One ring, one trilogy. Whenever people talk about J. R. R. Tolkien’s love sonnet to Middle Earth, they remember so many iconic moments that the series brings. It is a long and arduous journey, a cascade of differing emotions pulling the heartstrings left and right. It is a hero’s tale, but told through the actions of multiple characters, all coming together to reverberate the virtues of the human race. And in return, so many iconic lines (and memes) have been bestowed upon film archives, depicting the supreme valour against the evil forces of Sauron. However, to do that, one must first survive the onslaught of Helm’s Deep.
Historically, the second film in a trilogy has always been questionable to say the least. This is especially true for film trilogies spawned from novels. The first one introduces the characters and the world, and sets up the next two . The middle has to continue the story but not end it, not bore readers of the first book by repeating everything, yet give new readers enough to have the book make sense and possibly get them to read the first one and want to read the third. The third one has the climatic end so it usually has a lot of drama involving the readers’ characters, and that drama should make for a good film as well. This leaves the middle film.
What The Two Towers does extremely well at the end is make itself feel like a film that can stand on its own, instead of just a platform for the final film. It has to pay back what the audience paid the original entry fee, and leave a strong impression for its last hurrah in Mordor. The Two Towers also succeeds in introducing a new group of side characters, known as the people of Rohan, to already-complicated storylines, but pulls it off spectacularly. The sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring feels more grounded, without as much emphasis on the mystical allures. More spotlight is given towards the humans, such that the deficits and flaws of this race is highlighted to a greater extent. Men are trash, is a saying that Saruman fully exploits, compounding on the flaws that plague mankind. It shows a country falling victim to the vile corruption of external forces, and also the “unelegance” of the internal.
Following the debacle of Gandalf’s death, the core group is leaderless and without purpose, clueless and split. Merry and Pippin are still held hostage by a pack of orcs, roaming large across the fields of Rohan, with Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn hot in pursuit. Frodo and Sam stay on task, under the guidance of the devious Gollum. Somehow, Gandalf is brought back to life, sporting a white cloak that he does not seem to mind getting mud on. The emphasis is placed on the remaining four adults of the original Fellowship, and in the terrorized kingdom of Rohan, the real defence of Middle Earth begins to rally. Not only has Saruman poisoned the mind of King Théoden, he has also created a monstrous army bearing the sole purpose of destroying the world of men.
After three hours of buildup, the climax of the film kicks into gear. The battle of Helm’s Deep is described to be one of the greatest battle sequences in film history, acting as the first major battle in the whole trilogy. Thankfully, it does not spell the end for any major characters, and even better, ends in victory for the good guys. However, this is not as straightforward of a win for mankind. Like the heroes who pour their souls out against the diabolical orcs under the harshest environmental conditions, all the members involved in the production had to slog through similar difficulties.
As one event leads to another, the people of Rohan and Théoden King are forced to head for the stronghold of Helm’s Deep. Though it is a long journey, Théoden is positive that this location will hold up against Saruman’s army. True, on a historical front, the fortress is strategically built in a steep canyon, forcing any challengers to only attack head-on, and has never been breached before. He says it smiling, almost smugly, daring anyone to try to make a move against him. Everything seems to be going well, until Aragorn tells of the 10,000 Uruk-hai marching towards them. How does anyone defend against such a massive army? The followup question to that: How long can they survive for?
The human mind is under its greatest siege when desperation creeps in, to fight a battle that everyone knows can only end in defeat. Despite their futile attempts, all that the heroes are doing is stalling their demise, while they withdraw further and further into the fortress. They lose ground against the countless invading orcs, and are holed up into a small room.
That is what the battle at Helm’s Deep is all about; mini losses overcome by mini victories, up until the very last sequence. Under the midnight moon, dirtied by the monochromatic details, a misty blueish backlight helps to make everything more lucid. Where the Battle of Winterfell from Game of Thrones fails, the Battle of Helm’s Deep makes visibility of fine print easier. At the end of the day, the good guys have to win, but nobody has ever dictated how to get there. A journey riddled by ups and downs, tragedies and victories, the climax of The Two Towers is emotionally mature, while also bedazzles with fantasy. Such is the trilogy.
On a narrative front, this near-death experience teaches both the kings how to lead their people. Théoden and Aragorn’s differences in this battle’s approach is evident; Théoden admonishes anything that would spoil the mood ahead of such a monstrous enemy, whilst Aragorn reminds him of their convictions. It is testament that mankind is not so weak after all, and rallies more to their cause.
Ride out with me.
When desperation finally pecks away the last shred of psyche, what separates the leaders and the followers is how they react. The last stand, in the form of a mini cavalry charge through the swarmed fortress is rewarded by Gandalf’s arrival. In the sunlight, as the forces of good charge down upon the abyss of Uruk-hai, these are the stories that will be told forever and ever.