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The Lord Of The Rings Death Count Is A Lot Higher Than You Likely Think

There's no doubt that Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy has a lot of killing. Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Orcs are constantly at one another's throats. But just how many deaths are there across the expansive 726 minutes of footage in the three extended editions? YouTube user Digg did the math, and the number is mind-numbing. According to Digg's eagle-eyed research, 212,470 individuals meet their Middle-earth fate across the trilogy. And, just for the record, this is the on-screen kill count. There are countless further casualties taking place in other corners of Middle-earth while the Eye of Sauron (and the camera) are elsewhere.

While there are deaths during the narrative, they tend to congregate around a couple of specific parts of the story. By the end of "The Fellowship of the Ring," the total kill count is just over 150. Once Helm's Deep and the Ent attack on Isengard wrap up, that number has jumped to nearly 12,000.

It's morbidly impressive, but in reality, things don't really pick up until "The Return of the King." The sweeping battles and knock-down, drag-out nature of that movie makes it a continuous killing field for four straight hours. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields shows hundreds of on-screen deaths for a lengthy sequence, but it isn't until the vengeful Army of the Dead shows up with an age-old bone to pick that the kill count grows exponentially. By the time the ghoulish onslaught is over and the green devils have swept the battlefield of Gondor's enemies, the kill count has jumped to 212,458 — just 12 deaths from the total. The final on-screen death counted in the video? Sauron, as the Ringless eye topples to its doom.

Diggs' kill count is close, but it makes some mistakes

But wait — there's more. The death count may already sound staggering at 212,470. But Diggs' math fails to take a very important part of the movie into account: the final attack on the Black Gates. The movie ends with Aragorn and company leading the Men of the West on a final, desperate attack against the Morannon, the mighty Black Gate that is the principal entrance into Sauron's dominion. The hopeless move is a calculated one, meant to draw out Sauron's remaining forces as a distraction while Frodo makes his final push for Mount Doom — and it works. As they fight outside the gates, the One Ring is unexpectedly destroyed.

In the movie, the aftermath of this event is cataclysmic. Sauron falls, his buildings crumble, and his armies disintegrate. In fact, as Sauron's eyeball form explodes, an earthquake opens up, swallowing most of the Orcs, Trolls, and Men serving in the Dark Lord's armies. It's right there, on screen. One second they're there. The next, they're gone. Killed. On screen.

These deaths aren't counted in Diggs' calculations. So, how many more deaths are we talking here? Gandalf claims there are 10,000 Orcs between Frodo and Sam and Mount Doom before they distract them with the attack on the Black Gate. Assuming that entire army moves north to attack Aragorn's army and at least half of it dies outside of the Black Gates, the number should at least be 217,470, and possibly higher. A similar fan video put that death count at over 8,000, which would mean a grand total of over 220,000.

Two deaths don't count

While Diggs left some deaths on the table, he also counted a pair that shouldn't have made the list — namely, Sauron and Saruman. This is tricky, as we're talking about deaths, not casualties or the end of physical form. Both Sauron and Saruman are spiritual beings Tolkien calls Ainur. They exist outside of the physical world and can take mortal shapes. They can also lose those bodies and not lose their original beings.

Sauron, for instance, loses his physical form more than once during the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth history. He never dies during those events. At the end of "The Lord of the Rings," Sauron still doesn't die. Instead, as Gandalf explains in the books, he is reduced to a state of harmless malice as a spirit that can no longer take physical form. Saruman is similar. He is an incarnate spirit, and when he loses his body, his spirit presumably continues on.

This begs the question, what about Gandalf (who is also an embodied spirit)? The video takes care of this one through the Gandalf the White loophole. It technically counts Gandalf as a casualty at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. However, when he returns as Gandalf the White, the death ticker quietly goes back down a single kill. Does Gandalf really die? No. But since the count is reversed later, the math works out. No harm, no foul.

How does the on-screen kill count differ from the books?

How does this on-screen counting compare to the actual death count in Tolkien's books? Chances are it's a bit of a low number. Technically speaking, there are fewer direct deaths counted in the books. However, there are descriptions of expansive battles and fights to the death. Tolkien doesn't clarify how many soldiers are in Sauron's armies at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, either, but it's at least tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers, like the movie, and it does say that nearly all of them die.

The Black Gate episode has many more soldiers involved. In the "Return of the King" book, Gandalf tells the Captains of the West that the attack on Minas Tirith is just the first of many to come — and the next assault will be bigger. That means there's a lot more than 10,000 Orcs still in Mordor. When they attack Aragorn's army, which is less than 6,000 strong, it says that group is outnumbered by more than 10 to one.

However, when things go south for Sauron, the earth doesn't unilaterally open up and swallow the bulk of his soldiers. Instead, the book says the evil Men present fight to the death but adds, "The creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless; and some slew themselves, or cast themselves into pits, or fled wailing back to hide in holes and dark lightless places far from hope." Again, no specific numbers to work with here, but chances are it's higher than 10,000. In any case, by book or by movie, a heck of a lot of beings meet their fate in the epic wars and conflicts of "The Lord of the Rings."