If you watch or are even tangentially familiar with 'Game of Thrones,' you know at least three things about it: there are dragons, winter is coming, and nobody is safe from the grim reaper. The show made headlines early on when it followed the narrative of the books it was based on, by killing off the apparent series protagonist at the end of the first season, leaving it unclear how the show was to continue.
Some eight years later, the show has introduced and killed off more characters than some shows have in their entire cast. And since the writers and performers do such a good job of presenting these characters as people, each death hits the audience like a sledgehammer to the feels, for good or for ill.
Author George R.R. Martin, creator of the 'Song of Ice and Fire' books and writer on the show, finally revealed the reason behind his penchant for killing off characters to PBS as part of their 'The Great American Read' series. In his segment, Martin declares his love and admiration for his most direct influence, 'Lord of the Rings' author J.R.R. Tolkien.
More specifically, Martin praises a key moment in the first book of the legendary fantasy trilogy, 'The Fellowship of the Ring,' when the leader of the heroic band, wizard Gandalf, sacrifices himself to let his friends escape. "Gandalf dies!" Martin gushed. "I can’t explain the impact that had on me at 13!"
Martin elaborated, saying after Gandalf's death, the tension of the story was "1,000 times greater because now anybody could die." He confessed that the emotional response he had to reading about the death "had a profound effect on my own willingness to kill characters at the drop of a hat."
The 'Game of Thrones' series has finished filming the final season and is currently in post-production, set to air sometime in early 2019. Martin has been working on the next book in the series, 'The Winds of Winter,' since 2012 and recently announced a companion book, 'Fire and Blood,' would be released in November of 2018, which would delve into the history of House Targaryen.