MOVIES

War of the Rohirrim’s Main Villain Wulf Is Terrifying

Wulf isn’t a cookie-cutter villain. Nor is he like Sauron or Morgoth, sitting off on the edge of the story like a brooding cloud or all-seeing spotlight. Philippa Boyens and director Kenji Kamiyama have had an empathetic antagonist handed to them on a silver platter.

In the limited source material that we have, Wulf starts the story as a victim of a power struggle. Tolkien tells us that Wulf’s father, Freca, asks Rohan’s king, Helm Hammerhand, to arrange a marriage between Wulf and Helm’s daughter (who is nameless in the source material — more on that in a minute). Helm is insulted by the offer and hits Freca so hard, he kills him. The appendices of “The Return of the King” book, where Tolkien recounts the story, adds, “Helm then proclaimed Freca’s son and near kin the king’s enemies; and they fled.”

The traumatic scene of Freca’s death has an ethnic element too. Freca claims descent from a Rohirric king, but Tolkien emphasizes that the noble family appears to have married into the neighboring Dunlendish tribes (the wild-looking men who swear allegiance to Saruman during “The Lord of the Rings”). This is a no-no for Rohan’s royal lineage, who are already at odds with these northeastern neighbors at this point. Of particular note, Freca’s mixed bloodline is described as manifesting through dark hair, a unique feature amongst the light-haired people of Rohan, and something that Wulf in “The War of the Rohirrim” also clearly sports.

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