Jeff Bezos’s Wish for Amazon’s Own “Game of Thrones” Is Not Looking Good

Is the new "Lord of the Rings" show another letdown waiting to happen?

A still frame from the trailer for "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," a new series based on J.R.R. Tolkien's writing of Middle-earth coming to Prime Video in September 2022
The first full trailer for "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" debuted during the Super Bowl.
Amazon Studios/Courtesy of Prime Video

“I want my Game of Thrones.” 

That request, reportedly uttered by Jeff Bezos, has been a major goal for the Amazon founder for years, according to Brad Stone’s book Amazon Unbound. And what player in the TV space wouldn’t want their own Game of Thrones? HBO’s megahit attracted tens of millions of viewers per episode by the end of its eight-season run and was seen as the leading force ushering in the era of peak TV. It showed that a fantasy drama based on books could achieve the holy grail of both critical and commercial success, and Bezos wanted that for Amazon Studios, his producer and distributor, and Prime Video, his streaming service.

On Super Bowl Sunday, we got the first serious look at Amazon’s second attempt at forging its own Game of Thrones through a trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The series, set to debut with its first season on September 2, is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which take place in the Third Age. 

The 60-second trailer features elves and dwarfs, stunning landscapes and swelling music, and glimpses of giant monsters, vicious battles and lots of undeniably expensive CGI. It also gives me the same feeling I had when I watched the first full trailer for The Wheel of Time, Amazon’s first attempt at its own Thrones, which makes me think Bezos may not be able to buy his own fantasy sensation after all. 

If you missed The Wheel of Time, the Amazon show is an adaptation of Robert Jordan’s 14-book fantasy series of the same name. As I’ve written about before, I love the books and was excited about the prospect of seeing them translated for the screen. When I saw the aforementioned trailer, I was skeptical — something about it seemed off, like the show wasn’t capturing something essential about the magic of the books — but it was also a two-minute preview, so I didn’t want to prematurely judge a humongous creative undertaking based off of that. Even after the first four episodes of the first season, when I had serious issues with the adaptation, I was still hopeful.

After finishing the first season in its entirety, I have come to the unfortunate realization that my initial instincts were correct. The show, which has been renewed for a second and third season, was disappointing in many aspects, including the writing, acting, cinematography and special effects, as well as a boatload of major changes to the general plot and the characters. 

And now, I’m getting the same sinking feeling I felt from that preview from the Rings of Power trailer — a trailer should be the most enticing preview you can pull from hours and hours of footage, but I’m left asking myself, “Is this it?” Coupled with some recent details from a story in Vanity Fair, which got an early look at the first three episodes and access to the creative team, it’s not looking good for the Tolkien adaptation. 

In fact, calling The Rings of Power a Tolkien adaptation isn’t quite accurate. As the Vanity Fair story notes, the show is drawing largely from the Appendices, “thousands of years of history [squeezed] into about 150 pages of postscript” that was tacked onto the book The Return of the King. But more consequential than that source is the fact that showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne are coming up with brand new material for the show.

“Can we come up with the novel Tolkien never wrote and do it as the mega-event series that could only happen now?” McKay posited. 

You’ve probably never heard of McKay and Payne, as Vanity Fair says they’ve been writing in Hollywood for 13 years but only cites work on an unspecified Star Trek movie. An article at Rotten Tomatoes says they worked on the script for Star Trek Beyond but it was finished by others, and they worked on the script for Jungle Cruise … but it was finished by others. It feels like a similar situation to The Wheel of Time, where showrunner Rafe Judkins was incredibly passionate about the property but his previous work, on shows like Chuck and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., didn’t necessarily inspire confidence in his ability to pull it off. 

At the moment, the trailer is currently being comment-bombed by people who believe Amazon is going to ruin Tolkien’s work (the comment that’s being repeated, as some have pointed out, is a misquote of Tolkien). And as Vanity Fair points out, some despicable online commenters are mad that more actors of color are being featured in this new show. My worry stems neither from the latter’s abhorrent prejudice or the former idea that Amazon, because it is Amazon, cannot faithfully create an extension of the world Tolkien is creating. It comes down to the fact that Amazon now has a track record of ridiculously expensive book-to-TV letdowns with The Wheel of Time, and after watching the Rings of Power trailer, let’s just say I feel another in the water, I feel it in the earth, I smell it in the air. 

Let’s hope my instincts are wrong.

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