The Ending of Netflix's 'Cursed' Is Best Explained With a Deep Dive Into Arthurian Legend

Adrienne Westenfeld
Photo credit: Elaine Chung
Photo credit: Elaine Chung

From Esquire

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the finale of Cursed Season One.

In its tenth and final episode, Cursed ends on a cliffhanger—literally. Netflix’s high fantasy epic about Nimue, the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend, sees its heroine put her life on the line for the endangered fey people, who have named her their queen. Yet with enemies circling on all sides, the battle for the future of the fey soon devolves from a carefully negotiated treaty to an epic battlefield showdown.

Episode 10, “The Sacrifice,” opens with Iris, the young faith militant living in disguise among the fey, lighting a dead fey body on fire under the cover of night. The following morning, Nimue and Arthur lie in bed after a night of passion, only for their relaxation to be interrupted by the discovery of this body. With tension ostensibly rising between humans and the fey people, Arthur insists that the deal agreed upon in Episode Nine must go forth: that Nimue will surrender both herself and her magical Sword of Power, while in exchange, the fey board ships provided by King Uther Pendragon and leave England for good.

Meanwhile, Merlin remains weakened after taking a hit to the chest from a poisoned arrow in the previous episode. He implores Nimue to surrender him to King Uther as a bargaining chip in the hope that such a plan would spare her life, but Nimue declines. Elsewhere in Gremaire, Arthur’s sister Morgana is confronted by the Widow, the supernatural harbinger of death who has visited Merlin and Morgana throughout the season. The Widow informs Morgana that she has been touched with magic, giving her the gift of unnatural sight. Changed anew, Morgana plans to leave Gremaire in search of a solution that will spare Nimue’s life. Putting her plan to surrender the Sword of Power to King Uther in risky territory, Nimue gives the sword to Morgana and encourages her to go. In the woods, Morgana is visited by the spirit of Celia, her deceased lover, who tells her that she can save the fey people, but only by delivering the sword to the Widow. However, Celia informs her, Nimue must die.

With the peaceable plan more or less underway, Nimue says an emotional goodbye to Arthur and her best friend Pym, who ride out to the ships intended to ferry the fey away from the xenophobia of England. Meanwhile, Merlin has gone rogue, showing up at King Uther’s palace to demand information about Uther’s intentions with Nimue, fearing that Uther intends to kill her in captivity. After they quarrel, Uther’s guards stab Merlin and haul him away. Back at fey HQ, Nimue receives a raven informing her that she ships have arrived, meaning that King Uther has kept his word. She rides out for his palace to hold up her end of the bargain, believing that the fey are safe, while Arthur leads the fey toward the ships visible in the distance.

Photo credit: LUDOVIC ROBERT/Netflix
Photo credit: LUDOVIC ROBERT/Netflix

As for the situation at the Red Paladin camp, where the faith militants are stationed, the Weeping Monk, the Red Paladins’ fiercest warrior, is experiencing a crisis of faith. The Weeping Monk asks Father Carden, the leader of the Paladins, if he loves him despite his fey heritage. Father Carden reminds the Weeping Monk that he saved him from his “demonic” heritage and shepherded him down the road to salvation; however, the Weeping Monk must “do what is necessary” when the time comes.

Back in King Uther’s military camp, Nimue surrenders herself to the king, sans the Sword of Power. Nimue demands that Gawain and Squirrel, two of her loved ones who have been captured, be released, or else she will not surrender the sword. Father Carden asks for custody of Nimue, claiming that he can break her through torture in just a few hours, but Nimue invites him to do his worst. Outside the tent, Morgana sneaks into the camp, only for the Widow to materialize and take her in a chokehold, urging in a threatening tone, “Did I not warn you?”

Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX
Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Back at the coast, Arthur and the fey are ambushed by the army of Cumber the Ice King, who dispatched the army as part of a deal with King Uther. The ocean raiders who once harbored Pym sail in to fight alongside the fey, while the battle rages on. It becomes apparent that King Uther has deceived Nimue, yet she has a few tricks of her own. When King Uther’s men show Nimue Gawain’s dead body, the strength of her grief activates her magical powers, causing the land around her to shake. The Red Paladins arrive, with Father Carden threatening to kill Nimue, but just as he raises his sword, the Widow appears, giving Nimue the Sword of Power. Nimue decapitates Father Carden, leading the Red Paladins to turn on one another. The Widow lowers her hood, revealing Morgana—we learn that Morgana has become the Widow, though we’ll have to wait until season two to fully understand just how and why. Morgana warns Nimue that Merlin is about to die.

As for Squirrel, the Weeping Monk saves him from the Red Paladins, choosing at the eleventh hour to fight for his own kind. Squirrel and the Weeping Monk take down a slew of Paladins together, then ride out of camp on horseback, with the Weeping Monk severely wounded. As they ride down a dirt road, the Weeping Monk reveals that his given name was Lancelot. His confession calls to mind a traditional theme in Arthurian mythology, where most versions of the legend suggest that it was the Lady of the Lake who raised Lancelot after the death of his father.

Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX
Photo credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

In the explosive final confrontation, Nimue and Morgana drag a fading Merlin down the road, hoping that they can lose the Red Paladins who are in hot pursuit. After they cross a narrow stone bridge erected over a steep waterfall, Nimue makes to go back for Squirrel, only to encounter Iris blocking her way. Having long plotted to kill Nimue and other “witches” like her, Iris finally takes her shot, landing two arrows in Nimue’s chest. Nimue stumbles and falls over the side of the bridge, managing to briefly catch hold of Merlin’s hand, but soon falls to her presumed death. An enraged Merlin takes up the Sword of Power and regains the use of his magic, raining lightning and death down on Iris and an advancing slew of Red Paladins. After laying waste to the Paladins, he takes Morgana into his arms and teleports them both to parts unknown.

In the final sequence of the episode, Iris, her face scarred by Merlin’s lightning, is inducted into the Holy Trinity’s ranks as a warrior of God. We close the season with a shot of Nimue floating unconscious in the water, blood streaming from her arrow wounds. With Nimue adrift in the water, does this mean that she’ll survive her wounds and step into her destiny as the Lady of the Lake? Arthurian legend gives us little in the way of an origin story for the Lady of the Lake, suggesting that she, like many goddesses and magical creatures, simply always was and always shall be. Without a clear origin story, the writers of Cursed are free to interpret Nimue's journey from sheltered maiden to powerful sorceress however they see fit. It's also noteworthy that, barring a rarely-told version of Arthurian legend where Nimue is beheaded by an enraged knight, scant few versions of her story end in death. Given that Nimue is only loosely sketched out and not fated to die, Cursed has ample room to chart her story in any direction. Will she survive her wounds and rise from the lake with a different identity and a renewed sense of purpose? Only season two will tell.

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