The Rings of Power: First Look at the Epic Battles of Season 2

We traveled to Middle-earth to get a first look at the big battles of The Rings of Power season two!

Elrond in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2
Photo: Ross Ferguson / Prime Video

Picture the scene: a clearing in the middle of thick woods on a blustery spring day. Rising up in front of you is the wall of some great fortification, probably Elvish by the looks of things. If you look behind you, you can see looming up on the edge of the tree line a series of huge trebuchets, poised to fling whatever deadly weapons—rocks? bodies?—can be put into them toward the beleaguered building.

Tramping through thick mud in borrowed boots, you glance down and see, staring up at you from the muck, a glazed, dead Elvish face belonging to an equally dead Elf warrior. Not far away is the dead body of an Orc. As you raise your eyes to scan the wide muddy expanse in front of the battlement, you realize that it is absolutely littered with the motionless bodies of Elves and Orcs, scattered among the debris of battle. There’s even an upturned boat sitting out in the middle of it all.

Suddenly, you hear a scream. A figure in full armor plummets from the top of the fortification all the way down to the ground. There are cheers all around and someone shouts, “Cut!” Bits of blue screen are pulled around on huge wheels, though they aren’t needed too much, as the atmospheric British skies and surrounding woodlands create a perfectly three-dimensional setting, at least from this side—the screens for viewing the dailies are tucked away behind the façade of the battlement!

This was the scene that greeted us on an April morning in 2023 when we visited Middle-earth, otherwise known as the UK set of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season two. One thing was clear straight away—there are going to be some epic battles in this upcoming season. As actor Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Míriel) told us during our set visit, “the time of relative peace is over and things are shifting,” and we could certainly see that from this war zone tucked away in one of King Charles III’s estates not far from London. Executive producer Lindsey Weber added that, “Season two was always going to be a grander scale than season one,” a statement backed up by the sheer, unnerving volume of dummies of dead Elves and Orcs. If season one was about setting up the chessboard, season two seems to be about blowing it the hell up.

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Our set visit took place on Crown Estate land, which has been temporarily transformed into Middle-earth but which will be returned to its former state once the battle is done. Supervising location manager Finlay Bradbury told us that, once filming was done, they will be working “with the Crown Estate and their ecologists to look at where we can improve the natural environment here. In a year or two’s time, our footprint would have pretty much disappeared.” For now, though, squelching through these woods feels like visiting a battlefield from World War I, all mud and blood and corpses. It’s a very appropriate and evocative image, considering J.R.R. Tolkien was himself a World War I veteran.

Some of that muck and mess is, of course, thanks to the great British weather! Filming for season two of The Rings of Power shifted location from New Zealand, where season one was filmed, to England, and started shooting in October 2022.

“Normally, if you shoot in this country, you want to start shooting in April and end up in October,” production designer Kristian Milsted told us. But Rings of Power ended up doing it the other way around. Weber explained that the crew “shot straight through in the snow and the sleet and the rain and the wind.” It wasn’t all bad, though, as Milsted pointed out: “It’s been suiting our look because it is a much darker universe [than season one] that we are presenting here.”

Adar in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2
Credit: Prime Video

But while the weather may have helped pile on the authentic mud, that First World War vibe is very much a deliberate artistic choice as well. Once we’ve got back to the main studio and dried off, we are shown a miniature model used in designing Adar’s orc encampment for season two. This looks even more like the Western Front in World War I, as it’s full of trenches and ladders, and if it weren’t for the Orcs and the lack of tanks, it could almost be a historical set.

For supervising stunt coordinator Ben Cook, stunts involving modern vehicles were pretty much the only ones he didn’t have to organize for this shoot. “We’ve done a lot of horse work. We’ve done a lot of wire work. We’ve done a lot of fights. We’ve done some firework, and some high fall kind of work,” he said, as we watched an example of high fall work happen in front of us. We’ll also be seeing just about every type of medieval weapon available in the battles of season two, as well as the huge catapult-like trebuchets that are based on real medieval siege warfare. Cook revealed that we will be seeing “crossbows, bows and arrows, swords, spears, daggers… each character will have their own specialized [weapons].”

And of course, those weapons are going to be used in dramatic ways. Prosthetic make-up artist Sarah Gower explained, “There will be times when we have to use the green screen—if somebody gets their arm chopped off, we have to use the Green Screen club. [But] I think we’re very fortunate in that Jason [Smith], who is the VFX supervisor, he’s very pro-prosthetics. He loves prosthetics. And I think that’s always the best shows of when the two departments come together. When you work together, you change the way these are made for this season. Bone versus silicone.”

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The amount of work that goes into these battle scenes is extraordinary, and they are full of details that will never been seen on screen. Lead armorer Mark Miller and his team have produced hundreds of pieces of armor, some of which we get to see as we walk around the costume department and armory, accompanied by the sound of hammers and the smell of paint. Sitting out on display is an impressive-looking helmet with a bearded face molded onto it and golden eyes. Just across the table is a piece of armor with snake details., including the ouroboros symbol—a snake eating its own tail, symbolizing immorality and eternity. The Orc armor is an impressive mish-mash of influences, as the idea behind it is that the Orcs have looted it from other cultures and mixed that in with the bones of their enemies.

Some armor will be seen rather than worn, but just as much work has gone into that as well. Set decorator Tina Jones looks to museums and historical pieces for her inspiration. “We went up to the Leeds Armory and we’ve got some great images. Then I sit down with Kristian [Milsted], show him ideas that we’ve come up with and then they go forward to the concept artist. We settle on the final one and then we find the fabric that need to be lightweight, but that will actually resemble an armor.” While the prosthetics and VFX departments take care of missing arms, it is hair and make-up designer Flora Moody and her team who “deal with the nicks and scars and wounds and blood that happen on their faces and hands.” 

Galadriel and Adar in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2

From the armoury we head off to an Orc battle-tent, which is just as hot and stuffy as you might imagine. There’s a cowskin run on the straw-covered floor and the small set is crowded and dark and claustrophobic. Morfydd Clark, dressed in her Galadriel garb, stops to say a quick hello, before rushing off. Notably, she’s fully kitted out in her armor, ready for another battle. Stunt coordinator Cook teased that Galadriel is going to be “badass” this season, and both she and Robert Aramayo (Elrond) will be doing a lot of horse-riding and participating in plenty of combat throughout.

As the season goes on Charlie Vickers’ Sauron will be stepping into the action as well. Showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne excitedly tell us that, where season one was about the heroes, “Season two is going to be all about the villains, and specifically all about Sauron.” We already know from the trailers that Sauron will be taking on a new form this season now that Halbrand has been unmasked as the Dark Lord. In season two, he takes on his Elven form first described in Tolkien’s legendarium. You will soon get to meet Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, which will undoubtedly lead to the forging of more Rings of Power—but could this Dark Lord in hiding also pick up sword and armor once again, this time for the bad guys? The show won’t say just yet.

For now, all we’ve seen from the set looks pretty dark and foreboding. It’s clear that season two is going to be grim and violent in places. But there will be light, too. McKay and Payne admitted that, “We’re talking a lot about darkness and horribleness and misery and that’s all a part of it, Tolkien takes you there. But the other thing that we really love about Tolkien and this material is that there’s hope everywhere too.” Whatever trauma this season puts its characters through, and however darkly the threat of Sauron looms, it’s good to know that there will still be light at the end of the tunnel.

But first corpses. Lots of corpses.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 2 premieres on Aug. 29 on Prime Video.