Andrew Blair

Sep 8, 2017

Spoilers! Quality digital content chums, as we rank the many endings of Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King…

At the 2012 Golden Globes, Jack Nicholson told Elijah Wood that he left the cinema before The Return Of The King was finished. “Too many endings man”, said Nicholson, who has since found internet fame as popular tweetist @dril.

Even amidst the acclaim the film received upon release, its length was commented upon (as can happen with long things, I’m told). Due to the ongoing waves of content crashing over our heads, it is important to save time wherever you can. Plus, as you know, everything is to be judged and ranked accordingly.

It falls to we blessed few to bestow these judgements, because we have the mental and physical resilience required to chew individual Quavers all day, watching films we’ve already seen twenty times and avoiding the sun (Den of Geek Towers is home to ninety percent of the UK’s cases of rickets and scurvy, and if it weren’t for the the filling in certain brands of cake it’d be ninety-five).

And so, we must take the highly topical and incredibly vital subject of Return Of The King going on a wee bit, and turn it into hierarchy-themed digital content. We must do this. There are rules, and we must follow them no matter what. Have you read The Sandman? The laws Morpheus is bound by? It’s basically like that.

Right, that’s enough filler. Time to post an arbitrary list for people to thoughtfully interrogate.

5. A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man

Starting off with possibly the best scene of slow-motion Hobbit boyband laughter ever committed to celluloid, we end up with the inevitable scene of the King returning. I suppose they had to include that really. Ending with this scene would work, but in cutting out the rest of the book you lose a lot of the mythic quality that was integral to the story.

Also, the sentiment behind “My friends, you bow to no one” is indeed lovely, but I have questions: did everyone in Minas Tirith spontaneously decide to bow simultaneously? Did they rehearse this? Is Aragorn controlling their minds? I never trusted Aragorn. I think he’s up to something.

4. The Grey Havens

So, the thing with producing a blockbuster trilogy from a much-beloved novel is that not everyone has actually read it. Heading off to The Grey Havens is similar to departing for Heaven, but in Middle Earth lore it is an Elvish port from which departing Elves could head to Valinor, home of the Middle Earth equivalent of high-ranking Angels (Sauron and the wizards being of the lower rank). Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf and the Elves are essentially heading to the halls of higher beings here. In the books Legolas, Gimli and Sam also go to Valinor, but in the film this is the last ship to leave Middle Earth, so presumably Sam stays at home and the others cut about in Mirkwood solving mysteries with Thranduil as the Chief, and oh my god I really want this to be Mirkwood 99.

What with the film already being quite long, there isn’t really time to go into this in detail. Frodo’s reasons for going get truncated to one scene. You get the jist, though, and it’s implied that this is where people leave Middle Earth to go on to some other place, but being the penultimate ending (and one that takes its time) it’s where patience can be really stretched. Unfortunately it’s also a scene that has the really difficult task of balancing everything that is going on in the story (all of which has huge significance for Middle Earth) with having to produce a film for a wider audience. Fortunately by this stage you like all the characters enough that it still works without knowledge of the wider context.

3. Surprise eagles

The battle builds to the point of probable defeat, and Frodo’s succumbed to the power of the ring, so even with the Eagles turning up it does feel like it’s all gone a bit wrong. Then, thanks to the power of mercy and Evil’s tendency towards self-destruction, it looks like everything might be fine as Sam and Frodo escape the eruption, only to find themselves trapped.

When Frodo says “I’m glad to be with you Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things”, it’s not only incredibly relatable in 2017, but it feels like a plausible ending to their journey. Thus far some major characters have been killed, so it doesn’t feel impossible that Frodo and Sam could die at this point. They’ve managed to outrun a volcanic eruption but ended up on a pillar of rock, surrounded by lava. The idea that their quest will be fatal has been seeded. They seem resigned to their fate. Maybe they are going to die here.

Unless of course you’ve worked out the eagles are coming. Or you knew how the story ended anyway.

However, if you knew how the story ended anyway, this brings us onto:

2.5. All the other endings that aren’t in the film

Ranking the endings of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

Obviously everyone walks home again. They bury Theoden, return to Treebeard at Isengard, say farewell to the remaining fellowship one by one, hang out in Rivendell, then Bree, and then discover the Shire has been attacked by Saruman. Once he’s defeated, Sam, Merry and Pippin rise to positions of local authority, but Frodo finds it hard to cope with his various wounds and post-traumatic stress. This leads to his departure at The Grey Havens, ending the third age (made clearer in the book by the final section being called ‘The End of the Third Age’) where magic begins to disappear from the world.

So, y’know, if you think the film took its time, try reading the book. Or listening to the BBC Radio adaptation, where the slower departures of the characters works really well as they realise their time together is coming to an end.

2. The happy ending

When the Hobbits get back to the Shire, go to the pub, and Sam decides to ask Rosie out, everyone laughs.

That’d be a nice ending. Nothing like the book, mind, but nice.

1. Well, I’m back

Despite the wait, I think the film has to end where it does. The film has elected to keep the end of the Third Age in the background, there for those who are looking for it, but not distracting from the focal point of the characters. Sam is, it turns out, the person whose journey we were following. Without any Tookish blood influencing him, he ends up on an adventure and has a natural affinity for wonder and storytelling. In the book, he sings a fair bit. In the film he wonders if he and Frodo will be turned into legends or stories, which is a lovely bit of writing. Firstly, it places the story very much in the context of a legend, a myth of the world before magic faded from it (tying into the end of the Third Age), which is a significant part of what Lord Of The Rings is, and secondly it reinforces the idea of oral storytelling being important in this world.

The way we’re influenced by pop culture, quoting lines from things we’ve seen or read or heard, is similar to the way Sam is thinking here, where he finds himself on an adventure and his actions are informed by the stories and tales he has heard. So when the film ends with Sam being tasked on finishing the story, of being in charge of passing it into legend, it’s not only a geographical return home but the story is now finished in so many senses. Now it’s ready to become a myth.