June 24, 2024

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LOTR Secretly Revealed Why White Walkers Weren’t Game of Thrones’ End Villain

Some Game of Thrones fans were disappointed the White Walkers weren’t final villains. Could Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books explain why?

Game of Thrones‘ White Walkers defied expectations by not being the story’s final villains – could The Lord of the Rings explain why? Across 7 seasons of blood, betrayal and beheadings, Game of Thrones set the stage for two very different battles in its finale. For most citizens in Westeros, the fight for the Iron Throne was the war to end all wars, with five kings and a Dragon Queen conspiring to seize control. A select few, however, knew the real threat was coming from the North. Defying his reputation, Jon Snow knew something no one else knew – that the Night King and his White Walkers were steadily advancing upon the living.

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Jon Snow spent so long telling anyone who’d listen (viewers included) that the Iron Throne would prove meaningless in the face of the Night King. White Walkers wouldn’t discriminate between Lannister, Stark and Targaryen, and the only way to survive was putting those petty house squabbles aside and working together against the army of killer icicles heading south. Game of Thrones‘ viewers were left scratching their heads, then, when season 8 handled the White Walker battle first, then resumed the ongoing scrap for ownership of Westeros’ most uncomfortable chair. White Walkers were clearly the bigger threat… so why were humans the final villains?


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Despite the immense controversy surrounding Game of Thrones season 8, the finale apparently came from the mind of original A Song of Ice & Fire author, George R.R. Martin. Though David Benioff and D.B. Weiss declined to reveal precisely which elements came from Martin and which were devised exclusively for TV, the decision to focus on human villains rather than White Walkers in the final episode leans more toward the former – because Game of Thrones echoes how J.R.R. Tolkien wraps up his The Lord of the Rings.


White Walkers on Horses

It’ll surprise absolutely no one to hear that George R.R. Martin has drawn considerable inspiration from Tolkien’s mythology, and in particular Return of the King‘s Scouring of the Shire. A story ignored by Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin return to the Shire after destroying the One Ring, only to find Saruman (under the guise of “Sharkey”) has seized control in their absence, oppressing the innocent Hobbits. Emboldened by their adventures, the Fellowship’s hairy-footed quartet defeat the wizard (again) and eject him from the Shire, restoring the rolling green hills to their former glory. George R.R. Martin has spoken highly of Tolkien’s epilogue-style ending, and claimed in a 2015 interview with Forbes that he was aiming for a similar finale in his own epic tale.


This perhaps explains why Game of Thrones doesn’t end with the White Walkers’ defeat. In Lord of the Rings, Sauron is clearly a much bigger threat than Return of the King‘s weakened Saruman conquering a bunch of quaint farmers whose idea of true evil is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. And, of course, winning the War of the Ring is a far more impressive feat than reclaiming the Shire. But Tolkien’s final chapter highlights Lord of the Rings‘ human struggle – the corruption and industrialization that turned the idyllic Shire into a miniature Isengard. Tolkien sought to turn his tale inward after dealing with the almighty, divine-level threat of Sauron and the One Ring. Game of Thrones was perhaps going for something similar with Daenerys’ attack on King’s Landing following immediately after the Night King’s loss.


Though George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire ending might have more luck, HBO’s Game of Thrones lacked Tolkien’s deft execution. The Scouring of the Shire carried strong social commentary and felt deeply earned, finishing off the Hobbits’ character arcs while providing revolution to the runaway Saruman. Tolkien successfully finds the grounding tone he sought. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, undermines its final chapter with strange character progression (Daenerys’ villain turn, Jaimie and Cersei’s ending, etc.), meaningless deaths (Missandei, Varys), and rushed pacing. And where the Scouring of the Shire takes nothing away from the impact of Sauron’s demise, Game of Thrones moving on so quickly after the White Walker invasion detracted from the Night King’s importance. Nevertheless, shooting for a Lord of the Rings Shire-scouring ending might explain why Game of Thrones didn’t wrap up with the Night King’s downfall.


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