This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Amazon spent a reported $715 million to make The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, with a whopping $250 million going toward the rights to Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy of books. You can’t really blame them, then, for not splurging on the rights to Tolkien’s other books, many of which deal with the history of Middle Earth in greater depth. However, Tolkien loved nothing more than explaining himself, and the appendices of The Lord of the Rings provide plenty of fodder for the Prime prequel series.
You don’t need to read Tolkien’s works before watching The Rings of Power—and even if you already have, they’re so dense with lore that even the most dedicated Ringers might find themselves in need of a refresher. Below, we attempt to answer the most pressing questions casual fans might have following the premiere of the show’s first two episodes.
Is The Rings of Power related to the Peter Jackson movies?
It is related, in that it’s a prequel to the stories Jackson told in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings film trilogies.
It is not related, in that Jackson himself was not involved in making The Rings of Power. Jackson says that years ago the studio invited him to participate but then never followed up, and Amazon cited as an explanation the need to keep the movies and the show separate for legal reasons. (The movies are currently streaming on Amazon, but they’re owned by Warner Bros.) Anonymous sources in the Hollywood Reporter also claim that the Tolkien estate, which famously disapproved of Jackson’s treatment of the source material in his movies, didn’t want him working on the new project. That said, the show’s creators have acknowledged that they are fans of the movies and that, early on, they took inspiration from them, so if you notice stylistic similarities between the two screen adaptations’ approach to the material, they’re not necessarily just in your head.
When does this show take place again? Where’s Frodo?
Frodo won’t be born for thousands of years. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy takes place in a period of Middle-earth’s history known as the Third Age. The Rings of Power takes place much earlier, in the Second Age.
Of course, there are still quite a few familiar faces. Since Elves live such a long time, the series features a young Galadriel (played by Cate Blanchett in the movies, by Morfydd Clark on the show) and a young Elrond (Hugo Weaving in the movies, Robert Aramayo on the show).
The Rings of Power also lets us see more of Aragorn’s ancestor Isildur, who we know will eventually defeat the evil Sauron but will fail to destroy the One Ring, setting in motion the events of The Lord of the Rings much later. (You might remember some of this from the prologue to the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring, which itself is narrated by Galadriel.)
So the titular rings of power haven’t been created yet?
No, but the show is setting the stage for their creation. Fans of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which recounts the events of Middle-earth’s early ages, know that the master smith Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) has a role to play in their creation, before Sauron tricks him by secretly creating the One Ring to Rule Them All.
Was Gandalf alive during all of this? Is he secret? Is he safe?!
It’s complicated! In Tolkien’s writings, Gandalf has been alive since the beginning of time, but he doesn’t arrive in the Middle-earth till later, in the Third Age. During the Second Age, when this show takes place, he and the other wizards are usually thought to still be in the west, far from the events of the show, where he goes by the name Olórin. Still, The Rings of Power’s writers have already admitted that they’ve made some changes to Middle-earth’s timeline to condense it, so it’s perhaps not impossible that he could make an appearance.
And the Elves aren’t originally from Middle-earth either?
No, as we see at the beginning of The Rings of Power, they too came to Middle-earth from the west, in what is sometimes referred to as “the Undying Lands,” which is eventually where they return to live out their days in peace. You may recall that Frodo and his fellows were allowed to sail there at the end of The Return of the King, despite not being Elves, in honor of their role in destroying the One Ring.
What is a “Harfoot”? Is it the same thing as a Hobbit?
There was once a time when three distinct groups of Hobbits existed in Middle-earth: Harfoots, Stoors, and Fallohides. Let us consult “Concerning Hobbits,” the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, which offers a brief history (well, brief by Tolkien standards, anyway):
The Harfoots were browner of skin, smaller, and shorter, and they were beardless and bootless; their hands and feet neat and nimble; and they preferred highlands and hillsides. The Stoors were broader, heavier in build; their feet and hands were larger, and they preferred flat lands and riversides. The Fallohides were fairer of skin and also of hair, and they were taller and slimmer than the others; they were lovers of trees and of woodlands.
Eventually, Tolkien goes on to explain, the three groups migrated and mixed, so the distinctions between Hobbits are no longer as clear by the time of The Fellowship of the Ring. However, Tolkien calls the Harfoots “the most normal and representative variety of Hobbit, and far the most numerous,” so they possess many of the qualities we most associate with Hobbits, such as hairy feet (hence the name) and an affinity for making their homes in holes.
Are the Harfoots Irish?
Some of them certainly sound Irish—or at least Irish-ish. Dialect coach Leith McPherson told Inverse that the production aimed for more of “an Irish base to their accent” rather than wanting them to sound like they come from a “particular cross street in Dublin.”
“It’s familiar, but different,” she said. “It’s not like an entirely new dialect never heard on Earth before, but it is intended to have an otherness.”
That sounds suspiciously like someone trying to cover up not being able to pull off an Irish accent.
The cast of Wild Mountain Thyme sure could’ve used that as an excuse.
Why is Elrond not allowed on the Elf council of lords?
At this point in the timeline, Elrond has not yet established Rivendell, the elegant Elven stronghold where the Fellowship of the Ring is formed, so it may simply be that he has no lands to rule. It may also have something to do with both of Elrond’s parents being half Elf, half human—where Elrond chose to live the life of an Elf, his brother chose to live among Men.
Curiously, physicist and Tolkien scholar Dr. Kristine Larsen notes that in the books, Elrond is almost always directly addressed as Master, not Lord, so the show could very well have a backstory in mind for that.
The first episode ends with a dude in a flaming crater after falling to earth. Am I supposed to know who he is?
Not yet. The character, played by Daniel Weyman, is mysteriously credited only as The Stranger. We do learn a tiny bit more about him in The Rings of Power’s second episode, which contains all the makings of a classic Horse Girl movie—you know, in which a young girl meets a wild, spirited horse but is able to gain its trust through the power of friendship—except in this case, we’ll need to replace horse with half-naked wizard man who fell from the sky. Chiefly, we learn that he can use some kind of magic (he whispers to the fireflies to command them, the same way Gandalf whispers to the moth in Fellowship of the Ring), and it seems to be dark (the fireflies die)—or maybe it just appears that way because he’s lost and frightened. That could mean he’s a Maiar, like Gandalf or Saruman. Or … he could be a more famous Tolkien character hiding in plain sight.