Editor’s note:This post references the extended version of The Return of the King, which the author believes to be the one version to rule them all.
After intense internal dialogues that would rival those held by Gollum, I can confidently say that my favorite scene across all of Peter Jackson’s epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy is from the final installment, The Return of the King.
This would be the final battle scene, which takes place at the Black Gate, the stronghold of the evil Dark Lord Sauron. This conflict is admittedly not as exciting as the Battle of Minas Tirith, with its fellbeast-riding Witch-king, warriors astride oliphaunts, and ghost army. And it’s certainly bleak, with our heroes vastly outnumbered seemingly destined to die. But throughout these movies, the foolish and weak things of Middle-earth have been used to shame the strong. If we take a Smaug’s-eye view not only of the struggle at the Black Gate, but that of two small Hobbits occurring simultaneously on Mount Doom, we’ll see a picture of God’s sovereignty and the importance of trusting in him, even if we can’t see him working.
At the gate, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the newly crowned King of Gondor, stands alongside the trusted friends of his fellowship: Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). They approach Sauron’s forces in order to distract his attention from Mount Doom, where Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) plan to throw Sauron’s One Ring into the fire, draining him of his power.
However, like the stab of the Morgul-knife, a painful realization comes upon the fellowship, delivered courtesy of the Mouth of Sauron (Bruce Spence). The Mouth throws Frodo’s cloak of armor before them, sneering, “Know that he suffered greatly at the hand of his host. Who would have thought one so small could endure so much pain?”
Suddenly, the valiant reason for war is no more. With Frodo and Sam dead and the Ring most likely back in Sauron’s hands, the most reasonable option would be to retreat. Yet instead, Aragorn angrily beheads the Mouth and rasps, “I do not believe . . . I will not.” As if on cue, the Black Gate opens to reveal entire legions of bloodthirsty Orcs, who quickly surround the fellowship. At this point, retreat seems not only wise but imperative. But Aragorn, refusing to give up hope in his friends, draws his sword, whispers “For Frodo,” and charges into battle. The rest of his company follow suit, almost certainly running to their deaths.
TC Podcast: Tolkien Theology
Thankfully the viewer is given another perspective, one that mirrors the omniscience of God. Interspersed between shots of the final battle, we see images of Frodo and Sam, still alive and trudging up Mount Doom to destroy the Ring. It is a beautiful parallel sequence, featuring two groups who don’t know if the other is alive, yet still striving towards a common purpose. Whenever I watch this sequence, I want to leap through the screen to tell Aragorn’s company that their fight is not in vain and to tell Frodo and Sam to keep running the race because their friends are with them.
In the Christian walk, our faith can often seem weak and foolish. When we are in the trenches of everyday life, we may feel ineffective. Sometimes, God seems absent. But we don’t always understand how he is at work. Why walk around an enemy city for six days, chanting praises instead of sieging? Why promise someone that their offspring will outnumber the stars, then ask him to kill his only son? Why have a savior come out of Nazareth? But in all these things, God was working. Even when sin and death seem to have the last word, God works—in ways seen and unseen—toward resurrection. When you find yourself at your own Black Gate, remember that the “foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”