Unless you’ve been chilling out in your hobbit hole smoking a couple bowls of Old Toby with limited wi-fi connection courtesy of the Hobbiton equivalent of Time Warner/Spectrum, you may have heard that Amazon Studios now has the rights to make television shows based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos himself tweeted about the acquisition, which some see as a power move to try to have a big fantasy show to compete with HBO and Game of Thrones. And if you’re trying to make a “prestige” fantasy universe, you can’t go wrong with playing in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original high fantasy sandbox even though Peter Jackson’s 2001-2003 Lord of the Rings trilogy is a modern film classic and basically my generation’s Star Wars. (The two too many Hobbits not so much.)
In related news, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, who has been the director of the Tolkien Estate since the author’s passing in 1973 has stepped down and is retiring. Christopher Tolkien compiled his father’s posthumous works, including the Silmarillion (1977), which features the creation myth of Middle Earth and sets up many of the events of Lord of the Rings. (Characters like Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond even cameo in it.) However, he wasn’t a big fan of the film adaptations and refused to sell Warner Bros the rights to any books other than Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.
This could all change with his retirement, and Tolkien geeks could look forward to The Silmarillion trilogy to go with unending Star Wars sequels and Harry Potter prequels. But for the sake of this article, I’ll be limiting the possible TV shows to stories and characters that appear in The Lord of the Rings, it copious appendices, and The Hobbit even though a show about the rise and fall of Numenor would dunk on Game of Thrones while stealing its lunch money and making out with its romantic partner.
All these stories take place before Fellowship of the Ring just like the potential show mentioned in the Amazon press release.
9. Young Aragorn Show
This show was the first one that came to mind for many Tolkien fans so let’s get it out of the way first. Even though he looks like he’s in his mid-30s, Aragorn is actually in his 80s during Lord of the Rings, which earns a laugh from Eowyn, who has an unrequited crush on him. He has been around the block a little bit: riding through the wild with Elrond’s sons, fighting for both Gondor and Rohan, and even going on a solo man hunt for Gollum. (The subject of a solid, violent fan film.)
The Aragorn prequel show definitely shouldn’t go the Gotham route and have Aragorn be a kid with the exception of flashbacks featuring him in Rivendell and not being a fan of his foster father Elrond pushing him towards becoming king of Gondor. It would work best in the vein of the 2013 Tomb Raider game, Casino Royale, and Batman Begins showing how the orphan Estel became the hardened, badass ranger, Strider, and a king in exile. Hell, you could probably come up with a whole part of a character arc from one of Viggo Mortensen’s long, smouldering looks in Lord of the Rings.
Besides being a cool lone wanderer fantasy adventure show, like Xena with stubble, the young Aragorn prequel has a wealth of relationships to develop from his father figures Elrond and Gandalf to younger versions of Theoden and Denethor when he fights as a mercenary for Rohan and Gondor and especially his romance with Arwen. Honestly, I could watch a whole season of them fighting the forces of Evil in the North and doing a lot of smooching.
8. Isildur and Elrond Show
This show would take place 3,000+ years before the Fellowship of the Ring, but it would be fantastic and could lead into the epic battle, cold open in Fellowship. It would focus on the characters of Elrond and Isildur and provide an inside look at the legendary “Last Alliance” between humans and Elves from the POV of their two young leaders. The show could flesh out Isildur’s father, Elendil, and Elrond’s commander, Gil-Galad, who barely appeared in Fellowship and show what kind of personalities the men who stood up against Sauron had.
Isildur, his father, and brother are also some of the last refugees from the Atlantis-like island of Numenor, which was destroyed by the Valar (Gods of Middle Earth) after their last king struck up an alliance with Sauron. So, the main conflict of the series wouldn’t just be good versus evil, but also personal. It could also show how Elrond went from an optimistic Half-Elf warrior to a cynical, misanthrope after Isildur decides to keep the One Ring and not destroy it. Speaking of the Ring, it already has a built in climax as Isildur chooses power over peace and allows Sauron to survive. (Honestly, Elrond should have pushed him in the lava and saved a lot of trouble.)
If Amazon is serious about being competitive with Game of Thrones and wants to do a real high fantasy show, they couldn’t go wrong with adapting the story of the first war against Sauron featuring the characters of Isildur and Elrond. Plus it’s a chance at seeing the Elven rings in action, having flashbacks featuring Sauron in a sexy, deceptive, Milton’s Lucifer form, and also exploring the interesting topic of religion in Middle Earth. Because Isildur is probably pissed off that his homeland is thousands of feet underwater.
7. Rhun or Harad-Focused Show
Although not as bad as his frenemy C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien’s treatment of race in Lord of the Rings was quite problematic. You could play a drinking game with how many times he refers to “non-Western” humans as “swarthy” in the book. Sauron’s allies, the people of Rhun (Who are referred to by the basically racist sobriquet Easterlings), and Harad, don’t fare much better in the film and are just face mask and turban wearing enemies for the main characters to cut through or sneak around.
Even though they get zero characterization in the books and films, both Tolkien and Jackson saw some potential in the people of Rhun and Harad in a monologue delivered by Sam in the book and Faramir in the movie where he asks, “You wonder what his name is… where he came from. And if he was really at heart.” I think a serious fantasy war drama about a young Rhun or Haradrim would be fascinating and go into the motivation behind banding together with someone really evil in Sauron and Mordor.
In Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, he mentions a resistance movement to Sauron in Rhun, and this footnote could turn into an entire TV show. I think it would be more powerful to show the life of a Rhun or Haradrim soldier, who fought for Sauron and their daily life and emotions.
While HBO is doing a fantasy/alternate show about the Confederacy winning the Civil War, wouldn’t it be cool if Amazon did a revisionist take on the Tolkien mythos and gave people of color agency and robust character arcs to go with the cool armor designs and giant elephants?
6. Mines of Moria Show
Players and ex-players (Like yours truly) of The Lord of the Rings Online should definitely know that the Mines of Moria is easily one of the coolest and scariest places in Middle Earth. It’s the ultimate RPG dungeon, and unfortunately The Fellowship of the Ring could only show audiences its main quest line. This is why a show centered around Balin’s failed colonization of Moria would be a very entertaining and horrifying show.
The show could begin with Balin (Ken Stott reprising his role from The Hobbit films) feeling restless in a peaceful Erebor and deciding to reclaim the dwarves’ ancestral homeland and mine the beyond precious metal mithril. There would be plenty of gruff humor, axe swinging action, and all kinds of creepy critters either from Tolkien’s mythos or twisted original creations.
I was sad that Guillermo del Toro didn’t get to direct The Hobbit films so it would be really redemptive for him if he directed the pilot, executive produced, and helped design some of the monsters for this Mines of Moria show. It could provide a longer look at one of the cooler places in Middle Earth and also tell a story from the POV of the dwarves, who are supporting players in both the Middle Earth books and films. Plus it would make the Tomb of Balin scene even sadder.
5. Young Theoden Show
Rohan is one of the most fascinating countries in Middle Earth because they’re basically Vikings, who ride horses. J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay The Monsters and the Critics is pretty much responsible for you reading Beowulf in AP English or Lit 101, and you can see a lot of his passion for the 9th century Anglo-Saxon epic poem in the honorable warriors and people of Rohan. Plus “shield maiden” is seriously a job you can have there until Grima Wormtongue decided to bring the patriarchy back.
As played by Bernard Hill with a fantastic wig, Theoden is one of my favorite characters in The Two Towers and Return of the King. He has strong emotional connections to his niece, Eowyn, his late son, Theodred, and even the hobbit, Meriadoc Brandybuck. Theoden also has a passive aggressive relationship with the people of Gondor, which he kind of takes out on Aragorn. (The whole “Where was Gondor?” scene.) His empathetic approach to kingship would be a unique wrinkle in a TV drama landscape filled with assholes and anti-heroes
A Theoden TV show would also be a chance to explore the relationship between the Rohirrim and people of Dunland, who were allies of Saruman in The Two Towers and utilize a fantasy setting to look at political imperialism. Theoden might be a nice guy, but he perpetuates the oppressive status quo, oops.
4. Tauriel/War of the Ring “Northern Front” Show
While the Lord of the Rings was focusing on the events in Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor, there was a whole war being fought in the North. Remember the dwarves, people of Dale, and Elves of Mirkwood from The Hobbit? They had to deal with hordes of Orcs and Sauron’s allies from Rhun decades after liberating their people from a giant dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. The valiant effort of Legolas’ fabulous father Thranduil and the dwarves of Erebor and the Iron Hills misdirected resources that could have been used to hunt down Frodo and the One Ring or besiege Minas Tirith.
The setting of the War of the Ring’s “Northern Front” would be a prime place to reintroduce the unfairly maligned character, Tauriel, who was played by Ant-Man‘s Evangeline Lilly in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of Five Armies. With Legolas traveling with the Fellowship, she’s the top warrior of Mirkwood and also has interesting connection to the dwarves because of her relationship with Kili from The Hobbit. Most of the leaders in Lord of the Rings are male so it would nice to see the War of the Rings from a female POV and get a real arc for Tauriel instead of just being a cog in a forced love story.
This show would also provide an opportunity for Lee Pace to come back as Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, and I could definitely use some more fantastic eyebrows and moose mounts. An interesting subplot could be centered around the Elves of Lothlorien deciding to help at Helm’s Deep instead of their relatives’ war in the North, which probably made Thranduil furious.
3. Rangers of the North vs. The Witch King Show
This show idea completely comes from my personal love for the “Shadows of Angmar” quest line in the Lord of the Rings Online MMO. Before he chased down hobbits with magical rings, the Witch King was responsible for the decline and eventual demise of Arnor, the kingdom in the North that Aragorn is the heir to. The attack on Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring is the Witch King basically talking trash to Aragorn and telling him that the North still belongs to him.
The battle between the Witch King and Arnor is interesting because with the help of hobbits, Elves, and Gondorians, the Rangers of the North eventually defeat him, but they’re scattered and have no real political power. This is why Aragorn looks like he hasn’t taken a bath ever (And still looks hot.) instead of looking like royalty in Fellowship of the Ring.
The war between Arnor and Angmar spans five centuries and involves Arnor splitting into three separate kingdoms. (Game of Thrones is not original.) A good way to tell this long story would be to pick a family of Rangers and tell their story over the years and using the framing device of Aragorn telling the story to the hobbits by the camp fire. They didn’t have much food so they had to do something to pass the time. The show’s setting in the North could also lead to cameos from fan favorite characters, like Tom Bombadil, the Barrow-Wights, and Old Man Willow as well as the occasional hobbit and familiar places like the Prancing Pony Inn.
2. A Dark Comedy About Orcs, War, and Their Feelings
With the exception of Saruman and Gollum, the forces of Evil in Lord of the Rings aren’t really well-sketched out. The glorified flashlight Eye of Sauron that pops up throughout the three films is certainly no Hannibal Lecter, Anton Chigurh, or even Jason Voorhees. Sure, Weta Workshop’s designs for the various Orcs, Goblins, and Uruk-Hai in Lord of the Rings is very cool and grotesque, but Peter Jackson didn’t have time to dig into their inner feelings in his film trilogy.
This is where this unnamed show about Orcs and their feelings come into play. It should be a war story about foot soldier on either the Gondor or Rohan front and be a dark comedy in the vein of Full Metal Jacket, MASH, or most recently, Four Lions finding the funny side of fighting for the forces of evil. The main character should be either a foot soldier or non-commissioned officer with occasional cameos from named Orcs/Uruk-hai from the books and films, like Lurtz, Gothmog (The puffy, white faced guy from Return of the King) , and Gorbag, who did a cool crane kick move before getting stabbed in the back by Samwise Gamgee.
I am here for latrine digging humor and jabs from regular Orcs about how the Uruk-Hai are pretty, but dumb as well as finding out what the ordinary, lunch pail, er, scimitar wielding foot soldier thinks about Sauron and his war against humans, Elves, and the “free people”. A good showrunner for this project would be one of Middle Earth (Aka New Zealand’s) finest comedic directors Taika Waititi if he’s not too busy making every future Marvel movie.
1. The Great Bilbo Bake Off
In the terrible of year of 2017, who wouldn’t want a show featuring cakes, pies, pastries, and all matter of hobbit treats judged by Noel Fielding, Paul Hollywood, and company. Plus since this competition technically takes place in a fantasy world, why not bring back Mel, Sue, and everyone’s favorite Commander of the British Empire, Mary Berry from previous seasons of the Earth spinoff of The Great Bilbo Bakeoff.
Yes, because he’s one of the oldest hobbits, Bilbo (As played by Martin Freeman, duh.) should definitely be the main judge of his show. It would also give him a much needed break from his hobby of map flipping, ring fondling, and generally being a weird loner hoarder. Plus his 111th birthday is coming up, and you definitely need a tasty cake if you’ve lived that long.
Just be wary of the Sackville-Bagginses taking your Baked Alaska out of the freezer…