It's no secret that author George R. R. Martin was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy when writing A Song of Ice and Fire, which HBO's Game of Thrones is based on. In style and stakes, both series draws from a similar thematic arena while presenting a different mythos. More mportant, Martin learned through The Lord of the Rings books that stakes can change instantaneously, and that a reader's favorite characters are never safe.
In Sunday night's episode titled "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," the Game of Thrones writers seemed to be preparing fans for a storm unlike any other — and preparing us for potential character deaths. The episode was one of the series' more meditative and slower ones, but there were, of course, important moments — Brienne of Tarth finally received the knighthood she deserved, Sansa and Theon reunited, Arya and Gendry spent what could potentially be their final night alive in the throes of passion, and Dany learned the truth of Jon Snow's parentage.
The entire episode felt similar in tone and style to two major sequences from The Lord of the Rings series, especially their respective film adaptations directed by Peter Jackson. Paying homage while also setting up what's to come in the great battle for the living, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" calls to mind the moments before the battle for Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Pippin's song before the battle for Minas Tirith in The Return of the King.
To set the scene, much of The Two Towers consists of preparing for and carrying out the battle of Helm's Deep – also known in the novel as the Battle of the Hornburg. In preparation for the carnage, every boy and man are given armor and a sword. Though many are weak and untrained, they are ready to fight. Meanwhile, women and children are sent to the caves away from the battle. In "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," the mood is somber and there is little to no action whatsoever. The episode prepares its characters — and the viewers at home — for the storm that is readying to engulf the horizon.
Prior to these more somber moments, there are discussions of battle plans. Throughout "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" there's little discussion of the main plan save for a short meeting around the war table. A sequence in The Two Towers echoes the same moment while also displaying the fantastical, ornate castles and halls of Middle Earth.
But of the similarities between Sunday night's Game of Thrones episode and The Lord of the Rings, there's a stirring and overwhelmingly solemn connection tied together in song. In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King the battle for Middle Earth has turned into an all-out war, with Mordor and the world of men unleashing all they have or all they can spare upon their enemy. Before the final battle for Minas Tirith, the hobbit Pippin is at the service of Gondor's steward, Denethor, who asks the young hobbit to sing him a song. Pippin (played by Billy Boyd) recites the song "Edge of Night." The scene with Pippin singing is cut with images of Denethor (John Noble) gorging his meal, and a group of soldiers riding straight towards their death. It's a moment of absolute melancholy, and one that belays any positive outcome for the one truth that the battle is only beginning.
On Sunday night, echoes of Boyd's dulcet tones were heard when Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) sang "Jenny of the Oldstones" in the halls of Winterfell's castle. While Podrick sings, the camera cuts to scenes of characters saying their final goodbyes, resting next to loved ones, or riding towards their battle positions. While the imagery may not be a cut-for-cut rendition of the "Edge of Night" sequence, what the editing and imagery offer is the same depleted hope. It's a haunting, fitting preamble to the great war that is at Winterfell's doorstep, one that subtly pays homage to one of George R. R. Martin's greatest inspirations — Tolkien's most beloved work.
"A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is not only a homage to The Lord of the Rings books, but the emotional impact of the film adaptations as well. Thematically, Martin and Tolkien like to raise the stakes and break with audience anticipation. Their tales are also filled with similar imagery and archetypes. The emotional tremors felt throughout "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" felt very similar to those found in The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
Now that characters have said their goodbyes and offered their final words of encouragement, the dead will march on Winterfell in the next episode of the final season. Given the outright comparisons to The Lord of the Rings in the second episode alone, the series may continue on in this fashion, offering similar visual or tonal homages to the fantasy series Martin has lauded and drawn from for years.