A star rating of 4 out of 5.

It’s been 21 years now since that first Lord of the Rings film and eight since the last Hobbit movie, and, truth be told, none of us really expected another tour of Middle-earth. After 2014’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, some even wisecracked about Peter Jackson directing a version of the famously unadaptable The Silmarillion. Sadly, save for any scavenging of the appendices for The Lord of the Rings, it seemed like there was nowhere else to go, screen-wise, in JRR Tolkien’s mythology-rich land.


But that was then and this is now. Who could have predicted that the Tolkien Estate, who for so many years had been ferociously protective of the late scholar’s work, would agree to new stories being created in his world?

When Amazon Studios scooped the rights to The Lord of the Rings and its appendices (a chunky part of the final book that details the Second Age of Middle-earth) in November 2017, it was billed as the priciest TV deal in history. But the agreement wasn’t for a remake of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, it was to create fresh stories in this densely-detailed world.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power arrives as one of the most anticipated TV shows of all time, then. Not that it’s guaranteed an easy ride. Not only is it likely to be compared, rightly or wrongly, to Jackson’s Oscar-hoovering trilogy, but there’s also an army of Tolkien loyalists to deal with, many of whom are deeply suspicious of anyone but their favourite author playing in the Middle-earth sandpit.

Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Queen Regent Míriel in The Rings of Power.
Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Queen Regent Míriel in The Rings of Power Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Its timing though, is unfortunate. When Game of Thrones debuted in 2011 it couldn’t escape being judged next to Lord of the Rings. And with spin-off House of the Dragon having premiered just two weeks before the first two episodes of The Rings of Power drop, it’s inevitable they're going to pitted against each other.

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In many ways, though, it’s an unfair comparison. Game of Thrones was always the Rolling Stones to The Lord of the Rings’ Beatles – darker, edgier, lustier. JRR’s world, in the books and in Jackson’s movies, was warmer and more optimistic, and that’s a tone carried through into The Rings of Power. While sword and sorcery series of late have gotten bloodier and more savage, this show is refreshingly family-friendly.

Though Peter Jackson’s shadow hangs over this series as much as Tolkien’s (it lifts much of the design aesthetic from both trilogies), it differs from the films in that it lacks a central protagonist. Though Nori the Harfoot (a breed of Hobbit we’ve not yet met on-screen before) is the closest we get to Frodo (“Haven’t you ever wondered what else is out there?” she asks her mother. “I can’t help but feel that there are wonders in this world beyond our wandering”), she’s just one among a throng of characters, both old (Galadriel, Elrond) and new (everyone else).

Markella Kavenagh (Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot)
Markella Kavenagh as Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot in The Rings of Power Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

This is a bona fide ensemble piece, in a way that the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films never were. That means, however, that the series consists of a patchwork of plotlines. Whereas The Lord of the Rings’ central story was the classic ‘hero’s journey’, there’s no such narrative thrust to The Rings of Power, at least not that we can glean from its first two episodes.

These opening salvos then juggle a variety of storylines. There’s Galadriel, a younger, feistier version of the regal elf queen we know from Jackson’s films, in this series Commander of the northern armies and, as Elrond calls her, “warrior of the wastelands”. She’s the only elf to believe that, after defeating Morgoth and the orcs centuries ago, his “most devoted servant” Sauron is still alive. With the war now a distant memory for most, she’s but a lone voice in believing the threat to be real.

Meanwhile, in Rhovanion, two Harfoots are trying to discover the identity of a mysterious, naked man (discreetly nude, we must add, this ain’t House of the Dragon), while in the world of Men, elf watcher Arondir is exploring a cavernous hole in the ground that he discovers after an entire village is wiped out. At the same time, Elrond has been asked to approach the Dwarves for help in building a structure that fans of the film series will instantly recognise. It’s not easy to see yet how these disparate narratives will eventually coalesce, but at the moment, the storytelling feels frustratingly bitty.

What the series does offer, however, is a much more expansive look at Tolkien’s vast fictional world. Middle-earth is just one of the realms on show here, with Valinor, the Sundering Seas, Forodwaith, Rhovanion, Lindon, Eregion and Khazad-Dum all getting a look-in. The eye-wowing New Zealand locations not only offer a multitude of wildly different terrains and vistas, but also provide some extra connective tissue to the Jackson films.

In some ways, The Rings of Power feel more of a kin to the Lord of the Rings trilogy than the Hobbit films do. By those later movies, Jackson was leaning even more heavily into CGI (just look at the orcs in those films compared to his first trilogy) and greenscreen. The Rings of Power, like The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers especially, looks and feels thrillingly organic.

If the first episode, by zeroing in so tightly on the Elves (as great as they are in small doses, their slow, mannered, portentous delivery can grate), feels a little frosty and formal, know that it does get warmer and funnier, as the Harfoots and Dwarves (who are all now Scottish, it seems) are given more airtime.

Beau Cassidy (middle child), Lenny Henry (Sadoc Burrows)
Sir Lenny Henry as Sadoc Burrows in The Rings of Power Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

It’s said that showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay have a five-year plan for this series and already have its closing shot in their heads. Although the first two episodes take a while to get moving, there’s a lot to love here. The casting is almost uniformly on target and director JA Bayona makes the most of his record-busting budget. And we haven’t even mentioned Howard Shore’s stirring theme tune (which makes its debut in episode 2). It’s a newly-composed piece that doesn’t riff on any of his work on the LOTR and Hobbit movies, but manages to nostalgically evoke them. It’s just another element of the series that echoes that run of films.

If you were burned by Jackson’s bloated, CGI-drenched Hobbit movies, this is the prequel the original Lord of the Rings trilogy really deserves.

Read more on The Rings of Power:

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episodes 1 and 2 arrive on Amazon Prime Video in the UK on Friday 2nd September 2022 – you can sign up now for a free 30-day Prime Video trial.

If you’re looking for something else to watch in the meantime, check out our TV Guide or visit our dedicated Fantasy and Sci-Fi hub.


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