After the unexpected victory at Pelennor Fields and the loss of their Steward it seems that the common soldiers would despair to follow Aragorn and Gandalf on what was obviously a suicide mission. On the other hand it would have been necessary to keep up the ruse for fear of spies finding out that the Ring was in Mordor. Did the captains reveal the true purpose of the mission, or did the army think they were actually trying to assault Mordor?

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    I think in the book their options are outlined as "march on Mordor" or "stay here and wait for Mordor to come destroy us", though not in any actual reported speech between the characters. I'd have to check when I actually have access to it though. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 16:27
  • Or maybe Aragorn and Gandalf, knowing the (somewhat high) possibility of the hobbits failing to destroy the ring, this would have been the correct thing to do strategically.
    – user15235
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


So time and the hopeless journey wore away. Upon the fourth day from the Cross-roads and the sixth from Minas Tirith they came at last to the end of the living lands, and began to pass into the desolation that lay before the gates of the Pass of Cirith Gorgor; and they could descry the marshes and the desert that stretched north and west to the Emyn Muil. So desolate were those places and so deep the horror that lay on them that some of the host were unmanned, and they could neither walk nor ride further north.

Aragorn looked at them, and there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath; for these were young men from Rohan, from Westfold far away, or husbandmen from Lossarnach, and to them Mordor had been from childhood a name of evil, and yet unreal, a legend that had no part in their simple life; and now they walked like men in a hideous dream made true, and they understood not this war nor why fate should lead them to such a pass.

This seems to imply that regular soldiers didn't know why they marched - from Aragorn's point of view.

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    I would also add that, tactically speaking, the army can't know of the true intent of such an attack. This attack is a diversion to allow Frodo a survivable chance to reach Mt. Doom. The more people know of this, the more likely it will reach Sauron's ears through his spies. That's why Aragorn looked upon them with pity: He's sending them to what he himself believes to be suicide but couldn't tell them why, if Middle Earth is to be free. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 19:18

In The Return of the King, in the chapter "The Last Debate", when they're talking about this stratagem:


Therefore I ask the Captains: what force could we muster and lead out in two days' time at the latest? And they must be hardy men that go willingly, knowing their peril.

So I'd say the intent was for it to be a volunteer force that knew it was the bait for a trap, but we don't hear from any of the footsoldiers, nor is there a scene where any of the principals are directly speaking to the men about this.

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    But it doesn't clarify if the peril is in assaulting Mordor, or serving as bait for the Eye to takes its attention off Hobbits. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 16:35

From the point of view of common soldiers, it might not have been a "suicide mission". Aragorn had just led the Dead Men of Dunharrow to destroy the army attacking Minas Tirith when all seemed hopeless. When they asked for volunteers to march on the Black Gate (as per the quote in Wrathchild's answer), the soldiers might have believed Aragorn knew what he was doing, and expected some sort of magic to save them.

In fact this was basically correct, although the soldiers didn't know about the Ring and were probably expecting something more like the Dead Men. Probably Aragorn just chose not to discourage any hopeful rumours which were circulating in his army.

After all, which bit of dialogue is more likely? This:

SOLDIER: My lord Aragorn, will the Dead Men come to save us again?

ARAGORN: No. And we will be hopelessly outnumbered by the armies of Mordor. But if we're really lucky, a halfling will drop the Enemy's Ring into the fires of Mount Doom before they finish hacking us limb from limb.

Or this:

SOLDIER: My lord Aragorn, will the Dead Men come to save us again?

ARAGORN: [Smiles slightly] I cannot say, but there is much more to this strategy than our army marching on the Black Gate. All will be revealed when the time is right.

Also, the soldiers might have thought the appearance of the Eagles was Aragorn's secret weapon, which would have helped their morale at a crucial moment.

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    Only those who arrived with Aragorn from Pelargir would have seen the Dead Men, they did not fight at Minas Tirith (well, they did in the films,...).
    – BMWurm
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 18:59

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