In the Battle of the Hornburg from The Two Towers, Aragorn and Theoden say "We must ride out." Why did they do this?

Was it just a matter of honor? Did they ride out on their horses in the middle of battle because they thought it was the end, as they were outnumbered? Was it because Aragorn knew Gandalf was coming so they were confident they were about to win?

  • In the film, it's because they had invincible tank horses that can plow through solid masses of orcs like a hot knife through butter. Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 8:32

3 Answers 3


In the book, Theoden and Aragorn decide on the ride:

‘Do not judge the counsel of Gandalf, until all is over, lord,’ said Aragorn.
‘The end will not be long,’ said the king. ‘But I will not end here, taken like an old badger in a trap. Snowmane and Hasufel and the horses of my guard are in the inner court. When dawn comes, I will bid men sound Helm’s horn, and I will ride forth. Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn? Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song – if any be left to sing of us hereafter.’
‘I will ride with you,’ said Aragorn.

Before they ride out, Aragorn calls out for parlay with the Orcs. He tells the Orcs:

‘I have still this to say,’ answered Aragorn. ‘No enemy has yet taken the Hornburg. Depart, or not one of you will be spared. Not one will be left alive to take back tidings to the North. You do not know your peril.’

Aragorn had faith that Gandalf would come with aid. He even seems to forecast the annihilation of the Orcs by the Huorns. Theoden on the other hand seems to accept his fate, and be determined to die fighting.

But it is clearly Theoden who proposes the ride. So they rode out because they thought it was the end, not because they had faith that Gandalf was coming.

  • 15
    In the movie, Gandalf says he will be back, but in the books, he just looks into the distance, tells them to turn aside and go to Helm's Deep and then rides away. Aragorn had no idea Gandalf would return with aid. The movie cheapens this whole episode: they make Theoden a person filled with despair and ready to give up fighting and they make Aragorn a con artist who cousels Theoden to ride out because he has secret knowledge that ensures he will look good in the end when Gandalf arrives.
    – horatio
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 15:07

My interpretation of this bit of the story (from the books) is that once the initial battle for Helms Deep has been lost and Theoden's army find themselves trapped in the caves Aragorn loses faith that they will survive and is dejected (the only time he loses faith in Gandalf).

But Theoden, still burning with rage at the loss of his son whilst under the spell of Saruman and facing the likely loss of his kingdom is determined to end in a valiant last charge to avenge his son and drive the orcs from his realm or die trying. It is Theoden's refusal to give in that inspires Aragorn as well as the remainder of the army to make the last charge. To me it is also Theoden's finest hour.

I believe that the movie got this completely wrong with Aragorn having to motivate Theoden into action. But in reality what more motivation could Theoden need, his son had been killed, his people had been attacked and slain, orcs had invaded his land and he had done nothing because he had been bewitched. He was heartbroken angry and ready for blood. That was why he charged and that is why Aragorn followed him. Whether Gandalf was coming or not Theoden would have charged.


It has been a while from that post but anyway I would like to share my thoughts with you. I have not read the books so I was not aware of that inconsistency stated in the above post. However my guess is that there is an obvious difference between Aragorn 's motivation and King Theoden's one which can be seen in more than one scene. I don't know whether it stems from the culture of the Elves (and perhaps some 0.01% elvish blood) that Aragorn carries within him but it seems like Aragorn is solely driven by compassion whereas Theoden, even at the end of all things, is still obsessed about human things like glory and the appearance of things. He is courageous but he is also arrogant which deprives him of a clearer judgment. He refuses to call for help when Aragorn asks him to. He asks Aragorn to ride out with him " for death and glory " and Aragorn's striking answer is " For Rohan!" trying to put things in order and thus depicting clearly the difference between the two characters. Some claim that Theoden never really recovered 100% from Saruman's spell but I do not think that would be the case. The answer lies more to Galadriel's speech in the preface when she states that "the hearts of men are easily corrupted " and that "...nine rings were gifted to the race of men who above all else desire power.." And also describing the elves as "...immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings ".
So King Theoden is a man of the West who even though he stands for the good and not the evil, yet his heart is corrupted with the viciousness of arrogance which clouds his judgement and without the help of Aragorn I very much doubt that he would be able to defend his people. Aragorn on the other hand appears to be filled with compassion and free from selfish desires throughout the trilogy, which enables him to think more clearly as he solely acts for one and only purpose, The Well-being of others and the dominion of Good in Middle Earth. Although they are both willing to give their lives, these are differences between them that really make a difference! So to answer the question Aragorn and Theoden ride out because it is the wisest move to do at the time. The war is lost inside the walls. In the film the sun rises after the conversation is held so, the decision does not appear to rely on Gandalf's coming.

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