129: The Return of the King

Two years ago, we covered The Fellowship of the Ring as an April Fools Day surprise. Last year, it was a little less of a surprise when we continued the story with The Two Towers. This year, the trilogy will come to an end with the epic conclusion in The Return of the King.

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Transcript

Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Our story today opens by showing two hobbits fishing peacefully on the river. We join them just as one of them, Déagol, catches a big fish. His friend, Sméagol, roots him on, “Go ahead! Pull him in!”

Déagol is played by Thomas Robins while Sméagol is played by Andy Serkis.

Despite his best efforts, the power of the fish proves too much for the halfling and Déagol is pulled into the river. The camera follows him underwater where he finally releases the fishing rod.

As the fish swims off to safety, Déagol’s eye catches something shiny on the bottom of the river. He reaches down, grabs it, and makes his way coughing and sputtering to the bank of the river.

Once there, Sméagol is immediately smitten by the shiny object his friend found on the bottom of the river. It’s a ring. He tries to convince Déagol to give him the ring as a birthday present—it is his birthday, after all.

Déagol refuses and a fight ensues. Struggling on the ground, Sméagol manages to overcome his friend and strangles him to death. Taking the ring from his fingers, we hear Sméagol utter those words we’ve heard time and time again, “My precious!”

After this, we find out how Sméagol was cast out by his family and friends for the murder of Déagol and driven to a life alone. The movie never indicates how much time passes, but we can see that over what must be many years, the ring slowly transforms Sméagol into the creature we’ve seen before in the trilogy—Gollum.

This is the origin story of Gollum.

And, more or less, the movie gets it right.

Probably the biggest thing the movie changed here is the timeline. You see, this explanation of how Sméagol became Gollum was a story that Gandalf told long ago.

Remember back in the first movie when we saw Bilbo having his birthday party? And then afterward, the conversation Gandalf had with Frodo once Frodo realized Bilbo had left? In The Fellowship of the Ring movie we saw Gandalf mention how Gollum was tortured and he said the words, “Shire!” and “Baggins!”

Well, the movie cut out that it was during that conversation when Gandalf explained to Frodo who Gollum was—and this story of Sméagol killing his friend Déagol was a big part of it.

With that said, though, despite changing around the timeline to show this here in the final movie of the trilogy instead of the first, it is true that this is how Sméagol came upon the ring.

His friend found it while he was fishing with Sméagol in their homeland of the Gladden Fields.

For a bit of geographical context, The Shire is located on the western side of Middle-earth. If you travel from The Shire and along the East Road past Bree, like the Fellowship did, eventually you’ll hit The Misty Mountains.

The Gladden Fields are just on the other side of The Misty Mountains from The Shire—so, the eastern side. Granted, the Gladden Fields are a little south, too, so it’s not a straight shot east but you get the idea.

Something else happened in the first movie that happened near the Gladden Fields. We’ve already covered The Fellowship of the Ring episode, but let’s do a quick recap to see how that ties into our story today.

In the introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring, we learned about how Sauron led his armies out of Mount Doom during the Second Age.

The Last Alliance of Elves and Men went out to confront Sauron and it was during the battle that the High King of Gondor, Elendil, was killed by Sauron. That’s when Elendil’s son, Isildur, grabbed his father’s broken sword—named Narsil—and cut off Sauron’s finger, separating him from the Ring.

So, that’s how Isildur got the Ring. But then the Ring betrayed Isildur, he was killed, and the Ring was lost. We see Isildur’s body floating down the river after he’s been shot by orcs. The Ring slips off his lifeless finger and falls to the bottom of the river.

And that’s where it stayed for thousands of years.

Until, you guessed it, two unsuspecting hobbits were fishing on the Anduin River one day and happened upon it.

Going back to the movie, after that flashback to open the movie, we’re back in present day to pick up where we left the Fellowship after The Two Towers.

If you recall, in the last movie there was a big battle where we saw Treebeard lead the Ents to defeat Saruman at Isengard.

And that’s where we are now.

In the aftermath of the battle, Merry and Pippin are enjoying a few, as they call it, well-deserved spoils. These include salted pork, pipe-weed and a pint of something tasty. As they’re enjoying each other’s company, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Théoden, and Éomer arrive.

When they arrive, Treebeard tells Gandalf that a wizard is locked in the tower.

“And that’s where he must stay,” Gandalf replies. Even though Gimli suggests that they kill Saruman, Gandalf says that no, Saruman doesn’t have any power anymore. Still, he charges Treebeard with guarding him and ensuring he stays in the tower.

At least, that’s how it happens in the theatrical version of the movie. We see a little more this scene in the extended edition.

In that version, Saruman shows himself to the Fellowship below. From above, Saruman holds the palantír—that seeing stone that Pippin finds a little later in both versions of the film.

While Saruman is talking with Gandalf, he shoots a ball of fire down on Gandalf—who is unharmed by it. Then, in retaliation, using only words Gandalf shatters Saruman’s staff while it’s still in his hand.

Then, from behind Saruman comes a familiar face. It’s Grima Wormtongue. After Saruman slaps down Wormtongue, he pulls a knife from under his cloak and turns on his former master, stabbing Saruman.

Down below, Legolas pulls an arrow and shoots Grima. But, it’s not in time. While Grima falls back with the arrow in his chest, Saruman, with the knife still in his back, falls from the top of the tower…down, down, until he’s impaled on a waterwheel below, killing him.

That’s not how it happened at all. In fact, that whole scene with Saruman and Grima Wormtongue stabbing Saruman is made up for the movie. And even though the theatrical version doesn’t show this scene, that doesn’t make it any closer to being accurate, either.

So, what really happened?

Well, Saruman never really appeared after Isengard was defeated—which, by the way, in the movie it’s only the Ents but it was really both the Ents and the Riders of Rohan who defeated Saruman’s army.

After their defeat, Saruman was trapped in Orthanc—that’s the name of his massive tower in Isengard. But, he never attacked the riders below like he did in the movie. Instead, he only spoke to those outside, trying to convince Gandalf and the Rohirrim to let him go.

Although, maybe that’s not quite the right verbiage to use because at one point Gandalf offered to let him go and to protect Saruman. But, Saruman didn’t trust Gandalf. Why should he leave his tower?

So, Gandalf cast Saruman out of the Council—removing his color so he was no longer Saruman the White. In the process, just like we see in the movie, Gandalf also split Saruman’s staff.

It was at this moment that Pippin noticed a dark, crystal ball come falling down. It didn’t crack but started rolling toward a nearby pool of water.

However, it was never in the water like the movie shows. Pippin picked it up before it ever touched the water. He didn’t know it, but this was Saruman’s palantír. And soon after, Gandalf took it away from Pippin and covered it up with his cloak.

Probably the biggest change in the movie here is when we see Saruman die. He didn’t die here. Yes, Wormtongue was there, but the reason they show Saruman’s death here is most likely because they completely removed the part of the movie where Saruman really did die.

But that would transport us to the very end of The Return of the King—the second-to-last chapter—and that’s getting ahead of our story.

Oh, and speaking of the timeline, another major change in the movie surrounding Pippin picking up the palantír was that none of that even happened in The Return of the King. It actually happened back in The Two Towers.

But, in the end, Saruman, his staff smashed and with diminishing powers, stayed holed up in his tower. The Ents stayed guard to ensure he didn’t try to escape and do evil elsewhere.

Heading back to the movie, we follow Gandalf, Théoden, Aragorn, and the rest of the riders from Isengard to Edoras, the capital city of Rohan. It’s a brief moment to celebrate the victories of the Battle of the Hornburg—that’s the massive battle at Helm’s Deep we saw at the end of The Two Towers.

During this celebration, the movie heavily implies an attraction between Aragorn and Théoden’s niece and goddaughter, Éowyn.

This scene in Edoras didn’t actually happen, but that bit of romance between Aragorn and Éowyn did.

In fact, even though it never made it into the final books, at one point J.R.R. Tolkien considered marriage between Aragorn and Éowyn. However, he ultimately decided against it because he thought Aragorn was too old for her. That’s why, what finally made it into the book was that even though Éowyn falls for Aragorn, he can’t return Éowyn’s feelings because he is betrothed to Arwen.

Back in the movie, the next scene cuts over to Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor. If you recall from the previous movie, they have Sméagol with them now as a guide. And similar to what we saw in The Two Towers, Sméagol is again being tormented by his other side— Gollum.

We see a clever conversation taking place between Gollum and Sméagol where the filmmakers use his reflection in a small pool of water as Gollum while Sméagol is outside the reflection.

It’s here that we hear Gollum again speak about “her.” If you listened to the episode where we covered The Two Towers, that’s where we ended that part of the story.

Well, we don’t really find out who “she” is yet in the movie. Only that Gollum and Sméagol are debating their plan to deliver the hobbits to her. Sam, who’s pretending to be asleep, overhears Gollum’s evil plan and starts beating him for it. This wakes up Frodo, who doesn’t know anything that’s going on but he stops Sam from beating up Gollum.

None of that happened.

Although it is true that Gollum had a plan to lead Frodo and Sam to “her,” this bit in the movie where we see Sam be on the offensive and Frodo side with Gollum was added to show how Gollum was starting to fray the threads of Frodo and Sam’s friendship.

And yes, Gollum and Sméagol would often have dialog with each other, the truth is that Gollum’s plan was a lot more straight forward than the movie makes it seem.

Not to get too far ahead of our story, but Gollum never tried to get between Frodo and Sam in that way. His plan was simply to lead Frodo and Sam to “her” so she could kill them and he could take the Ring back.

But we still don’t get to find out who “she” is quite yet.

Instead, back in the movie, we see Pippin’s curiosity get the better of him. They’re in Edoras and he waits until everyone is sleeping before sneaking up to Gandalf and taking the palantír.

As soon as he touches the crystal ball, he sees a white tree in a courtyard made of stone. The city is on fire…but then Pippin realizes he’s not alone. The eye is there—Sauron.

Outwardly, we see the ball get engulfed in flame.

Merry screams for help and Aragorn rushes into the room to free Pippin’s grasp from the palantír. He rips it out of Pippin’s hands, but then is stuck to it himself—informing Sauron of Aragorn’s presence.

Waking up from the commotion, Gandalf leaps to action covering the ball with a nearby blanket. Then, he scolds Pippin for his foolishness before realizing Pippin meant no harm.

Later, we see Gandalf meeting with everyone. He explains that even though it was a grave mistake, perhaps some good can come of it. Pippin saw Sauron’s plans—his plans to attack the city of Minas Tirith.

This happened, but not in The Return of the King. This scene with the palantír is the last chapter of Book Three in The Two Towers.

I know that sounds confusing at first, and I’ve mentioned this in the other episodes where we looked at the first two movies in the trilogy, but one big difference between the movies and the books is how they’re organized.

In the movies, we see the camera cut back and forth between Frodo and Sam and then back to the others. In the books, Frodo and Sam’s journey are separated from the rest.

So, The Fellowship of the Ring had Book One and Book Two then The Two Towers has Book Three and Book Four. The Return of the King finishes the story with Book Five and Book Six, respectively.

This scene we see here in the movie is the final chapter of Book Three in The Two Towers­, just before the story hops over to Frodo and Sam’s journey for Book Four.

With that said, Pippin’s run-in with the palantír didn’t happen in Edoras like we see in the movie.

As we learned earlier, the party didn’t return to Edoras after Isengard. That’s where they were heading, although their destination changed soon after they started on the journey. It was a journey of many days and Pippin’s curiosity didn’t make it that long before it overcame him.

While they were camped one night, Pippin stole the palantír and looked into it. Just like we saw in the movie, before long what was once a dark, crystal ball was engulfed in flames. Pippin couldn’t look away for some time.

But then, he managed to force the ball away from his hands and cried out. That’s what alerted everyone else—and unlike what we see in the movie, Aragorn didn’t come to rip the ball out of his hands.

Pippin then admitted what he had done to Gandalf, who charged him to explain what he saw and heard. He didn’t see Minas Tirith like we saw in the movie. Instead, Pippin told Gandalf he saw what looked like nine bats circling around a tower.

Of course, he didn’t know those weren’t bats—they were Nazgûl.

Based on Pippin’s explanation, it was clear that when Sauron talked to him that he thought Pippin was being held captive in Saruman’s tower. After learning this, Gandalf decided they must ride to Helm’s Deep, which is just to the south of Isengard.

No sooner had that decision been made than dark shapes flew overhead.

The Nazgûl have crossed the river!

The movie doesn’t explain any of this, of course, because we see Pippin’s vision of the White Tree in Minas Tirith as being the reason why they’re going there.

But, basically, Gandalf knew that Sauron still thought the palantír was in Saruman’s tower at Isengard. Sauron didn’t know about Isengard’s fall, so when this hobbit showed up on the palantír, he sent a Nazgûl to get the captive and learn more about why Saruman wasn’t speaking to him through the palantír anymore.

Gandalf knew, then, it’d only be a matter of time before the Nazgûl would discover Saruman wasn’t holding the hobbit captive, but he was a captive in his own tower. They’d deliver that message back to Sauron and it would only be a matter of time before Mordor’s forces would move.

So that’s why, with great haste, Gandalf scooped up Pippin on his horse, Shadowfax, and they sped off toward Minis Tirith—which is just on the other side of the river from Mordor. It’s a long ride from Isengard, and since the Nazgûl can fly faster than horses can ride, Gandalf knew there was little time to waste if he wanted to get there before Mordor’s troops were mustered to attack.

Going back to the movie, for a brief moment we’re in Rivendell. Arwen had a vision of her future, and in that future she had a son with Aragorn.

She goes to her father, who was aware of this future, and tells him that she can’t leave Aragorn. We soon find out the elves are leaving Middle-earth for the Undying Lands.

As elves, they’re immortal, but Arwen’s heart is Aragorn’s and she’s willing to remain mortal to stay with him for the sake of their son.

None of that really happened.

And…well, there’s not much else to say about that. Hah!

So, let’s move onto the next part of the movie where Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith. Once there, Gandalf explains that there is no king—Minas Tirith is ruled by Denethor, the Steward.

Then, in a comedic moment, Gandalf tells Pippin not to let Denethor know about Frodo and the Ring. Oh, and don’t mention Aragorn. Also, don’t mention his son, Boromir’s, death. In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t say anything at all.

Inside the great hall, things don’t go as planned. Denethor already knows about Boromir’s death. He also knows about Aragorn. Pippin speaks up, much to Gandalf’s dismay, and pledges his life to Denethor’s service in recompense for Boromir’s death.

Some of that happened while other bits of it didn’t.

So, let’s clarify things.

The movie’s correct in showing that, thanks to the mighty Shadowfax, Gandalf and Pippin arrived in Minas Tirith before anyone else. When they got there, though, Gandalf never told Pippin not to speak of Boromir’s death.

In fact, he told Pippin the opposite—he warned that Denethor would want to talk about his fallen son because Pippin would be able to tell him a lot about Boromir’s final moments.

But, he warned Pippin not to mention Aragorn because he holds the rightful claim to the throne that Denethor, as Steward, was sitting in when they arrived.

Of course, Pippin didn’t know any of that at the time. In fact, it was only this moment when Gandalf mentioned Aragorn’s kingship that Pippin’s eyes were opened to clues that had been circling around him since their journey began.

Although the movie is correct in showing the tone when the wizard and hobbit arrived in Minas Tirith. Even before reaching the halls of Denethor, soldiers guarding the way stopped the two travelers and questioned them. They hadn’t seen a hobbit before, so they were wary of the stranger.

But, Gandalf—or Mithrandir as he was known in those parts—vouched for Pippin, and that seemed to be enough.

When Denethor received the wizard and the hobbit to his halls, the welcome was rather cold. Denethor was holding Boromir’s horn when they walked in, something Pippin recognized immediately. Denethor asked Pippin how he recognized it, and Pippin said it was because he was there when Boromir blew the horn.

So, just like Gandalf said, Denethor probed more—asking Pippin to recount the tale of how Boromir died. At the end of this, just like the movie shows, Pippin swore an oath of loyalty to Denethor as a form of paying back Boromir’s giving up his life to save Merry and Pippin.

Although, in the movie, this oath happens a little later after Faramir returns from Osgiliath. That’s not when it happened, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

After Gandalf and Pippin had their meeting with Denethor, the two left the hall side-by-side. Pippin asked if Gandalf if he was mad at him for swearing loyalty to Denethor, to which Gandalf laughed and said he did his best. He admitted he wasn’t sure what made Pippin think it was a good idea to do that, but he didn’t stop it because it was a generous deed that touched Denethor’s heart.

Back in the movie, Gandalf is talking to Pippin in Minas Tirith about the Witch-king of Angmar. He tells Pippin he’s the most powerful of the Nine. Meanwhile, the camera cuts back to Frodo, Sam, and Gollum just as they arrive at the green-colored fortress of Minas Morgul.

They scatter across the path and quickly hide themselves as they start climbing the secret stair that, as Gollum says, is the way into Mordor.

This basic gist is true, although in the book he’s not referred to as the Witch-king but rather the Wraith-king. Close enough. For the purpose of this episode, I’ll call him the Witch-king, though, since that’s what the movie does.

There’s one key thing to point out that happened that the movie doesn’t show. It happened as Frodo, Sam, and Gollum were hiding away as a massive horde of enemies were leaving Minas Morgul. There he was, leading his army—the Witch-king. He was the Lord of the Nine, the Lord of the Nazgûl.

For a brief moment, Frodo’s heart nearly stopped as the Witch-king started looking around. He couldn’t see the eyes beneath his dark helmet, but he knew the Witch-king was searching for something—for him.

Slowly, as he watched the evil searching for him, his hand started moving as if of its own accord. It was creeping toward the Ring as it lay around his neck.

Then, Frodo’s own will managed to move his other hand toward something else. It found it. Grasped it. As he held tight onto the phial of Galadriel, the light within helped Frodo forget about the Ring.

He had almost put the Ring on—surely an end to the journey. But, he had resisted.

Going back to the movie’s timeline, when Denethor refuses to call for Rohan’s aid, Gandalf does something about it himself. Well, sort of. He tells Pippin to climb up a tower and light the beacon to call for aid.

Before he does, though, the camera cuts to orcs crossing a river. We see Faramir and his men preparing for the attack behind some defenses. The orcs rush off the boat…but Faramir waits. Waits. Then, suddenly, he and his men attack.

As they’re fighting, the camera cuts back to Pippin climbing up the beacon. Careful not to alert the guard, Pippin climbs to the top of the pile of wood in the tower and sets it ablaze. The beacon is lit!

This triggers a chain reaction across the countryside until, finally, we see Aragorn on the other end noticing the beacon off in the distance. He rushes to find Théoden, “The beacons of Minas Tirith! The beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid!”

Théoden looks up from the table he’s standing at. After a pause, “And Rohan will answer!”

That happened—sort of. By that, what I mean is that the beacons were lit. But not here. In fact, the beacons were lit before Gandalf and Pippin arrived in Minas Tirith. While they were riding, Pippin noticed them. He didn’t know what they were, but Gandalf did.

After seeing them, Gandalf continued to tell Pippin the tale of how Gondor didn’t used to need the beacons because they had the seeing stones—the palantír.

But, of course, once Sauron entered the picture those weren’t safe to use anymore. Case in point, Saruman. Gandalf believed the palantír was how Saruman was corrupted.

However, as far as the beacons are concerned, since Gandalf and Pippin saw them on their way to Minas Tirith, as you can probably guess, Pippin wasn’t the one to start the chain reaction since, well, he wasn’t there when they were lit.

As for that bit about the orcs crossing the river, we see the result of this happen after the beacons are lit. Faramir and his men fight bravely, but the orcs are too much. The men are driven back, forced to retreat to Minas Tirith.

On their flight across the open plains between their fortress by the river and Minas Tirith, the Nazgûl fly overhead and lay waste to the retreating men.

Then, Gandalf rushes out and with a force of light from his staff push the Nazgûl away. Faramir and the rest of his men make it safely back to Minas Tirith.

That’s the basic idea of what happened, but that’s not really how it happened.

The fortress by the river was called Osgiliath, and when Mordor’s forces attacked it was defended by Faramir and his men like the movie shows. However, they didn’t retreat nearly as quickly as the movie makes it seem.

What happened was that Faramir tried to return to Minas Tirith to consult with his father and Gandalf on what to do next. When he left, there was still a lot of men at Osgiliath holding off the orcs.

Although Faramir and his men were attacked by Nazgûl on their way back to Minas Tirith like the movie shows. And it was Gandalf who rode Shadowfax out to defend the soldiers from the Nazgûl.

Except Pippin wasn’t riding Shadowfax with Gandalf like we see in the movie. Oh, and in the movie we see a white bolt of light shooting out of Gandalf’s staff, when it actually came out of his hand.

Going back to the movie, once Faramir arrives in Minas Tirith, his father is less than impressed with him. He blames him for the loss of Osgiliath, implying that Boromir would’ve defended it. Faramir isn’t the same as Boromir in his father’s eyes.

Finally, Denethor sends Faramir and his men back to Osgiliath—and to certain death. I mentioned this earlier, because around this time in the movie is when we hear Pippin swearing his oath to Denethor.

But, as we already learned, the timing for Pippin’s oath is off. Faramir wasn’t there.

When Faramir did arrive back at Minas Tirith, though, he seemed to focus on Pippin. We see this sort of bewilderment in the movie, too, and it’s at that point Gandalf says something to the effect of, “This isn’t the first hobbit you’ve seen, is it?”

Well, that little bit happened, and it was one of the first pieces of news of Frodo and Sam that Gandalf and Pippin had heard of in forever. But, in front of Denethor, Gandalf stopped Pippin from exclaiming in glee.

But, it was too late. Denethor could see what they were saying, even if most of what was said at that time with their expressions.

So, Faramir told them the story of how he came across Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. We learned about that in The Two Towers, so I won’t recount it here, but it was after this that Faramir turned to the battle at hand.

He had raced from where he saw Frodo to the fords of Osgiliath.

Oh, and yes, Denethor did actually say he wished Faramir and Boromir’s places were switched. However, there’s a key bit of information the movie omits. Denethor wishes Faramir and Boromir’s places were switched because, as Faramir just described meeting Frodo and Sam, he let them go. Meanwhile, Denethor believed that Boromir would’ve brought the Ring to Gondor to help it defeat Mordor. Overall, that’s the primary source of Denethor’s anger at Faramir—although it’s worth pointing out there’s a scene in the extended edition that touches briefly on this, but in general the movie still implies that Denethor is upset at Faramir for losing Osgiliath.

That’s not really true because, well, Faramir left men at Osgiliath to defend it. Granted, it wasn’t enough to hold back the advancing orcs, but it also wasn’t the quick defeat like the movie implies.

After some more discussion, Faramir bid his father give him leave. Denethor let him leave, telling him to get some rest because tomorrow’s needs will be greater than today’s.

And so, it was the next day that Denethor did what we see in the movie—sent his son, Faramir, back to try and defend Osgiliath. It was a move that seemed certain death.

Oh, and there’s something else the movie doesn’t mention. You see, in the movie, there’s a huge field between Osgiliath and Minas Tirith. That field is called the Pelennor, but what the movie doesn’t show is that the Pelennor had a wall around it.

Granted, that wall wasn’t in the best of shape—Gandalf and Pippin came across some folks fixing it just before they made their way into Minas Tirith—but it was still there, and that provided yet another tactical place for defending the city.

Before we see that, though, we’re back with Frodo and Sam. This time, Gollum has laid a trap for Sam. This happens when they find there’s no more lembas bread left.

At first, Sam blames Gollum but then Gollum points out the crumbs on Sam’s cloak. Frodo grows suspicious of Sam and tells him to go back home.

Remember earlier when I mentioned that Gollum never tried to pit Sam and Frodo against each other? Well, this is playing on that story—a story that never happened.

After this, the movie shows us the result of Faramir’s return to Osgiliath. As expected, his men are cut down by the orcs. It’s a very sad part of the movie where we see the men bravely fighting and losing their lives while, back in Minas Tirith, Denethor is eating his lunch while Pippin sings a sad song for him.

That song never happened.

Neither did the slaughter at Osgiliath happen like we see in the movie. A big part of that is because of what we learned earlier: Faramir left behind a group of soldiers to defend Osgiliath while he went to Minas Tirith. He didn’t lose the stronghold like the movie shows.

So, when Faramir returned, he wasn’t walking into an orc ambush. However, things weren’t going well. The orcs kept coming. They outnumbered the defenders ten to one and, slowly, were pushing them back.

Faramir ordered the retreat to the walls of Pelennor. It was around this point that Gandalf rode off to help in the defense.

By mid-morning of the next day, Gandalf returned to Minas Tirith with news that they had failed to hold back the advancing horde. Faramir wasn’t with Gandalf, though. He’d chosen to command the rear guard, continuing to fight the enemy to protect his men as they retreated.

Pippin and Gandalf awaited in Minas Tirith for Faramir to arrive. More men trickled in…but there was no sign of Faramir. Finally, he came. But, not in the manner they expected.

Faramir’s body rode into Minas Tirith on the back of Prince Imrahil’s horse—he had found Faramir on the battlefield, and brought him back. We don’t know for sure what state he was in, but there’s a mention where as Denethor sat next to his son his face looked more deathlike than Faramir’s.

Oh, and Prince Imrahil isn’t in the movie at all.

Going back to the movie, we’re with Théoden’s men now. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Éomer are with him as they’re preparing their armies for the march to Minas Tirith in answer to the beacons.

It’s here, while they’re waiting for other men to assemble, that Elrond shows up. He chats with Aragorn, telling him that in addition to the force attacking Minas Tirith, Sauron has a secret force of ships sailing up from the south.

He tells Aragorn his only hope is to command the cursed, the dead in the mountains. They’ll only answer to the king of Gondor. With this, Elrond reveals Andúril, a sword forged from the shards of Narsil—the sword that was once shattered. That’s the sword Isildur used to cut the Ring from Sauron’s fingers so many years ago.

It’s been reforged so Aragorn can take his rightful place as king and lead a new force that might give them a chance against Sauron’s army.

That is a very simplified version of the story.

Let’s start with the force of ships that Elrond warns Aragorn is coming up from the south. The truth is that Elrond didn’t tell Aragorn about that.

What happened was that Aragorn used the palantír of Orthanc. If you recall, that’s the ancient seeing stone that Pippin found in Isengard.

When Aragorn used it, though, he disguised himself and refrained from telling Sauron anything. In this way, he was able to use it to his advantage to learn more about Sauron’s plans without giving away too much of their own.

That’s how Aragorn learned of the force coming from the south.

That brings us to the sword, Andúril. Yes, that was the name of Aragorn’s sword that was reforged from the shards of Narsil.

However, Elrond didn’t give it to him here. In fact, Aragorn was given Andúril by Elrond before the Fellowship even left Rivendell way back during the Council of Elrond. That happened in the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring.

So, the movie version of Aragorn should’ve had Andúril just about this entire time.

As for Elrond’s reminding Aragorn about the Paths of the Dead—the cursed murders and traitors in the mountains—that wasn’t really Elrond who told Aragorn that. It was Elrond’s son, Elrohir, who passed on the message from Elrond to Aragorn that if the days grow short, remember the Paths of the Dead.

Then, once Aragorn saw the forces coming from the south in the palantír, he determined that time was indeed growing short. So, that’s why he decided to go to the Paths of the Dead.

Speaking of which, in the movie we see Aragorn head off into the mountains with Legolas and Gimli. There were more than that. Elrond’s sons, both Elrohir and Elladan, also went, as did some men of the Dúnedain.

Oh, and remember that bit of comedy when we see Legolas enter the mountain before Gimli? Then we hear him say something to the effect of, “An elf will go underground where a dwarf won’t? I’d never hear the end of it!”

That happened—well, not in those exact words—but Legolas did go into the haunted mountain before Gimli. However, in the book, Gimli isn’t the same comical relief that we see in the movie. So, when a brave warrior such as Gimli who had wandered countless deep places in Middle-earth unafraid was this time afraid to go into the mountain, that only heightened the amount of danger they were in.

Meanwhile, back in the movie, while Aragorn is heading off to the Paths of the Dead, the next morning, we see Merry as he prepares to join the army’s march. Théoden tells the hobbit that war is no place for him.

Merry is disappointed.

But then, a soldier picks him up and puts him on their horse. It’s Éowyn. She, too, was told to stay behind by Théoden, but she refused. Together, they join the army’s march toward Minas Tirith.

That happened, but with one major difference. In the movie, as soon as Éowyn picks up Merry, he says, “My lady.”

That’s a clear indicator that he knows who she is. But, he didn’t. Éowyn disguised herself as a man and called herself Dernhelm. Apparently that disguise worked well, because when she picked up Merry, he had no idea that Dernhelm was really Éowyn—that didn’t happen until later when she removed her helmet.

But that’s getting ahead of our story.

In the movie, we’re back in Minas Tirith as the siege of the city begins. Mordor’s forces are swarming the Pelennor fields and massive siege weapons are being pushed to the walls.

Inside the city, Denethor finds Faramir and believes him to be dead. And with Mordor’s troops surrounding the city, he also believes all hope is lost. He yells for soldiers to abandon the city—flee for your lives!

Then, just as he’s about to yell again, Gandalf’s staff bonks him on the head. Yeah, bonks. It’s a bit of a humorous moment, even if it is a bit on the violent side of humor.

That never happened. Gandalf never hit Denethor with his staff. He certainly never hit him multiple times like we see in the movie.

Although it is true that Denethor had lost hope, but there’s a good reason for this that the movie never shows.

And to be fair, it’s not like this is even in The Return of the King book. You have to read the Unfinished Tales—a series of stories written by J.R.R. Tolkien but never finished in his lifetime, so they were finished by his son, Christopher, and published after J.R.R. Tolkien passed away.

In the Unfinished Tales we learn more about a reason why Denethor might’ve been pessimistic about being able to defeat Mordor’s forces. And that is, simply, that for some time before Gandalf’s arrival in Minas Tirith, it is very possible that Denethor had secretly been using the palantír of Minas Tirith.

The reason I say “it might be possible” is because we don’t really know for sure. Gandalf suspected it to be true, and after his interactions with Denethor he believed it to be even more true.

There were eight palantíri that were made overall. One was the master with seven minor seeing stones used to communicate with key places throughout Middle-earth. So, the one Saruman used in Orthanc wasn’t the only one.

And if we look at the history of Middle-earth, it’s very possible. After all, the men of Gondor did have an ancient seeing stone and Minas Tirith had never been sacked throughout its history, so it wouldn’t have been taken.

So, even though we don’t know how much of an effect using the palantír could have on Denethor, we found out how Sauron was able to turn Saruman’s mind with the ancient seeing stones—and if that happened to the great wizard Saruman the White we can only imagine what it could do to a man like Denethor.

Although, as a quick side point to that, the stones were designed to be used by the heirs of Elendil and as Steward of Gondor, even though Denethor wasn’t a direct heir he had a legitimate use for the stones—in that way, some have suggested perhaps that’s why Denethor was able to use the stones to gather information without turning like Saruman did.

But, in the end, we don’t really know for sure.

Meanwhile, going back to the movie now, we see Gollum leading Frodo up the path to Cirith Ungol. If you recall, in a previous scene with Frodo and Sam, we saw Gollum get in between the two hobbits and convince Frodo that Sam was untrustworthy, so Frodo sent Sam away.

Now, Gollum leads Frodo into the tunnels at the top of the stairs. As they head inside, Gollum seems to disappear in the dark leaving Frodo wandering around on his own.

He stumbles and catches himself by putting his hand on the wall. Wait, the wall is sticky. What is this?

Gollum’s voice says, “You’ll see! Oh yes, you will see.”

Outside the tunnels, Sam is heading back home as he was told to do earlier. As he’s descending down the steep stairs, he trips and falls…only to notice the lembas bread. At this moment, Sam realizes that Gollum must’ve tricked Frodo on purpose. And he’s left his master with Gollum!

He starts the climb back up the stairs.

This will be a fast comparison because, well, as we already mentioned, this whole angle of Gollum pitting Frodo and Sam against each other and Frodo sending Sam away never happened.

What really happened is a little more simple. Gollum led Frodo and Sam up the stairs to Cirith Ungol and once they were inside the tunnels, Gollum disappeared. The movie never shows this, but Gollum actually went to go visit Shelob.

We don’t really know what sort of interaction the two had, but some have assumed perhaps Gollum making some sort of a peace offering so she wouldn’t attack him but rather only the two hobbits he brought to her lair.

Speaking of Shelob, if we head back to the movie, that’s when we finally get to learn who she is…if you recall “she” is mentioned at the end of The Two Towers and as we’ve learned so far, that’s who Gollum is leading Frodo and Sam to so “she” can take care of the hobbits and leave the ring for Gollum.

“She” turns out to be the character I just mentioned: Shelob, a massive spider who lives in Cirith Ungol. The mere fact that she’s able to survive living so close to Mordor littered with orcs, Uruk-hai, and all other sorts of evil creatures who all are happy to leave Shelob alone is, well, telling of her capabilities.

These tunnels belong to her. In fact, some reviewers have suggested perhaps it’s because of Shelob that Mordor’s forces never really bothered to guard these tunnels—they figure Shelob is doing that for them.

In the movie, Shelob chases Frodo through the tunnels. He manages to get away…this time. Once outside the tunnels, he continues making his way. The movie flashes briefly back to the fighting at Minas Tirith before going back to Frodo.

Then, just as he thinks he might be in the clear, Shelob stabs Frodo in the gut with the massive stinger in her abdomen. Before he falls back, Shelob is wrapping him up. Just then, Sam arrives and manages to stab Shelob, scaring her away.

But he thinks the motionless Frodo is dead. He’s too late.

There’s some elements of this that happened, but I feel it’s worth pointing something out that I didn’t really mention before…all of this in Shelob’s lair happened in the second book, not The Return of the King.

With that said, of course, Sam and Frodo were together this whole time as we already mentioned. And, of course, Shelob was a giant spider…so, she didn’t have a stinger in her abdomen like we see in the movie.

She did, however, manage to bite Frodo while they were in the tunnels. That’s another difference, because we see the sting happen when Frodo is outside the tunnels.

But, perhaps one reason they changed this in the movie was because the tunnels were really dark—pitch black. So dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. That wouldn’t really translate too well onto the big screen.

In the movie, after Frodo is stung by Shelob, we see Sam think that he’s already dead. So, he leaves Frodo’s body—not like he can carry Frodo on his own. But then, a couple orcs come by and as Sam hides just out of their view he hears them talking about how Frodo isn’t dead. He’s just stunned, rendered immobile by Shelob’s sting.

Even though there were some changes here, too—for example, Sam was really hiding behind a door, not a little rocky outcropping, but the basic gist is true. Sam thought Frodo was gone, but after Frodo’s body was discovered by a few orcs canvasing the area, Sam overheard their conversation where they said Frodo wasn’t dead at all.

Back in the movie and back in Minas Tirith, Denethor’s lack of hope in winning the battle has driven him to build a funeral pyre for himself and his son, Faramir. Of course, Faramir isn’t dead, but Denethor thinks he is.

Sounds familiar.

But, still, Pippin tries to plead with Denethor to let Faramir go, but he refuses. He releases Pippin from his service and tells the hobbit to go die in a way that seams suitable to him.

Pippin runs to get Gandalf who, hearing what Denethor is about to do, rides Shadowfax to the hall just as Denethor starts burning the pyre. Gandalf rears up Shadowfax, who knocks Denethor off the pyre. Then Pippin hops and manages to roll Faramir off before Shadowfax knocks Denethor back onto the pyre, burning him alive.

The last shot we see of Denethor is as he’s burning and running off the edge of Minas Tirith all the way to his death.

The basic gist of that happened, but there were a few key differences.

For one, it wasn’t Pippin who rolled Faramir away from the burning fire.

It was Gandalf who carried Faramir away from the fire…well, that’s not true. What I should have said was that Gandalf carried Faramir away from the pyre before the fire was even lit.

And while Denethor was on the funeral pyre when it started burning, he didn’t run out of the room, down the hall and off of the massive walls of Minas Tirith while he was on fire. It was really much more simple than that—Denethor never saw that Faramir was really alive before he died on the pyre.

Oh, and an important point the movie doesn’t show is that when Denethor died on the pyre he had something in his hands. It was the palantír. Remember when we mentioned earlier that Gandalf suspected Denethor used it?

Well, even though we’ll never have 100% proof, it gets pretty close because it was at this moment, just before Denethor died that he held up his palantír to Gandalf and exclaimed that he wasn’t blind.

In fact, in the movie this was the speech that Denethor gave to Gandalf when he first arrived in Minas Tirith…but when it happened here with palantír in hand, that leads heavily to the opinion that Denethor had been using it all along.

Gandalf tried to insist with him that, of course if he’d been receiving council from what he saw in the palantír—knowing Sauron had been using the seeing stones, too—then of course that council would lead Denethor to believe that all hope was futile.

As the story goes, from that moment on, if anyone tried to look into the palantír Denethor held until his dying moment, you’d only see two old hands burning in flame.

Back in the movie, we see the battle is raging on within Minas Tirith. Orcs are crawling along the streets, forcing the defenders to upper levels of the city.

Then, all of a sudden, we hear a horn sounding.

Weary soldiers look to the west to see that Rohan has arrived! And have they ever—the Rohirrim make an impressive site as they come into view.

After a rousing speech by Théoden, they charge into the orcs. For the first time since Mordor’s forces have arrived, there’s hope! Real hope!

While it is true the Rohirrim arrived at Minas Tirith, there’s one key thing to point out here…the orcs never made it into Minas Tirith itself.

Remember earlier when I mentioned there were walls around the Pelennor fields? Those were the walls that Mordor’s force managed to break through. So, the fighting was happening in the fields all this time.

Another major difference was in the movie when we see Gandalf fighting alongside the soldiers—that never happened. He was dealing with stuff in the city, like Denethor’s trying to burn Faramir alive, and wasn’t in the fields fighting.

For a bit of context, Minas Tirith was built in seven different levels on the side of a hill. So, each level of the city was walled all the way up to the citadel at the top level.

The orcs had just managed to fight their way to the walls at the first level of the city right about the time when the Rohirrim arrived.

But, I guess, in the end that’s not a big deal since we see the battle get taken to the fields again once the Rohirrim arrive and the orcs turn to face their new foe.

Oh, and there was a major change in the movie here. It’s not in the theatrical version, but in the extended edition we see a confrontation between the Witch-king and Gandalf. In the movie’s version, the Witch-king manages to destroy Gandalf’s staff before being distracted by the horns of Rohan.

Yes, there really was a confrontation between the Witch-king and Gandalf, but Gandalf’s staff was never destroyed. The horns of Rohan did make the Witch-king turn away before we ever found out how that confrontation resulted.

Some have speculated that because the movie shows the Witch-king destroying Gandalf’s staff that, perhaps, the Witch-king would win. After all, the prophecy surrounding the Witch-king foretold that no man could kill him.

But then, Gandalf was no mere man. Was he even human? Some have suggested that, as a wizard, Gandalf wasn’t of the race of men.

Back in the movie, we’re at the massive Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Although the movie doesn’t mention it, we know from history that this battle is the greatest battle of the Third Age.

It’s an amazing fight to behold.

According to the movie, soon after being charged with hope on the arrival of the Rohirrim, Mordor’s forces get a reinforcement of their own—and that hope is dimmed. These new forces arrive with massive elephants that sweep the Rohirrim’s horses as if they’re flies from the windowsill.

These elephants, called the mûmakil, did arrive, along with their riders, the forces of Harad. Although it’s probably worth pointing out they didn’t arrive so soon after the Rohirrim like we see in the movie.

In fact, they didn’t arrive until after Théoden died—but that’s getting a bit ahead of our story.

Speaking of that event, going back to the movie, as the battle rages on, we see another major plot point. The Witch-king sees Théoden and lands on him, killing Théoden’s horse. The horse lands on Théoden, pinning him to the ground.

As the Witch-king lands, Éowyn blocks his path to finish off Théoden. But she’s wearing full armor, including a helmet. Éowyn hacks at the Witch-king’s beast, taking off its neck with two strokes.

On his own now, the Witch-king mocks the soldier in front of him, “No man can kill me.”

Then he grabs her neck before Merry sneaks up and stabs the Witch-king from behind.

Distracted for a moment, Éowyn takes off her helmet revealing who she is, “I am no man.”

Then, she thrusts her sword into the Witch-king’s face, killing him. Afterward, she tends to Théoden and the two talk for a moment before he dies.

The end result of that is true, but that’s not exactly how it happened.

For example, as soon as Éowyn stood between the Witch-king and Théoden, that’s when the Witch-king mocked the soldier in front of him by saying, “No man can kill me.”

And that’s the moment when Éowyn revealed who she was. As we learned earlier, Éowyn had gone into battle pretending to be a man named Dernhelm. Even Merry, who had been riding with her all this time thought he was riding with a soldier named Dernhelm—so this reveal was a shock to him, too.

After this is when Éowyn killed the Witch-king’s beast. It didn’t take multiple strokes, though. Only one.

After this, Merry did strike at the back of the Witch-king’s leg. That distracts him enough to give Éowyn the moment to thrust her sword into the Witch-king. That both killed him, but also shattered Éowyn’s sword. The force of the Witch-king’s demise also caused Éowyn to fall to the ground motionless.

So, probably the biggest change here is that Théoden never talked with Éowyn after the Witch-king’s death. In fact, Théoden never even knew that Éowyn was lying near him on the battlefield when he died. It was Merry who talked with Théoden in the moments before the king’s death.

Going back to the movie, we heard about the mûmakil before. In the movie, we see the Rohirrim attacking the mûmakil as soon as they enter the battlefield.

However, despite what we saw in the movie, we don’t really know how the mûmakil were destroyed. We don’t even know if they were—we only know that the Rohirrim didn’t attack them because their horses were afraid of the massive elephants.

But that leads us to the next bit of the movie, because it’s how we see the massive Battle of the Pelennor Fields come to a close.

Although, I should say that technically in the movie the beginning of the end happens while it cuts back and forth to Éowyn’s killing the Witch-king.

That happens when the ships arrive on the river near Osgiliath.

The orcs are happy. One of them calls out, “There’s plenty of knife-work to do here!”

Their smiles stop when they see three figures jump off the ship. It’s Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas.

Uh, those aren’t the reinforcements the orcs expected.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas start to march toward the horde of orcs looking on. At first, the orcs appear ready to challenge the three. But then, all of a sudden we see the green ghostly figures following.

As the heir to the throne of Gondor, Aragorn has gotten the aid of the dead army in the mountains!

They can’t be killed because, well, they’re already dead…but they can kill, and they start sweeping the battlefield, destroying Mordor’s forces.

That’s not what happened.

Oh, and the scene where we see Éomer coming across his father, Théoden, Éowyn, and Merry after the battle is over didn’t happen, either.

By that, what I mean is that the ghost army never arrived that day. And Éomer came across Théoden, Éowyn, and Merry while the battle was still raging.

If you remember, after Éowyn killed the Witch-king, her injuries cast her into something like a coma where she did not move. So, when Éomer found them on the battlefield, he thought they were both dead—both Théoden and Éowyn.

In anger and sadness, Éomer commanded some of his knights to carry his father’s body away from the battlefield with the honors of a fallen king. They did so, also taking Éowyn’s body back to Minas Tirith. Merry walked alongside the soldiers. So grieved was he that he paid no mind to the battle around him.

But, Éomer didn’t travel with his fallen father. Now the King of Rohan, Éomer decided to ride off to his own death in an honorable way. He and the rest of his knights rode off, slaying foes as they went.

It was around this time that the call went up of the arrival of ships on the river. The Corsairs of Umbar!

For the Rohirrim, the sight of even more reinforcements for Mordor’s forces darkened their spirits. Surely, this was the beginning of the end.

And yes, it was, but not in how they thought.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas were on the ship like we saw in the movie. Of course, as we learned earlier, those three weren’t the only to travel to the Paths of the Dead. Elrohir, Elladan, and Halbarad were with them, as well as other men of the Dúnedain.

And here they were again.

They didn’t arrive with an army of ghosts like we see in the movie, but they did have an army with them. It was a massive group of soldiers who had been defending Gondor from the south.

So, this begs the question—what then of the ghost army? Why did Aragorn even go to the Paths of the Dead? After all, we learned earlier that they did go there.

Well, there was a ghost army. And Aragorn did lead them out of the Paths of the Dead. They just didn’t come to Minas Tirith. Instead, he went to Gondor in the south and freed the cities that were under siege from the forces of Mordor.

Once Gondor’s southern regions were free, Aragorn released the ghost army of their curse and then those forces were free to travel up to Minas Tirith to join the fight there.

They’d also already taken care of the reinforcements that Sauron was trying to sneak up to Minas Tirith as a deathblow to the battle.

Instead, it was a deathblow on the other side.

There was plenty of hard fighting left to be done, but this was the beginning of the end for the soldiers of Mordor.

Oh, and that whole thing where Gimli and Legolas were counting how many enemies they killed? That didn’t happen. It did happen when they were fighting at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, but not here during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Back in the movie, after Frodo has been taken by orcs, they fight over his mithril shirt. In doing so, they seem to disregard Frodo and that gives Sam the chance to free him.

For the most part, this is basically what happened. There were some changes, of course.

For one, while Sam was rescuing Frodo he didn’t kill multiple orcs like we see in the movie. Although he did scare one off and cut off another’s arm, which caused the orc to fall to his death.

Most of the orc killing happened by other orcs who were fighting over Frodo’s mithril armor.

Sam, on the other hand, was focused on finding Frodo. When he finally managed to find his friend, their collective focus was getting out of that wretched place.

Although the movie is correct in showing that Sam took the Ring off Frodo when he thought his friend was dead. So, after Sam realized Frodo wasn’t dead and rescued him, he then gave the Ring back to Frodo.

It’s also worth pointing out that it was here that Sam offered to share the load of the Ring with Frodo. With Mount Doom nearby, the load would only get more difficult and Frodo had been carrying it all this way.

Frodo snatched the Ring from Sam, and for a moment Frodo’s expression was one of panic and fear. From Frodo’s point of view, Sam had looked almost like an orc trying to take his Ring…but as soon as Frodo had the Ring once again, he apologized to Sam.

But, he was resolved to carry it until the very end.

Back in the movie, and unbeknownst to Frodo and Sam, after defeating Mordor’s armies at Minas Tirith, Aragorn proposes they attack Mordor itself. The plan is to draw out the armies of Mordor still behind the Black Gates and away from the hobbits trying to make their way to Mount Doom.

And, for the most part, it seems to work. Frodo and Sam are able to walk unnoticed across the now-deserted plains between Cirith Ungol and Mount Doom.

This happened, although it was Gandalf who had the idea to attack the Black Gates as a diversion and not Aragorn.

And I should probably point out there’s no way tens of thousands of orcs could empty out the plains of Mordor as quickly as the movie makes it seem.

But, I guess I understand why they made this happen a lot faster in the movie than it actually did…in the interest of time.

Speaking of the movie, just as we see Sam and Frodo climbing Mount Doom, Gollum arrives and starts fighting the hobbits.

Sam and Gollum continue fighting while Frodo heads into Mount Doom to get rid of the Ring.

Meanwhile, we see the Nazgûl fly out to meet the battle already raging outside the Black Gates. The camera settles on Gandalf for a moment and we see a moth—the same moth we saw when Gandalf was on top of Orthanc at Isengard in The Two Towers.

Then we hear Pippin, “The eagles are coming!”

As cool as the aerial fight scene is between the giant eagles and the Nazgûl, it didn’t really happen. Oh, and it was Gandalf who shouted the eagles were coming.

But they never engaged the Nazgûl. Instead, the Nazgûl turned and fled back into Mordor because they had just been summoned by their lord Sauron.

Heading back to the movie, we’re back in Mount Doom when we see why the Nazgûl were recalled. Just as Frodo is about to drop the Ring in the lava flowing in the heart of the mountain, he finally succumbs to its power and puts it on. In shock, we see Sauron’s eye look at the Crack of Mount Doom—the entry to the center of Mount Doom’s volcanic insides.

That’s why the Nazgûl flew back into Mordor as the eagles were arriving.

Back in the movie, the Ring is finally destroyed when Gollum attacks the invisible Frodo inside Mount Doom. Remember, Frodo is wearing the Ring, that’s why he’s invisible.

Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger with the Ring on it. In the ensuing struggle, both Frodo and Gollum fall over the edge. Frodo manages to grab onto a ledge, but Gollum and the Ring fall into the lava below.

So ends Gollum along with the Ring, which sinks into the lava and is destroyed. Outside, we see the Eye of Sauron scream as his tower crumbles.

The end result of that happened, but there’s more to the story.

For one, we haven’t talked about this at all, but the Eye of Sauron wasn’t his only form. In fact, Gollum once described Sauron as having the form of a man with four fingers. There are references to the Eye of Sauron, so that’s where we get the visual we see in the movie, but that certainly wasn’t his only form.

As for the demise of the Ring, it is true that Frodo and Gollum struggled over it. During the fight, Gollum bit off the finger Frodo had put the Ring on—his third finger of his right hand, by the way, not the first finger of his left hand like the movie shows.

After this, Gollum danced around with the Ring and Frodo’s finger…and it was while he was dancing that he lost his balance and fell into the heart of Mount Doom, destroying both himself and the Ring.

It wasn’t Frodo’s fault because there was no second struggle like we see in the movie. Frodo didn’t almost fall over the edge, either, like we see in the movie. It was a little more simple than that.

As a little side note, in the movie we see after the Ring is destroyed there was a massive chasm that sinks beneath Mordor’s forces and swallows them into the earth.

That didn’t really happen, though. Instead, it was a little more simple.

Outside, once the Ring was destroyed, the towers in Mordor crumbled, the Black Gate was cast to ruin and there was a massive earthquake. This caused the rest of the orcs to flee.

Seeing this, Gandalf declared the end of Sauron is here! The quest-bearer has finished his quest.

Going back to the movie, we see Frodo and Sam surrounded by a collapsing and exploding Mount Doom. They run for their lives as far as they can until, surrounded by lava and exhausted, they realize this is where their part of the story ends.

They’ve done what they set out to do. It’s over. Time passes. The hobbits have passed out on a rock surrounded by a sea of molten rock. In the distance, we see the eagles come and bear the hobbits away to safety.

That happened, but not quite in the way we see in the movie.

You see, after the eagles arrived to help with the battle at the Black Gates, it was Gandalf who asked the eagles for one last favor at the end of that fight.

Unlike what we see in the movie, though, Gandalf rode the chief of the eagles, named Gwaihir. Two other eagles went with them as they flew over Mount Doom and the molten rock being exploded below.

And so, with Gwaihir’s great eyesight, he saw the two hobbits on a lonely pile of ash that was surrounded by molten rock. They were stuck, just like we see in the movie. So, the three eagles rescued the two hobbits from Mount Doom.

Going back to the movie, things end as we learn what happens to our main characters.

Let’s start with Aragorn. According to the movie, Gandalf crowns Aragorn the King of the West. He marries Arwen and just as Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are about to bow to the new king, Aragorn stops them.

“You bow to no one,” he says. Instead, everyone bows to the four hobbits who saved the world. Everyone seems happy.

As you can probably guess by now, the overall gist of this happened but there’s more to the story.

For one, everyone didn’t bow to the four hobbits—even if they did deserve it.

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t honored.

It was Faramir who retrieved the ancient crown from the tomb of the last king, Eärnur.

It was time for a new king, Aragorn.

Before he would be crowned, though, Aragorn asked that the Ring-bearer would deliver the crown to him. This was in recognition of Frodo’s deeds that made all of this possible. He also requested that Mithrandir would, if he felt Aragorn worthy, be the one to place the crown upon his head. As Aragorn put it, this whole doing was Mithrandir’s and so it was his victory.

If you remember, Mithrandir is what they called Gandalf in Gondor. And, that’s how it happened.

After this, trumpets blew and everyone celebrated the new King Elessar—another name for Aragorn. From that day forward, King Elessar’s reign saw Minas Tirith rise to new heights of glory like it had never before seen.

Oh, and yes, Aragorn did marry Arwen. For her part, she gave up an immortal life to be with the man she loved. The movie doesn’t mention this, and to be honest the book doesn’t either, but we know from J.R.R. Tolkien’s other writings that Aragorn went on to live 210 years and ruled for 122 years as king.

He died in the year 120 of the Fourth Age. Arwen died one year later.

As a little side note, remember earlier when Éowyn had a crush on Aragorn? Well, as he and the rest of the Fellowship were off fighting in Mordor, Éowyn was recovering from when she fell into a coma after killing the Witch-king while Faramir was also recovering from his injuries.

So, while the two were in Minas Tirith, Éowyn and Faramir talked a lot. This was the budding of what would become a new love between the two.

Going back to the movie, next we see the hobbits returning home to the Shire. Just like he said he’d do, Samwise marries the woman he loved, Rosie Cotton.

For his part, Frodo adds his tale to the book that Bilbo wrote. So, now it’s more than There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale but it also has The Lord of the Rings.

That’s not how it happened at all.

I’ll start with the latter part because that’s the closest to what we see in the movie. By that, I’m referring to the title page of the book that Bilbo started and Frodo finished.

It was actually a lot messier than that.

Bilbo himself had a number of titles for his book—My Diary, My Unexpected Journey, and so on before he settled on a name. Each of these were scrawled on the title page and crossed out before the final one, There and Back Again.

As for Frodo’s part, he didn’t call it just The Lord of the Rings, but rather titled it, The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King.

That brings us to the hobbits returning to the Shire. We see this happen in the movie and, when they get there, we see that life in the Shire is as it always was. It’s almost as if they never even noticed the great war in the east.

Well, they might not have, but the movie never shows that the war was brought to them. This was a major change in the movie, actually.

Do you remember when I mentioned that Saruman didn’t die in his tower at Isengard? At that time, I also mentioned that he did eventually die—just not then and not there.

Well, this is where that comes back into the picture.

It started when Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo were nearly home. They’re nearly arrested for making trouble at night near the Brandywine Bridge—which was been barred from entry at night. Then, when they’re in Bywater a band of ruffians attacked the four hobbits. They must’ve assumed the hobbits would be unarmed.

Not these hobbits.

The four scare off the ruffians. But, the troubles continue. More ruffians try to capture farmer Cotton, and the hobbits have to rescue him. Pippin goes off to get some help from his kinsmen, and just in time, too, because a massive group of ruffians come to Bywater to attack.

And that’s how what we now know of the Battle of Bywater happened—the final official battle in the War of the Ring.

After the Battle of Bywater, a new development surprised the hobbits. Who was behind all these ruffians in the Shire?

They come to find out the boss was someone called Sharkey. 

You see, while the Fellowship was making their way to Mordor and defeating Sauron, Saruman had escaped the tower at Isengard. He made his way to the Shire and started going by the name Sharkey.

Or, I guess, I should correct that by saying that’s what people called him. Saruman said that’s what his followers called him in Isengard, so apparently that name followed him to the Shire.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Saruman took up residence at Bag End—where Bilbo and then Frodo used to live—along with his servant, Grima Wormtongue.

But, alas, I mentioned a while ago that it was indeed Grima Wormtongue who killed Saruman. And it was.

When the hobbits confronted Saruman in the Shire, Saruman didn’t try to kill them. We don’t really know why, although some have speculated it might’ve been a mixture of Saruman’s diminished powers as well as the destruction of the Ring.

Even though he admitted to hating Frodo for all the things he’d done, he said he was going to disappear and never trouble them again.

Then, as he was leaving, Frodo called out to Wormtongue.

“You don’t have to go with him,” Frodo said.

For a moment, Wormtongue hesitated. Frodo insisted, saying that he knows Wormtongue has done no harm—the evil was all Saruman’s doing.

To this, Saruman laughed. Then he recounted the tale of how Wormtongue killed Lotho Sackville-Baggins. As Saruman told the story, Wormtongue’s face turned red. He got angry, insisting that Saruman had made him kill Lotho!

Saruman just chuckled, “You’ll do what your boss says. And right now, your boss is telling you to follow along.”

To add insult to injury, Saruman followed this up by kicking Wormtongue in the face. This enraged Wormtongue so much that he jumped on Saruman’s back and slit his throat with a knife. At that exact moment, Pippin, Merry, and Sam—who had had their weapons ready this entire time—let loose arrows and killed Wormtongue.

It all happened so fast that Frodo didn’t have the chance to say anything before the two were dead.

So, that is how Saruman’s demise truly came to be.

Going back to the movie, there’s one last surprise that awaits the hobbits. Well, not all of them. As the elves are in the Grey Havens leaving Middle-earth, Frodo shocks Pippin, Merry, and Sam by announcing that he’s going to join Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel as they depart Middle-earth.

It’s a sad ending—a bittersweet one.

When Frodo returned home to the Shire from the war…he realized the home he craved for so long isn’t the same home as he thought it was.

So, he decides to leave Middle-earth.

That happened, but not quite in the way the movie shows.

You see, it wasn’t really a surprise to everyone. For one, Sam knew that Frodo was leaving Middle-earth. As for Merry and Pippin, we see them traveling with everyone else to the Grey Havens, but that didn’t happen.

They were there, though. They got there just before Frodo left to tell their friend one last goodbye.

Oh, and although Bilbo was there—he wasn’t the old, frail hobbit we see in the movie. Well, he was old…at least in human terms. Hah! But not frail. He rode his own pony to the Grey Havens and, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be, well, normal.

As a side note, the movie never mentions this, but some have suggested that in leaving Middle-earth, Bilbo and Frodo would live forever. The idea behind this is that in the land the elves come from, there is no death. After all, elves are immortal and their home is called the Undying Lands.

Elves don’t usually let anyone else go to and from their homeland, but letting Bilbo and Frodo go home with them perhaps it was more than just letting them live out the rest of their days in the land of the elves—but it was to prolong their lives to give them immortality.

At least, that’s one version of the story.

Oh, and we don’t see this in the movie at all, but as their ship sailed into the distance, Frodo held up the phial of Galadriel that had brought him light in dark places. The three hobbits watched the light until it disappeared over the horizon.

Speaking of the movie, heading back there, the final scene we see is of Sam. Frodo’s voiceover provides the audio as we see Sam walking the path to Bag End. A little girl rushes out to greet him, followed by Rosie who is holding a little boy.

Rosie and Sam kiss before Sam turns and says, “I’m back.”

Then, the four happy hobbits head inside and close the door.

And that is a fairly accurate version of how our story today comes to a close.

After leaving the Grey Havens and saying goodbye to Frodo, the three hobbits returned to the Shire.

For a bit of geographical context, the Grey Havens are to the west of the Shire. It’s roughly the same distance from Hobbiton as Weathertop is…except Weathertop is to the east while the Grey Havens are to the west.

The journey back to the Shire was a quiet one. Pippin, Merry, and Sam didn’t say anything to each other the entire way. No doubt they had a lot on their minds.

When they finally reached the East Road, they split up. Pippin and Merry returned home to Buckland while Sam went to his home and Frodo’s former home, Bag End.

The sun was setting by the time Sam arrived home. He was cheered by the happy glow of a light from inside Bag End. He wasn’t greeted by a child outside his home. In fact, Sam and Rosie didn’t have two kids like we see in the movie. Just one, a little girl named Elanor.

So, it wasn’t his children who greeted him when he arrived home that evening, but rather the smell of the evening meal. Heading inside, Sam sat in his chair at the dinner table and Rosie put Elanor on his lap.

And that’s when, just like the movie shows, Samwise took a deep breath and spoke those final words: “Well, I’m back.”

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