Screenplay Edit: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

Screenshot by the author; © 2002 by Warner Bros.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers tells the story of Frodo Baggins and company as they continue their quest through Middle Earth to destroy the One Ring. The script was written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Stephen Sinclair & Peter Jackson, based on the novel by J. R. R. Tolkien.

In this excerpt, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter the Golden Hall at Edoras to rescue King Théoden, whose mind has been poisoned by Saruman.

💬 Original lines appear as code blocks, edited lines appear as “quote blocks,” changes appear as boldface, and commentary appears as regular text. Original lines that do not require editing are run into the same code blocks as original lines that follow them and do.

Original Text

GANDALF
Théoden, son of Thengel...
ANGLE ON: THÉODEN reacts to GANDALF with a wicked stare.GANDALF
...too long have you sat in the shadows.
ANGLE ON: The THREE HUNTERS finish off the GUARDS...WORMTONGUE tries to crawl away unnoticed, but GIMLI catches him and pins him to the floor under his foot.GIMLI
(growling)
I would stay still if I were you.
ANGLE ON: GANDALF continues approaching THÉODEN.GANDALF
Hearken to me!
WIDE ON: The PEOPLE of the HALL approach behind GANDALF.GANDALF (CONT’D)
I release you from the spell.
ANGLE ON: GANDALF holds out his hand and concentrates...ANGLE ON: SUDDENLY, THÉODEN laughs, menacingly...GANDALF opens his eyes.THÉODEN
(laughing)
You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey.
ANGLE ON: Angered, GANDALF throws back his grey cloak and spreads his hands. A blinding white light issues from him.ANGLE ON: THÉODEN is thrown back against his seat.GANDALF
I will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound.
He thrusts his staff towards THÉODEN. The force knocks THÉODEN back in his throne. GANDALF moves in closer.ANGLE ON: ÉOWEN rushes in. Thinking THÉODEN is in trouble, she tries to run to him, but ARAGORN stops her.ARAGORN
Wait.
ANGLE ON: A new aura comes over THÉODEN. He looks at GANDALF evilly and speaks in Saruman’s voice.THÉODEN/SARUMAN
If I go, Théoden dies.
GANDALF thrusts his staff again and throwing THÉODEN/SARUMAN back again.GANDALF
You did not kill me, you will not kill him.
CLOSE ON: THÉODEN/SARUMAN leans forward with difficulty, hate welling in his eyes.THÉODEN/SARUMAN
(with difficulty)
Rohan is mine.
THÉODEN/SARUMAN struggles against Gandalf’s power.GANDALF
Be gone.
ANGLE ON: THÉODEN/SARUMAN lunges for GANDALF. GANDALF smites him, and he is thrown back into the chair.INSERT IMAGE: SARUMAN flies backwards across the floor away from the PALANTÍR in ORTHANC. He slowly rises, bleeding from the wound GANDALF left in his forehead.ANGLE ON: GANDALF lets out a sigh of relief.ANGLE ON: THÉODEN moans and falls from his throne. ARAGORN releases ÉOWYN. She charges across the hall to catch him before he can hit the floor.ANGLE ON: GAMLING makes to charge GANDALF, but HÁMA holds him steady.CLOSE ON: ÉOWYN holds THÉODEN up to look at him. His eyes clear...his hair changes from white strands to brown splendor...his face de-ages to a more youthful King.

Line Edit

GANDALFThéoden, son of Thengel...

The purpose of an ellipsis is to denote omission or trailing off, and the mark is also sometimes used in dialogue to denote hesitation or pausing. Thus, since the ellipsis in this sentence is not performing any of these functions, let’s replace it with a period. (And to avoid repeating this edit, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of ellipses.)

Théoden, son of Thengel.

ANGLE ON: THÉODEN reacts to GANDALF with a wicked stare.

That this line tells us what Théoden does is sufficient to indicate that the “camera” is on him. Thus, ANGLE ON is implied. So let’s remove it. Also, all-caps is used to denote character-name introductions, camera direction, and sound effects. Thus, since the words styled in all-caps in this sentence do not meet this criteria, let’s remove the all-caps styling. (And to avoid repeating this edit, let’s do the same for all other similar instances of all-caps.)

Théoden reacts to Gandalf with a wicked stare.

If Théoden “reacts to Gandalf with a wicked stare,” then Théoden simply stares wickedly at Gandalf — meaning, describing Théoden as reacting, in addition to describing his reaction, is redundant. So let’s remove this redundancy.

Théoden stares wickedly at Gandalf.

Stare means “to look fixedly.” And although this word is accurate for describing Théoden’s action, it is imprecise, as it fails to convey both the motivation and the emotion of Théoden’s looking fixedly; indeed, Théoden is not merely looking fixedly at Gandalf, as if Gandalf were a mere spectacle to behold, rather Théoden is watching Gandalf, as Gandalf is approaching and addressing him and is a threat to him. So let’s specify this action; let’s replace stares wickedly at Gandalf with watches Gandalf wickedly.

Théoden watches Gandalf wickedly.

GANDALFToo long have you sat in the shadows.

Since this line is a continuation of Gandalf’s previous line, let’s indicate as much by including a CONT’D extension beside his name.

GANDALF (CONT’D)
Too long have you sat in the shadows.

The three hunters finish off the guards.

“The Three Hunters” is the name given by Aragorn to himself, Legolas, and Gimli as they began tracking the Uruk-hai who kidnapped Merry and Pippin (Book 3, Chapter 1). And although it is possible that the authors of this script are referring to the Three Hunters here as simply three generic hunters (thus lowercasing three hunters), it is also unlikely, given the authors’ general fidelity to the source text. So let’s capitalize three hunters, to distinguish this as a proper noun that refers to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, and not to other men in the hall, who may also be hunters.

The Three Hunters finish off the guards.

Typically, finish off means “to kill.” However, this action is neither what the characters do nor what the authors mean; I think what the authors mean is that the Three Hunters subdue the guards. So let’s replace finish off with subdue.

The Three Hunters subdue the guards.

Wormtongue tries to crawl away unnoticed, but Gimli catches him and pins him to the floor under his foot.

If Wormtongue is “crawl[ing] away,” and if Gimli pins Wormtongue “under his foot,” then where else would Wormtongue be if not on the floor? Thus, the specification of Gimli pinning Wormtongue to the floor is redundant. So let’s remove it. Further, that Gimli “catches” Wormtongue is implied by Gimli pinning Wormtongue under his foot. So let’s remove this redundancy as well. And let’s also change foot to boot.

Wormtongue tries to crawl away unnoticed, but Gimli pins him under his boot.

GIMLI(growling)

Gimli’s personality as well as the content of his next line are sufficient to indicate the mood and tone of his delivery. So let’s remove this parenthetical.

I would stay still if I were you.Gandalf continues approaching Théoden.GANDALFHearken to me!

In this scene, Gandalf is speaking to Théoden while other characters are speaking to each other, and their lines of action and dialogue are interwoven. As such, it is not always clear who is speaking to whom. So let’s employ a rule that clarifies this: where necessary (as in this line), let’s specify in parentheticals to whom each character is speaking.

(to Théoden)
Hearken to me!

The people of the hall approach behind Gandalf.

“Approach behind” is vague, as what does it mean for the people of the hall to approach behind Gandalf? Do they draw nearer to him out of curiosity? hostility? support? Indeed, that the people of the hall “approach behind” Gandalf does not convey their mood or intentions. So let’s replace approach behind with more descriptive language; let’s describe the people of the hall as gathering in anticipation.

The people of the hall gather in anticipation behind Gandalf.

GANDALF (CONT’D)I release you from the spell.

Let’s again specify in a parenthetical that Gandalf is speaking to Théoden. And since it’s not clear what spell Gandalf is referring to, let’s specify the spell as “this” spell, or the one currently befallen Théoden.

(to Théoden)
I release you from this spell.

Gandalf holds out his hand and concentrates.

Concentrating is an action that takes place in the mind — meaning, it is invisible to observers. So let’s illustrate Gandalf’s concentrating by specifying a visible action. In a few lines, Gandalf will open his eyes, having never closed them, so let’s have him close them here; let’s replace concentrates with closes his eyes.

Gandalf holds out his hand and closes his eyes.

Suddenly, Théoden laughs, menacingly.

If an action or event occurs suddenly, then simply having it occur suddenly will convey its suddenness to readers — meaning, we can remove suddenly. And since menacingly is simply an adverb that modifies laughs, the comma that precedes it is unnecessary. So let’s remove it.

Théoden laughs menacingly.

Gandalf opens his eyes.THÉODEN(laughing)

Since Théoden was just described as laughing, let’s remove this parenthetical.

You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey.Angered, Gandalf throws back his grey cloak and spreads his hands.

Anger is “a strong feeling of (antagonistic, or hostile) displeasure.” And although we could stretch the application of this word to make it relevant for describing Gandalf in this moment, the description is nevertheless inaccurate; indeed, that Théoden (Saruman) declares Gandalf powerless and refers to him as Gandalf the Gray would not anger Gandalf rather embolden him, as Gandalf is no longer Gandalf the Gray rather Gandalf the White and knows that his power is now greater as such. So let’s remove Angered.

Gandalf throws back his grey cloak and spreads his hands.

The description of Gandalf “throwing back” his gray cloak is ambiguous, as it is unclear whether this means that Gandalf removes his cloak or simply tosses it out of the way of his hands (say, over his shoulder). So let’s clarify this by replacing throwing back with throwing off. And let’s also clarify that Gandalf spreads, not simply his hands, but his arms; indeed, what the authors mean is that Gandalf makes himself bigger by outstretching his arms.

Gandalf throws off his grey cloak and spreads his arms.

A blinding white light issues from him.Théoden is thrown back against his seat.

The use of passive voice in this sentence (is thrown back) is inconsistent with the active-voice writing of the script thus far. Further, it creates ambiguity by failing to specify what throws Théoden back against his seat. So let’s revise this line by combining it with the previous line, to indicate that the force of the blinding white light is what throws Théoden back.

A blinding white light issues from him, throwing Théoden back against his seat.

Since Gandalf was just described as “throwing” off his gray cloak, let’s use a different word to describe how the light affects Théoden here; let’s replace throwing with knocking.

A blinding white light issues from him, knocking Théoden back against his seat.

GANDALFI will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound.He thrusts his staff towards Théoden.

Since it’s not immediately clear whether the pronoun He refers to Gandalf or Théoden, let’s replace it with Gandalf. Also, toward(s) is a preposition that means “in the direction of”; however, what the authors mean is that Gandalf thrusts his staff, not simply in the direction of Théoden, but at Théoden. So let’s replace towards with at.

Gandalf thrusts his staff at Théoden.

The force knocks Théoden back in his throne.

Since Théoden was just knocked back by the blinding white light, let’s describe a different action here; let’s describe the force of Gandalf’s staff as pinning Théoden to the throne.

The force pins Théoden to the throne.

Gandalf moves in closer.

That Gandalf “moves in closer” is vague, as this description fails to specify (or imply) how or why he moves in closer; indeed, it’s not clear what Gandalf is attempting to accomplish by moving in closer to Théoden, nor how moving in closer helps him accomplish it, especially given that Théoden is already pinned. And although we could revise this line to clarify its vagueness, the line is unnecessary anyway, so let’s just remove it.

Éowen rushes in.

Since it’s not clear from where or to where Éowen rushes in, let’s specify that she rushes into the hall.

Éowen rushes into the hall.

Thinking Théoden is in trouble, she tries to run to him, but Aragorn stops her.

Similar to concentrating, thinking is an action that takes place in the mind — meaning, it is invisible to observers. Thus, that Éowen “think[s] Théoden is in trouble” should be illustrated instead of articulated — meaning, her thoughts should be both evident in and implied by her actions. For example, Éowen could rush into the hall and then see Théoden pinned to the throne, as this action would be sufficient to indicate her motivation for running to him. So let’s revise this sentence accordingly; let’s remove the reference to Éowen’s thoughts and describe her as seeing Théoden. And to better imply her motivation to readers, let’s replace Théoden with her father, as doing so will both highlight and reinforce the relationship between the characters.

She sees her father pinned and tries to run to him, but Aragorn stops her.

ARAGORNWait.A new aura comes over Théoden.

“A new aura” is ambiguous, as it fails to describe the type of aura that comes over Théoden; indeed, a “new” aura could be any type — positive or negative, good or bad, etc. So let’s specify the type of aura; given that the next line describes Théoden as looking at Gandalf “evilly,” let’s specify the aura as evil.

An evil aura comes over Théoden.

He looks at Gandalf evilly and speaks in Saruman’s voice.

Specifying the aura as evil in the previous sentence has caused a redundancy of evil in this sentence. So let’s remove this redundancy.

He looks at Gandalf and speaks in Saruman’s voice.

THÉODEN/SARUMAN

That Théoden was just described as speaking in Saruman’s voice is sufficient to understand that Saruman is speaking through Théoden. So let’s remove Saruman’s name from this and all other instances of Théoden’s character name.

THÉODEN

If I go, Théoden dies.Gandalf thrusts his staff again and throwing Théoden back again.

Let’s improve the grammar of this sentence by replacing and with a comma. And since we changed the previous throwing back to knocking, let’s maintain consistency here by replacing throwing with knocking.

Gandalf thrusts his staff again, knocking Théoden back again.

GANDALFYou did not kill me, you will not kill him.

The comma in this sentence is referred to as a “comma splice,” as it separates, or “splices,” two independent clauses in the absence of a coordinating conjunction. And although comma splices have their place — and although the comma splice in this sentence may be justified, given the relatedness of the clauses — they nevertheless tend to be confusing, often indicating (even if only for milliseconds) false relationships between clauses. So let’s avoid misreadings by replacing the comma with a semicolon.

You did not kill me; you will not kill him.

Théoden leans forward with difficulty, hate welling in his eyes.

Although Gandalf and Saruman are enemies, they do not hate each other; the wizards are peers who happen to be advocates of opposing interests, ideas, and values. Thus, hate in this sentence is inaccurate; I believe what the authors mean is that anger is welling in Théoden’s eyes. And although we could replace hate with anger and move on without consequence, Théoden’s (Saruman’s) anger is implied in the exchange, so a better option is just to remove this part of the sentence and let Théoden’s (Saruman’s) actions and dialogue speak for themselves. So let’s do this.

Théoden leans forward with difficulty.

Since it’s not immediately clear why Théoden is having difficulty leaning forward, let’s specify that he is resisting, or straining against, Gandalf’s power; let’s replace with difficulty with straining against Gandalf’s power.

Théoden leans forward, straining against Gandalf’s power.

THÉODEN(with difficulty)

That Théoden is straining against Gandalf’s power is sufficient to suggest that he delivers his dialogue with difficulty. So let’s remove this parenthetical.

Rohan is mine.Théoden struggles against Gandalf’s power.

Since we just described Théoden as straining against Gandalf’s power, let’s remove this redundancy.

GANDALFBe gone.Théoden lunges for Gandalf.Gandalf smites him, and he is thrown back into the chair.

Since Gandalf smites Théoden in response to Théoden lunging for him, let’s clarify the relationship of these actions by combining their sentences with the coordinating conjunction but. And since it’s not clear how or with what Gandalf smites Théoden, let’s specify that Gandalf smites Théoden with his staff.

Théoden lunges for Gandalf, but Gandalf smites him with his staff, and he is thrown back into the chair.

The use of passive voice in this sentence (is thrown back) is again inconsistent with the rest of the script, and it’s clunky too, as, instead of simply articulating that the smiting is what throws Théoden back, readers must infer this information (which inferring is an extra, unnecessary step for understanding the sentence). So let’s replace the passive voice with active voice; let’s replace and he is thrown with throwing him.

Théoden lunges for Gandalf, but Gandalf smites him with his staff, throwing him back into the chair.

When Gandalf previously thrust his staff at Théoden, we described the force of this action as “knocking” Théoden back into his seat. So let’s maintain consistency and employ repetition by using the same description here; let’s replace throwing with knocking. And since this is the fourth time that Théoden has been thrust or thrown or knocked into his seat, let’s acknowledge as much by stating that Théoden is knocked back once again. Also, describing Théoden’s throne as a mere chair diminishes the impact of the moment; indeed, Gandalf is not merely restraining Théoden (Saruman) but also putting him in his place. So let’s illustrate this — even if only subtly — by replacing the chair with his seat.

Théoden lunges for Gandalf, but Gandalf smites him with his staff, knocking him once again into his seat.

INSERT IMAGE: Saruman flies backwards across the floor away from the palantír in Orthanc.

Inserts are inherently images; thus, specifying this insert as an image is redundant. So let’s remove this redundancy. Also, the order of information in this sentence is backwards, as it is not until the end of the sentence that we learn where Saruman is; indeed, information about Saruman’s location should be at the beginning of the sentence, as it enables readers to orient their imaginations from the outset, thus enabling them to both effectively and efficiently imagine the scene. So let’s move Saruman’s location to the beginning of the sentence.

INSERT: In Orthanc, Saruman flies backwards across the floor away from the palantír.

That Saruman “flies backwards across the floor” is understandable for readers; however, it may help to illustrate this action by specifying that Saruman flies backwards and then slides across the floor, as this description conjures (at least, in my imagination) the image of Saruman flying through the air and then landing on the floor and sliding across it. So let’s illustrate this; let’s specify that Saruman slides across the floor.

INSERT: In Orthanc, Saruman flies backwards and slides across the floor away from the palantír.

Let’s improve the mechanics of this sentence by adding a comma after floor, to indicate that the information that follows floor is descriptive, not of the floor, but of Saruman’s flying backwards. And since there exist multiple palantírs in Middle Earth, let’s specify this palantír as Saruman’s.

INSERT: In Orthanc, Saruman flies backwards and slides across the floor, away from his palantír.

He slowly rises, bleeding from the wound Gandalf left in his forehead.

Since the wound in Saruman’s forehead is new and has therefore not yet been referenced in the script or the scene, let’s replace the article the that precedes it with the article a, as the specifies nouns relative to referents. Also, since it’s not clear that the wound in Saruman’s forehead was caused by Gandalf smiting Théoden, let’s clarify this by describing the wound as that which Gandalf just left in Saruman’s forehead.

He slowly rises, bleeding from a wound Gandalf just left in his forehead.

Gandalf lets out a sigh of relief.

To “let out a sigh of relief” is simply to sigh relief. So let’s simplify this language.

Gandalf sighs relief.

Théoden moans and falls from his throne.Aragorn releases Éowen.She charges across the hall to catch him before he can hit the floor.

Since the action in this sentence is closely related to that in the previous sentence, let’s combine the sentences with the coordinating conjunction and.

Aragorn releases Éowen, and she charges across the hall to catch him before he can hit the floor.

Since the first part of this sentence describes Aragorn’s action, and not Théoden’s (from the previous sentence), it’s not clear whether the pronouns he and him refer to Aragorn or to Théoden. So let’s specify them as referring to Théoden by replacing him with her father.

Aragorn releases Éowen, and she charges across the hall to catch her father before he can hit the floor.

Although describing Éowen as “charging across the hall” is illustrative of her energy and emotion, this description is wordy; a more efficient (but just as illustrative and effective) way of describing this action is to say that Éowen runs to her father. So let’s replace charges across the hall with runs. And let’s also replace can hit with hits.

Aragorn releases Éowen, and she runs to catch her father before he hits the floor.

Gamling makes to charge Gandalf, but Háma holds him steady.

This line feels out of place given that the threat of the scene is now gone and that Gandalf was the one who removed it — meaning, the conflict of the scene is resolved, and the good guys (Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli) have been established, so Gamling should no longer feel insulted or threatened. So let’s remove this line.

Éowen holds Théoden up to look at him.

Although perhaps unnecessary, let’s swap Théoden and up, to preserve the verb hold up.

Éowen holds up Théoden to look at him.

His eyes clear, his hair changes from white strands to brown splendor, and his face de-ages to a more youthful King.

Since faces cannot be kings, let’s clarify that Théoden’s face de-ages, not to a more youthful king, but to that of a more youthful king. And while we’re at it, let’s improve the mechanics of the sentence by using the New Zealand spelling of splendor (splendour) and lowercasing King.

His eyes clear, his hair changes from white strands to brown splendour, and his face de-ages to that of a more youthful king.

Edited Text

GANDALF
Théoden, son of Thengel.
Théoden watches Gandalf wickedly.GANDALF (CONT’D)
Too long have you sat in the shadows.
The Three Hunters subdue the guards. Wormtongue tries to crawl away unnoticed, but Gimli pins him under his boot.GIMLI
I would stay still if I were you.
Gandalf continues approaching Théoden.GANDALF
(to Théoden)
Hearken to me!
The people of the hall gather in anticipation behind Gandalf.GANDALF
(to Théoden)
I release you from this spell.
Gandalf holds out his hand and closes his eyes.Théoden laughs menacingly.Gandalf opens his eyes.THÉODEN
You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey.
Gandalf throws off his grey cloak and spreads his arms. A blinding white light issues from him, knocking Théoden back against his seat.GANDALF
I will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound.
Gandalf thrusts his staff at Théoden. The force pins Théoden to his throne.Éowen rushes into the hall. She sees her father pinned and tries to run to him, but Aragorn stops her.ARAGORN
Wait.
An evil aura comes over Théoden. He looks at Gandalf and speaks in Saruman’s voice.THÉODEN
If I go, Théoden dies.
Gandalf thrusts his staff again, knocking Théoden back again.GANDALF
You did not kill me; you will not kill him.
Théoden leans forward, straining against Gandalf’s power.THÉODEN
Rohan is mine.
GANDALF
Be gone.
Théoden lunges for Gandalf, but Gandalf smites him with his staff, knocking him once again into his seat.INSERT: In Orthanc, Saruman flies backwards and slides across the floor, away from his palantír. He slowly rises, bleeding from a wound Gandalf just left in his forehead.Gandalf sighs relief. Théoden moans and falls from his throne. Aragorn releases Éowen, and she runs to catch her father before he hits the floor.Éowen holds up Théoden to look at him. His eyes clear, his hair changes from white strands to brown splendour, and his face de-ages to that of a more youthful king.

I hope this demonstration has been useful to you, and that it furthered your understanding of editing as well as enabled and encouraged you to improve the quality and efficiency of your own work. See you next time.

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