When it was announced that Amazon was creating a streaming program based on JRR Tolkien’s world very few details about the program’s plot or story were known. Since then it has come to light that the story will be set in the Second Age of Middle Earth. Also, the amount of control that the Tolkien estate retains over the story is much greater than it seemed at first. Essentially, nothing in the Amazon show can contradict or change what Tolkien has established in his mythology. Taking this into account, setting the story in the second age makes sense, it is by far the least established age in Middle Earth. That’s not to say there are big holes in the mythology, but quite a bit of established story took place away from Middle Earth, on the island of Numenor.
A few seemingly obscure casting announcements for the show have been made, but haven’t given much insight into where the show is heading. The latest one might. It at least opens things up for speculation.
Joseph Mawle only briefly appeared in Game of Thrones as Benjen Stark, but he was, in many ways, the prototypical Stark, at least physically. In the books, George RR Martin describes most of the Stark family as sharing certain physical characteristics: Dark hair, long faces, kind of grim-looking. Mawle personified that better than anyone else on the show. So that character certainly left his mark on the Game of Thrones world. And many of those same features could be applied to Tolkien’s world, with a similar result.
In The Lord of the Rings not all that much was said, or explained about the Numenoreans. They were Aragorn’s ancestors, and had established the Kingdom of Gondor long before. This story in the second age could cover Numenor, its rise and its fall.
Numenor was the island gifted to the men who had fought with the elves and the Valar in the War of Wrath, which ended the First Age. The Numenoreans were the most knowledgable and powerful version of men, but they eventually fell prey to their fear of death and under the influence of Sauron. That should be a familiar name to anyone familiar with The Lord of the Rings, but the Sauron that helped bring down Numenor in the second age was quite different from the burning eye on top of Barad Dur in Lord of the Rings.
Sauron was brought to Numenor as a prisoner, but gained the ear of its king, Ar-Pharazon, and grew into his most valued advisor. With Sauron’s encouragement the Numenoreans grew dissatisfied with their lot, and became ever more wary of death. Fear of mortality is a common theme in Tolkien’s work, and a telltale sign of a society in decline. Eventually, the Numenoreans decided to invade the land of the Valar, and their entire island was destroyed in retaliation. The few Numenorean families that escaped came to Middle Earth and established the kingdom of Gondor, just in time to help overthrow Sauron the first time. The leader of the escapees was Elendil, with his sons Isildur and Anarion.
The story of Numenor wouldn’t be a bad one for Amazon to adapt in its first go-around in Middle Earth. The story itself has basic plot points established, but there is plenty of room to add/improvise characters and stories on the fringes. Also the relative simplicity of the story lends itself relatively well to adaptation. Numenor is an island, and as such it doesn’t have a huge variety (if that’ the right word) of locations. Similarly, all the main players in the story are, or appear to be human. In Tolkien’s world that is often not the case. And while elves may be fairly easy to create on-screen (physically that is) the same cannot really be said for orcs, ents, or dragons, as well as (to a lesser extent) hobbits and dwarves simply because of the number of characters that would (could) involve.
This idea is complicated a little by the announcement that Mawle would be the major villain in the series. The name ‘Oren’ doesn’t mean anything, but it is fairly likely that none of the characters names given with casting announcements line up to their characters actual names in the story. With that assumption, there are two distinct and important characters Mawle could play that would qualify as the villains in any tale of the fall of Numenor. The first is actually Sauron. He essentially orchestrated the fall of Numenor as a power grab, to see just how far he could push the Valar, eventually trying to take over their lands. He just sold it to the Numenorean king as a pursuit of immortality.
The second character could actually be the Numenorean king, Ar-Pharazon. He died during the fall of Numenor, wand was instrumental in bringing it about. He also would fit a well-known kind-of trope in recent fantasy as a ‘mad king.’ His fear of death made him open to Sauron’s influence, but so did his superstition and desire for power. He actually began the practice of human sacrifice, including burning the victims. Sound familiar?
The actual details about Amazon’s Middle Earth show won’t come out for a while. Filming is set to begin ‘in the coming months‘ but the show isn’t expected until 2021. So until then, speculation is all there is.