Strap on your boots and wrap up your lembas bread, after years of anticipation we’re finally about to collectively embark upon Amazon’s by now far-from-unexpected journey back into the epic fantasy universe of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
Showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay have been admirably tight-lipped about the details, but we know for sure that this one’s a little different from the Peter Jackson films. While there are a few familiar names, this is a tale of the Second Age – well before Frodo and Sam – one that takes its inspiration from the history of the world that Tolkien left behind in his Silmarillion and some 150 pages of appendices to the third Lord of the Rings novel, The Return of the King.
It is a period of tenuous alliances between peoples, all of whom will have to be introduced at length: dwarves of Khazad-dûm, humans of the island kingdom of Númenor, elves seemingly everywhere else and harfoots (harfeet?), ancestors of the hobbits, hopping around at waist-height. This is before we even get to the ominous presence of Sauron in the sidelines, and the forging of the 20 Rings of Power. Many have pointed to the colossal amount of money that has poured into this show, but if all 19 new ones appear in this first season then we’re actually down to a comparatively modest $23.25 million per ring.
Before we stride out once again into a vast world spanning many thousands of years and four distinct “ages”, with family trees so dense and sprawling they make those of Game of Thrones look recently pollarded, here is a short introduction to the key characters of The Rings of Power. If you’ve never cracked open any of the intimidating paratexts to Tolkien’s more famous stories but you’re still looking to follow the plot and impress your bespectacled colleagues, search no further.
A familiar one to start with, played by Hugo Weaving in the Peter Jackson films. We meet a younger Elrond here, a half-elf who has chosen to embrace his elven gift and become immortal – unlike his brother, Elros, the original king of Númenor. He’s touring around at the moment surprising dwarves and scheming with fellow looming elf, Celebrimbor.
Perhaps most familiar as the curmudgeonly elven ghost who possesses the protagonist of the two Middle-earth video games, in this time period a (very much alive) Celebrimbor is a master smith, who shares with Elrond his desire to make a legendary forge capable of making powerful artifacts – which may set alarm bells ringing.
Vastly different from Cate Blanchett in The Fellowship of the Ring, we find this Galadriel sailing around like an armoured, piratical Liam Neeson. She is searching for Sauron to try and avenge her brothers, killed long ago in the battle with Morgoth.
Gil-galad is the head honcho Ñoldorin elf, the High King of the Elves of the West. So far he’s a stoic presence, wielding a very heavy looking two-handed greatspear named Aeglos.
Prince Durin IV
Distant ancestors of Thorin “Oakenshield” (leader of the dwarves in The Hobbit), Durin III and Durin IV are the king and prince respectively of the dwarven city of Khazad-dûm in the Misty Mountains, most famed of all the dwarven realms. We’ve seen it before as Moria, but it’s in far better nick here – and its inhabitants seem to be harbouring a secret.
Peter Jackson once said that there were so few references to female dwarves that it is as though the men simply spring out of the ground. Tolkien does briefly describe them as indistinguishable from the men, beards and all. The notably feminine Princess Disa, perhaps more than any of the other new characters, will likely set some fans frothing at the mouth.
Isildur is another familiar character, you likely remember the prat who refused to destroy The One Ring and kill Sauron at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring. He's got a far more significant role to play here, one that riffs on Tolkien to portray him as slightly less of a dolt.
Isildur’s father, Elendil, is the most powerful of the warrior men of Númenor. They’re a dignified, seafaring people, if not quite as sleek as the immortal elves.
In Tolkien’s work, Elendil has two children – Isildur and Anárion. Elendil’s daughter Eärien (Ema Horvath), a creation for The Rings of Power, seems to be the show’s version of Anárion.
Tar-Míriel, inexplicably shortened to Míriel in the show, is the rightful heir to the throne of Númenor and, at the start of The Rings of Power, Queen Regent of the island.
Ar-Pharazôn is a leader of men in Númenor who is noted for his strength and willpower, with a deep-rooted hunger for power and glory. As expected, he's not very nice.
While we’re used to Sauron being the big bad, real Tolkien-heads know that it is Morgoth, the original Dark Lord, who kept the author up at night. Fortunately he’s already cleared off by the time we start, but the characters we meet are familiar with Sauron primarily as Morgoth’s severed right-hand man.
With Morgoth defeated, Sauron has gone to ground in a major way, despite the best efforts of Galadriel. Now though there are signs that he might be coming back, in the form of scrawled sigils, chunks of cursed weapons and, of course, the vile presence of orcs.
Halbrand is one of the enigmatic characters created whole cloth for The Rings of Power, plucked by Galadriel from a raft during a storm. There’s mystery and glimmers of romantic tension, but the elf would do well to remember that strange men lying in oceans distributing swords are no basis for a system of government.
Bronwyn and Arondir
Another pair of characters created for The Rings of Power, Bronwyn is a human woman – a healer in the village of Tirhad, living with her son Theo. Despite the impressive sexlessness of Tolkien’s work, it seems that she has some chemistry with Arondir, a Silvan elf from the woods to the east of Middle-earth.
Another of Amazon’s non-canonical characters, Sadoc Burrows is a harfoot, a sort of proto-hobbit. Harfoots are pleasant, rustic, nomadic types – resident to the lower foothills of the Misty Mountains, where the dwarves of Khazad-dûm make their home.
Nori, Largo and Marigold Brandyfoot are another family of Harfoot hobbits, kicking around the same kind of area as Sadoc Burrows. It is Nori, along with her friend Poppy, who is one of the earliest witnesses to the appearance of a strange figure, fallen from the sky like a comet.
We first see The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) plummeting from the sky like a bolt of fire – which, genre fans will attest, is a key indicator that he’s going to go on to be important. That’s because, of course, he’s actually Sauron; no, wait, he’s Gandalf; in fact, he is Tolkien himself, in a Stan Lee-style cameo… Wiser heads than mine will surely narrow it down.