As far as I know the Witch King has not won a single battle.

He has:

  • been burned by Aragorn
  • been swooshed away by Arwen
  • fled from Gandalf
  • fled from Glorfindel
  • and eventually been killed by Eowyn.

This servant of Sauron is supposed to be the strongest servant of his. I have heard that Gandalf could destroy him with ease, which seems incorrect to me.

Why was this character created? Tolkien and PJ could have lowered his status in power if they needed to, but still not make him this weak. He is supposed to be a challenge to Gandalf, not something that Gandalf can just throw around like a ragdoll.

Can anyone explain this inconsistency? Please provide info that could help me understand why the strongest servant of Sauron fails in every task and seemingly cannot kill anybody he faces.

Why is the Witch King said to be so immensely powerful, and then defeated every time?


2 Answers 2


The Witch King has actually won plenty of battles and these are for the most part described in the Appendices in RotK; for example:

In 1974 the power of Angmar arose again, and the Witch-king came down upon Arthedain before winter was ended. He captured Fornost, and drove most of the remaining Dunedain over the Lune; among them were the sons of the king.

This was the guy who co-ordinated the destruction of the North Kingdom and ended the line of Kings in Gondor, after all. That makes him a force to be reckoned with.

The instances you mention are quite specific exceptions. Let's look at them and see why.

First of all, after the attack on Weathertop, as far as the Witch King was concerned he had already won. He'd stabbed Frodo, the fragment of the blade was working it's way, and it was only a matter of time before Frodo was overcome. He didn't particularly need to fight, so it's a simple enough strategy to back off and wait. Of course, being unaware of the resilience of Hobbits he calculated wrongly there, but that doesn't make him "weak".

Regarding Glorfindel, here we're talking about a Lord of the Noldor from the Blessed Realm who had slain a Balrog in the First Age. As Glorfindel himself says, he is one of the "few even in Rivendell that can ride openly against the Nine" - that doesn't make the Witch King "weak", it makes Glorfindel incredibly strong.

Gandalf as a Maia should be obvious too; particularly in his "Gandalf the White" incarnation. The Witch King may be a powerful servant of the Dark Lord, but Gandalf is a spirit who assisted in the creation of the world and a being of supreme power in Middle-earth:

'Dangerous!' cried Gandalf. 'And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord.'

Finally there's Merry and Eowyn (I'm skipping over Arwen as her involvement here is just movie foolishness), and their part in this is fulfilment of a prophecy; just as Frodo was meant to find the Ring, so were Merry and Eowyn meant to destroy the Witch King (Merry possessing an enchanted blade with powers for just this purpose didn't hurt either). The whole topic of destiny in Tolkien (or Doom as he would have preferred to say) is a huge one that could take an entire book to explain, so you'll just have to accept that it's there, that it's important, and that when it happens notions such as relative degrees of power don't matter much.

It's not that the Witch King is weak, it's that you're seriously underestimating those who came up against him in the main narrative.

  • 7
    Also, you can add that Merry carried a magicked blade designed to be effective aganst servants of Sauron. Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 2:33
  • 4
    @DVK - a +1 Short Sword of Witch King slaying? Good point, I'll edit to add.
    – user8719
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 3:08
  • 1
    You can keep Arwen in. Arwen just triggered a boundary spell that Elrond had spent eons devising with his Elven Ring of Power (and his own power as a Elf Lord). Arwen was just releasing the guard dogs...or water horses.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 23:07
  • 4
    @Oldcat - not in the books, she didn't. In the books the spell was triggered by the Ringwraiths trying to cross, and Glorfindel drive them in (and Elrond didn't use his Ring for it either; the power of the Elven Rings is explicitly stated more than once as being to preserve and prevent decay, not to lay magical traps).
    – user8719
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 23:54
  • 2
    Elrond raised the power of the river, and it's probable that his Ring helped with this, as its power was to preserve and prevent... harm to Rivendell... thus concealing it, among other things. (If evil creatures could enter at will, it wouldn't be too effective.) Also I'm not sure why people assume Arwen, a close relative of Luthien and a woman, would not fare well against agents of Sauron... she was protected mostly because her mother (and many of her relatives) had been waylaid and tortured or killed.
    – Ber
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 9:25

Your question is flawed, as far as the books are concerned. You say he has:

  • been burned by Aragorn
  • been swooshed away by Arwen
  • fled from Gandalf
  • fled from Glorfindel
  • and eventually been killed by Eowyn.

According to the books, he has:

  • never been burned by Aragorn (Aragorn wields torches, but doesn't set anyone on fire)
  • been swooshed away by Gandalf and Elrond (an elf and a wizard are formidable opponents when working in tandem)
  • never fled from Gandalf (in fact, he was distracted by the arrival of the Rohirrim and went to meet them on the battlefield)
  • not really fled from Glorfindel (the wraiths were chasing Frodo, not necessarily running away from Glorfindel; their horses were terrified by Glorfindel and charged into the river, but the wraiths weren't necessarily scared)
  • and eventually been killed by a combined attack by Merry's magical sword, which broke the spell that kept the Witch King intact, and then a second blow from Eowyn.

In addition to this, he also:

  • manages to poison Merry and Eowyn because they stabbed him
  • poisons Faramir by simply breathing on him
  • renders everyone near him, even his own troops, incapacitated with fear by his mere presence
  • kills Theoden King
  • strips the flesh from disobedient soldiers in his garrison (according to them, at least)
  • lives for thousands of years
  • can't be harmed by men, and is virtually invincible to everything except the combined attack that eventually kills him
  • rides a crazy evil dragon/pterodactyl thingy
  • Gandalf and Elrond's powers were also enhanced by them bearing the Elven Rings Narya and Vilya. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 10:52
  • Although you're mostly correct technically he only indirectly kills Théoden: it was his horse that destroyed his body. And if memory serves me right in fact they were afraid of Glorfindel in his full wrath: and that's because he lives at once in both the Unseen and the Seen. And perhaps semantics but I'm not sure Black Breath counts as poison though I could see it that way too. I think as far as fleeing from Gandalf there is one point where they do: when they're not yet ready for the attack on Gondor. Not really 'fled' perhaps but still was stayed by Gandalf. Iirc it was the Witch-king.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 23:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.