What exactly Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series will explore remains to be seen. There’s no confirmation yet about what characters we’ll meet or what settings in J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories we might visit throughout the show’s five planned seasons. We can only wonder about all of that and more, including where the show will fit in the larger fantasy TV landscape. With one of the most popular fantasy series ever, HBO’s Game of Thrones, set to end next year, one question has been on the minds of many. Will this Lord of the Rings series be Amazon’s Game of Thrones? Perhaps — but here’s why it should steer clear of GoT territory.
The Ultimate Fantasy
Since last year, it’s been said that Jeff Bezos wants a Game of Thrones-type series. That has led to a number of shows in development at Amazon earmarked as the next big (possible) hit. The Lord of the Rings seems uniquely placed to fit into that slot.
We know Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin was influenced by Tolkien’s trilogy. Tolkien’s world is perhaps the ultimate vast, rich, classic fantasy landscape. It’s already known around the world and deeply embedded in popular culture, meaning there’s little doubt a show done well can reach the same levels of popularity as Game of Thrones. And that’s precisely why Amazon needs to resist the urge to force it into that spot by making it a clone of HBO’s hit.
Game of Thrones is known for its soaring levels of sex and violence — it’s what makes Westeros what it is — and it can be tempting to think that in order to match its success, a Lord of the Rings adaptation needs to equal GoT in terms of grittiness. However, if Amazon insists on heading into Thrones territory, it will do a disservice to both shows. The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other Middle-earth stories already have wonderful settings, characters, and plots with the potential for massive success without levering in R-rated material.
It’s Dark Enough
Let’s be honest. The Lord of the Rings can get pretty dark at times, as can Tolkien’s other works. Tolkien deals in death, violence, and pain. Not all characters make it out of situations alive and some have grim destinies. The tale of Khazad-dûm and Moria, for example, is not exactly a happy one. Whether its full-scale wars and approaching darkness or the fate of a small group, doom and gloom hangs heavy over Middle-Earth — and yet it never touches the extreme grimness of Game of Thrones. And it’s not meant to. HBO’s show has gore, graphic violence, and a sense of dread on a near-constant basis. That’s not LOTR.
HBO’s approach to Martin’s work fits, for the most part, with what readers of the books are familiar with, and it makes sense for fans. Amazon’s take on The Lord of the Rings should also take its cues from its source material. Unnecessary blood, grisly deaths, and hopelessness shouldn’t be forced into the story. There’s enough going on already without trying to take it to a different level because Amazon execs think viewers might want that.
The Optimism Is Important
Part of what keeps Tolkien’s Middle-Earth from reaching the bleak levels that Game of Thrones hits is the optimism and hope at its core. In Game of Thrones, it can be hard to find any semblance of hope at times. Heroes die as frequently as villains and it can seem like no matter how hard someone tries or works to do the right thing, their chances of success are slim. With Tolkien though, no matter how bad things get there is always a feeling that things can and will get better. That if heroes keep fighting, they can keep the darkness at bay and good can win in the end no matter how long it takes.
Perhaps you’d call that unrealistic. Some might view Martin’s work as closer to what the real world is all about with its proliferation of grey characters and avoidance of black-and-white scenarios. And that’s fine — it works for that show.
Sometimes, though, it’s that hope and that light in Tolkien’s works that make his stories such classics and ripe for retelling. Experiencing stories where hope never dies is powerful stuff, encouraging us to feel hopeful for our own world too when things seem bleak. Or simply transporting us away from our troubles.
Peter Jackson Had the Right Balance
We’ve already seen that The Lord of the Rings can be hugely successful on the screen. Peter Jackson’s films are certainly violent and bloody, and you might argue that Jackson even pushes the envelope for a PG-13 certificate. Jackson did actually end up releasing an extended cut of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies that earned an R-rating — but crucially that wasn’t the original cut. Jackson found the right balance for Tolkien’s world in his movie trilogy. There are fights, battles, death, high-stakes, hope, good triumphing, and some romance all hovering within the PG-13 confines.
What Should Change?
Another reason this new Lord of the Rings series needs to avoid trying to be too much like Game of Thrones? The HBO show does not succeed on the diversity front. Amazon’s series needs to show more (non-objectified) women and people of color. With such a rich world to play in, this should be easy. The series could explore the Tolkien stories which feature women prominently, as well as introduce new characters or spotlight some of the background characters. Above all, perhaps, it has to not assume every character is white.
By embracing the spirit of Tolkien’s work and winning on the representation front, Amazon can create a hit TV series that can be even more successful than Game of Thrones — without forcing it into a brutal, offensive and bloody GoT shaped hole.