Netflix’s Cursed deviates from the typical King Arthur mythos by centering on the mysterious Lady of the Lake. Played by Katherine Langford, Nimue evolves from an enigmatic enchantress who hands King Arthur the magical sword, to a young woman finding her footing in a harsh world and slowly learning about her past and ultimately to stand up for her people, the discriminated Fey. It’s not just a quest for a sword, but about becoming a hero.
“She goes from feeling completely reckless and wanting to leave where she is, and find where she belongs to losing everything that she had. As a duty to her mother, she wants to fulfill her dying wish [to take the sword to Merlin],” Langford says of her character’s quest. “Along that journey, she starts to discover these different elements herself, of her past, and of mother and it really changes the way that she looks back on the way that she’s grown up and everything that she thought she was missing.”
Based on the illustrated novel by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller, Cursed takes serious creative liberties with the source material. For one, Arthur is a roguish mercenary and he and Nimue strike up a romantic relationship over the course of the season. Arthur, played here by Devvon Terrell (Barry), isn’t the noble, heroic figure we typically see in retellings. He’s charming, but a coward, running away when things get tough. Meeting Nimue inspires him to fight for something instead of running away. Langford says she sees their relationship as a not just a point of growth for the both of them, but a safe place in a tumultuous world.
“It’s actually a really beautiful relationship, but it does have a lot of bumps in it. It’s messy, but it’s also really genuine for both of them,” says Langford. “Both of them need each other in that moment. They really are a support system for each other. They lean on each other. They’re both very capable and they both want to do the right thing. But at the same time, they’re also able to rest upon each other and help each other.”
[Ed. note: The rest of this article contains spoilers for Netflix’s Cursed]
Across the entire first season, Nimue gradually grows from a scared outcast to a fighter for her people. In the first episode, she longs to leave her village, which sees her as a threat because of her deep connection to the powers of the forest known as the Hidden, stronger and darker than even regular Fey. By the end of the season, she’s wielding the Sword of Power to protect her people. It’s a carefully built up journey, but Langford can pinpoint one moment that really drives Nimue’s decision to first take up the sword, one that she actually had a hand in constructing.
“It’s actually one I talked to Tom [Wheeler] about and he just wrote it so beautifully. During the beginning, it never even crosses her mind that she could wield the Sword of Power because it is the sword for the first king and every time we meet a character they say, ‘This is the sword of the first king. It’s for a king.’ And there’s this moment where she has to obviously take hold and take possession of the sword,” explains Langford. “I said to Tom, ‘what changes her mind?’ He ended up writing this really beautiful scene between Nimue and another character, where that point-of-view shifts and for the first time, she’s able to see herself in a position of power, and being able to use the sword for good and do what she needs to do, do what she feels is right.”
Nimue uses the sword in self-defense right after her mother entrusts it to her, but is shaken by its power. She spends the third and fourth episodes doubting herself, her connection to both the sword and the forest, still bent on fulfilling her mother’s last wish to see the sword delivered to Merlin, believing she’s failed at it. But while riding with a merchant smuggling Fey, Nimue has a brief heart-to-heart with the merchant’s wife, where Nimue confesses she feels her mother must be disappointed in her.
“Yet here you are,” says the merchant’s wife. “Alone, afraid, headed toward the danger, not away from it.”
By the end of that episode, the merchant and his wife — along with the Fey they were smuggling — have been murdered. Nimue takes the sword to avenge their deaths at the hands of the genocidal Red Paladins, tapping into the power of the Hidden to lead her to them and wielding the sword as she rises out of a lake. She’s vengeful, finally listening to the forces that guide her, a moment that would not have been possible without the quiet conversation that preceded it.