Just about every film, TV, and book series out there owes a ton of inspiration to The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic has thrilled audiences for generations, and it only became more popular after Peter Jackson directed the acclaimed movie adaptations.
Even with movies as famous and influential as these, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes secrets fans don’t know. In fact, Frodo’s quest to reach Mordor pales in comparison to everything the cast and crew had to endure to produce these films. There’s only One Ring to rule them all, but there are a ton of little-known facts that will blow your mind…
1. Although the battle scenes were fake, The Lord of the Rings cast suffered a laundry list of real injuries. To name a few, Viggo Mortensen chipped his tooth, Orlando Bloom broke some ribs, and Sean Astin badly cut his foot and had to be airlifted to a hospital.
2. The nine cast members comprising the Fellowship of the Ring bonded so much that they got matching Elvish tattoos. Only John Rhys-Davies skipped out, though he did send his stunt double in his place!
3. The trilogy used 12.5 million plastic rings for chain mail costumes, and they were all made by two crew members! By the end of production, they had completely worn the fingerprints off their thumbs and index fingers.
4. Lord of the Rings is certainly not a rinky-dink school play. Still, it stole a trick or two from youth productions: In certain scenes, due to the difficulty of working with live animals, Bill the Pony was played by two humans in a horse suit.
5. In the middle of Gandalf’s visit to Bag End, Ian McKellen accidentally banged his head on a ceiling beam. He acted through the moment, and Peter Jackson enjoyed the surprise so much that the shot made the final cut.
6. Early in the scripting process, producer Bob Weinstein urged Peter Jackson to kill off a hobbit. He didn’t care which one; Bob simply thought it would add drama. Luckily, Peter stuck to the source material and kept Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin breathing.
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7. Although Viggo Mortensen is iconic as Aragorn, another actor began shooting scenes for the role! The filmmakers originally cast Stuart Townsend, but later felt he came off as too young. They then nabbed Viggo, who accepted the part because his son was a huge Tolkien fan.
8. During the climactic final battle at the Black Gate, Peter Jackson shot a scene where Aragorn duels Sauron. Ultimately, the Dark Lord’s presence “no longer felt right,” so the effects team superimposed a cave troll over him.
9. The finale of The Fellowship of the Ring was supposed to include a scene where orcs ambush the heroes as they navigate the Anduin River. The elaborate action sequence, unfortunately, never came to pass because a flood of biblical proportions washed away the entire set!
10. Eowyn isn’t the only lady in Middle Earth disguised as a male warrior. Filmmakers needed plenty of talented horse riders for battle scenes, and many women jockeys volunteered for the job. That was no problem. The makeup team applied fake beards, and voila!
11. Peter Jackson wasn’t the first to want to adapt Tolkien’s trilogy. As a matter of fact, The Beatles wanted to make a Lord of the Rings movie in the 1960s, but it fell through. John would’ve been Gollum, Ringo would’ve been Sam, George would’ve been Gandalf, and Paul would’ve been Frodo. They also wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct!
12. Christopher Lee became the first actor to join the cast. Not only was he perfect for Saruman the White, but he also knew J.R.R. Tolkien and was an expert on the Lord of the Rings. He re-read the entire series every year and consulted on many visual aspects of the films.
13. You can barely spot Gimli the dwarf between Aragorn and Legolas in this shot, but that’s only because of movie magic. At 6’2″, actor John Rhys-Davis was actually the tallest member of the main cast.
14. In order to properly portray the strange and scary Gollum, Peter Jackson’s team invented a completely new method of motion capture called combination sculpting. They mapped out 964 points on actor Andy Serkis’ face for ultra-realistic expressions.
15. An entire year before filming began, the crew built Hobbiton so that it felt like an actual town — not just a movie set. Even today, the hillside community remains an extremely popular tourist site in New Zealand.
16. Boromir’s speech at the Council of Elrond — where he explains one does not simply walk into Mordor — was compelling enough to become a meme. However, all those lines were last-minute additions. Actor Sean Bean actually had them taped to his lap during the shot!
17. Bret McKenzie, best known as half of musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, cameos as an elf in The Return of the King. Strangely enough, fans went crazy over his few seconds on camera. They dubbed him Figwit, an anagram for ‘Frodo Is Great…Who Is That?!!’
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18. Ian Holm is more than a little familiar with the Baggins family. In addition to portraying Bilbo in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, he voiced Frodo in a 1981 radio adaptation. He’s such a hobbit, he probably even eats two breakfasts!
19. During the casting process, filmmakers offered the role of Gandalf to Sean Connery. However, the 007 star didn’t understand the script and declined. It’s hard to complain about this turn of events, as it allowed the masterful Ian McKellen to step in.
20. Believe it or not, all of Legolas’ arrows were added in digitally, and for good reason. Not even the world’s best archers can shoot that fast! If only Peter Jackson found a real elf, they could’ve saved a lot of money on special effects.
21. Lots of people get their 15 minutes of fame, but this bug got less. The moth that Gandalf sends a message to while imprisoned was born just hours before that day of filming. Tragically, it died right after the cameras stopped rolling.
22. A number of big-name actors turned down Middle Earth roles, but Jake Gyllenhaal notably got a big, fat rejection. He had a disastrous audition for Frodo, as he did not realize that the character was supposed to have a British accident.
23. Character actor Brad Dourif simmered as the slimy Grima Wormtongue in the later two films. He had to shave his eyebrows for the part, which covered two years of filming, meaning that he had to remove them on five separate occasions.
24. If you think it takes a long time to watch The Lord of the Rings films, count yourself lucky you didn’t have to write them. J.R.R. Tolkien spent countless hours behind the typewriter, in part because he pecked away at the keys using only two fingers.
25. Inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin started writing his critically acclaimed A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin, in turn, has now inspired a new generation of fantasy writers — and a show with some neat facts of its own…
26. Before writing A Song of Fire and Ice, George R.R Martin had a very negative experience writing for TV. He wrote books thinking they would be impossible to turn into a TV series — boy, was he wrong.
27. The primary war in Game of Thrones is known as The War of Five Kings. A big history buff, Martin was inspired by real events to create his own version. In the 15th century, two rivaling families in England fought for the throne in a conflict called the War of the Roses.
28. The Wall is a tremendously important location and set piece for the show. While the wall is known to be 700 feet tall, the real wall is only 17 feet tall! The special effects team usually uses CGI to make it appear taller.
29. In 2015, Game of Thrones won a total of 12 Emmy awards. This was, at the time, the most awarded single season of any TV show ever…until 2016 came around and the show took home a record-breaking 38 awards, making it the most awarded show of all time.
30. Executive producers originally promised the show would contain no dreams or flashbacks. This promise didn’t last very long, as the character Bran dreams about a three-eyed raven as early as season one.
31. The TV show changed a few names from the books to avoid confusion. Yara Greyjoy is named Asha in the books, and Lysa Arryn’s son Robin was originally Robert. Writers altered the names because Asha sounded too much like Osha, while Robert could have been mistaken for Robert Baratheon.
32. Actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster was nearly 13 years older than his character Jojen Reed. The actor, who is most famous for his role in the romantic comedy Love Actually, was tapped to play the young Jojen Reed due to the simple fact that he looked rather young.
33. Daenerys Targaryen’s beautiful silver hair is achieved using wigs and makeup. The actress who plays the role (Emilia Clarke) is a natural brunette, and the show’s producers wanted to be sure they did not damage Clarke’s natural hair.
34. During the first six seasons of the show, 45 main characters died. In addition, nearly every episode is filled with death, even if it’s just a nameless foot soldier. There have only been two episodes of the Game of Thrones series where no one met their demise.
35. In the world of Westeros, Valaryian steel is a highly prized metal because it’s as strong and powerful as it is light to carry. While this type of steel is fictional, Martin based it on Damascus steel, which shares some of those properties.
36. Fans of the show have really come to love the dragons that are featured. How did the production team make them look so appealing? They modeled them after cats, bats, and even geese! Who knew that would be such a compelling combination?
37. Emilia Clarke, the actress who plays Daenerys Targaryen, was supposed to wear purple contact lenses to accurately portray her character’s violet-colored eyes. Ultimately, they proved to be too uncomfortable and production decided to let her go without them.
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38. SPOILER ALERT: The show has killed off many characters who, in fact, are still alive and well (relatively speaking) in the books themselves. These characters include Stannis Baratheon, Hodor, Barristan Selmy, and Ramsay Bolton.
39. Actress Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, developed a close bond with the Northern Inuit dog who played her direwolf, Lady. Later on, when the show killed Lady off, Turner adopted her.
40. Producers hired linguist David J. Peterson to create a Dothraki language for the show. While only a handful of Dothraki words appear in Martin’s books, Peterson has written a full-language with thousands of words. There is even a dictionary available.
41. Game of Thrones is very expensive to make. A huge part of that expense comes from shooting in isolated areas that are hard to travel to, and many of these spots are hundreds of miles apart. The show has filmed in Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Malta, and America.
42. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, shared that very often fans will approach her asking that she include their name in her infamous list of those she plans to kill. Some viewers can be a little intense, don’t you think?
43. You might notice that two of the show’s biggest stars, Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) and Jerome Flynn (Bronn), never appear on screen at the same time. That is because they dated and had a nasty breakup prior to being cast on the show. They avoid each other at all costs.
44. While the TV series Game of Thrones only began to air in 2011, the books have been around for a lot longer than that. In fact, the show began airing on the 15th anniversary of the first book, which has been thrilling readers since 1996.
45. While he has not approved of every single liberty the show has taken with his works, George R.R. Martin has said that the show improves on some characters from the books. In particular, he loves the work of Sibel Kekilli as Shae.
46. George R.R. Martin is now in his 70s and has a reputation as a writer who takes his time. In the event that he passes before finishing the series, he has shared his planned ending with producers so that they can continue telling the story on his behalf.
47. Game of Thrones, in addition to being very popular on HBO, is also the most popular show… to download illegally! More than 15 million people have illegally downloaded the show to date. What show is in second place? The Walking Dead with 7 million hits.
48. The House of Lannister is often associated with the motto “A Lannister always pays his debts.” However, the actual motto of the house is “Hear me roar.” The unofficial motto hints at the notoriously sinister Lannisters’ penchant for exacting revenge.
49. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Richard Madden (Rob Stark), and Kit Harington (Jon Snow) all appeared shirtless in the premiere of the show looking unusually muscular. All three later admitted to doing push-ups and lifting weights prior to the scene to appear even more in shape.
50. Game of Thrones has one of the highest budgets of any TV show. In fact, it costs about $10 million just to make one episode! The more extravagant episodes, usually ones with big battles, have the budget of modest-sized movies!
51. George R.R. Martin admitted a fan theory about the show is correct. The most popular one, “R+L = J,” postulates that Jon Snow’s real parents are Lyana Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Now that the show has confirmed it, this makes Jon a powerful contender for the throne.
52. In the books, King Renly Baratheon’s calls his knights “Rainbow Guards,” a quiet nod to Renly’s homosexuality. This was changed in the series since there was nothing quiet about Renly’s sexual orientation as portrayed on the show.
53. Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, was approached by a stranger in a bar who said he looked just like Jon Snow. When Harrington explained his identity, the stranger did not believe him. He claimed that Kit, who stands at 5’8″, was too short!
54. Locked out of his home, Kit Harington broke his leg in 2012 trying to scale his apartment wall and get inside. The crew was forced to shoot around the injury, often hiring stand-ins to wear Jon Snow wigs for scenes shot at a distance.
55. There are a few characters in the show who are all rolled up to create one more major character on the show. One of the most notable composite characters is the prostitute Ros, who is based on the prostitutes Alayaya, Chataya, and Kyra, who also appear in the books.
56. All of the women featured on the show typically wear some sort of jewelry that represents their house’s sigil. For Cersei, this is a massive lion-headed collar. Similarly, it’s fairly common to see a Stark wearing something with a direwolf on it.
57. The map shown during the opening credits features places that will be important in any given episode. So don’t skip the credits! It’s a fun way to keep up with where the characters are headed, especially since many names are hard to catch in the dialogue.
58. Jason Momoa knew that he needed to make it clear to executives just how passionate he was about the role of Khal Drogo during auditions. So, how did he make a big first impression? He ripped off his shirt and did a Samoan haka dance for the casting director.
59. The primary religion in Westeros is the Faith of The Seven. You might be surprised to learn that this fictional form of worship is actually based on Catholicism. The big difference is that the show’s faith is polytheistic, meaning that characters pray to multiple gods.
60. Emilia Clarke refused to do any nude scenes after season one. However, she changed her mind once she read the script for an episode where she emerges naked and unscathed from a fire. “It was just a wonderful, strong moment I wanted to own, a really empowering, girl-power wow scene,” she explained.
61. Game of Thrones features a hugely international cast. There are only two American actors, and the rest of the cast speaks in their natural accents. These little touches really enrich the world of Game of Thrones.