With Sunday night's series finale, devotees of Game of Thrones finally ended their watch. While the final season of the landmark HBO series was, without a doubt, one of the most divisive, there were still many peaks among the valleys. One notable highlight of the series finale were the references to J.R.R. Tolkien's famous work.
As we've discussed before, it's no secret George R.R. Martin found inspiration from the works of Tolkien and the fantastical world of Middle Earth. When Martin's stories were adapted to the small screen, Game of Thrones directors and writers drew from the many visual and tonal motifs from Tolkien's books and Peter Jackson's film adaptations. Just like Episode 2, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," featured nods to Tolkien, so too did the final episode, "The Iron Throne." More specifically, it included several interesting visual references to Jackson's final installment of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy — The Return of the King. Let's unpack two LOTR references directly referenced in the series finale.
In the closing moments of The Return of the King, Samwise Gamgee happens upon Frodo Baggins, who is at home in the Shire finishing a book — There and Back Again, A Hobbit's Journey (or in the novel’s case, Holiday) by Bilbo Baggins, and The Lord of the Rings by Frodo Baggins. A callback to the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, the notation in the book and its subsequent conclusion signifies the larger end of the story of Frodo, the Fellowship, and the One Ring. It's a sentimental moment that resonates emotionally with the characters and the audience.
In the final episode of Game of Thrones, Samwell Tarly presents a large, unfinished book entitled A Song of Ice and Fire during the first meeting of Bran's small council. The presentation of the book to Tyrion lacks the same kind of emotional weight as in the Return of the King scene, yet it does serve as a literal homage to Martin's titular books, which the HBO series is based on. As in The Return of the King, the book also signifies the end of an epic tale.
The second reference to Tolkien's work carries a far more emotional weight. As Jon Snow prepares to sail away from King's Landing for the Night's Watch, he is greeted at the docks by his Stark siblings. In a moment of sorrow and regret, Jon Snow says his final goodbyes to the surviving members of his pack. They bid each other farewell, reveal what they'll do next, and hug before he sails off.
Similarly, in the culminating moments of The Return of the King, Frodo and the Hobbits return to Rivendell, the tranquil home of the Elves. There, the Hobbits part ways with Gandalf, Galadriel, and Bilbo before they set sail to the Undying Lands. Frodo reveals he'll set sail with them. Pippin, Merry, and Sam then bid a heartfelt and tear-stained goodbye to the young Hobbit. The quartet of journeymen survived and persevered, and traversed many lands they had never seen before. Their goodbyes aren't just a symbol of the end of this epic tale, but the end of the Fellowship.
For much of the series, Jon Snow has had a similar character arc to Frodo Baggins. Both are reluctant leaders who shy away from the enormous power they have been given — Frodo's One Ring and Jon Snow's place as the true heir to the Iron Throne. They both grapple with their place in the grander narrative. But both leave their world behind in search of peace, a final rest (or a new adventure?) from the complications of Westeros and Middle Earth. While Jon Snow's departure is rendered more negatively, seen as punishment for his assassination of Daenerys Targaryen, it's a justified end to a character whose actions, while for the greater good, offered him little resolution.
These scenes help mark the official end of a fantastical and terrifying journey for both the Hobbits and Starks alike. For Game of Thrones fans, the series finale also marked the end of one of the greatest pop culture moments in modern TV history. For nearly a decade, devotees cheered and jeered for their kings and queens, tyrants and usurpers. The final season may have had its fair share of problems and disappointments, but major highlights included these small, impactful homages to the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps, for fans of the HBO series, a re-watch of the LOTR trilogy is next. But whether you revisit Westeros or Middle Earth, a journey awaits, an adventure beckons to the worlds Martin and Tolkien created.