It has taken me three movie experiences over roughly 474 minutes to understand what a great, disappointing waste of time The Hobbit trilogy really is. This realization didn’t occur after falling asleep both times I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It wasn’t when I laughed heartily during the extended barrel-riding sequence from The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. The long-delayed epiphany dawned on me early into The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies when Smaug the Magnificent decimates the wooden village of Lake Town and yet the focus shifts to selfish sneak Alfrid comically pushing villagers out of the way of the Master’s escape. This isn’t the last we see of Alfrid. Oh no, he continues throughout the film, his screen time rivaling that of Bard the Bowman as one of the most prominent human characters. Why? Why?! WHY?!
Many elements of The Hobbit trilogy don’t make much sense from the prominence of new character Alfrid to the basic structural issue of three 2+ hour long movies for one dense-but-not-THAT-dense little novel. And by sense, I mean story sense, narrative clarity, making-sure-people-enjoy-the-movie sense.
One of the few redeeming qualities that make The Hobbit trilogy worth watching is the ever-present, hardly toned down angst and sexual tension of Thilbo Bagginshield.
Thilbo Bagginshield, the portmanteau of Thorin Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins, revolves around the emotional, almost explicitly romantic arc of Bilbo and Thorin’s relationship throughout the three films. From the earnest hug capping off An Unexpected Journey to Bilbo’s choked up recollections of Thorin at the end of Battle of the Five Armies, The Hobbit trilogy chronicles the dramatic arc of Bilbo and Thorin’s relationship. Like most of the best love stories, Thilbo Bagginshield ends tragically with an end slightly changed from the book.
Poor Martin Freeman just can’t get away from the creative shippers who pair his characters with dark-haired, brooding men. (Disclosure: I’m a Cumberbitch AND a casual Johnlock shipper.) Still, it’s virtually impossible for Richard Armitage not to have chemistry with his costar. (See: BBC’s Robin Hood.) Every time Thorin looks at Bilbo, I can’t tell if he’s about to engage in conversation with his platonic friend or jump his bones.
And I’m not the only one who’s noticed.
Back in 2012, I had the opportunity to see An Unexpected Journey before its premiere date, thanks to a diligent friend who actually read school emails. As soon as I came back to my dorm, I headed straight for Tumblr searching for Thorin/Bilbo shipping materials: fan art, fan fiction, anything I could get my virtual hands on. Nary a GIFset could be found. Tolkein wrote The Hobbit back in 1937, and the Internet was still devoid of Thorin/Bilbo? Preposterous!
What a difference a few days make. By the time the film officially debuted, as soon as I came home from the midnight release (I already bought my ticket months in advance!), I noticed Tumblr’s collection of Thorin/Bilbo slash fanworks started to grow.
On December 14, An Unexpected Journey’s Friday U.S. release date, the coupling had a name: Thilbo Bagginshield. By Monday, December 18, a full-fledged ship was officially active. Now, Tumblr, AO3, and other fandom-friendly sites are full of Thilbo Bagginshield related works—from unassuming angsty playlists to in-depth novel-length fan fiction involving MPreg, yaoi, and who knows what else.
While The Hobbit trilogy films are plagued with problems, they still hold glimmers of the LOTR films we loved of yesteryear, er, 14 years ago. One of the trilogy’s biggest flaws is that it tries too hard to match the mood of The Lord of the Rings instead of embracing what makes The Hobbit so enjoyable and lasting. And yet, even from this complex web of audience expectations and filmmaker fatigue, comes a new and unexpected gift for viewers to enjoy: Thilbo Bagginshield.
Don’t we deserve more than coded suggestions of a same sex interspecies romance from an bloated adaptation of a fantasy classic? Of course we do! But when all you have are a handful of interesting sequences and glimpses of characterization in a series mired in bland, carbon copy attempts of capturing the same majesty as The Lord of the Rings film, we’ll take what you we can get.