Amazon Studios’ upcoming Lord of the Rings series has been largely shrouded in secret. We know that it’s set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, but that’s still over three thousand years of fictional history. It doesn’t narrow things down very much.
But the show’s official synopsis, obtained by The One Ring.net, seems to indicate that the show will almost inevitably build towards the Fall of Númenor, a cataclysmic wrath-of-the-gods scenario that leads to the foundation of Gondor and ultimately the big battle-prologue moviegoers will remember from the very first scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Here’s the synopsis:
This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.
There’s only one “greatest villain” in the Second Age. It’s Sauron, the same as in The Lord of the Rings proper, but not as you’d recognize him in from the movies. In the Second Age, Sauron still had the ability to take physical form, and he chose to be, to paraphrase, totally hot and extremely charismatic. A far cry from the 10-foot tall suit of armor swinging a mace from the first scenes of Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring.
A “long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth” can also only really mean Sauron, but if the series’ creators are following along the obvious beats, there are two to choose from. The Dark Lord’s first grasp at power in the Second Age was to pose as a benevolent emissary of the gods, and trick the Elves into teaching him ringcraft so he could forge the Rings of Power. Eventually, they figured out he was, you know, actually that really powerful servant of the last Dark Lord, and they kicked him out — which is when he retreated to Mordor, built the Black Gates and started being Evil on Main.
The Elves teamed up with the most powerful kingdom of Men, kicked his butt, and took him back to Númenor as a prisoner. Which brings us to the second possibility for a long-feared re-emergence of evil.
There are a lot of kingdoms that “rose to glory and fell to ruin” in the Second Age, but there’s only one that basically defined the era. That’s Númenor, the “breathtaking island kingdom” mentioned later in the synopsis, the land of Aragorn’s very, very, very ancient ancestors. It was a very powerful and shiny human country that the gods granted to the first king of Númenor as thanks for his help in defeating Sauron’s old boss at the end of the First Age.
From his prison cell, Sauron cooked up a scheme to corrupt Númenor’s government from within, Wormtongue-style, and, after many years and generations of kings, was ridiculously successful. In Sauron’s ultimate triumph, Númenor’s final king attempted to — paraphrasing slightly here — invade heaven. In response, the gods raised a giant wave, crushed his fleet and buried the whole island under the sea. (The wave also drowned quite a bit of Lindon, mentioned in the synopsis, but best known for being the location of the Grey Havens.)
The Fall of Númenor is both Tolkien’s tribute to Atlantis, a mythological remnant of some interest to him, and to his recurring childhood nightmare of his home being drowned under a massive wave. Only nine ships survived the cataclysm, carrying, among others, Isildur — whom you might know as that guy from the very beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring who refuses to destroy the One Ring and then dies like a chump.
These two scenarios represent the known arcs of Middle-earth’s Second Age, as Tolkien described them in the backmatter of The Lord of the Rings and posthumously in The Silmarillion. Amazon’s series might not have to choose between them.
The show was greenlighted for a guaranteed five-season run, plenty of time to do a Game of Thrones-style multi-(multi-multi-)generational history that eventually winds its way to the destruction of Númenor and Isildur’s escape — or even the founding of Gondor and the final battle against Sauron that marks the end of the Second Age.