In The Return of the King (Film) after the King of the Dead refused to fight, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli escaped. They found themselves on a hillside overlooking what appeared to be Pelargir, and Aragorn looks on and looks sad and drops to his knees before the Dead King appears and agrees to fight.

Was it because of the damage that the men of Umbar caused to the harbor? Or because he couldn't convince the King of the Dead to fight and was disheartened?

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    If I remember correctly, when he came to Theoden's camp, Elrond told Aragorn that Gondor faced certain defeat precisely because the Corsair fleet would bolster Sauron's numbers. Without the army of the dead, the game was up for Aragorn. – Ian Thompson Jul 7 '16 at 11:10
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    I think the whole reason he needed the Dead was because the Corsairs of Umbar were going to be able to hit Gondor from an unexpected side, which would pretty much be a kill-shot to an already overwhelmed city. He fell to his knees because he saw the extent of the fleet, and despaired for Gondor, having failed to save them from the fleet. – PoloHoleSet Jul 7 '16 at 14:45
  • @AndrewMattson At least in the book, it wasn't unexpected. Denethor knew they were coming (and this was a big part of his despair), and the possibility of them attacking other parts of Gondor led various vassals to keep a good portion of their strength at home for defense rather than sending it to Minas Tirith. – chepner Jul 7 '16 at 20:20
  • @chepner - Which would be a good explanation if Aragorn could read Denethor's mind. Since he did not know that Denethor was using a Palantir he would not know he was prepared. Also, Sauron manipulated those images to make Denethor despair, so whether that would help or hinder is not given. – PoloHoleSet Jul 8 '16 at 13:24
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    If it was unexpected, why would Aragorn be headed for Pelargir in the first place with an army, instead of directly to Minas Tirith? – chepner Jul 8 '16 at 13:44

Aragorn fell to his knees with that fearful and saddened look on his face because he knew that he couldn't save Minas Tirith without the aid of the Men of the Mountains; Sauron's victory was assured if Aragorn couldn't get the Army of the Dead to fulfil their oath.

Peter Jackson et al changed the geography of Middle-earth here to suit the film. As described, Aragorn and his companions exit the Haunted Mountain and appear to see Pelargir, the ancient seat of the Sea Kings upon the River Anduin. In the books, they come out some 300 miles to the north-west, in the Morthond Vale, near to the Stone of Erech (see map below, due south of Edoras at top centre).

It was at the Stone that (according to the books) Aragorn gathered the Dead Men (whom Legolas saw following behind them), calling upon them to fulfil their oath:

The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever. For I am Elessar, Isildur’s heir of Gondor.

From The Return of the King (The Passing of the Grey Company)

The Grey Company (Aragorn's kinsmen, fellow Dunedain of the North) and the Sons of Elrond were also with them as they passed through the mountains, and they still had a very long way to ride through Southern Gondor before Aragorn let loose the Shadow Host to defeat the Corsair fleet ("Come! By the Black Stone I call you!"), then man the ships and come to the aid of Minas Tirith.

It is also interesting that Aragorn released the Men of the Mountains once they had liberated Pelargir, before setting sail for the White City.

Hear now the words of the Heir of Isildur! Your oath is fulfilled. Go back and trouble not the valleys ever again!

From The Return of the King (The Last Debate)

In the books, the ships were manned by men of Gondor from the southern regions and freed captives of the Corsairs, and not the ghostly deserters.

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    A very good answer, although just to note, Aragorn didn't release them after Pelargir. They had fulfilled their oath at that point and defeated an enemy army (although not the main host). The dead could not have been used in the defence of Minas Tirith as they're oath had been fulfilled by removing the threat from Gondor and raising the people to fight. – Edlothiad Dec 15 '16 at 11:24
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    According to the Tale of Years, on 13th March TA 3019, Aragorn captured the Corsair fleet that was blockading Pelargir with the aid of the Dean Men, whom he then released after he held their oath to be fulfilled. – maguirenumber6 Dec 15 '16 at 11:49
  • Oop, guess I stand corrected, sorry must've been misremembering, thanks :). Maybe its time to read through the appendices again. – Edlothiad Dec 15 '16 at 11:52
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    Not just the appendices; in the body of RotK, Aragorn says "And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled". He set the terms of fulfillment himself, then after they had cleared Pelargir he said "Hear now the words of the Heir of Isildur! Your oath is fulfilled. Go back and trouble not the valleys ever again!" – Werrf Dec 15 '16 at 15:32
  • @Fingolfin Please accept if you are satisfied with my answer :) – maguirenumber6 Feb 26 '17 at 6:50

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