A Show of Hands for Amazon’s The Rings of Power: Speculating on What We Know So Far

Amazon has done a pretty good job tossing up tantalizing nuggets about their upcoming 5-season Lord of the Rings series. First it was those varying maps of differing time periods. Then there were some casting announcements with a batch of unfamiliar faces (always a good thing, if you ask me). More recently we saw the “teaser” video announcing the title of the thing: The Rings of Power.

Then on February 3rd, they dropped twenty-three character “posters” depicting hands (some clean, some grimy, some in between), lots of clothes, armor, assorted trappings, weapons, and even some beards. And, of course… rings. These images offer a slew of new details to consider—but mostly for us to speculate about and guess at. And obviously for us all to talk about, because publicity is a thing. Nervous as I am about the whole venture, I’m still happy to see glimpses of some actual Númenóreans, aka the Dúnedain, aka the Sea-kings of Westernesse, aka Aragorn’s ancestors…

So let’s dig into some of this.

…But let’s also not go crazy, either. There are few hard facts here, and it’s impossible to map every detail to established Tolkien lore. Which means a lot of it is fabricated for new stories. First, we still don’t exactly know what rights Amazon has acquired from the Tolkien Estate. How much of The Silmarillion can they even refer to? The whole of the Akallabêth, the Downfall of Númenor? We’ve got so few solid clues about what the show is up to. Most of it can only be conjectured about. So let’s do that! Nerdily and vehemently.

Take this wonderfully bedraggled and apple-wielding, wool-clad chap with a gray beard and a humble bearing. (Click the Twitter link to see the full poster image.)

My book-aligned geek-brain wants to say this is some beggar or wise soothsayer among the non-Númenórean Men of Eriador in the Second Age. That’s what I want it to be. What I’m afraid it will be is a wizard—that is, one of the Istari, coming onto the scene way too early. (In Tolkien’s books, the wizards arrive on Middle-earth one thousand years into the Third Age, specifically to oppose the returning shadow of Sauron after the loss of his One Ring.)

And it is the Second Age this show is primarily concerned with. We know this. All the Rings of Power—the Three, the Seven, the Nine, and finally the One—are going to be the crux of this tale and they start to pop up 1,500 years into the Second Age. Put another way, the Rings of Power are made roughly 1,941 years before Isildur cuts the One Ring from Sauron’s “dead” hand. Of course, Amazon might muck around with Tolkien’s timeline—I’ll be super impressed if they don’t—but for now I’d like to pretend they will be faithful to the timeline. So let’s have a look out the major events marked in The Tale of Years from Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings and see what they’re supposed to be working with.

One important book paradigm is the fact that Sauron’s identity, or even his existence as a threat at all, remains unknown for hundreds of years after the defeat of his boss, Morgoth, which is what wrapped up the First Age. Sure, Sauron was a known foe long before—especially in the Beren and Lúthien story—but for all intents and purposes, he’s long gone. Gil-galad, the last High King of the Noldor, does eventually sense that “a new shadow arises in the East,” but he has no idea who or what it is. Sauron’s been lying low, totally off-grid.

Now, I’m guessing the series won’t begin after the forging of said rings—they’ll want to show them being made—so it needs to get underway somewhere before the year 1500. Númenor is already a significant power at this point and it has not yet fallen under the shadow of evil. Ostensibly the Sea-kings will start off the show as a force of good. How better to appreciate and shake our heads at their eventual corruption and fall? They’re a kingdom of Men graced by the Valar with long (but not immortal) life, whose stature, skill, and technology are superior in skill to their mortal cousins on Middle-earth.

All right, so the Rings of Power get underway in the realm of Eregion around 1500, then Sauron finishes the One in 1600, and that’s his big reveal: when the fair guise of Annatar is lifted and the Elves become aware of Sauron. And because his ring scheme fails he’s pissed and starts gearing up for war. Yet Sauron himself doesn’t go to Númenor and start prepping it for its downfall until the year 3,262. That’s a HUGE gap of time.

Does Amazon plan on somehow cramming the ring-forging events together with the fall of Númenor? I hope not. Those two things can’t really happen at the same time. They’re separated by more than a millennium. But I can well imagine Amazon compressing the timeline. Which I’m not wild about. But I get it.

Anyway, let’s get back to some of these posters.

Apple Dude could be just about anyone. Tom Bombadil, for all we know. But let’s say he’s a wizard. Like Radagast or one of the Blue wizards? Then either Amazon is (1) dragging Third Age events into the Second or (2) establishing the basic concept of wizards early and quite apart from the Istari. That is, making it a vocation of its own distinct from the divine agents sent by the Valar. Is that do-able? Only with some fudging. I get the sense that Amazon wants to be able to throw around the word “wizard” to rope in more people familiar only with Peter Jackson’s films.

In Unfinished Tales, the first line of the “Istari” chapter is:

Wizard is a translation of Quenya istar (Sindarin ithron): one of the members of an ‘order’ (as they called it), claiming to possess, and exhibiting, eminent knowledge of the history and nature of the World.

Rather than making the word synonymous with the Istari who came in the Third Age (Gandalf, Saruman, etc.), they could just be trying to establish wizard as a classification for worldly sages. Consider the way hobbits regard Gandalf in Bilbo’s youth; he’s known as a “wandering wizard,” which implies some idea of wizards in general. The sort of old men who tell wonderful tales at parties and give enchanted diamond studs to the Old Took. Who bring fireworks. Who whisk otherwise sensible hobbits off onto adventures.

And look, anything we see as anachronistic could be explained as being part of a framing story, be it wizards or hobbits. Maybe the setup is a hobbit and a wizard in the early Fourth Age discussing the events of the Second? So then the show could freely toggle back and forth through time as it pleases. Wouldn’t it be neat if the frame story was a group of hobbits (Harfoots, Fallohides, and Stoors) visiting Rivendell and discussing the past with some lingering Elven loremaster (why not Celeborn, who stays there after Galadriel has sailed West)? By this point, Gondor and Arnor have been restored by King Elessar.

So who else do we see in these posters? Many speculations abound on social media, and there are some insights I don’t want to take any credit for. So let’s just look at just a few. Such as Spikey over here.

If this isn’t Sauron, it’s sure meant to invoke the aesthetics of Mordor. If it is the Dark Lord, it’d need to be either pre-Annatar Sauron or post-Rings Sauron; the whole time he’s in his Groucho Marx-mustache-and-glasses mode, adopting his Annatar persona, he is fair-seeming and wise and super charismatic. Curious aside: I’m doubtful that Amazon would incorporate anything from The Nature of Middle-earth into their show, but in that book we learn that while he was “cozening” the Elves as Annatar, Sauron couldn’t simultaneously exert his dominance over all the Orcs. Which is why, once he’s unmasked, it takes him ninety years to get ready for war.

This dark-armored, sword-wielding individual might also be a Ringwraith, maybe the Witch-king himself. But the Nazgûl aren’t supposed to show up until more than five hundred years after Sauron wages war with the Elves. Of course, this could be a red herring. Whether Spikey is Sauron or not, one of the other poster characters could also be him as Annatar. Like Goldy Frocks over here.

I mean, probably not. That’s more likely a Númenórean king, like Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, or just an ostentatious Elf-lord (that doesn’t feel quite right, but you never know), what with all those shiny rings. Elves do like shiny things, especially the Noldor. Speaking of rings, while we’re seeing how popular rings are among some Second Age races, not too many of the ones we see in these posters are candidates for actual Rings of Power, since the sixteen Rings of Power each bore its own gemstones. Unless some of the rings we’re seeing here are the mere “essays in the craft before it was full-grown,” as Tolkien put it.

I think Amazon just wants to put the idea of rings in our heads.

But not all the rings shown here are fancy. In fact, we see quite a range of social classes represented: fine robes and armor, homespun cloth, well-worn cloaks, vocational trappings, and even weapons. A tool of agriculture in the hands of one who could be a peasant or noble; country folk with their hard-won fruits; mariners or explorers with practical gear; a lordly hand holding the Sceptre of rulership of Númenor; a red-robed figure holding a scroll (Elrond? Celebrimbor?); a red-dressed woman with a book; a white flower held in sun-browned hands.

Now this is surely a red-bearded Dwarf king, or at least a weaponsmith.

This could be Durin II or III, the king of Khazad-dûm. Remember, these are the “happier times” when the Elves and Dwarves got along and set up doors with easy-to-remember friendly passwords. Some have translated the runes on that hammer as “Awake, sleeping stone.” Note the gold dust on his hands, which we see on some others’ fingers as well. Is that symbolic for the works of the Dwarves and the lust for gold that the Seven Rings given to them by Sauron will stir in their hearts, or is it merely the byproduct of their craft?

This one’s unfamiliar jewelry and golden robes could suggest Dwarves or the Haradrim. Her skin is dark, but she doesn’t look like an enemy, which is encouraging. Harad is a land and culture ripe for exploration! Her shirt has a kind of beard-like flowing pattern, doesn’t it? Which has me thinking of Dwarves again. If they were being faithful, Amazon would be sure to give any female Dwarves beards, too. From The Peoples of Middle-earth:

nor indeed can their womenkind be discerned by those of other race, be it in feature or in gait or in voice, nor in any wise save this: that they go not to war, and seldom save at direst need issue from their deep bowers and halls.

But if this is a lady of Harad, what is her vocation? Like all mortal Men, the Haradrim are not inherently evil, but when the Númenóreans go from friends to oppressors, they start demanding tribute from Harad, too. Which does them no favors in the long run, because Sauron eventually pulls the strings in Harad and turns them against the northerners and Sea-kings. But it would be delightful to see peaceful trade between the Haradrim and the people of Númenor and Eriador, at least for a while.

So what are we to do with Horseblade here?

The horsey pommel and reddish armor is obviously going to make us think of Rohan. But there is no Rohan in the Second Age, nor even its predecessor Calenardhon, nor even the Éothéod people where they came from. There were Northmen up in the valley north and west of Mirkwood/Greenwood even in the Second Age, and sure, they were horsemen, but they’d have had little or no contact with anything going on in Eriador—only the mountain-dwelling Dwarves (who they traded with) and the Orcs (who they fought). So it’s a stretch to bring anything even vaguely Rohirric into the Rings of Power story.

However, Númenóreans were superior horsemen as well, so this could just be a red herring. Look at that fishy scale mail. Sea-kings

Still, in one of the maps Amazon teased in 2019, the land of Calenardhon is included. That’s the wide green land in which Eorl the Young would ride to Gondor’s aid and found Rohan. That’s a Third Age event, mind you. So what the heck are they doing? Telescoping forward and backward in time? That could explain this range of cultures across different periods of time. It is a puzzle.

Now it’s time to talk about the two giant trees in the room.

This could be Galadriel, absolutely. Though she’s never called out as a warrior specifically, in some ways I feel like all the Noldor have to fight to last this long. Those dwelling in Middle-earth in the Second Age are just a remnant of the whole. The rest were slain or sailed West. Moreover, Galadriel is tough and able-bodied as heck. In Unfinished Tales, we’re told “she was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth.”

But even if this poster turns out to depict just Elf Warrior #4, this person is almost certainly a Noldorin Elf of Eregion or Lindon. It is the Noldor who looked upon the Two Trees of Valinor and the first ones who would work that memory and admiration into their weaponry. (In the pommel of this Elven dagger, we clearly see represented Telperion the Silver and Laurelin the Gold.) There are going to be wars with Sauron that lay waste to Eregion, so this Elf is poised to be just about anyone involved. Though, if we’re sticking to the text, by the time the Rings of Power are forged, Galadriel and Celeborn have already settled into Lórinand on the east side of the Misty Mountains (future Lothlórien).

So who is Woodsy McArcher here?

I mean, a Silvan Elf maybe… but probably not. The bearded face in the leafy bark armor feels a bit more Mannish to me. If you look at the Second Age (and topmost) map in the ones Amazon has presented, you’ll see regions in southern Eriador called Minhiriath and Enedhwaith. Notice they’re heavily forested? They won’t stay that way. When the Númenóreans go from lordly advisors to demanders of tribute, they do a lot of tree-cutting to make their ships and turn their havens into fortresses, beginning around the year 1800. So this archer would well be one of the hunters of that land fighting against the deforestation. Say, is that barky face meant to be Entish in inspiration?

Or not. This guy might just be a Númenórean with a penchant for woodsy armor. Red herrings, I tell you!

We should probably also address the little people.

Some are calling this one a hobbit, and I can’t gainsay it. If this is Sir Lenny Henry’s Harfoot, who according to the actor is part of “the early days of the Shire,” then it seems most likely that hobbits will be part of the main story after all, not merely part of a frame device. All fine, but how would the doings of such a people not upstage future hobbits or become part of recorded history? If they can really pull it off with those conditions, I’m all for it.

So, Ropey the Man.

This could be Aldarion (from the story “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife” in Unfinished Tales), who’ll eventually become Tar-Aldarion, sixth king of Númenor, if they decide to start well before Sauron starts his ring-based pyramid scheme. Before he takes the Sceptre, Aldarion goes sailing and exploring with his plucky Guild of Venturers. It’s a rich story to mine from, but I’m not sure how it would tie in with the smiths of Eregion so early. In the span of history, Aldarion is especially credited with helping to build up the naval force that crucially comes to the aid of the beleaguered Elves in their war with Sauron.

One of the most evocative images is this one, which of course makes most people think of the broken sword Narsil.

But it can’t be Narsil. Amazon doesn’t have to match Jackson’s version of that sword, no, but this hilt has villainy written all over it. It doesn’t so much look broken (as when Elendil fell on it when he was himself slain) as it looks melted, burned, or scorched. This seems more like a weapon of Mordor (or Angband), and the hand that holds it here belongs either to some hapless shepherd who found it or a future Nazgûl in awe of its power. Just a guess.

Now this next one sure seems both Númenórean and royal.

There are three Sceptre-bearing queens of Númenor that Amazon could work with (of the twenty-five total monarchs), though the spouses of the kings could all be considered. Tar-Míriel, the wife (and, um, cousin) of the villainous final king, Ar-Pharazôn, should have been the fourth ruling queen but was denied her rightful role by her asshole of a husband. Still, this doesn’t seem like her. And what does the white flower signify? Nimloth, the White Tree from whose fruit a seedling is transported to Middle-earth? Now, if the woman represented in this poster is of the royal house of Númenor, these brown-skinned hands are descended from Elros, brother of Elrond and son of Eärendil the Mariner.

And that’s one thing I really like—the range of skin colors shown throughout these posters. It feels right. Seriously, I want Middle-earth to look real, lived in by disparate cultures, and Tolkien didn’t get too descriptive with most of his characters. There is room for everyone. I only hope ethnicities are used consistently with their origins in the text, where he did specify—for example, the Harfoot hobbits are “browner of skin,” per Tolkien himself in the “Concerning Hobbits” prologue of The Lord of the Rings, while the Fallohides are “fairer of skin.” If they follow such guidelines where they appear and stretch a bit further in the unwritten lore, that’s good enough for me. The Edain, the Men who became the Númenóreans, were comprised of several tribes of Men (the Houses of Bëor, Haleth, and Hador, and even some of the Drúedain), so there’s no reason they should all be uniformly pasty, either. I’d be disappointed if they were. Now, should there be some blonds among the descendants of Hador the Golden-haired? Yeah, totally, but from start to finish, Númenor’s history spans well over three thousand years. Plenty of time for genetics to do its thing.

But anyway, this is all just speculation. We’re just getting started. Like a lot of Tolkien fans, I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic. I’m a book fan first, but I’m not a book purist when it comes to adaptation. Amazon is going to do a lot of inventing in The Rings of Power, but while the thousands of years of the Second Age are largely untold by Tolkien himself, there is a still a rich framework to build on. I hope they use it with respect.

If you’d like to hear further discussion and informed speculation that far exceeds mine, you could do much worse than the Who Are These People? video streams (there are already two) from Signum University, led by the Tolkien Professor, Dr. Corey Olsen. It walks through all of these posters and addresses every detail. I haven’t even finished watching them myself…

In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

And one final note: If you’re unfamiliar with the Second Age and haven’t read The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales, consider my overviews of the Second and Third Ages from the Silmarillion Primer:

Jeff LaSala can’t leave Middle-earth well enough alone, and is responsible for The Silmarillion Primer, the Deep Delvings series, and a few other assorted articles. Tolkien nerdom aside, Jeff wrote a Scribe Award–nominated D&D novel, produced some cyberpunk stories, and works in production for Macmillan and Tor Books. He is sometimes on Twitter.

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