When Mordor's army is marching out of Minas Morgul and Frodo, Sam and Gollum are nearby, The Witch-king stops all of the sudden and starts looking around.

I remember reading somewhere that he indeed felt the presence of Frodo and was disturbed (I think that was the word used), but then he's just like "meh, I haz war to makez". Wouldn't Sauron give priority to the presence of the ring-bearer rather than going to war? and I mean, the Witch-king could have ordered 2 or 3 Nazgul to look around, at least, why did he completely ignore it?

2 Answers 2


I think he might have, if he had been even reasonably sure that what he was sensing was indeed the Ring. It's not clear he did:

"... for a moment he was troubled, sensing some other power within his valley."

But that could have been anything, I suppose. He appears to have tried to check whether it was the Ring:

[Frodo] felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the ring.

Presumably this command comes from the Witch-king. But he is frustrated, partly by Frodo's choice to grasp the Phial of Galadriel, partly perhaps by the cloaks of Galadriel. In addition, he's rushing to fulfill Sauron's command, and he doesn't have enough proof of what the problem is to justify overriding that.

(Both quotes from The Two Towers, Chapter VIII, "The Stairs Of Cirith Ungol".)

As far as "the Witchking could have ordered 2 or 3 nazguls to look around" - I don't have my book with me at the moment, but weren't the other Nazgul engaged in Gondor (at Osgiliath and Minas Tirith) at the time? It would have taken them a while to fly over; the Witch-king might have found it more efficient and quicker (as @PaulGriffiths points out) to alert an Orc patrol, who had more manpower and could search or guard the area better.

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    Shagrat also says "A message came: Nazgûl uneasy. Spies feared on Stairs. Double vigilance. Patrol to head of Stairs. I came at once", so some kind of message appears to have been sent.
    – Crowman
    Jun 9, 2014 at 3:23
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    @PaulGriffiths the message presumably was the discovery of the broken webbing at the exit of Shelob's layer, followed by the discovery of Shelob's dead body. At least that's how I always interpreted it on reading the book multiple times.
    – jwenting
    Jun 23, 2017 at 11:33
  • @jwenting do we really know that Shelob is dead?
    – byk7
    Jan 26, 2019 at 15:52
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    @byk7 unless the orcs that discovered her body were mistaken, yes. Of course like Morgoth in the first age, she could have shed her mortal body and gone in search of another one.
    – jwenting
    Jan 28, 2019 at 6:33
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    @jwenting Morgoth was able to that because he was one of the Ainur, we have no reason to think Shelob could do the same, other than uncertainty over exactly what Ungoliant really was. Mar 23, 2021 at 17:26

Something to keep in mind is that Sauron was certain Rohan or Gondor would seize the ring and attempt to use it against Mordor. All of his preparations were for that kind of scenario. A Hobbit sneaking across Middle-earth and into Mt. Doom never crossed his brilliant (but not infallible) mind. So, the Witch King may have sensed something at that time... but he had no reason to suspect it was the ring. Plus, he had his orders from Sauron to lead his army against Gondor. I am pretty sure the Nazgul would listen to orders from Sauron, above instinct. Just my 2 cents, I am no authority on the matter.

  • 1
    You say, "the Nazgul would listen to orders from Sauron, above instinct." That's too weak a statement. The Nazgul were completely dominated by Sauron's will. They could exercise their own will only in furtherance of Sauron's. But this is not to say that they were automatons! If new facts came to their attention, they could act on those facts...in furtherance of Sauron's orders. Your point that the Ring's presence there was unexpected and thus not considered is key. It's called "confirmation bias" and even Lords of Evil suffer from it.
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 23, 2021 at 15:07
  • I'm not sure what this adds that the existing answer doesn't already cover.
    – TylerH
    Mar 24, 2021 at 16:58

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