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In a series filled with shocking moments, one of the most jaw-dropping events in "Game of Thrones" came early on, when the show killed off its main character, Ned Stark, in the penultimate episode of season one. Many, many more untimely demises would follow throughout the show's duration (and we're sure there are plenty additional offings waiting in the wings as the series prepares to air its final outing next year), but Ned's death set the stage for all of it.

So what could possibly have inspired George R.R. Martin, the author of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series on which "GoT" is based, to devise such a sick, surprising, and ultimately pretty brilliant twist? Turns out you can blame fellow fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien.



In an interview with PBS for its "Great American Read" series, Martin reflected on Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which caps its inaugural installment, "The Fellowship of the Ring," with the death of the wizard Gandalf the Grey (played in Peter Jackson's films by Sir Ian McKellen). According to Martin, Tolkien's choice was as upsetting as it was genius, and made a huge impact on the young aspiring writer.
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. Because 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 effect on my own willingness to kill characters at the drop of a hat.

So thanks, Tolkien, for Ned Stark. And the Red Wedding. And Jon Snow (though that one, like Gandalf's ultimate trajectory, worked out okay). And everyone else. We'll be sending your heirs our therapy bills.