After five or six thumbnails, I kept coming back to this one. The interaction between the characters was a bit weak, but the larger shapes were starting to work.
The image on the far left was submitted to the Muddy Colors gang for critique, and the consensus was it needed more narrative. So, I extended the canvas, added Theodin, his horse, a dead knight, and Merry in the distance to lock in the triangle composition. The muzzle on the fell beast went through several variations until it looked less like a dragon's maw and more like a beak (to stay true to the text). Also, many thanks to Tyler Jacobson for tips on making the light ricochet off Eowyn, creating a sense of glow.
Photo references used along the way: 1) My daughter as Eowyn. Holding a pose is hard enough, so I tend to make props out of cardboard so they're not too heavy. 2) My son as Merry. 3) A dead horse found online (it was too scruffy and skinny to be a king's horse, but a good starting point as I can't draw horses for shit). 4) Some dork with a headband, also found online. 5) Drawing the perspective on the Witch King's mace proved incredibly difficult, so I made a model out of a broom handle, foam core, and tape.
Once the grayscale was done, digging in and painting the image only took about three days. Balancing the warm and cool tones without getting too saturated was the hardest part, Minas Tirith needed to be cooled off several times to get it to read as white and not sandstone. A staircase leading to a door was visible until the very end (it was pointed out to me that a giant staircase leading right into a citadel might not be the best defensive strategy. Um, yeah, dumb idea). I replaced the staircase with a wall, and added a lot more combatants to the background.
In the two and a half weeks it took to complete this project, I listened to only one song on repeat: A Knife in the Dark from the Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. If it had gone on much longer, my family probably would have destroyed my stereo.