Amazon brought “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” to Comic-Con on Friday, offering fans in Hall H an extended preview of what their expensive new series is all about — and a surprise orchestral performance.
The panel began with a group of musicians assembled onstage, conducted by series composer Bear McCreary (“The Walking Dead”) as they performed brand new music from the upcoming series (complete with a rockin’ violinist). “Lord of the Rings” fans know music is key to the series (Howard Shore composed the music for Peter Jackson’s films, and returned to compose the main theme for this new series), so Amazon wanted to stress “The Rings of Power” won’t be without its own sonic identity.
The performance gave way to a surprise appearance by noted Tolkien superfan/scholar (and “Late Show” host) Stephen Colbert, who took on moderating duties for the panel but spent the first few minutes explaining to the audience why there’s so much story left to be told in this show that’s set thousands of years before the events of “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
“This is a very emotional and overwhelming moment for us,” co-showrunner Patrick McKay said when kicking off the panel alongside fellow showrunner J.D. Payne and executive producer Lindsey Weber, later noting that they’ve been working on this project for four and a half years. McKay called “Lord of the Rings” an “optimistic” work of art, stressing that even mired in the darkness of the story, it’s ultimately a message of hope.
“It’s a human story, we want you to just step back from the bigger world and just imagine your home,” Payne said of the show’s focus. “And then just imagine all of that’s about to be taken away. How far would you go to protect the things you love the most?”
Payne added that the field was “wide open” when it came to deciding what story to tell after Amazon secured the rights to Tolkien’s work, but he and McKay zeroed in on the Second Age as a canvas large enough to tell a massive story across five seasons. “It’s gonna be a 50-hour story from the beginning, so if we’re gonna do a 50-hour story, want want to make it worth it,” Payne said, adding, “No B.S., [Amazon has] let us make the show we wanted to make.”
“We built as much as any group of humans could, so a huge amount of it was in camera,” Weber said of the show’s blend of practical and digital effects, shouting out the show’s costume designer, production designer and “brain trust” that helped bring the world to life. “Some of it is coast lines and locations that New Zealand graciously provided us, and then of course our visual effects team filled out of the rest.”
The trio also discussed the lengthy (very lengthy) casting process, explaining there was an X-factor necessary to win the role. “We had to be able to look into their eyes and say, do they have Middle-earth in them?,” Payne said.
McCreary also joined the panel to talk about his approach to the score, shouting out Howard Shore. “My starting point, understandably, is the legacy of Howard Shore,” he said, confirming Shore wrote a new main theme for the show. “I am honored to score a series that features a magnificent main title — you’re just gonna weep when you hear it — by Howard.”
The discussion also briefly turned to Peter Jackson’s films, and not only the legacy they left but the fact that they’re a bedrock of sorts on which “Rings of Power” was made. “Just as a producer and filmmaker, those movies represent such an astonishing achievement and that team set such a high bar befitting of Tolkien, and we hope to carry on that tradition,” Weber said.
“They’re part of the daily fiber of my life,” Payne added, who earlier admitted his “LOTR” fandom began with Jackson’s movies. But he contrasted the story of the show with the story of Jackson’s films, noting that the Third Age (during which Jackson’s movies are set) is essentially post-apocalyptic whereas the Second Age finds the world thriving. “It’s the difference between modern day and ancient Greece,” Payne added to drill down the time difference.
The panel also wasn’t without its revelations, however minor. Yes, female dwarves will have beards. And yes, we’ll see Ent wives (and may have already seen one).
There’s also something of a mystery box aspect to the series: Daniel Weyman plays a character called “The Stranger,” and his intentions and identity aren’t immediately clear. “I can tell you that he has a deep sense of purpose,” Weyman said carefully on the panel, while Colbert theorized that he might be playing Gandalf or Sauron.
And perhaps the funniest revelation of all came in the form of the final question from a fan, who asked if the showrunners would commit to giving Colbert a role in a future season. “The check is in the mail,” Colbert cheekily added when the showrunners enthusiastically said “yes.”
The large ensemble of “The Rings of Power” is made up both of characters found within Tolkien’s books and new characters created specifically for this epic show. The basis for the series was The Appendices, which Tolkien wrote to flesh out the world and characters of his epic novels.
Planned as a multi-season series, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is due to release exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in weekly format starting on Sept. 2 of this year, in more than 240 countries and territories around the world in multiple languages. J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay serve as showrunners, while the series was directed by executive producers J.A. Bayona and Charlotte Brändström and co-executive producer Wayne Che Yip.
Described as an epic drama, the official synopsis promises that the show 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 one of the greatest villains 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 reemergence 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 farthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”
The cast for “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” includes Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Charles Edwards, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Lloyd Owen, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, Daniel Weyman and Sara Zwangobani.