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The Dead Men of Dunharrow (also referred as the Shadow Host, the Grey Host, the oathbreakers, or simply the Dead) are fictional characters in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. They appear in The Lord of the Rings as Men of the White Mountains (Ered Nimrais), who were cursed to remain in Middle-earth by Isildur after they abandoned their oath to aid him in the War of the Last Alliance. They were formerly known as the Men of the Mountains, and they were related to the Dunlendings.
At the end of the Second Age, their king, known as the King of the Mountains, pledged allegiance to Isildur at the Stone of Erech. However, these Men later refused to aid Isildur in his war against Sauron; they came to the aid of neither side, but instead hid in the mountains. They had previously worshipped the Dark Lord during the Dark Years. As punishment, Isildur cursed them, saying that they would not have peace or rest till they fulfilled their oath upon his command or that of his heirs.
Their spirits haunted the caverns beneath the Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain, and the valley of Harrowdale that lay in its shadow. They were said to appear in Harrowdale only in times of trouble or death, and they haunted the Stone of Erech on the other side of the mountains as well.
Malbeth the Seer prophesied that a day would come when need and haste would drive one of Isildur's heirs to take the Paths of the Dead and that the Dead would answer to the call of his horn. Thousands of years later, in the final years of the Third Age, that prophecy was fulfilled. In the War of the Ring, Aragorn, Isildur's heir and direct descendant, called upon the Dead, summoning them to the stone of Erech, and commanded them to fulfil their oath and be free. On this occasion, he first displays the royal banner of Gondor, made by Arwen and delivered to him by Halbarad and the Grey Company.
They followed him through Gondor's lands and fiefs south of the Mountains, and at the port of Pelargir they drove away the Corsairs of Umbar, allies of Sauron. Their oath fulfilled, Aragorn granted them their freedom, and they vanished at last from the world. After this, Aragorn gathered the warriors of the region to him. They sailed to Minas Tirith on the Corsairs' own ships, and turned the tide at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
The Men of the Shadow Host appeared to be grey shades; some still rode ghostly horses, but all moved at the same speed. They bore swords and spears and banners, and answered a horn-call with their own horns. However, they did not need weapons (it is left vague whether they and their weapons are "material" at all), for their primary weapon was fear.
In the battle with the Corsairs, as recounted by Legolas and Gimli to Merry and Pippin, the Corsairs abandoned their ships in terror, which Aragorn then commandeered. Those who did not flee drowned in the sea. In fact, they terrified Mordor's and Gondor's soldiers alike (as they passed through the land, people hid in terror, and they even disrupted a local battle).
In the 1980 animated version of The Return of the King, the Dead Men of Dunharrow are omitted, and Aragorn just shows up at Minas Tirith with the warriors of southern Gondor, riding the Corsairs' ships.
In Peter Jackson's live-action adaptation, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Dead Men are only referred to as the "Army of the Dead". Aragorn proves his authority to them with Andúril, and only Legolas and Gimli are with him; his fellow Rangers of the North do not appear. Erech is also not featured.
In the latter film, the Dead are depicted as green and glowing, and dwell in a Petra-like spectral, similarly coloured underground city, to which Aragorn and company visit. In the book, Aragorn summons them above ground to the Stone, and they serve him willingly, almost eagerly; the film has them at the verge of attacking the trio when Aragorn parries the king's blade with the royal sword Andúril, proving his authority.
Their king also recites the following verses, possibly forming a stanza from a type of roundel poem:
The way is shut.
It was made by those who are Dead.
And the Dead keep it.
The way is shut.
In the book these verses were recited many years before by a mysterious old man found by the Rohirrim shortly before he dies, shortly after Meduseld is built. The film omits the second-to-the-last line of the verses:
Until the time comes.
Rather than terrifying their foes (and mostly everyone else), the Dead appear to suck the life out of them.
The battle with the Corsairs occurs off-screen in the theatrical cut, but is glimpsed in the extended cut. The Army of the Dead also accompany Aragorn to Minas Tirith to destroy Sauron's entire army on the Pelennor Fields. They kill every foe in sight—Orc, Man, and Oliphaunt alike—and move into the occupied area of the city, rescuing the defenders.
Only after a scene of silent vacillation, where Gimli even suggests that they keep them, does Aragorn declare their curse lifted. They then disintegrate and are blown away by the wind...
According to a magazine article, Peter Jackson hated the Dead Men; he thought it was too unbelievable. He kept it in the script because he did not wish to disappoint diehard fans of the books. Nevertheless, he expanded their use as a deus ex machina, and CNN.com criticized his use of the Dead Men as such.
The Dead Men of Dunharrow appear in various games:
The Dead are also featured in video and computer games based on the Jackson films, namely the real-time strategy games The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth and its sequel The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, and the action platformer adaptation of The Return of the King. In the latter, the player actually has to fight them and their King, who is a boss with his own level, before they will fight for Gondor. In The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, when the player is allowed to play as Aragorn on the Pelennor Fields, an option is to summon Army of the Dead.
In the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, The Lord of the Rings Online -- Update 14 (released on 14 July 2014) takes you through the Paths of the Dead mere hours behind Aragorn and the Grey Company's passage, to the Stone of Erech, and then on through Western Gondor en route to the Battle of Pelargir.
An undetermined number of the cursed Men of the Mountains have decided not to follow Aragorn and become known as "The Ruthless Dead." It is these hostile spirits that the player must defend against on the journey throughout western and central Gondor.
Notes and references
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Muster of Rohan", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- "This spectacular whirlwind of CGI, distorted sound and awesome scale [Battle of the Pelennor Fields] stunned audiences, and was rightly hailed as a movie milestone. Then it all goes horribly wrong. ...the staunch resistance of the Men of Gondor and the Rohirrim's endeavors on the battlefield are all rendered utterly pointless when the Army of the Dead swoop in at the end. Couldn't they have turned up a bit earlier? An oversimplified cop out." - CNN.com, The Screening Room. "The best -- and worst -- movie battle scenes." Archived April 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Last retrieved November 20, 2007.