As the streaming wars heat up, Amazon is betting big on The Lord of the Rings. The company is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a prequel series set long before the events of the movies. This series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, will be set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, an important time that literally reshaped the face of the planet.
If you’re not familiar with the extensive backstory behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, don’t worry. Here’s everything you need to know about Middle-earth’s Second Age and what it could mean for the plot of the prequel series. And check out the Rings of Power trailer right here:
The Second Age: The Basics
The fantasy universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien is much bigger than just the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. The land of Middle-earth is part of a larger world called Arda. Over the course of several decades of work (much of which was only published posthumously), Tolkien created a detailed history of Arda, ranging from the creation of the universe all the way up to humanity’s modern era. The recorded history of Arda is divided into four Ages, each of which span many hundreds or thousands of years.
The Second Age is a period only briefly glimpsed in the Lord of the Rings movies. This setting spans a long period of time in between the banishment of Morgoth (the original Dark Lord) and the first defeat of his servant Sauron. The Second Age is defined by key events like the rise and fall of the kingdom of Númenor, the creation of the Rings of Power and the formation of the Last Alliance that temporarily saved the world from Sauron’s wrath. This is the setting of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel series.
The Second Age: Major Events
The Second Age begins in the aftermath of a catastrophic war over mystical jewels known as Silmarils and Morgoth’s banishment from Arda. In this new era, both men and Elves begin leaving Middle-earth and venturing west. Many Elves retreat to a place called the Undying Lands (the place Frodo and Bilbo are taken to at the end of Return of the King), while a group of men called the Edain settle on an island called Númenor. While initially benevolent, the Númenóreans become more warlike due to their jealousy of the elves’ immortality.
The Second Age is where Sauron begins consolidating his power and filling the void left by his master, Morgoth. Skilled at flattery and deceit, Sauron manipulates the Elves into creating the Rings of Power and giving him the weapons he needs to dominate Middle-earth. The rings are forged by an Elf Lord and master jewel-smith named Celebrimbor (a character who plays a major role in the 2014 video game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel). Only too late does Celebrimbor discover Sauron’s true nature and the real purpose of these powerful artifacts.
The reign of the Númenóreans culminates with the rise of a king named Ar-Pharazôn. Sauron convinces Ar-Pharazôn to turn against the Valar (basically Tolkien’s version of angels) and attempt an invasion of the Undying Lands, where the Númenóreans might find the immortality they so crave. This is one of the few instances where Ilúvatar (or the God of Tolkien’s fantasy universe) directly intervenes in mortal affairs. Ilúvatar annihilates Númenor in an act so destructive it transforms Arda from a flat plane into a globe. This act also cuts off the Undying Lands from the rest of the world, forever denying men the chance at immortality.
Sauron himself is nearly destroyed in this attack, but his spirit survives and he soon begins building a new army in Mordor. Fortunately, not all men were destroyed along with Númenor. A group called the Faithful, led by King Elendil (the distant ancestor of Aragorn), return to Middle-earth and create the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor. Along with his sons, Isildur and Anárion, and the Elven kings Gil-Galad and Elrond, Elendil forms the Last Alliance and wages a long, costly war against Sauron.
Lord of the Rings fans probably know what happens from there. Sauron is defeated but not destroyed, Isildur claims the One Ring and the Second Age makes way for the Third.
The Rings of Power: Amazon’s Prequel Series
Even knowing that Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel series is set in the Second Age doesn’t tell us a great deal about the plot. For one thing, the Second Age lasts for almost 3500 years. More importantly, this is an era of Middle-earth history that isn’t very well-defined. Tolkien never actually published any books after completing the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1955. Most of what we know about the Second Age is taken from posthumous works like The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle-earth series, all of which were compiled by Tolkien’s son Christopher using unpublished manuscripts and earlier drafts of the LotR trilogy.
Basically, there isn’t one set story or a specific cast of characters Amazon can rely on when creating the prequel series. The sizable cast of the series includes Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Elrond (Robert Aramayo), High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker), the Harfoots Marigold Brandyfoot (Sara Zwangobani), Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) and Sadoc Burrows (Sir Lenny Henry), The Stranger (Daniel Weyman), the Dwarves King Durin III (Peter Mullan) and Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), Isildur (Maxim Baldry), Elendil (Lloyd Owen), Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle), Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Kemen (Leon Wadham), and Eärien (Ema Horvath).
We may see certain key events like the fall of Númenor or the formation of the Last Alliance play out over the course of several seasons, but the series will also need to introduce new plot points and characters to fill in the blanks and turn the broad strokes of Tolkien’s writing into a complete, cohesive story.
We also don’t know if the prequel series will attempt to chronicle the entire scope of the Second Age or focus on one, specific conflict. Showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have hinted the series may be taking the first approach.
“This is a title that we imagine could live on the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien’s other classics,” Payne and McKay said in a statement. “The Rings of Power unites all the major stories of Middle-earth’s Second Age: the forging of the rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the epic tale of Númenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.”
One possibility is that the series will explore multiple, distinct time periods. Amazon has reportedly committed to five seasons and a potential spinoff, so it’s possible each season will focus on a different pivotal event from the Second Age.
Early rumors suggested the prequel series would focus on a young Aragorn. While Aragorn wasn’t born until several thousand years after the end of the Second Age, these rumors could still pan out. The series could use Aragorn’s story as a framing device, with the king-to-be learning about the history of his people and the mistakes made by previous kings like Ar-Pharazôn and Elendil. This might be an ideal way of introducing viewers to the complex history of Middle-earth while giving them a familiar character to latch onto.
The Rings of Power debuts on Prime Video worldwide on Friday, September 2, and will drop new episodes weekly.
This story was updated on July 14, 2022, with the latest information about the show. It was originally published in August of 2019.