The teaser trailer for Amazon Prime’s upcoming show The Rings of Power (due out September 2) premiered during the Super Bowl on Sunday night, and as of this writing, the not-quite-minute-long teaser has been viewed nearly 19 million times and been the subject of much speculation among Tolkien fans. But what do we really know about the show from the teaser?
More than before, but less than we hoped for.
The trailer opens with a shot of a beautiful harbor city filled with architecture similar to that of the Elven buildings of Rivendell as seen in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. This is one of the cities of Númenor, the star-shaped island that was home to the greatest kingdom of Men the world had ever seen. As the camera pans over a bridge (with a sun-shaped emblem), a female voice asks, “Haven’t you ever wondered what else is out there? There’s wonders in this world beyond our wanderings. I can feel it.”
The view changes to show a wild mountain valley with two figures wearing, of all things, moose antlers as they walk across a ridge. We don’t know who those figures are or why they’re wearing moose antlers. Hopefully, we’ll find out later. But the image changes again to show a small young woman with a curious headdress smiling up at someone. This is, apparently, a Harfoot– one of the progenitors of the Hobbits we know from The Lord of the Rings— named Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot (Markella Kavanagh). We’ll probably see her again in the trailer, but hers is the only voice we hear.
The scene shifts again to reveal a snowy mountain range and a spectacular waterfall, then shifts again to show someone doggedly climbing an ice wall using a silver and gold dagger that was previously seen in the promo photos Prime released on Twitter and Instagram. The figure with the dagger looks up, and we see that this is Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). Initial speculation was that this scene showed the Noldor Elves crossing the Helcaraxë back in the First Age, but that notion was soon set aside as Matt from The Nerd of the Rings among others pointed out that the trailer scene is set in daylight, while the crossing of the Helcaraxë would have happened in darkness, after the light of the two trees of Valinor failed, and before the creation of the sun and moon (yes, Galadriel is older than the sun). A Vanity Fair article that came out not long after the trailer confirmed that the frozen wasteland is the Forodwaith, the snowy expanse in the far north of Middle-earth. It would seem that Galadriel is hunting Morgoth’s remaining minions to their departed master’s last kingdom, as she (unlike much of her king) is unconvinced that evil has been destroyed forever. She has reason to be angry, as her three brothers all died thanks to Morgoth’s machinations during the First Age.
The eight-pointed star on Galadriel’s shoulders has prompted much debate online, as many see it as the Fëanorian star, the emblem of Fëanor’s house. This would be a problem, as Galadriel unfriended (literally) Fëanor way back in the First Age, repudiating him forever and refusing to grant his request (made three times) of a single strand of her hair. In that light, Galadriel should never, ever wear such a star. But others have pointed out that the same symbol appears in the character photo that Prime has confirmed is of the Elven high king Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker), so it could be that the star (which isn’t exactly like the Fëanorian star) is a symbol of the Noldor in Middle-earth. We’re not quite sure what bits of The Silmarillion that Prime has rights to. Though Prime has rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and The History of Middle-earth are off-limits to them, except on a case-by-case basis subject to the approval of the Tolkien Estate. So it could be that Prime doesn’t have the rights to use Tolkien’s heraldic designs at all, and the star emblazoned on Galadriel’s and Gil-Galad’s clothing is a design specific to The Rings of Power.
And before you ask, “But wasn’t Galadriel this ethereal being who walked around barefoot in Lothlórien? Why is she wearing armor and wielding swords and daggers?”, know that Tolkien had a few versions of Galadriel’s life before Lothlórien, and her wielding a sword and leading armies is definitely not out of the realm of possibility, especially given that one of her names translates to ‘man-maiden’ because of her height and athleticism.
The scenes shift quickly after this. There is a man in the wreckage of a boat being nearly overwhelmed by a storm. This is apparently Halbrand, a character created for The Rings of Power. He is played by Charlie Vickers, and has a past he is fleeing from. We’re not sure if ‘Halbrand’ has a true meaning, but Shawn from The Prancing Pony Podcast did some research and he thinks that in Sindarin, ‘Halbrand’ means something like ‘secret noble’.
The next scene shows an Elf in a darkened forest. He holds a bow, and while someone has shot an arrow toward him, he is unconcerned and calmly catches the arrow out of the air, turns it, nocks it, and looses it. This is Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), a Silvan Elf whose character was created for the show. His name is Sindarin, and translates to something like ‘noble man’, though we may find out differently later on. He will be involved in some sort of romantic relationship with a human woman named Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), who does not appear in the trailer. She is a single mother and a healer who lives in the village of Tirharad. Some have taken the ‘Harad’ bit to mean that Bronwyn is a Haradrim woman, but others have pointed out that ‘harad’ simply means ‘south’. Ergo, Tirharad is a village whose name means ‘south watch’, and so could be just about anywhere. Her clothing as we saw it in the promotional photos makes me think she lives in the more southerly areas of Middle-earth where it’s warmer.
The scene shifts again to show a meteor passing over a forest, then again to an Elf standing among autumn leaves and looking upward- presumably toward the meteor, but perhaps not. This Elf is none other than Gil-Galad, the high king of the Elves during the time this story is set. We saw him briefly in the prologue to Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring film.
Then there is a brief shot of Galadriel leading a group of riders across a green plain below a mountain range. Then we see some sort of monster (possibly an ice troll?) menacing a fleeing figure carrying a torch. After that, there is a brief shot of an Elvish platform among golden trees above a waterfall.
Then there is a shot of Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), who will apparently be establishing the Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm. In a third Vanity Fair article that briefly discusses Durin IV’s character, stating that he is not simply the son of Durin III, a Dwarven leader of the Second Age, as that is not how the line of Durin works. Durin I was the greatest of the Dwarven leaders and craftsmen. After his death, every once in a while, a Dwarf would be born who was so alike to Durin in voice, appearance, and skill that he would be given the name ‘Durin’.
Then we see a figure with a pointed ear slowly look up. It’s Elrond (Robert Aramayo), and he doesn’t look happy with whatever he sees. It’s been speculated that he is in Khazad-dûm, as he is apparently meant to be working on an alliance with the Dwarves there. Much has been made of his relatively short hair, but there seems to be no textual evidence that says, “Elrond had long, flowing locks”.
We catch a glimpse of Princess Disa (Sofia Nomvete), the Dwarven princess who is reportedly shown singing a lament of some kind.
The scene then shifts to a boat, where a hand reaches out and pulls back a woman’s hair to reveal her pointed ear. We then see Galadriel looking up at, apparently, Halbrand, and giving him an angry look.
Then it quickly changes to one of the most baffling scenes in the trailer: it’s what seems to be the crater from the meteor shown earlier. A man called simply The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) appears to be climbing out of the crater and reaches out for a hand. The hand could be that of Nori Brandyfoot, but no one is sure. All that the showrunners have said is that The Stranger’s true identity will be one of the driving mysteries of the first season. Speculation about The Stranger’s identity has pegged him as one of the Blue Wizards, Gandalf, Sauron, or even Tom Bombadil. Personally, I’m inclined to think that it’s either Sauron in some guise or one of the Blue Wizards, but we’ll have to wait to find out.
The scenes flash by faster after that: Durin IV breaks a stone with a hammer; a Man or Elf with a chain around one foot and an ax in hand leaps toward a structure of some kind; an armored Elf and his fellow soldiers are surrounded on the battlefield while the Elf seems to be crying out to someone. Some speculate that this is possibly Finrod Felagund, Galadriel’s eldest brother, during one of the many battles of the First Age, and this is a flashback of some kind. We also get to see an earlier version of the orcs, whose ears are pointier than they were in the Peter Jackson films.
The final shot shows an aging hand grasping a much smaller, less weathered hand; a child’s, perhaps, or maybe a Harfoot’s.
So we know a little more about the characters, but we still know next to nothing about the plot. According to showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, the series will compress the timeline of the latter half of the second age, pushing the events of nearly two thousand years into a greatly shortened time period. They have their reasons for that, but I’m curious to see how they will deal with the immortality of the Elves and how that relates to the mortality of Men, as that basic fact drives much of the conflict between the Númenoreans and the Elves, the humans of Middle-earth, and ultimately the Valar themselves.
I am still incredibly excited for this show, though. The showrunners have been working with Tolkien scholars for the history of the Second Age; with John Howe, a renowned artist who specializes in art dealing with Tolkien’s works and who also served as a production designer on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. Payne studied English literature at Yale, and has studied Shakespeare, the Bible, Hebrew literature, and a host of rhetorical devices like the ones Tolkien used in his writing, so some of my worries about the archaic feeling a script would require for it to feel like it comes from Middle-earth have been allayed. Studios are going back to using practical effects rather than excessive CGI, so the look will be less reminiscent of The Hobbit films and a little more like The Lord of the Rings. And if the initial production stills are anything to go by, the cinematographer and lighting director know their business through and through; the lighting and framing of those shots is just lovely. The details I’ve seen of the costumes show exquisite craftsmanship. From a technical standpoint, we have a collection of teams with expertise and devotion to their various arts, which always bodes well in my mind.
So we have seen actual moving footage from The Rings of Power, and while there are still plenty of mysteries ahead, it looks beautiful so far and my excitement is steadily growing.
- ‘Secrets of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Teaser Trailer‘ by Anthony Breznican, Vanity Fair
- ‘10 Burning Questions About Amazon’s The Rings of Power‘ by Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair
- The Rings of Power Teaser BREAKDOWN | The Lord of the Rings on Prime from Nerd of the Rings on YouTube
- The Rings of Power TRAILER Reaction & Analysis | LIVESTREAM from Voice of Geekdom on YouTube
- ‘Episode 002- Who Are You?‘ The Rings of Power Wrap-Up Podcast by Alan Sisto and Shawn Marchese
All images are screen captures from the teaser trailer, available on Amazon Prime’s YouTube channel. Click here to watch it.