Théoden Is Secretly the Best Character in The Lord of the Rings

Théoden Is Secretly the Best Character in The Lord of the Rings

10 min read

I've wanted to write this piece for several years, but kept putting it off in favor of other things.

There was no great urgency in championing Théoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Riddermark. Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is over 20 years old. What can be said has already been said. Probably. I tend to come at this stuff sideways and sometimes stumble onto something funny, if not interesting.

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Théoden would always be there, whenever I decided I was ready. That's the magic of film—our heroes remain frozen in time even as the actors that brought them to life grow old and gray.

Time is undefeated. This past weekend, it claimed Bernard Hill, the actor who so memorably brought Théoden to life. And even though it's super doubtful Hill would ever have read these words, I feel like I waited too long.

Hill had a 50 year career, spanning back to the 70s. I'm only familiar with a handful of his roles. He was in the The Ghost and the Darkness, the Michael Douglas / Val Kilmer joint about man-eating lions, which I don't really remember (apart from Douglas' final scene). I've obviously seen Titanic, but if you told me with a straight face the ship's captain was played by Sydney Bristow's dad on Alias, I would've bought it. I don't want to imply Hill isn't memorable, especially now that he's gone. It's just that the Venn diagram of my interests and his career choices are two circles passing in the night. I didn't see him enough to know who he was.

Which is really too bad, because he owns The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

Other Contenders for Best Character

Gandalf the white
New Line Cinema

The title of this article probably has you thinking, "What? Théoden?! The guy that's not even in The Fellowship of the Ring? Stick to Star Wars, bro."

I get it—the fellowship get all the glory and the lion's share of the screen time. I, too, once thought Legolas was the best. His whole shield-surfing vibe was a real moment. But then my frosted tips grew out and I donated my cargos. These days, my favorite elf warrior is Haldir of Lothlórien, who brings a few hundred elves to Helm's Deep and certain doom in order to honor the allegiance of elves and men.1

When it comes to the fellowship, there are only two characters who merit serious consideration as the trilogy's best character: Gandalf and Aragorn. (Settle down, Samwise truthers—yes, he has some thrilling moments and a few great lines, but he's basically a chubby Labrador Retriever. Anybody who gets in an argument about potatoes is automatically disqualified.)