Person standing in front of fire

Saruman`s Last Stand

Saruman has turned sour. All that he once was, has been taken over by the influence of Sauron. Even now, in his darkest hour, he rejects any kind of sympathy from Gandalf. He cannot even acknowledge it. The poison that has protruded his heart has left no place for any warm feelings. He cannot give or receive them anymore. He cannot even manipulate his former subjects through phony benevolence.

Fiery attack of hate

Gandalf: “No. Come down, Saruman and your life will be spared.” 

Saruman: “Save your pity and your mercy. I have no use for it!”

A ball of fire engulfs Gandalf in flame. The rest of his company cannot even help him for the light blinds them. However, Gandalf is unfazed by this attempt. After having faced fire, water and death, nothing can break him. To Saruman`s horror, his failed attempt catches him by surprise. He must have supposed he was still the most powerful of their order. 

Enjoy this scene in the extended edition of The Return of the King. The behind-the-scenes documentaries show why this particular scene was left out of the theatrical version of the film.

Disarming Saruman

Saruman, your staff is broken.

Gandalf

In order to assure no harm came to the rest of his company, Gandalf breaks Saruman`s staff, leaving him defenseless and in an even more enraged mood than he had been until now. Gandalf took everything from him. Saruman is not even able to save face much less defend himself against anything the company may impose on him. 

Forgiving Gríma

Gríma appears suddenly. Knowing he wronged his King, he lurks from behind Saruman`s back, not sure if his presence is welcomed or even tolerated at this point.

Grima, you need not follow him. You were not always as you are now. You were once a man of Rohan. Come down.

Théoden

To our surprise and delight, Théoden addresses Gríma appealing to his life before his alliance with Saruman. He too went down a crooked path showered with promises that never materialized. He too has to feel betrayed by Saruman. However, Gríma doesn`t have it in himself to deny his servitude. He is weak. If he had a strength of character he would have never entertained the notion of going against his King for hollow promises. 

Gríma is humbled by Théoden`s words. His face shows apology and disgust with himself. There is also relief and delight that the person he helped to undermine is now showing him compassion and understanding. To acknowledge one`s mistakes and be given forgiveness without even asking for it, is the greatest gift one man could be given.

For Théoden to welcome him back as a Man of Rohan awakes a sense of belonging in Gríma`s poisoned heart. Accepting Saruman`s deal meant consciously giving up any right to his homeland. As much as he “ruled” beside King Théoden, he never felt more isolated. His treachery and malice left him running back to his employer, which he eventually did.

As it was his habit, he provided Saruman with useful information about Théoden`s plans, thinking nothing of it. However, as it came for Saruman`s army to leave Isengard, even Gríma`s eyes shed a tear on seeing what he had contributed. 

Théoden`s empathy

By trying to convince Gríma to join him, Théoden shows another part of his character. After Gandalf broke Saruman`s spell, Théoden`s first instinct was to harm Gríma, as he attacked him with his sword. If it weren`t for Aragorn hindering him, Théoden would have had his way. He could have chosen to remain in that state of mind in this current situation, but he decided otherwise. His humanity and objectivity shine through.

For all the bad Gríma brought upon him, Theóden may have realized that they both share a common problem, the wizard standing between them. 

If Saruman hadn`t employed Gríma to turn Théoden against his own people and succumb to the spell, the fate, and indeed Théoden`s fate would have been different. Their common denominator is to blame. Now that Théoden has an objective grasp on the situation, and knowing Gríma could have something else than hate in his heart, he shows him compassion and acceptance. 

Poisonous words

A Man of Rohan? What is the house of Rohan but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek and their brats roll on the floor with the dogs?

Saruman

Backed into a corner, Saruman comes out fighting with the only tools he has left at his disposal, his poisonous words. There is nothing anyone in the company said that made Saruman now attack them so viciously. He just did it to hurt them. That is all that is left for him to do in his anger and defeat.

Adding insult to injury

The victory at Helm`s Deep does not belong to you, Théoden Horse-master. You are a lesser son of greater sires.

Saruman

Another punch in the gut. Another truth laid out. What Théoden had feared and believed all this time, has now been told not only to his face but in front of his company as well. The expression of sadness and defeat on his face proves to everyone that this is what he thinks of himself too.

There isn`t a way Théoden could hide his feelings, because all of his decisions and all the subsequent actions had been driven by this very thought: being unworthy of the throne of Rohan, being weak and afraid. 

The Battle of Helm`s Deep, although won, cannot be accredited to Théoden, as much as his heart desired it. Were it for him, the Uruk-hai would have entered the Hornburg and slaughtered every man, woman, and child. Théoden is ashamed of this truth, of his weakness and surrender at the moment his people needed him the most.

Abuse

Théoden: “Gríma, come down. Be free of him.”

Saruman: “Free? He will never be free.”

Gríma: “No.”Saruman: “Get down, cur!”

Théoden pleads with Gríma to save himself from Saruman. At this point, Gríma clumsily bows thereby accepting Théoden`s offer and wanting to descend the tower to join his King. As Saruman laughingly denies Gríma ever being free, a sense of spite and rebelliousness awakens in him. Now that he has gotten a second chance with his own people, he will not let this defeated wizard deny him the chance of reuniting with them. 

However defeated and backed into a corner Saruman might be, he still uses every insult in his arsenal to express his disgust and true feelings for his servant. To call Gríma a cur brings Gríma`s anger to a boil. He had been verbally abused by Saruman since his return to Orthanc.

Now, it has turned physical, as Saruman slaps Gríma into submission and Gríma hits the floor. He stayed with Saruman because there wasn`t anywhere else he could go. As Gandalf lifted the spell from Théoden, Gríma was shunned from Edoras. Now though there is an option, a viable option for him. For Saruman to deny him this one chance is unacceptable. 

The breaking point

Gandalf: “Saruman! You were deep in the enemy`s counsel. Tell us what you know.”

Saruman: “You withdraw your guard, and I will tell you where your doom will be decided. I will not be held prisoner here.” 

While Gandalf and Saruman try to negotiate a more peaceful descent which would benefit both parties, Gríma`s rage over Saruman’s treatment of him reaches its final stage. He picks himself off the floor unveiling a knife from his coat. In a blind rage, and with every reason, he stabs Saruman in the back.

This is the last thing Gandalf wanted to happen. Now they are left with no information at all. Legolas, in a rightful countermove, wanting to stop the onslaught, shoots his arrow into Gríma`s heart. Gríma falls to the floor in pain and agony and remains there until his last breath.

Industrial tool
Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

An ending

Saruman falls onto a spiked wheel, one of his own making. He ended up dying on his own industrialized machinery. A very appropriate metaphor.

Gandalf remains in his problem-solving mode giving instructions to his company on how to proceed. Every free kingdom of Middle-Earth needs to be informed of the darkness that is heading their way.

The filth of Saruman is washing away. Trees will come back to live here. Young trees. Wild trees.

Treebeard

Curiosity

As the wheel spins, the Palantír, Saruman most eagerly looked into only moments, earlier falls out of his sleeve and into the water.

Of all the members of the company, Pippin is the one to recover it. He looks at it for one brief moment, but a moment long enough for him to find this weird glass ball amazing. Without blinking he stares at it. His companions snap him out of it. 

Aragorn: “Pippin!”

Treebeard: “Bless my bark!”

Gandalf: “Peregrin Took! I`ll take that, my lad. Quickly now.”

Although Pippin reluctantly gives the Palantir to Gandalf, the curiosity that has been stirred within him only magnifies with the impossibility of seeing it again. His look follows Gandalf with a bit of resentment. There is something in that Palantír that tickles his imagination, and we can sense that this is not the last time he will be looking into it. 

We continue to follow in the footsteps of the company as they return to Edoras and the Golden Hall of Meduseld. 

Read about it in my next post.

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