With her new series Cursed, about the Lady of the Lake, Katherine Langford is back on Netflix, but this time she’s facing some very different battles that would never see the light of day at Liberty High.
Cursed explores the Arthurian legend of the Lady of the Lake with a twist. Traditionally, Merlin uses magic to seal a sword in stone and Arthur proves his worth by pulling it out. The sword is eventually damaged in a battle with Lancelot, but the Lady of the Lake restores the sword to its former glory, paving the way for Arthur to become king.
King Arthur isn’t the focus of Cursed, however. Langford plays Nimue, a Fey (or fairy) who is destined to become the Lady of the Lake. However, when we meet her, she’s seen as an outcast by both her peers and Elders thanks to an incident she experienced as a child. After her mother’s death, she meets Arthur (Devon Terrell), an unexpected partner as she undergoes a quest to deliver a powerful sword to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård). Along her journey Nimue must take on the Red Paladins, a group trying to rid the world of magic, as she tries to figure out her own destiny, protecting herself and other outcasts like her.
“It’s telling a story of a true heroine that is capable and strong and not just altering a story because she’s a woman,” Langford told Refinery29 ahead of Cursed’s release. “[It’s] something I wish I’d had growing up.”
Ready for some magic, fairies, and mystical sword battles? Let’s dive in.
Episode 1, “Nimue”
We meet Nimue as she rides her horse along an idyllic grassy hill, but something is afoot — the wind is howling and the birds are flying in a spiral. She makes her way to an open market of sorts, where a young boy named Squirrel (Billy Jenkins) is walking through where people are picking vegetables… and Squirrel is surreptitiously picking everyone’s pockets.
As they chat, a woman walks by and calls Nimue a witch, disgusted. Nimue takes the remark in stride, but she’s forgotten an offering before heading to the pyre. As she assembles her bouquet of wild flowers we see just how magical — and sinister — the land truly is. A nearly cartoonish flower floats in the air as sapphire-colored fly buzzes by, giving Disney-movie-come-to-life vibes (or a very weird dream), but then the wind starts howling again, whispering, “Save them” over and over again. We meet our first talking animal as a deer with a raspy voice approaches Nimue to deliver a message: “Death is not the end, Fey queen. Save them.” Then, suddenly, someone shoots the deer with an arrow (guess no one could save the deer).
“What did you do?!” Nimue asks, aghast, as a few men come over to collect their supper. They warn each other not to get too close to “this witch” or they’ll “get the worms” (what exactly do these people think witches do?). “Even her dad left her,” one remarks, sparking a flashback of a young Nimue pleading with her Papa to come back. “You’re cursed, Nimue,” we see a slightly older Nimue told in a flashback as the men heckle her. Nimue shouts at Benue to get out of her forest as the bow in his hand turns into a snake, tightening its grip around his arm. Green veins begin to appear on the sides of Nimue’s face and neck until she finally lets him go. During a flashback we get a sense of why her Papa left. “She brings a darkness, a curse,” he says. Nimue’s mother Lenore (Catherine Walker) arrives and finally snaps her out of it. Nimue lets him go, but not without a scolding from dear mom of course.
Nimue is understandably upset over the entire encounter. Her mother tells her not to be ashamed, but Nimue points out a major difference: she’s the one called “demon” and “witch.” “Are you the high priestess now or my mother?” Nimue snaps.
It’s ceremony time and everything looks eerily out of Midsommar, only slightly moodier. The Elders’ robes are dark, the sky is gray and cloudy as people circle a large fire, unlit torches in hand. Nimue reluctantly makes her offering. “As Sky Folk we are born in the dawn to pass in the twilight,” Nimue’s mother says, arms outstretched. It’s nightfall before we know it and the flames dance and sparkle, ready to choose a new Summoner. “The Hidden are with us,” Nimue’s mother notes. (Who are these Hidden?) They swarm Nimue, much to everyone’s dismay — she’s marked by dark gods, the others complain.
Nimue gives all the angsty 13 Reasons Why energy as she refuses to be Summoner and storms away. Her mother isn’t having it, though. The will of the Hidden is clear, she explains, and the power is a gift. It should be used to guide and serve Nimue’s “kind.” Nimue marches away, ready to get on a ship and leave. Nimue’s friend Pym (Lily Newmark) catches up to her, ready to talk her out of it. “Who cares what those shriveled onions think?” she asks. (A fair question!) Nimue has made a decision and isn’t changing it. “Oh my Gods,” Pym says — a subtle yet brilliant adjustment of the phrase for an Arthurian universe — as she insists on tagging along.
We meet Father Cardin (Peter Mullan), an evangelist and leader of the Red Paladins who wants to rid the world of magic, and his red robe. He’s explaining to a young boy that they must expel the weeds — the demons — from God’s garden, regardless of just how scary the weeds are. The boy, apparently an unsuspecting “demon,” is grabbed and taken away as Father Cardin sits up and we see just what his world looks like. There is chaos and destruction all over the hill as crosses and fires burn, people dash around on horseback.
Meanwhile, a Moon Wing has appeared and tells her story to Nimue’s mom. She talks of the men in red robes who burned the trees and killed people in their sleep with smoke. She looks exactly like her name, pale and almost as if she’s wearing clouds for clothes and hair. A man in a hooded robe sporting some serious guyliner (with tears, of course!) walks away from the flames as the Moon Wing tells her story: the Weeping Monk (Daniel Sharman), a crusader who hunts the Fey for the Red Paladins. The Red Paladins are moving north and they’re in their path.
Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård) is far from any magician you pictured in your mind. There’s no white beard and flowing purple robes here — instead, we meet Merlin as he sulks in the corner of a tavern, hood drawn over his face so you can’t see his eyes… because he’s asleep. It turns out to be a ruse, though, as he grabs Hook, who’s trying to search his robes, and holds a knife to his eye. He threatens to turn them into mole rats but doesn’t actually commit. Did Merlin lose his magic?
Over at the castle, King Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Armesto) is getting some unpleasant news as Merlin is brought in, bare-chested and apparently drunk. Turns out most blame the king for the drought (in addition to the Fey’s witchcraft). Merlin, meanwhile, had promised them rain, but he claims weather is too fickle. The king is facing problems and Merlin might have the answer no one wants. The Shadow Lords could slow Carden’s march — but it’s not rain, so it’s not good enough.
Nimue and Pym are riding Nimue’s horse as they discuss the mission. Gawain (Matt Stokoe) took the Brass Shield, the only ship that crosses the sea to the desert kingdoms, but Nimue wants to get on it. She’ll cut her hair so no one knows she’s a girl and she’s got 20 silver — she’s got this, folks. They arrive at the dock and the ship isn’t there, however, and won’t be back for six months. Nimue and Pym make their way through the village to a man who’s singing to a small crowd. He spots Nimue and serenades her. Nimue walks away so he chases her, turning his flirt and exchanging names so they aren’t strangers — ladies and gentlemen, meet Arthur. The trio grab drinks as they learn about each other. Arthur may be young and scruffy (and, apparently, has a history of thieving), but turns out he’s a knight. A man interrupts to wage a dice bet: if he wins, he gets a kiss. If Nimue wins, she gets 10 silver. Arthur warns Nimue the dice are weighted but she presses on anyway, knowing she can use her powers. Nimue and Pym try to make a quick escape once her secret is revealed, but several of the Red Paladins chase them through the crowd.
Merlin, meanwhile, is speaking to a shopkeeper and looking for a mysterious Number Three item. The keeper opens a drawer and pulls back a cloth to reveal an infant with three faces on its head. This doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere good.
Arthur finds Nimue and Pym hiding from the Red Paladins in the woods and offers them good company and terrible wine. At his place, Arthur is teaching Nimue to fight, which of course means very close contact and a near-kiss by the fire… until Nimue catches him off-guard and headbutts him. (She’s definitely someone you’d want on your side in a tavern fight.)
Merlin is thumbing through a book of magic, where we see some familiar imagery, including the Number Three baby and a sword.
Nimue and Pym leave Arthur behind as they discuss the almost-kiss. It turns out Nimue had a vision, but she won’t budge. They’re interrupted by a horse galloping past them, its saddle on fire. They ride in the direction the horse came from only to see a chaotic, fiery battle with the Red Paladins, where Pym is taken. Nimue hides on the sidelines until she spots Squirrel and pulls him out of the fight. As he escapes, Nimue is captured by one of the men in red robes and is dragged by her hair to Carden. As Carden instructs the man to throw Nimue into the fire everyone in a red robe is shot with an arrow, allowing Nimue to narrowly escape.
Nimue finds her mother laying on the ground, bloody, a sword by her side. She gives Nimue a mission: Take the sword to Merlin. Nimue’s mother sacrifices herself to one of the Red Paladins so Nimue can escape.
Over at Merlin’s, things are completely casual. It’s finally raining, but not without a dose of danger. Merlin is standing on a ledge as a terrified knight stands behind him. The clouds and rain turn red — the gods, it seems?
The king and his people, meanwhile, are celebrating the end of the drought with a large meal and a tankard of rain. As he takes a sip, however, something is terribly wrong: The rain that fell on the castle seems to be blood.
As Nimue finds herself trapped on a rock, surrounded by angry (and honestly, kind of animatronic-looking) wolves, Merlin is struck by electricity and catches fire. Nimue pulls the sword out and slays the wolves. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that she’s got this sword fighting thing down.
Burning questions: Who are the Hidden, and why did they select Nimue to be the Summoner? Why did the ship leave early? What did Merlin do with the Number Three to make it “rain”?
Episode 2, “Cursed”
A young Nimue wakes up as both her parents are fast asleep on either side of her in bed. Nimue and Pym begin an early-morning game of hide and seek, Pym hiding in the shadows as Nimue makes her way through the forest and down a dark path. Meanwhile, adult Nimue is making her way through the forest looking for Squirrel, who’s hiding out from the Red Paladins — but one of them spots Nimue first.
Back in time, young Nimue makes her way into a cave and trips over a rock on the ground. Pym’s voice apologizes, a childlike “sorry,” but the voice then distorts, becoming deeper and demonic, similar to the deer last episode. “I was just so hungry,” it says. A large bear with red eyes approaches Nimue from behind, growling and pawing at her — it’s one of the dark gods. Her mother senses something is wrong and instructs Nimue from afar to call to the Hidden with her thoughts to help her. Adult Nimue finds herself in a similar scenario as she struggles with the Red Paladin. The bear collapses into a disgusting splat as adult Nimue wakes up on the ground, bloodied with the sword by her side.
The king is banging on Merlin’s door, commanding him to answer. He’s furious about the blood rain, claiming it makes them look bad, but a drunk Merlin just wants a little more time to study the omens.
Carden is walking through the woods with the Weeping Monk, surveying the pulpy corpse Nimue left behind. They know the Fey sword is still out there, and the Weeping Monk notes Nimue’s tracks. A group of Paladins pray on the ground nearby as one of their own is caught in a twisted web of snake-like tree roots. Carden berates them, pointing at the trapped man — he’s the enemy.
As adult Nimue cleans her sword in the water we see flashbacks of her mother carrying young Nimue from the cave to inspect her injuries from the bear. Lenore pleads with Jonah, Nimue’s father, to help her. Even though Nimue survived, the others think the demon will come back for them.
Squirrel runs out of the bushes only to come face-to-face with the Weeping Monk, who wants information on how many people survived. Squirrel spits at Monk, calling him scum (a very bold move given their size difference).
Nimue continues her search for Squirrel but runs into trouble with one of the Paladins. She asks a man operating a horse-drawn carriage to give her a ride, claiming she has an ailing tooth, but the Paladin is suspicious and asks him to pull her tooth in front of them. They both comply and he pulls Nimue’s tooth out before proceeding.
Squirrel, meanwhile, is travelling with the Weeping Monk, chattering away about horses just like any child would. Nimue makes it into town, where the crier is warning everyone about her existence. So much for a quiet getaway.
In another flashback, Jonah is returning a pre-teen Nimue, who tried to run away. Lenore is grateful while Jonah is angry, claiming Lenore spoils her. Nimue feels unwelcome by her father and everyone around her, including the other children, because of her scars.
Squirrel is laying down as a group of men come for the Weeping Monk. They want to know why the Monk took Squirrel, but it turns out Squirrel is just the bait — the men were his true targets. He quickly vanquishes them all as Squirrel watches, horrified. The Monk unties Squirrel and instructs him to tell the other Fey what went down.
Nimue runs into Arthur in the town and explains that everyone is gone. Right away they are approached by onlookers, including Bors, the man she swindled in the tavern, who recognize her as the witch. He demands Nimue give him her sword as two men restrain Arthur, but Nimue has other ideas. She slices the man’s hand off and Arthur breaks free. The two jump on a horse and ride away, narrowly making it under the gates. Once they’re safe, Arthur berates Nimue for her actions. He’s complicit in this now, too, and there’s going to be a price on his head. Nimue explains that they killed her mother, but blames herself for everything that has happened. Arthur finally softens and tries to warm her up, kneeling by the fire.
In another flashback, a slightly younger, seemingly more carefree Nimue walks through the forest in a light blue dress, holding hands with a young blonde boy. Just when she thinks he’s about to kiss her he declares, “Witch!” and other teens come out from hiding, tying her to a tree. The back of her dress slips, revealing the mark of the dark gods. One of the teens is sucked into the roots of a nearby tree as the other two plead with Nimue to let her go. They cut the roots free and run away. Later, Nimue sits by the water as Lenore reminds her daughter that she is a warrior and will survive anything — even a bully.
Arthur is marveling over Nimue’s sword as they take refuge in an abbey. He cuts through the air as the sword makes a tinkling noise. He suggests Nimue sell it, but she explains her mother’s dying wish to give it to Merlin. “You can’t change her fate, only your own,” Arthur tells Nimue, but she vows to keep her mother’s dying promise.
Merlin arrives at the scene of Lenore’s death. He closes her eyes, picks her up, and places her on the raised pedestal, reciting a spell about passing in the twilight. There appears to be a deep connection between the two. Merlin is then walking along a road, kicking crosses down while a ghostly person in black robes passes him. He asks if the Widow has come for him. “Not just yet,” they respond, a demonic tinge to the voice. He lied about the sword and the Shadow Lords will see it as the final betrayal. No one wants the Church to obtain the sword, the Widow explains, because then they will control who wears the crown. It turns out Merlin created the words that set everything in motion — “Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true king” — but he doesn’t believe there’s one true king; the sword is cursed. The Widow demands Merlin finish the war as Merlin, not the “piteous creature” he is.
“I have no magic, that’s what the sword took from me,” Merlin explains.
“Even more reason to reclaim it,” the Widow responds.
Merlin refuses to allow that to happen though, leaving the world “lost.” He asks the Widow where the sword is. She senses both fear and great power around it, as Arthur gently takes the sword from a sleeping Nimue’s arms. Merlin’s got a plan, however, to melt the sword, regardless of how difficult it might be — and with the Widow’s help.
Arthur is walking through a hallway with the sword on his back, Sister Igraine (Shalom Brune-Franklin) on his heels. He’s off to fulfill a dying wish, he tells her before leaving with the sword — alone.
Burning questions: How did Lenore and Merlin know each other, and what does Nimue have to do with it? Who is Sister Igraine, and how is connected to Arthur?
Episode 3, “Alone”
A young Arthur’s wooden sword fight is interrupted. His father, a knight, had been injured in a fight. Arthur kneels by his side as he tells him his dying wish: to bring back the knights’ honor.
Adult Arthur rides on his horse through a village, the sword strapped to his back, as passersby speculate he’s there for a tournament. Nimue, meanwhile, wakes up in the abbey to a young sister, Iris, watching her, the sword nowhere to be found. Iris claims to have an unusual talent: if she stares at someone long enough she can see the demon in them. Sister Igraine enters and ushers Iris out before slapping Nimue. Sister Igraine wants to hide Nimue in the abbey, but Nimue shoves her aside and steps out, Red Paladins including Carden swarming the area. Nimue returns to the abbey, she encounters Abbes Nora. Nora suspects something is up but believes Nimue’s lie that she’s a pregnant woman named Alice, leaving her in Igraine’s care since there are injured Paladins in the building as well.
Igraine and a well-disguised Nimue enter the room where the Paladins are being kept. The injured one is bloody, with bits of branches and roots coming out of places they most definitely should not be. The other Paladins blame “the Fey girl” for his fate. Igraine pulls a root out of the man’s throat. Nimue leaves to get dressings but overhears Carden talking about the sword and takes a jug from an unsuspecting nun to give herself a reason to enter the room. Carden knows a Fey witch escaped with the sword — the symbol is marked on Nimue’s victim. The Weeping Monk enters with lists of the Fey Elders who are still alive. Carden wants the Paladins to make the Fey extinct so they can possess the sword. “Then, and only then, the heavenly fires will come for Merlin,” he says. Nimue pauses as she exits the room, but the Weeping Monk senses something different about her presence as he subtly looks behind him. He searches her room, finding her clothes and giving them a deep sniff. Someone’s been found out.
Meanwhile in the room with Nimue’s victim, Nimue and Igraine are examining his unusual burn from the sword. Igraine figures out the burn is inside him, its power drawn from the four elements, water, earth, air, and fire. The Monk, meanwhile, informs Carden the enemy is in the building.
Arthur, still holding onto the sword, meets up with his Aunt Marion. He wants Sir Ector’s sponsorship for the tournament, he explains. Nimue is tending to her patient with Fey remedies — a major risk given the sheer number of Paladins in the building. Nora comes into the room to check his status and tries to hide the Fey treatment just as Carden enters, asking if any new girls have joined the abbey. Nora puts the pieces together and covers for Nimue, leading Carden to demand he question all the sisters one by one.
Over at the castle, King Uther is bringing his mother warmed milk with honey, but as the two bicker, he has an ulterior motive. Merlin has gone missing, he explains, but it turns out his mother can see everything that goes on from her perch — including Merlin’s blood rain-filled ritual during the lightning storm — and she suspects Merlin is up to something.
Nimue is hiding from the Paladins as she spots Igraine with another sister. Crying and upset, the two kiss before spotting Nimue. She won’t tell anyone what she saw, she tells Igraine, because what they did isn’t wrong. The Paladins round up everyone in the abbey as Nimue stumbles upon sheets detailing their plans and maps. She rolls them up and stuffs them in her sleeve but is nearly caught by a Paladin who tells her to go to the barn. Nimue takes a turn and burns the Paladins’ plans in the fire.
Arthur, carrying his head high and with the sword intended for Merlin, visits his uncle, Sir Ector, to ask for his sponsorship. Arthur agrees Sir Ector might have knights worthier than him, but insists he can best them. Arthur wants the opportunity to earn his uncle’s respect. Sir Ector seizes him up, seeing the potential in Arthur, especially if he wears his father’s armor. Does he have a worthy weapon, though? Arthur pulls out the sword and tells Sir Ector an extremely fabricated tale of how he ended up with the sword: He saved a girl’s life in Hawksbridge, and she gave him the sword in return. Sir Ector buys the story and doesn’t seem to recognize the sword.
The Widow joins Merlin in the tavern, who is — what else? — drinking. We get a glimpse as to why Merlin is this way. He’s lived “too long,” he says, and has seen so much over his years that he begins to forget what wonder feels like… but wine can almost taste like wonder. The Widow has had a vision and will not let Merlin destroy the sword in the Fey fire. Merlin won’t die if it is destroyed, but will suffer so much that he will beg for the end.
Arthur and Sir Ector take a seat in a tavern, but up walks Bors, and he is unsurprisingly still seething about having his hand cut off and being out so much silver. He asks Arthur if he’s explained how he came to possess the sword. Bors reveals Arthur has been with a Fey girl and Sir Ector demands the sword’s truth. Arthur admits he stole the sword and Sir Ector says he is worse than an embarrassment.
Over at the abbey, everyone is gathered in the barn so the Paladins can question them and the Weeping Monk can try to suss out the Fey in their midst. Nimue and Igraine are with the injured Paladin, who is healing thanks to the Fey treatment they gave him. He suddenly takes a turn for the worse and more Paladins come in to pray over him, but Nimue and Igraine depart just as the Weeping Monk enters the room.
Igraine gives Nimue directions to get to Arthur, revealing she’s his sister. That isn’t the biggest surprise, though: Igraine isn’t even her name. There was a mix-up when she arrived at the abbey and Igraine is actually her grandmother’s name — she’s Morgana. She gives Nimue a hug and promises her she isn’t alone. Nimue departs on a boat.
Merlin asks to be taken to the king as a group of men pounce on him. He sinks into the dirt. That’s, uh, one way to travel?
Burning questions: Which king is Merlin visiting? Who is the Widow, and what has she seen?
More to come. Check back for the full recap next week.
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