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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power — 7 things you need to know before you watch

Morfydd Clark (Galadriel) is clad in armor and walks with a fire raging behind her in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
(Image credit: Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)

To heck with Stranger Things; The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power may be the biggest TV show of the year. That's already true if we go by cost, as Amazon spent a reported $465 million (opens in new tab) for season 1. Stranger Things 4's estimated $270 million (opens in new tab) budget seem comparatively cheap. 

Judging by the full The Rings of Power trailer, Amazon is getting its money's worth, as this series looks like a no-expenses-spared Lord of the Rings movie. Check out our Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power review to see why we think it's great — and divisive.

Arriving almost eight years after the final Hobbit movie (The Battle of the Five Armies in Dec. 2014), The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power could be Prime Video's best bet in getting a win in the streaming wars. (House of the Dragon, HBO's gambit for the "Throne," is currently airing.)

But since this is a Lord of the Rings story, there's a whole lot to unpack. At first blush, thing seem familiar: A diverse group of beings in Middle-earth will have to choose if they want to unite, and how to fight a growing force of evil. However, The Rings of Power is also a collection of personal stories, led by a younger Galadriel (played by Cate Blanchett in the Peter Jackson films), who is avenging her brother's battlefield death. She meets many other folks along the way, who are all processing their own personal griefs and troubles.

All the while, the evil Sauron is somewhere building an army. Or at least, that's what the source material would suggest. And, yes, there's some complexity regarding what source material The Rings of Power can use. We'll break it all down below.

When does The Rings of Power take place?

The Rings of Power takes place during Tolkien's Second Age, in the years 500 through 3341. These begin with Sauron returning from the East, and end with Isildur cutting the One Ring from Sauron's figure, annihilating his physical form. In-between, Sauron built his armies, the Nùmenóreans arrived in Middle-earth, Celebrimbor forged the Rings of Power and a war between Sauron and the Elves took place. Oh, and the Nazgûl (aka, the Ringwraiths) also made their first appearance. 

Unfortunately, there's a bit of a rights problem that will stop The Rings of Power from explicitly referencing most events in The Second Age. More on that below. 

Who are The Rings of Power’s main characters?

Like Game of Thrones, The Rings of Power features a sprawling ensemble. We'll keep this character rundown focused on the 10 most important roles. 

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Galadriel (Morfydd Clark)
Played by Cate Blanchett in the Lord of the Rings movies, Galadriel is a royal Elf. Here, in The Rings of Power, she goes into battle to avenge the loss of her brother, who was killed while at war. She is deeply concerned that dark forces are at work.

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Elrond (Robert Aramayo)
Portrayed in the films by Hugo Weaving, Elrond is half-Elven and immortal. In the trailers, he debates with Galadriel. Elrond, you see, isn't as sure as Galadriel that danger is coming.

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Durin IV (Owain Arthur)
Prince of the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm, Durin IV is a the fourth in the line of Dwarf leaders, and was referenced in the appendices of Lord of the Rings. He bore a ring of power.

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Disa (Sophia Nomvete)
Princess of the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm.

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Isildur (Maxim Baldry)
A Númenórean sailor who is a key ally of Galadriel's. Canonically, he played a key role in the fight against Sauron, as referenced in The Fellowship of the Ring.

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Elendil (Lloyd Owen)
Isildur's father, a Númenórean sailor with a future in leadership.

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Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker)
The High King of the Elves, whose prescience helps provide warning that evil is coming. He rules from Lindon.

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Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards)
An Elven smith with a reputation as one of the best craftsmen in Middle-earth.

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Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova)
A Silvan Elf, he loves the human Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), but that love is forbidden.

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Elanor 'Nori' Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh)
A non-canonical Harfoot (who are also known as Halflings) who has an adventurous nature. She encounters The Stranger in the trailers.

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Unnamed character (Joseph Mawle)
Mawle is rumored to be playing the primary antagonist for the first season of The Rings of Power. The character is reportedly (opens in new tab) named Adar, a fallen Elf who is the leader of an army of Orcs.

Do I have to have seen the Lord of the Rings movies?

Fortunately, prequels should stand on their own. On the other hand, knowing what happens to the rings of power may inform your viewings, and help you assess the decisions of certain characters. 

That said, since a familiarity with Elrond, Galadriel and Sauron could be helpful, this is as good a place as any to remind you that all six LOTR and Hobbit movies are on both Prime Video and HBO Max.

How long will The Rings of Power run?

The Rings of Power will run for multiple seasons, with at least two that Amazon has already greenlit. The first season consists of eight episodes. Details on the second season's length have yet to emerge. 

What’s different from the books?

That depends on which books you're talking about. The Lord of the Rings rights are a chaotic hellfire at the moment, and Amazon has the rights to only certain slices of the history of Middle-earth. Showrunner J.D. Payne told Vanity Fair (opens in new tab) that they "have the rights solely to The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, the appendices, and The Hobbit … and not The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, or any of those other books."

Harfoots seen from behind in the Rings of Power trailer

(Image credit: Amazon)

And that's where things get complicated. Without The Silmarillion, Amazon doesn't have access to the Akallabêth, a big story from the Second Age. The Akallabêth is especially important to the histories of Númenor and Sauron.

The Rings of Power is supposed to cover The Second Age. That means the show will apparently have to create on its own lore. Some viewers we've talked to refer to the show as "fanfic" because of this. We can already tell that sticklers for the history of the books won't look fondly upon what is, essentially, rewriting Tolkien's history.

Is Sauron in The Rings of Power?

Bridie Sisson as an unnamed character in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Image credit: Prime Video via YouTube)

For a while, folks speculated that one character who was referred to as looking like Eminem (opens in new tab) (well, they've got the shaved head and that's about it) might be a younger version of Sauron. The internet sleuths decided this was actor Anson Boon playing a proto-Sauron. However, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Executive producer Lindsey Weber explained to Time (opens in new tab) that this character is played by Bridie Sisson, and not Boon. Weber then stated:

"We also thought fans might like to know that her character is traveling from far to the east—from the lands of Rhûn." This means the character may have some ties to Sauron — and is possibly a member of the Cult of Melkor. Around the Tom's Guide Slack, some writers have hypothesized that she plays a priestess of Morgoth.

Is Gandalf in The Rings of Power?

As noted above, fans will be doing everything they can to connect The Rings of Power to the characters and adventures that surrounded The One Ring. 

Daniel Weyman as The Stranger in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

(Image credit: Prime Video via YouTube)

In the full trailer for The Rings of Power, we met (sans a formal introduction) a character that is dubbed The Stranger in press materials. Played by Daniel Weyman, this scraggly bearded figure is all mystery at the moment. Only time will tell.

Next: Also, these 7 must-watch HBO Max movies are 95% or higher on Rotten Tomatoes. Then take a look at our House of the Dragon episode 3 recap: 2 winners, 2 losers in Westeros this week.

Henry T. Casey
Senior Editor

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.