into five seasons of the show is a good sign. At the very least, it shows commitment.

Prime desperately needs a flagship series

Nearly every streaming platform and bigwig cable network has its signature series. HBO has Game of Thrones, Netflix has shows like Stranger Things and Orange Is the New Black, Hulu has its Handmaid's Tale series, AMC has The Walking Dead. While Amazon has produced a large stream of original content, none has quite reached that top tier of popularity.

That's why, as the years have ticked by, it's become imperative that Amazon Studios find that one "mega-show" that will have people signing up for Prime just so they can tune in. But it's still going to be an uphill battle. Has it even been long enough since the conclusion of the original trilogy? Can Amazon prove that taking us back to Middle-earth so soon after the LotR and Hobbit trilogies is actually a good idea and not just something we'll all watch merely to see what a $1 billion version of Tolkien's vision looks like?

They've got their showrunners

Amazon has already announced who will have the responsibility of manning the helm of the storyline and overseeing the writing team for the project. After listening to a number of pitches from various candidates, they've officially settled on not one but two writers: JD Payne and Patrick McKay. They're relatively new, but their current resume includes involvement with the Star Trek Beyond script and its sequel as well as participation in projects like Godzilla vs. Kong and Disney's upcoming Jungle Cruise.

It's a track that's conspicuously missing television experience, but the Game of Thrones writers didn't have a TV background either. Whatever the case, the task before these two brave souls is nothing short of monstrous. Middle-earth is a fantastically complex world that doesn't tolerate tampering very well — which is why it doesn't make things easier to know that the show might not even be working from existing, Tolkien-written storylines.

A return to Peter Jackson's world?

Amazon has worked out deals with New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. as well, which may mean they'll be allowed to use not only the raw content of Middle-earth itself but also Peter Jackson's epic onscreen representation of it. When someone mentions The Lord of the Rings, chances are it's going to invoke thoughts of Viggo Mortensen brandishing a sword, Elijah Wood holding a ring, or Ian McKellen with a big hat and a staff.

Over the course of the previous two trilogies, Jackson's version of Middle-earth has cemented itself into the collective conscience; having access to use the characters, actors, landscapes, sets, and storylines depicted in the cinematic versions of the books would help Amazon spin their entire series as more of a continuation rather than a remake.

But while the Jacksonian Middle-earth might be available to the producers, Peter Jackson himself is decidedly not. In an interview conducted in June 2018, the director firmly denied any involvement in the project. After being thrown onto the set of the Hobbit movies at the last minute, it's not a surprise that he's ready to retire with the Valar in the Undying Lands.

An Aragorn prequel, you say?

If Amazon has managed to get the rights to both Tolkien and Jackson's Lord of the Rings canons (even if it doesn't necessarily include other material from the Silmarillion or other works) it would naturally benefit them to cover things that have not been filmed yet, in a sense filling in a larger picture rather than recoloring in a part that's already been finished. While it is still difficult to confirm how much of Tolkien's other works outside of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit movies have actually been included in the deal with Amazon, even from within the Appendices of the Return of the King there are a host of various plot lines that could be followed, although they would need quite a bit of embellishment to occupy an entire series.

One rumor, in particular, is that the first part would focus on a younger version of Aragorn. The beloved character (played by Viggo Mortensen in the film adaptation) has a significant backstory that is talked about for several pages in Appendix A part V of the Return of the King. This includes his first meeting with Arwen, a sort of tutelage/partnership with Gandalf, and a career fighting with both the armies and navies of Gondor and the hosts of Rohan. If Amazon goes this route, it would not only be fertile territory for new stories but would nestle them comfortable in the hands of a character that everyone is already familiar with.

Living without Sirkis

Another obvious question is whether any of the old cast will be involved in the new Amazon show. It's been a while, and many of them are significantly older, but on the other hand, it's not like we're so far removed from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies that you can just recast everyone and expect viewers to not have some kind of inner struggle replacing characters in their heads.

One person who could have had a much easier time reprising his role: the esteemed Andy Serkis, who played Gollum. Having done most of his acting in a mo-cap suit, and only showing up as himself onscreen once in the beginning of The Return of the King, one would think that Serkis would be a perfect candidate to join the new show. But in an interview with ScreenCrush, Serkis made it clear that he didn't see himself being any part of it, mentioning that in his opinion he thought they were looking for "a completely fresh, new approach to it all."

Dominic Monaghan's one condition

Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, played by Dominic Monaghan, was another heartwarmingly endearing character from Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and one that fans would no doubt love to see again. When asked in an interview what he would do if he "got the call" to play Merry again, rather than give a straight yes or no, Monaghan got a bit philosophical.

As far as Monaghan's concerned, it really depends on how they go about telling the story. If it was told from the perspective of the hobbits when they were older, "reminiscing on their journeys," he would do it in a heartbeat. But ultimately it seems that his goal would be to help bring attention to what is rapidly becoming the classic Peter Jackson version and then leading the audience on, further back to the roots of the books themselves. It's a noble sentiment, but almost certainly not the direction that the new show is heading. The real takeaway from the interview? Monaghan hasn't been asked to be a part of the new venture yet.

Once a Gandalf...

One actor who's made it plain that he's actively interested in returning to Middle-earth is a man who already got to make the return trip. Sir Ian McKellen created a lasting impression with his portrayal of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, and he's made it clear that he has no intention of passing the baton. When speaking on Graham Norton's BBC Radio show he got defensive over the question, declaring, "What do you mean another Gandalf?"

McKellen added that the only reason he hadn't accepted the role as Gandalf at that point was that it hadn't been offered to him yet. Questioned about his age, he quipped, "Gandalf is over 7,000 years old, so I'm not too old," and added, "are you suggesting someone else is going to play it? Who would be suitable?"

If someone could just let Amazon know we've got the Sir Ian McKellen waiting on standby, please?

John Rhys-Davies defends Jackson's creation

There can be no doubt that the global reputation of J.R.R. Tolkien's world was enhanced when Peter Jackson created the hallmark Lord of the Rings trilogy nearly 20 years ago. And while some of that sheen wore off throughout the overly long Hobbit trilogy that followed, it still proved a point: Tolkien fans are always excited about the prospect of getting more Middle-earth. But while many of those fans were euphoric when they heard Amazon was going to deliver, there was one actor from the original trilogy that called foul.

In a phone interview with John Rhys-Davies — who plays Gimli, son of Gloin in Lord of the Rings — Duncan Bowles of Den of Geek asked what he thought about the new series. The response was more charged than one might expect. After a sigh, Davies said he didn't know why the series was even being considered, apart from a desire to make money, and added that he thought it was a disgrace and "poor Tolkien must be spinning in his grave." While Amazon can (and already has) refused to comment, they should take it as a warning of potential blowback if they don't treat the narrative with the respect that so many fans already do.

It's a major risk, but people will watch

Finally, we return to the question that's loomed over the entire Amazon/Lord of the Rings situation from day one: is this actually a good idea? Many think not, especially with the constraints of having to create new plots from sections of the story that Tolkien didn't even bother going into detail with himself.

The truth is, everyone's going to watch this, if only because we all want to know what it'll actually look like. But — and this is a big but — will it be another Tolkien-inspired masterpiece crafted with care and worthy of remembrance? Or will it be just another uninspired return a beloved property that abandons hardcore fans to chase that feeling of excitement from the originals without ever quite finding it? While the early stages of pre-production continue to move forward with ever-increasing momentum, all we can do is wait and see.