Nobody who watched The Empire Strikes Back ever really expected that young Darth Vader would one day look like Hayden Christensen, or that young Lord Voldemort would begin his Hogwarts tenure looking like this smokeshow, or that evil Magneto would be portrayed in his youth by problematically well-built actor Michael Fassbender.
Villains always start out hot, evidently, with the common trajectory appearing to follow these beautiful troubled men with splintered morals getting progressively less attractive over time. Nowhere in literature or pop culture has that journey been more physically manifest than in the granddaddy of descents into Dorian Gray-levels of disgusting: Gollum.
As you’ve no doubt heard, Amazon is unearthing Lord of the Rings for a big-budget TV series that, according to the network, will “explore new story lines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.” That means the series could theoretically place us in prime Hobbit years, when the mead flowed and the One Ring was an indie legend and everyone’s favorite halfling was still a walking, talking, stalking hobbit named Smeagol — and not, as he would later become after centuries of mystic influence, a waterlogged Shelley Duvall.
Gollum’s former life as humanoid Smeagol is one of those things that seems like an easily fathomable concept to at least glimpse in a prequel like this, wherein all you really need to satisfyingly tie a new series into the original IP is one key character return. (Even a mention will work; do you really think any of those independent Game of Thrones prequels won’t at least drop the name Targaryen, Lannister, or Baratheon in the first five minutes?) It’s pure fan service, but crossover characters are also smart marketing for Joe Elf from the flyover shires who casually saw every LOTR movie in theaters and would love to engage in this prequel, if Amazon will allow him at least one little familiar nugget to latch onto.
So the question is not so much what new territory will be explored in the prequel, but rather, which old characters will be introduced anew — and there’s frankly no Lord of the Rings without some version of Gollum. He comes part and parcel with the Ring, at least during the pre-Frodo centuries that the series would be wise to explore. And yes, your Gandalfs and Gimlis could also have their youthful moments, but best accept it now that young Smeagol is probably going to pop up on this show. And don’t be surprised if, when he does, producers have decided to make him a certified CW babe to make his eventual downfall all the more tragic.
“This isn’t surprising,” you cry. “Of course he was cute before the One Ring! He was a thriving hobbit before a descent into madness literally and figuratively sucked the beauty from his life!”
“NO,” you shout louder. “We already saw him in flashbacks and he was a 5, at best!”
No disrespect to Andy Serkis, but Gollum’s too-brief flashback scenes in Peter Jackson’s films ought not to be treated as a canonical aesthetic that renders Amazon’s Possible Hot Gollum impossible. Consider the Harry Potter movies, which showed a made-up Michael Gambon as a youthful Dumbledore who most definitely did not look like Jude Law. There is precedent! And so it’s perfectly fine to wonder whether young Gollum will show up bearing a jawline that can cut a slice of Lembas bread. Did Smeagol have an 8-pack before he became an emaciated toad-man? Do his chiseled muscles glisten with water from the Great River? Does he bear the cheekbones of a promising European actor like Bill Skarsgard or Nicholas Hoult who will seize the role, grow out his hair, and perform with such layers of wide-eyed mania that casual LOTR fans across the world will have no choice but to lean in and say, “O, what tragic beauty can greed and power ravage!” It’ll be pretty deep.
Gandalf, meanwhile, was obviously born looking like Ian McKellen, so that’s already settled, thanks.