The Rings Of Power Learned A Lesson From The Characters In Better Call Saul

Major spoilers ahead for "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" season 1.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" has wrapped up season 1 and is currently shooting season 2. The Prime Video series is based on author J.R.R. Tolkien's supplemental lore for Middle-earth, and is set thousands of years before the Peter Jackson film trilogies. This is the story of how the rings of power were formed, the secret return of Sauron after his mentor Morgoth's defeat, and the destruction of the island nation of Númenor. It's a sweeping epic that has us traveling all over Middle-earth and beyond and almost to the western lands where the elves go to rest. And in the final episodes of season 1, it also shows us the rise of Mordor. 

Emmy-nominated writer and executive producer Gennifer Hutchinson, who wrote the finale with showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, as well as the episode "Adrift," recently spoke about how the writers' room for "Rings of Power" differs from the ones she was in on "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul." In doing so, she brought up an interesting point about balancing epic high fantasy and character work.

'A giant sweeping big fantasy show'

Hutchinson told Game Rant that there are a lot of things that are "foundationally the same" in the "Rings of Power" writers' room as they were for "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" (the latter also being a prequel series exploring the origins of familiar characters). She explains that with TV, you can spend a lot of time with characters and go deep into their psychology, "which is really kind of the wheelhouse of the Vince Gilligan camp." But with "Rings of Power," Hutchinson and the other writers didn't have that same luxury:

"This is a giant sweeping big fantasy show, so there was also this attention being paid to the scope and telling this huge story, and balancing five different worlds and so many different characters. So there was that need to kind of really be mindful of so many different moving parts at the same time, as opposed to an intimate character study that you get on something like 'Breaking Bad' or 'Better Call Saul.' Here it was like you were doing smaller intimate character studies but having to make sure that you're juggling all of them and honoring all of them throughout."

It's an interesting balancing act. In a recent interview for /Film, I asked Hutchinson about finding room for the characters amid the high fantasy aspect of the show. She said that it was a tricky thing, and that she also had to add in different ways of speaking for different groups, like the dwarves or the harfoots, or the elves. It's a lot to focus on, but as Hutchinson explained, "character is my wheelhouse. That's the zone I love to live in."

High fantasy can often obscure character details

High fantasy isn't an easy genre to write in. Often, there is so much explanation for setting, political intrigues, and jargon about things like Silmarils or who the legends of the time were. With "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," Hutchinson had to balance character with all of this, as well as keeping mysteries under wraps and balancing how much explanation viewers would need. The audience includes people who already know every little thing about Tolkien's history, people like me who know a whole lot but don't mind changes, and some people who are being introduced to this world for the first time. "Breaking Bad" fans knew the entire deal before "Better Call Saul," but Hutchinson had to be mindful of views who were new to Middle-earth. 

I think that's why high fantasy can sometimes turn people off: You just can't get out from under some of these explanations you have to give. It's often more about characters getting caught up in the sweeping epic than it is about the characters themselves. The fact that Tolkien did give us a lot of character study in his work is one of the many reasons it's still so popular today. 

It's also likely one of the reasons that Amazon spent so much money on the sets, costumes, and props for the series. A lot of those explanations can be done visually on TV, with more time to spend in locations than you might have in a film.

More time for character in season 2

Character is definitely a focus in "The Rings of Power," but I have heard critiques that you don't know enough to care deeply about everyone yet. While I disagree, this is my favorite genre, so I knew what I was getting. That said, I do think now that the world has been established in the first season, we're likely to be able to go deeper into the characters in season 2. They're all split up in different ways by the end, which will hopefully lead to some more character revelations as we go forward. 

The fact that the Prime Video execs brought in someone like Hutchinson, who is known and celebrated for her character work, helped so much in creating people that are going to matter to us a lot in future seasons. Plus, having so many more hours to tell this story (even Jackson had to do extended editions of his films to get everything he wanted in there) will allow us to watch these people/elves/dwarves/orcs/mysterious strangers/etc. grow and change in a way we didn't get in the films.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" is currently streaming on Prime Video.