The Lord of the Rings TV show: release date, cast, trailer and more

Jack Shepherd

As with much of the film and television industry, production on the Lord of the Rings TV show has been put on pause due to the coronavirus. However, there's been reports that – due to filming taking place in New Zealand, where cases of COVID have been particularly low – work will begin again in the near future. 

During the break, we’ve learnt a fair amount about the Lord of the Rings TV show, including a number of casting announcements and even a potential release date. We’ve scoured the internet like Sauron's eye searching the plains of Mordor to bring you everything we know about the upcoming adventure through Middle Earth. 

First, though, a recent and minor update: reports have indicated that J.R.R. Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey has parted ways with the project. Corey Olsen, another Tolkien scholar, made the revelation, saying that the situation was not as simple as Shippey being fired. There's no confirmation from either party as yet on what exactly happened. Below, we break down more of what you need to know about the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show. To Mordor!

Lord of the Rings TV show's release date

An image from Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings TV show currently has no release date. However, we do know that Amazon – the company rumoured to have already spent $250 million on buying the rights to the series – has started production on the show. There are rumours that they are trying for a December 2021 release date, which would have made sense pre-pandemic. However, due to these unforeseen circumstances, there's no real knowing when we will see Middle Earth back on screens.

Reports previously indicated that the first two episodes – directed by J.A. Bayona – will be filmed back-to-back before a four-to-five-month hiatus. In this time, the showrunners will see what's working, and then map out the already-commissioned season 2. Deadline reports that season 2 may even film back-to-back with some later episodes from the first season, hence the need for a break and to have a solid two-season plan before venturing forward. 

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke corroborated this timeline, explaining: “It’ll be in production in two years. 2021 is the hope. But there are other people who wish it was 2020.”  

Filming began in early 2020, with Bayona posting a behind the scenes image of a tree. "The light from our set accidentally cast on top of a tree and it made it look like a strange cloud from a Miyazaki movie. #nightshoot," he captioned the image on Instagram. 

Filming has since stopped due to coronavirus, but looks set to start again soon. “[Productions] will arrive into the country across the next six months,” New Zealand's Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment manager Sian Roguski said in July. “This is subject to production timing and managed quarantine availability.”

The Lord of the Rings writers and directors

Writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay will act as co-showrunners on the new series. Speaking of their appointment, they said in a joint statement: “We feel like Frodo, setting out from the Shire, with a great responsibility in our care. It is the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime.”

Joining them as a consultant is Bryan Cogman, who is best known for rising from as assistant on Game of Thrones to writing some of the HBO fantasy series' best episodes. Also announced to be writing episodes for the Lord of the Rings TV show are Gennifer Hutchinson (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Helen Shang (Hannibal), Justin Dohle (Stranger Things), and Stephany Folsom (Toy Story 4).

Meanwhile, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona will helm the first two episodes of the first season (Amazon have signed on to produce five seasons) and will act as an executive producer. There's also some other extremely exciting behind-the-camera, including costume designer Kate Hawley (Edge of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad), production designer Rick Heinrichs (Sleepy Hollow, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), visual effects supervisor Jason Smith (Super 8, Avengers), and Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey. Concept artist John Howe, who worked on Jackson's trilogy, will also have the same position on the show.

“This team is our Fellowship, assembled from around the world, all walking the road together to try and accomplish something far greater than any of us could on our own,” McKay and Payne said in a statement. And what an incredible fellowship, indeed.

Lord of the Rings TV Show cast

After a multitude of reports concerning casting, including Will Poulter joining and then leaving the show, Amazon has finally confirmed the first 15 names joining the cast. They are Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman.

One of the biggest announcements from the group is Game of Thrones alumni Joseph Mawle, a veteran television and film actor best known for playing Benjen Stark, has joined the cast. The Hollywood Reporter claims that the actor will likely play the villain Oren, though no character in the source material appears to be called this. 

Then there's Robert Aramayo, who – like Mawle – previously played a Stark in Game of Thrones, having appeared as a young Ned Stark. He replaced Poulter as the leading male star in the show. 

Variety previously reported that His Dark Materials actress Morfydd Clark has signed on to play a young Galadriel. The character – one of the three elves given a ring of power – was portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson's movies. The announcement works with the Lord of the Rings TV series' Second Age setting, as Galadriel is over 7000 years old by the time the events of the movies take place.

Variety also first reported that Markella Kavenagh, an Australian actress best known for starring in the Romper Stomper TV show, joined the cast as the show's female lead. Details regarding her character are being kept very under wraps, though she has a name: Tyra. Ema Horvath – who appeared in the Blumhouse horror Like.Share.Follow – has also been cast in a main role.

There have also been reports that Maxim Baldry, of Years & Years fame, has been cast in a lead role. Deadline adds that Amazon co-head of television Vernon Sanders previously noted, “We still have a few key roles to cast,” and that Baldry is one of those "key roles".

In other casting news, Sir Ian McKellen – who played Gandalf in the three Lord of the Rings movies and The Hobbit trilogy – has said that no other actor could play the wise wizard. “What do you mean, another Gandalf?” McKellen told Graham Norton when asked whether someone could take over the role. “I haven’t said yes because I haven’t been asked. But are you suggesting that someone else is going to play it? Gandalf is over 7,000 years old, so I’m not too old.”

The Lord of the Rings TV show setting

Despite theories to the contrary, looks like the Lord of the Rings TV show takes place in the Second Age - counting out a potential series centred on a young Aragon (Strider was not born until the Third Age). 

The setting was revealed when Amazon posted an image of the island of Númenor; home to Aragorn's people, the Númenoreans (who are, to massively simplify things, humans with a very long lifespan). They lived there until their home was destroyed, making it a ruin by the events of the main Lord of the Rings story. Whether the show is set on Númenor remains to be seen, but fans certainly are eager to get an insight into the world that came before the movies, with many hoping to see how Sauron rose to power. Perhaps we will even see the forging of the One Ring (which happened in the year 1600 - the Second Age lasted 3441 years). 

Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey has also revealed that Amazon had no choice in the matter when it came to the Lord of the Rings TV show's setting. Despite the streaming service spending $250 million on the rights to Tolkien's work, the author's estate have made it mandatory that the show does not cross over with the events of Jackson's movies - Lord of the Rings or Hobbit. 

“It's a bit of a minefield – you have to tread very carefully”, he told Deutsche Tolkien. “The Tolkien estate will insist that the main shape of the Second Age is not altered. Sauron invades Eriador, is forced back by a Númenórean expedition, is returns to Númenor. There he corrupts the Númenóreans and seduces them to break the ban of the Valar. All this, the course of history, must remain the same. 

“But you can add new characters and ask a lot of questions, like: What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it. But it must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say. That’s what Amazon has to watch out for. It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries which Tolkien has created. It is necessary to remain ‘Tolkienian’.”

The Tolkien estate have denied the claims, though Amazon has yet to officially say anything on the matter.

Filming location

Amazon has confirmed that the Lord of the Rings TV show will be filmed in New Zealand; the country that provided the astonishing setting of Peter Jackson's trilogy. Showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said of bringing the series back to New Zealand: “As we searched for the location in which we could bring to life the primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle-earth, we knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff." Expect lots of aerial shots of snowy peaks, rolling hillsides, and craggy cliff faces.

The Lord of Rings TV show won't involve Peter Jackson

Sadly, Peter Jackson, who directed the film trilogy, has confirmed he is not involved with Amazon's TV adaptation. He said at a New York Comic Con panel last year that he's "kind of looking forward to it" as a viewer instead. "I was a guy who didn't get to see the Lord of the Rings like everybody else because I had to make it", Jackson explained, "so I'm looking forward to seeing somebody else's take on the Tolkien world."

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