Monday, December 22, 2014

Thoughts on Alfrid

Now that we've had time to absorb The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I'd like to discuss one particular element of the film today. The character Alfrid (played by Ryan Gage) has had a largely negative reception from viewers, being seen by many as an irritating and pointless addition to the story. Being invented solely for the movies and having a strong resemblance to the character Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings have never helped his case. It's tough to disagree with the complaints about him in the latest Hobbit movie, but perhaps fans, like the survivors of Laketown, shouldn't be too quick to dispose of him.

I actually found Alfrid really interesting in The Desolation of Smaug. Even in the theatrical cut where a lot of his scenes are omitted, you can tell he has his own agenda. There's something about the way he speaks to the Master of Laketown, watches the other man's reactions, and behaves when the Master isn't looking that suggests he hates the disgusting windbag and is just using him as a puppet to control the town. It's a real testament to Gage's subtlety as an actor.

You would think then that the Master's death at the start of The Battle of the Five Armies would allow Alfrid to step out of the shadows and shine as a character. Instead, the film reduces him to a string of punchlines until he scurries off. He doesn't learn anything, he doesn't oppose the heroes, he just reminds us that he's a jerk and runs off in a dress. Why make a point to spare him from Smaug and the other townspeople if the plot isn't going to make use of his survival?

Granted, this might be smoothed out in the Extended Edition next November. That's a long time from now though, and since I've got this cemented in my head, here's my personal take on what the movie could have done with the character:

After falling out of favor with the townspeople, Alfrid starts contemplating how to win back their approval while grudgingly following Bard's orders in the meantime. He eavesdrops on the meeting where Bilbo gives the Arkenstone to Bard and Thranduil, then just like in the movie, Gandalf forces him to look after the hobbit. This of course ends with Bilbo promptly escaping from Alfrid, which makes the man look even worse and gives him a personal reason to resent Mr. Baggins.

Later, when Bard reveals to Thorin that he has the Arkenstone and Bilbo prepares to explain his role in it, Alfrid steps forward from the crowd. He informs Thorin of Bilbo's actions and describes them in the most dastardly way possible. This feeds Thorin's paranoia to the point that when Bilbo explains himself truthfully, the dwarf king refuses to believe him. Bard angrily asks Alfrid what he's up to, and Alfrid explains that exposing a traitor among Oakenshield's company will make the dwarves violently turn on each other, thus removing the need for a battle.

That's Alfrid's plan to win back the townspeople's approval -- to be the one who got them the gold and prevented war. His triumph is short-lived though, as Gandalf intervenes to save Bilbo and then the orc army arrives gung-ho for a fight anyway. No longer seeing a future for himself among the survivors of Laketown, Alfrid lies low during the battle and flees with his stolen gold at the first opportunity.

It's possible that something along those lines could happen in the Extended Edition. Philippa Boyens said in the commentary for The Desolation of Smaug that Alfrid's character is supposed to "blossom" in the third film, which doesn't seem to have happened yet. Some may cringe at the thought of him getting even more screentime, but as we saw with Beorn's introduction in the last film, sometimes material in a theatrical cut gets removed from the Extended Edition to make way for a better alternative.

And just for the heck of it, here's a crazy fan theory to walk away with: maybe in the movies, Alfrid is Grima Wormtongue's father.

They look, sound, and act a lot alike, right? Wormtongue has a vastly different appearance from the other Rohan natives, and sixty years do pass between the two film trilogies. Perhaps after slipping away from the battle, Alfrid found his way to Rohan, changed his name to Galmod for good measure, and found a woman stupid enough to marry him. Having a ton of cash on him probably helped in that department. The end result was Grima, who apparently followed his father's example and attached himself to two powerful figures.

And as for Grima's creepy habits with women...well, he probably overheard a few arguments between his parents about whose dress from Laketown that was in the closet.

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