Whether you read the books, watched the movies, or both – the standoff between Gandalf and the Balrog is one of the most memorable moments of the entire Lord of the Rings saga.
Gandalf vs the Balrog also produced one of the most widely quoted lines in the Lord of the Rings fandom: “You shall not, PASS!”
The battle of wills between Gandalf and the Balrog takes place in the Fellowship of the Ring as the group makes their way through the Mines of Moria.
Gandalf was hesitant to enter Moria and advised against it, but ultimately let Frodo decide their path.
Gandalf knew of what could lurk in the depths of Moria and what drove the Dwarves from their greatest realm of Khazad-dûm (Dwarven for Moria). His fear and apprehension was summed up in the movies by Saruman’s voice-over quote:
Moria. You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greadily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm. Shadow and flame.Saruman
“Moria. You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm. Shadow and flame”.
Frodo ultimately decides to travel through the mines of Moria and eventually come to the chamber of Mazabul where Pippin knocks a skeleton and bucket down a deep well. The resulting loud noise alerts nearby Goblins living in Moria.
Unknowingly until later, the great noise and commotion awoke something more dangerous than Goblins, a Balrog.
These creatures of ‘shadow and flame’ are one of the most powerful and terrifying creatures in Middle Earth.
After the Fellowship’s initial skirmish with the Goblins, they decide to flee out of Moria as fast as they can.
Realizing that the group cannot outrun the Balrog, Gandalf decides to make his stand to hold off the Balrog on the narrow Bridge of Khazad-dûm. A defensive bridge one-man wide at the eastern exit of Moria.
From here, one of the most famous scenes in The Lord of the Rings and movie history unfolds. The battle between Gandalf and the Balrog of Morgoth.
Below we examine the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, and answer frequently asked fan questions.
How Did Gandalf Defeat the Balrog?
Gandalf destroys the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, causing himself and the Balrog to fall into the depths of Moria. After falling into the lake, Gandalf pursued the Balrog for eight days. Gandalf eventually killed the Balrog on the highest peak of Moria, Zirakzigil.
Although it’s not explicitly stated in the books how Gandalf killed the Balrog, the Balrog was eventually cast down, breaking the mountainside and falling “in ruin.”
In the movies, it depicts Gandalf stabbing the Balrog with his sword.
Greatly weakened by the prolonged battle, Gandalf succumbed to his injuries and died on the same mountaintop soon after.
What Did Gandalf Say to the Balrog?
Gandalf’s full quote to the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings is:
You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.Gandalf
As Gandalf attempts to stop the Balrog from crossing the bridge, he repeatedly uses the command “You cannot pass!” He also calls the Balrog “flame of Udun” and commands him to “Go back to Shadow.”
In the book, Gandalf only uses the phrase “You cannot pass!” which he repeats three times throughout his standoff with the Balrog. However, it’s his quote from the movie, “You shall not pass!”, that has become the most famous.
While the Balrog doesn’t say anything during their altercation, Gandalf’s speech is rich with lore. He calls himself a “servant of the Secret Fire,” a reference to the Power of Creation, as well as the “wielder of the flame of Anor.”
Anor is the name of the Sun in Middle Earth as well as True West, i.e. Valinor. Both imply that Gandalf is a servant of the Valar, and Ilúvatar himself.
Gandalf also calls the Balrog “flame of Udun.” Udun is another name for Utumno, Morgoth’s first stronghold in Middle Earth. Gandalf warns the Balrog, “The dark fire will not avail you,” and tells it to “Go back to the Shadow!”
However, it’s to no avail as the Balrog doesn’t heed any of Gandalf’s warnings, leading to their legendary battle that lasts ten days in total.
Did Gandalf Use His Full Power Against the Balrog?
Considering the fact that Gandalf himself perished in defeating the Balrog, he likely used his full power. Although the Istari weren’t allowed to wield their full power, coming face to face with a Balrog is one of the few exceptions.
Gandalf was one of five Istari, or Wizards, sent to Middle Earth to contend with the forces of Sauron.
The Istari were a type of Maiar, primordial spirits created by the Valar to help shape the world of Middle Earth.
The other Istari sent to Middle Earth was Saruman the White, Radagast the Brown, as well as Alatar and Pallando, the Blue Wizards.
The Istari were tasked with helping the Free People defeat Sauron but were forbidden to use their full power or to dominate the peoples of Middle Earth.
Read more about who Istari are in our guide on the five wizards of Middle Earth.
As a Maiar, Gandalf was called Olórin and was noted for being one of the wisest of his kind. In Middle Earth, he was known as Gandalf the Grey and took the shape of a tall, bearded man wearing a pointy hat and grey robe.
Also read: Morgoth vs Sauron: Who Was More Powerful?
Why Was Gandalf Sent Back?
As the only Istari to stay true to his mission, Gandalf was sent back to Middle Earth to continue his opposition against Sauron.
There are no exact details of what happened to Gandalf between his death and his resurrection. However, he recounts his experience to Aragorn and Gimli:
Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell… Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. … There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth.Gandalf the White
The Eru saw that Gandalf was the only one of the Istari to stay true to his mission. So, they not only sent him back but also renamed him Gandalf the White, effectively promoting him to replace Saruman as leader of the White Council.
Gandalf now wore bright white clothing to symbolize his new self. Gandalf the White was also given greater powers by Eru, making him even stronger.
Side note: his old staff was presumedly lost during his battle with the Balrog. and the elves of Lorien made him a new white staff.
What Was the Balrog in Lord of the Rings?
Like the Istari, Balrogs are a type of Maiar, called Valaraukar, that were seduced and corrupted by Melkor. The Balrogs were already servants of Melkor long before the First Age, during the Years of the Trees.
The Balrogs are dark, seemingly humanoid creatures that were surrounded by shadows and flames. They radiated terror wherever they went, often wielding a sword and a whip, both of which were also wreathed in flames.
They served Morgoth throughout the ages, even driving off Ungoliant when she attacked Morgoth.
The Balrog that confronted Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm was known as “Durin’s Bane.”
Awoken when the dwarves mined too deep, he drove the Dwarves from Moria and slew their king, Durin VI.
How Powerful Are Balrogs?
Balrogs were some of the most powerful and feared creatures on Middle Earth. Balrogs were large, fearsome, surrounded by shadow and flames, and wielded weapons of fire.
There are numerous accounts of how powerful Balrogs are throughout the history of Middle Earth. It only took seven Balrogs to drive off Ungoliant, a creature almost as powerful as Melkor himself.
It was Gothmog, the Lord of Balrogs, that fatally wounded Fëanor, an Elf in our list of the most powerful Elves in Middle Earth history. He also played a major role as the commander of many of Melkor’s armies, most notably in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.
Durin’s Bane, the Balrog that faced Gandalf, single-handedly drove the Dwarves from Khazad-dûm, which was known as the greatest kingdom of the Dwarves and heavily fortified.
Gandalf himself only defeated the Balrog at the cost of his own life.
Relive the epic battle between Gandalf and the Balrog below: