Chapter Seventeen: The Clouds Burst
In reviewing the last chapter I commented on the inclusion of a “battle” for Dol Guldur that took place “off camera” in Tolkien’s original story. We learn very little about this driving out of the Necromancer by the White Council in “The Hobbit” though we do get a little more information about it in the essay “The Quest for Erebor” which is included in the compilation “Unfinished Tales Of Numenor and Middle-Earth”. Peter Jackson made it clear early on in this production that he intended to supplement the “Hobbit” films with additional material, most of which comes from the Appendices of “The Lord of the Rings”.So we can probably expect to see a very elaborate realization of Gandalf (with at least the aid of Galadriel) combatting the dark force in Dol Guldur that has been identified as Sauron himself, albeit in a form less powerful than his incarnation from back in the Second Age. Nonetheless, we have already seen Jackson’s interpretation of the Necromancer/Sauron in “The Desolation of Smaug” and he is pretty formidable. The big question is how this scene will be interspersed with the action taking place near the foot of the Lonely Mountain.
Chronologically, it has to conclude before the Battle of the Five Armies in order that Gandalf can make his appearance just prior to the arrival of the Warg-riding Goblins. And there has to be at least a credible amount of time for the wizard to travel north at such a great distance. Though the average moviegoer will not really conceive of how far Dol Guldur is from Erebor it would seem awfully strange for Gandalf, on foot no less, to suddenly appear mere moments from his fight against Sauron. This would be especially striking when you consider how long it will seem to take Azog and his Orc army to cover the same ground. They depart with Gandalf still suspended in a cage at the dark fortress but he could he still arrive at Erebor before them? Not likely.
There is one prediction I will make with regard to this event that has been hinted at – and this would be a major spoiler, so proceed through the next three paragraphs with caution. I believe that Radagast will participate in this fight and that he will ultimately be killed. Why do I think this? When Gandalf makes his first appearance at Bag End, he is holding a staff very much like the one we are used to seeing him with. But when I watched “An Unexpected Journey” on Blu-ray with the commentary I made note that Peter Jackson commented on the staff (see my post “The Top 20 Coolest Things I Learned From The DVD Commentary: AUJ”, #3).He states that Gandalf’s staff, though similar, is purposely different from the one he uses in “The Fellowship of the Ring” and that we would see why in the third film. Well, we now know that Gandalf’s staff is destroyed during his confrontation with the Necromancer (Sauron) in “The Desolation of Smaug”. But it doesn’t explain where he eventually gets his new staff. The top of his first staff comes to a twisty point like the top of a soft-serve ice cream cone. In the LOTR trilogy the top is flayed, so much so that it can hold the crystal that provides light to the Fellowship as they travel through the Mines of Moria. Well, guess whose staff is just like that? Yes…Radagast.
So, it appears that Gandalf will “inherit” Radagast’s staff to replace his own which was shattered. So, naturally, I assume this will come to pass because Radagast is killed. We last saw him going to alert Galadriel of Gandalf’s discovery. He will likely return with the Elf Queen and take part in this battle. After he falls – perhaps sacrificing himself for his brother wizard – his staff will go to Gandalf. Now although Tolkien explicitly included Radagast in The Lord of the Rings, he never makes an appearance in Jackson’s version. So having him perish in The Hobbit explains this absence. It just makes logical sense, even if it does represent a major break with the cannon. I’m not the only one to consider this of course and I have since found that this very idea has been speculated upon by others as well.
But, back to this sequence at Dol Guldur as a whole, where in the mix it will be is anyone’s guess. It could take place as early as opposite the death of Smaug (my preference) and as late as the siege of Erebor. But, given Peter Jackson’s ability to mesh rising action in the “Lord of the Rings” films I’m sure the result will make cinematic sense.
Anyway, back to the main action. The chapter opens with trumpets heralding the arrival of Dain and his army of 500 Dwarves. At this point, all parties with the exception of Bilbo have succumb to some level of the “dragon sickness” that makes them irrational over the fate of the golden hoard laying underneath the mountain. Despite attempts at negotiation, the armies of Men and Elves have crossed the river and encroached the battlements set up by Thorin and his crew. Conflict appears inevitable as the Dwarf army approaches.
Despite the fact the Smaug is dead, the harmony and cooperation that existed between the inhabitants of Erebor and Dale before the dragon’s arrival is long gone. Bard speaks to Thorin asking one last time if he will yield. Upon the Dwarf’s refusal, he produces the Arkenstone to Thorin’s incredulity. Bard offers to trade it for their rightful share of the gold. Thorin can only demand how they came by it.And here Bilbo commits his most courageous act yet. He declares that it was he who gave them the stone. Thorin is enraged. “You miserable hobbit! You undersized…burglar!”, he cries. His anger is understandable. However, Jackson has gone to great lengths to establish a strong bond between Bilbo and Thorin at this point in the films. This confession by the hobbit and Thorin’s reaction will be a major aspect of the story arc that has been built between the two characters. This arc will reach its conclusion after the climax of the battle but, whereas Thorin is less sympathetic here in the book, I believe we the audience will have an empathetic understanding of the Dwarf’s feeling of betrayal. Richard Armitage has already shown the depths of his acting skills and I expect he will rise to the occasion here as well.
At this point, Gandalf appears. As readers we really have no idea where he has been or what he’s been up to. But the film audience is very aware. How exactly he will make his grand entrance should be interesting but it’s likely he will be the bearer of the news that the Goblin army will be soon be upon them. In the book, after Thorin banishes Bilbo from their midst, a day passes before they show up. But I would think that both Dain and Azog (and their respective armies) should appear fairly quickly and the battle will take shape.The arrival of the Orcs will probably look similar to the march of Uruk-Hai approaching Helm’s Deep, as we saw in “The Two Towers” and it will cause Thorin, Bard and Thranduil to put aside their conflict to unite against this common enemy. This horrific turn of events will at least have the benefit of diffusing the bloodshed that was about to occur between Dwarves, Men and Elves. While the motivation of the Orcs here in the book is avenging the death of the Great Goblin (rallying their brethren from under Mount Gundabad to the north), we have them in the film being led by Azog who has a personal vendetta against Thorin (for the taking of his arm at the Battle of Azanulbizar) and is following the orders of the Necromancer. All of this is obviously very different than the original story in which Azog is not even a participant.
But wait. We still have to account for Fili, Kili, Oin, Bofur and Tauriel – not to mention Legolas who will no doubt display shades of his exploits from the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. I noticed in the latest trailer a brief shot of the Dwarves traveling across the frozen River Running in some sort of chariot-like vehicle. I’m sure they’ll arrive in time for the battle. But what of the Elves? Where will Legolas go in pursuit of Bolg (the moment we last saw either of them)? And how will this chase lead back to Erebor. We will have to wait and see.
As the Goblins charge astride their fearsome Wargs, the armies of Men and Elves turn to fight. Tolkien goes into great detail about how the battle unfolds and the filmmakers will probably stick to this basic framework while adding much more action. If this battle scene doesn’t run at least a half an hour I’ll be very surprised. Going by the battles of previous Tolkien films by Peter Jackson I’m guessing it will be very drawn out and we will see action on the part of every individual participant.Thorin ultimately rallies the armies to his banner with calls of “To me! To me! Elves and Men! To Me! O my kinsfolk!” But the tide begins to move against the Free Peoples and we will have some sad deaths, the aftermath of which I’ll address in the next chapter. At this point, Beorn arrives in his gi-normous bear form to lend a paw. And, at last, Tokien’s infamous deus ex machine (his eucatastrophe) – the Eagles! Prior to this moment, I would expect Jackson to do the full Morannon Gate treatment from “Return of the King” – all seems hopeless, our heroes are bloodied and weakening, cue the slow-motion photography, mute the cacophony of the battle and…oh look, a little moth appears in front of Gandalf to let him know that hope is on the way!
Would Peter Jackson make such an obvious nod to his original trilogy? Based on all the echoes of “Rings” that we have seen in these films so far, I’m inclined to say yes.
It is here that the villain who has been so built up – Azog – will be defeated. But who will do the deed? Somebody has to. At this moment I’m reminded of Fred Savage in “The Princess Bride” imploring his grandfather “Who kills Prince Humperdinck?!?”
As we discussed early on, Azog is not present in “The Hobbit” and has been long dead. The leader of the Goblins is his son, Bolg. Bolg is presented here as a lieutenant of Azog. And it is the one-armed pale Orc who is the main antagonist in Jackson’s version. In the novel, Bolg is killed by Beorn. Will Beorn slay Azog? He has vengeance on his side as we learned in the last film. While Beorn may play a large part in Azog’s death I really think it will ultimately be Thorin. They’ve spent way to much time setting up Azog as the Dwarf King’s nemesis to not allow that conflict to resolve itself.However, the death blow that Thorin delivers will come at a price. And Jackson will probably make it appear as if Azog is slain and all is well. Go Thorin! But, just as the Balrog let loose one more whip crack that dragged Gandalf back with him into the chasm of Khazad-dum in “Fellowship”, Azog will undoubtedly muster enough strength to drive his sharp “faux” forearm into Thorin. As the members of the audience unfamiliar with the story gasp “no!”, this will prove to be the mortal wound. As in the book, he’ll probably linger long enough to provide an epic death scene that won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
But there is one more aspect to ponder here. What role will Bilbo play in the great battle? Tolkien’s version has him doing very little other than making a stand among the Elves. As the goblins appear to gain the upper hand in the fight he seems kind of resigned to the coming defeat (indeed, even Gandalf appears to be more of an observer than a participant). It is only when he sees the Eagles and announces to everyone that they are coming that he gets any real mention. And immediately after this he is knocked unconscious, leaving the final result of the battle in doubt.Bilbo, as played by Martin Freeman, has developed and demonstrated his growing boldness and courage in the face of danger. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of heroics from the Hobbit throughout this battle. And I doubt that he will suffer the same blow to the head as in the books. He may very well put on the Ring at some point to give him an advantage. In fact, using the Ring may even provide a stroke of luck that allows him to impact the events of the battle in the favor of the Elves, Men and Dwarves.