When Gandalf meets the Witch King of Angmar, he said this,

'Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!'

Return of the King Book V Chapter 4: "The Siege of Gondor"

In the books, the Witch king did not destroy Gandalf's staff. That was purely an invention of the movies. Afterwards, the Witch king hears the horn of Rohan, he stopped and his dragon flees to attack the Rohirrim army. Basically, my question is Why didn't the Witch King just kill Gandalf instead of fleeing and going to attack the Rohan army?

I haven't read the books. I've watched the movie many times. I would appreciate if you answer for each adaptation separately.

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    similar: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/18874/… - possibily an answer dupe – NKCampbell Aug 16 '17 at 19:25
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    One does not simply kill a Maia? – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 16 '17 at 19:38
  • I'm not sure the New Gandalf™ could be killed. Didn't we have a question about that here, somewhere? – Quasi_Stomach Aug 29 '17 at 18:34
  • Perhaps there would be a long heavy fight because Gandalf was strong enough to fight with a Balrog and not to lose even when he was in a lower rank. It could be affordable to enter into the battle in view of forthcoming victory since Witch-king knew that Gandalf couldn't kill him because of the prophecy. It doesn't mean that the Nazgûl was able to kill Gandalf on the other side. – bartolo-otrit Sep 8 '17 at 19:32

In both cases, Rohan is more of an immediate threat to his goals than Gandalf is. However, the specifics differ slightly between the two versions.

In the book

In the novel, the arrival of Rohan coincides with the breakup of a supernatural darkness, meant to ease the battle for Sauron's sunlight-sensitive soldiers1. The combination of a large number of reinforcements and the diminished effectiveness of his own army means that the With-king's attention is urgently needed elsewhere (emphasis mine):

The darkness was breaking too soon, before the date that his Master had set for it: fortune had betrayed him for the moment, and the world had turned against him; victory was slipping from his grasp even as he stretched out his hand to seize it. But his arm was long. He was still in command, wielding great powers. King, Ringwraith, Lord of the Nazgûl, he had many weapons. He left the Gate and vanished.

Return of the King Book V Chapter 6: "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"

Ultimately, the Witch-king is more concerned with taking the city than with destroying Gandalf specifically.

In the films

As with many things in the films, this isn't given an in-universe explanation. However, bear in mind that:

  • From the Witch-king's perspective, Gandalf is no threat at all. He's just demonstrated that he has no difficulty ruining Gandalf's day, so there's no pressing need to kill the wizard. He can always just come back and do it later
  • He lacks information. Consider what information the Witch-king has: he knows he has a vulnerable Wizard in front of him, and he knows that somebody hostile has just arrived. It makes the most tactical sense to assess who the new arrivals are, because they're the more immediate threat to his ultimate goal of taking the city; although Gandalf is (as far as he knows) the largest threat to him directly, a single Wizard can't destroy an entire Orcish army
  • The Rohirrim have a pretty good tactical position. It doesn't matter whether or not the Witch-king knows who just arrived; he knows that there are hostiles to the north, while most of his army is in an enclosed environment, fenced in by Mount Mindolluin to the west, the River Anduin to the south, and retreat (which seems an unlikely tactic) to the east. The orcs are boxed in, and the Witch-king knows it.

    All of which is a roundabout way of saying that his particular set of skills is more urgently needed on the field, rather than trading barbs with some has-been wizard.

1 Heh

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    Obviously, out-of-universe it happened in the film because it happened in the book, and it needed to happen for the plot for continue. But that explanation is unspeakably boring to me, and anyone who claims that the films don't have (or don't need to have) their own internal logic flatly misunderstands how fiction works – Jason Baker Aug 16 '17 at 19:48

I would like to suggest something based on speculation rather than evidence in the books.

Gandalf was trying to tempt the Witch-King into battle with him and distract him from other parts of the battlefield where he could have done more damage. Gandalf faked the breaking of his own staff and led the Witch-King to believe that the Witch King had done it. Gandalf also faked looking vulnerable and easy to attack.

In reality, Gandalf probably didn't need his staff and the battle would have been long. The Witch-King could have killed tens of people per minute so would be a danger elsewhere, whereas Gandalf himself was not much of a fighting threat to the enemy.

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    Interesting, but even the most far-fetched and left-field speculations have some sort of indication or evidence to support them. Is there any sign or clue that might support what you're saying? – Möoz Feb 22 '18 at 2:40

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