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Actress Ema Horvath has joined the slowly assembling cast of Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the novels and unpublished writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, becoming only the fifth actor to do so – at the rate this is going, we should have a full cast sometime by the end of next year: but filming apparently begins in February, so the series’ casting directors might want to speed things up and stop searching relentlessly for hairy bikers and “wonderful noses”. All the wonderful noses in the world aren’t going to help a show that can’t pull together a main cast.
Still, Horvath’s casting is at least a welcome sign of life from the project, which seems to randomly tumble into our newsfeeds every month or two with a sudden, startling announcement that makes us all sit up for twenty minutes before settling back into the long dark of Moria. Perhaps, if Amazon Prime could release some plot details, character names, or even a few pieces of concept art, we might have cause to get really excited: but these little unofficial news-stories are becoming increasingly infuriating as we’re forced to wait in silence for weeks in between, contenting ourselves with reading frustrating articles about all the things that the show could do wrong or “has” to get right (naming no names, of course).
Horvath herself is not likely to heighten our excitement or give outsiders a reason to get hyped: she’s a relatively obscure actress, with a small resume. I’m not certain which character she could be portraying onscreen, but I hope we might get an indication soon, as the show moves into production. I’d love it if Amazon could surprise us all and suddenly put out a big, detailed press release or something that all of us theorists could obsess over for a couple of weeks. That would be nice.
What do you think of the casting? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
For what is rumored to be the biggest, most expensive streaming series ever made, Amazon Prime Video’s The Lord Of The Rings prequel, based largely on the posthumously published works of author J.R.R. Tolkien, is barely even on the radar for most people. The series’ official social media accounts post cryptic messages and then go silent for weeks, even months. No cast members have been officially confirmed, even with filming set to begin in February of next year. We, the hardcore Tolkien fans, have to satisfy ourselves with theorizing and speculating about the smallest of details while we wait for any big announcements to break. But in the past couple of days, we’ve gotten plenty of small details, and now, at last, we have another big one.
Just a few days ago, a bunch of character code names for the series were released, with a couple of accompanying character traits that were largely vague and unhelpful. But last night Redanian Intelligence, a site better known for its coverage of The Witcher on Netflix, published transcripts of several audition tapes for some of these new characters, giving us a clearer insight into some of the series’ ensemble cast – specifically, the ones that seem most likely to be wholly invented, original characters designed by the showrunners themselves. And yes, that means it’s time to go through each audition tape one by one, breaking down all the new details and hints.
Obviously, be aware that any and all dialogue in an audition tape may not be indicative of the series’ actual script, and some of the scenarios within may not even be real: though a couple of them are detailed enough that they seem likely to be slightly altered versions of actual scenes from the show’s first season.
The first two videos focus on the character of Brac. I had previously speculated that Brac, described as “irascible and cantankerous”, might be the Elven King Oropher, lord of the Wood Elves of Greenwood and best/only known for leading his troops in a reckless charge against the forces of Sauron and dying in the process. Turns out, I was far off the mark in this case: based on the clues provided in these two videos, it appears that Brac is a human man. In Tolkien’s mythos, there are many different kinds of humans inhabiting the earth during the Second Age when this series takes place – but for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to be focusing on two, in particular: the Men of the West, who lived on the island of Númenór, and the Drúedain, or “Wild Men”, who lived in Middle-earth but were permitted to travel whither they wished. And Brac is almost definitely one of the latter.
The first video revolves around Brac’s interactions with an unnamed second person who appears to have come from the royal court of Númenór to consult with him about some urgent, mysterious matter. It is clear from context that Brac is living or staying in Númenór, as a guest of the royalty: specifically, Brac references “your queen”, indicating that his storyline takes place during the reign of one of the three ruling queens of Númenór – most likely Tar-Ancalimë. In Tolkien’s writings, one of the most major events involving the Drúedain takes place during her reign: it was at that time that the Drúedain who lived in Númenór became afraid and began to return across the sea to Middle-earth, realizing in their hearts that doom was coming for the mighty island kingdom, and any who stayed there would be swallowed up in the bloodbath to come.
Brac appears to be a high-ranking member of Drúedain nobility, who is pondering whether to stay on the island or return home. He questions the queen’s messenger, demanding to know the real reason why a Númenórean queen, whose people colonized and “befouled” Brac’s homeland, would suddenly pretend to care about her subjects’ suffering. The messenger gives no clear answer. The scene ends with Brac reluctantly allowing the messenger to spend the night at his house.
In the next scene, it is made obvious that the setting is Númenór, as Brac comments angrily about how much he despises the night sky made bright as noon-day by the lights of the island’s cities. “The night should be a blanket,” he announces, before prophetically adding “I can’t ever quite escape the feeling that it’s all about to fall over.” He announces his intention to leave the island and return to his homeland the very next day, but the second person, here given the name Radagar, pleads with him to stay, even revealing the queen’s bidding: “our people will make amends for each yield of crop you lost during our wars”. Brac appears to contemplate his words, but the scene ends shortly thereafter with no conclusion reached. Until we actually see the episode in which this conversation may or may not happen, we can only speculate about what Brac eventually chooses to do – will he leave the island or stay to negotiate with the queen? We know from Tolkien’s writings that there were no Drúedain still living in Númenór by the time of the island’s eventual downfall and destruction, so Brac will presumably escape death by godly wrath.
The next two scenes give us our first look at Kari, the “village healer with a secret”. I had hoped that her character might be Erendis, the Númenórean queen who raised her daughter, the aforementioned Tar-Ancalimë, in the countryside far from royal interference and male meddling – but unfortunately, it appears I was wrong. Kari seems to be a human, one of the proto-Dunlendings who lived in the regions colonized by Númenór in the Second Age and later reclaimed by nature. She is like Brac in that she is keenly aware of the divide between the peoples of Middle-earth, but unlike Brac, she doesn’t seem to have any intention of leaving her homeland.
In her first scene, Kari speaks to her lover, a soldier named Everad. There’s clearly a divide between these two tormented souls: Everad fears and distrusts Kari’s “disloyal” people, who rose in rebellion in “ages past”. Kari argues on behalf of her kinsfolk, and asks him whether there is “[any] room in your peoples hearts for forgiveness”. It doesn’t seem implausible that the steely Everad is a Númenórean warrior: if that is the case, then both characters are possibly committing a crime against their cultures by being together – and who doesn’t love some forbidden love? Considering that there aren’t any elf/human pairings in the Second Age, this seems like a good fit for the story.
The second scene with Kari is more tense and powerful: she wakes in the early morning and finds Everad already preparing to leave her home, while soldiers search for him in the village outside. There are a whole bunch of weirdly vague hints in this scene: Kari speaks of a “rumor”, and says that “few could” sleep during the night. As Everad prepares to leave her, Kari stops him: “If what you say is true, and this is the last time we are to see each other, please say what you want to say.” The scene ends with Kari telling Everad to wait for her: whether that’s meant literally or not is unclear.
Next, we have Loda: I predicted that Loda would be a boring character, and I’m beginning to think I’m right in that assumption. He’s a father who loves his daughter but doesn’t get along well with his son, who, in Loda’s words, is wasting “the most important years of his life on aimless schemes”. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like it could refer to the character of Aric, whom we met in a previous audition tape: roguish, charming, devious, remember him? Loda, on the other hand, is much more conventional and traditional: the scene opens with him prepping his daughter for her “first day as an apprentice”, and ends with him revealing that he’s…taken in a stowaway? That’s the most interesting part about his character so far, and yet we don’t have any clues to go on about who his stowaway is, or why she’s stowing away. Until we have more to go on, I’m guessing that Loda, like the others in this new batch of audition tapes, is a human – probably proto-Dunlending like Kari, though it’s not out of the question that his character is Drúedain.
Finally, we come to Hamsom. He only has one scene, but it reveals a great deal about his character: initially described as a “loving family man with health issues”, Hamsom is here seen working on his farm, trying to work past those very health issues: his wife tends to him, but wonders aloud whether Hamsom will survive the bitter winter. Her husband promises her that he’ll be there for her, reminding her of the strength of his love for her. He’s already one of the most charming characters in Amazon Prime’s ensemble cast, and I can’t wait to see more of him, though I have no idea how he’ll fit into a story about the creation of the Rings of Power, the downfall of Númenór, and the wars of the Last Alliance. I also don’t know if he’ll even live through the first season, in the condition he’s in. One thing we can surmise is that he is also human. I can’t determine yet which geographical region of Middle-earth he might be from, but his demeanor, and his hobbity name, almost suggest he might be a Halfling – Halflings, at this point in Middle-earth’s history, could only have dwelt in Wilderland, between the Misty Mountains and Greenwood the Great. But since that’s a bit of a stretch, I’m assuming he and his family are of the Race of Man, probably living somewhere in the north of Middle-earth, where the winter season would be particularly harsh.
It’s notable that Amazon Prime might be diving deep into Tolkien’s incredible genealogies for the human species, since Peter Jackson’s films only briefly touched on the idea that there are different groups of Men in Middle-earth – here, Amazon Prime has the opportunity to explore these different groups and subgroups of people, each with their own distinct cultures, customs and characters, from the Easterlings to the Woses (and hopefully, someday, the elusive Lossoth). It could lead to some very interesting – and probably heated – discussions about what it means to be human in Middle-earth, and what responsibilities and burdens go along with that distinction.
So there you go: four more characters, six more audition tapes, infinite questions and few answers. What do you think of this group of characters, and do you think any of them might be from Tolkien’s books, or are all of them newly invented by the team over at Amazon Prime? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
As production begins on not one, but two seasons of Amazon Prime’s hugely ambitious prequel series to the classic novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, it can’t be long before the cast and characters are revealed to the public – so far, we only have four actors supposedly set to join the series’ ensemble cast, yet none of them have been officially confirmed by Amazon, and we still have no idea which characters (either from Tolkien’s expansive mythos or the showrunners’ imaginations) they might be playing. Today, though, some tantalizing new clues have leaked – not just about the holy quartet, as I’ve begun to call them, but also about a slew of new characters rumored to have prominent roles in the series. All of the following character names are presumably code-names put in place by Amazon to protect the secrets, and absolutely none of this is official.
Firstly, the obvious, or least, unsurprising. Markella Kavenagh is rumored to be playing the inquisitive teenager Tyra, who is wise beyond her years and all that. We met her in those leaked audition tapes from a while back, remember her? At this point I’d be very surprised if Kavenagh doesn’t end up playing the Tyra character, considering how strong the rumors are – we do have a new tidbit of information about her: she is suspected to be both a dramatic and a comedic character.
Will Poulter is rumored to be playing Beldor, something I suspected: Beldor, a young, politically savvy protagonist, seems like he could very well be the young Lord Elrond of Imladris. The new hints suggest that Beldor will be paired up with more dramatic characters who will provide a stark contrast to his reserved, perhaps even solemn nature. Yep, sounds like Elrond to me. If not, I suspect he’s probably Elrond’s mentor Gil-galad.
Game Of Thrones‘ Joseph Mawle is still rumored to be a central antagonist for the series, though this new report is beginning to confirm our suspicions that his character, Oren, is in fact the deceiver Sauron. A personality “built around a wounded and fallen nobility”, who projects “a sense of timelessness” – those are basically the hallmarks of the fallen demigod Sauron, who turned away from the wisdom of the gods and chose to walk a path of darkness into ruin. It’s unclear whether Mawle will also portray the Dark Lord in his form as the Elven lord Annatar, or whether the character will take many different guises during the series’ run.
The protagonist is rumored to be a woman, the character Eldien, whose description is particularly interesting. Yet another timeless character, Eldien is “complex, unique and formidable”. Who else is complex, unique and formidable? The Elven lady Galadriel, a battle-hardened leader and warrior whose morals are much more gray in the Second Age of Middle-earth than they were later on in her long life – at the time this series takes place, Galadriel, like Sauron, has just rejected the mercy of the benevolent gods and has turned away from their guidance to seek glory and fortune in Middle-earth. I would be very happy if the spotlight is on Galadriel for at least the first season.
Now we move into the rest of the ensemble cast, briefly but vividly sketched out: there’s Neldor, who’s a “similar archetype” as the similarly named Beldor – Elrond’s twin brother, Elros, perhaps?
We have Brac, a character who provides the other half of a dramatic duo – described as “irascible and cantankerous”, Brac’s description isn’t really ringing any bells for me. I suppose he could be somebody like King Oropher of the Wood Elves – in which case, it would be funny if the other half of the duo was Beldor (if Beldor is Gil-galad). The only description we have of Oropher from Tolkien’s own works is that he disobeyed Gil-galad’s orders to halt during the War of the Last Alliance and ended up being killed in a reckless charge at the gates of Barad-dûr. That’s a possibility, but it’s more probable that Brac is a completely invented character.
Eira is next on the list – “a warm and maternal woman”. There’s not much to go on here.
Aric, whom we encountered in the audition tapes, is still on board to be a main character – or at least a series regular. His character, a charismatic rogue, was very well defined in the leaked dialogue, so I don’t feel like there’s too much new material to go over. I’m beginning to guess that Maxim Baldry, the last rumored cast member, is playing this character (not for any particular reason: just because).
Calenon is a “ruggedly-handsome” war hero. He’s also described as “brooding”, which is never a fun character trait. But there is a prominent Tolkien character who does nothing but brood, and that’s Celeborn, the husband of Galadriel. That’s as good a guess as any. Plus, it would be amusing to see Celeborn as a handsome heartthrob, since by the time of The Lord Of The Rings, he, well, isn’t.
As if on cue, we come to Loda, the “earthy” fellow who “doesn’t give his feelings away easily”. Yet another boringly unoriginal trope. Earthiness suggests a human character, though perhaps not a Númenórean (they seem more like lofty, spiritualistic types): so let’s mark Loda down as a possible man, maybe even a Wose of the Woods.
Kari, the next character on the list, is a deserter from the nearest Dungeons & Dungeon campaign, it seems. A “self-sufficient single mother”, she would seem to fit the bill for the character of Erendis, the Second Age’s most iconic unique female character, if not for the fact that she’s a “village healer with a secret”. If we really want to believe she’s Erendis, we could come up with theories that Amazon Prime is changing the story so that the proud Númenórean queen flees to the countryside to be alone with her daughter and there becomes a rural medic, hiding the shocking secret that her daughter is the heiress to the throne – but it’s somewhat more plausible, in my opinion, that she’s playing Tyra’s mother.
Hamson is one of the weirdest names on the list – whereas most of the code-names are vaguely archaic in a watered-down sort of way, Hamson sounds more Old English; more like a certain Hamfast Gamgee of the Shire, right down to the character description as a “loving family man with health issues”. But Hamfast Gamgee wasn’t born in the Second Age, and wouldn’t be born until many thousands of years later, so unless there’s some extreme timeline-muddling going on here, I very much doubt this character is a Gamgee, or even a hobbit in general. Hobbits probably existed in some form or another during the Second Age, but nobody knew about them. To keep continuity with Tolkien’s writings, it would be best if hobbits never showed up in the Amazon Primes series, or only appeared in the story’s peripheries. But in that case, I can’t imagine what or who Hamson is, and what’s he doing in this story.
Finally, there’s Cole, another “charismatic” character: this time, one who carries “the weight of the world” on his shoulders. That could be literally anyone in the Second Age, but for some reason I’m locking in my guess that this character is Celebrimbor, the Elven craftsman who designed the Rings of Power in a desperate attempt to try and rebuild Middle-earth in the image of paradise. He literally carries that burden and responsibility with him until he get killed in a particularly brutal way by Sauron during the Dark Lord’s war against the Elves.
There’s a lot here that could potentially be interesting, even engrossing, when executed. On paper, some of these character descriptions are bound to look a little off-putting to Tolkien purists – brooding heroes, charismatic rogues – but it’s better not to get too freaked out about any of this right now. The series is still very early on in its development, and no footage has yet been shot. Some (or all) of this is susceptible to change. Nonetheless, it’s fun to theorize about these things and wonder what it means for the series.
What do you think of the code-names and character traits? Do you agree with my assessments? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments below!
With several months yet to go before filming even begins on the first season of Amazon Prime’s hugely ambitious adaptation of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the studio has already gone ahead and renewed the big-budgeted fantasy series for a second season. There are several new details in the Deadline article which broke the news, so allow me to ramble on about them with urgency and excitement. As you can probably imagine, I’m trembling with anticipation.
First of all, we have the news that the second season of the series is already in the works – Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, has confirmed that as we speak, the writer’s room for the series (which includes J.D. Payne, Patrick McKay, Gennifer Hutchison, Bryan Cogman, etc) is currently collaborating on writing the bulk of Season 2 scripts. As is noted in the article, this is really good news because it means that we, the audience, won’t have to wait that long between Seasons 1 and 2. In fact, at the speedy rate that things are going, we could expect to get the first two seasons almost back-to-back. My heart can’t take this.
Additionally, it has been revealed that after J.A. Bayona has finished filming the first two episodes of the series’ first season, the show will go on hiatus for four to five months, allowing time to review the footage and write more material for the second season before moving on with filming. In Deadline’s words: “By going on a longer than normal hiatus, LOTR will be ready with Season 2 scripts so it could possibly film some Season 2 footage during the Season 1 shoot, or even film the remainder of Season 1 and Season 2 back-to-back.” This is, of course, the same tactic that Peter Jackson used when directing his equally ambitious movie trilogy of Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. Parallels. Parallels!
The article also notes that the majority of the series is expected to film outdoors, on location in New Zealand, as we suspected. That could mean a return to the practical-effects pioneered by Jackson in his movie trilogy, or it might indicate something else entirely (Deadline suggests that it’s because Tolkien loved the outdoors: I have no idea whether they’re right or not).
So there you have it! This is an extraordinary action by Amazon, as it seems to suggest complete confidence in the fledgling series, which has a long way to go before it gets off the ground. While we wait, leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!
This is a departure from my usual posting format in that this is not strictly a news story, but more of a response to a news story. The story, in this case, is actually an interview with Game Of Thrones screenwriters and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, which was posted online in Twitter thread form by an attendee, who goes by the username Needle & Pen. The interview was shocking, and soon had the entire internet collectively wringing their hands and crying out to the heavens: “How did this happen?”
Well, by Benioff & Weiss’ own admission, they don’t know – or seem to care. In the interview, which reeks of white privilege, elitism and snobbery, the two men proudly revealed just how inexperienced and unprepared they were for the task of adapting the massive fantasy epic to the small screen, and just how happy they are that they were able to basically dupe HBO into hiring them. For instance, they talked about meeting with A Song Of Ice And Fire author George R.R. Martin for the first time, and confessing to him that they “didn’t really have any” bona fides or experience. In their own words: “We don’t know why he trusted us with his life’s work.”
David is describing the pre-meeting with GRRM who was questioning their bona fides and “we didn’t really have any.” We had never done TV and we didn’t have any. We don’t know why he trusted us with his life’s work.”
Now, I’d love to talk about Game Of Thrones, and the various failings of Benioff & Weiss, but that’s not what this post is about – or, well, it is, but only indirectly. This post is, in fact, a response to a response to this interview: soon after that tweet went public, The One Ring.net, the most trusted and reliable Tolkien forum in the world, expressed their concerns that Amazon Prime’s upcoming adaptation of the histories of Middle-earth would fall into the same trap as Game Of Thrones: and they had some legitimate fears, so let’s break down what was said by both sides, and what Amazon can learn from the hugely underwritten, half-baked final season of Game Of Thrones that firmly cemented Benioff & Weiss as some of the fantasy genre’s most hated individuals.
The One Ring.net (or TORN for short) drew attention to the fact that JD Payne and Patrick McKay, the showrunners of Amazon Prime’s Middle-earth series, share many similarities with Benioff & Weiss: both are relative newcomers to the scene, having no experience in TV, or in the making of big-budget, spectacular fantasy epics. Payne and McKay did write a script for a Star Trek movie – but it was never used, which isn’t exactly a promising sign. And, as TORN pointed out rather dismissively, both duos are, when it comes down to it, just “a couple friends”. It’s true that Payne and McKay have been working together for most of their adult lives, just like Benioff & Weiss, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, two-thirds of the creative team behind The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, were a married couple when they started working on the ambitious film project, yet nobody has any complaints about that. The fact that Payne and McKay have a close friendship isn’t really a problem, in my opinion. The fact that they have no prior experience – obviously, that could pose quite a substantial problem along the line. But here are my three reasons why we should NOT be worried about Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings prequel series becoming the next Game Of Thrones-level disaster.
1: They’re Not Alone.
For Benioff & Weiss, being handed full creative control over HBO’s most daunting and daring TV adaptation wasn’t a passion project so much as “expensive film school” – or, in Weiss’ words, a “ten year drunk party”. And the two men treated it as such, giving themselves freedom to make as many mistakes as they wanted. They admit in the interview that working with costume designers, for instance, was a “learning experience”. And yet, rather than bring in talented and experienced individuals to help them figure out the process, Benioff & Weiss went in the completely opposite direction, much to HBO’s chagrin – they decided early on that it was going to be just the two of them, stumbling through the series’ development like idiots, because they “didn’t know better”. They were eventually forced to bring in another writer, Bryan Cogman, and were helped by a second, Dave Hill: both men got to write a whopping four episodes each – out of seventy-three.
On the other hand, Payne and McKay are not alone, and have surrounded themselves with incredibly talented people from all different genres of film and television: their writer’s room is nigh on overcrowded, in fact, with Payne and McKay being joined by Gennifer Hutchison of Breaking Bad, Helen Shang of Hannibal, Jason Cahill of The Sopranos, and Justin Doble of Stranger Things, with Bryan Cogman, Glenise Mullins, and Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey as consultants. It’s a far cry from the two-man show that was Game Of Thrones. There are talented and dedicated people involved with Amazon Prime’s series who can help to guide Payne and McKay on their debut journey. Is that all it takes to steer a five-season epic series with a budget close to a billion dollars? No, probably not. But it’s a good first step, and it will hopefully prevent Payne and McKay from indulging in the amateur excesses that Benioff & Weiss seemed to enjoy in their first few years working on Game Of Thrones.
2: There Is Diversity On Amazon’s Team – Though Not Enough.
One thing that immediately stood out in the Benioff & Weiss interview was their casual dismissals of fans’ complaints of racism, sexism, and especially white privilege – i.e., the idea that white men, even without being blatantly racist, still think they are owed certain privileges and rights by virtue of their skin color. For instance, the privilege to simply walk up to HBO and say “hey, give us a TV show to make”.
I have been thinking about this thread for 12 hours. They are open and… proud of failing upward and being mediocre. It’s frustrating to see what white men get away with while creators of color have to be perfect and prepared always. https://t.co/VccL73GcPw
Benioff & Weiss’ counter to the argument was that Dave Hill, whom I previously mentioned wrote a total of four episodes from 2015 to 2019, is of Asian descent. Vanessa Taylor also had a brief stint working with the two men before leaving to write The Shape Of Water. But, is that really enough? In a series that is known for having some of the most iconic female characters in fantasy, is it enough to have only one woman temporarily helping to write those characters? And do I even need to rhetorically ask if it’s enough to have zero people of color in the non-existent Game Of Thrones writer’s room?
“You don’t have any black writers weighing in on how you write Grey Worm and Missandei” “well, we have one Asian writer we promoted up who wrote 3 episodes in the past 3 years”
Now let’s take a look at Amazon Prime’s creative team for their Lord Of The Rings series: leaving aside the fact that Amazon Prime Studios is, in fact, run and overseen by a woman, Jennifer Salke, who was recently named the 17th most influential person in Hollywood, we have, in the Lord Of The Rings writer’s room, a total of three women as of right now: Mullins is also a woman of color, while Shang is of Asian ethnicity.
So, Amazon Prime is doing only marginally better than Game Of Thrones in terms of gender and cultural diversity: but at the very least, there’s some progress being made. We have to hope that more women and POC are added to the writer’s room as time goes on, but for now we can at least be assured that there is already more diversity on this team than on the team assembled for Game Of Thrones.
3: Payne And McKay Have Nowhere To Hide.
Okay, that sounds unintentionally threatening. What I mean is this: when Benioff & Weiss began their tenure on Game Of Thrones, they were doing a relatively simple adaptation from page to screen: and while they did introduce a bunch of new elements, they continued to work from George R.R. Martin’s novels until 2016, when they ran out of source material to draw from: and at that point, most fans tend to agree that the show suddenly began to decline in quality. At first it wasn’t too noticeable, as the fanbase was initially excited to be surprised, and was willing to ignore some of Benioff & Weiss’ mistakes: but by the finale of season 7, it was becoming clear that something was wrong: after years of slow, patient build-up, the storyline of the Night King and the White Walkers was being rushed into the foreground, and Benioff & Weiss were already publicly discussing their desire to conclude the story in its eighth season. The last two seasons were drastically abbreviated to provide for this, with the final season being cut down almost to miniseries format, with only six episodes to tie up several hundred loose ends, story-threads, subplots, so on and so on. And, as everybody is now aware, the final season didn’t go over well: poorly received by critics and fans, the once-mighty TV series ended with a bit of a whimper, reducing complex characters to cardboard cutouts and basically ruining what made the show so much fun: its depth. To nobody’s surprise, though, that depth was a hallmark of Martin’s work, not Benioff & Weiss’.
Payne and McKay don’t have the ability to hide behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s published novels for several years before finally having to strike out on their own, into uncharted territory: because the Amazon Prime series isn’t actually an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings. It is instead a prequel series, covering the only time-frame in Tolkien’s extensive legendarium that he didn’t write much about – the three-thousand year long era in between the events of The Silmarillion and the downfall of Sauron that is glimpsed in the prologue of Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring. Why do I continue to call the series The Lord Of The Rings, then? Well, there’s still no official title for the show, so it’s going to have to do, despite being a little misleading.
Anyway, it’s encouraging to know that what we see from Payne and McKay will be indicative of the series’ quality going forward, whereas with Benioff & Weiss we were cruelly deceived. The writers at Amazon Prime will have only scraps of material to work from, but it’s their responsibility and duty to fill in the gaping holes in Tolkien’s mythos. Hopefully, they can achieve that – and if they can’t, then we’ll know right away, rather than wasting ten years of our lives.
And finally, a bonus point that I think is worth mentioning: Amazon Prime seems to care for the Tolkien fanbase in a way that Benioff & Weiss never did for Game Of Thrones‘. In the interview, the two men admitted to grossly misinterpreting their own fanbase; in an attempt to make fantasy popular to “NFL players”, they stripped the books of their more fantastical, magical elements – that is, until the final season, when those were the only things left in their dwindling toolbox. They didn’t ever listen to fans’ feedback, because they didn’t see the value of considering other peoples’ reactions. And it’s just as well, because as for their opinions on the books they were meant to be adapting, well…
Did you really sit down and try to boil the elements of the books down? Did you really try to understand it’s major elements.
No. We didn’t. The scope was too big. It was about the scenes we were trying to depict and the show was about power.
Now, we don’t know what Payne and McKay think of Tolkien’s work: all we have to go on is the official Amazon Prime press release that says they feel like Frodo on the beginning of his great journey, etc, etc. But Amazon Prime’s Lord Of The Rings has been surprisingly cooperative with and responsive to fans – at least, until their official Twitter account basically went missing in action several months ago. For instance, when fans noted that there were design flaws on one of the Middle-earth maps released by Amazon, the creative team (which we now know is led by renowned artist John Howe) was quick to revise the map. And aside from that one blunder, the other maps they’ve released all hold up to scrutiny, remaining faithful to even some of the obscurest bits of Tolkien canon. And if you’re wondering why I’m rambling about the maps, consider that Benioff & Weiss also acknowledge in their interview that they themselves were “geographically challenged”. So again, Amazon Prime is one step ahead of them in that regard.
So there you have it: my response to the response to this incredibly dismaying interview with the two men responsible for some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in modern television history. If you want to read the full Twitter thread, referenced several times above, I’ll direct you here. I wish you luck.
So what do you think of all this? Do you think Payne and McKay have an advantage, going into this daunting project: or will they end up being the next Benioff & Weiss? And as for Benioff & Weiss themselves – what do you think of their admissions and confessions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!