George R.R. Martin Says Gandalf's Death Is Why He Loves Killing His Characters in Game of Thrones

We can blame J.R.R. Tolkien for GoT's constant bloodbath.

By most estimates, more than 150,000 people have been killed in the seven seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones. Among those have been some of the most beloved characters of the series, a few villains, and just a bunch of innocent residents of Westeros. Anyone who's familiar with author George R.R. Martin's work knows two things: 1) He LOVES writing about food 2) and he REALLY LOVES killing people.

He makes this clear at the end of the first book when he abruptly kills the main character, Ned Stark. From there, the rest of the series is an absolute bloodbath.

As it turns out, we can blame noted Gandalf killer J.R.R. Tolkien.

In The Great American Read on PBS, Martin talks about how Lord of the Ringsinspired him while growing up—specifically Gandalf's death in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Martin explains in a clip from the show:

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.

That's exactly how Martin treated Ned in Game of Thrones. From then on, we know that the stakes are high in this series. Anyone could die at any moment—and typically, they do.


Of course, Tolkien brought back Gandalf in the Two Towers, and Game of Thrones fans are still convinced that Ned might get the same treatment. If Martin's love of Tolkien is any indication, they just might get their wish.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.comMinor edits have been made by the editors.

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Matt Miller
Matt Miller is the Associate Culture Editor for
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