Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Story Recap

Smeagol – Gollum’s prisoner’s story

He was indeed once a fisherman. As his brother Deagol falls into the lake being dragged by the baited fish, his hands fall on a shiny ring in the sand on the bottom of the water. He carries it in his hands. Smeagol stands behind him and is at once taken by its beauty. He asks Deagol to give the ring to him.

When he doesn’t, Smeagol murders him. Smeagol holds it in his hands and we see how he turned into Gollum over the years. Smeagol was abandoned by the community for murdering his brother and he wasted away in the darkness of dungeons to become this gangrel beast.

Frodo’s falling health and Rohan’s victory

Frodo is unable to sleep anymore. Smeagol takes them further. Sam rations the food for the journey back home, as Frodo sees that possibility grow unlikely by the minute. Gandalf and the others reach Isengard, where Treebeard has taken over.

Saruman is locked inside the tower, now with no powers. Pippin spots his Palantir that Gandalf quickly takes under his cloak. Theoden and the people of Rohan return to their homes. They drink and feast in the honor of the fallen. Eowyn takes interest in Aragorn. She courts him as a probable groom. Gollum rallies Smeagol to kill the Hobbits. They talk about “she” who is always hungry and will eat the Hobbits when they go through the tunnel.

Sam wakes up in the middle of Gollum’s blabbering. He jumps on him but Frodo stops him. He still needs Gollum as a guide. Sam reluctantly agrees but is wary of Smeagol’s next move. At night, Pippin takes away Saruman’s Palantir and looks into it. The Eye growls at him and torments him in Black Speech. He is paralyzed under his spell.

Palantir’s vision of a burning city

Gandalf brings him back and asks him what he saw. A dead white tree in the courtyard with a city burning around it. Minas Tirith, Gandalf identifies. Thankfully, Pippin didn’t tell Sauron anything about Frodo. Gandalf deduces Pippin’s glimpse into the Palantir as the enemy’s plan to attack the city of Minas Tirith. But he’s wary about the strength of the man.

As soon as Gondor’s call for help is lit, Rohan must ride to help. Theoden disagrees. If they didn’t come to help them, why should they? Aragorn says he’ll go and warn Gondor. Gandalf says he must come through another way – through the river, looking for black ships. Gandalf will carry the message to Gondor and take Pippin with him. The enemy will now be looking for him as he thinks he has the ring.

As Arwen is being taken away to board the ship, she has a vision of Aragorn with their son, wearing her Evenstar. She turns around and rides into Rivendell. She rushes to Elrond and asks what he saw. Death for Arwen and life for her son. She begs her father to re-forge the sword that took the ring out of Sauron’s hand. Elrond sees the life of Eldar leaving Arwen in his foresight. He mends the sword as promised. Gandalf arrives at Minas Tirith, the city of kings. Pippin sees the white tree, which Gandalf explains as the King’s tree. Gondor has no king but a steward, Lord Denethor, Boromir’s father. Gandalf warns him not to say anything to the lord and let him do the talking.

Gandalf greets him but Denethor already knows of Boromir’s death. Pippin steps forward to explain to him that Boromir died saving his kinsmen. Gandalf pushes him aside and asks Denethor to light the beacons and call for help. He must ready the armies and prepare the defense of the city. Denethor denounces Gandalf’s plan and sees it as connivance to dethrone him and install Aragorn on the throne.

Gandalf fears the worst fight as he and Pippin look out the city over the grounds where the battle for the earth will be fought. Mordor’s call to arms has been heralded by even men – mercenaries from the coast and legions of Haradrim from the south. At Gondor, the hammer store will fall the hardest.

After Osgiliath, Gondor is next. Gandalf tells Pippin of the witch -king of Angmar, the one who stabbed Frodo in Weathertop. He will lead Sauron’s armies and no living man can kill him.

The Dead City, the lit beacons, and Gollum’s evil plan

Gollum, Sam, and Frodo reach the Dead City, where Sauron’s armies prepare for battle. Gollum shepherds them to the stairs that will lead them to Mordor. The witch-king emerges and the gates open, making way for his army. Frodo’s ascent begins up the stairs. Pippin is given the task of lighting the beacon by Gandalf.

Others respond as hope is kindled. The Orcs sail silently to the shores of Osgiliath. They’re met by a brave resistance of men but eventually they overpower them. Leftover riders ride to Minas Tirith as the Nazguls pick them out in the open. Gandalf saves the day with his white light and brings a handful back. Aragorn rushes to tell Theoden that the beacons are lit.

The King declares that Rohan will answer and readies his men. He asks his lieutenants to ask for further reinforcements. Eowyn plans on joining the fight and taking to the battleground in secrecy. Gandalf meets Faramir who tells them they’re taking the road to Morgul Vale. Gandalf is concerned and seeks more details from Faramir.

Smeagol, Sam, and Frodo reach the top. Smeagol poisons Frodo against Sam that he intends to take the ring for himself. The witch-king stands atop Osgiliath and says he will handle the wizard while ordering legions of orcs to assemble and attack. Denethor is delirious and orders Faramir and his men to take Osgiliath again. It is an act of envy as he says he wished Faramir died instead of Boromir.

Gollum encourages more in-fighting as he throws away the last remaining bread and blames it on Sam. The tensions run high and the creature’s plan is succeeding. Frodo is convinced Sam wants the ring for himself and parts ways with him.

He goes on with Gollum as Sam cries for his friend. Faramir and his men follow Denethor’s suicide mission to retake Osgiliath. Everyone knows how it will end but yet they march on. The aims of orcs’ arrows are locked and in moments, Faramir and his men are killed.

Elrond’s vision, Aragorn’s calling, and the final showdown

Not enough men have answered Theoden’s call. Mordor’s lines will not be broken by a mere six thousand. Legolas explains the legend of Dimholt, the door under the mountain, to Gimli. No one who has gone in has ever returned. Aragorn draws closer to the road to Dimholt as Gimli brings him out of his trance.

Aragorn is woken by a soldier who summons him to the king’s tent. Lord Elrond visits him and informs him about Arwen, who is dying. Elrond foresees their defeat. He tells them of another fleet of Corsair ships that will attack from another front. A defeat is certain unless Aragorn is able to conjure the men who dwell in the mountain. Elrond gives Aragorn the sword of Elendil he re-forged. He says the cursed men will answer to the king of Gondor.

Aragorn’s destiny calls out for him. He must seek his true identity and march on to Dimholt. Aragorn prepares his horse and dismisses Eowyn’s love for him. Legolas and Gimli accompany Aragorn to Dimholt. Men see Aragorn’s departure as the loss of hope. Theoden reassures them that they will still battle with a full heart.

Legolas explains the legend behind these men. They were cursed as they broke their promise to the last king of Gondor to come to their aid in battle. Isildur cursed them never to rest and remain in the darkness of the mountain. At the mouth of the entrance, Aragorn enters, Legolas follows, and Gimli is forced in to keep the name of dwarves. Theoden and his men leave for battle.

Aragorn deals with the dead and asks them to fight for him. If they do, he will free them of the curse. Sauron’s army assembled in front of the white city. They envelop almost the entire field. Denethor loses all hope and is even more disillusioned as he sees Faramir’s dead body. Gandalf knocks Denethor unconscious and takes over. He asks the men to stand their ground and keep fighting. Joining the forces on the ground are Nazguls from the skies.

Smeagol leads Frodo to the tunnel, where he begins to doubt if it’s the correct way. Smeagol pushes him to go in as it is the only way. Frodo takes the bait and goes in.

Frodo walks into the cave of death

He leads Frodo right into the path of a giant spider. Frodo uses the light of Earendil (given to him by Galadriel in the first movie) to hold off the spider, who is blinded by it. Sam, who had started to turn back, discovers the bread in the rocks below and goes back toward the tunnel to help Frodo. Frodo unwittingly walks into the spider’s web, unable to get out.

Smeagol mocks him from the sidelines but Frodo keeps fighting away and escapes, barely. Outside, Smeagol attacks Frodo asking for the Ring. Frodo says he is going to destroy the ring as Smeagol falls down a pit trying to get his precious back.

Frodo marches on, alone, apologizing to Sam under his breath, realizing the big mistake he made. Galadriel’s spirit awakens him from slumber and asks him to keep going. At Tirith, the fight rages on. The orcs manage to break down the gate and enter the city.

Unbeknownst to Frodo, the spider sneaks up on him and strikes him with its sting. She then starts wrapping up in her web but Samwise arrives with the sword and Earendil. He valiantly fights the spider and emerges victorious. Frodo is stunned by the poison and lies still in Sam’s arms. The sword turns blue as Sam sees orcs arriving. He hides as the Orcs take Frodo to the tower, not knowing he is the one with the Ring. Samwise follows the orcs into the tower.

Rohan arrives to save the day

Denethor prepares for Faramir’s funeral when Pippin reveals that he is not dead. But he is ousted from the ceremony. At Tirith, the Orcs have overwhelmed the city’s defenses. As all hope is lost, the horn of the hammerhead rings from the east. It is Rohan, who has arrived in swell numbers to fight the enemy. They bleed into the fields, running through the enemy led by Theoden.

They overrun the orcs as Pippin leads Gandalf to Faramir. Pippin climbs into the pire and saves Faramir, as he is burned alive, and jumps from the top to his death. Just as Theoden’s army has taken the upper hand, the mammoth Oliphaunts arrive with the Haradrim riding on their backs.

It is a tough battle but they soldier on. Eowyn shows great courage as Theoden’s men successfully wade off the mammoth creatures. Theoden rallies his men behind him but the Nazgul knocks him down. He asks the fell beast to feast on Theoden’s flesh, as Eowyn jumps in front of him valiantly. She even severs the beast’s head and then fights the witch-king.

The orcs think the pirate reinforcements have arrived but instead, it is Aragorn with the cursed army. Pippin and Eowyn work together to kill the witch-king. The cursed army defeats the remaining orcs as the unlikeliest of victories awaits the men. Theoden lies on the ground, proud of Eowyn. He asks her to let him go and thanks her for saving him. He breathes his last in her arms. Aragorn releases the cursed men, as promised. The fight at Tirith is over.

Samwise the Brave saves Frodo, Gandalf’s crucial diversion, and Smeagol’s role

The action shifts to Sauron’s tower, where Frodo wakes up. But he cannot find the ring. Sam follows secretively and retrieves Frodo from under the orc guard. Frodo is desolate but Sam reveals he has it. For a moment, the ring takes over Sam, but the brave Hobbit gets his bearings and hands over the ring.

They wear orc guard to go through the final leg of hurdles towards Mordor: the Plains of Gorgoroth. The Eye is keeping a stern vigil but the brave hobbits march on. Gandalf and the council decide to create a diversion for Frodo to get through.

To give him the best chance – perhaps even to themselves – they risk their own lives. Sauron’s remaining army marches to the gates of Mordor to meet the incoming enemy. The Hobbits are almost there. Aragorn, with the remaining army of men, stands at the gates, prepared for battle. The council goes near the door to see where the army is. They call out to the army and the gates creak open. Frodo’s last steps into Mordor are shaky, as the Eye spots him on the rocks. But loses him and focuses firmly on the gate, just as the council planned.

The men are outnumbered; Frodo is the only chance of survival. They’re engulfed by Sauron’s humungous army. Sam pushes Frodo on by describing the Shire in spring. When Frodo doesn’t respond, Sam carries Frodo to the final few steps. Aragorn advances to fight for Frodo, as the men join him. Sam reaches the doorway, but Smeagol attacks them all of a sudden and a fight ensues between them. Frodo runs for the doorway.

The battle continues at the gates. Frodo is nearly there. He stands on the edge of the bridge that leads into the raging fire of Mordor. He stands with the ring in his hands. But he pauses. He can’t throw it in the fire. The Ring whispers to him and shines in his eyes.

“The Ring is mine”, he says, pressing it close to his heart and wearing it, disappearing. Smeagol knocks Sam unconscious and jumps on Frodo. He bites his finger and retrieves the ring, completely overwhelmed by it. He dances around in joy. Frodo gets up and Gollum falls into the fire with the Ring. Frodo hangs on the rocks below as Sam tries to help him up. He does, and the ring that settled on the lava melts into the fire. It is destroyed. And as it does, the Eye explodes. Sauron’s army vanquishes and falls into the pit in the ground. The bottomless pit swallows them whole.

The evil is defeated as the tower crumbles down. Mount doom explodes as well, as everything in Mordor’s vicinity starts to go down. Sam and Frodo make it. They rejoice seeing the enemy being defeated but are stranded on a rock as molten lava spreads around them. Frodo and Sam daydream of the Shire and everything wonderful about the place they call home. And just as all hope is lost, Gandalf’s eagles rescue them.

Final Goodbyes

Frodo wakes up days after his heroic acts of singular importance to find Gandalf sitting at his bedside. Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn walk into to see their hero healthy and well. Samwise arrives at the last and his eyes meet that of Frodo. They nod in contentment and admiration for what they endured together.

At Minas Tirith, Aragorn takes oath as the new King of Gondor. All bow down to him and he delivers a rousing speech. Lord Elrond gives Arwen’s hand to the King. They are to be wedded and Arwen’s vision will come true. Aragorn sees the Hobbits, who bow to him. But Aragorn interrupts them and says, “My friends… you bow to no one”, and everyone bows to thank them for their heroics.

Frodo narrates the tale afterward. Thirteen months from that day, he writes that the Fellowship ended with the Ring destroyed. The Hobbits returned to Bag End and Sam finally marries Rosie Cotteon. Frodo has completed the unwritten chapters in his uncle Bilbo’s book, with a space left for a few more. The Hobbits leave to big goodbye to Bilbo and Gandalf, who will go with the Elves to the West into Valinor.

Galadriel announces that the time has come for the Dominion of Men and that the time of the three Rings is over. Bilbo goes straight ahead onto the ship. Gandalf says his goodbyes. His work here is finished and now he must go back.

All of the Hobbits, except Frodo, weep to see the great Wizard depart. But he pauses and turns, saying, “It is time Frodo”. All the Hobbits turn to him in shock. And Frodo explains that he is leaving with Gandalf as the Shire has been saved. He hands over the Red Book of Westmarch to Sam, encouraging him to write his own chapters. Sam comes back to the Shire, ready to begin a new life with his wife and kids.

The End


Thanks for reading our story recap for Return of the King. What do you think of Lord of the Ring’s story? Have we missed any crucial details in this recap? Do let us know in the comments below!

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