Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Timeline – Key Events and Story Theories

We know The Rings of Power is set during the Second Age, but specifically when, where, and which events in Tolkien lore will it cover?

Lord of the Rings header image Galadriel Sauron One Ring
Photo: New Line Cinema

Now that we know the title of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV series and we’ve seen a teaser, we know a tiny bit more regarding what the series is all about. That teaser dropped some pretty heavy hints about what we’re likely to see on screen, so follow us for a deep dive into the back matter from The Lord of the Rings to find out more…

First off, here’s what we know for sure. The series is set during the Second Age of Arda (Tolkien’s imaginary world, which we tend to call “Middle-earth”, but technically that only covers the main continent, which is meant to be a very early version of our Earth anyway. But I digress). The Second Age starts with the founding of the Elf capital Lindon and the Grey Havens (the port the Elves sail away from at the end of The Return of the King) and ends with the battle seen at the opening of Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, in which the Last Alliance of Men and Elves defeat Sauron, and Aragorn’s ancestor Isildur takes the One Ring.

Before the Fall of Númenor

The Second Age covers a period of 3,441 years, so it’s safe to say the show probably won’t cover all of it! Tolkien described the Second Age as “the dark years for Men of Middle-Earth, but the years of the glory of Númenor.” Showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay have mentioned Númenor a couple of times, and it’s appeared on a map released as early publicity for the show, so it’s safe to say there will be a fairly hefty focus on it.

Númenor is inspired by the Greek myth of Atlantis. According to Plato, Atlantis was an island city full of brave warriors and ruled by kings which was destroyed by earthquakes and swallowed up by the sea in one night (a story which may or may not have been inspired by the destruction of the island of Thera, now known as Santorini, centuries earlier). Tolkien had a recurring nightmare about a great wave rising up and covering the land, which he associated with the story of Atlantis. He gave the dream to Faramir in the books – Faramir being a Gondorian, and Gondor being one of the realms founded by Númenorean exiles after the destruction of the island.

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According to Tolkien’s timeline provided in Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings, Númenor is destroyed in 3319 SA (the 3,319th year of the Second Age, in case you were wondering). That’s 22 years before the great battle that ends the Age, so you might be thinking, “oh okay, we’re going to see a series about the last years of Númenor and the Last Alliance.” But wait! The title reveal and teaser drop suggest we’re going back much further than that, at least for Season One.

Forging the First Rings of Power

We now know that the title for the show is The Rings of Power. Obviously, this helps to tie it more closely to The Lord of the Rings, but it means more than that. The teaser shows us the forging of a ring, with the Rhyme of the Rings from The Lord of the Rings being recited over it. This rhyme tells us there are twenty Rings of Power; three for the Elven kings (worn by Galadriel, Gandalf, and Elrond by the time of the films), seven for the dwarf-lords, nine for mortal Men (worn by the Ringwraiths), and the One Ring made by Sauron for himself.

Payne and McKay have said that “before there was one [ring], there were many… and we’re excited to share the epic story of them all.” So, considering the teaser’s emphasis on the forging of the rings, we’re guessing that Season One is going to either begin or end with the forging of the first Rings of Power.

According to Tolkien’s timeline, the Elven-Smiths, under the influence of a disguised Sauron, started forging the Rings of Power about 1500 SA. The Three Elven Rings, which were forged by Celebrimbor and kept as separate as possible from Sauron, were completed about 90 years later, and Sauron forged the One Ring 10 years after that, around 1600 SA. That’s a lot of time for the show to cover already, but these are mostly very long-lived characters, so a century is a fairly short amount of time for most of them.

It’s possible that the series will start with the the forging of the first Rings and cover from about 1500 SA to about 1701. This would include such exciting events as “War of the Elves and Sauron” and “The gates of Moria are shut” as well as the founding of Rivendell by Elrond.

Galadriel and the Founding of Lothlórien

On the other hand, rather than starting with the forging of the Rings of Power, Season One might build up to it instead. Tolkien’s timeline gives them a huge blank slate to fill in there – he tells us that Sauron tries and fails to “seduce” the Eldar (the original name for the Elves in Tolkien’s universe) in about 1200 SA and then there’s nothing until 1500. We can fill in some of that gap with Celeborn and Galadriel becoming leaders of Lórien in 1350, but that’s about it. It’s possible that the show will start there, with the founding of what we will come to know in the films as Lothlórien. That would give the audience a familiar starting-point, and the writers would have lots of room to expand on Tolkien’s material while building up to the big dramatic stuff in later seasons.

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Considering how few female characters there are in The Lord of the Rings, it’s significant that the voiceover reciting the Rhyme of the Rings in the teaser is female. It’s probably Galadriel – she provided the voiceover for the very first words heard on screen in the film of The Fellowship of the Ring (played by Cate Blanchett), and we know that Galadriel will be a major player in the new series, now played by Morfydd Clark (that’s pronounced roughly as Mor-vith, non-Welsh speakers).

It’s no surprise that we’re going to be seeing lots of Galadriel. Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales includes a few (somewhat contradictory) details about the story of her and her husband Celeborn, and she was a Bearer of one of the Rings of Power from the beginning. We don’t know exactly which other familiar characters from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit we’ll be seeing; we can assume we won’t be seeing most of the Men, Dwarves or Hobbits we know, and Gandalf won’t have been sent to Middle-earth yet, but we will almost certainly see Elrond at some point, and we might see some other familiar Elves as well.

Tolkien book fans may even be hoping that we might see Tom Bombadil, a character who has never been included in an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, not even the 13-part radio series, as he always gets dropped for time from the early part of the story. Bombadil is more or less ageless, so in theory he could turn up, though we won’t hold our breath!

Celebrimbor and Gil-galad

Among new characters we can expect to see, one of the most important will be Celebrimbor, the Elven-smith who forges the Three Rings and is also a major character in the recent Middle-earth video games. We’ll also expect to see the Elven king Gil-galad. In the book version of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam sings a song about him early on. Like most of Tolkien’s Elf-related songs, it’s a sad one, but Gil-galad lives for millennia before he is eventually killed in battle, so hopefully the show can focus on the more cheerful bits of his story for a while.

We know that the Tolkien estate are fairly happy with how the series is being developed and that it won’t contradict anything from Tolkien’s mythology. You might be thinking, then, that surely it’s easy to work out more or less what’s going to happen in the show from just reading Tolkien’s books (or an online summary of them). But as with everything that relates to The Lord of the Rings, it’s more complicated than that.

The Tale of Years and Other Appendices

The main source for the series is the Appendices from The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien being a true academic, there are six of these and they are very detailed. Appendices C-F (“Family Trees,” “Calendars,” “Writing and Spelling,” and “Languages and Peoples”) will probably be used sparingly, though they contain some wonderful tidbits of information, like the fact Sam and Rosie went on to have 13 children. Appendices A and B, however – “Annals of the Kings and Rulers” and “The Tale of Years” (i.e. a great big timeline) briefly tell a number of stories from across all three Ages. But when we say “briefly,” we mean really, really briefly. In a few words. Things like “War of the Elves and Sauron begins” could cover several episodes of a TV show if not an entire season.

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The show will probably make some use of the sections of the posthumously published books The Simarillion and Unfinished Tales that cover the Second Age. The Silmarillion is written as a complete narrative, but it mostly covers the First Age. Unfinished Tales is put together from Tolkien’s notes and drafts, and Tolkien liked to change his mind. A lot. So much that The Hobbit had to be put out in a second edition in 1951 that changed the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” to reflect how the story had changed while writing The Lord of the Rings. So the showrunners have a few options to follow in creating the story of, for example, Galadriel and Celeborn, which is sort of told in Unfinished Tales, but slightly different versions are available.

Where the Film trilogies Fit In

On top of that, conceptual artist John Howe has mentioned in an interview with Narniafans.com that “the showrunners are determined to remain faithful to the existing trilogies [i.e. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films] and the spirit of the books.” So we can assume that the series will be combining material from the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings with the extra material added for the film trilogies, particularly The Hobbit films, which greatly expanded Tolkien’s much shorter children’s book to include substantial storylines for several extra characters.

All of that is a disclaimer to say that pretty much nothing is certain about this one! The showrunners certainly have plenty of space to create a really epic series following some very long-lived characters across centuries of warfare. We can’t wait to see the glorious kingdom of Númenor on screen, or meet Celebrimbor and the Elven-smiths who forged the Rings of Power, or see Galadriel in her heyday, or meet the great Elven king Gil-galad. This series doesn’t have to squeeze three long books into movies, or stretch one short book out into three movies, but can take its time in telling the story it wants to tell, more or less starting and stopping when it wants to. For that reason alone if nothing else, we’re definitely excited.

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power streams on Prime Video on Sept. 2.