Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies ever made, even rivaling the stature of Star Wars. Before being tarnished by The Hobbit debacle, Jackson proudly and competently took these pet project films to Oscar-winning heights, where they remain an example of how compelling practical effects and loving adaptations can be.
Memorable characters, genre-defining concepts, and water-cooler moments that have lived on long since the release of the films are proof of their high watermark in fantasy film-making.
However, despite the top quality that pulses throughout the veins of the series, there are more than a few moments that elicit head-scratches or straight-up confusion. Sticking with the movies only, we’ve compiled a list of everything from plot holes to poorly explained sequences.
Get ready to ride for honor and glory, by reading the 15 Most WTF Moments In The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy.
15 The Ring Wraiths Were Incompetent
Cloaked in black with voices like whispers and riding wild horses, these frightening phantoms were tasked with hunting for the One Ring, and they did so violently.
After narrowly escaping the Nine, Frodo and his Hobbit friends found themselves surrounded by these merciless entities at the abandoned Weathertop lookout. Sensing the power of the Ring, the Wraiths drew their swords and prepared to butcher the halflings, only for Frodo to hastily put on cursed item and disappear.
Now that the Wraiths had confirmed that the Ring was directly in their grasp, you’d think that they would immediately slay Frodo who, despite vanishing, could be seen clearly by the supernatural Nine, but they did not.
Instead, the Witch King methodically draws his Morgul Blade and pierces Frodo. This delayed action costs the Black Riders everything, as Aragorn soon arrives to fend them off.
Why didn’t they just drop all the ceremony, kill Frodo, and grab the Ring? They knew he had it, they knew the Hobbits were defenseless, and there was no reason not to go right for it... yet they didn’t.
14 Gandalf Vs. The Balrog
Gandalf confronting the Balrog deep in the Mines of Moria is one of the most epic moments in the trilogy. Seeing the aged wizard use his skill in the magical arts to combat the flaming behemoth is a moment that has permeated pop culture irreversibly. However, it’s what happens after the battle that pushes everything into WTF territory.
After declaring that the Balrog is not permitted to proceed, the Bridge of Khazad-Dum is restrained and the two plummet into the cavernous abyss below.
Clashing in mid-air, they fall deeper and deeper until they finally crash into an enormous subterranean lake. Then, inexplicably, it’s revealed that the two had somehow made it to the top of the Misty Mountains, where Gandalf finally smites the Balrog before succumbing to his own death.
This is all cool in concept, but Gandalf’s non-explanation of this ordeal is painful. How in the world did they fall into that lake, thousands of meters within the earth, only to somehow reappear on the peaks of the mountains?
13 Statistically Improbable Plot Armor
Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas have laid waste to countless orcs, goblins, trolls, Uruk-Hai, and far more without a single one of them being killed or even horrifically maimed, a feat that is beyond ridiculous, considering the numbers involved.
They rack up enormous kill counts while their non-plot-relevant brothers in arms are slain left and right. Spiting fate further, they often jump straight into certain death with no consequence to speak of, such as when Gimli and Aragorn leap onto a bridge loaded with Uruks that they proceed to kill by the tens without even getting scratched.
The only time one of them even comes close to dying is when Aragorn takes a tumble off the side of a mountain into a river. Instead of having every bone in his body shattered, he merely awakens from being unconscious, hops on a horse, and rides to Helm Deep where he then fights against a 10,000-strong army of Uruk-Hai without batting an eyelash.
12 The Eagles Were Late To The Party... As Usual
The whole basis of the Lord of the Rings series is that Frodo, the Ringbearer, must take the One Ring of power into the very core of the evil land of Mordor and plunge it into the fires of Mt. Doom.
Since there are no cars, this requires exorbitant travel by foot. If only there were some other way to have made this journey… oh wait, there was: Gandalf’s good friends, the enigmatic Eagles.
This race of gigantic Eagles have made sparse appearances in Middle-Earth, most famously in the prequel tale, The Hobbit, and in The Fellowship of the Ring, where they make a brief appearance to rescue Gandalf from the top of Orthanc.
So, why couldn’t they be summoned to take Frodo to Mt. Doom and be done with everything quickly? Sure, they show up in Return of the King, but only after they were most needed.
Frodo and Sam go through an almost literal-hell to make it to Mt. Doom, with countless hardships. Yet, only after they are subjected to this immense amount of suffering do the Eagles come and give them a break. Thanks?
11 Gandalf Had A Bad Influence On Frodo
While Gandalf was a beloved wizard who often delighted the many children (and adults) of the Shire, he had a profoundly bad effect on the young Frodo Baggins.
However, it wasn't the way he thrust an enormous burden on the hobbit, nor how he withheld critical information, but rather how he planted a particular seed in Frodo's mind that caused a great deal of pain when it finally flourished, that made Gandalf's appear to take the halfling for granted.
This seed was the suggestion that Gollum should be spared.The scavenger eventually became a guide to Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor. Although Gollum's intent was obviously malicious, with his desire for the Ring driving his actions, Frodo continued to give the fallen hobbit a chance, only to be increasingly cast under his pitiful spell.
While the conclusion of the saga may not have played out the same way had Frodo come to his senses and listened to his trusted friend Sam regarding the ill intent of Gollum, it's not a stretch to say that his continued mercy for the creature-- an idea supplied by Gandalf-- led to a great deal of heartache.
10 Theodin Was Not A Great King
After being released from Saruman’s spell, King Theodin becomes a powerful ally to the heroes. The only problem is that, while the Rohirrim are excellent warriors, Theodin is not an excellent king.
Theodin repeatedly dismisses sensible strategies and ideas from trusted friends and warriors, and refuses to ask Gondor for help in Rohan’s most dire moments, instead, asking “where was Gondor?” when his lands burned. Where was Gondor? Maybe you’ve been under a spell for a few years, but Gondor isn’t exactly next door. How were they supposed to know that you’ve been under attack?
He even goes directly against the wishes of the Fellowship, taking his people to Helm’s Deep, despite the fact that it’s a death trap. Worst of all, Aragorn manages to lead an army straight to the Black Gate, where he delivers a speech that vigorously rallies the army despite the utterly impossible task of crushing the innumerable forces before them.
That’s right: Aragorn's first day as king blows Theodin's career out of the water.
9 Merry And Pippin Are Improbably Stupid
The Fellowship of the Ring teaches us a lot about the Shire folk. Hobbits love to farm, drink, and smoke, and, although they’re not exactly the sharpest, they’re a kind-hearted race. Then there are Merry and Pippin, who are incredibly dense. Despite their future contributions to the history of Middle-Earth, their misadventures during Fellowship are of a particularly legendary moronic caliber.
After barely surviving the Ring Wraiths on the road and at the inn, Aragorn takes the halflings to Weathertop, where he leaves them alone momentarily. So, what do Merry and Pippin do during their most vulnerable moment? Why, they light a fire, of course. Surely the Ring Wraiths-- who have chased them throughout the countryside-- won’t notice the glow of the fire in the single structure in the middle of an otherwise empty field in the black of night.
As a total surprise to no one, the Ring Wraiths noticed the glow of the fire and come charging at the halflings.
How did Merry and Pippin survive three movies, again?
8 Everything About The Ghosts
In Return of the King, Aragorn enlists the help of a long-dead army that owed a debt to a previous king. Failing to fulfill this debt, their spirits were tethered to the mortal plane. Convinced by the re-forged Narsil that is able to block their weapons, the ghosts agree to aid against the forces of Mordor so that they can finally rest. They then swarm across the battlefields, laying waste to everything in their path.
This is where the confusion starts. Can ghosts hurt people? It seemed that they were entirely ethereal beforehand, minus contact with Narsil, but now it looks like they can kill armies without worrying about the whole immaterial thing.
Even more confusing, Aragorn ignores Gimli’s suggestion to hold on to their service in case they were needed again (like, in ten minutes when Gondor storms the Black Gate).
It sure seemed like a raw deal to let them free when they could’ve been used to end the threat of Mordor once and for all at no further cost to the beleaguered armies of man, but, for whatever reason, Aragorn let them go.
7 Legolas' "Elf Eyes"
Legolas is a fan-favorite, whether it be because of his elven looks or his prowess with a bow. Following Fellowship, Peter Jackson and his crew took notice and made sure to enhance Legolas’ presence throughout the subsequent films
Now his skills bordered on nigh-supernatural, whether it be inventing snowboards by sliding on shields down staircases or single-handedly eliminating an enormous oliphant before gracefully riding down its trunk.
Along with his newly enhanced combat abilities, his inherent insight and natural skills were upped as well. In The Two Towers, Aragorn asks Legolas what his “elf eyes see.” Following orders, Legolas squints and rattles off poetic nonsense about what signals his optic nerve is sending to his brain.
This is great, but what’s the use of having these powers if he manages to miss the pile of burning corpses directly next to them? If his eyes were so glorious, why weren't they more helpful in Moria by spotting enemy positions in the dark? Or, why weren't they able to accurately detect the Uruk-Hai stalking them at Amon Hen?
6 The Fellowship Breaks For No Real Reason
After Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, the hobbit decides to break the Fellowship and go his own way to Mordor. He does this because he fears for the rest of his comrades’ lives, and worries that they may eventually try and take the Ring from him.
However, these points are moot, since the Fellowship swore an oath-- and their lives-- to protect Frodo, and every single member of the Fellowship, sans Boromir, had already shown remarkable resilience to the Ring’s allure.
Nevertheless, Aragorn agrees, despite it easily being one of the worst ideas anyone has had yet (except for letting Merry and Pippin tag along), especially considering the incalculable importance attached to the success of this venture.
A better idea would have been for Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to "agree," but stay behind or scout ahead, remaining in perfect stealth to protect the hobbits on their fateful journey.
Sure, Merry and Pippin likely would have been killed and Rohan would have suffered greater losses, but, with the destruction of the Ring, most of what plagued Middle-Earth would have died with Sauron.
5 Gandalf Sent Frodo To His Death... And He Knew It
The Fellowship of the Ring was formed at the Council of Elrond, where a collection of highly skilled representatives from the various races met to decide the fate of the One Ring.
When the question was posed as to who would assume the responsibility of bearing the Ring, Frodo stood up and declared that he would take it. Gandalf, a long time friend of Frodo, looked at the young Hobbit and allowed him to put this burden upon himself.
Let's take a step back: Frodo, who has barely been exposed to any form of evil for his entire existence, who has never witnessed combat, and whose chance of survival during the harsh journey was slim to none, was allowed-- by his supposed friend-- to accept a cursed item that could spell the doom of all Middle-Earth? Although it appears that Gandalf only begrudgingly accepts the pledge, it's clear that Frodo's likely fate is a mere afterthought in the old wizard's mind.
At least in the Return of the King, Gandalf finally feigns having a revelation that he had sent Frodo to his death, but the audience knew full well from the start that this debacle was a fool's hope.
4 No One Told Gimli About Moria Or Balin
Besieged by Saruman’s spells, Gimli offers to pass through the mountains rather than over them by way of the Mines of Moria. Gandalf disagrees with this approach, but the decision is made regardless.
Excitedly telling tales of meat off the bone, endless ale, and excessively warm welcomes from his cousin, Balin, Gimli sings praises right up until they find the mine covered in corpses and crawling with goblins.
Why was this a surprise? Surely the Dwarves would’ve let the outside world know they were in trouble, and it’s not as if they had all died the day before. No, the place was covered in skeletons. It looked as if it must have been abandoned for fifty years, and yet no one told Gimli. Some must have known.
In classic Gandalf fashion, he neglected to tell the party that, not only was Moria a catacomb, but it was also the home of the Balrog, an indestructible foe. The entire operation is plunged into needlessly dangerous waters because of this omission.
It’s bad enough that Gimli was turned into a joke character, but couldn’t Gandalf have at least broken the news to him about his dead kin?
3 Sauron's Metaphysical All-Seeing Eye Is Neither Metaphysical Nor All-Seeing
The Great Eye, lidless and ever-watchful, proved to be a threatening force that pervaded even the most sacred of places. Its existence allowed it to communicate through the Palantirs, personally direct its massive armies and allies, and subjugate entire civilizations.
In Return of the King, we get our first look at the eye, not through a vision, but up close and personal, and it’s pretty disappointing.
Apparently, this nightmarish, all-seeing, metaphysical eye isn’t a hellish spiritual abomination, but a pathetic, de-clawed version, which now exhibits physical characteristics in an embarrassing and laughable incarnation of its formerly terrifying glory.
It apparently now needs to physically look at things to see them (face-palmingly portrayed as a head-light), with its iris swirling around on the two-pronged top of the tower. Worse yet, its cone of vision is severely limited, as only the lit areas of its “eye-beam” are able to be seen.
The greatest insult is when the tower collapses, with the Eye in its dopiest moment looking around like a frightened toddler before it finally fizzles out of existence with a concussive explosion, leaving the audience to wonder how something so sinister and imposing could be made a fool of so easily.
2 Boromir Was Wrongfully Demonized
At every turn-- from his introduction all the way up to his death-- The Fellowship of the Ring does everything it can to make you distrust Boromir, always keeping him distanced as “the other.”
The cast gangs up on him, too: his suggestions are routinely shot down and he’s always viewed with skepticism. Aragorn straight up bullies him while he (rightfully) admires the shards of Narsil. The would-be king just stares at the guy and makes him feel so ashamed of enjoying a proud part of his history that Boromir leaves, completely embarrassed.
This is absurdly wrong, as he’s the only member of the Fellowship to provide worthwhile tactical ideas, treats the Hobbits with genuine interest and kindness, teaches them how to fight, and implores proper grievance for Gandalf.
If anything, despite the single moment of weakness in trying to acquire the Ring, he is generally the most human (and kindest) member of the Fellowship.
While it’s true that Boromir was given a better send-off through scenes in the extended Two Towers and Return of the King, it doesn’t change how the Fellowship portrayed (and sullied) him.
1 Saruman Smokes (Pipe)Weed
Saruman, the traitorous wizard who aligned himself with Sauron, berates Gandalf for “enjoying the Hobbit’s leaf” to the point where it has dulled his senses.
However, it turns out that this was a mere feint. When Isengard is sieged by the Ents in The Two Towers, the White Wizard’s food store is opened and Merry and Pippin, being the gluttons they are, decide to raid it. What is it that they find amongst the chickens and apples? Why, two barrels of South Farthington leaf, of course.
Wait a second, if Saruman disapproved of Gandalf’s smoking, surely he wouldn’t smoke himself, right? Believe it or not, this is the exact opposite. According J.R.R. Tolkien's Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Saruman had “made trial of [the pipeweed], and soon began to use it … yet he dreaded lest this should be discovered, and his own mockery turned against him.”
In other words, Saruman secretly smoked pipeweed but didn’t want to tell anyone because he had initially dismissed the idea, and feared being made fun of. This is a sad little bit of humanity for the man who ended up so twisted and evil that you actually feel bad for him.
Can you think of any other WTF moments in Lord of the Rings? Let us know in the comments!