J.R.R. Tolkien fans love how the author’s fantasy world is so vast, yet also so convincingly detailed and specific. So it’s no surprise that Amazon’s The Rings of Power has sparked some canonical gripes when striving to adapt Tolkien’s Second Age for modern global TV viewers. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have seen the chatter and were down to respond to some of the most oft-repeated online comments (then, amazingly, McKay even asked, “What are you not buying about the show?”). As noted in The Hollywood Reporter’s deep-dive Rings of Power cover story this week, the writers and producers privately debated many of the same topics fans have been discussing since the show’s Sept. 2 debut. So they were hyper-prepared to tackle the following five complaints.
“Dwarf wives in The Rings of Power don’t have beards”
J.D. Payne: They actually do, it’s not accurate. We looked at various versions of what facial hair on dwarf women might look like. There are beard hairs applied lovingly one at a time [onto Disa actress Sophia Nomvete] and there are these sort of mutton chops on the side.
Patrick McKay: I would go further to say that Tolkien himself — if you study his entire body of work — has answered this particular question both ways. There’s a very strong argument to be made that dwarf women should have beards, and a very strong argument to be made that they don’t. We’re happy with where we landed.
“Elves don’t have shaved heads or short hair”
Payne: If Tolkien ever wrote a comprehensive style guide to hairstyles in Middle-earth over its thousands of years of history, I would love to see it.
McKay: Part of this show is to go deeper and broader into each of these races and cultures. To say that any culture as rich and with as long of a history as the elves would all have the same hair for 9,000 years … that doesn’t seem to correspond and harmonize with the breadth of the imagination that Tolkien left us.
“Galadriel acts too masculine and she never went to Númenor”
Payne: I would love to see in Tolkien where it says Galadriel never went to Númenor — that doesn’t exist. Second, one of her nicknames is “Nerwen,” which means “man-maiden.” And third, she does not act masculine!
McKay: Also, the name “Galadriel” is loosely translated in Elvish as a maiden with a crown of golden hair. The reason she had a crown of golden hair is because when she would fight and do all sorts of sparring with other elves … she would braid her hair and put it up on top of her head [to stay out of the way]. So in the etymology is the idea that Galadriel is a warrior.
“The costumes look too new”
McKay: I certainly don’t agree with that note. I think we are always talking about a lived-in world, and we’re always talking about adding breakdown [to give costumes a more worn-in look]. But also: That’s not a bad shirt you got on. Is it new?
[I confirm my shirt is new.]
McKay: Guess what? Sometimes clothes are new.
“The show’s pacing has been too slow”
Payne: I hope that people can key in for the journey. A lot of blockbusters have a breakneck pace where you’re wheeled from one set piece to the next until it all collapses under its own weight. Tolkien will take his time and let you sink into characters, into a journey, and journeys can be hard in Tolkien. I hope people will have the patience to settle in for a Tolkien epic.
That said, in THR’s The Rings of Power cover story, the duo conceded that some scenes in season one weren’t as urgent as they could have been. “There are things that didn’t work as well in season one that might have worked in a smaller show,” McKay said. “It has to be about good and evil and the fate of the world, or it doesn’t have that epic feeling you want when you’re in Tolkien.”
The first-time showrunners bested dozens of possible rivals to get the job creating the Prime Video series, with Amazon executives citing Payne and McKay’s passion for — and depth of knowledge of — Tolkien’s world. The two also acknowledge they learned a lot when making the massively complicated first season and that the show’s episodes generally improve as the season unfolds. They expect to level up the episodes going into season two to be “bigger and better” on “every level … by an order of magnitude.”
The duo also teased (spoiler free) next week’s eighth and final episode of their show’s debut season.
“When the world breaks — quite literally — how do you start to pick up the pieces?” McKay asked. “Quite often in serialized television, the last episode of the first season is table-setting for the second season. We don’t feel that way. Our last episode is the ultimate culmination of every single fuse we’ve lit in the first seven episodes. Hopefully, people are really satisfied with the big booms that happen — though they might be emotional booms rather than volcanic ones.”