“The Rings of Power” takes place seemingly an eternity before the theatrical Lord of the Rings movies, at the dawn of the Second Age, the time period where the forging of “the rings” takes place. New characters will be introduced, as well as younger versions of immortal characters first met in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy (which is currently streaming on HBO Max, if you’d like a refresher on this world).
Executive producer Lindsey Weber spoke with The Washington Post about the new series — what it hopes to accomplish, its narrative scope, and how it attempts to welcome those who are new to the Lord of the Rings while satisfying die-hard fans.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What is “The Rings of Power” based on? If someone wanted to read this story before they watched it, where would they go?
A: Anyone who has the Lord of the Rings books in their home already has it. It’s based on the appendices, which tell the story of the Second Age. They come at the back of “Return of the King.” For most people, they may be sitting on their living-room shelves already.
Q: “The Rings of Power” reportedly had an enormous budget. Do you feel like you had what was necessary financially to tell the story you wanted to tell?
A: Amazon was very supportive, not just financially but as creative partners. We all really wanted to make the same show, and that is the best environment you can ask for. We did have a healthy budget. It is significantly smaller than has been written about by any outlet I’ve ever seen. No one has written the correct story yet, but we feel the money is on the screen. And as a producer, that’s really your job. I come from the feature film world. This is the first television show I’ve worked on. That’s also true of the showrunners, J.D. [Payne] and Patrick [McKay], and I think of it this way. [“The Rings of Power”] is really the length of three feature tent-pole films shot on the schedule of two for the price of one.
Q: When does “The Rings of Power” take place within the timeline of the original Lord of the Rings stories?
A: The rings of power takes place in the Second Age, which is thousands of years before the events of the Third Age, which most people know — Frodo and Bilbo and all of that. Tolkien wrote over 9,000 years of history. This is long before. So if you think about — just to contextualize what 3,000 years means, it’s like comparing the present day to ancient Rome. It’s a very different time for the people of Middle-earth in the Second Age.
Q: Who are the key characters in “The Rings of Power?”
A: There’s a good mix of old and new. The elves in Tolkien’s world are immortals. So there are some characters that if you’ve seen the films of the Third Age, you will know and remember — Galadriel, Elrond. These are characters that perhaps are a bit more well-known. There are also some characters that we’re bringing to screen for the first time, like Gil-galad, who’s a big player in the books but hasn’t been seen on screen, and of course Isildur. We get to meet him as a young man who’s wide-eyed and looking to the future. And then we also have some newer characters who are from corners of the map that Tolkien wrote about but didn’t necessarily name people. We have our Harfoot community — the Harfoots are ancestors of the Hobbits, and Tolkien wrote about their wandering days, when they’re more of a migratory people.
Q: What is at stake in “The Rings of Power”? Is this the secret origin of the rings?
A: The big stories of the Second Age are the forging of the rings. Yes, that’s part of it. And, you know, people know about the one ring, but there are many others [rings] that have a story to tell, as well. It is the rise and fall of Tolkien’s Atlantis, the story of Númenor. It is the rise of the dark lord Sauron. He was not just an eye in the sky, as he is in Third Age. In the Second Age, he is a being walking around Middle-earth. And eventually there will be the last alliance of elves and men. This season is about the reemergence of evil in Middle-earth and watching what the various cultures of Middle-earth will do as the dark forces rise again.
Q: Can someone who has never read a Lord of the Rings book or seen one of the movies watch this show and follow along? Were viewers like that considered when creating “The Rings of Power?”
A: Yes, very much so. We worked really hard to make something that was accessible to people who have never read the books, who have never seen the movies. We want there to be an on-ramp for those people. And I think they will find there are relatable stories in our characters that hopefully give them an access point to Middle-earth. Similarly, for the die-hard fans, the scholars of the legendarium, we’ve baked a lot of extra stuff in there. They will see things in every frame, every costume, every set. And it all has a story to tell. And they will certainly find a lot of extra things, but it’s not at all necessary that you know those things going in.
Q: How many seasons will be needed to tell the entirety of “The Rings of Power?”
A: Amazon agreed with the Tolkien estate to make 50 hours of television. That is something the showrunners, J.D. and Patrick, had in their minds from the get-go. They’ve envisioned a 50-hour mega-epic, that’s their phrase. They have written a series bible that we’ve all discussed with the Tolkien estate. We know what the last shot of the series will be. The seasons are mapped out. The showrunners love to say it’s like a road trip from L.A. to New York: We know we’re going to end up in New York, but somewhere along the way, we may take a detour to Graceland if we get inspired. But we know where we’re going to end up and how it’s all going to go.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (eight episodes) available for streaming on Amazon Prime, debuting with two episodes, followed by new episodes released on Fridays. (Disclosure: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)