“If George R. R. Martin wrote it, who would die?” (Lord of the Rings Edition)

An explanation of this series of posts:

Spoiler alert for A Song of Ice and Fire & LOTR
It used to be that Joss Whedon was the go-to-guy when you wanted to complain about authors mercilessly killing off characters, but once (spoiler alert!) Ned Stark’s death became a part of popular culture canon, George R. R. Martin took over that throne.

It’s fascinating to read fans joke about Martin’s penchant for tearing out the hearts of his readers.  Though they speak about the deaths mournfully, it’s clear that they would not have it any other way: they love an author who is willing to off anyone and everyone.  This is likely because it often serves the story better and, well, people like pain.

In this series of columns, I speculate about what would happen if we threw Martin at another story and let him have at it (see the first column here).  In particular, I like to see Martin taking over the type of property where the creator was loathe to kill anyone but those who were ‘acceptable’ to the audience to die.

Today’s story: The Lord of the Rings

In terms of the side of good, Tolkien killed Boromir (kind of a d-bag), Denethor (major d-bag), and Theoden (not a d-bag until roofied, Middle Earth style).  Gandalf doesn’t count, for obvious reasons.

The rest of the fellowship survived the war, and so did Faramir, Eowyn and Eomer.  Gollum dies, sure, but I can’t say he deserves to be catalogued as a death that the good guys had to mourn.  Frodo’s journey west also doesn’t count, even if it is a metaphorical death.  He returns from the war alive and gets a few decent years in Bag End.

George R. R. Martin, though a devoted Tolkienite, would not let this stand.


1)  Aragorn and Eomer:  The return of the king to the throne of Gondor is far too simple.  Despite Denethor’s madness, there’s little doubt that if Aragorn survived the War of the Ring then he’d ascend the throne of Gondor with little trouble.  He does survive; he does ascend the throne.  We know Martin too well to think he’d allow so peaceful a transition of power.  Same thing with Rohan.  Theoden dies; Eomer ascends.

Tolkien did not mind complicating events following the destruction of the ring, and I have little doubt that Martin would either.  But whereas he certainly would have no trouble doing the whole scouring of the Shire thing, I like to believe that Martin would find the question of who ascends the throne of Gondor to be far more interesting if Sauron’s forces take out Strider himself just before (or after) the ring goes kablamo.

And with a young blonde-haired, horse-obsessed female warrior still alive–and her older blond-haired heir-apparent brother dead, I think the possibilities would be…intriguing.

2) A hobbit, or two, or three:  Let’s be honest, Tolkien was a major pussy when it came to offing his heroes.  He loved his characters too much, and while Frodo is irreparably damaged by the war he endures, when he gets home he is at least given the comfort of knowing that Sam, Merry and Pippin can enjoy what he sacrificed himself to preserve.  I think it would be truer and more devastating if Frodo returned to Hobbiton, secured the Shire, made it possible for his hobbit-folk to live on etc., but had to witness the bliss of those living in the Shire while knowing that he left some dear friends on the battlefield.

Martin would just as soon let this many hobbits survive the war as he would allow a fully-attended Stark family reunion to occur following the wars of Westeros.

Isn’t the PTSD that Frodo’s condition represents far more prevalent when the soldier suffers some form of survivor’s guilt?  Nobody dear to him lost his life.  He was extraordinarily lucky in that respect.  Even Gandalf made it.

But the trauma of watching a Shire full of hobbits go back to their everyday lives without Sam, Merry or Pippin there to live on with them would be too much to bear and it would make perfect sense why Frodo would need to leave.  Think of him seeing a married Rosie Cotton raising children while Sam’s body is buried far from home.

Martin would go there.  Tolkien dared not.

3) Galadriel:  Who creates an immortal species and then doesn’t fully deal with what happens when they are killed prematurely?  Of all the major elves in Lord of the Rings (Silmarillion does not count), do any any of them get killed? Elrond, Galadriel, Arwen (not even a major figure), Glorfindel, Celeborn, Haldir (book not movie).  None of them die.  (Or am I missing a major death?).

I think that Martin would be far too tempted by the so-called immortality of the elves.  And I’m pretty sure that Galadriel would be the one to get it.  LotR is about the passing of an age, and the rise of an age of men.  What better way to signify the end of an era than to off one of the elves that was in Middle Earth from the beginning of all this?  How she would die, I’m not sure, but I think that Sauron would know the hope she represented for the fellowship, and I could see him figuring out a way to use her death to engender despair in the hearts of all.

I could also see Martin crafting some link between Galadriel’s life and the light of Eärendil, so that Frodo could learn that the old elf was snuffed out the moment it happened.

So there you have it–RIP Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Galadriel.  I considered Faramir but I decided Martin would let him live just as Tolkien did.  But, no doubt about it: Martin’s Faramir would be gay, and he’d let Eowyn play the Margaery Tyrell to his Renly for some time.

Anyone else you think would make Martin’s Middle Earth hit list?

Previous Ice and Fire related columns:

“If George R. R. Martin wrote it, who would die?”  (Star Wars Edition) 

Five Ways Game of Thrones is Changing TV

What’s the Beating Heart that Makes “Game of Thrones” so Compelling? Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things.

Ten Pieces of Shit Who Deserve to Die in Science Fiction and Fantasy

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  1. Interesting assessment. I was actually quite certain, when reading Return of the King, that Pippin had died. Things looked pretty dicey for Eowyn for a while too, although I can’t say I would’ve mourned that one.

    • L.B. Gale

      I’d have been fine with Merry being the sacrificial Hobbit. I liked him well enough, but I’d take Pippin and Sam any day.

  2. In early drafts, Tolkien did seriously consider killing Pippin (see the History of Middle-earth series). Given this fact, I believe that when Pippin loses consciousness at the end of Book 5 Tolkien did actually “kill” him, but then (for his own reasons, I’m sure) changed his mind when he came to write Book 6 later. While I’m not really sorry that he changed his mind, as I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to decide what writers do with their characters, I would love to have a peak at an alternate history version of the story in which he does die, just to see what effect it has on the last half of The Return of the King.

    • L.B. Gale

      I didn’t know that. Thanks! I feel like the death of either Merry and Pippin would have been either convenient (well at least one of them survived) or devastating (how can Merry go on without him?!). Very similar to the Weasley twins in Potter.

      The major loss would be to Pippin’s presence in the Scouring of the Shire. I love how he and Merry return physically taller and help drive back Saruman’s forces. If he were to die, I’d rather he die there then during the battle before the Black Gate.

  3. David Greybeard

    The more relevant question is “Who will write A Song Of Fire And Ice when George RR Martin dies.”

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