Why didn't Elrond mention the undead army (the one seen at the end of Return of the King) much earlier?

In 'The Two Towers' they almost lose the fight at Helm's Deep except that at the last second Gandalf appears with some additional horse riders to save the day.

It seems like the undead army was always there and some kind of 'joker' that Elrond could play when the need arose. So why didn't he play that card earlier?

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    This question is unclear. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.
    – amflare
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 22:45
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    Are you referring to the movies? Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 22:51
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    To the extent that the army was a "joker", it wasn't Elrond's to play: only Aragorn had any hope of gaining their allegiance, and that was a faint hope at best.
    – Martha
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 23:12
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    @Martha - Elrond’s “card to play” was to reforge Narzil and inform Aragon about the Army of the Dead and his power to command them with Narzil. The OP is asking why didn’t Elrond set things in motion earlier.
    – iMerchant
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 23:17
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    Do you mean "Aragorn's card to play"?
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 23:33

2 Answers 2


The army of the dead would only serve the heir of Isildur, which meant Aragorn. The dead warriors had reneged on their oath to serve in the War of the Last Alliance, and Isildur cursed them to remain as ghosts until they finally rendered service to his house. That means that the army was only available to Aragorn, who could pick them up as he passed through northern Gondor.

Moreover, in the book, the dead are only used to scare off the corsairs that have invaded Lebennin, so that Aragorn can crew their ships with men from southern Gondor. Even if they could have been brought to bear earlier, they would probably have been much less effective against a mostly orcish army. The uruk-hai of Isengard having been much less likely to be wowed and routed by an eldritch sight like the dead.

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    That is another point. As described in the movies (or as shown), the undead army seems to be 'undead' as they cannot be harmed. Why not use them to raid mordor itself and help frodo and sam destructing the ring. It's kinda like a little sensation-seeking moment when this army of undeads rushes the fields of minas tirith, to me it seems like Jackson got a little too exited as he wrote the script for this scene-in contrast to all this well-positioned and slightly used 'powers' of the people (i.e. gandalf or galadriel).
    – Hayfisher
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 0:35

IIRC The Army of the Dead's oath was to Gondor and its royal family, therefore Aragorn had to go to their mountain and call upon them in person, which wouldn't have been very feasable time-wise in the 3 days between deciding to go to Helm's Deep and the battle.

Also going by Aragorn's releasing of the army after the battle of Pelennor Fields it is possible that neither Elrond nor Aragorn thought that they would be reliable for more than one battle.

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    It wasn't that they were unreliable, it was simply that they had done what they swore to do - fight the armies of Sauron. Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 23:42
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    Arguably he could have said "Hey, y'know sauron still has a bunch of armies left for us to fight", but he didn't. It is possible this was because he did not think they would agree to that, or maybe he had other reasons for releasing them so eagerly.
    – mattihase
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 9:08

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