The battle of Helm’s Deep holds down the middle portion of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, a rousing, almost 40-minute war scene that lingers in the brain even now, 15 years later. (Can you still picture Gandalf showing up to save the day?) And while a long, good war scene can carry anyone’s attention for awhile, at the scale and length of Helm’s Deep, a little more needs to be going on. The always-thoughtful Nerdwriter breaks it all down structurally in a new video essay, providing a framework for understanding Jackson’s accomplishment.

The video splits the battle scene into 24 beats, the first three-quarters of which occur during night. Tracing those beats along a path shows that the entire scene plays out like a narrative arc in miniature, complete with an inciting incident, growing obstacles, minor victories, and, finally, an unlikely climax. It’s literally a movie (Helm’s Deep) inside of a movie (The Two Towers) inside of a movie (The Lord Of The Rings trilogy). It’s a great example of the care Jackson took to conceive his films as individual parts of a greater whole.


It could probably have done without the shield surfing scene, though. That has not aged very well.