In the Extended Edition of The Return of the King after confronting the Army of the Dead, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are nearly buried alive in an avalanche of skulls.

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What is the meaning of this? Are these skulls of people who have tried to pass through the Paths of the Dead and died? Are they the skulls of the Army from when they were flesh and bone? Is a way to "push" the three to the proper exit? Is it their way of saying "Yes, we will help?"

  • 6
    <peter jackson joke here>
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 11, 2016 at 17:48
  • 2
    That is one of the strangest parts of the movies in my opinion. These Dead have been waiting for thousands of years to be released, but they try to kill their would-be-savior? Peter Jackson probably has an excuse like "he scene wasn't intense enough."
    – Neithan
    Nov 11, 2016 at 18:25
  • To honestly answer the question - I'm certain he talks about this in the RotK Extended Edition appendices or commentary. I'm frankly not interested enough to look it up lol
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 11, 2016 at 18:32
  • Was this in the book?
    – Mazura
    Nov 15, 2016 at 3:49
  • 1
    The skull scene was NOT in the book, and the dead are never clearly shown. The dead also did not fight outside Minas Tirith, but helped Aragron take over the Corsair fleet and bring reinforcments from South Gondor. All this happened "off camera" in the books. The books in general kept the magic much more subtle than in the movies, which helped IMHO to keep the allure (to be fair, FOTR movie was more subtle than the following films).
    – Stone True
    Dec 14, 2016 at 18:32

2 Answers 2


Yes, it is a sign that the Dead Men are going to help, although it's not clear at the time it happens.

The avalanche is a sign that the Dead Men of Dunharrow are choosing to fulfill their oath to the King of Gondor (Aragorn), which will free them from their curse.

Why destroy their city in the Dwimorberg, along with the ossuary where their remains were kept? First of all, they won't be returning there. Secondly, they would not be sentimental about it, since it was a sort of prison for them.

Their skulls being released from the ossuary foreshadows the oathbreakers being released from the curse after they help Aragorn. It can be seen as the beginning of the work that's completed when Aragorn finally releases them from their oath, and their spirits fade away.

The skulls do belong to the Dead Men.

Isildur's curse did not extend the lifespans of the Dead Men -- it only prevented their spirits from leaving Middle Earth. So their physical bodies would have died about 3000 years prior to the events of LOTR. The oathbreakers were not completely uncivilized, so we can assume that placing the remains of their dead in the large ossuary wall was part of their burial practices.

When we see the skull avalanche in the movie, we don't know if the Dead Men are trying to kill Aragorn & co., or if something else is going on. It's presented ambiguously on purpose, to create tension, similar to the laugh of the King of the Dead.

After we learn that the oathbreakers did decide to help Aragorn, we can look back at the event with a greater understanding.

I do agree that the scene is confusing and should have been left out. As most people here know, it was not included in the theatrical release.

  • So it is symbolic of them being freed?
    – user64742
    Nov 11, 2016 at 22:54
  • 2
    Yeah, that's about the best spin I can put on it. Nov 12, 2016 at 5:09

It's a trap designed to move the plot forward.

DM of the Rings CXIII DM of the Rings CXIII

Source: DM of the Rings CXIII

Out-of-universe: The intention is to get the heroes out of the underground chamber without any clarification on whether the Dead Men intend to help or not, in order to maintain some tiny amount of suspense (since the order of events was completely changed from the books and they weren't sure what they were going to cut out).


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