The Orcs have taken the city of Minas Tirith, almost all seven levels. The fields of Pelennor are scattered with Rohan casualties as well as that of the enemy. Their struggle continues. This is, however, small comfort for the remaining soldiers of the Citadel. They stand behind the doors of the penultimate level, their spears askew towards the entrance.
The doors are blocked with only a piece of wood. On the other side a troll, with an army of Mordor Orcs behind him, hammers at the door. The sensation of fright this scene induces is not unlike that of Grond, only smaller in scale. Nevertheless, the few soldiers left to defend the White City have nowhere to run.
Gandalf and Pippin in wait
I didn’t think it would end this way.Pippin
And there we have it, the end, or so Pippin thinks. And with good reason. There is logically no way out of this situation. They know they cannot overpower the enemy, not even with the White Wizard as their aid. There is nothing more to do, but to wait for death. And somehow, Pippin seems disappointed by its ending.
In his good spirits and wholesome nature, Pippin probably figured or still hoped that it would all turn out for the good before the war began. The soldiers would rally, the Lord and Steward might change his mind, the Rohirrim would overtake the Orcs, something that would bring them victory and put an end to this gruesome war. He may also have thought that he would come to death in his old age, in the Shire, after having enjoyed good food and drink.
On the other hand, he could also have thought about himself ending in a different manner, one of a warrior. Right now, he is hidden upon a porch, behind a banister, out of view from the onslaught that is about to breach the doors. He cowards “safely” near Gandalf. He may have thought he would be as brave as his friends and actively participate in the battle instead of waiting for the end.
However, to face almost certain death with only minutes to spare to accept that fact is a terrifying thought all on its own. He is afraid of death, as most of us are. Therefore, for him to look at Gandalf with sorrow in his eyes is completely understandable. His eyes have lost their spark, his journey seems to be coming to an end, and the inevitability of death is hammering at the only protection he now has. It is a very sad moment for Pippin, one that gives his character gravitas.
He might at some time or another have been foolish, thinking solely of the next mess he could get himself into. Through all that he has seen and experienced on his journey, his character has grown and matured in a very visual and palpable way. If he were as skittish as he was at the beginning of the quest, he would have been shaking in a panic trying to avoid this type of situation at all costs. Now, he stands with the army of Gondor, or what is left of it. Although afraid of what is to come, he is courageous in spite of it.
End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take. The gray rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it.Gandalf
As Gandalf explains the afterlife, Pippin looks at him with wonder, like a child whom one would tell a tale before bed-time. He is so immersed in Gandalf’s story, that all his gloomy outlooks seem to dissipate. He becomes intrigued and questions Gandalf further.
Gandalf, on the other hand, begins by telling the story with comfort in mind. However, as he slowly drifts into the description of the images in his head, his eyes seem to emulate what his mind is seeing as if he were seeing it right before him. He caught himself daydreaming about what comes after this.
A calming effect
Pippin: “What, Gandalf? See what?”
Gandalf: “White shores. And beyond, the far green country, under a swift sunrise.”
Pippin: “Well, that isn’t so bad.”
Gandalf: “No. No, it isn’t.”
What this exchange of images does is generate a calming effect. Gandalf provides Pippin with insight that only he can attest to, thereby relieving some of the fear of dying that Pippin feels.
To fear death is a natural response of any human being. Whatever the situation that brought us face-to-face with death, our natural survival instincts take over to save our lives. We may even accept the oncoming death with a welcoming smile, but our primal instincts would push us until our last breath. It is how we are designed. And it is how we survived as a species.
However, when faced with a situation like this one, to believe that there is something else besides this suffering offers us comfort and makes the transition from life to death bearable.
This conversation gives them both confidence and self-assurance as a Troll pounds on the doors. They exchange a look of preparedness, after which Pippin closes his eyes shut.
Attack of the beast
On the fields, Théoden gathers his remaining soldiers around him. They need to regroup if they want to try another strategic attack.
Rally to me! To me!Théoden
Théoden turns and sees a Nazgûl flying towards him. The look on his face is that of “oh, come on”. The little hope he had of rallying his men and leading the charge once more, seeing this beast immediately lowers his spirit. The Nazgûl sweeps in, grabbing Théoden’s horse in its teeth and throwing Théoden across the ground. In slow motion, Éowyn watches on in horror.
He is defenseless against a flying fell-beast, as is she. As opposed to the previous offense she offered when Theóden was surrounded by Orcs, now there is little she can do, and it shows in her expression. There is no spite that motivates her courage now, there is only fear.
Théoden is left pinned under his slain horse. He is still alive but in no condition to defend himself.
Defending the King
Witch-King: “Feast on his flesh.”
Éowyn: “I will kill you if you touch him.”
Witch-King: “Do not come between the Nazgûl and his prey.”
As the fell-beast moves closer to Théoden’s limp body, Éowyn bravely steps between them. She threatens the Witch-King with all the courage she can muster, but her eyes show panic and terror with which she struggles.
Théoden witnesses this confrontation that is happening on his behalf, he cannot be sure still that Éowyn is the one courageously defending his life, for when he looks at her he only sees the armor of a warrior of Rohan. Her voice, however distant it may be and confusing given his state of mind and body, gives him a glimpse of who it could be.
With all the Witch-Kings threats, Éowyn is relentless in her advance. As the fell-beast tries to catch her in its mouth, she dodges the attack and decapitates the creature, rendering its master wingless.
The Witch-King stands up slowly turning his body towards Éowyn, hissing at her. In one hand he holds his sword, in the other a mace, one which only to look upon is to feel dread. Which is precisely what renders Éowyn almost motionless. Her eyes become ever wider as her fear of facing this terrible foe looms over her.
As the Witch-King growls and screeches at her, swinging his mace, Éowyn can only duck and move out of the way, so as to escape it. The fear of this unfamiliar creature standing before her does not leave her with many options. She cannot leave her uncle to face a terrible death by this enemy. She can only defend herself as much as she can. There isn’t much space into which she can move so as to possibly hurt this Undead.
After a few tries, the Witch-King strikes Éowyn’s shield, shattering it. The wood could not defend her from this menacing weapon. Not only is it sharp and can easily break through any shield, but it is also a weapon that injures the body in the most effective way.
As with the Morgul blade that the same Witch-King used to stab Frodo, the mace works in the same way. Although her body was not pierced by the mace, its impact will be felt in a way similar to that of Frodo. The malice and evil poured into the weapons that the Witch-King carries, secure the victim’s soul to roam in the darkest of realms.
With this one move, he has thrown his enemy to the ground. She cannot defend herself anymore. The Witch-King in a victorious manner opens his arms, hissing at and taunting Éowyn.
The two scenes described here represent a crescendo of suspension, ending them without resolve, leaving us to watch to see what happens. To that effect, I invite you to read on in my next post.