J.R.R. Tolkien"s Lord that the Rings trilogy attributes some nice strange beings. Orcs space a nocturnal, rough-and-tumble lot. Ents space fascinating arboreal specimens. Wizards space ludicrously powerful geezers. Of every the distinctive beings that populate Middle-earth, however, the strangest ones might just it is in the military of the Dead.

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Ghoulish, supernatural, and, to those familiar with Peter Jackson"s film adaptations, vibrantly green, the military of the Dead feels favor an abrupt detour native high-fantasy into horror. Inserted into The Return the the King, the specters come flying — quite literally — the end of left field, mop up the hosts of Mordor lickety-split, and then vanish as quickly as they appeared, leaving many fans scratching their heads in eerie confusion.

Who room these ghastly creatures and what the heck room they law floating roughly the mountains in between Rohan and Gondor? wherein did lock come from? and also why is Aragorn maybe to present up through a glowing reforged sword and also start bossing lock around? we took a deep dive right into the source material to find some answers and ultimately rally the definitive overview to Tolkien"s army of the Dead.


In order come understand exactly how the entirety "Paths that the Dead" scenario is collection up, you have to go means back into the second Age of Middle-earth history. We"re talking about events that take ar thousands of years before The lord of the Rings. Throughout this time, a prosperous country of men set up their society on a large island dubbed Númenor, out in the s to the west of Middle-earth. They space led by a heat of kings founded by Elrond"s brother, Elros. This is the very same line of queens that ultimately gives united state Aragorn.

The Númenóreans room descendants of the an initial groups of guys that migrated right into the west lands the Middle-earth countless years prior. When they"d landed on the scene, castle aided the Elves and Dwarves in their struggles, and also were offered their island country as a gift indigenous the Valar, the magnificent shapers and also guardians that the world, together a reward for helping to defeat Sauron"s old master, Morgoth, in ~ the finish of the an initial Age.


While the Númenóreans (or the Dúnedain, together they and also their descendants involved be it is in referred to) space the many important nation of men in Tolkien"s stories, they"re not the only males of Middle-earth. In fact, there are countless other nations and also tribes of men that live almost everywhere the continent, including plenty of that live far out in the eastern and also southern regions. However, most of these teams are one of two people independent of the bigger Lord the the Rings and Silmarillion stories ... Or they finish up fighting because that Sauron. The Silmarillion explains that thousands of years prior to the main story, "in the south and also in the further east Men multiplied; and most of lock turned come evil, for Sauron to be at work."

Meanwhile, ago in Númenor, the Númenóreans become incredibly powerful, and gradually begin to feeling a bit cooped increase on their isolated island — however they have only one choice for expansion. See, as soon as the Valar offered them their new home — as in, literally raised the island up out of the water for them — they put strict limits in place concerning how much these mortal men could sail towards their own immortal land, the Blessed kingdom to the west. Having maxed the end their potential ~ above Númenor and also being limited from heading west, the Númenóreans begin to head east.


Time goes on, throughout which the guys of Númenor end up being increasingly connected in geopolitical occasions on the continent. Their sixth king, Tar-Aldarion, is an especially instrumental in make them consistent visitors to the mainland. Here, they uncover that the new Dark Lord, Sauron, is start to make mischief.

The Silmarillion says that once they very first make call with the other guys on the continent, the Númenóreans " pity top top the forsaken human being of Middle-earth," including that "most the the men of that age that sat under the shadow were now grown weak and also fearful." However, the Númenóreans " them plenty of things," helping elevate their fearful existence in the process.

In other words, this wise guys that display up the end of nowhere space hailed as benevolent heroes and teachers. They arrive in wonderful ships, bearing fabulous gifts and tremendous skills. They"re basically the Middle-earth tantamount of a Hollywood star who rolls increase in a Benz, prepared to compose checks come whoever requirements some help. End time, though, this tardy slowly begins to change.


Over the next millennia, the guys of Númenor proceed to visit Middle-earth indigenous time come time. It"s likewise during this period that Sauron helps the Elves build the ring of Power, and also then creates the One Ring to preeminence them all. This leads to one all-out grudge match throughout the continent together the Elves, Dwarves, and occasionally the Númenóreans try to protect against Sauron from conquering everything in sight.

While the Elves and also Dwarves frequently have a turbulent go of it, every time the Númenóreans display up, it"s lights out. As they rack increase victories, they set up an ext and an ext permanent colonies along the shore, building huge, permanent harbors and towers. In plenty of areas, these are following to regional tribes of guys who have lived many of your often-difficult lives under the dominance of Sauron. The an ext permanent stable of the Númenóreans may seem prefer a great thing at very first glance, but many males resent this intrusion, and at particular points, even resist the newcomers with violence.

The trouble is, if the Númenóreans space technically an improvement (most have the right to agree the anything is much better than having actually Sauron together your neighbor), together they obtain used to your powerful new position, lock slowly shift from being allies to gift lords and masters. They need tribute, and also begin to cart off a great amount that the continent"s riches to their increasingly opulent island.


At this point, the Númenóreans have taken up many of the limelight — which provides a lot of sense. ~ all, 99% that what Tolkien wrote adheres to their story, come the differing benefit and detriment of the other men of Middle-earth. In order to get even a straightforward idea of what these other guys are like, one needs to do some sleuthing.

First off, this "other" groups of guys do make several appearances throughout The mr of the Rings. The males of Bree (that is, the town wherein Frodo and his companions visit the Inn of the Prancing Pony) are amongst this group. So room the wildmen the Dunland who swear allegiance come Saruman. Then there room the Easterlings the Frodo and Sam see marching right into the black Gates, and, of course, the Haradrim who wreak havoc v their oliphants throughout the battle of the Pelennor Fields.

These are just a handful of the different groups of males who live transparent the continent. When the Númenóreans start colonizing the southern of the mainland in the second Age, over there are many others in the area together well, including a group commonly referred to together the men of the Mountains.

The men of the hills live in the area that ultimately becomes part of Gondor. Before any type of Númenóreans action foot there, though, these bad souls come under the shadow of Sauron. And we"re not just talking about some slight political pressure, or also full-blown conquest. They literally worship the dude. This is throughout the duration of time in the 2nd Age recognized as the Dark Years, as soon as Sauron is an extremely nearly in regulate of every one of Middle-earth.

However, Sauron"s regime is abruptly ended when a massive military of Númenóreans come on the mainland. Play the long game, the Dark mr surrenders come them and also is taken ago to your island nation, whereby Sauron progressively corrupts the mind of your king. Eventually, the critical king the Númenor is convinced to attack the Valar in the Blessed Realm, and also his whole kingdom is drowning in one Atlantis-like catastrophe. This provides the Númenórean colonists on the mainland the last remnant of the race, plus a tiny group of survivors who regulate to sail far from the sinking island country during the disaster.

The survivors of the wreck of Númenor are component of a faction known as the Faithful. This are guys who observed the errant ways of their king and also fellow countrymen and also decided to remain loyal to the Elves and also hostile come Sauron. These "Faithful" survivors of Númenor are led through a guy named Elendil and also his 2 sons, Isildur and Anárion.

When they come in Middle-earth, they collection up two sister kingdoms: Arnor in the north and also Gondor in the southern — yes, that Gondor. Critically, the Faithful space also great leaders who do not lord it end the neighborhood tribes of males or shot to take advantage of lock — a reality that some of the regional tribes fail come notice.

Soon afterward, Sauron arrives earlier in Middle-earth and begins to do plans come squash what stays of his enemies. Together Isildur sets up the kingdom the Gondor, he attempts to find brand-new allies. He converts the nearby Men the the Mountains, convincing castle to rotate on their fiendish master and assist him instead. He brings a great, extraterrestrial-looking black stone, together tall together a man and also shaped favor a globe, and sets it increase on the Hill of Erech close to the males of the Mountains" kingdom. There, he has the King the the mountains swear allegiance to him.

After this somewhat creepy swearing the allegiance, there passes a duration of time in i beg your pardon Gondor thrives and also the men of the mountains enjoy your new, do not be afraid lives. But over time, Sauron gathers his minions, and eventually unleashes hell on the exiles of Númenor. Desperate, the Faithful guys of the west revolve to your Elven allies, led through a an effective king called Gil-galad, and they kind the last Alliance. This linked army strikes Sauron in Mordor, an occasion that is presented in the opening sequence of The Fellowship of the Ring. They loss the Dark Lord"s armies and also cut the One Ring from his hand.

While this is all good news because that the peoples of middle Earth, there"s one group who isn"t as well pleased to view this involved pass: The guys of the Mountains. See, when Isildur prepares to head the end to challenge Sauron, that summons the King the the mountains to accomplish his oath and help him. What does the mountainous ruler do? that tucks tail and also runs.

When the King that the hills refuses to honor the alliance, Isildur, furious, pronounces a devastating curse. "Thou shalt it is in the last king," the intones, "and if the West prove mightier 보다 thy black color Master, this curse i lay ~ above thee and also thy folk: to rest never until her oath is fulfilled ... Because that this battle will last v years uncounted, and also you shall it is in summoned as soon as again ere the end."

These awful (though completely justified) words terrify the guys of the Mountains, and they flee in terror, caught between an upset Isildur and also a petrifying Sauron. Lock hide in the hills, waiting for the whole thing to simply blow over. The point is, the oath isn"t just a irritable leader punch smoke. Once Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron"s hand and the militaries of the last Alliance return victorious, the curse bring away hold, and also the males of the Mountains become known as the Oathbreakers. They slowly die out and become the "Sleepless Dead" that haunt the mountains in between Gondor and Rohan.

The King of the Mountains" replicate dooms his world to a life the unsettled specterhood at the finish of the 2nd Age. When Isildur"s prophecy the "you shall it is in summoned once again ere the end," does eventually come true, that takes more than 3,000 years for the day to arrive.

During the interim, the not-quite-dead apparitions of the males of the Mountains proceed to haunt your old homeland, a rough area between Rohan and also Gondor the becomes recognized as the routes of the Dead. These paths are described multiple times in The Return that the King. At one point, Théoden defines to Merry that "Folk say that Dead guys out that the Dark year guard the means and will endure no living male to involved their covert halls," including that, "the Dead come hardly ever forth and only at times of great unquiet and coming death."

Long prior to the events of The lord of the Rings, among the heirs come the throne the Rohan, a fellow named Baldor, do the efforts to travel on the haunted road. Before he enters, an old, decrepit man blocks the way, advertising that "The way is closeup of the door ... It to be made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes." skipping the advice, Baldor foolishly continues to be on the ghostly course ... And never returns.

Centuries the insubstantial half-existence pass, till finally, the day of reckoning because that the Oathbreakers arrives. In the book version of The Return of the King, Elrond sends out a message to Aragorn: "Bid Aragorn mental the words of the seer, and also the paths of the Dead." thus the moment, lengthy foretold, come at last.

This reference to "the seer" denotes yet another old prophecy coming to be affected by each other upon the situation — it seems they"re a dime a dozen through these guys. That was talked centuries earlier, by a man named Malbeth the Seer. This prophecy, i beg your pardon is enormously long, claims among other things that "The Dead awaken; because that the hour is come because that the Oathbreakers." It also says the they shall be called to the stone of Erech by "the heir of the to whom the oath they swore ... The shall happen the Door to the routes of the Dead." friend guessed it: that heir is Aragorn.

At this point, we"ve caught up to the actual Lord of the Rings narrative, and also the story that the Oathbreakers diverges rather a bit depending on whether you"re watching or analysis the story. In the films, Elrond arrives, gives Aragorn his sword, Andúril, speak him around the fleet of black ships cruised by the Corsairs of Umbar, and encourages that to take the routes of the Dead come head off the threat.

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli head right into the mountains alone, summon the army of the Dead, and arrive in Gondor, whereby they annihilate their opponents on the black ships. However that"s just the beginning of the battle. The military of the Dead"s hugely powerful capabilities are put on full screen shortly afterward, once Aragorn pulls as much as the docks exterior of Minas Tirith and also opens up a deserve to of bright environment-friendly ghosts top top the Orcs and also men attacking the city. After the unleashed horde mops increase the battlefield, Aragorn educates them — come the dismay the Gimli, who wants to store them roughly — that their oath is fulfilled. The Oathbreakers finally fade away, their sins comprised for in ~ last.

In the publication The Return that the King, things go fairly a bit differently. After ~ the fight of Helm"s Deep, Aragorn, Legolas, and also Gimli space joined by 30 the Aragorn"s Ranger brethren, and also Elrond"s pair sons. Together, the group travels the routes of the Dead whereby they just survive the terror many thanks to Aragorn"s indomitable willpower.

Once they get through the mountains, Aragorn summons the army of the Dead to the stone of Erech, tells them that he is, and orders lock to follow him. The ghastly hold rides throughout Gondor come the port town of Pelargir, whereby they continue to wipe the floor with the Corsairs of Umbar.

Once they"ve destroyed Sauron"s servants and captured the black fleet, Aragorn publication the entire shadow hold right there and also then, declaring, "Hear now the indigenous of the succession of Isildur! her oath is fulfilled. Go back and trouble no the valleys ever before again! Depart and also be at rest!" when the ghosts are gone, the local civilization gather together, plank the ships, and sail off to save Minas Tirith.

The dramatic differences between the army of the Dead in the books and also movies extends to their appearance. In the book, they"re described as "Shadows" and also a "Shadow Host," v Legolas describing them together "shapes that Men and also of horses, and pale banners like shreds the cloud, and also spears favor winter-thickets ~ above a misty night." Gimli reports the they look favor "a grey tide," and that the beheld "faint cries ... Pale swords ... And dim horns blowing." However, the adds the he doesn"t know if lock actually could physically hurt anyone, due to the fact that "the Dead necessary no longer any kind of weapon but fear."

So, how, then, go we end up through a glowing green ghost military in Peter Jackson"s films? The answer: Pirates of the Caribbean. It turns out the the original military of the Dead was going come look a bit much more skeleton-y. In fact, castle were also in the process of developing them the way, once what need to come out however The Curse the the black Pearl, dripping with bony, haggard, undead pirates. The look to be so similar, castle decided, mid-production, come re-do the army of the Dead as glowing green ghosts.

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Bones or specters, though, that sounds like the production team offered up ~ above a book-accurate "Shadowy Host" appropriate from day one, opting rather for a flashier look. That"s Hollywood because that you.