George R.R. Martin Remarks On The Lord Of The Rings Death That Inspired His Own Murderous Rampage

George R.R. Martin Remarks On The Lord Of The Rings Death That Inspired His Own Murderous Rampage

George R.R. Martin is no stranger to killing off beloved characters. HBO’s Game of Thrones, and his A Song of Ice and Fire series that inspired it, are littered with the corpses of heroes, villains, and everyone in between. How did Martin become so comfortable with shocking his audience? Because when he was a kid, J.R.R. Tolkien did it to him.

In a video to celebrate Game of Thrones being added to PBS’ “The Great American Read” collection, Martin chatted about how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series influenced his own fantasy saga through its expansive world and complex characters.

Martin remarks on how he would use fantasy novels as a form of escapism when he was a kid, because he didn’t grow up with a lot of money. His favourite, by far, was The Lord of the Rings—even though, when he first picked it up, he was a bit put off by it.

“It opens with, like, a dissertation on pipeweed, and then there’s a birthday party,” Martin said. “I’m saying, ‘Where are the giant snakes? Where are the scantily clad women? There’s no sword fights here, what’s going on?’”

Eventually, the novel started to pick up the pace, and Martin said that by the time he’d reached the Mines of Moria he realised “this was the greatest book I’d ever read.” However, that admiration turned into shock and horror once a particular moment happened. You know the one I’m talking about. If not, I’ll let Martin himself explain it.

And then Gandalf dies! I can’t explain the impact that had on me at 13. You can’t kill Gandalf. I mean, Conan didn’t die in the Conan books, you know? Tolkien just broke that rule, and I’ll love him forever for it.

The minute you kill Gandalf, the suspense of everything that follows is a thousand times greater, because now anybody could die. Of course, that’s had a profound on my own willingness to kill characters off at the drop of a hat.

It actually makes a lot of sense that Gandalf’s “Fly, you fools!” demise inspired Martin’s own murderous leanings. He’s never been afraid to kill off important characters, most notably patriarch Ned Stark (played by Sean Bean in the HBO series; coincidentally, Bean also played Boromir, who met his end in the first LotR movie).

The show has followed in his footsteps with similarly shocking choices, like the death of Hodor in one of Game of Thrones’ saddest moments.

Martin’s admiration for Tolkien’s choice to kill Gandalf also explains why he really isn’t a fan of the fact that Tolkien brought him back as Gandalf the White, as he shared in a 2011 interview with John Hodgman:

What power that had, how that grabbed me. And then he comes back as Gandalf the White, and if anything he’s sort of improved. I never liked Gandalf the White as much as Gandalf the Grey, and I never liked him coming back. I think it would have been an even stronger story if Tolkien had left him dead.

Currently, Martin is doing everything else besides finishing The Winds of Winter, including working on a Game of Thrones prequel series with Jane Goldman, anticipating the release of Syfy’s Nightflyers TV show, and developing an Ice Dragon animated movie that, sadly, has nothing to do with Viserion or his blue fire powers.


  • I’m glad Gandalf came back myself. I usually find authors who kill off important characters can’t fill the hole their death left. The book/s just get worse and worse in quality as more liked characters die until there’s nothing to enjoy at all. I haven’t tried the game of thrones series but it didn’t sound good from what I’ve heard from people who “liked it”. They spend all their time bemoaning about how someone they like died. Sounds like something to avoid at all costs.

    • I still enjoyed them at the time. I would never recommend them for anyone now as I never see the series getting finished and there’s nothing worse than starting a series that doesn’t have an ending :/

      I always found for all the good characters he killed, more good characters were introduced though. The deaths (and new introductions) were certainly handled better than they are in the show, it’s just sad we’ll likely never get to see where the story leads for most of those new introductions.

    • I’ve read all the books and honestly I don’t like them compared with the show. The plot gets harder to keep in perspective with each book, and large sections seem entirely inconsequential (though detailed). It became a slog for me to finish it, and I still can’t remember what actually went on. Plus GRRM will probably have a massive myocardial infarction before he finishes it

    • I haven’t tried the game of thrones series but it didn’t sound good

      Probably one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve ever read.

      • “Probably one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve ever read.”

        In what way? I don’t have the time or inclination to try everything and what I’ve heard of it doesn’t inspire me to try it.

    • It depends on the cast of the book and when it happens. David Gemmell often wrote books where the hero. But typically it was at the climax of the story, in a heroic sacrifice. It did mean that when a couple of his characters (Druss the Legend) were really popular he had to go back and write prequels.

      Some authors would kill off a main character earlier because to them it wasn’t actually the main character. It’s just that audiences had become more attached to them than the *actual* main character. Books with large ensemble casts tend to have this happen a lot (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones).

  • I remember seeing him do a live talk a few years back and saying something similar that Gandalf’s death was such a huge moment, killing off a major character and that bringing him back just ruined it. Seemed a little hypocritical to me given certain events in his own books;
    Stoneheart in particular but also Jon Snow, even if that one was expected

    • To be fair Jon Snow hasn’t happened in the books yet (although we all expect it will), but yeah, Stoneheart robbed me of both my favourite character and her excellent death in a way I found terribly disappointing.

  • Didnt they establish that Gandalf is immortal. How do you kill off a character that cannot die?

    • Nice explanation of Gandalf dying and coming back here (taken from Tolkien’s letters);

      TL:DR version: He can be killed, but it’s pretty bloody difficult and he was returned to life by a higher power. Which would imply that he could also die and *not* be returned to life (should the higher power choose).

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