Buckle up, fantasy fans: the world of magic rings, massive furry feet, and mountain-dwelling mead-drinkers is about to return. Middle-earth is making a comeback in The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, Prime Video’s long-awaited streaming series set to bring a whole new age of J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga on screen. Set thousands of years before the events of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, this will be a whole new story in a whole new part of the timeline, dealing with the forging of the rings, the rise of Sauron, and all kinds of interweaving tales of Elves, Dwarves, Harfoots and more. Hopes are extremely high (as, reportedly, is the show’s budget), but the series – from showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, along with director and executive producer JA Bayona – has its work cut out. Just how do you live up to Jackson’s beloved, Oscar-laden, genre-defining movies?
The answer is, you don’t try to go hairy-toe-to-hairy-toe with what came before. Not exactly, anyway. “Anyone approaching Lord Of The Rings on screen would be wrong not to think about how wonderfully right [Jackson] got so much of it,” McKay tells Empire in our world-exclusive new cover feature. “But we’re admirers from afar, that’s it. The Rings Of Power doesn’t try to compete with him.” ‘Afar’ is the operative word, since Jackson’s films (and Tolkien’s novel trilogy) depict the Third Age of Middle-earth and The Rings Of Power takes place in the Second Age. That’s some considerable distance between the two towering tales.
In viewers’ minds, though, it won't just be the previous Lord Of The Rings movies that The Rings Of Power is contending with. The intervening years have brought a much darker, bloodier, swearier form of small-screen fantasy to the mainstream in HBO juggernaut Game Of Thrones – a show whose very own prequel spin-offHouse Of The Dragonarrives later this year, airing concurrently with The Rings Of Power. But if the world of Westeros changed what was possible in serialised swords-and-sorcery storytelling, George RR Martin’s vision of ice, fire, incest and immolations remains worlds away from Tolkien. “You can psych yourself out in keeping up with the Joneses, but one of the mantras on this was ‘go back to the source material’,” McKay explains. “What would Tolkien do?”
Really, it comes down to one thing: there’s nothing quite like The Lord Of The Rings. “Some of these other competing properties – they play one octave really beautifully,” says McKay. “But Tolkien was playing every note on the piano. He had that variety of tones. There’s the whimsy, friendship and humour that Harry Potter is so beloved for – but there’s sophistication, politics, history, mythology and depth, too. So for us, it was about going deeper into what we are, rather than worrying about what other folks are doing.” The road back to Middle-earth awaits. Who’s ready for an unexpected journey?
Empire’s world-exclusiveThe Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Powerissue takes a deep dive into Prime Video’s fantasy series, with three covers to collect. Inside, we explore its epic scale, its many inhabitants, and its multi-year plan to tell a whole new tale in a beloved world, speaking to J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, J.A. Bayona, producer Ron Ames, and stars including Morfydd Clark, Lenny Henry, Robert Aramayo, Markella Kavenagh, and Benjamin Walker, with tons of never-before-seen images. Find a copy on newsstands from Thursday 9 June, and pre-order with your choice of covers here. The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power starts streaming from 2 September.