The Rings of Power, the new J.R.R. Tolkien series that premieres on Prime Video Sept. 1, takes place during the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of Lord of the Rings. It begins after Sauron’s master, the evil lord Morgoth, is defeated. Sauron may have gone into hiding, but he’s still alive: the series will eventually show Sauron’s creation of the titular rings of power—including the one ring to rule them all. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay have already plotted out five seasons that will culminate in a battle between Sauron’s evil forces and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
Anyone who has read the books or watched Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy knows where the story is headed: During that battle, a man named Isildur cuts the ring from Sauron’s finger, thus defeating him. But he is unable to bring himself to destroy the powerful object: thousands of years later, that task falls to a hobbit named Frodo. Still, the showrunners have promised a story—with many twists, surprises, and adventures along the way—that deepens our understanding of that final showdown.
To understand the story, you need to know the main players of the Second Age. Some characters will be familiar: The immortal lives of elves span Middle-earth’s many ages. Tolkien fans may know other characters by name since they’re referenced in his books and particularly the appendices of The Return of the King that outline the events of the Second Age. Other characters are brand new, and what part they’ll play in the larger story remains a mystery.
Here’s everyone you need to know before you watch the show.
Galadriel (Morfydd Clark)
The role of Galadriel was immortalized by a young Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In that movie she was a powerful—even a little bit terrifying—elf who helped guide Frodo on his journey to destroy the ring. She even resisted the temptation to take the powerful object when Frodo offered it to her, which is no small feat.
Elves are immortal, and in The Rings of Power, we meet a much younger version of Galadriel, played by Clark. She is thousands of years younger than Blanchett’s version and far more brazen. The show promises to show how she evolves into the wise stateswoman we meet in Lord of the Rings.
At the beginning of the series, she is an impressive warrior determined to avenge the death of her brother who was killed fighting Sauron and his henchmen. She hunts for the disappeared Sauron across Middle-earth.
Halbrand (Charlie Vickers)
Halbrand is a new character written for The Rings of Power. The mortal man with a mysterious background is on the run when he meets Galadriel. Many fans have already begun theorizing that Halbrand may be hiding his identity given that he seems to be a rather important player and was never mentioned in Tolkien’s works. Plus the whole “mysterious background” description should give you pause. And, after all, Tolkien wasn’t big on coincidences. People tend to happen upon each other by fate in his stories. Stumbling on Galadriel must signal that he has some larger role to play in the fight between good and evil.
Elrond (Robert Aramayo)
Lord of the Rings fans will recognize Elrond, the half-elf, half-man who presides over the elven land of Rivendell. (Hugo Weaving played Elrond in the Jackson trilogy.) Elrond not only fights against Sauron’s army in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, but he plays a pivotal role in determining the fate of the ring. Thousands of years later, he will help Frodo with his mission to destroy the object.
But before Elrond became an esteemed military leader or had his daughter Arwen, he was a statesmen working for the elf High King Gil-Galad. Early in the show, he is sent on a mission to the Dwarf kingdom of Kazad-dûm early in the show to meet with his old friend Prince Durin IV.
High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker)
Lord of the Rings fans got a brief look at High King Gil-Galad (played by Mark Ferguson) in the first few minutes of Fellowship of the Ring. Gil-Galad formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men with Elendil and can be seen in that battle. He is arguably the most important elf living in the Second Age. In the show, Gil-Galad rules over the elf kingdom of Lindon.
Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards)
Readers and fans of the popular Shadow of War and Shadow of Mordor video games will recognize Celebrimbor as the elf smith who was tricked into forging the rings of power by a disguised Sauron. The show quite literally hinges on his creation. So when Celebrimbor shows up in the early episodes of Rings of Power and talks longingly about wanting to create powerful objects, those words are laden with dramatic irony.
Isildur (Maxim Baldry)
Isildur is the man who manages to cut the one ring from Sauron’s finger. But he fails to destroy the ring itself. That failure allows for Sauron to rise again in the Third Age when Lord of the Rings takes place. In the movies, Aragorn, a descendent of Isildur, frets that he, like his ancestor, will betray his human weakness when in battle against great evil.
But while Isildur’s tale is a tragedy, he also accomplished some good things. He founded and ruled Gondor with his brother Anárion. And he helped, along with his father and Gil-Galad, lead the fight against Sauron. When we meet him in the show, he is just a sailor, not yet a leader of men.
Elendil (Lloyd Owen)
Isildur’s father Elendil played a crucial role in the fight against Sauron. His name literally translates to “Elf Friend,” and he did indeed form a crucial alliance with the elves to stop great evil from spreading through Middle-earth. When we meet him in the series, he is captaining a ship and trying to manage the tempers of his adult children.
Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur)
Durin’s father King Durin III rules over the Dwarf kingdom of Khazad-dûm. You may recall Gandalf facing down a Balrog in the mines of a destroyed Khazad-dûm (later known as Moria) toward the end of Fellowship of the Ring. But during the Second Age the subterranean kingdom is flourishing, thanks to the riches hidden in the mountain where the dwarves reside.
Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete)
Durin’s wife, Disa, is the first female dwarf ever depicted in a Tolkien adaptation. She is one of many dwarves who sings to the mountain in order to divine its secrets.
Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova)
Arondir is an elf written for the show. He is Silvan Elf rather than a High Elf, which basically means he’s less interested in pomp and circumstance and more interested in nature. The Silvan Elves live in what becomes Mirkwood and Lothlórien. When we meet Arondir, he’s a soldier who is in love with the human Bronwyn. As you may recall from Aragorn and Arwen’s romance, human-elf relationships are frowned upon in Middle-earth. Humans are mortal and elves are not, so any relationship between them is bound to end in tragedy. We know from the trailers that Arondir eventually finds himself battling a whole slew of orcs.
Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi)
Bronwyn is a healer and single mother to son Theo. They live in Tirharad, a name that translates to “near Harad.” Given that Harad is a mysterious region south of Mordor, that doesn’t bode particularly well for her people. Perhaps that’s why Arondir—and possibly Bronwyn—run into orcs.
Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin)
The son of Bronwyn, Theo’s character is another invention of the show. Intriguingly, in trailers for the series he’s looking a rather a broken sword with evil Mordor vibes. What the weapon is or how Theo acquired it—perhaps from his unidentified father?—remains a mystery.
Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh)
What would a Lord of the Rings show be without hobbits—or at least hobbit-adjacent creatures? Nori is a harfoot, one of the nomadic ancestors of the hobbits. Tolkien wrote about harfoots in his work “Concerning Hobbits.” The harfoots hide from humans and other creatures, which explains why Nori may be missing from the great histories of Middle-earth. But she has an important role to play in the show. She discovers a stranger who has fallen from the sky on a meteor and, itching for adventure, vows to help him find his way to his people.
Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards)
Poppy is Nori’s friend and often finds herself dragged into Nori’s mischievous antics.
The Stranger (Daniel Weyman)
A mysterious man falls from the sky on a meteor. He seems to have some magical powers but doesn’t speak Nori’s tongue so his origins are unclear. The showrunners have dubbed him The Stranger and remained mum on who he might be. This is pure speculation on my part, but whenever I see a magic-user in this show, I will automatically assume that person is a wizard until proven otherwise. Technically, according to Tolkien’s writing, neither Gandalf nor Saruman arrived in Middle-earth until the Third Age. But it’s certainly possible, if not likely, the writers would find a way to work a beloved character like that into the show.
Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry)
Lenny Henry is another harfoot who is able to read signs from the stars. He appears to be at least one of the leaders of the traveling group.
Largo Brandyfoot (Dylan Smith)
Largo Brandyfoot is Nori’s father who indulges her occasionally troublesome ways.
Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson)
One key location in Rings of Power will be the island kingdom of Númenor, which was ruled by humans of half-elven heritage. Aragorn, Boromir, and Faramir all descend from the men of Númenor. But by the time of Lord of the Rings, Númenor has fallen: Our heroes briefly sail through its ruins in Fellowship of the Ring. But at the time of Rings of Power, the land is still formidable.
When the show begins, Queen Regent Míriel rules over the land. But her people are restless and divided over the future of the kingdom. And a man named Pharazôn has some ideas of his own.
Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle)
Pharazôn is an advisor to Míriel. But he’s also amassing a following of his own. He will play a major role in determining the fate of Númenor.
Mysterious character from the Rhûn (Bridie Sisson)
Many fans clocked a mysterious character in the Comic-Con trailer for Rings of Power and theorized the person might be Sauron in disguise. Though the internet initially thought this blonde-haired mystical being was played by the actor Anson Boon, Rings of Power executive producer Lindsey Weber confirmed to TIME that in fact the character will be portrayed by Bridie Sisson. She would not confirm the character’s name, but did say that she is traveling from the east “from the lands of Rhûn,” which happens to be one of Sauron’s favorite haunts.
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