How do you turn thousands of years of fictional history into a compelling and cohesive narrative?
That’s the problem Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series faces. The show will primarily be set during the Second Age of Arda, an era in author J.R.R. Tolkien’s immense fantasy world that spans over 3,400 years. It’s the period that ends with Isildur cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s finger but failing to destroy it, an event that paves the way for Frodo and Sam’s journey together in the Third Age.
Numerous important and compelling conflicts play out in the Second Age, which means the Amazon series could choose to focus on different characters and moments in time. The only problem is that many of the Second Age’s biggest events take place hundreds of years apart.
So how do you actually turn the history of the Second Age into an engaging television series when not even Game of Thrones dared to span thousands of years?
Time Management — One of the leading theories about Amazon’s Lord of the Rings show is that it will focus on just one story from the Second Age. Specifically, several unconfirmed rumors suggest the series will focus on the corruption and eventual downfall of the legendary island kingdom of Númenor.
While that theory makes sense given Númenor’s important in Tolkien’s mythos, it goes against many possibilities proposed earlier, including that the show would depict moments from long before Númenor’s destruction. The most obvious possibility is that the series would begin with the forging of the Rings of Power, then enter the subsequent conflict that played out between Sauron and the Elves.
Given that story’s fame and importance, it’s not hard to see why Lord of the Rings fans assumed the series would start there. But the forging of the Rings of Power and the fall of Númenor take place nearly 2000 years apart, which makes including both seem like a structural impossibility. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
Breaking Down the Second Age — The first and only image released from Amazon’s series teases a scene set during the Years of the Trees, which is thousands of years before the Second Age even begins. If the Amazon show will be jumping around in time right off the bat, there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t do that throughout the entirety of its run.
Amazon could even adopt a format similar to that of an anthology TV series and dedicate whole seasons to specific conflicts. One season, for instance, could depict the forging of the Rings and the struggle between the Elves and Sauron, while two seasons could be dedicated to Sauron’s capture and his gradual corruption of Númenor.
Normally, the time jumps needed to tackle both stories in one show might lead to awkward pacing issues and narrative problems. However, Amazon would have the chance to avoid those issues because many of the Second Age’s most prominent figures live for thousands of years. In the case of Galadriel, the show has access to a character who lives during the First, Second, and Third Ages.
Amazon therefore wouldn’t have to worry about needing to rebuild its entire cast whenever it jumps through time. The constant presence of someone like Galadriel could even bind the show’s different seasons and storylines together.
The Inverse Analysis — Because of how secretive Amazon has been about their project, it’s impossible to know how their Lord of the Rings series plans on tackling its various narrative and structural hurdles. While it wouldn’t be a problem if the series chooses to focus on just one key Second Age conflict, it certainly doesn’t have to.
There are plenty of ways the show could include all the Second Age’s biggest moments and still bridge them into one cohesive narrative. Whether that’s what the show actually ends up doing remains to be seen.
Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series premieres on September 2, 2022.