This review comes at a strange time, just a little over a month since Pixar’s Onward hit theaters – long after I should already have been able to see this film in a pre-coronavirus world, and long before I should have been able to catch it on streaming. But here we are, entering a new and uncertain chapter of the film industry’s history: one in which films now leave theaters and hop into the ancillary markets much earlier than expected.
Unfortunately, Onward suffered the consequences of arriving on the very weekend that much of the world suddenly realized just how dangerous the coronavirus crisis was quickly becoming – it pulled only small crowds to the box-office, and even those became impossible to muster when theaters collectively chose to close down. As a result, I feel safe in assuming that not many people have seen Onward yet, and for those of you who haven’t, here’s my review. I will not call it “late”, for a movie review is never late – it arrives precisely when it means to.
Onward is not, strictly speaking, Pixar’s first adventure in the fantasy genre – but it is the first one with Elves, and that’s got to count for something. Set in a magic-infused world of wonder that has slowly declined with the inevitable advent of technology and industrialism, the film follows two Elves on their mighty quest to spend a single day with the ghost of their dead father, who can be brought back to life with a little help from a magical gemstone, a wizard’s staff, and an absent-minded Manticore.
Appropriately, the film revels in meta-humor, with plenty of loving shout-outs to mythical characters, creatures and locales; Easter eggs galore for the keen-eyed; and all the standard fantasy tropes we know and love. Because of the unusual circumstances allowing us to watch Onward from the comfort of our own homes, it’s tempting to watch the film with a finger poised over the pause button, trying to examine every corner of the screen for these whimsical details (though some are obvious: such as a fast-food restaurant whose giant neon signboard reads “Burger Shire: Now Serving Second Breakfast!”). I encourage you to try and refrain from doing so, at least on your first watch, so you don’t miss out on the story itself. As Martin Scorsese would advise – just try to pretend you’re in a theater.
Onward‘s multitude of callbacks to classic fantasy literature and myths get the film in trouble in more ways than one, unfortunately. Whereas other Pixar films usually involve some unique, hilarious twist, and immerse the viewer in a fully fleshed-out world rich with individuality, Onward‘s twist has been explored in dozens of books and movies before, most successfully in Terry Pratchett’s satirical Discworld novels, and its world is mostly built from borrowed material. This makes it hard to sell people on the worldbuilding premise, because the film doesn’t scream creativity like Pixar’s previous hits: Coco, Inside Out, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., etc.
So what do you sell them on? Well, Pixar seems to think that audiences just want a good long cry, and markets its films accordingly – but Onward is really more heartwarming than sad. Don’t get me wrong: it has plenty of sad scenes, but the story, and its resolution, are more poignant and subtly bittersweet than outright soul-crushing. This is sadness done right; sadness used as an essential ingredient of a larger story, rather than for shock-value or in a formulaic fashion.
The story is carried by two extremely likable protagonists, whose contrasting and conflicting personalities balance each other out very nicely – Ian Lightfoot (voiced by, and almost certainly modeled after, Tom Holland) is the indecisive, socially awkward youngest member of the Lightfoot family, who was born after his father’s death, and thus relies on second-hand accounts of his father to build his own impression of him. Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt), the older brother, is something of a gentle giant, with relatable, but niche, interests: ancient history, magic, and mythology. The voice-work on both characters is solid, though unremarkable – which possibly benefits Pratt, as he is controversial enough in his personal life that distancing him from the characters he plays isn’t exactly a bad idea.
The small supporting cast is filled out by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as the Lightfoots’ mother, Laurel, whose almost superhuman strength (seemingly obtained through routine aerobics sessions) feels like it should be more of a big deal than it is; The Manticore (Octavia Spencer), once an Athena-esque figure of legend who gifted heroes with magical weapons and wisdom, now a worn-down restaurant owner just trying to host karaoke night; and Lena Waithe as “Pixar’s first openly gay character”, a cop who appears in one scene and has a single line of dialogue referencing her girlfriend’s kid. It’s a small step forward for the LGBTQ+ community, but in a film where Laurel Lightfoot and The Manticore share several scenes together and have undeniable chemistry as they go on their own little lawless adventure to restore The Manticore to her former glory, it’s also a missed opportunity.
The quality of the film’s animation is nowhere near as spectacular as films like Coco or Brave – but in the world we now live in, it’s possible Onward will be nominated for an Oscar simply because so many other animated films will be pushed back to next year.
Honestly, if no better challenger arrives on the scene between now and next Oscar season, I wouldn’t mind seeing this unfortunate underdog eke out a win. Not only do I relish the thought of a sequel (yeah, yeah, I know, Pixar wants to focus on original content: well, tell them to stop coming up with original content that demands a follow-up!), but I think it would be welcome compensation for the film’s lost audience appeal and box-office returns – not to mention petty vengeance on coronavirus for all the damage and disruption it’s caused.
The past few days, we’ve been through all the basics: what Amazon Prime needs to do in their upcoming The Lord Of The Rings adaptation; what they should do; and, of course, what they should never do. So with that in mind…how many more “Top 10” lists can I think of? The answer is: at least one more, because today we’ll be looking at the ten characters I’m most hyped to see in The Lord Of The Rings.
As always, let me throw out a quick reminder to all of my readers who haven’t been following along (though, if you haven’t been at least following this series of posts, then why are you here now?): Amazon Prime’s series is not a straight-up adaptation of the best-selling novel by J.R.R. Tolkien – instead, it’s set at least three-thousand years prior to the events of that story, during a time period known as the Second Age. Thus, most of the characters you know and love won’t show up in the series, except a handful of immortals such as Galadriel, Elrond, Thranduil, and Sauron. All of these characters, however, will be either significantly younger, or just very different with regards to personalities, appearances, motivations, etc.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at my list, shall we?
10: Thranduil. Firstly, let me apologize for a glaring factual error in one of my previous posts, where I referred to Thranduil and his father Oropher, both Sindarin Elves of great prestige, as Silvan Elves. In fact, it’s partially because of this error that I realized Thranduil belongs on this list – the King of the Elves of Mirkwood (called Greenwood in the Second Age, and ruled from the hilltop city of Amon Lanc, which would later fall into ruin and be renamed Dol Guldur) was a Sindarin Elf who nonetheless looked out for his Silvan citizens and treated them with respect and benevolence, seemingly even adopting their “rustic” customs – at least in The Hobbit, where he’s most commonly found feasting in the woods, hunting wild animals or merrymaking. This is the Thranduil I want to see: he should still have some of Lee Pace’s steely, ice-cold hostility, but in private, I’d love for the King of the Woodland Elves to open up to his citizens, to share in their traditions, and to come across as a powerful leader and a guardian for his people.
9: Ar-Pharazôn. Whereas Thranduil was actually a decent guy, Ar-Pharazôn, the twenty-fifth and final king of Númenor, only gets worse when you learn more about him. On the surface, he doesn’t seem too bad: he was just a particularly strong-willed, stubborn and slightly dim-witted military commander who happened to get tricked by Sauron into declaring war on the gods and invading paradise, right? But how did he become King of Númenor in the first place? Well, by unlawfully marrying his cousin against her will, of course. The Dark Lord Sauron, ostensibly the King’s prisoner, flattered Ar-Pharazôn with lies until he was at last given freedom to come and go as he pleased in Númenor. It wasn’t long before Ar-Pharazôn had consented to worshiping the ancient evil Morgoth, and the ritual sacrifice of political prisoners. He burned the White Tree of the Elves, severing that link between the two peoples. And, yeah, he did also doom his country (not to mention untold numbers of his own citizens) to a horrific, watery end – all because he thought he could live forever if he bested the gods in open warfare. Still, I can’t wait to see this villainous puppet of Sauron’s get pulled apart in real-time.
8: Elrond. We’ve seen Elrond Half-Elven, master of the Last Homely House of Rivendell and bearer of the Ring of Air, a couple of times on the big screen before – but always as a stern, proud scholar with a particularly melancholy attitude towards life and humans in general (not entirely surprising: considering that most of the problems of the Second Age resulted from his brother’s decision to become a human Man instead of an Elf). The Elrond that we’ll meet in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings is going to be very young by Elven standards: so when I consider what his personality might be like, I imagine him as a generally optimistic and light-hearted individual who hasn’t yet been weathered and worn down by centuries of pain and sorrow. He hasn’t probably even met his future wife, Celebrían (who will eventually be tortured by Orcs until she can no longer bear to live in Middle-earth), and he has no idea he’ll one day be called upon to bear the weight of one of the Three Rings (which I’m sure King Gil-galad will give to him shortly before his brutal death at the hands of Sauron). Let’s just say: he’s in for a ride.
7: Glorfindel. This guy is one of the coolest in all of Middle-earth’s history – and when I say all of it, I mean all of it, because he’s been around for just as long as characters like Galadriel and Círdan, and been to Valinor, Middle-earth, the Halls of Mandos and everywhere in between. Originally an Elf of Gondolin who sacrificed his life to save fleeing refugees in the First Age, Glorfindel was judged to be so pure and good that he was almost immediately reincarnated and sent back to Middle-earth to help out the Elves during their war with Sauron in the Second Age. Not only that, but he was given semi-magical powers that put him almost on the level of Maiar like Gandalf. Throughout the Second Age, he fought alongside the Elves, rarely using his powers in war, and continued on into the Third Age as a great warrior and hero of legend, challenging the Witch-King, leading armies and rescuing Frodo Baggins. Remind me again why Legolas was chosen to represent the Elves on Frodo’s quest and not Glorfindel? Oh right, becauseGlorfindel was so powerful that Sauron would have sensed him coming from miles away, that’s why. Yet despite this, we’ve never seen him onscreen. Even if they do nothing else right, I will be forever grateful to Amazon if they make Glorfindel a major player in the series.
6: Erendis. In The Lord Of The Rings, there are far fewer women characters than men, and even some of the most prominent, like Galadriel and Arwen, are still only in a couple of chapters. But that’s not the case in the Second Age and Middle-earth’s ancient histories, where strong and complex women populate the legends – and one of the most interesting is Erendis. This Númenórean noblewoman put up with a lot; from her husband, her family, and her patriarchal society. But she wasn’t afraid to make enemies (she even publicly declared herself to be the personal nemesis of the divine Maia, Uinen, one of Númenor’s patron goddesses), and she stood her ground when attacked for her beliefs – which were radical for her time, as she counseled her daughter never to submit to the will of men. She’s loud, she’s persistent, and she’s exactly the type of character I want to see in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings.
5: Tar-Ancalimë. Erendis’ daughter was no less interesting: neglected by her absent father and raised only by her mother and the women of their sheep-farm, Ancalimë almost never encounters men before suddenly becoming the first ruling Queen of Númenor. This scenario screams to be depicted onscreen: in my mind, I picture it playing out much like the film Elizabeth (in which The Lord Of The Rings‘ very own Cate Blanchett starred in the lead role), but with the newly-crowned Tar-Ancalimë having no one to turn to for counsel but herself and the advice of her mother. We don’t know much about the Queen’s reign, save that it was one of the longest in Númenórean history, and, in an act of revenge against her father, she withheld aid from her father’s ally, Gil-galad, during his war against Sauron. With so much blank space, there’s plenty of room to write new material.
4: Celebrimbor. Though only briefly mentioned in The Lord Of The Rings proper, Celebrimbor is one of the few Second Age characters that general audiences might know, thanks to the incredible popularity of the Shadow Of Mordor video games – the games themselves are not a very accurate adaptation of Middle-earth (as should have been obvious when they had Celebrimbor’s ghost team up with a Gondorian Ringwraith, a human version of Shelob, and Gollum to forge his own Ring and take down Sauron), but they did at least introduce a bunch of people to the character of Celebrimbor, and his identity as the craftsman behind the Rings of Power. Last of the line of Fëanor, Celebrimbor inherited much of his grandfather’s rebellious attitude, though he is generally viewed in a more positive light than his violent ancestors. Most of his faults were either exacerbated by or derived from Sauron, who deceived Celebrimbor into trusting him. Sadly, that was to be Celebrimbor’s fatal mistake, and he was killed after months of exhausting torture, refusing to disclose the locations of the other Rings of Power that he had forged. The Elf’s mangled body soon became one of Sauron’s favorite military souvenirs and hung from a banner when the Dark Lord marched into battle.
3: The Witch-King. Very little is known about any of the nine mortal men doomed to die, all of whom willingly bound their lives to the fate of Sauron and his One Ring in a bid for…what, exactly? Did they desire immortality? Magic? Power? We don’t know. Tolkien wrote that at least three of them were Númenóreans – likely imperialist military officers dispatched to Middle-earth to safeguard the empire’s colonies, who fell under the Dark Lord’s sway while there. Some of them may have been sorcerers. The only named member of the Nine was Khamûl, and he was an Easterling. But who was the enigmatic Witch-King, whom prophecy foretold would never be slain by any man? There’s no hint as to his true name, personality, or motivation for accepting one of the Nine Rings – which means Amazon Prime can do whatever they want with the character.
2: Galadriel. She’s always been my favorite character in the Tolkien legendarium, and not just because she was masterfully portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. In Tolkien’s published works, you only see a tiny fraction of this heroine’s long and eventful life in Middle-earth: it’s only when you begin to find mentions of her in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales that you realize she is fascinating, nuanced, and, honestly, more complex than most of Tolkien’s male heroes. She started out as a woman of great physical strength, who participated in a variety of sports in her homeland of Valinor and was described as being an Amazon. She openly defied the Valar and chose to leave Valinor to pursue fortune and glory in Middle-earth, and when called upon to repent for that “crime” at the end of the First Age, she refused. She was an open-minded and intelligent leader: she fostered a close friendship with the Dwarves when other Elves shunned them, and she viewed them with the keen eye of a commander, helping them to ready their armies against Sauron’s onslaughts in the Second Age. She and her husband traveled all over Middle-earth, searching for allies in the coming war, settling in several different locations. She presumably led troops into battle on many occasions. In the Third Age, she gave magical aid to heroes such as Eorl and Frodo Baggins, and she entered Dol Guldur and drove back the darkness that hung over Mirkwood. And these are just the highlights of her life! If she’s not also my favorite character in the Amazon Prime series, I’d be very surprised.
1: Sauron. The only character I could see possibly vying with Galadriel for my undivided affection in the Second Age is…Sauron, base master of treachery, shape-shifting dark wizard and sadistic fallen angel. But that’s because Sauron, while he is indeed a villain, is still a villain with a purpose – and a good one, too. Originally a divine Maia whose chief virtue was supposedly perfectionism, Sauron was allured by the demonic deity Morgoth, whose visionary ideas of reformation appealed to him. Sauron, however, disagreed with Morgoth on many issues: in particular, he had no desire to see the world destroyed, instead hoping for a future in which he could be Middle-earth’s sole leader, and build a perfect utopia for himself and all his loyal subjects. Upon Morgoth’s fall, Sauron decided to make this a reality: he refused to repent for his crimes against the Valar, instead taking a beautiful human form and going among the Elves, offering them a chance to rebuild the world alongside him. At this point, Tolkien was explicit in saying that he was not fully evil. He did, in fact, want to make the world a better place – but because he could not be content with any imperfection in his plan, and because he had turned away from the teachings of Eru, the True God, and so could only mimic Morgoth’s flawed designs, he failed in his purpose and slipped into a feral rage, becoming tyrannical and too ambitious to be contained. That’s a great villain arc right there: all too often I hear people say that Sauron is a one-dimensional floating eye in the sky (I mean, it’s hard to even find an image for this post that isn’t of him as a floating eye!), and all I have to say to those people is that they’re wrong, and I will not tolerate your foolish arguments…and yes, I realize I just sounded like Sauron, so what?
Do you like my list? Would you add a couple more characters to it, or remove some? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Well, before we get into the list, let me remind you all that Amazon’s series isn’t a straight-up adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, the classic best-selling novel. Instead, it’s based on the tantalizing hints, references and scraps of unfinished stories about the Second Age of Middle-earth, a time period in the world’s history when Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, first rose to power with the help of the One Ring. That being said, Sauron isn’t the only thing you’ll find in this new adaptation that will be reminiscent of previous books, films and video games: characters like Galadriel, Elrond and Glorfindel will all presumably make appearances; locations like Rivendell, Mount Doom and Moria will be visited; events like the War of the Last Alliance and the forging of the Great Rings will be witnessed.
With that out of the way, let’s get to my list.
10: Sorrowful Elves. It’s important to remember that the Second Age ends about three-thousand years prior to Frodo Baggins’ quest at the very end of the Third Age. A lot of stuff happens in between those two points – including the events that cause the Elves to begin their slow decline into sorrow and grief. At the start of the Second Age, however, we should see the Elves in their heyday: a happy, peaceful people with a flourishing culture, working to rebuild after the traumas of the First Age. That means characters like Elrond, best known for being grim and dour, are going to be cheerful, bright and optimistic in the Amazon series; wise, experienced leaders like Galadriel will still be learning, growing, and making mistakes; aged, brooding wise men like Círdan…well, he’ll still be an aged, brooding wise man, but the rest of them will be different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be singing “tra-la-la-la-lally,” but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be, either.
9: A Reliance On CGI. I’m flexible on this issue: on the one hand, I think CGI is an essential element in the making of any fantasy world, and particularly Middle-earth, and I definitely wouldn’t discourage Amazon from using it in many of the same ways Peter Jackson did in his original trilogy (to build fantastical locations, digitally construct armies, certain creatures, etc); but on the other hand, I’d counsel them not to rely on special effects as much as Jackson did with The Hobbit films – practical effects, real location shoots, physical props and sets: for the most part, these can do the job just as well as green-screens and digital wizardry.
8: A Fully Evil Sauron. It would be almost ridiculously easy to depict Second Age Sauron as a purely evil character, but that’s not the Sauron I want to see. Tolkien wrote that, in the beginning, Sauron was a perfectionist, whose plans for Middle-earth were ambitious, but no more evil than those of any reformer’s. He eventually grew to be a tyrant, thinking that Elves and Men could only flourish if they relinquished their own free will and submitted to his rule. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because the Sauron of the Second Age has more in common with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s trickster god Loki (one of the most popular villains there is) than with the flaming eye of Peter Jackson’s films. Sauron, in fact, tried to do good – but his fate had been decided long before, when he turned away from the teachings of Eru and began learning from the devilish Morgoth, whose evil teachings Sauron implemented in his own plans. Amazon could do some amazing things with that storyline.
7: Eru. Speaking of Eru, it’s about time I addressed him. In my last post, I said it would be a mistake to leave the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods) out of the series, and I stand by that. But there’s one god I never want to see take a physical form in The Lord Of The Rings, and that’s Eru Ilúvatar, the One Above All. Eru is the highest, mightiest being in all of Tolkien’s legendarium – his song set all of history into motion; his plan is the divine plan, which cannot be undone by any design of Morgoth’s or Sauron’s; near the end of the Second Age, he intervenes one last time in the affairs of the world, reshaping the earth into a globe (it was flat previously), and sending the country of Númenor to the bottom of the sea. But though that means he’ll probably be brought up frequently in conversation, he shouldn’t ever be seen; at most, he should be a voice, but even that feels wrong. Eru is incomprehensible, on a plane of existence higher than any of our protagonists should be able to understand. Keep him offscreen. Leave the mystery intact.
6: Whitewashing. The fantasy genre already has a problem with diversity – series like Game Of Thrones employ one or two people of color in lead roles over the course of several seasons, and the few exceptions to the rule, such as The Witcher, get viciously attacked by an online community that resorts to the same tired excuses for why people of color are simply unthinkable in worlds filled with dragons, elves, orcs and wizards: it’s unrealistic because fantasy worlds are Euro-centric and Europe obviously never had any racial diversity; race-bending white characters is wrong because people of color need to write their own stories if they want to see themselves represented in mainstream media (but whitewashing characters of color is somehow okay?); Tolkien came from a different time period, and the series should reflect that by not having people of color, who clearly didn’t exist forty years ago. The cast of Lord Of The Rings currently includes a handful of people of color – but only fifteen actors have been cast so far, and I hope to see the number increase as more come onboard the project. I want to see Amazon take advantage of the amazing opportunity they have, and use their platform to hire talent of many different ethnicities – not to mention genders, sexual orientations and ages.
5: Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey, along with his partners Saruman and Radagast, were both sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age: to be the enemies of Sauron in that age, and that age alone. They didn’t witness any of the events of the Second Age, and they had never fought Sauron before the attack on Dol Guldur as depicted in The Hobbit; if they had, Gandalf would likely have been able to recognize the One Ring immediately, and Saruman might never have been deceived by Sauron’s lies. Having them arrive earlier in the timeline would be a very bad move – yet people continue to mistakenly assume that Gandalf is either going to be a major character, or a female lead, of the upcoming series. To avoid further confusion, I hope Amazon gives the series an official title soon that differentiates it from The Lord Of The Rings, which immediately brings to mind images of Gandalf and hobbits.
4: Hobbits. Allow me to clarify: hobbits did exist in the Second Age, even though they are only recorded in the Third Age and later. But these hobbits (a) dwelt only in Wilderland east of the Misty Mountains, and not in the Shire, and (b) had no impact on Middle-earth’s history at this time. Most importantly, there should be no interaction between Sauron and the hobbits: he, above all others, should never hear of them or even be aware that they exist. Why? Because the whole reason Frodo’s quest succeeds in The Lord Of The Rings is because Sauron (like Smaug before him) had never dealt with hobbits before. They were the unforeseen heroes of the Third Age, who “suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and Great.” So, Amazon: if you want to throw in some hobbits, put them in at the very end of the entire series, during the disaster of the Gladden Fields, when such an appearance might make sense. No sword-wielding hobbit heroics in the Second Age, please.
3: Game Of Thrones. Now, I’m not totally opposed to the series being more mature than the adaptations we’ve seen before: Tolkien’s world definitely isn’t grimdark or gritty, but the Second Age is a time of decadence, vice, violence and horrific evils (including, but not limited to, hundreds upon thousands of human sacrifices). So when I say I don’t want The Lord Of The Rings to be Game Of Thrones, I’m not necessarily saying it shouldn’t include violence (I refer you back to the human sacrifices), sexuality, and/or mature themes. I’m saying it should never revel in these things or use them for shock value, as Game Of Thrones was often accused of doing. So no, I don’t want to see violence against women used to subvert expectations; I don’t want to see nudity used to make exposition-heavy dialogue “more interesting” or whatever the excuse was; I don’t want to see fan-favorite characters get brutally murdered just to prove a cynical point. Tolkien’s world is one where hope survives even against immeasurable odds, where light endures in the darkest situations, where heroes are…for the most part…heroic. George R.R. Martin’s world is bleak, pessimistic, and, at least in the TV series, there is no end to its cycle of death, defeat and petty power struggles. That’s not bad: it’s just not Tolkien.
2: Incessant Callbacks. Often, a prequel to some successful film franchise (such as…oh I don’t know, The Hobbit) fails in part because it never tries to be its own thing: instead, with the help of callbacks, references and hints, it simply serves to remind viewers to go check out another, usually better, film or TV property that came before it. Using The Hobbit as an example: remember the really weird shout-out to Aragorn in The Battle Of The Five Armies that makes no sense, considering Aragorn was a ten year-old during the time of that film? Or how they refer to the recently drowned Master of Lake-town as being “half-way down the Anduin” when there’s no conceivable way he could ever have gotten there from the Lake of Esgaroth, as shown by their own maps? How about that bizarrely contrived scene where Legolas learns about Gimli sixty years before ever meeting him? These things serve no purpose in The Hobbit, except to remind us that, yes, we are still watching a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings, as hard as it is to believe. Amazon doesn’t need to make that mistake: focus on telling a good story first, then weave in some subtle foreshadowing or evocative parallels later (also, for the love of Eru, choose better callbacks: one reason why those in The Hobbit fail is because they’re calling back to the weirdest things – athelas? Peter Jackson’s carrot-eating cameo? Why were these things necessary?)
1: Strictly Movie Canon. We know that Amazon wants to maintain some level of continuity with the classic Peter Jackson trilogy, and at one point they even approached Jackson – either for his help as a consultant, or simply for his blessing. It makes sense: Jackson defined Middle-earth with his award-winning, critically-acclaimed, hugely successful three-film magnum opus. He and his team are widely viewed as experts when it comes to worldbuilding of any kind. But there’s no need for Amazon to feel beholden to his specific vision of Middle-earth: while his is certainly the most iconic, it wasn’t the first, not will it be the last. Amazon should feel free to branch out, to use the books more frequently as source material than the movie, and along the way to establish their own unique take on Tolkien’s world. Let’s not forget: Peter Jackson has broken his own canon on occasion – Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum in the prologue of The Fellowship Of The Ring is completely different to the same scene in An Unexpected Journey: different actor, different scenery, set design, clothing design, everything. Amazon should be able to do that too.
So what do you think of my list? Do you disagree with my picks (it’s worth remembering that I’m a pretty positive person, so it was hard for me to even think of ten things I didn’t want to see)? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Yesterday, I laid out ten defining moments from the Second Age of Middle-earth that will probably comprise the backbone of the Amazon Prime The Lord Of The Rings series coming to streaming in the near future: the misleading title would have you believe that Amazon is simply adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic and beloved novels (and I’m sure Amazon is fine with that, if it lures you into watching their series), but this is anything but a retelling of the author’s most popular work. Instead, Amazon is going to be telling some of the less well-known stories from the depths of Middle-earth’s extensive history, specifically the Second Age.
But because J.R.R. Tolkien wrote so little about the Second Age, and so much of what he did write was only published posthumously by his son, many people don’t have a very clear idea of what to expect from the series, which is why, today, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten things that I want to see in The Lord Of The Rings. These aren’t necessarily things that will happen, but I feel that each one is a necessary element that would add whole new layers to our understanding of Middle-earth.
10: The Ent And The Entwife. While it would obviously be a non-canonical answer to an age-old question, it’s about time we finally saw what happened to the mysterious Entwives after Sauron swept through their gardens with a destructive slash-and-burn policy, near the end of the Second Age. By the time of Frodo Baggins’s quest, these gardens had been deserted for so long they were only known as the Brown Lands: but in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, we have a chance to see a flourishing Entish culture, maybe even some of the elusive Ent children that were so rare in later days. The Entwives passed on their agricultural knowledge to humans during the Second Age, giving them a narrative purpose (remember that one of the rumored main characters is said to be a farmer). As for what happens to them after Sauron attacks, well, that’s up to Amazon to decide: if they want to be really controversial, they could have them escape to the Land of Rhûn, backing up the claims of a recently uncovered map.
9: The Blue Wizards. This is a complicated subject. The two Blue Wizards are usually believed to have arrived on the shores of Middle-earth at the same time as their more well-known brethren – characters like Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast – and to have failed in their purpose, becoming servants of Sauron or founding mystic cults in lands like Harad and Rhûn. But one version of the story, written later in Tolkien’s life (and thus, by the generally-accepted laws of determining canon, the more accurate version), outlines a scenario where the Blue Wizards, individually named Alatar and Pallando (or Morinehtar and Rómestámo), entered Middle-earth during the Second Age, and journeyed far into the East and South, helping to disrupt Sauron’s plans and playing a crucial part in his defeat, both in the Second and Third Ages. In this version, they enter Middle-earth at about the same time as Glorfindel, a resurrected Elf of Gondolin sent back from death to aid in Elrond and Gil-galad’s defense of the citadel of Imladris (Rivendell). This is the version I want to see: while one of the two Wizards could potentially be corrupted by Sauron or otherwise fall from their higher purpose in the series, I’d like to see them depicted in a more heroic light – and since they’ll be journeying into lands more akin to the Middle East and Central Asia than Western Europe, I’d want to see them played by actors of color: specifically women of color, if that’s possible.
8: The Haradrim. In all of Tolkien’s legendarium, only two Haradrim are mentioned by name – and both come from the Second Age. Herumor and Fuinur were both Black Númenórean lords of Harad who fought alongside Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance. In the Amazon Prime series, we should see storylines – entire story arcs – set in the desert country, providing a welcome change from the more familiar lands of Eriador and Mordor, and giving us more racial diversity in Middle-earth. Helped by the subtle efforts of the Blue Wizards, we could see heroic Haradrim characters rise up against their villainous kings and resist Sauron’s influences.
7: Galadriel And Celeborn. Even Tolkien himself never came to a conclusion on how Galadriel and Celeborn met, what they did in the First Age, how they came to Middle-earth, or what they did when they got there. In the scraps of his unfinished tales, the two characters are constantly changing: at one point, they’re the parents of a son and daughter, but later they only had a daughter; sometimes Celeborn was a Telerin Elf, other times Sindarin; in some versions Galadriel rebelled against the Elf, but in others she left Valinor for different reasons. Amazon can’t adapt every variation on the same story. My suggestion is that, rather than try to stick to just one version of the tale, they’ll take all the best parts from many different versions and piece them together into one cohesive whole. Just so long as we see the Galadriel who was obsessed with Dwarves and the Celeborn who stayed behind in Eregion with Sauron rather than travel through the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm, I’m good.
6: Valinor And Valar. Amazon will be limited by the restrictions placed upon them by the Tolkien Estate, but if they want to fully flesh out the ancient history of Middle-earth in a way it never has been before, they’d be wise to make it clear that a number of gods, demigods and angels inhabit the world of Arda. Even Peter Jackson hinted at this, during Gandalf’s rebirth. With the Númenóreans constantly praising Maiar like Uinen and Ossë, the Elves worshiping Varda, and the eagle messengers of Manwë showing up to forewarn people of impending doom, there are many opportunities to slip in references to these deities. As for Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, there’s no way to tell the story of the Fall of Númenór without seeing that far green country at least once, through the eyes of the would-be conqueror Ar-Pharazôn, just before he and his army get crushed under a mountain.
5: Different Elves.In previous adaptations of the Tolkien mythos, there haven’t been many obvious distinctions drawn between the different Elven cultures, but in the Second Age, such a distinction will be necessary with so many characters sharing the screen. The High Elves or Eldar are the ones we’ll probably be following most closely: after being forced to migrate en masse from their ruined homelands in Beleriand, the High Elves settle down in the vast lands of Middle-earth, often uprooting the defenseless Silvan Elves from their own homes.Silvan Elves whom we might see include Amroth, the Prince of Lórien; Nimrodel, a notable Lórien resident and inventor of the flet treehouse; and a young Thranduil then living in Amon Lanc (which would later be overrun by Sauron’s forces and turned into Dol Guldur) with his father, the proud king Oropher. Though the simmering resentment the Silvan Elves feel toward the High Elves never boils over into aggression in Tolkien’s works, there’s certainly room for Amazon to go there with their story: not only to give the Elves some interesting dynamics, but to parallel the similar situation between the Númenóreans and the Men of Middle-earth.
4: Númenórean Imperialism. Tolkien himself went on the record as being anti-British Empire, and in his stories, imperialism is never viewed in a positive light: the Númenórean desire to rule over the “lesser” Men of Middle-earth during what was already the heyday of their power led them to ever bloodier, more brutal conquests that in turn led them straight to a watery end. To stay true to Tolkien, depicting the Númenóreans faithfully will require Amazon Prime to turn the initial heroes of the story into the villains, as the once peaceful culture devolves into an ambitious, power-hungry assortment of misguided kings and warmongering military leaders. It’s not going to be pretty.
3: The Refusal Of The Gift. One of the darkest – but most crucial – elements that Amazon will have to nail down in their series is the Númenórean society’s fear of death. In the beginning of the Second Age, the Men of Númenor are long-lived, surviving for hundreds of years and being given the ability to basically die whenever they feel like it, thus “giving up the gift” – that being the gift of death that was given to them by Eru, Middle-earth’s ultimate deity. But as the Second Age wanes and Númenor tries to extend its reach around the world, killing and pillaging in the process, these Men begin to grow jealous of the immortal Elves, and they become more obsessed with their own inevitable mortality than the years they have left to live. This is the volatile situation that Sauron the Deceiver will enter and masterfully manipulate to his own advantage – it’s critical that we understand why the Númenóreans would be so willing to listen to his lies.
2: Aldarion And Erendis. There’s absolutely no better place to begin foreshadowing Númenor’s downfall than in the story of Aldarion and Erendis. One of the only complete stories from the Second Age that Tolkien ever wrote, this tragedy tells the complicated tale of a long-lived Númenórean Prince named Aldarion who falls in love with a woman, Erendis, whose lifespan is far shorter than his own. Aldarion disappears on voyages to Middle-earth that last for years, sometimes even decades, as he establishes colonies, starts wars, and fells entire forests for timber, caring little for his duties back at home. Erendis, meanwhile, after openly declaring herself to be hateful of the Sea and a foe of the Maia Uinen, is forced to watch and wait for her sea-faring husband, while precious time slips through her fingers, robbing her of the best years of her life. Not only does it shed light on the interesting gender dynamics of the Second Age, but, with just a little tinkering, it could become an effective prelude to all of Númenor’s later troubles, with Aldarion and Erendis representing both the imperialistic tendencies and the fear of death that would combine to bring about the empire’s downfall.
1: The Lord Of The Rings. Confused? Well, don’t be, because what you might never have considered is that the title of the novel, which refers – obviously – to Sauron, is perhaps still just as fitting a title for the Amazon Prime series. After all, Sauron is going to be the prime antagonist of the show, and Amazon will give us an opportunity to finally see his true power. Throughout The Lord Of The Rings (the novel, not the series: I can see why using that title would be confusing), we’re told that Sauron reclaiming his One Ring would cause a second darkness, and give the Maia almost unlimited power – but in the Second Age, when Sauron did have the Ring and was still busy causing his first darkness, he was defeated (albeit temporarily) by one lucky guy with a broken sword. Amazon has a chance to show us, for the first time, what the Ring is actually capable of doing when bound around its dread master’s finger. I’m not saying I want to see the Lord of the Rings summon whirlwinds of fire or rain ruinous lightning down on his foes or anything…but no, actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
So what do you think? Would you care to see any of these ten things, or does it not matter to you what ends up in the series, so long as it’s good? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
With the coronavirus currently raging around the world and no end to the health crisis in sight, expect to see an increase in these sort of hypothetical think-pieces from my blog.
This is something I feel like I should have written about ages ago. But now, while we wait for production on Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings streaming series to resume, we have to wonder: what will the series actually be about? Hint: it’s not The Lord Of The Rings – or, rather, it is, but not quite in the way you were probably expecting, if you haven’t been following along with every tidbit of news about the series.
You see, while Amazon Prime does have the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s most well-known and influential novel, that’s not what they’re choosing to adapt in their billion-dollar, five-season production. Instead, they’re rummaging around in the depths of Tolkien lore, in a little-known and oft-overlooked period of Middle-earth history: a time period known as the Second Age. The average audience member introduced to the Tolkien fandom through Peter Jackson’s movies probably doesn’t know this term, but they do know two major events that happened in the Second Age – namely, the forging of the One Ring, and the first defeat of Sauron the Dark Lord. Both events happened in rapid succession in the prologue to The Fellowship Of The Ring, but in Tolkien’s timeline there are more than a thousand years between those two things.
That’s why today we’ll be looking at ten events that shaped the Second Age and will likely define the series.
10: Rebuilding After The First Age. Amazon Prime does not have the rights to adapt material from J.R.R. Tolkien’s posthumously published The Silmarillion, meaning they probably won’t be addressing too many events from the First Age of Middle-earth’s history, at least not in great detail. But they don’t really need to: the Second Age picks up right where the First left off, with all of Arda (basically, the entire world, of which Middle-earth is actually only a small piece) in ruins following the fall of Morgoth the Accursed and the destruction visited upon the earth’s surface by the trampling feet of the host of the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods). Continents get pushed around, coastlines change, mountains crumble – just an average day in Arda. Assuming the series starts roughly around the beginning of the Second Age, it’ll have to cover several events that happen here: the migrations of Elves, Men and Dwarves across Middle-earth, the foundations of new cities and strongholds, and the establishment of empires such as Númenor, a star-shaped island kingdom given as a gift to Mankind by the Valar; Lindon, which becomes the chief dwelling-place of the High Elves under the rule of King Gil-galad; and Eregion, a small but hugely influential kingdom settled by Celebrimbor, last of the crafty Fëanorian Elves. Even if the series starts later in the Second Age, these events will still probably be covered in flashbacks.
9: The Heyday Of Elves And Men. This is the time period during which we can probably expect a large part of the series to take place. Basically, what you need to remember about the Elves we’ll see living in Second Age in Middle-earth is that they chose to stay there. After the First Age, when the world was remade and Morgoth was undone, the Elves were offered a choice by the Valar: to repent for all their sins (which included killing some of their brethren and defying the will of the Valar) and return to the Blessed Realm of Valinor across the Western Sea, or to remain in Middle-earth. Some chose to head back home, but a lot decided to stay: the ones who stayed grew arrogant, and tried to prove to the Valar, in a way, that they could make Middle-earth just as blissful and peaceful as Valinor. This motivated Celebrimbor to welcome a stranger who came among his people claiming to be an emissary from the Valar who had taken pity on the Elves of Middle-earth. This stranger, going by the name of Annatar, Giver of Gifts, was welcomed into the kingdom of Eregion and quickly rose to power there. Meanwhile, in Númenor, human Men began to sail far and wide across the seas of Arda, settling in colonies along the coasts of Middle-earth and venturing even to the edge of the world. Something else to remember, for future reference: at this point in the timeline, the earth is flat. A flat, roughly circular disc just floating in the cosmos, minding its own business. So when I say the Númenóreans ventured to the edge of the world….I mean that literally.
8: The Rings Of Power. Remember that stranger who showed up in Eregion? Yeah, well, it’s at this point in the timeline that he basically comes out and says what every Elf in Middle-earth has already been feeling: it’s time to radically redesign the balance of power in Arda. He and Celebrimbor work together to forge a set of Rings, each of which is imbued with terrible power. These Rings are given out to all the major players in Middle-earth: King Gil-galad gets one, Círdan the Shipwright gets one, the Lady Galadriel gets one; seven Dwarf-lord get one each; nine of the most powerful human sorcerers, kings and warriors get one each. But in secret, Annatar, Giver of Gifts, has been stealing Celebrimbor’s secrets to forge his own Ring – a master Ring, a Ring that will rule all the other Rings and bind them to his will. Oh wait, did I forget to mention that Annatar is actually Sauron the Dark Lord in disguise? Yeah, he totally is, and he’s intent on getting vengeance on the Valar for what they did to Morgoth, his master and mentor in the First Age. But when he puts on his One Ring and declares himself to be the Lord of the Rings, Celebrimbor senses his true purpose and hides all the other Rings, buying himself a little time.
7: The War Of The Elves And Sauron. Unfortunately for Celebrimbor, his quick action meant that the Three Rings given to the Elves were saved – but he himself was captured by Sauron during an attack on Eregion, tortured for that information until he died of exhaustion, and then was tied to a flagpole and carried like a banner into battle by Sauron’s armies of orcs. In the end, Celebrimbor only disclosed to Sauron the locations of the Seven and Nine Rings they had made, and Sauron took most of those at this point. For a long time afterwards, Sauron was at war with the Elves of Middle-earth, and this is where the series will be able to fit in some awesome battles: Gil-galad and his herald, Elrond, lead the main assault against Sauron, but they are joined by several others, including Círdan with his fleets of Elven ships; Galadriel and Celeborn, leading joint efforts from both sides of the Misty Mountains; the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm; and Glorfindel, a resurrected Elf from the First Age who is sent back to Middle-earth by the Valar to aid in the Elven Wars. But even with all of this aid, the Elves still would likely have been defeated, had not Númenor arrived just in time.
6: The Decline Of Númenor. While the Elves are busy fighting Sauron in Middle-earth for centuries, the Men of Númenor are feeling the Dark Lord’s shadow from afar. At the height of their power, the Númenóreans were a naturally long-lived people, but as time went on their longevity began to wear away, even as they clung to it. In their heyday, they had welcomed Elves to their island paradise: even Elves who came from Valinor with gifts and wise advice. But now, they’re starting to wonder why only Elves were “blessed” with immortality, and their jealousy of Valinor grows until it becomes a disease. Amazon will need to get this exactly right: we need to feel that desperation that will drive the Númenóreans to madness and acts of blatant aggression; we need to see the terror in the eyes of their Kings, holding onto life even as they slip away; we need to smell the decay that creeps through their culture, foreshadowing what’s to come.
5: Sauron In Númenor. When the Númenórean army arrives in Middle-earth, bringing an end to the war between Sauron and the Elves, Sauron realizes at once that he is outnumbered. But Sauron is cunning: pretending to be defeated, he willingly surrenders to the Númenórean king and commander, Ar-Pharazôn, and is subsequently taken back to Númenor to be a prisoner. Here, he pulls the same trick he used against the Elves: he promises Ar-Pharazôn his greatest desire – in this case, everlasting life. This, he claims, can only be won if Ar-Pharazôn musters the courage and the army to invade Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar. Ar-Pharazôn, not known for being the brightest Edain in Arda, finally succumbs to his prisoner’s seduction, and allows Sauron to counsel him in every matter: when Sauron begins the building of his army, the King agrees to it; when Sauron builds a temple to Morgoth and starts practicing bloody human sacrifices there, the King agrees to it; when Sauron sends him off to his death, the King agrees to it, ignoring all the warnings of doomsday that the Valar send his way. He and his army do make it to Valinor, and they even set foot on the Blessed Realm’s shores – and then, in the greatest act of comeuppance ever, the Valar kill him and almost everyone else in Númenor by sending the island hurtling into the ocean abyss and burying Ar-Pharazôn under a mountain. Sauron is temporarily killed in the cataclysmic disaster, and he loses his ability to ever again take a human form.
4: Gondor And Arnor. At this time, the world is remade again by the Valar, and becomes a globe. Oddly, the only effect this has on the Middle-earth map, aside from the complete disappearance of Númenor, is changing one island in the Bay of Belfalas. Coincidentally, it’s in this bay that the next chapter of the Second Age begins, as this is where one small group of battered ships arrives after a long and arduous journey by sea, manned by the Númenórean prince, Isildur, and his brother. Their father, Elendil, gets washed ashore in the far north of Middle-earth. At these two points on the map, these men set up two kingdoms: Gondor in the south, and Arnor in the north. These kingdoms become one vast empire in these last few years of the Second Age, and are united in opposing Sauron. Isildur builds the city of Minas Anor (later changed to Minas Tirith), and plants the sapling of the White Tree of Gondor there. The seven seeing stones, or palantíri, are placed in secure locations around Middle-earth. The tower of Orthanc in Isengard is built. With callbacks like these, who needs hobbits?
3: The War Of The Last Alliance. Needless to say, Sauron isn’t done haranguing our heroes just yet. Gathering his forces for a final push, he leads his armies of corrupted Ringwraithes, orcs, and foul creatures into battle against the fledgling force of Gondor. But in this dark hour, Mankind does not stand alone. Elendil, King of Arnor, goes to Gil-galad and Elrond and requests their aid: they form a Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and lead their armies together into the south, relieving the siege of Gondor and eventually entering Mordor, Sauron’s dreadful realm. As they approach Mordor, they are joined by Elves out of Lórien and Greenwood, Dwarves from the Misty Mountains, and even Ents out of Fangorn Forest. There are several battles along the way, most notably on the plain of Dagorlad that would later become bogged down and renamed the Dead Marshes. In Mordor, the Last Alliance besieges Sauron’s fortress of Barad-dûr, which lasts for several years.
2: The Fall Of Sauron. At last, Sauron breaks the siege, though not before many have died, including Isildur’s brother Anárion and Oropher, king of the Elves of Greenwood. The Dark Lord arrives on the battlefield wearing the One Ring he created, making him almost invulnerable – he drives the attacking armies back to the slopes of Mount Doom, and there, with the fiery heat of his hand, he kills Gil-galad and Elendil. But Isildur, Elendil’s son, takes up the hilt-shard of his father’s broken sword and deals the fatal blow to Sauron, cutting the One Ring from the Dark Lord’s finger. Sauron is vanquished, and his evil spirit flees, incorporeal and weakened. His armies are easily defeated. His Ringwraithes vanish from history. And the war is won. But Isildur refuses to listen to the counsel of Elrond and Círdan, who both advise him to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Instead, Isildur finds himself unable to get rid of the Ring, and holds onto it as a souvenir of his victory.
1: The Disaster Of The Gladden Fields. This one is entirely up to the showrunners: it’s possible they’ll want to end the series on a more hopeful note, with the survivors of the war picking up the threads of their broken lives and moving on, and all that. And certainly there should be some happy endings – but at the same time, it would be deliciously exciting to end the entire series with the disaster of the Gladden Fields, something that was glimpsed briefly in The Fellowship Of The Ring. Isildur, returning home from the war, is attacked by a rogue band of orcs and killed – and the One Ring slips from his finger as he falls and drops into the River Anduin. Imagine it: Howard Shore’s familiar, eerie score closing out the final episode of the final season, as we watch the Ring settle into the mud at the river-bed, there to lie in wait for the next two and a half thousand years…
So what do you think of these ten events from the Second Age timeline? Will they define the series, or do you think the showrunners will focus their adaptation on a singular moment from the chronology, rather than trying to fit three-thousand years worth of story into just five seasons? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Considering that I went into The Letter For The King expecting to be bored out of my mind, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with what I got: which, indeed, is mostly a blend of various tired fantasy tropes and scenes or even entire characters plucked straight from other, better, works of art, but also has just enough new – or mostly new – content to distance itself from the pack.
Based on an obscure Dutch fantasy novel from the 1960’s, The Letter For The King simply doesn’t have the name recognition that would enable it to jump into the midst of Netflix’s crowded schedule with a built-in fanbase. In English-speaking countries, there wasn’t even a proper translation of the novel until a few years ago. So it’s unsurprising that the six-part series has to look for inspiration elsewhere: almost the entire plot is comprised of original content, and almost all of that original content is…shall we say, lifted, from fantasy books, films and TV series as wide-ranging as The Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, The Witcher, The Chronicles Of Prydain and Starlight. The latter two, with their largely simplistic worlds, basic magic systems, and archetypal characters, are by far the most obvious source material – even with Lord Of The Rings trilogy production designer Ra Vincent working behind the scenes, The Letter For The King still looks and feels like a small-scale children’s fable (and that’s not a criticism of Prydain or Starlight, by the way: both are fabulous) that might have attracted more attention if it had been released fifteen years ago, when studios were trying desperately to replicate the success of The Lord Of The Rings by using as little money and effort as possible. These days, as the hunt for the next Game Of Thrones heats up, The Letter For The King, with its antiquated fairytale style and low stakes, has little chance of being an underdog champion like its protagonist, Tiuri (alternately pronounced “Tiuri” or “Churri” – I doubt it was intentional, but the constantly changing pronunciations of his name often reminded me of a similar problem in Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic TheLord Of The Rings, where the villain Saruman’s name was changed halfway through production to “Aruman”, leading to a perplexing continuity error).
Oftentimes, adaptations of fantasy and sci-fi literature fail because they try to excessively build their worlds rather than doing the same with their characters or plot: cramming detail and deep lore into every inch of your expansive world is certainly much more fun than patching up plot-holes or charting character arcs, but if done incorrectly, it can bog down a film or TV series within minutes, as the audience struggles to catch up with a constant flow of place names, history lessons and nonsensical exposition dumps. The Letter For The King somehow does the exact opposite and still runs into a problem: because it does the bare minimum to flesh out its world (for example, the world actually has no name: its simply referred to as “three kingdoms”), it ends up looking like any of a thousand generic fantasy worlds – a sprinkling of vague magic, Medieval European societies dotting a map, and an obligatory Chosen One prophecy.
But once it becomes apparent that this is a problem (about five minutes in, I think?), the show starts hurling things at you that give the impression of depth: specifically, actors from other fantasy franchises. David Wenham, who portrayed Faramir, the young, idealistic son of a stern and demanding father, in The Lord Of The Rings, has here been upgraded to playing the stern and demanding father of a young, idealistic son (and make no mistake: he does a fantastic job of it). Andy Serkis, whose revolutionary motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum earned him worldwide renown, here delights in a brief cameo as an actual human being: something of a mix between the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit and Capricorn, the villain of Inkheart (who, coincidentally, was also portrayed by Serkis in the film adaptation of that novel). Serkis’ daughter Ruby Ashbourne Serkis also shares the screen with him, playing his character’s daughter Lavinia, and then goes on to become the female lead of the series – her acting career is off to a good start, judging by the strength of her performance here. And in a very smart move, Kim Bodnia plays the sword-fighting abbot of the monastery at the edge of the world: Bodnia will portray the Witcher Vesemir in The Witcher‘s second season, and this is a tantalizing first look at what he could do in that role – Witcher fans would be smart to check out his fighting and acting skills here, and simultaneously give The Letter To The King some much-needed views.
Because despite being derivative, the series actually does have quite a lot of strong elements: especially if you’re into the more romanticized, outdated style of fantasy that was popular throughout the middle of the 20th Century. It has charm, for one thing – the series is TV-PG and family-friendly: a welcome break from The Witcher‘s gothic horror and Game Of Thrones‘ vicious brutality. And the core cast of characters are all fairly well developed: Tiuri, played by Amir Wilson, isn’t exactly a memorable hero, but he’s also not quite as dull as Starlight‘s Tristan or Prydain‘s Taran (what’s with all the T names, may I ask?). His character also has interesting things to say regarding the racial dynamics in his world – none of which ever actually get said, but still exist in subtext. Thaddea Graham’s hardened rogue Iona evolves into an Arya Stark prodigy (her final scene in the series actually seems to direct imitate one of Arya’s memorable scenes with The Hound from Game Of Thrones, season 8). Jussipo, initially one of the most annoying characters in the series, quickly shows his true colors as a delightfully smarmy, wickedly sarcastic bard. And along with gender and racial diversity, there’s even some surprising LGBTQ+ representation among the main cast – which, after all the recent queer-baiting from other studios, deserves a round of applause for how direct and straightforward it is.
Any good fantasy needs a good villain – a Cersei Lannister, a Smaug, a wicked old witch. The Letter For The King has an up-and-down relationship with its villain, Gijs Blom’s raven-haired goth necromancer Viridian: first it depicts him as a cartoonishly callous sadist without any moral complexity; then it tries to turn the tables on our heroes and reveal Viridian’s noble purpose, which actually works until said noble purpose turns out to be thinly-veiled racism; then it underutilizes him in its own finale before turning him into an overpowered Morgoth knock-off.
Speaking of which, we have to talk about the series’ poor use of action. Action, in a fantasy series, is something of a given: even if its special effects wizardry, you need some sort of action. The Letter For The King, being almost exclusively the story of Tiuri intercepting an incriminating letter from Viridian and trying to deliver it to a neighboring nation’s king, relies heavily on horseback fight and chase scenes. Now, these are easy to do right, with the help of a good cinematographer: in The Lord Of The Rings, Arwen and Frodo’s flight to the fords of Bruinen is a thrilling, suspenseful sequence where horses interlace between trees in a graceful, dangerous dance while Howard Shore’s score wails hauntingly in the background. Unfortunately, the thousands of horse chases in this series never once come close to paralleling that one epic scene, no matter how many times they pan over beautiful landscapes: the music accompanying these scenes is unmemorable, while the cinematography is questionable – mounting a camera on a horse’s head probably seemed like a good idea to make one chase scene more realistic, but did no one stop to consider that it takes the viewer out of the world completely?
It’s the same situation with the special effects budget. Most of the CGI seems to have been used up on Viridian’s finale transformation, meaning that throughout the rest of the series there’s just a bunch of patchy fire and smoke effects and one truly horrific CGI castle wall in the city of Unauwen – which was made doubly inexcusable because of how many times the city was made out to look like Game Of Thrones‘ Winterfell from afar, despite the fact that the one is a mess of bad special effects and the other was an almost entirely practical set.
So is The Letter For The King a must-see? Not by any means. But while we’re all self-quarantining, I don’t know if we’ve got any better options right now. And it’s actually not that bad. Pretty bad? Yeah, just a little. Game Of Thrones season 8 bad? No. Not even close.
Technically, I reported on this quite some time ago, back when Maxim Baldry’s name first came up in association with Amazon Prime’s long-awaited adaptation of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, because, at the time, it seemed legit. However, as the months have crept by and we have begun to hear more information about the streaming series’ production and filming in New Zealand, Maxim Baldry’s name has been…let’s say, suspiciously absent from the conversation. To the point where it seemed like his casting had been a piece of misinformation (something that has plagued the Lord Of The Rings series since the beginning, with sites like TheOneRing.net often pushing hyperbolic and conjectural narratives about the series on their Twitter account).
Our fears were apparently confirmed when Baldry was left off an important cast list released by Amazon Prime themselves. A total of fifteen actors and actresses were officially cast and sent off to New Zealand to begin their strenuous physical training and start work on the series, including Robert Aramayo, Nazanin Boniadi, Markella Kavenagh, Morfydd Clark and others. But Baldry, whom, at the time, I and many other fans considered to be one of the main stars, was still nowhere to be seen. His social media gave no hint of any involvement (for comparison, most of the other confirmed stars have been using their social media to keep us up to date on their time in New Zealand, including sightseeing, hiking trips and visits to Lord Of The Rings trilogy locales such as the Hobbiton film set).
And then last night, out of the blue – Maxim Baldry is onboard the Amazon Prime series, according to Deadline (who also broke the original story of his joining the cast). They have now acknowledged that their initial report was only partially accurate: while he has been circling the project for some time, only recently has he worked out a deal with Amazon and settled into what Deadline are calling “a lead role” – not to be confused with the lead, who is believed to be played by Robert Aramayo. This matches up with what Amazon Co-head of TV Vernon Sanders said about the series: that there were still “a few key roles to cast”.
As for who Maxim Baldry is playing, that’s an open question as of right now. But the British actor, best known for his work on Years And Years, seems to have a very important place in the series. And that’s why I’m returning to what I think was my original assumption, and putting out a guess that he’s playing Annatar the Giver of Gifts, one of the many forms of the shape-shifting villain Sauron, who you might remember from Peter Jackson’s trilogy as being a giant eye in the sky. Baldry’s slender build, delicate features and long mane of dark hair lend themselves naturally to the Dark Lord, who often disguised himself as an Elf during the Second Age of Middle-earth, when this series is set. Annatar, Sauron’s most iconic alter ego, was an Elven lord who claimed to have been sent from the realm of the gods to bring a message of reconstruction and reform to Middle-earth, only to deceive his victims into enslaving themselves to his will. If not Sauron, then my other fan-cast for Maxim Baldry would be the young and peaceful Elven King Gil-galad, leader of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and one of Sauron’s chief rivals during the Second Age.
Who do you think Maxim Baldry is playing, and why do you think it took him so long to get onboard with the series? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Yes, we’ve been receiving a steady influx of casting updates from both The Witcher‘s official social media accounts and outside sources for a couple weeks now, and Netflix themselves recently revealed a long list of new faces joining Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra and Freya Allen in the fantasy phenomenon‘s hotly-anticipated second season, but there was something missing: all these cast lists and leaks were incomplete without an actor locked in for the critical role of Vesemir, which was why I refrained from covering any of those castings – until today, now that Vesemir too has been cast.
The Witcher‘s second season has already begun production, and filming is currently underway. Most of the characters we now know and love (or hate, in certain cases) from the first season will be returning, including Joey Batey as the bard Jaskier, who became a viral sensation; MyAnna Buring as the steely sorceress Tissaia; Mahesh Jadu, Lars Mikkelson, Mimi Ndiweni, Anna Shaffer and Therica Wilson Read as the mages Vilgefortz, Stregobor, Fringilla, Triss and Sabrina, respectively; Eamon Farren as the villainous Cahir; and Tom Canton as the Elf-King Filavandrel. But The Witcher‘s second season will feature the debut of characters both new and well-known, and a number of fan-favorites from both the source material (the Polish fantasy novels), and the thing that everybody thinks is the source material but isn’t (the incredibly popular video game trilogy).
Kristofer Hivju, best known for portraying the lovable barbarian Tormund Giantsbane on Game Of Thrones, is set to play Nivellen, a character best described as a much more terrifying version of Disney’s The Beast. Transformed into a ghastly were-bear by a priestess’ curse, Nivellen hides in his mansion in the woods, until the day he catches a man stealing a rose from his garden which leads to…you get the idea, right? Basically, only true love can lift Nivellen’s curse, and true love is in short supply in The Witcher‘s dark and monster-infested world. Hivju, with his large, bearish build and bushy facial hair, will be the perfect fit for this role.
Agnes Born plays Vereena, who will appear only in the season’s first episode. Without giving away too many spoilers, Vereena is one of several women who come to lift the curse laid upon Nivellen: but she has her own secrets, and she’s not quite the Belle to Nivellen’s Beast.
Mecia Simson will take on the role of Francesca Findabair, the Elven queen of Dol Blathanna and one of the Continent’s greatest sorceresses. In the books, she lives a life of secrecy, and not much is known about her origins or her fate, but it seems that Netflix will try to flesh out the character further, as their breakdown for the character mentions her having a strong bond with her child. I have faith in showrunner Lauren Hissrich’s ability to develop complex and nuanced women, and I hope that Francesca will be another one to add to the list alongside characters like Yennefer and Ciri (of whom, the former is one of Francesca’s rivals). Simson has already been spotted onset, in scenes with Filavandrel.
Aisha Fabienne Ross will portray a minor character named Lydia van Bredevoort: the personal assistant of Vilgefortz, Lydia will likely have a small but pivotal role, as her breakdown specifies that she “Carries out a horrible deed”. Lydia is horribly scarred, but uses magic to create the illusion of a beautiful face for herself.
Three young Witchers will show up: their names are Eskel, Coen and Lambert, and they will be played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen, Yasen Atour and Paul Bullion, respectively. Coen is likely the most important of the three, as he will be responsible for helping to train Ciri in the ways of the Witchers.
No actors have yet been cast in the very important roles of Sigismund Dijkstra the spy, or the sorceress Philippa Eilhart, both of whom will probably be major players in the events of Season 2. However, the most crucial character in this season has just been cast today, and that is none other than the legendary Witcher, Vesemir.
Geralt’s mentor, Vesemir was briefly mentioned during flashbacks in Season 1, but has yet to appear onscreen: and soon after the first season’s success, the internet collectively decided that Mark Hamill, of Star Wars fame, was the best choice to play the coveted role. Hamill, being a cool, casual guy, was completely onboard with the idea, as was Hissrich – and supposedly, the two entered talks to negotiate a deal. Either the deal fell through or it never happened in the first place, because Hamill will not be playing Vesemir: that role will instead go to Kim Bodnia, best known for his work on Killing Eve. Bodnia isn’t quite as recognizable and eye-catching as Hamill would have been, but he’s still a well-respected actor who is more than capable of carrying what are sure to be the second season’s most powerful dramatic moments.
What do you think of the cast for The Witcher, Season 2? Who are you most excited to see in action? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Spoilers For Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Ahead!
One of the biggest criticisms of The Rise Of Skywalker was the nature of Emperor Palpatine’s return, and the fact that he just sort of…showed up again, literally hanging out on a life-support crane suspended from the ceiling of an ancient Sith amphitheater hidden beneath a floating pyramid on the previously unknown planet of Exegol, which was described as a homeworld of the Sith – which, in and of itself, was confusing: wasn’t Moraband the homeworld of the Sith, according to The Clone Wars, season 6? As if that wasn’t enough, it was revealed soon afterwards that Palpatine had not been idle, and had built a massive army of mini Death Stars on Exegol (because the Death Star is an idea that will never not be reused in the Star Wars franchise), each manned by thousands of ex-Imperial warriors, including a new brand of bright red stormtroopers who were hyped up in the pre-release marketing and barely had a millisecond of screentime in the actual film.
Needless to say, Star Wars fans had a lot of questions about the mysterious planet after leaving the theater – and very few of them were answered at all satisfactorily. But because The Rise Of Skywalker developed something of a reputation for leaving questions unanswered, most fans have already moved on from the subject and stopped theorizing about things like “what even is an Exegol?”, taking it for granted that this, like many other unresolved subplots in the film, would probably be explained someday in a throwaway line from a producer or a semi-canonical graphic novel.
But I’m guessing that very few people, even those of us who actually enjoyed Rise Of Skywalker for what it was, suspected that we would ever get an entire movie set on Exegol. It’s not that a bleak, barren icy wasteland riddled with blinding lightning and haunted by Sith ghosts doesn’t sound like an interesting location for a movie, it’s just that…well, spending two hours there, maybe more, watching Palpatine’s limp dishrag of a body being wheeled around on a crane, overseeing the construction of a fleet of redundant planet-destroying weapons that we, the audience, know will be defeated in a few minutes by a nifty lightsaber trick? I don’t know, I think I’ll pass (I say that now).
We don’t yet know for certain whether the Exegol movie will be released theatrically, or on Disney+ – what we do know is that it is being developed by Sleight director J.D. Dillard and MCU writer Matt Owens, who crafted the two best seasons of the fantastic, underrated series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. We also don’t know anything about the plot, time period, or cast of characters. It could follow a young Sith acolyte during Palpatine’s Final Order, but it’s just as likely that it documents the story of some of the first Sith in the galaxy far, far away – such as the rise of Darth Bane, or one of the characters from the Knights Of The Old Republic video games. Villain origin stories are all the rage nowadays: though typically not from Disney, the studio which not too long ago canceled a planned streaming series, which would have focused on iconic animated villains like Ursula and Maleficent, for being “too dark”. If a business-savvy octopus is too dark for Disney, then I have to imagine that an ancient, bloodthirsty evil that demands human sacrifice and a form of government best described as “murder see-saw” would be too.
Who knows? Maybe it’ll be an ensemble movie about the Knights of Ren: you know, the ones who were rumored to be the greatest Sith warriors in the galaxy and were built up for two movies before becoming quick and easy lightsaber-fodder? You remember their names, right? Trudgen (Trenchen? Trunchen?), and something beginning with an A, and something with too many consonants (or was that the same one whose name began with A?), and the other one, the one whose job was to rebuild Kylo’s helmet? Remember them? Classic additions to Star Wars canon.
I actually did like The Rise Of Skywalker, I swear.
So what do you think of this news? Does the idea of watching a Star Wars movie focused on the Sith interest you, or does it seem too radically different from what we’ve seen before? Should the film follow Palpatine or a past Sith, or no Sith at all? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The epic tale of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, one of the most legendary stories of chivalry, honor and valor to come out of King Arthur’s court, is absolutely not the sort of thing one would expect to be turned into a surreal horror/dark fantasy thriller, but you know what? It just might work.
Dev Patel stars in the first trailer for this spooky retelling of the Medieval legend, which tells the story of a young knight in Camelot who is challenged to a duel by the terrifying Green Knight, and has to prove his worthiness through a series of tests. The best version of the epic, naturally, is the translation by English author J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure which version director David Lowery is drawing from, or whether he’s taking bits and pieces of all the best translations and then adding mostly new content, but he appears to be leaning into the story’s pagan origins (pagan horror is a genre that has just recently begun to flourish, with the success of Midsommar, and pagan Medieval horror is a genre I don’t know if anybody has touched upon yet), and using this story to highlight just how many Christian traditions and legends are rooted in paganism. At least, I’m guessing that’s why we see kings wearing burning halos in this trailer, and Christian Medieval life threatened by apparitions, spectral visitors and horrors in the dark.
The Green Knight himself, Sir Gawain’s sworn enemy, is a sight to behold: he wields a huge battle-axe, and has a face carved from wood, with a bristly, twiggy beard. Retellings of the tale have always struggled to define what he is: Tolkien called him the “most difficult character” in the entire poem, and other scholars have alternately described him as a version of the Green Man of Celtic mythology, the Devil, an amalgamation of the Greek god Hades and Jesus, or a character rife with homosexual symbolism. So, um…take your pick, I guess?
So will you be going to see this creepy take on a Camelot classic? And what do you think of Dev Patel as Sir Gawain? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Netflix’s Locke & Key opens a doorway into an expansive world of dark, cosmic magic that can only be described as deep: there are keys that lead to other keys, which open doors within doors, which then lead to puzzles, which connect back to clues, which are all supposed to interlock(e) – the problem comes toward the middle of the ten-part series, when it becomes clear that there’s no good way for everything to come together, because of a single plot point that splits the series’ focal point in two rapidly diverging directions, which never reunite (and never seem likely to, assuming there is a second season – there’s certainly set-up for one).
Without getting into spoilers, I’ll explain it like this: after a couple of really strong episodes, Locke & Key introduces an idea that immediately forces the adult characters – including the series’ most compelling character, recovering alcoholic and traumatized widow Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) – and the teen or young adult characters – specifically her children, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) – to pursue two very different paths. The adults are left with many of the hard-hitting emotional and dramatic moments, but the kids have to awkwardly carry the horror/fantasy plotline to its conclusion. This divide is…uncomfortable, to say the least, and it also makes both parties look bad: the adults seem naive and negligent for barely ever interfering in their kids’ lives; the kids come off as idiotic and downright mean for never going to the adults for help or advice. And again, this is all because of one plot-point that is never even properly explained: this particular plot-point also seems oddly kiddish in a series that tries to be more edgy, dark and mature than it probably needs to be.
That darker vibe, while inconsistent, does allow for a somewhat memorable antagonist: the beautiful, haunting demon lurking in the well, whose actual name – “Dodge” – is far less threatening than either of her nicknames, “Well-Lady” or “Echo”. Portrayed by Laysla De Oliveira, the ancient demonic entity is able to do a fair bit of damage and wrack up an impressive kill-count, all with style and grace, even while being restricted by another very specific plot-point that forbids her from murdering absolutely everybody in her path towards…whatever it is she’s fighting for (it’s never actually explained what that is, making her sudden shift from “haunted house ghost” to “immortal Lovecraftian shadow goddess” inexplicable, yet still entertaining).
Like Dodge, the entire series gets an upgrade about halfway through – which is both a blessing and a curse, as it simultaneously raises the stakes for all the protagonists while also closing the door on the fun, spooky treasure-hunt adventure that made the first few episodes so unique. The central trio of Locke children splits up, with the two older kids pursuing the main plot with their rapidly expanding group of high-school friends and enemies, while Bode (the most interesting of the three by far) is left at home, shoved to the sidelines, and kept in the dark…despite being the one who initially found the keys and unleashed Dodge. This series has a hard time remembering who its main characters are, at times. The high school story is intermittently dull, with subplots related to clam chowder, charity fundraisers, poorly-developed love triangles and generic bullies. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the sudden, strange decision to make the story all about Tyler Locke, the most boring, familiar, and downright annoying of the main trio (he seems to have a smoking addiction in the first episode, yet turns on his mother for drinking later in the series: hypocritical much, Tyler?) and the one who seems to have the least interest in the plot.
I might sound like I’m coming down hard on this show. But the series does have moments – sometimes even scenes – of true greatness: especially when it comes to the many inventive or witty ways in which the characters use their magic keys, either for good, evil, or stupid pranks. Kinsey using the Head Key to step inside her brain and battle it out with the personification of her own fears and insecurities? Excellent stuff. Dodge using the Anywhere Key to order breakfast at a small-town diner, go shopping at a high-end fashion mall, pull off a diamond-heist and attend a nightclub party all within a few moments? Fantastic. Anything involving the Ghost Key? Brilliant.
Unfortunately, the scenes involving magic often require…magic, a.k.a. a CGI budget that this show clearly does not have at its disposal. The fight scenes with monsters, ghouls and demons are often all too brief, and darkly-lit (probably for the best, as the notable exception to this rule, involving a zombie-type creature attacking someone in broad daylight, looks painfully fake), while keys like the Matchstick and Ghost Key are used sparingly. This wouldn’t even be a problem if the series didn’t try to make itself larger than it had to be – when you’re just running around a spooky mansion, you don’t really need a whole bunch of special effects: when you’re on the brink of unleashing primordial powers from beyond the edge of the world into your small coastal town, that’s something else entirely.
Another issue with the magic system is that it never gets explained: why does it exist? Who made the keys, and why? What is Dodge? What is she doing? Who are the Lockes, and where did they come from? These are questions that are not only never answered, but never get raised in the first place. It’s not like there’s no reason to bring up any of these very important points: the Locke family are fighting to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, yet they never even seem to question how freaky and terrifying their lives have become. By the end of the series, they seem to have all nonchalantly settled down into a daily routine of nightmares, monstrous encounters in the woods, murderous escapees, demons breaking-and-entering, and a weirdly high number of people attacking each other with hammers (I mean, I get it, Nina is a carpenter and all, but are there no other available weapons in Keyhouse? They’ve got not one, but two wicked-looking swords mounted on the mantelpiece, and yet they choose hammers and plastic lightsabers to vend off intruders? Seriously?)
The series is fairly progressive, though fans of the original Locke & Key graphic novels will be disappointed to hear that Duncan Locke (Aaron Ashmore), an openly gay, happily married character in the comic, has a very small recurring role, and is nowhere shown to be gay, as he’s conveniently separated from his husband (whose name is, to be fair, mentioned once or twice) throughout the series.
All in all, Locke & Key has an amazing premise, and a couple of really good episodes: but it doesn’t take long before the plot, the characters and the entire series get lost in the dark. Will you find what you’re looking for amid the Gothic splendor of Keyhouse? I certainly hope so, because I feel like there’s potential somewhere in this story: potential that could be unlocked in a second season.
Amazon Prime has officially announced the fifteen members of the main recurring cast for the first season of their The Lord Of The Rings, a massive fantasy series that will dive deep into the uncharted expanses of time and space between J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic creation-narrative The Silmarillion, and the events of his most well-known work, The Lord Of The Rings. In this mostly unknown and unexplored region of the Tolkien legendarium, there are three-thousand years of stories, subplots and character arcs that can absolutely be stitched together into the five-season series that Amazon is hoping to create: and now they have a cast to help them with that daunting task.
A cast that, for the time being, is just that: a bunch of names and random headshots that really doesn’t give us any clear picture of what’s going on in Middle-earth at this point in the fantasy world’s history – are most of these characters original, devised by the Amazon Prime writer’s room? Or are they Tolkien characters, and we just don’t know it yet? Who is playing who?
That’s why I’m here: to make extremely random and imaginative conjectures based on a handful of vague hints, and, hopefully, get something right. I’m likely wrong about most or all of these predictions and theories, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.
That being said, let’s start out with Robert Aramayo, first on the cast-list and the man presumed to be the series’ central protagonist. Aramayo’s real character name is unknown, but it is known that he replaced fellow Brit Will Poulter, who was supposed to play “Beldor”. While no character with that name exists in Tolkien’s canon, Poulter’s striking resemblance to Hugo Weaving – who portrayed Elrond Half-Elven in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy – led many to believe that Poulter was playing a younger version of Weaving’s character, and that “Beldor” was merely a code-name. Aramayo doesn’t bear the same resemblance to Weaving, but he’s not entirely dissimilar, either. If Poulter was playing Elrond, then it seems certain that Aramayo is, as well.
There’s another (small) bit of evidence that points to Beldor being Elrond: in an unofficial character breakdown, a character named “Neldor” was mentioned as being very similar to Beldor. Frankly, Neldor makes the most sense as a code-name for Elrond, since it’s literally just the word Elrond with the letters scrambled, but I think Neldor is more likely to be Elrond’s canon twin brother, Elros – the first king of Númenor, and forefather of the Dúnedain. And who better to play Elros than the only other member of the cast (so far) who looks anything like Robert Aramayo: Welsh actor Owain Arthur? Arthur has similar facial features to Aramayo, but is also noticeably older, meaning he could convincingly portray the Half-Elf’s mortal brother, who chose to live and die as a human.
We don’t know who’s playing Elrond, but it looks like Welsh actress Morfydd Clark is almost certainly playing a younger version of the Elven heroine Galadriel, as was reported some time ago. Clark could easily pass as Cate Blanchett’s twin, and has an ethereal aura that would befit a character of Galadriel’s nobility and majesty.
Similarly, it seems definite that Australian actress Markella Kavenagh is playing the character of “Tyra”, an elf or non-human character with an optimistic, naive worldview and an eager curiosity. This has been reported since she was cast several months ago, and it hasn’t changed once. Kavenagh is playing Tyra: of that I’m certain. I’m not yet certain whether Tyra is a code-name, but I do think she’s an original character – my theory is that she’s a rustic Silvan elf, and I will not be swayed in that opinion until proven wrong. A lot of people want to believe she’s actually Celebrían, the future wife of Elrond and mother of Arwen Evenstar, but those people are wrong. Sorry.
If I had to guess who is playing Celebrían, it would be Ema Horvath, a young Slovak-American actress who was cast a while ago: she doesn’t look like the type of actress who could play “warm and maternal…Eira” or “self-sufficient single mother…Kari”, so I have to assume she’s playing another character, whom we haven’t seen yet in either character breakdowns or leaked audition tapes. Celebrían is as good a choice as any. though another possibility is Tar-Ancalimë, the first ruling Queen of Númenor.
But let’s get back to that self-sufficient single mother for a moment, because I think Iranian-British actress Nazanin Boniadi is the perfect fit for the role of Kari, whose audition tapes revealed a conflicted character struggling with a dangerous secret that could turn her people against her. Either that or she’s Erendis, a proud, fiercely determined Númenórean noblewoman who has a prominent role in Middle-earth history, and was the subject of one of Tolkien’s most emotional, intimate dramas. Boniadi would kill it in either role. I’ve also seen suggestions that she could be a gender-bent Celebrimbor, and I would love that too.
The series needs a villain, and I think both Daniel Weyman and Joseph Mawle make strong cases for why they should play Sauron, better known in this age of Middle-earth as Annatar, the giver of gifts and deceiver of men. Both men have strong, harsh features and a gaunt, almost sinuous look – personally, I’d take Mawle as Sauron and Weyman as his right-hand man, the Witch-King of Angmar, but maybe that’s just me. Sauron is an important role, and has to be cast right: in fact, since the character is a notorious shape-shifter, I wouldn’t mind seeing a number of different actors (or actresses) take on the role over the duration of the series, just to keep us constantly on our toes about who to trust. That way, the heavy burden wouldn’t just be on one actor’s shoulders, but would be passed around from episode to episode, allowing for the demigod villain to have a certain incorporeal feeling.
The character of “Hamson” is as good as Sauron is evil – described in breakdowns and audition tapes as a kind, loving farmer trying to preserve his fading health long enough to see his family through the winter, I imagine Hamson to be a rugged, rustic middle-aged man: basically, actor Dylan Smith. Otherwise, I could see Smith taking on the role of Loda, “an earthy man” whose daughter is training to be an apprentice in her village community.
Which brings us to Megan Richards, who I think fits the role of Loda’s daughter perfectly. This character doesn’t yet have a name, but had an important role in Loda’s audition tape, which saw the father and daughter duo conversing about a stowaway living in their house. With her charming, expressive features, Richards would be a sturdy emotional core for the series: a simple character wound up in a number of extraordinary circumstances. Alternatively, she could be playing one of Tyra’s sisters.
Next up, we have the youngest member of the cast, Australian child actor Tyroe Muhafidin. This boy has elf-ears, no questions asked: his ears are about as pointed as a human being’s can be, and I think it would be a waste to cast him as a human child, or anyone other than an elf. But are there any elf-children running around in the Second Age of Middle-earth? There are a couple: in one version of Galadriel’s backstory, she was the mother of a son named Amroth, who went on to become a noble elf-lord and the subject of a tragic love-song. Or, with a little timeline-altering, Muhafidin could be playing one of Elrond’s twin sons, Elladan or Elrohir. Those are the only elf-children I can think of off the top of my head, but there are very few kids in the Second Age – most likely, Muhafidin is playing a young version of a character who will become important as an adult in future seasons of the show.
Charlie Vickers is my pick for the character of “Cole”, who is described simply as a “charismatic” young fellow with a heavy burden and a melancholy attitude. Even after much brain-wracking, I can’t quite decide who this character might be in the Tolkien canon: perhaps the gloomy, pessimistic Celeborn? Imagining a “charismatic” Celeborn is somewhat difficult, so perhaps Vickers is playing a human – I keep coming back to Aldarion, the world-weary adventurer who set sail from Númenor to explore the edges of the world and found himself halfway across Middle-earth, leaving his family far behind him and largely abandoning the cares of his kingdom.
Aldarion’s closest friend among the Elves was the last king of the Noldor, the immortal Gil-galad. This is a role I wouldn’t mind seeing race-bent, especially because Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Córdova seems like such a good choice: not only does he have a curiously timeless look, but his eyes are almost as striking as Elijah Wood’s – reminiscent of the pale starlight that the Elves adore so much. I could picture Córdova’s Gil-galad as a solemn, mature young leader and a keen judge of character.
Sophia Nomvete, an Iranian-African actress, is an exciting casting choice, and I want to see her in an exciting role: this could be as a queen reigning over lands in Middle-earth, or even as one of the two Blue Wizards who visited the far east and helped rally the fight against Sauron from behind his front-lines, causing irreparable damage to his war effort. The fates of these two wizards are a long-running subject of debate in the Tolkien fandom, and we’ve never seen them onscreen – the closest we got was a throwaway reference to them in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Finally, we have to figure out who Australian actor Tom Budge is playing: no easy task, considering that most images of him show the actor sporting a large, downright Gallic mustache. But once you look past the facial hair, I think it’s easy to envision Budge as an elf: perhaps even the foolhardy Celebrimbor, who will probably have a large role in the show as the creator and craftsman behind the forging of the Rings of Power. But Budge could also be playing a villain – in particular, I could see him as one of the nine mortal men ensnared by Sauron and transformed into the horrible Ringwraithes.
So all fifteen have been accounted for, and where does that leave us? Well, technically, nowhere, since these are all just guesses. I’ve tried my best to check off all the many characters listed in the unofficial breakdowns and audition tapes, but even so, a couple are still missing: who’s playing the maternal “Eira”, or irascible “Brac”? Which of these is the charismatic but cunning “Aric”, who made such an impression on us several months ago?
I leave you to come up with your own guesses, and tell me what you think of mine: share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!