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The Death Of Gollum In The Lord Of The Rings, Explained

Most people remember the fiery image of Gollum plummeting to his death in Peter Jackson's iconic film "The Return of the King." While the means of his death is famous, though, a recent development in the cinematic landscape has raised new questions about the events leading up to Gollum's final moments — and how they could factor into a movie set to come out in 2026.

On May 9, Warner Bros. announced that two new Middle-earth movies are in production at the studio. Peter Jackson is returning to help with the creative process, while his co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, are also helping out with the new projects. The first of these will also be directed by Gollum actor Andy Serkis, and it has the working title "The Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum." Users on X, formerly known as Twitter, immediately exploded at the news, as fans in the know chimed in on the idea with varying degrees of support and criticism.

For those who aren't on the inside track of J.R.R. Tolkien's world, though, the announcement may have been a bit of a head-scratcher. A hunt for Gollum? Doesn't he do the hunting? He catches fish, tracks Frodo and Sam, and is always stalking the One Ring. Who hunts Gollum? The surprising answer is none other than Aragorn, son of Arathorn. The Ranger is instrumental in tracking and capturing Gollum, a critical activity in the sequence of events that lead up to "The Lord of the Rings" story.

How and why does Gollum die in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King?

Before we explain the larger reasons behind Gollum's leap into Mount Doom (and how it could connect to the new movie) let's go over a quick refresher of the events immediately surrounding Gollum's death. Toward the end of "The Fellowship of the Ring," It's revealed that Gollum is tracking Frodo. In "The Two Towers," Frodo turns the tables, capturing the Slinker, taming him, and making Gollum show him the way to Mordor. After Gollum betrays Frodo to Shelob, he disappears. Then, at the end of "The Return of the King," he suddenly pops up again, attacking Sam on the slopes of Mount Doom and biting Frodo's finger off, Ring and all, at the Cracks of Doom.

In the movie version, Frodo fights with Gollum, inadvertently shoving him off the cliff. In the books, Gollum trips while gloating over the Ring he's recovered. He slips and tumbles to his doom. Either way, he falls into the fiery depths below, perishing along with his Precious.

Is Gollum still alive?

Solely based on "The Lord of the Rings" story, the question of Gollum's survival is pretty obvious. No, the poor corrupted fella is not alive at the end of the story. He pays the ultimate price for his obsession with the One Ring by cooking alive as he falls into the hottest spot in all of Middle-earth.

That said, the announcement of a new movie does beg the question: is this a sequel or a prequel? Will we see some crazy expedition to retrieve Gollum's ashes from Mount Doom? Again, the answer here is an emphatic no. The tale of Gollum comes to an abrupt end at the Cracks of Doom.

This leaves just one direction to go with another movie about the character: backward. The good news here is that, due to the life-extending superpowers of the One Ring, Gollum's tragic backstory is a long and at times, a dramatic affair — especially after he loses his Precious in a riddle competition. Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, and company are going to be backing up to tell an earlier part of the miserable wretch's story as he sets out in search of revenge and the One Ring.

What does Gollum's death mean for the 2026 Lord of the Rings movie?

The new Gollum movie will likely focus on one part of the pre-Lord of the Rings narrative. After the events of "The Hobbit," Gollum eventually leaves his lair in the Misty Mountains. He tracks his Hobbit nemesis across northern Middle-earth before he's sidetracked and caught near Mordor. He's tortured by Sauron — an event briefly depicted in Peter Jackson's "The Fellowship of the Ring"—and then we don't see him again in that story until he tracks its titular group.

However, that doesn't mean Gollum lies low waiting for Frodo to pass by. He actually has his own adventure that runs parallel to the earlier stages of "The Lord of the Rings." After escaping from Mordor (or being released — it's complicated), Sméagol is picked up by Aragorn, who is hunting him for Gandalf. The two kick things off on the wrong note, and Aragorn ends up forcing Gollum to accompany him all the way back to Mirkwood, where Gandalf does one of the most terrible things he's ever done by threatening to burn Gollum to extract information from him. After that, Gollum is busted out of prison by Orcs and starts to track the One Ring again, ultimately leading him to Frodo and Sam.

The story of the Hunt for Gollum is a pretty fun one, and it all takes place before he dies. In fact, a lot of it leads directly into that deadly journey. It's a fascinating prelude to Sméagol's role in "The Lord of the Rings." How it will hold up as a stand-alone feature, though, remains to be seen. Hopefully, it does better than the Gollum game (which was one of the worst video games of 2023).