- "Send out your Warg-riders."
- —Saruman to Sharku, in the second of Peter Jackson's films
Warg riders first appeared during the Battle of the Five Armies, where they killed many Men and Dwarves before being defeated on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain. Based on descriptions in The Hobbit book, the Orcs of the Misty Mountains had some control over the Wargs living there. However, most Warg riders were loyal to the evil leaders of Mordor.
In The Two Towers, Wargs are as big as horses and extremely powerful. In Tolkien's books, Gandalf explains that the warg is a mockery of the wolf. It is also one of the twisted creatures Saruman admires most. Wargs have thick matted hair and a short mane. Most of them have brown or black fur, though a few have white fur.
The Orcs who eventually became Warg riders were smaller and lighter than others of their kind, and could evidently bear to suffer daylight more than ordinary orcs. They rode the Wargs using a crude saddle made of hide that was strapped around the beast and sat just behind its hump. Uruk-hai were not fit to ride wargs, as they were too heavy and Wargs could not carry them.
The preferred method of attack was to let the warg do all the initial work, and if there was any dispatching to be done, they would dismount, if it was safe to do so, and finish off the helpless victim. When riding into battle against Men of Rohan, the orcs would slash at their enemy from the backs of their mounts, using crude scimitars and knives. Often the agile creatures would lean down at the last moment, avoiding the spears of their foe, and slice at the bellies of the horses; once the warrior had tumbled to the ground, warg and rider would compete to finish him off. Warg-riders usually perform scouting and hit and run tactics. While the warg was indeed a very strong animal and the rider often carried a rather heavy weapon, the rider often did not wear any form of plate or even mail armor and was easily killed. The Warg was also unarmored and could be killed easily with the right weapon.
Despite them being mounted, there is no real evidence to suggest that the Warg-riders favored either bows or spears, even though these would have been highly effective weapons to use. It may be that the bucking motion of the warg made it almost impossible to aim either weapon with any accuracy. Although the occasional bow or pike has been found, it appears that they generally carried crude, single-edged scimitars and sometimes also knives, which were used to slash at their enemies as they passed them. The scimitars were about two and a half feet long and lacked either guard or pommel; the handgrip was just a strip of leather wrapped around the tang.
Portrayal in adaptationsEdit
Their armor was unique to the Warg-riders, and unique within the group; some, such as their leader (allegedly named Sharku, perhaps in reference to his great age) wore little beyond bone and fur, whereas others preferred to be more heavily protected, wearing multiple layers of rotting hide, fur and hair or mail, but nearly all included something from the remains of the warg's kill, such as bone and tooth, and from parts of the warg itself. Keeping their weight down was a factor with most in order not to tire the warg.
Sharku's relative lack of protection may have been a status symbol; as the leader and longest-surviving member of the pack, he may have been demonstrating that he needed no barrier between himself and the monsters they shared their lives with.
Their cuirass was often made from the bones of a horse's rib cage, to which was stitched pieces of hide and fur; during centuries of wear — if the Orc survived his close contact with the wargs, living with and feeding them as they did — the Warg-rider's armor would go from foul-smelling to rotten, and so would need to be constantly repaired and replaced.
Fresh hide would be stitched on top of old, and bones would be replaced as they disintegrated. Other parts of the orc's body would be wrapped in hide that had been reinforced with bone, and adorned with warg fangs and spikes made from sharpened bone, to protect it from both enemy and ally.
Their armor may have been further strengthened by bonding pieces together with glue made by boiling down horse bones and hooves. Some orcs wore helmets made from the skulls and scalps of their kills, both beasts and men, and these often featured grisly crests of bone. A rough cloak of warg fur would have completed the outfit.
The jockeys carried no shield, as both hands would be needed to hold on to the sword he carried and to the warg itself.