What are the Balrogs? On more than one occasion, the new Middle-earth fantasy series Rings of Power has shown a Balrog. These are some of the most iconic, terrifying, and outright powerful beings in Middle-earth.
In the latest episode of the TV series, we saw that after arguing with Prince Durin, King Durin III threw the Elven leaf down into the depths of the mines. When it landed, it was immediately set on fire, before a Balrog revealed itself, cloaked in smoke and flame.
However, despite being seen in The Fellowship of the Ring, and now twice in The Rings of Power, audiences who are only familiar with the onscreen world of Middle-earth probably don’t know too much about Balrogs, because it’s barely been explained. But what do we know about Balrogs, and why are Balrogs in Rings of Power?
What is a Balrog?
When most people think of a Balrog, they think of the Balrog in the Lord of the Rings movies that kills Gandalf the Grey and pursues the Fellowship through Khazad-dûm. However, the term Balrog isn’t just used to refer to that one individual.
In fact, there are multiple Balrogs. Balrogs, otherwise known as Valaraukar, are a corrupted race of Maiar that were in the service of the biggest baddie of all: Morgoth. This explains why Gandalf says that he was slain by a “Balrog of Morgoth” in the fantasy movie The Two Towers.
The history of the Balrogs
These huge, fearsome creatures fought alongside Morgoth and his lieutenant Sauron, as Morgoth sought to conquer Middle-earth in the First Age. The leader of the Balrogs was named Gothmog. Alongside Sauron, Gothmog was one of Morgoth’s chief lieutenants and the most powerful Balrog ever to exist.
Notably, the Balrogs fought for Morgoth during the ‘War for Sake of the Elves’. After Morgoth was temporarily defeated during that war, the Balrogs used the pits in the fortress of Angband as a place to recover and to hibernate.
Then, the Balrogs also were a key part of the evil forces that assaulted Gondolin. During the Fall of Gondolin, Gothmog was responsible for the death of many Elf-lords and Kings, before being killed by Ecthelion.
Years later, at the end of the First Age, Morgoth was eventually defeated in the War of Wrath (though Sauron survived) by the joint forces of Elves and Men. And with that defeat, the surviving Balrogs fled into the deepest, darkest caverns of Middle-earth.
The Balrog in Khazad-Dûm
The Balrog in Khazad-dûm was one of these surviving Balrogs. It had fled to the misty mountains after Morgoth’s defeat and was one of the last of its kind. It was known as Durin’s Bane because it destroyed Khazad-Dum and killed its inhabitants after the Dwarves mined too deeply and awakened it.
This was the same Balrog that would go on to kill Gandalf the Grey after their battle on the peak of Zirakzigil on the Misty Mountains. In doing so, it was partly responsible for the resurrection of Gandalf the White, who would go on to have a hugely important role in the War of the Ring and the defeat of Sauron.
Do Balrogs have wings?
This one is a long-running debate that only the keenest Tolkien devotees will be familiar with. On the face of it, it seems simple. Of course, Balrogs have wings! Didn’t you see the Lord of the Rings movies? Well, like so much in Middle-earth it just isn’t that straightforward.
In his writing, Tolkien described the Balrog in Khazad-dûm as having “wings of shadow”. This seems to be metaphorical, perhaps indicating that the Balrog was surrounded by a cloak of smoke. However, they have commonly been depicted onscreen – and by many artists – as having literal wings.
So, it’s not completely clear. As Tolkien isn’t here to clear it up for himself, it never will be. That means it’s up to us to decide: we, for one, quite like the idea of a winged Balrog.
For more deep dives into the lore of Middle-earth, check out our guide to the Harfoots or the Numenoreans. Or, perhaps the finale left you wondering who is the best Rings of Power character? Well, if you want to know more, you’ll have to check out our guide to the Rings of Power season 2, and as a bonus, we’ve done a deep dive into the Rings of Power cast.