(Warning: The following article contains significant spoilers for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies). Middle-earth is filled with noble, gallant, and selfless representatives of just about each and every of its varied, mystical races. There are Hobbits willing to cast away lifestyles of utmost comfort in order to help a legion of intrusive strangers win back their home. Elves fighting tooth and nail to protect beloved kin who have sworn their hearts elsewhere. Wizards braving paramount dangers to keep warring nations from drawing blood. So why, when enriched with so many decent folk, do the people in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies keep trusting that certified jackass Alfrid with important responsibilities?
In case you don’t recall, Alfrid — played by British actor Ryan Gage and introduced in The Desolation of Smaug — is the gangling, sneering second-in-command (perhaps in name only) to Lake-town’s boorish and tyrannical king, Stephen Fry. Early on in Five Armies, the greedy deputy is emancipated of his position when Fry’s character and the rest of his staff are killed by falling debris (courtesy of Smaug’s attack on the village), and relinquished of all honor and esteem in the aftermath of Lake-town’s destruction. Although Alfrid attempts to assert himself as a rightful beacon of power over the town, or at the very least a suitable associate to community hero Bard — known to his friends as “the Bowman,” his children as “Da,” and his fans as “Luke Evans” — but no one will hear of it. Everyone hates Alfrid, deems him a licentious and entitled jag, and proclaims not to trust him as far as he might be thrown.
And yet… people keep asking him to do important things.
The blame lies principally on the shoulders of Bard, who knows Alfrid well and should not have to learn anew how little faith he truly deserves. Bard is charged with presiding over a ruined Lake-town while dealing with the gaggle of Dwarves holing up in the treasure-packed Lonely Mountain, not to mention keeping any incoming predators at bay. Only capable of so much multitasking, Bard assigns Alfrid the duty of standing watch throughout that fateful first night. As anyone might expect, Alfrid dozes off almost immediately, waking up the next morning to find a leviathan of Elvish soldiers waiting attentively at the Lake-town gates. So that’s strike one.
Later, we find the ostensibly wise Gandalf entrusting the duplicitous man with a high-priority responsibility: keeping Bilbo Baggins safe (from himself, no less). At this point, Bilbo has sought temporary refuge in Lake-town, plotting a deal with the leaders of Men and Elves in order to lure corrupted Dwarf king Thorin Okenshield out of his devotion to warfare. The final step in his plan would entail Bilbo’s return to Thorin’s side to explain the nature of his deed, further cementing the latter’s compulsion to give way to the arrangement… but of course, Bilbo’s admission would land him Thorin’s ire, and possibly a violent fate. But that’s Bilbo, for you. A good and honest Hobbit, wishing only to do right by his friends and companions.
So who do we charge with the task of keeping such a hero from relinquishing himself to doom? How about the same jag from before? Gandalf yanks Alfrid, the first Lake-town Man he can find, from the street, explaining how important it is that he stand guard over Bilbo lest the poor hole-dweller wind up a martyr. Naturally, Alfrid eschews this responsibility the minute Gandalf’s back is turned — so quick is Bilbo’s escape that we don’t even get to see it!
Finally, the blame is back with Bard — and yes, the blame does lie with him, as he really should know better than to entrust this dillweed with the safety of his own children. Rushing into the heat of battle, Bard ensnares Alfrid (when there are so many other suitable folks around) and begs him to keep his young kids out of harm’s way. That’s right: he’s granting temporary custody of most important people in this man’s life, during perhaps the most perilous moment his village has ever seen, to the absolute worst, seediest, most immature jerk he has ever met.
No, there’s no moment of redemption. Alfrid abandons his post with haste, leaving the young ones to find their own way.
There comes a point where you really can’t even blame Alfrid anymore. It’s everyone else’s fault for giving him actual things to do!
Images: New Line Cinema (3)