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The Rings of Power: what you should know about Middle-earth before watching

The battle for Middle-earth draws near with the premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Set long before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this new series will depict Middle-earth’s war with the Dark Lord Sauron during the Second Age and the forging of the titular Rings of Power. This show will be the first big Hollywood adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s acclaimed series of novels since director Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in 2014.

Tolkien’s fantasy world is rich with history and characters that have made it the beloved epic it is today. Though Jackson set a high standard for adapting Middle-earth for live-action with his original Lord of the Rings trilogy, the show creators seem to have done their homework in developing this highly anticipated series. There are plenty of important details about Middle-earth that audiences should be aware of going into this new series. For those who feel they need to refresh themselves on Tolkien’s novels before watching this show, here’s the gist of what audiences will and could see.

Sauron

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In the Second Age, Sauron began his quest to conquer Middle-earth, taking the form of “Annatar, the Lord of Gifts.” While under this fair guise, Sauron tricked the Elves into forging the Rings of Power, which he would later control with the One Ring forged in Mount Doom. Only after the Elves learn of Sauron’s deceit did the Dark Lord begin his bloody war with Middle-earth. Audiences have speculated that the trailers have already revealed Sauron as Annatar via a mysterious figure in white.

The Dark Lord Morgoth

Some people may think Sauron is the greatest threat to Middle-earth, but there was once another. Sauron was once a lieutenant to Melkor, the most powerful member of the immortal Valar. However, Melkor rebelled against his creator, the One God Eru, turned to evil, and became known as Morgoth (essentially making him Tolkien’s version of Satan).

Morgoth plunged the world into darkness by destroying the Two Lamps. He later destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor, slew the Elf King of Noldor, and stole the three Silmarils, which led to the War of the Jewels during the First Age. For his crimes, Morgoth was banished from the world and cast off into the Void, where he would remain until the end of days. Outside of Tolkien’s books, no other media based on his works shined the spotlight on this ancient evil. But since the series seems to be leaning heavily on elements introduced in The Silmarillion, audiences may finally see Morgoth in live-action, most likely in a flashback to the First Age.

The Stranger

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The sudden appearance of The Stranger (played by Daniel Weyman), who falls from the sky on a flaming meteor, seems to be the catalyst for the events of the series. As his name implies, the Stranger’s origins are currently unknown. However, it is possible he is a Maiar (a lesser version of the Valar) sent to Middle-earth in human form to warn the people about Sauron’s return. This visitor could even be the great wizard Gandalf, who famously set Bilbo and his nephew, Frodo, off on their adventures through Middle-earth. Weyman’s character does resemble Gandalf a great deal.

The Two Trees of Valinor

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One of the most striking images seen in the show so far is that of the Two Trees of Valinor. Readers of Tolkien know that the Valar planted these trees to act as the primary source of light in the world after the destruction of the Two Lamps. But after Morgoth destroyed both trees with the help of the primordial spider Ungoliant (the mother of Shelob), the Valar transformed the remaining flower and fruit into the Sun and Moon. Since the series takes place in the Second Age, audiences will likely see them only in a flashback to the First Age, quite possibly before seeing Morgoth destroy them.

Galadriel

Galadriel looks on in The Rings of Power.

As the leader of Lothlorien, Galadriel is one of the most prominent and powerful Elves to grace Middle-earth. Though the books never gave her a big role in the First Age, the trailers for the show imply that its iteration of Galadriel fought in the wars of that era. It is possible that she even fought in the battle against Morgoth, which could explain why she so fears his former lieutenant, Sauron.

The Balrogs

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One of the most notable aspects of the trailers came in the form of the flaming Balrog. Audiences remember it as the creature that fought Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. But the Balrogs have had a long and bloody history intertwined with Morgoth. Like Sauron, the Balrogs were once angelic Maiar that were corrupted by Morgoth, fighting for their master in the War of Wrath before going into hiding. Whether or not they will serve Sauron in this series remains to be seen, but it is clear that at least one will burn itself into the audience’s TV screens. 

Celebrimbor

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This Elven-smith is an important character in Middle-earth’s history, as he is the one who forges the Rings of Power for Sauron. As a member of the House of Fëanor, Celebrimbor carries a great legacy, as his grandfather forged the three Silmarils that were stolen and fought over during the First Age. Perhaps the weight of his family history will factor in his decision to create the Rings of Power, unwittingly setting the stage for another great war.

The Fall of Númenór

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Númenór is basically Middle-earth’s version of Atlantis. This island kingdom was raised from the sea by the Valar as a gift to the Edain who fought against Morgoth. However, Sauron soon became an adviser to Númenór’s king, driving its citizens into worshipping Morgoth through human sacrifice with the promise of attaining eternal life. He eventually convinced the king to invade Valinor and steal the Valar’s immortality. In response, the Eru destroyed the invading fleet, along with Sauron’s body, and sent Númenór sinking into the ocean.

The Hobbits

Audiences got a glimpse of some Hobbits (or Harfoots as they’re known during the Second Age) walking across a field in one of the trailers. This image harks back to how Frodo and his friends set off on their quest to destroy the One Ring. It now appears that a new group of Hobbits will have their own grand adventure in the show. The Hobbits didn’t have such a significant impact on Middle-earth during the First and Second Ages, so it seems the showrunners took some liberties to give them an important role in this new adaptation.

Elrond

Elrond smiles in The Rings of Power.

This legendary elf is widely known to be the leader of Rivendell. But in the Second Age, Elrond served as the herald of Gil-galad, the last High King of Noldor, until the latter’s death at the hands of Sauron. Elrond also has strong connections beyond Middle-earth, as he is the brother of Elros, the first king of Númenór. They will all undoubtedly be a significant part of Elrond’s journey in the series as they all face the Dark Lord’s wrath.

The dwarves and elves

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Both of these races displayed a bitter hatred for each other going as far back as the First Age. Despite this, a scene was revealed at Comic-Con in which Elrond and Prince Durin IV engage in a rock-breaking contest in what appears to be the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm. The state of their relationship is unknown at this point, but given the history between the elves and dwarves, Elrond and Durin’s bond could hark back to the hate-turned-brotherly friendship forged by Gimli and Legolas as they fought for Middle-earth in Tolkien’s books.

The Nazgûl

Also known as the Black Riders or Ringwraiths, the Nazgûl were once nine men who were corrupted by Sauron through the Rings of Power and who were said to include three lords of Númenór. These shadowy figures famously pursued Frodo and his allies during their journey across Middle-earth to reclaim the One Ring for their master. Since audiences will see the creation of the Rings of Power, they will almost certainly see the birth of Sauron’s most terrifying servants.

Isildur

Isildur looks on in The Rings of Power.

This legendary figure is widely known in Middle-earth as the man who defeated Sauron. As the King of Arnor and Gondor, Isildur helped lead the armies of elves and men against Sauron until he sliced the One Ring off the Dark Lord’s hand. While he had the chance to destroy the Ring, Isildur fell under its spell and kept it for himself until his untimely death.

In the series, Isildur will be depicted as a Númenórean sailor who will later become king. Though Isildur will eventually fall victim to the Ring’s power, show developer Patrick McKay claimed that the show will explore the king’s journey until this fateful decision feels more like a tragedy than a foolish mistake.

While it’s unclear how long it’ll be before Isildur faces his destiny with Sauron, this series has the potential to present a long and arduous journey in Tolkien’s epic world.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere on Prime Video on September 1, 2022.

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