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Amazon is heading to Middle-earth for a small screen journey into the lore of Lord of the Rings, and the streamer has already ordered two seasons for what may be a massive chunk of change. So, there was every reason to suspect that the cast would be headlined by a big-name star or two to hook viewers for a story that won't just be a retelling of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy or J.R.R. Tolkien's original three-book saga. The first batch of series regulars announced by Amazon for the new series therefore comes as a bit of a surprise.
Take a look at the first official list of the Lord of the Rings series' cast members:
Ismael Cruz Córdova
Considering executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay reportedly underwent "an extensive global search" for the cast, it's probably safe to say that this is a talented group of actors being trusted with arguably Amazon's highest-profile original series.
That said, there's no big name among the first season regulars, and that genuinely took me by surprise. While the Lord of the Rings film trilogy did feature some actors who weren't exactly household names at the time, such as Orlando Bloom and Dominic Monaghan, it boasted stars like Ian McKellan, Christopher Lee, and Cate Blanchett, to name only a few.
Among these new stars, I did have a "Hey, it's that guy from Game of Thrones!" for Robert Aramayo, who played the young Ned Stark in later seasons of the series, and again when I realized Joseph Mawle (who may be a Middle-earth villain for Amazon) is also a Thrones alum thanks to his role as Benjen Stark. Having recently watched His Dark Materials, I recognized Morfydd Clark, and Nazanin Boniadi has appeared in TV shows ranging from Homeland to Scandal to How I Met Your Mother. Still, there's no name with vast recognition.
Admittedly, comparing movies to TV shows can be apples to oranges, but other high-profile fantasy series have recruited a big name or two. Game of Thrones launched with Lord of the Rings alum Sean Bean as the ill-fated leading man, The Witcher can boast Henry Cavill, Carnival Row follows Orlando Bloom's leading man, and His Dark Materials features James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda among others.
Now, does the lack of a big star or two heading into the first season mean Amazon's Lord of the Rings series will tank? Of course not. In fact, I'd be shocked if this project isn't Amazon's biggest success as a streaming show. It should be interesting to see how Amazon goes about attracting viewers without a preexisting star at the center. Still, we shouldn't expect to see footage any time too soon.
Production begins in February, with the first season spanning eight episodes. The show will be set in Middle-earth, but will explore storylines taking place before the story of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, which may or may not mean The Hobbit is off-limits as well. The early renewal for Season 2 means there's no fear for an early cancellation and the production team can plan ahead, although it did result in one actor leaving the cast.
For a Lord of the Rings fix while you wait for the Amazon journey to Middle-earth, you can find The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King streaming on Netflix now, although no Fellowship of the Ring. For more viewing options now and in the not-too-distant future, swing by our 2020 winter and spring TV premiere guide.