In the movie version of the Battle of Helm’s Deep, we see that both Theoden and the Elves under Haldir allowed the Uruk-Hai to get close to the castle without attacking them. Considering the shot which was released mistakenly, i.e., the first shot of the battle, the Uruk-Hai were well within the range of archers, yet both the Elves and the Men did not shoot.

There might be reasons for it. For example, they might be low on arrows so they might want to aim and shoot, or they might be hoping for a diplomatic solution. If I recall correctly, Legolas ran out of arrows pretty fast.

How was the beginning of this scene in the books? Were the Uruk-Hai allowed to approach the castle without any harassment?

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    Have a read of the blog series starting here: acoup.blog/2020/05/01/… for a historian's view on the battle. Tl;dr Theoden really knows what he is doing, and makes the right choices for winning the battle, and Saruman doesn't. Commented Sep 15, 2020 at 0:54
  • @DavidRoberts I read it all, it was very informing :) Especially the lack of "as you know" speeches in LoTR.
    – user65648
    Commented Sep 15, 2020 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


In the books, the battle plays out a little different...

Regarding your question in particular:

First, there's a dike "two furlongs below Helm's Gate" that they indeed try to use to harass/slow down Saruman's army, but with little effect as it is only lightly manned and supplied:

A slow time passed. Far down in the valley scattered fires still burned. The hosts of Isengard were advancing in silence now. Their torches could be seen winding up the coomb in many lines. Suddenly from the Dike yells and screams, and the fierce battle-cries of men broke out. Flaming brands appeared over the brink and clustered thickly at the breach. Then they scattered and vanished. Men came galloping back over the field and up the ramp to the gate of the Hornburg. The rearguard of the Westfolders had been driven in. 'The enemy is at hand!' they said. 'We loosed every arrow that we had, and filled the Dike with Orcs. But it will not halt them long. Already they are scaling the bank at many points, thick as marching ants. But we have taught them not to carry torches.'

Also, the night is pitch black and neither side has good vision on the other... but it's actually the Men that make some psychological use of that:

It was now past midnight. The sky was utterly dark, and the stillness of the heavy air foreboded storm. [...] Arrows thick as the rain came whistling over the battlements, and fell clinking and glancing on the stones. Some found a mark. The assault on Helm's Deep had begun, but no sound or challenge was heard within; no answering arrows came. The assailing hosts halted, foiled by the silent menace of rock and wall.

It's only then that the Orcs start doing their "battle chant" (hey, they need some courage, too), and finally the defenders start shooting back.

tl;dr: The Men did harass the approaching army on its way, but ran out of ammo. Then they played dead for a bit to confuse the Orcs and because it was too dark to waste their limited amount of arrows yet anyways.

PS: Elves of Lothlorien being present at the battle is just something out of Peter Jackson's head.


The script indicates that Theoden wanted to wait until the Uruk-Hai were sufficiently close that the (comparatively poorly-skilled) human archers could make their shots count. The enemy troops are heavily armoured and a volley of arrows at distance is just a waste of good munitions.

Note that the elven archers are capable of aiming for individual weak spots whereas the human archers have to settle for trying to hit the massed line.

ANGLES ON: As one, the ARCHERS nock their arrows. And stand ready to fire.

LEGOLAS: (in ELVISH; subtitled) Faeg i-varv dîn na lanc...a nu ranc. Their armor is weak at the neck...and underneath the arms.

ANGLE ON: ARAGORN brings his arm down.

ARAGORN: (in ELVISH; subtitled) Leithio i philinn! Release Arrows!

ANGLES ON: The ARCHERS release their arrows and they find their marks. With every URUK-HAI that falls others replace him.

GIMLI: Did they hit anything?

ANGLE ON: THÉODEN calmly speak to GAMLING. THÉODEN: Give them a volley. GAMLING: Fire!

ANGLES ON: The order is passed to the Men, and the arrows fly. Many more URUK-HAI are felled but the advance continues.

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    A good answer would address the concerns in the question, namely "How was the beginning of this scene in the books? Were the Uruk-Hai allowed to approach the castle without any harassment?"
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 6:28
  • I always hated that Gamling yells "Fire"...
    – fgysin
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 10:51
  • For poorly skilled human archers, that old guy with the missing eye and the weak trigger control sure did pretty good.. “oh, the NECK you say Legolas? Hold my beer” Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 1:43

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