When it comes to fantasy world-building, J.R.R. Tolkien is the OG. When he wrote The Hobbit and then later, The Lord of the Rings, he didn’t just make up a magical land called Middle Earth with some fanciful character names. Tolkien created fictional languages, drew detailed maps of Middle Earth, described the distinct cultures of each race, and wrote out an entire history spanning thousands of years. Tolkien did, as the kids say, the most.
That history, or at least a portion of it, is being brought to life in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The new series, which premiered its first two episodes on Prime Video Thursday, draws on the 150-plus-page appendices to Lord of the Rings, which were published as part of The Return of the King. Those appendices were later expanded upon in The Silmarillion, a Bible of sorts for Middle Earth.
The Rings of Power takes place thousands of years before the birth of Frodo Baggins, in the Second Age of Middle Earth where Sauron tricked the Elves into crafting the Rings of Power, and then secretly crafted the One Ring to rule them all. So it’s not a spoiler to say that Sauron is the main villain in Rings of Power. The series has characters who were key parts of Lord of the Rings: the elves Galadriel and Elrond, as well as Isildur — the ancestor of Aragorn who appeared prominently in the prologue to Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring film (which takes place in the Third Age of Middle Earth).
There are new characters as well — some found in Tolkien’s writings, others invented for the show. Below, we rank the characters introduced in the show so far, based on their storylines and how important they might be to the story that The Rings of Power is trying to tell.
Get to know these new characters, because even the smallest person can change the course of the future. (Slight spoilers ahead for those who haven't read the appendices or The Silmarillion.)
Yes, it's something of a cheat to start by grouping these three characters together. There are no hobbits in the Second Age of Middle Earth, but Tolkien did write generally about harfoots, who are nomadic hobbits who pop up out of the ground like lawn gnomes. The harfoots eventually settle down and create the Shire. Sadoc Burrows (Sir Lenny Henry), Largo Brandyfoot (Dylan Smith), and Marigold Brandyfood (Sara Zwangobani) are elder harfoots, and are completely new characters created for the show.
Sadoc is the leader of the harfoot clan, while Largo and Marigold are the parents of Nori Brandyfoot (more on her later). All three characters tell the curious Nori to stay in one place and not to wander off. Authority figures are essential for an adventure tale like The Rings of Power, because they give the hero something to rebel against. But they’re not always the most interesting, hence these harfoot elders are ranked last on this list.
Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) is introduced in the second episode of The Rings of Power. We don’t learn much about him, aside from the fact that he lets his companions get eaten by a sea monster while he paddles away. Halbrand is an original character created for the show, and is a man who dislikes elves and has a dark past. In one of the show's trailers, he says, “I am not the hero you seek.” We’ve seen tortured men in need of a redemption arc before (Aragorn, Boromir, basically most of the men with beards in The Lord of the Rings). It will take some elven magic for The Rings of Power to make this character type interesting again.
Tolkien wrote that there have historically been only three romances between elves and humans. So the elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and the human Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) are new characters created for the show, and they are secretly in love. When we meet them, they’re already pining for each other. It seems that The Rings of Power is going for a will-they-won’t-they narrative with this pair, but they're going to need to turn up the fire a bit because so far, the romantic tension is more sleepy rather than it is sizzling.
Before Bilbo and Frodo, there was another curious halfling named Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh). She’s created for the show since Tolkien wrote that there were no notable hobbits in the Second Age. When she’s introduced, she seems like a female Frodo (with the youthfulness and food motivation of Pippin). Nori even has a Sam-like sidekick named Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards). But when she encounters a magical being that fell from the sky in a comet (more on him later), her story gets a lot more interesting. Will Nori stay with her harfoot clan or will she go off on an adventure? We're placing our bets on the latter.
Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) is Bronwyn’s son, an outcast who has no father. And he mysteriously possesses a Morgul-like sword that whispers to him (pro-tip: when in Middle Earth, don’t trust any talking objects). How did a poor country boy get his hands on a sword? Is it a family heirloom? There seems to be more to Theo and Bronwyn than is evident at first glance. Theo may be a key part of Sauron’s plan, although if he starts calling his sword, “my precious,” we may have to leave the room.
Amazon has been mum on who this mysterious man (Daniel Weyman) is who falls from the sky from a comet at the end of the first episode of The Rings of Power. We don’t learn much about him in the second episode, other than he prefers to eat snails with their shells on. But if we were to guess, we'd predict that based on the beard and the fact that he can conjure magic, he’s probably a wizard. Tolkien wrote that wizards were never young, they just appear as old men who never age. Could this man be Gandalf, Saruman, or another wizard created especially for The Rings of Power? We'd be a fool of a Took if we didn't stick around to find out.
Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) is spoken about in the book The Fellowship of the Ring, and he has a brief cameo in the film (he’s one of the three elves who receives a Ring of Power). He is an elven King, and a mentor to Elrond. He also helps bring together the Last Alliance to fight Sauron and dies fighting him at the end of the Second Age. Gil-Galad is a heroic figure in Middle Earth lore, and is finally being brought to life — though his wig does leave us feeling underwhelmed.
According to Tolkien, Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) forged the Rings of Power. He was subsequently murdered by Sauron, who then paraded Celebrimbor’s dead body on a pole in his battles with the elves (and you thought Joffrey on Game of Thrones was messed up). The Rings of Power will likely explore why Celebrimbor wanted to create the rings. It wasn’t for power. As Tolkien wrote in The Silmarillion, it was because the Elves feared decay and change, and wanted to preserve “what is desired or loved.” That hubris cost them dearly. So Celebrimbor’s storyline in The Rings of Power may be a tragedy on par with Icarus. We can’t wait.
Durin IV (Owain Arthur) does appear in Tolkien’s writings as one of the dwarven kings and ruler of the kingdom of Khazad-dûm, later Moria. Durin is also one of the recipients of the Rings of Power. If his name sounds familiar, it may be because in The Fellowship of the Ring, the fellowship enters Moria through “the doors of Durin” where they had to “speak, friend, and enter.” Disa (Sophia Nomvete) is Durin’s wife, who was created for the show, and is the first Dwarven woman to be portrayed in any Tolkien adaptation. Their relationship seems happy and warm, and the kingdom of Khazad-dûm is thriving during the Second Age. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a darker turn because Khazad-dûm is also where the Balrog lives. We just know Durin and Disa’s storyline is going to wreck us.
Another cheat here, since Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle) don't actually appear in the first two episodes of Rings of Power. But they do appear in Tolkien’s writings and feature heavily in the show’s trailers. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien described the sinking of the island nation of Númenor, which was inhabited by men. These men were favored by the gods; they lived for hundreds of years and were never sick (Aragorn descends from them). But the Númenorean kings became corrupted by Sauron, they began to fear death and wanted to live forever. This led to the destruction of Númenor.
In the books, Míriel is the heir to the throne but her cousin, Pharazôn usurps the crown. Pharazôn is the last king of Númenor. The Rings of Power changes Míriel’s story somewhat to make her already the ruler of Númenor. In the trailer, it seems that Míriel is a Cassandra-like figure, warning her kingdom about the darkness that’s growing. A woman who knows more than the men around her but is continuously ignored — what a way to make Tolkien’s writing both timely and timeless.
The first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power are now streaming on Prime Video. New episodes drop Fridays through October.
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Diep Tran is an arts journalist/editor based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @DiepThought.
TOPICS: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime Video, Benjamin Walker, Charles Edwards, Charlie Vickers, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Daniel Weyman, Dylan Smith, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Lenny Henry, Markella Kavenagh, Nazanin Boniadi, Owain Arthur, Sara Zwangobani, Sophia Nomvete, Trystan Gravelle, Tyroe Muhafidin