Nazgûl, Black Riders, Ringwraiths, The Nine Riders - whatever you want to call them, they are singularly absolute in their devotion to the One Ring and its creator Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.
Once they were mortal men who were gifted with a Ring of Power. Each man was glorious and powerful in his own way. However, the Rings were corrupted by the evil lord Sauron. As their lives continued past what is natural, their wills and identities diminished in their thraldom to the One Ring. They became Ringwraiths, aka Nazgûl.
The simple yet striking image of a Ringwraith - a hooded figure completely cloaking the skeletal remains of what was once a man - deftly illustrates absolute corruption. To be a wraith is to lose your sense of self entirely; Nazgûl are never named and communicate with the exact same ghoulish screech. Pursuing power for its own sake is numbing.
Nazgûl, as dreamt up by The Lord of The Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien and as cinematically realized by movie director Peter Jackson, are memorably evil fairy tale figures.
However, as with many fantastical creations, there are a few inconsistencies and things that don’t quite add up.
With that said, here are the 15 Things About the Nazgûl That Make No Sense
15 The Nazgûl Give Up Far Too Easily
At the end of The Two Towers, a Nazgûl has Frodo, and therefore the One Ring, all but in its grasp.
In a possessed state, Frodo walks through the battle of Osgiliath and offers up the Ring to the Nazgûl who’s riding the dragon-like Fell Beast.
Before the Nazgûl can retrieve the Ring and complete his single mission, though, a single fired arrow strikes the Fell Beast and the Nazgûl flies away.
The saying that a hero is only as good as his villain can have many meanings. However, a good reading of this expression is that a villain and a hero should be at least equally tenacious.
For example, Boromir, a human being who doesn’t have the constitution of a Fell Beast, fought off a bunch of orcs with three arrows feathering his un-armoured torso.
14 How Did The Witch King Break Gandalf’s Staff?
This only occurred in the extended edition of Return of the King, but it still bears thinking about because even in the theatrical cut, Gandalf is without his magical staff in the final battle.
During the battle of Minas Tirith, the White Wizard Gandalf faces off against the chief Nazgûl, the dreaded Witch King.
It’s a short-lived battle, however (if you can even call it that), as The Witch King raises his flaming sword and without much exertion manages to completely shatter Gandalf’s staff.
As a storytelling choice, this makes sense, as it raises the tension. However, given that we’ve seen Gandalf slain other equally powerful foes, it raises a few question marks that the Witch King could defeat Gandalf so easily – without so much as an exchange of blows.
13 How Did Eowyn Slay The Witch King?
Merry shanks the Witch King from behind and Eowyn finishes him off with sword to the face. It makes sense thematic within The Lord Of The Rings that Merry (a hobbit) and Eowyn (a woman) are the ones to take down the supremely arrogant villain.
The fantasy genre is full of stories of the overlooked rising up to perform legendary heroic feats. Considering that the Witch King nearly effortlessly took out Gandalf a few scenes earlier, though, this remains a head-scratcher.
There are a few explanations as to why they were able to defeat the Witch King, the most common one being that Merry’s blade was magically blessed, allowing for Eowyn to finish off the Nazgûl.
There are two problems with this, however. First, it undercuts Eowyn’s triumphant declaration somewhat and secondly, this explanation is not in the movie itself. It’s sort of muddy.
12 Their Fear of Water
In a fairy tale sort of way, the Nazgûl aversion to water makes sense. Water is the source of life and the Nazgûl, ghoulish and evil as they are, are anti-life.
Consider that Peter Jackson made a point of showing that once Sam and Frodo made it to the hellish land of Mount Doom, their water had run out, signalling that they were in a domain where life cannot thrive.
So the Nazgûl would find water repugnant just as we might find hell fire to be repugnant.
However, Middle-earth is a place that is so fleshed out and specific, that water can be found everywhere.
It would literally be impossible for the Nazgûl to effectively traverse Middle-earth in search of the One Ring if they were afraid to touch water.
11 Aragorn Fending Off The Nazgûl On Weathertop
In The Fellowship of the Ring, we first get a taste of Aragorn’s fighting skills when he defends the hobbits on Weathertop. With only a sword and a torch, he ably fends off five Nazgûl, including the Witch King.
It’s a well-staged scene, as the fire roars and billows and the Nazgûl shriek in shock and agony. It’s so good that only after the scene is finished does it become apparent that it shouldn’t have been this easy for Aragorn to drive off the Nazgûl.
Heretofore, the Nazgûl had been presented as relentless as the Terminator. If one can frighten them off without so much trouble, without so much as a scratch even, it’s difficult for the Nazgûl to regain some of that much needed fearsomeness.
10 How Did Aragorn’s Switcheroo Work?
As the Nazgûl enter the Prancing Pony, where they believe the Ring bearer and the other hobbits are, they approach the beds with their swords unsheathed.
They then plunge the blades into the beds. However, they only stab at watermelons and some roughly human-shaped hay.
It’s a scene that’s quite frightening and atmospheric, and one of the moments where Peter Jackson gets to flex his horror movie muscles. It undoubtedly gave many kids nightmares (and let’s face it, many adults), as it expertly played on our collective fear of the dark.
Like with many scenes in the trilogy, it’s so visceral and well-constructed that the gaps in logic scarcely matter.
For example, how in the world did the Nazgûl not sense that the Ring was in not in the room? For relentless hunters, they sure can be fooled quite easily.
9 How Did The Ringwraith Not Sniff Out The Ring?
This is yet another instance of the Nazgûl being sort of incompetent at their jobs.
In The Fellowship of The Ring, a Nazgûl corners Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam under a tree root. It bends down and sniffs for the Ring (do they even have noses?).
It’s so close to Frodo and the Ring that it can’t be more than a meter away.
However, the Nazgûl is then fooled into running in a different direction when Merry creates a pretty rudimentary distraction with a sack of carrots.
It’s another one of the scenes in the trilogy where Peter Jackson effectively builds a sense of tension and horror by sacrificing a little bit of logic.
Why a single-minded monster would be so easily startled and/or surprised by the sound of a tossed sack of carrots is anyone’s guess.
8 Why Didn’t Bilbo’s Use Of The Ring Trigger The Nazgûl?
Between The Hobbit trilogy, when Bilbo first obtains the One Ring, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, roughly 60 years go by.
We also know that the Nazgûl were active during this time, at least if we’re going by Peter Jackson’s chronology, as Galadriel, Saruman, and Gandalf battled with the ghostly forms of the Ringwraiths during The Battle of the Five Armies.
This creates something of a plot issue, though. In the intervening time between The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, Bilbo was surely using the Ring left and right. Why didn’t his use of it sufficiently trigger the Nazgûl to go after it?
Of course, it’s not such an issue in the book, as Gandalf’s side quest was never expanded on like it was in the movies.
7 Why not make more use of the Fell Beasts?
Of all the creatures that populate Middle-earth, the Fell Beasts are undoubtedly one of the coolest. Their appearance calls to mind a dragon spewed from the bowels of hell.
Sure, one of them gave up too easily after taking a single arrow to the torso, but they don’t come much more fearsome and vicious.
Once they swoop in on an enemy, that enemy becomes a clump of bird meat. They are the perfect predator.
They’re so good, in fact, that you can’t help but wonder: why not make more of them?
The one terrific advantage that they give the Nazgûl is that they fly over water, one of the Nazgûl's more well-known weakness. The only opponent that could pose a threat to the Fell Beasts are the Eagles. However, they don’t seem quite as committed to the cause.
6 Where Are Their Sorcery Powers?
Although the Nazgûl were never wizards in the sense that Saruman and Gandalf were wizards, it is mentioned a few times that prior to their wraith-like existence, they were well practiced in wielding magic, possibly learning the craft of dark magic from Sauron himself.
Except for the Witch King who broke Gandalf’s staff, we never see the Nazgûl exercise any form of magic to locate the One Ring.
In fact, their method seems to amount to little more than groping in the dark. Like anyone who’s rummaging around in the dark, it’s easy to fool them and throw them off the scent with a few cunning tricks - and let’s face it, they're fooled by some basic tricks.
However, in Tolkien’s and in Jackson’s world, the parameters of magic were always a little bit inconsistent.
5 Their Fear of Fire
One could argue that Aragorn could only ably fend off five Nazgûl due to twirling around a torch. It seemed that this was enough alone to send the Nazgûl running for the hills.
However, this one is baffling on a few levels. Firstly, the Nazgûl call a fiery landscape, Mt. Doom, home – or at least this is the home of their master, Sauron.
Secondly, while a fear of water can arguably be dismissed as a rightful fear of purity, for the Nazgûl to also be afraid of fire makes them seem a little too weak.
A fear of one element? Sure. However, a fear of two? That's a little much.
The Witch King seemed to be somewhat immune to fire, though, as he was able to take a torch to the face like a champ.
4 Why Didn’t the Nazgûl Stab More People with the morgul blade?
After Frodo is felled by the Witch King’s morgul blade, Aragorn mentions that the ultimate side-effect of being stabbed by a morgul blade is to become a wraith, like the Nazgûl.
If the shard stays inside the body long enough, the victim is sure to lose themselves completely.
It’s a terrifying prospect, and is arguably the scariest thing about the Nazgûl. In this way, they’re sort of similar to the Dementors in Harry Potter, not just in terms of appearance but also in how they operate – by turning their victims into who they are.
However, outside of the Witch King stabbing Frodo at Weathertop, this scary concept never comes into play for the rest of the story.
Nazgûl spreading their evil through the use of the morgul blade could’ve been quite the prospect to behold.
3 Where Were They During The Second Age?
The War of the Last Alliance, as briefly and excitingly shown in the prologue for The Fellowship of The Ring, occurred during the Second Age.
The Second Age lasted for approximately 3000 years, with events including the first rise of Sauron, the creation of the Ring, and ending with a great battle between Sauron’s forces and the rest of Middle-earth. This ended with the rare alliance between Elves and Men.
Strangely, the Nazgûl were never accounted for during this time.
Keep in mind that this was at the height of Sauron’s powers, and as the Nazgûl were irrevocably tied to Sauron, it seems strange that their presence was a non-factor during the Second Age.
Those Fell Beasts would’ve come in handy during that gargantuan and decisive last battle, for example.
2 Why Couldn’t The Winged Wraiths Locate Frodo, Sam, and Gollum?
After Frodo and Sam manage to finally destroy the Ring, they wait for an end that seems certain. Gandalf soon appears though with several Eagles and together, they save the two brave hobbits.
The Eagles find them pretty quickly, too - quick enough to save them before the fatal flow of lava can swallow them whole.
So, this naturally begs the question: why couldn’t the Nazgûl who rode the Fell Beasts locate Sam, Frodo, and Gollum when they were scurrying about Mt. Doom for who knows how long?
The Fell Beasts might be able to battle the Eagles effectively enough (explaining, at least partially, why giving the Ring to the Eagles to destroy would be ill-advised), so it seems odd that they never appeared to challenge the birds.
However, it appears that the Eagles certainly have better vision than the Fell Beasts do.
1 Why Don’t The Nazgûl Ever Make Use Of Their Black Breath?
With all the weaknesses that the Nazgûl have, you’d think that they would make great use of their unique skills in battle – that they'd do something that works to their advantage.
One of their unique skills is known as the “black breath,” which is the ability to render their enemies paralyzed by merely hissing at them or breathing on them.
It also results in an illness that, if left untreated, can lead to a demise called the Black Shadow.
However, oddly enough, the few times that the Nazgûl nearly have the Ring within their grasp, they never use this ability. It’s something that certainly would’ve come in handy when Aragorn was kicking their ghoulish derrieres.
While the Nazgûl only use this ability very few times in Tolkien’s novels, they never use it in Peter Jackson’s movies.
Can you think of any other things about the Nazgûl in The Lord of the Rings that make no sense? Let us know in the comments!