For the character, see Nimue.
"Nimue" is the 95th episode of Once Upon a Time.
In Camelot, Merlin spearheads a mission to reunite the dagger with Excalibur so that he can use it to save Emma from the darkness threatening her soul; as such, with Zelena in tow, the others sneak into Arthur's castle to steal the broken sword. Meanwhile, the Sorcerer brings the darkened savior on a journey to confront his ancient nemesis and retrieve the sacred spark he'll need to reforge the sword. Both parties are tested, but one suffers a blow that could derail the entire operation. In further flashbacks, young Merlin finds purpose after he is blessed with magic and immortality, but everything changes for him when he falls in love with a young refugee named Nimue, for their romance starts a chain of events that affects every one of our present day heroes.
Previously on Once Upon a Time...
Merlin confronts the first Dark One, accusing it of destroying the first woman he ever loved. ("Dreamcatcher") Emma uses her magic to free Merlin from the tree. She is later heard saying that Arthur knows that Merlin is free and is really not happy about it, as is shown when Arthur draws his sword at the Sorcerer, accusing him of having ruined his life. Merlin tells the King that they both know that broken sword can't hurt him. ("Dreamcatcher") The Dark Swan stares at Excalibur down in her cave. ("The Bear and the Bow") Arthur explains that the complete sword has great power and can destroy all light magic. ("Dreamcatcher") Mr. Gold pulls the sword from the stone for Emma. ("The Bear and the Bow") Hook deduces that Emma's plan is to snuff out the light forever. ("Dreamcatcher") Emma is confronted by a vision of Rumplestiltskin and asks what he is; the vision explains that Rumple is but one of many Dark Ones, all of which are inside of her. ("The Dark Swan") The Dark Swan makes herself known to the people of Storybrooke. ("The Dark Swan") She is next seen walking down a tunnel, nearing a captive Merida. ("The Broken Kingdom") A magical recording of Merlin reveals that there is only one person who can help defeat the Dark One now: her name is Nimue. ("The Bear and the Bow")
The Dark Swan is about to receive a lesson in history.
We are treated to an establishing shot of Emma's new Storybrooke home at nighttime before the Dark Swan herself is seen entering the underground cave that lies beneath, Excalibur in one hand and the dagger in the other. She lays the latter down on the stone from whence came the former, then staring at the broken sword in her hand before growing distracted by one of Rumplestiltskin's signature giggles. Indeed, the darkness' manifestation is sitting behind her and compliments the magnificence of Excalibur's two halves, proceeding to extend this appreciation to the idea that they soon may be reunited. He asks the newest Dark One if she's aware of what they represent, to which she replies, "Power." However, Rumple stands up and approaches as he corrects her in saying that it's much more than that: it's history. "Excalibur's promise was born eons ago," he explains, "And now it's time for that promise to be fulfilled." Again, Emma stares down at the broken sword in her hand, considering what she's just been told.
Before the Age of Arthur
The holy grail is discovered.
The sun beats heavily down on some desert wastelands in what is presumably the fairytale land that was. Two men are soon seen running from over a hill of sand, clearly struggling to survive within this bleak terrain, and one of these men we see is a young Merlin, prior to his acquisition of sorcery. The other man, Adda, seems paranoid that they're being chased by something, but his traveling companion assures him not to worry, proceeding to spot a literal glimmer of hope on the horizon while the former collapses to the ground. He forces Adda to look at the distant sparkle, saying that there it is again, but Adda seems sure that it's a mirage and that there's no water there. Merlin, however, would rather find out for sure than lie there and die, beckoning his friend to come with him. The two of them are next seen approaching the source of the glimmer, shocked beyond belief to discover that, resting atop a stone, a silver, biblical-adorned cup awaits them. It contains much-needed water, and Adda is immediately convinced that it's a gift from the Gods.
Merlin is blessed with magic.
Merlin, on the other hand, doesn't believe that they're worth the Gods' notice, and so Adda comments that they could do worse before walking up to the cup by himself and taking hold with both hands, ready to lift it up and drink. However, his hands become frozen to the metal by magic and he begins to scream; it isn't long before the magical container reduces him to dust in a large array of gray smoke, to Merlin's revulsion. "Well then," the future Sorcerer challenges the Gods, "To drink or die..." He stares up at the sky, begging their permission before he drops to his knees. With both hands and a lot of caution, he too grabs the cup... and nothing happens. He is relieved, thanking the deities above and finally quenching his near-fatal thirst with a very large sip. When his hand touches down on the desert sand, it suddenly becomes fertile, and grass can be seen growing instantaneously. It spreads across all the land, and he comes to realize that, thanks to this holy grail, he has magic. It isn't long before he's staring out at the forest that will one day be Camelot - Merlin's tower and all - and he stands up looks down at the few blades of grass left in his palm with utter bewilderment, and gratefulness.
ONCE UPON A TIME
The Sorcerer runs through the plan.
Through the blinds of a diner window, we see Emma sitting outside in the woods of the Enchanted Forest, sewing together a new dreamcatcher to add to her already bountiful collection. The one watching her is Hook, who soon abandons his spying to join the other heroes in talking to Merlin. David is in the middle of asking the powerful magician if he can really do it - "it", he iterates, being the putting together of the Dark One's dagger and Arthur's sword to recreate the original Excalibur - and Merlin says that he hopes so. Mary Margaret wants to clarify that it can then be used to save Emma, but the Sorcerer merely says "perhaps", garnering an eye roll from Zelena before he goes on to say that he needs two things. These include the magical means to unite the two blades, which he should gather on his and Emma's upcoming quest, and, from them, he needs... "The two blades," Regina finishes for him, leading Robin to point out that they're pretty much in open warfare with Camelot and that getting the sword from Arthur won't be easy. Hook wonders if Merlin has any hints on how they're going to go about it, seeing as how he can see the future, but he replies that the future isn't exact and that there are many paths. "Of course there are!" Hook exclaims, "You're willing to send us behind enemy lines but, when it comes to specifics, everything's a little fuzzy, init?!" Charming calms the pirate, assuring him that Merlin's helping Emma, but Hook questions this, pointing out that she's sitting outside right now making things to pull memories out of people's heads because that's what she does now instead of sleeping; he's not quite seeing the helping. Merlin understands, for he knows what it's like to lose someone you love to the Dark One. All he can ask from all of them is that they bring him that sword and that they have patience with Emma; "Her kind of power, for good or evil... it is a weight on the soul. And love is a great help, if you can find it."
500 Years Earlier
The village healer is unable to see into a certain someone's future.
Merlin shines a light from his hand over an old woman who needs help; when the process is complete, he assures her that she's healed, and the young man with her shows his gratitude to the great Sorcerer, who says that they're both very welcome. They walk away and we see that they're in a small village; Merlin's young apprentice tells his master that he thinks that's it for the day, before noticing a beautiful woman who walks past. He says that he didn't see her and offers to get her to leave, but Merlin simply wonders what she wants. The boy seems surprised that Merlin doesn't know, because he always knows, but he's soon told to head back and check on the brooms. The beautiful woman, meanwhile, is approached by the village's famed magical healer, and she seems surprised that he's Merlin. He points out that not all wizards have long white beards, then encouraging her to tell him what brings her there, and she explains that she was in her garden in her village when a masked man named Vortigan rode in; being aware of his reputation for ransacking towns and burning them to the ground, she fled on foot to the woods and, when she looked back from the hillside, everything was in flames. He had killed everyone. Merlin offers his condolences, wanting to be able to help her, and she reveals that she seeks revenge.
She retrieves something from her bag, saying that they were all she had on her when she ran, and tells the Sorcerer that they're seeds from the middlemist flower, which only prosper around her village. When Vortigan scorched the earth he could have killed them forever, and so her best revenge would be for them to live on to spite him, and Merlin says that they will plant them there. She thanks him as he leads the way to the nearest vacant flowerpot, and she comments that if they survive then at least something other than her will live on. She drops the seeds into the soil and lets her intention be known that she plans to pass through again in Spring to see them start to bloom; however, Merlin wonders why she should have to wait and waves his hand over the pot. The seeds germinate suddenly under the effects of his magic and, soon enough, fully-grown middlemist flowers are sitting in the pot. The woman is astounded, bending down to sniff one of her beloved pink roses. Merlin crouches down beside her and points out that if she stays close then she can come and see them any time. "You see the future," she points out in turn, "Do I do that?" But he reveals that with her, for some reason, he has no idea... but he hopes so. He asks her name and she tells him it's Nimue. "Nimue..." he repeats soothingly.
Merlin tells Emma what they are about to face.
Emma is putting together yet another dreamcatcher outside Granny's Diner when Merlin approaches. Due to her distracted nature, he is made to say her name twice before she responds and, once he has her attention, he sits on the log beside her and reveals that there is a way to make Excalibur whole again, asking if she will come with him that day so that they can get what they need, adding that it's not far. She wonders what it is and he tells her it's a spark from mankind's original fire: the Flame of Prometheus. Its heat forged Excalibur, and that's what they'll need to put it back together. He asks again if she'll come with him to collect it, assuring that they'll be back by nightfall, but she merely replies by pointing out that he looks dire and asking what's wrong. The Sorcerer says that, when they get there, they will need to deal with the first Dark One. Emma asks if he means the one who wore the mask and killed the woman he loved (see "Dreamcatcher") and Merlin confirms it, going on to say that this is not a trivial task.
The darkened savior feels under pressure.
The current Dark One recounts that she was seeing Rumplestiltskin like a voice in her head; she just got rid of him (see "The Broken Kingdom"), as is why she's weary that Merlin wants her to let another one in. "Yes," he says, "And not just any one. This is the first Dark One; the original. The one from whom all the evil that followed was born." Emma is blank for a moment, before asking if they will win. Merlin tells her that he sees two paths for their journey; on one she resists the darkness and they succeed, but on the other she succumbs to the darkness and he does not return because he dies. This shocks the blonde but the Sorcerer informs her that even immortality has exceptions and the Dark One does have the power to kill him. Emma points out that they won't even really be there, until she comes to realize that he means her. "If I die, it means that you lost you're battle, and the darkness stained your soul. Everything and everyone you know will be at the mercy of the most powerful Dark One ever: yourself. No pressure." But there is pressure, and the darkened savior is greatly perturbed.
Hook gives Emma his lucky ring.
Emma puts a cork into a now full canteen of water for her journey, and Hook, who walks past Granny in order to approach his girlfriend, wants to clarify that she'll be back by nightfall. She confirms this, saying that she and Merlin will go and get this "spark thing; and then I'm working my way back to you, babe." Hook tells her that he knows that she's quoting something and she tells him in turn that she loves that he never knows what it is. Back to the main point of the discussion, she says that with a bit of luck they'll put Excalibur together that very night and then "bam" no more darkness. The pirate warns her to be careful and they share a kiss, with him proceeding to take a ring attached to a chain from around his neck and hand it to her. She seems weary at first but he tells her to calm down because he's not proposing; he reminds her that he's a survivor and cites this ring as the reason why. Placing it into her open palm, he explains that he's had it for many years and it's the reason he's alive - or could be, anyway - and Emma is touched. She points out that she can't die today because she's immortal now, but he makes clear as he seals the ring within her grip that the Dark One is immortal and Emma isn't, requesting that she bring her home to him. He adds that, at the very least, the ring is a reminder that she's got a piercing-eyed, smoldering pirate there who loves her and she smiles, kissing him again. "Thank you. And I love you, too," she replies, and he smiles also before walking away, leaving her to put the ring around her own neck with the provided chain. She caresses it for a brief moment before looking up and seeing Merlin, who announces that it's time. They exchange a meaningful look.
Before proposing, Merlin tells Nimue about his past.
The middlemist flowers have prospered greatly, and yet Merlin appears sad as he looks at them. Nimue, with a basket full of pink petals, approaches and asks jokingly if this is some sort of new magic - frowning the plants into growing faster - but he sighs in response, saying that he's just thinking. "There's a man I'm considering helping. He's tired; spent his life tending to others and now he just wants to marry the woman he loves and grow old by her side, but there's an obstacle." Sensing that her love is talking about himself, Nimue good-naturedly jibes that he sounds awful. Merlin stands up at this, looking distressed, but she just smiles, telling him that if she can teach him nothing else then it would be to laugh at himself. She adds that if he wants to propose then he should go ahead, eliciting a smile and a kiss from her magical lover. She then requests that he tell her about this obstacle and, as the two of them go to take a seat, Merlin explains that he didn't always have magic; he knows Nimue knows this already, but knows also that she is unaware of how it happened, and so he reveals that it was a gift he received after finding the holy grail. Nimue is shocked to hear this, finding it amazing, and he reveals further that he drank from it and it gave him magic... but it also gave him eternal life; it's been five hundred years since he drank from the grail. If he doesn't age then he doesn't die, so if he were to marry Nimue then he would have to watch as she left him behind. He finishes by saying that he would rather share a life with her until the end than go on without her.
Vortigan hears all...
"If you still had the grail..." she starts, but he quickly lets slip that he does, adding that it's at the bottom of the chest in the main room of the tower. She grows astounded that the holy grail is in her living room before telling her soon-to-be-fiance that the answer to his problem is obvious: let her drink from it and they can live forever together. He apologizes and tells her that he's already seen the cost of immortality; he then takes a middlemost flower and puts it back down again as he lectures that life is made of little moments, precious as diamonds, but, if there were an endless sea of diamonds, they'd all be worthless and as common as sand. He does have another solution, however, if she'll accept it. He proposes that they take the grail and they remake it into a sword, and such a blade could cut away his magic and immortality and then they could return to the village and live normal lives together. Nimue questions if he would really give up so much, and he responds by picking the leaves off of a middlemost stem, fashioning it into a ring. He then places it onto his true love's appropriate finger and uses his magic to turn it to gold. She kisses him, touched, and announces that she doesn't want this moment to get lost in an endless sea of time. He nods, saying that he's made the preparations, and the two of them head off joyously as it's revealed that a cloaked man in a golden mask - Vortigan - had been eavesdropping on them the entire time.
Battle plans are made.
A map of Arthur's castle has been drawn up in Granny's Diner and, with all our heroes crowded around it, Mary Margaret asks what the plan is. David suggests taking the King by surprise and going in through the front gate, at which Zelena, who's lying on her back atop the diner's counter, slaps her forehead. Hook points out to the prince that Arthur's men will be on high alert, suggesting instead that they create a diversion at the drawbridge and proceed to climb a wall inside. Zelena rolls her eyes, sitting up as her sister asks the pirate if he's forgetting that she's got magic and can therefore just poof into Arthur's bedroom. The Wicked Witch audibly scoffs at this, unable to actually speak, and they all turn to her. Regina angrily demands to know what it is, but the pregnant villainess uses arm gestures to remind the former Queen that she's got no voice. "Well if you're going to make a scene you might as well make noise," Regina finally decides, waving her arm and returning the witch's ability to speak; Zelena takes a sigh of relief and thanks her sister, commenting that she loves to hear a sensible person talk, and hops off the counter.
Zelena offers to help in exchange for her magic.
Regina orders her to spit it out and Zelena tells them all, "I'm thinking going on the front: suicide. Diversion: Arthur hides the sword; you need it on him. And you could poof right in front of the blade. Oopsie! You need to sneak in so quietly no one knows you're there." Charming wonders how ("Hang-glider? Ooh, giant slingshot?!") and Zelena says that if "Sir Castic" would let her speak he'd know that she wasn't idle during those days in there playing a mute handmaiden at Regina's side - she was plotting an escape. Regina says she knew it and her sister continues in saying that she found a way out, and if she knows a way out then she knows a way in. "You're going to help us?" Regina questions, and Zelena tells her, "Of course, because you're going to help me." She gestures the anti-magic cuff that remains on her wrist after having been slapped on by Regina before she was brought to Camelot as she iterates that she wants her magic back, and the former Queen seems to be actually considering it.
The heroes head back into Camelot.
Zelena is next seen leading the heroes to an abandoned tunnel just outside the castle, revealing that it leads to the courtyard. Hook wonders why she didn't escape through it if it's so good, at which she tells him to observe the massive metal grate that's in the way; "See, without magic, I'm a delicate thing." David surmises that it seems to go in the right direction and that so far the Wicked Witch's information is good. She thanks the prince, then pointing out that she's done her part and now they can do theirs by removing the cuff. Regina points out in turn that, for all they know, this tunnel leads to the guards' quarters; if they make it out safe with the sword then maybe they can talk about taking off the enchanted bracelet. The former Queen asks Mary Margaret how she feels about guard duty and she says that she'd be delighted, sarcastically telling Zelena that they'll chat and share pregnancy tips, which leads the witch to complain that this is worse than being in her cell. "Alright, everyone," Regina announces, using her magic to evaporate the metal grate, "Let's get this sword." The heroes draw their weapons as they head back into the heart of Camelot.
Arthur declares war.
Up in Merlin's tower, Arthur lays down the broken sword as he searches through one of the Sorcerer's spell books, concocting something out of the magical ingredients that surround him while Guinevere watches. She says that these are powerful ingredients and that she hopes he knows what he's doing, and he replies that they need something to protect themselves because these people dropped from the sky and then turned on them and freed their prisoners. He concludes that they won't stop until they've taken everything from him, throwing some ground mixture into a bowl before dropping the contents of said bowl into a nearby steaming cauldron. He summons the guards and two enter; their King tells them that infidels are on their way and that they're to summon the reserves and get every man on the parapet and patrolling every hall; "And you, give me your help," he orders. One guard steps forward and Arthur clears the table. He takes the guard's helmet and lays it down, explaining to his wife that the ladle and the cauldron have special protection spells while this helmet and their "friends" do not. He takes a ladle full of the steaming mixture and pours it onto the helmet, causing it to melt down into a bubbling puddle of nothing. Guinevere is shocked and appalled while Arthur orders the guards to throw the acidic potion on any stranger they see and then bring him what's left of them. They take the steaming cauldron as the King tells his wife that there'll be nothing but teeth and bones. "This is war now."
The only way is up.
An engraved stone is zoomed in upon which tells us that Emma and Merlin have just entered the village of Oxleigh as the former is talking about how she was seeing Rumplestiltskin in her head and that he told her he'd only be with her until she embraced her dark powers. As such, she's recently been thinking that not seeing him lately is actually a bad thing, leading Merlin to question if she has embraced her powers. She hesitates, finally admitting that she's done some dark things recently. This captures the Sorcerer's attention and he listens as she goes on to inform him that she hurt her son (see "Dreamcatcher") and that, if she digs deep down, the darkness is winning. "But there's hope, right? You wouldn't be bothering to get this spark if there wasn't still hope!" she needs answering, and Merlin confirms that there indeed is hope; "And it's up there." He gestures a steep hill with his eyes and Emma comments that it's "a whole lot of 'up'", but Merlin assures her that they can make it. The question is: will he come down? Emma looks nervous as she prepares to follow him upward.
Nimue turns to anger.
In Oxleigh of the past - where the engraved stone is a full and un-buried post - bones are seen amidst the rubble as Merlin and Nimue make their way through, the former with a flaming torch in tow to light the way. Nimue tells him that this was her village, her home, and says to look what's become of it. She spots a man's skeleton lying against a knocked-down brick wall and appears angry as she continues advancing through, eventually discovering the place where her house used to be. However, she then changes her mind, saying that perhaps it was the next spot over; it's so different now that it's clouding her memory of what was. Placing the torch into the ground, Merlin assures his love that sometimes the sole survivor of a tragedy can feel guilty, but she assures him in turn that she doesn't: she feels angry. "This shouldn't be the way. That those who cannot take are taken. If I had magic like yours; if I had a million lifetimes to hand out power to those who need it..." She begins to talk about striking down those who take but Merlin shushes her, placing his hands on her face in a comforting manner as he reminds her that it's been decided what they will do.
Merlin senses the near presence of Vortigan.
She submits and gets drawn into a loving, tearful hug. The Sorcerer then tells her to look at what litters the street: cups. Nimue says that it looks like every house had brought out their cups for Vortigan, leading them both to realize that he was questing for the holy grail and burning down each hiding place. Merlin grows wary, requesting that his fiancée check that the grail is secure in the bag for he's never brought it out of the tower before and she does just that while he goes to perform a detection spell. She holds the grail in her hands while her empowered lover casts his magic, seeing through a vision that Vortigan is not far from where they are. He announces that the masked annihilator is over the horizon, the way they came, and quickly grabs his torch and tells Nimue to hurry. She points out that Vortigan is just a man and that Merlin could kill him with just one magical word, but Merlin explains that if he uses magic to kill then darkness will take root inside of him and nothing - nothing - is worth risking that. Nimue is speechless and Merlin tells her to come. She gives a cursory glance to behind them before hurriedly following the grave Sorcerer.
Our heroes are seen coming out the other end of the tunnel in the present, weapons bared, but Hook tells the others to get back due to the heavy amount of guard activity just beyond. They spot the steaming cauldron from earlier being carried by a group of four guards, and Robin supposes that the violent-looking potion is for them. Regina has a feeling that they don't want to find out and, when the guards are finally gone, Hook suggests that they keep moving. Stepping out from the tunnel entrance, Robin comments that he feels like he's waiting for the ax to fall; Regina, meanwhile, comes to admit that Zelena hasn't screwed them over... yet. David and his sword bring up the rear as they continue to make their way through the castle.
But wicked always wins.
Speaking of Zelena, she and Mary Margaret continue to wait outside the tunnel's other end. The former is crouched with her hands tied behind her back and looking depressed while her convoluted step-niece stands guard, commenting that maybe the Wicked Witch should stick to the shade because the sun will be a problem for her now that she's not green. Zelena just weeps loudly and Mary Margaret rolls her eyes, being forced to listen as the villainess exclaims that she was finally trying to do something to help but nobody believes her. Snow stoically replies that it's the hormones talking but Zelena refutes it, exclaiming further that Regina's always the winner while she's always the loser; "And she's gonna take my baby!" The invokes a genuine reaction from Mary Margaret, who slowly approaches the crying witch. She begins to worry that her prisoner is in pain; however, when she gets close enough, a violent reaction ensues as Zelena uses her legs to kick the princess to the ground, knocking her out. "Well now that you've shut up!" she yells as she gets to her feet, her hands no longer tied. She uses the rope to tie up Snow instead, commenting as she does so, "There's no rest for the wicked."
Excalibur is forged.
Nimue and Merlin continue on their trek and the former comments that "it's amazing" as she and her lover approach the Flame of Prometheus. Again placing his flaming torch in the ground, Merlin tells her that that's an understatement, proceeding to approach the flame which sits in a dish backed by an ancient wall. Nimue takes the holy grail from her bag and asks if the Sorcerer's sure that it'll work; he is, and he slowly takes the grail from her, saying once he's done so that it will give him the life he wishes for - shorter, but full of love and meaning. He proceeds to place the grail on a small platform sticking out of the flame's podium, then using his magic to make a small segment of the fire fly out and engulf the magical cup. He twists and turns the flames and eventually they disappear as the cup rises and melts into a large metal blob. Merlin is able to reshape this molten metal into something new. A sword. It soon takes the form of the mighty Excalibur in all its complete glory, and Nimue appears astounded by the lengths accomplished by her fiancé's magic.
Nimue dies in Merlin's arms.
He grasps Excalibur by the handle, ready to cut away said magic, when suddenly Nimue tells him to wait, having turned around and seen the masked villain Vortigan. Merlin tells him that there is no more grail and that he should leave them be, but he soon begins advancing anyway and Nimue concludes that he wants the sword. Merlin tries getting him to step back but he instead goes for Nimue, grabbing her and holding a multi-spiked weapon to her head. Merlin tries telling him that the sword will bring him no joy, but Nimue, frightened for her life, ends up elbowing Vortigan in the stomach in an attempt to escape his grip. She then gets him in the face, assuring Merlin that she can do this, and begins wrestling for control, ripping off his mask in the process to reveal and awful, scarred face. He growls upon this revelation and proceeds to plunge his weapon into her gut. Merlin cries out as his wounded fiancée is pushed towards him, bleeding heavily, and he is forced to drop the sword in order to catch her and lower her gently to the ground. "I'm sorry..." Nimue manages to utter before slipping away, and Merlin grows distraught.
Emma feels a buzz.
During the missing six weeks in Camelot, the wall which backed the Flame of Prometheus is a lot more rundown and, as he and Emma approach, Merlin explains that this structure marks the end of Prometheus' theft; the flame burned for a great while, long enough for Excalibur to have been both forged and broken there, but has now gone out. He soon adds that this is where the first Dark One killed Nimue - the woman he loved - while Emma just wonders what happened to the flame. He informs her that the first Dark One took it and still possesses it in the form of a single ember with the spark deep inside. "So that's what I need to get?" Emma questions, before saying, "Okay, bring him on." Merlin hands her the Dark One's dagger and she holds it out in front of herself, surprised that her family let him take it. However, he reveals that he didn't ask permission, adding that she needs its power to talk to the first Dark One and reach all the way back to the origin of dark magic. She starts to focus and proclaims that the dagger is "buzzing", like ants are crawling up her arm, and proceeds to ask if it's safe.
The first Dark One reveals herself.
"Of course not," the Sorcerer replies, "Your power is totally unchecked and I just handed you the power to kill me." She finds herself clutching Hook's lucky ring around her neck as she's told to call upon the spirit of all the previous Dark Ones. As she does so, the name on the dagger begins to change rapidly from such names as Rumplestiltskin, Zoso, Gorgon and all others who ever possessed the same power. The darkened savior assures herself over and over that it's just in her head, but eventually looks up to see the cloaked figure in the golden mask that she recognizes from the dreamcatcher. The first Dark One. "You did it..." Merlin congratulates, and Emma asks if the Sorcerer can see him too. "Yes," he confirms, "Power has its advantages. And it's not a 'him'." Emma seems surprised at this, finally looking back down at the dagger and seeing that it reads "Nimue". Nimue herself proceeds to remove Vortigan's mask to reveal her green and scaled face; she, Merlin's true love, is the first Dark One.
Nimue lies dead on the floor in flashback, with Vortigan smiling down at the sight with his scarred and disgusting face. Merlin looks at the smug slaughterer with tears in his eyes, watching as he begins to walk away with Excalibur in tow; however, he suddenly uses his magic to appear in front of him and finds himself exclaiming, "You killed her!" "And now I'm going to kill you," Vortigan replies. Merlin tells him that the power was never meant to be a weapon, at which it is pointed out to him that he shouldn't have turned it into a sword. Just as Vortigan goes to swing it though, he freezes. An odd plunging noise is heard and the murderer proceeds to drop to the ground, revealing Nimue to be standing there with his heart in her hand, with her having ripped it out from behind. Merlin is shocked beyond belief while she just continues to hold the heart of the man who destroyed her village; he suffers on the floor in the meantime. The Sorcerer finally asks "how?" and deduces that she gave herself magic while he cast the detection spell earlier. This goes confirmed as Nimue admits that she drank from the holy grail.
Merlin tries convincing his true love to do the right thing.
"You didn't tell me what it feels like to be strong, Merlin. To be immortal," she is heard saying as we briefly flash back to her pouring water into the grail and drinking from it, thus receiving magical powers. He wonders why she let him watch her die and she apologizes for the playacting but defends that it was her last chance to remind him what death looks like. Merlin says that what matters now is that she's holding a man's heart in her hand; he begs her to spare Vortigan. She cries that he doesn't deserve sparing, but Merlin tells her that if she kills then her magic will turn dark and she'll commit atrocities that she can't even imagine. Nimue passionately reminds him that the man on the ground took her home and her family, leaving her with nothing to care for but a handful of seeds, but Merlin assures that he's not fighting for Vortigan, he's fighting for her. He needs her to be the woman that he knows, for he cannot bare to watch her become this. She shakes her head in denial and he continues in saying that he knows she feels like she lost everything, but if she does this, "then we've lost everything."
But he fails, and the first Dark One is born.
The Sorceress cries as she finally takes the plunge and crushes Vortigan's heart into dust, killing him in an instant. The Flame of Prometheus suddenly goes out, leaving but an ember as the last of the heart's dust drops to the ground and Nimue's hand begins turning green and scaly. This effect spreads throughout her whole body, and soon she is staring at her true love with the face of a Dark One. The first Dark One. In a sudden move, she snatches Excalibur from the ground, telling Merlin not to think about cutting away anyone's magic or immortality. He begs her not to do this... but she does. She takes the sword and she bashes it against the edge of the gone-out flame's pedestal, snapping its blade into two bits. The dagger tip comes flying off and Merlin collapses with grief. Nimue then drops the broken sword by its other half and tells her ex-fiancé that she's sorry. "No, Nimue..." Merlin assures, "I'm sorry." His tears remain as he stares up at his true love, realizing that the woman he knew is now truly dead and that the darkness has come to take her place.
Emma acts against her will.
The word "Nimue" is particularly prominent engraved upon the Dark One's dagger as Emma continues to come to grips with the revelation of just who the first Dark One is. The vision of Nimue removes her hood and Emma utters her name, receiving the reply, "Yes. I'm Nimue. And you're Emma. How pretty. The first Dark One and the newest Dark One standing as sisters." The blonde tells a depressive Merlin that it makes sense; the first Dark One killed the woman he loved because she killed the woman she used to be, and she demands to know why he didn't tell her. The Sorcerer assures that he did, choking up as he explains that the creature she's currently facing is the first Dark One and is not the woman he loves, leading Nimue to point out to him herself that it's been a long time. He tells her that he thought about her everyday, and she says that now, on his last day, she'll be his last thought, finding it very poetic. She proceeds to move her arm forward and Emma finds herself doing the same, unleashing a golden burst of magic that forces Merlin backwards off his feet. The darkened savior asks Nimue why she's doing this, since she loved him, and Nimue explains that even when you love someone you have to say, "No, this is mine! You can't take it away from me!" And, if they don't listen and try to stop you from being you, then you have no choice but to kill them.
The struggle against the darkness reaches new levels.
As Emma watches Merlin try to get to his feet, she hears from Nimue, "And you're doing this." Emma then advances in super-speed upon the Sorcerer, crouching down and gripping his neck tightly with her hand. She begins to strangle as the vision of Nimue continues in saying from behind, "Because we are one in the same now! All Dark Ones! And we must destroy the threat to us; we must destroy Merlin!" Merlin begs for his life as much as he's able through his compressed windpipe but Emma is unable to relent, adamant that it's not her doing it. Nimue approaches, yelling in the newest Dark One's ear that she is to finish the job; "He asked you to make a sword to destroy me! To destroy us!" Merlin tries telling Emma that she can control this but Nimue tells her not to listen to him because he doesn't understand what they do; he doesn't understand the power and if she doesn't kill him now then she'll have to go back to being powerless. Merlin tries further to tell Emma that killing is wrong but Nimue tells her that it's power, to protect herself and her loved ones. With one last plea from the Sorcerer, Nimue exclaims, "Kill him! Don't go back to being nothing!" This gets to Emma more than anything.
The ember is successfully retrieved.
"I'M NOT NOTHING, I WAS NEVER NOTHING! THE POWER YOU HAVE, I DON'T NEED!" she rages; she stops strangling Merlin and gets back to her feet, holding the Dark One's dagger up to the vision of Nimue and allowing the name engraved upon it to switch back to her own. She says that she is going to take the ember from her and she is going to let her, proceeding to hold out her hand and summon said ember from within the first Dark One. Nimue appears pained as the glowing remnant of the Promethean flame rests in Emma's hand, and assures her that the spark she needs is in there... but the sword she will make has more than one use, "and I am not dead yet, girl. You know where to find me when you need me." She adds that she'll be "right in there" as she taps Emma's forehead with her finger, before finally vanishing. Getting back to his feet, Merlin sees the ember in the hand of the darkened savior and assures her that she did it, then asking how it felt to take the right path. Staring at the ember in her hand, Emma replies, "To be honest, Merlin... it feels damn good." She then wraps her fingers around the magical remnant, high on winning.
First, my Apprentice and I made sure that the sword would be safe...
Then, I created the dagger...
I tethered her spirit to it so I could control and prevent her reign of terror...
The former dips the blade, now attached to a handle, into the cauldron. When he removes it, the name "Nimue" is engraved upon its metal.
But eventually she got it away from me.
She took that mask from a man who did her great harm. It's easier to live with the darkness...
...if you can dress it up as vengeance.
The dagger is created.
As the Dark One, Nimue places the golden mask over her green and scaly face, thus adopting the guise of the man who ruined her life.
Emma tells Merlin that she realizes his heart was broken, but now she knows: Nimue loves him still; it's all twisted up but she felt it. The Sorcerer thanks her, adding that that means a lot to him.
"Too bad you couldn't see her future," the young Apprentice says in flashback after the creation of the Dark One's dagger, which Merlin is currently wiping clean with a cloth, "You could have not talked to her in the first place." Merlin assures the child that he is never to think that, for even now he would live through it again. He adds that life is made of moments and that he had the best moments of his life with her. He looks down at the dagger, at Nimue's name...
Emma asks the Sorcerer if it's possible for someone to have the darkness but use it for good and protect people. Merlin stops her right there, telling her not to let those thoughts tempt her. She needs to know if it's true, and he replies:
Someday, perhaps, there will be a person who's worthy to hold that much power and not let it burn through to darken their soul...
Back in his tower in the past, we see him place the dagger into a long, polished wooden box and seal it away with the fitted lid.
And if we can wipe out the darkness, we'll never have to ask that much of anyone.
Zelena comes out to play.
Said other half currently rests upon the Round Table, with its broken blade hidden away beneath a tightly-wrapped cloth. Arthur is tending to it closely with both a book and a mace to one side and, when David, Regina, Robin and Hook burst into the room with weapons in tow, he quickly grabs the mace and prepares to swing it at them as he complains that they managed to overpower the guards. However, the former Evil Queen simply uses her magic to freeze him, then making his only weapon disappear in a miniature flurry of purple smoke. He remains stuck in position while Robin points out that Excalibur currently rests on the table; Hook warns him not to touch it because it could have protection charms, but Regina tells the pirate to make his timbers stop shivering since nothing in there can hurt them - Arthur doesn't know how to do magic. He smiles at this, and as if following a queue, Zelena barges in with a tied-up Mary Margaret by her side, greeting the heroes with enthusiasm before simply dumping the fair princess into the nearest chair.
Regina is unable to harm her pregnant sister.
David threatens the witch if she hurts his wife but she seems to enjoy it, commenting that "daddy's angry" before she turns to Arthur. With a wave of her arm, she undoes the spell that's been keeping him frozen in position, both allowing the King to move and causing Regina to question how this is possible. Zelena explains that Arthur was kind enough to remove her "restrictive jewelry", referring to her absent cuff, and Regina accepts this, saying that she prefers an even fight anyway as she summons a fireball into her hand. Robin urgently warns her not to harm her sister, reminding her of the baby in her belly, and, disappointed, she quenches her magical flame. The Wicked Witch points out that if the heroes had treated her fairly for once then maybe she wouldn't have turned on them, but Hook seems sure that she would, leading Zelena to concede that she'd enjoy it less. "Here we are!" she proceeds to exclaim, launching herself into the book on the table, "One of Merlin's cookbooks." Arthur asks if it's the right spell and she confirms it, adding that it's quite an ingenious recipe for a tethering potion.
A new form of control is conceived.
The King finds this excellent and the heroes just watch afraid as Zelena works her glowing green magic over the incomplete and still wrapped-up Excalibur. She assures her new ally that he can take it now, "cookies are done. And by cookies, I mean that Arty here may have a shorter sword than a man would like, but... it can control the world's greatest wizard!" Arthur removes Excalibur's wrappings, revealing both its broken end and the name "Merlin" which now appears engraved on its blade. "His plan," Zelena adds, "But I like it. Happy to help." Arthur tells her that he's much obliged, addressing her as "my lady" before stepping back with the sword in tow. David begs him to stop, promising that it's not too late for him to start over, but the King doesn't listen, simply holding the sword up in the air and calling out Merlin's name. David continues, trying to say how they've all had to start over at one time or another and eventually reasoning that Emma is worth more to him as the savior than as the Dark One, but Arthur disagrees, simply continuing to shout, "Merlin!"
Merlin is summoned away.
Merlin is continuing to trek back to Granny's Diner with Emma, the latter of which remains in front. She begins to say how Henry is growing up so fast and that sometimes she can hardly believe it when there's a sudden whipping noise and she turns to see that the Sorcerer has disappeared.
Merlin stands in Arthur's throne room as the King keeps the broken sword raised high in the air; he then looks to the confused Sorcerer and points said sword at him, commenting on how kind it is of him to have come when called. He then assigns Merlin his first task - to keep the heroes from being able to attack him in any way - and he proceeds to use his magic to make David, Robin and Hook's swords simultaneously drop to the ground, to Zelena's delight. Mary Margaret remains tied and gagged in one of the Round Table chairs, watching just like the others as Merlin tells Arthur to put the sword down because they don't have to do this. He says that Emma has passed her test, to her loved ones' satisfaction, and Arthur sarcastically comments how nice that is for her. The Sorcerer adds that he has what he needs to unite Excalibur and fulfill the King's legacy, requesting that he give him the sword, but Arthur takes this to mean that he'd be giving him the glory. Merlin asks if Arthur has really become the type of person to seek glory, then apologizing that he wasn't there to guide him because this isn't the man he was supposed to be.
Arthur commands the Sorcerer to his will.
Arthur assures that he is exactly what Merlin made him, then exclaiming for him to look at "the half man with his half sword solving riddles from a tree", betting that the Sorcerer laughed. Merlin reminds him that he was trapped and he put his faith in Arthur, who was meant to be like a son to him. "Shut your mouth," Arthur commands, again holding up the sword which bares Merlin's name, meaning the Sorcerer has no choice but to oblige. "I was never a son for you. You lied. You told me legend would speak of the great King Arthur using Excalibur to strike darkness from the realm; tell me how this was not a lie!" the King rages. "Because you will do that," Merlin replies, "You're a part of doing it right now." Arthur refutes this, while Merlin reiterates that they have what they need, telling his would-be protégé that the future is in his hands. "Give me the sword. We can repair everything." Arthur lowers the weapon but still refuses, saying that this is his charge and his right; he announces that he will be known for more than defeating a stone. Merlin tries arguing but Arthur uses the sword to force him to be quiet. He reminds the Sorcerer that they have intruders and orders him to make them leave. With that, Merlin waves his hand and makes it so that Regina, Mary Margaret, David, Robin and Hook all vanish. He appears full of regret.
The Dark Ones come to see a show.
We are treated to another shot of Storybrooke at nighttime, this time focusing on a lake in the town's woods before we're taken back to Emma's basement. The Dark One's dagger remains lying atop the stone as the current Dark One places its other half next to it. The vision of Rumplestiltskin assures her that it's time, but all she can do is question why he will not leave her alone. "How could we?" he asks, "We're here to witness something... historical." "Rumpelstiltskin's eyes are fine to look through most days," continues a vision of Nimue, whose sudden appearance startles Emma, "But I wanted to see this myself." Emma recalls that Nimue tried to keep her from doing this, referring to their confrontation back in Camelot, but the first Dark One points out that back then there was a chance that she would use Excalibur to cut away the darkness; now, she can douse the light instead. Rumple smiles at this, and Nimue continues in saying that "we are proud of you - all of us". Emma then looks to see a mass group of every single past Dark One standing behind her; they are all wearing masks and their eyes are all aglow. Their whispers grow eerie as they become impatient for Emma to reunite the sword. The prison gate in her underground cave is now open, allowing room for all of her imaginary guests, but Rumple and Nimue remain in the forefront as she goes to grab a small case which, upon opening, is revealed to contain the ember of the Flame of Prometheus.
Excalibur is successfully reforged.
From this ember she summons a spark, and Nimue watches with great excitement as the Dark Swan turns this spark into a full-on flame, using her magic to contort it into a fireball and then physically compress it into a concentrated ball of light. The light remains fixed in midair as Emma grabs both halves of the sword, sticking them both into either side and allowing for the Promethean spark to work its own magic. When she steps back, the light is gone; it is now the complete Excalibur which floats in midair, waiting for her to receive its majesty. As she goes to grab it, however, she stops, and she utters Merlin's name.
We are again shown a young Emma in a movie theater as Merlin, disguised as an usher, tells her to leave the sword alone (see "The Dark Swan").
"He told me not to do this when I was a girl..." the Dark Swan goes on, but a testy Nimue points out that she's now a woman, and the vision of Rumplestiltskin adds: "Take the power." Soon, every past Dark One begins to chant this through their eerie whispers, and it isn't long before Emma finally takes hold of Excalibur and plucks it from the air, holding it in her hand and receiving the admiration of every Dark One who ever lived.
- The title card of this episode features a wealthy growth of middlemist flowers.
- Although credited, Emilie de Ravin (Belle French/Belle) and Jared S. Gilmore (Henry Mills) are absent from the episode.
- The caption in the episode which read "200 Years Earlier" was in fact meant to say "500 Years Earlier", as was confirmed by Adam Horowitz via his Twitter account.. The corrected version can be found in the recap above.
- Vortigan is based on Vortigern from Arthurian legend; it was changed by writer Jane Espenson, who believed she made it a more "breezy easy sound".
- When Hook and Emma say their goodbyes, the latter quotes a lyric from the song "Working My Way Back To You" by The Four Seasons.
- After Zelena knocks out Mary Margaret, she says, "There's no rest for the wicked." This is a common phrase which originates from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible.
- The title of this episode was officially confirmed by executive producer/co-creator Adam Horowitz, via his Twitter account, on September 15, 2015.
- This episode marks the 20th writing credit for Jane Espenson on the series, as well as 6th directing credit for Romeo Tirone.
This episode garnered 4.88 million viewers, showing a slight increase from the previous week.
The episode received excellent reviews.
- Andrea Towers of Entertainment Weekly notes in her assessment of the review, "The moral of tonight’s Once Upon A Time might be, “Don’t play with fire.” Or perhaps it’s, “Don’t trust the man behind the curtain.” In any case, Excalibur lives! And unfortunately, so does Dark One Emma — now even more powerful and ruthless than before. For the first time since the beginning of the season, we barely spent any time in present-day Storybrooke, save for the first and last few moments of the episode. With two halves of the sword now in her possession, Emma can only see power. But Dark One Rumple claims it represents more than that — like any fairytale, it represents history. And it’s time for Excalibur’s promise, given years ago, to be fulfilled."
- In a review from Rickey.org, Nick Roman said, "Once Upon A Time served up a compelling story with “Nimue”. Granted, Merlin wasn’t the most fascinating character going into tonight’s show, but he’s far more interesting coming out of it. I’m interested to see how his character evolves, and if it evolves. I’m also far more compelled by Emma’s commitment to darkness, and whether or not it’s one big misdirect. After all, Emma has a new opponent in the form of the newly-heroic Rumplestiltskin. That’s going to be a showdown for the ages, I’d wager. Can’t wait."
- Amy Ratcliffe of IGN said of the episode, "It was obvious Nimue was going to be revealed as the first Dark One so they may as well have had Merlin say it instead of having him pull an Obi-Wan. That aside, this detour into Merlin's backstory gave greater depth to events in the present. His close ties to the Dark One make his interactions with Emma more meaningful. A hint of what turned Emma bad would have made the last scene with Excalibur more chilling though." Ratcliffe gave the episode a 7.8 rating out of 10.
- Gwen Ihnat of The A.V. Club gave the episode a excellent review, giving it a A-. In her recap, she gave the performances high marks: "Y’know, when I get so frustrated with OUAT, it’s because it sets a high bar up against itself. Like this episode, for example. It takes a classic myth, perfectly twists it into the show’s own purposes, and manages to be jaw-dropping in a single hour. I didn’t realize we were about to get so much out of “Nimue,” but I should have guessed once we found out that it was penned by Jane Espenson, who writes most of OUAT’s best episodes."
- Christine Orlando of TV Fanatic gave the episode a 4.4 out of 5 stars.
Gallery of photographic stills released to promote the episode.
- ↑ Adam Horowitz tweet #1.
- ↑ Jane Espenson tweet.
- ↑ Adam Horowitz tweet #2.
- ↑ "Once Upon a Time recap: Nimue", by Andrea Towers, Entertainment Weekly (November 8, 2015)
- ↑ "Once Upon A Time’ Review: Dramatic ‘Nimue’ Illustrates the Temptation of Evil", by Nick Roman, Rickey.org (November 8, 2015)
- ↑ Once Upon a Time: "Nimue" Review, by Amy Ratcliffe, IGN (November 8, 2015)
- ↑ Once Upon A Time makes excellent use of the legend of “Nimue”, by Gwen Ihnat, The A.V. Club (November 8, 2015)
- ↑ "Once Upon a Time Season 5 Episode 7 Review: Nimue", by Christine Orlando, TV Fanatic (November 8, 2015)