Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Green Knight

Go To
Essel: This is how silly men perish.
Gawain: Or how brave men find greatness.
Essel: Greatness? Why is goodness not enough?

The Green Knight is a 2021 Dark Fantasy film written and directed by David Lowery and starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman, and Ralph Ineson. It is based upon the classic Arthurian Legend tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It was initially set to be released in May 29th, 2020 in the United States by A24, but its release date was moved to July 30, 2021 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Patel stars as Gawain, the reckless and headstrong nephew of King Arthur (Harris). Following an encounter with the titular Green Knight (Ineson), Gawain must embark on a dangerous, perilous journey to confront the Knight and to discover who he is.

A24 released an RPG, The Green Knight: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game, to act as an introduction to the world of the film.


Preview: Teaser, Trailer

The Green Knight contains examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: In contrast to the beloved Arthur, in Gawain's vision of a Bad Future, he becomes a deeply hated king who alienates his wife, courtiers, and lover, fights unpopular wars, and is pelted with dung when he walks through the street. In the end, with his castle under siege and his remaining knights only protecting him out of duty, even his mother — who orchestrated the entire Green Knight event that led to him taking power — leaves him.
  • Adapted Out: Gawain is traditionally the eldest of King Arthur's four nephews by his sister Morgause (five if you count Mordred). The film condenses Gawain's family situation: he has three sisters, and Morgause is Composited with King Arthur's other, more sorcerous sister Morgan le Fay, who instigates the Green Knight affair.
  • Adaptation Deviation: The original story's main plot beats are hit, but exactly how is often wildly different.
    • Gawain isn't even a knight in the beginning. He is invited to attend Arthur's Christmas celebration by virtue of being his nephew, and his encounter with the Green Knight leaves him with a means to be knighted if he comes back alive with his honor.
    • The Reveal that the Green Knight is actually Morgan le Fay's assistant in testing Gawain is strongly hinted almost immediately rather than stated at the end of the story.
    • The Green Knight's challenge is arguably more respectful, and the "man" himself is much more courteous, never calling Arthur's court's valor into question, and he seemingly would have been content to receive a minor wound. When it becomes clear that Gawain is hot-headed in his endeavors, he calmly bows and presents his neck, awaiting (arguably encouraging) his beheading.
    • Gawain receives the magic belt right before he begins his quest, it is stolen by thieves, and he is dumbstruck when it appears again later. At the Green Chapel, he removes the belt in a final demonstration of his courage, rather than keep it on and receive a mark of shame on his neck for his dishonesty as in the original tale.
    • He succumbs to his lust for Lord Bertilak's lady, causing him to flee from the castle in shame.
    • Biggest of all, through Dreaming of Things to Come, he defies his fate at the Green Knight's hands, fleeing back to Camelot, growing to become the King of the Britons, forever haunted by his dishonorable actions. And the ending never even makes clear if the Green Knight does, in fact, end up killing him.
    • In the poem, the fox (nicknamed Reynard by the narration) is hunted by Lord Bertilak on the third day of Gawain's stay at his castle. The lengthy chase sequence acts as a Plot Parallel to Lady Bertilak's attempts to seduce Gawain, but while Reynard is captured, killed, and skinned, Gawain manages to resist the Lady's affections and demonstrate his chivalry. In the film, Gawain encounters the fox (who like most of the film's characters goes unnamed) much earlier on, and it acts as his Bond Creature for about a quarter of the film, but they are eventually separated when Gawain arrives at Castle Bertilak. The fox is instead captured alive on the second day of Lord Bertilak's hunt, and though Bertilak intended to give him to Gawain as a gift as in the original, he releases the creature instead when his attempts at seducing Gawain are rebuffed. The fox again acts as Gawain's guide for a little while longer, before he chases it away when it tries to dissuade him from going to the Green Chapel.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • St. Winifred's well is mentioned once in the poem, but the film spins it into a sequence of it own.
    • The land of giants, mentioned in passing, gets a whole sequence dedicated to it.
  • Adaptational Abomination: The Green Knight of the poem was an Ambiguously Human man colored green, here he's a literal Plant Person who was either created or summoned with black magic.
  • Adaptational Context Change: In the story the movie is loosely based on, Gawain offers himself to play the Green Knight's game in Arthur's place because he knows he's more expendable than the King. Here Gawain volunteers himself to play out of a misguided desire to prove himself to Arthur and his knights.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: An interesting example, in that there actually is a "gay kiss" in the original poem but it's explicitly just a chivalric game rather than anything romantic. Here, it — along with his constant, generous gift-giving and attention — is recontextualized as the Lord having clear romantic feelings for Gawain.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Gawain in the usual Arthurian telling is treated as one of the best knights in Arthur's court, frequently bordering on superhuman. Gawain here is not even a true knight yet, and is at one point easily beaten and robbed by three bandits. He also flees the confrontation at the Green Chapel. This part is subverted, however, when it turns out to be a dream, and he removes the girdle, something his counterpart in the poem never had the will to do.
    • King Arthur is depicted as older and physically weaker than we usually see.
  • Advertised Extra: A promotional video explaining the poem implies that Merlin plays an important role in the story. In the finished film, he appears only twice and has no lines.
  • Age Lift: In the original poem, the narration notes how young Arthur is, and his interactions with the Green Knight characterise him as boisterous and hot-headed. In the film, he's portrayed as a frail old man in declining physical and mental health. Guinevere is correspondingly aged up.
  • All There in the Manual: The movie never tells you at all who the mysterious Blind Woman in the castle near the end is. She's in the medieval poem as well, where it's outright stated that she's Morgana Le Fay, the architect of this whole adventure, in disguise. This is hinted at early in the movie when Gawain's mother, a composite of Morgana and her sister Morgause, has to wear a blindfold to enact the ritual that summons the Green Knight in the first place.
  • Ambiguous Ending: After Gawain removes the green girdle, the Green Knight congratulates him for his bravery before tracing his finger across Gawain's neck and teasingly saying "Now off with your head." The movie immediately ends after this, leaving it unclear whether the Knight still plans to cut Gawain's head off or is sparing him with a joke.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Gawain's mother is the one who conjures the Green Knight. Her reasons are never made known within the film itself, but those privy to Arthurian lore will recognize her as at the very least a stand-in for Morgan le Fay, usually a major antagonist of the legends.
  • Anti-Villain: The Green Knight is the antagonist of the film, yet he is polite and gentlemanly throughout the film. His goals are left completely nebulous, so he might simply be testing Gawain's chivalry to make him a better man. It's even suggested that Gawain's mother sent or created him.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: The Lord questions if meeting the Green Knight is truly how Gawain will gain honor, as if one act is all it takes to become an honorable knight. Gawain's Blunt "Yes" exposes just how simple his understanding of honor actually is.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: When characters use archaic pronouns, they do so without any regard for their proper grammar. "Thee" is supposed to be used when speaking to a familiar individual, but King Arthur uses it to address all of his knights at once (rather than using the plural "you"). In conversation with Gawain, he mixes formal "you" pronouns into the same sentences as the informal "thee" ("Tell me a tale of yourself, so that I might know thee"). Arthur also incorrectly says "when thy was born" rather than "when thou/you were born."
  • Author Appeal: David Lowery has a fondness for lettering, which appears in the form of Gawain's mother writing her note to Arthur and Guinevere during her ritual. All of the chapter title cards are also done in various lush medieval-esque lettering styles.
  • An Axe to Grind: Just like in the source material, the eponymous Green Knight prefers the axe.
  • Badass Baritone: Ralph Ineson already has a cavernously deep voice, and in this movie further effects are added on to it so that whenever he speaks he sounds like an old tree coming to life.
  • Badass Cape: His striking yellow cape is perhaps one of the few things actually badass about Gawain.
  • Bad Future: Gawain sees a vision of one while he is in the Green Chapel. In it, he flees the Chapel with his life, but spends the rest of his life embittered from having failed to display honor. He ascends to the throne of Camelot, but rules unjustly and loses everything to a rebellion before his very eyes.
  • Bathos: In an otherwise moody and spooky scene in an already eerie movie, Winifred's incredulity at Gawain's unknightly behavior provides some respite.
  • Black Vikings: Arthur's Camelot has many people of African and Asian ancestry, probably to avoid Gawain and his mother being the only people of color in the film.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: A possible interpretation, if you think the Green Knight really is about to behead Gawain anyway.
  • Color Motif: Frequent contrasts of red and green, which the Lady actually pontificates upon in a lengthy monologue.
  • Coming of Age Story: Gawain's journey to become a respected knight is recognized as this by several characters in-universe.
  • Composite Character:
    • In Arthurian Legend, Gawain's mother is Morgause, whose sister, Morgan le Fay, was manipulating the events of this story from behind the scenes. The movie combines them into one unnamed character.
    • Gawain himself seems to have been merged with his younger brother Mordred, as the Bad Future shows him taking over Arthur's throne and ruining Camelot.
    • These might not be as strange as they first seem. Morgause and Morgan have been conflated or composited in Arthurian tales before. In some older versions, particularly the 13th century French cycles, Mordred is Morgauze's son, Gawain's half-brother, and Arthur's nephew, making the composite character elements potentially more authentic to older versions of Arthurian tales.
  • Cool Crown: The crowns prominently worn by King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which give the impression of an angelic halo behind their heads. They resemble real medieval art, which often depicted saints and other holy figures with circular haloes.
  • Cool Horse: Gawain's steed, Gryngelot, that he loses to the bandits.
  • Cool Old Guy: King Arthur, being some years beyond his prime and urging Gawain to make himself a noble knight. When Gawain steps up to the Green Knight's challenge, Arthur gives him Excalibur itself to wield.
  • Costume Porn: All over the place, but special mention goes to the regalia that Arthur and Guinevere wear, with gold crowns that resemble halos. Guinevere's own costume is particularly notable: the pewter pieces she wears correspond to various holy places and churches around England. A common practice of medieval England would be to go on pilgrimages to such places (e.g. the site of Thomas Beckett's murder at Canterbury Cathedral) and collect pewter tokens commemorating the visit. That her chest is hung with them shows that Guinevere is a devoted and pious queen.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The Queen and the Green Knight himself both point out during the court scene that a cut on the cheek will be enough to indulge the Knight. But Gawain, in his hotheaded need for respect from the Round Table, goes for cutting off the Knight's head, making his quest to the Green Chapel seemingly much more suicidal than if he just took the Knight's suggestion of a harmless flesh wound.
  • Darker and Edgier: While the original poem has its own grisly elements, this movie ramps them up and ends before the happy ending.
  • Dark Fantasy: In the oldest sense, as in a horror story in a medieval setting. The film includes dark visions, witchcraft, monstrous giants, and ghosts.
  • Death by Adaptation: Possibly. In the original story, the Green Knight spares Gawain. Here, the film ends as he prepares to chop off his head. Unless he was just teasing him about it.
  • Decomposite Character: Possibly. The lord of the castle and the Green Knight were the same person in the poem, but the movie never confirms if they are the same character, despite some hinting.
  • Deconstruction: The movie presents a grim view of Arthurian Legends. For the sake of honor and chivalry, Gawain is forced onto a suicidal quest that will end his life before he can even become a knight. Many people of Camelot seem to place more value on Gawain's new status as a legend than his actual life. Each obstacle he overcomes is in the pursuit of his own death, highlighting the absurdity of Gawain's journey for a vague cause he's been forced into and doesn't believe in.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: The Bad Future demonstrates why the code of chivalry exists. Without it, Gawain becomes a cruel, hated ruler and brings Camelot to ruin. Gawain finally choosing to display honor instead of assuming he can become honorable is what ultimately proves that he is capable of being a good knight.
  • Decoy Protagonist: In the very first shot, we see a burning building and a young couple heading from its direction. The man helps the woman onto a horse, he draws his sword, and they set off together... but whatever adventure they're embarking on is not our story. We keep moving back to reveal Gawain awakening from a bender in a tavern, our actual antihero.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Chivalric ideals are examined thoroughly. Gawain is expected to place Honor Before Reason and frequently fails. Breaking his word to flee the Green Knight's beheading game is a violation of his culture's moral system, whereas in modern society, it would be treated as simple good sense.
  • Demonic Possession: Guinevere reading out the Green Knight's challenge is treated as this.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Subverted. Arthur is implied in the ending to die from natural causes rather than in a final battle against Mordred. The subversion comes from this being nothing more than a vision of a Bad Future where Gawain lost himself to dishonor.
  • Dirty Coward: Gawain's Fatal Flaw here. He wants to be a knight worthy of Arthur's approval and crown, but clearly can't endure the hardships and danger that would come with it. The vision he has in the ending of what would happen if he fled the Green Chapel shows him wearing his enchanted girdle throughout his entire return to Camelot, showing that towards the end of his life, he remained a coward that lived in perpetual fear. He is eventually Driven to Suicide once the weight of his failed rule comes crashing down on him.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "The Green Knight" indeed refers to the mysterious ax-wielding fighter from the myths, here reimagined into a Plant Person, but it can also refer to the protagonist Gawain: in the poem, Gawain is already an experienced and respected Knight of the Round when he goes off to fight the Green Knight, but here he's a "green" knight-in-training going on a coming-of-age quest and discovering what true honor is.
  • Dramatic Drop: Gawain, quite understandably, drops the dry, decayed skull of St. Winifred when it transforms to her flesh-and-blood severed head in his hands and speaks to him.
  • Dramatic Spotlight: The first shot sets an eerie, somber tone by having a high, circular window let light shine down in the shape of a spotlight on Gawain, who is sitting on a chair holding regalia.
  • End of an Era: By the time the story begins, the prestige of Camelot is waning. King Arthur is no longer a young, powerful king, and his knights are wary of fighting new battles. In terms of environment, the outside lands are either littered with bodies from finished battles or in the midst of deforestation. The ending suggests either that Gawain could either be the last of the Arthurian age, the start of a new dishonorable era, or the start of a new generation to continue Camelot's legacy.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening shot of the film shows a burning house that can be seen from the window of the brothel Gawain is currently in. He doesn't seem to care or even notice it, much less be concerned with helping put it out. This establishes him as not being particularly noble at this point despite his desire to be a knight.
  • Ethereal White Dress: The ghostly Winifred appears to Gawain dressed in a long, white, off-shoulder dress.
  • Excalibur in the Stone: Arthur is mentioned as having drawn the Sword from the Stone, but the film leaves it unclear if it's meant to be the same sword he has in the present or even if it's called Excalibur.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The whole of Gawain's arc. His entire quest is to meet with the Green Knight to accept his fate and allow his blow to be returned in kind. He seemingly fails and returns a haunted and cowardly man that eventually loses or betrays all that he loves and leads Camelot to ruin... but it was All Just a Dream and Gawain fully displays courage and honor by taking off the girdle that protects him before the Green Knight can strike him. His ultimate fate in this movie's version of the story is left ambiguous, but he ends his journey fully embracing this trope.
  • The Fair Folk:
    • The Green Knight is set up to evoke a fae being. Gawain claims he is "not of this Earth", and his discussions with the Lady frame the Green Knight as some sort of nature spirit.
    • There are a lot of hints that the Lord and the Lady are fae — or at least inhuman — as well:
      • The architectural style of their home looks several centuries ahead of the medieval stone structures we see at Camelot, and the "portrait" taken of Gawain seems to be a permanent photograph (which didn't get invented until the 19th century), making the pair seem advanced and otherworldly compared to Gawain.
      • The Lady says that she's read, transcribed, or written all of the books in her large library. She seems far too young to have accomplished all that.
      • Once you’re in the Land of Faerie, there are frequently all kinds of bizarre rules and restrictions you have to obey, like not eating the food or not offering anything without receiving anything in return. The strange game the Lord and Lady play with Gawain, where he and the lord must exchange whatever the other receives, fits this pattern.
      • The castle seems to have no servants at all, yet all the fires are lit and the Lord and Lady have plenty of food.
      • Gawain treks for miles after meeting Winifred, yet encounters no villagers or townsfolk until he stumbles on Lord Bertilak's castle and beats down the door to get out of the rain. Moreover, he runs through one last stretch of Wild Wilderness when he leaves for the Green Chapel. Real-life castles need a community for trade and tithing, even if it's just a village or two for necessities.
      • Both the Lord and Lady inexplicably know everything about Gawain, including his name and the details of his quest, before he’s even woken up or said a word to them. The Lady also goes on a bizarre monologue about the true nature of the Green Knight which seems to freak out Gawain, but which the Lord takes in stride.
      • The Lady and the Blind Woman are seen laying out a tarot deck, and the Lady inexplicably offers Gawain an enchanted sash that is either identical to or the same as the one his mother gave him, implying she made or acquired it through magic.
      • On the Lord’s final hunt, as Gawain flees the castle, we see he has caught some great boar-like beast. We never get a good look at it, but it is clearly not a boar. It has too many tusks, the shape of the head is wrong, and a row of spikes can be seen running down its back. Whatever that thing is, it’s not from around Camelot.
      • According to most tales, if, after you leave/escape a faery bower, you turn back to look at it, it will have vanished. When the Lord lets Gawain go, he tells him that if Gawain does come back that way then the Lord and his household will be gone.
  • Fan Disservice: Viewers familiar with the original story might be intrigued by the prospect of what sorts of Courtly Love antics Gawain is subjected to in this film. Suffice it to say, they are not tantalizing at all. Lord Bertilak's lady's seduction of him is such a humiliating affair that he hightails it out of the castle. When Bertilak meets with him later, he forcefully kisses Gawain, the scene having none of the "just passing along what he received" innocence of the literary version.
  • Fisher King: King Arthur here is older and more frail, with less than subtle indications that he might not have much longer left. Camelot and Britain reflect this by not looking to be in the best of shape. The film also rather symbolically takes place in winter and near the year's end at Christmas.
  • Foreshadowing: In the opening of the film, Gawain tries to pay Essel to stay with him in the brothel and tosses her a coin which lands on the floor. Later, before Gawain embarks on his quest to the Green Chapel, Essel asks if Gawain would marry her when he returns from his journey. He dodges her question by claiming he could offer her more gold than any lady or noblewoman, and is entirely silent after Essel professes her desire to spend her life with Gawain. After Gawain chickens out from completing the Green Knight's challenge and returns to Camelot, Gawain demonstrates how far his weakness of character extends to when he abducts his and Essel's son moments after she gives birth and leaves her with a handful of coins tossed on her mattress. However, this is subverted, in that this is revealed to be part of a vision of a Bad Future.
  • Gainax Ending: The film has a lengthy sequence of Gawain fleeing the confrontation at the Green Chapel, returning to Camelot, and succeeding his uncle as king. Then at the end of his reign, Camelot under siege by his enemies, Gawain pulls off the girdle and his head falls off. The movie returns back to the Green Chapel where Gawain removes the girdle, and the Green Knight congratulates him and prepares to cut off his head. Or perhaps just teases Gawain before sparing him. The movie ends before we find out which.
  • Ghostly Glide: St. Winifred moves this way when she approaches Gawain in the loft, demonstrating to him that she's no longer of this earth.
  • The Good King: Despite the deconstructionist bent of the movie, Arthur is portrayed as an unambiguously fair, wise, and noble ruler who commands the respect of every other character. He is, however, old, hoarse-voiced, and rather frail.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Possibly. Gawain's quest is a long, lonely affair, and by its end he has hallucinated himself as a decayed skeleton, conversed with a ghost and a fox, and encountered a group of naked giants. On the other hand, the movie is rather unambiguously a fantasy, leaving it up in the air how many of the magical events Gawain goes through during this stretch of the movie were real.
  • Great Offscreen War: Arthur mentions fighting Saxons, and Gawain is later shown at a battle camp, but we never see the enemy or any fighting.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Those with cursory knowledge of Arthurian myth will understand that much of the film's problems are the fault of Gawain's mother, heavily implied to be Morgan le Fay.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Plays as Gawain arrives at the Green Chapel and waits for the Knight to awaken.
  • Hero of Another Story: Stated by the beginning narration; it may be Gawain's story, but it sure as Hell is Arthur's kingdom.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: It's implied though never outright stated that Gawain's lover Essel is a prostitute. She apparently has a bed in a tavern, where Gawain wakes up in the beginning of the film. When she offers to be his lady, Gawain says he could give her more gold than any lady has, and she replies that she already has his gold.
  • Honor Before Reason: Interestingly, the ultimate point of the story. If Gawain, understandably, refuses to have his head chopped off, he'll spend the rest of his life ashamed and living in fear of the Green Knight, dooming the realm in the process. Conversely, going to his sure death seems foolhardy, but in doing so he embraces a true knight's honor.
  • Identical Stranger: Alicia Vikander plays both Gawain's prostitute lover Essel as well as the Lady. Essel has a pixie cut and a freckled complexion, while the Lady has long, ornately styled hair and a flawlessly even skin tone.
  • Incest Subtext: A lot of it concerning Morgan le Fay and her relationship with Gawain and the king. She possesses the queen, her brother's wife, through her creation, the Green Knight, who reads Morgana's words with Guinevere's mouth, merging the two women for a moment — seemingly for the heck of it, but also to torment her brother and his family; she is very deeply enmeshed in his life overall, to the point of it being decidedly unhealthy.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Visually implied when Gawain dreams of his mother comforting him as he sleeps in the Lord's castle after having suffered through an intense Mushroom Samba.
  • Just Before the End: Subtly implied throughout. It's never directly stated, but nevertheless made clear that Camelot is in rough shape, and most of the places outside Arthur's castle are sinking into various degrees of squalor. Civilization outside Camelot appears practically nonexistent, and Gawain's journey takes him through miles and miles of lonely road without ever passing another town, village, or city. The only living people he encounters on his quest are a trio of wandering bandits and the Ambiguously Human Lord and Lady Bertilak, who live in a gigantic manorhouse apparently alone but for a silent, blindfolded old woman. Arthur's rule seems to be the only thing holding the dying kingdom together, as once Gawain takes the throne in the Bad Future, the whole kingdom almost instantly descends into warfare and anarchy.
  • Kick the Dog: Gawain taking Essel's child away in favor a marrying a different woman of noble status shows just how much of a jerkass he's become. Luckily, it was just a vision of the Bad Future.
  • Land of Faerie: Like in most Arthurian tales, it's never explicitly stated that Gawain has entered it, and it's not precisely clear when he does, but there is a clear distinction between the lands of Camelot (where magic is out of the norm and intrusive) and the wilds Gawain enters some time after meeting the bandits, which are full of spirits and monsters. They also fit some of the other tropes of Fairyland, such as remaining lush and green even as Gawain's journey gets closer and closer to winter.
  • Last Chance to Quit: The fox tells Gawain to turn back and run back home when he reaches the stream that will take him to the Green Chapel. Gawain refuses to let his quest go unfinished, but the fox points out that the reason why he has no reservations is because he thinks his girdle will protect him as the Lady promised.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Arthur looks especially messianic in the movie. His crown being adorned with a halo and his second scene showing him in robes just adds to the resemblance.
  • Losing Your Head:
    • The whole story is incited by Gawain lopping off the Green Knight's head. Being thus separated doesn't inconvenience the Knight at all, as he is then shown declaring Gawain must meet him in a year and riding full-tilt away from the castle holding his own head.
    • Winifred died when a lord whose advances she rejected decapitated her and threw her head into a nearby spring. Gawain returns her skull to her body, and is rewarded by the return of the stolen Green Knight's axe.
    • In the Bad Future, Gawain is Driven to Suicide after failing as a king and living in shame for fleeing the Chapel. He kills himself by removing the girdle, and his head falls off as though it had been cut.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • The scavengers who ambush Gawain and steal the Green Knight's axe from him. It's the most unambiguously realistic obstacle Gawain encounters in his journey, and yet it's not clear if it's a fantastical challenge that's part of his journey to the Green Chapel or an actual trio of bandits that ran off with the axe before Winifred got it back for Gawain.
    • The girdle that protects Gawain from harm. Interestingly, it is never actually shown in effect throughout the movie. Regardless of whether it actually works or not, it ultimately serves as Gawain's Security Blanket through the final stretch of the movie so as to symbolize the cowardice that he is meant to overcome with his quest.
    • The band of vagrant giants, whom Gawain encounters after eating questionable mushrooms, but wouldn't be out of place in this setting filled with witches, ghosts, and plant people.
  • Momma's Boy: The film does a hard cut to Gawain drunkenly fighting a bar patron on the street after hearing someone call his mother a witch.
  • Mushroom Samba: Gawain, starved and lacking his provisions after his encounter with a band of thieves, hurriedly eats some mushrooms he finds, but he ends up vomiting them back out shortly after. They have enough of an effect for him to hallucinate moss growing on his hand, and the ensuing encounter with a group of giants may have also been due to the toxin.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Inverted. Arthur, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Merlin, Bishop Baldwin, Reynard the Fox, and Bertilak de Hautdesert all appear in the film, but none of them are named. Gawain and Essel are the only characters whose names are said in dialogue.
  • Narrator All Along: The narrator in the opening scene of the film is later revealed to be the fox that accompanies Gawain in his quest.
  • Navel-Deep Neckline: The Lady's dress has a nonexistent neckline. She's actively trying to seduce Gawain the entire time, which she eventually succeeds at.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: In general, the advertising for the film made it look like more of an action-packed fantasy epic than the slow, meditative affair it truly is.
    • The second trailer makes it look as if Gawain and the Green Knight actually fight each other in a full-fledged duel, whereas in the film itself the Green Knight simply kneels down and allows Gawain to behead him.
    • The same trailer also implies that Gawain does battle with the giants somehow.
    • The trailers make Gawain out to be much more noble than in the movie itself, where his cowardice plays a huge part in his Character Development. To wit, his response to the Armor-Piercing Question above is portrayed in the trailer as sincere and unironic rather than a betrayal of his very black and white view of honor and chivalry.
    • The final trailer implies that the fox that accompanies Gawain would always be a Talking Animal, as it's edited in a manner that makes it seem as though it's had many conversations with Gawain. In the movie proper, it suddenly talking is a surprise that freaks out Gawain.
  • No Ending: The movie ends VERY abruptly after Gawain finally shows his courage and prepares for the Green Knight to strike. The Knight himself either sends him on his way with a joke or prepares to finish the game. Either way, we get nothing more than the words "Off with your head."
  • No Name Given: Only a few characters are specifically named by the movie, although some are identifiable due to their roles.
  • The Oner: Many sequences are filmed in one long, continuous take. For example, Gawain's conversation with the Scavenger is one long tracking shot.
  • Oop North:
    • Essel speaks with a distinctively northern English accent, emphasizing the class difference between her and the nobleborn Gawain.
    • The Green Knight himself speaks in Ralph Ineson's natural Yorkshire accent. Aptly, Gawain has to ride north of Camelot to find him in the Green Chapel.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: The Green Knight is called a giant by the man Gawain encounters in a tavern, but he comes across a group of much larger giants during his journey. They appear as bald, apparently all-female figures, some of whom are carrying babies. It's unclear if they really exist, as Gawain had consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms not too long earlier.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The Bad Future shows King Gawain losing his first son to war.
  • Puppet Shows: Gawain's heroics are immortalized in a recurring Hand Puppet show. It also makes sure to include the expected ending of Gawain losing his head after the year's passed.
  • Questionable Consent: Another layer of Fan Disservice that wasn't present in the original myth. In the movie, Gawain is played as an aimless young man who has finally stopped lazing around and is on the first real quest of his life/career. He gets robbed of everything but his clothes and a magical axe, wanders the forest for days, and then gets seduced by the woman who is sheltering and feeding him. In addition to his physical weakness, he's clearly desperate to get his mother's enchanted girdle back, and she looks A LOT like his girlfriend back home.
  • Race Lift: Gawain is played by Dev Patel, an actor of Indian descent. While there are two knights of the Round Table who are not white (Morien the Moor and Palomedes the Saracen), Gawain is not one of them. In fact, he's based on an earlier Welsh character. His mother is another case, despite playing the sister of Sean Harris, although they were half-siblings in the original legends. Saint Winifred is also portrayed by the mixed race Erin Kellyman, though it's unclear whether she's playing a white Briton or not.
  • Red/Green Contrast: The Lady has an eerie yet impassioned speech contrasting the colors green and red. Red is the color of passion (blood, lust) while green is the color of passion's aftermath (growth, decay).
  • Retired Badass: King Arthur himself. He's clearly accomplished a lot, but he admits himself that he's too old to fight the Green Knight.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Who exactly sat at Arthur's side before Gawain? It's likely meant to be Lancelot.
  • River of Insanity: Gawain's is a mad, lonely quest deep into the otherworldly wilderness, and as he gets closer to the Green Chapel he's pushed to the absolute limit of his physical and mental endurance. It's almost like an Arthurian Apocalypse Now at certain points.
  • Scenery Porn: If you love bleak Irish moors and ornate castles, this is the film for you.
  • Schizo Tech: Camelot is a medieval stone castle, but Castle Bertilak looks hundreds of years more advanced. The Lady even uses a camera obscura to create a photograph, while the first permanent photograph in the real world wasn't made until the 19th century. This may indicate that, as in the original story, the Lord is actually the Green Knight himself in disguise, meaning that the castle's inhabitants are The Fair Folk and beyond human limitations.
  • Shout-Out: When King Arthur hands Excalibur to Gawain to smite the Green Knight, it glows with a bright green light, reminiscent of John Boorman's Excalibur, where the sword glows the same tone.
  • Shown Their Work: The character of Winifred isn't in the original poem. However, the poem does reference Gawain traveling past a place called "Holy Hede", which modern scholars generally agree is the Welsh town of Holywell. The town's name comes from a legend about none other than Saint Winifred, which plays out much like it does in this movie, with the exception that in the original legend Winifred is restored to life by a passing saint, and then goes on to become a saint herself.
  • Silence Is Golden: There are long stretches of the film with no dialogue. The longest is Gawain's vision of the future at the end, which goes on for over ten minutes with only music and sound effects.
  • Significant Double Casting: Alicia Vikander plays both the commoner Essel as well as the Lady. Even Gawain seems to be surprised at the Lady's apparent resemblance to Essel when he first meets Lord Bertilak and his wife.
  • Sketchy Successor: Despite Camelot being past its prime, Arthur is still a renowned Good King loved and respected by his court and subjects. His nephew Gawain is evidently heir despite being a hedonistic slacker. On his knees before the Green Knight, Gawain has a vision where he becomes a deeply unpopular King after Arthur's passing and drives Camelot to ruin through his dishonor, and chooses to die with honor instead.
  • Sound-Only Death: A random peasant who pelts King Gawain with dung and gets shanked offscreen by guards.
  • The Stinger: A very short one where a little girl plays with and puts on one of the Cool Crowns.
  • Talking Animal: The fox that accompanies Gawain on his quest suddenly speaks once they arrive at a boat and warns Gawain not to reach the Green Knight.
  • Time-Passage Beard: Gawain's beard grows longer during his vision of his future to show the passage of time. Since it's a Bad Future, it would have also been a Beard of Sorrow if he hadn't already had a shorter beard to begin with.
  • Tragic Keepsake: King Gawain is shown to carry his son's crown around with him everywhere for years after the boy's death in battle.
  • Trailers Always Spoil:
    • The final trailer shows Gawain reaching the Green Chapel. It's justified by Gawain's journey being much more important than what he finds at his destination.
    • The fox suddenly talking is meant to come as a shock after it accompanied Gawain for most of his quest, but the final trailer shows the scene at its halfway point.
  • Unexplained Accent: The Scavenger has an Irish accent despite living within a few days from Camelot, in King Arthur's medieval Britain.
  • Unwitting Pawn: The implications that Gawain's mother is Morgan le Fay herself suggests that the entire quest to the Green Chapel was her Batman Gambit to use Gawain and his cowardice to bring about Camelot's fall as shown in the Bad Future. Gawain clearly has no idea of his mother's involvement in his quest.
  • Well, This Is Not That Trope: At the beginning, the narrator (eventually revealed to be the fox) recaps how King Arthur drew a sword from a stone, before saying this is not that story.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The scavenger who steals Gawain's horse and axe never appears again afterwards (minus a small glimpse in the Bad Future, which doesn't mean much). The axe finds its way back to Gawain, apparently by Saint Winifred's direction.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Gawain asks Winifred what kind of reward he might get for diving into the lake to retrieve her skull. She is understandably aghast that this sort of expectation is on his mind.
    St. Winifred: Why would you ask that? Why would you ever ask that?
  • What You Are in the Dark: While he was shamed into retrieving it from the spring, Gawain reunites Winifred's skull with her body despite being frightened by her ghost and having no real incentive to do so. This earns him the return of the Green Knight's axe and foreshadows how he does have it in him to be an honorable knight.
  • Wizard Beard: Court Mage Merlin has an appropriately large and bushy beard.

"Now. Off with your head."