Nimueh was a High Priestess of the Old Religion, an opponent of Uther Pendragon, and the main antagonist of the first series. She devised a number of schemes to wreck his kingdom before she turned her attentions onto Merlin, a young warlock, and Arthur, Prince of Camelot.
Twenty years before Merlin arrived in Camelot, Nimueh was a High Priestess of the Old Religion. She and Gaius practiced magic together. She was friends also with King Uther Pendragon. Uther, desiring a son and heir, realised that Ygraine was incapable of providing one and asked Gaius to approach Nimueh with a request that she use the power over life and death to help his wife get pregnant. She did so, and as a result Arthur was born. However, according to her, a life had to be taken to restore the balance of the world in accordance with the laws of the Old Religion, and because of that Ygraine died in childbirth. Uther blamed magic in general and Nimueh in particular for her death and began the Great Purge, killing off hundreds of sorcerers and driving the surviving practitioners out of Camelot. While Gaius conformed to the New Religion, Nimueh was banished from the court, and vowed revenge for the death of all her friends (Excalibur, Le Morte d'Arthur).
Nimueh exacted some measure of this revenge after Merlin began his apprenticeship with Gaius. She created an Afanc, a creature conjured of the elements of earth and water, with which she poisoned the water supply of Camelot. However, the plan was thwarted by Merlin, Arthur, and Morgana who destroyed the Afanc using the combined power of the elements fire and wind. Uther was dismayed when Gaius discovered a mark on the Afanc's egg that proved that the plague was Nimueh's handiwork (The Mark of Nimueh).
The Poisoned Chalice
When Bayard travelled to Camelot to sign a peace treaty with Uther, Nimueh traveled with his retinue and traded out a chalice originally meant for Arthur with one that she had poisoned, and inveigled for Merlin to drink from it. She blamed the poisoning of the chalice on Bayard in order to sow discord and incite war, but the truth was discovered by Gaius before Camelot and Mercia could resume hostilities. She later led an unwitting Arthur to the caves under the Forest of Balor when he ventured to find the Mortaeus flower. She left him for dead as enormous spiders swarmed, but he was saved by a light sent by Merlin who knew he was in trouble (The Poisoned Chalice).
Nimueh later attempted to kill Uther by reanimating his brother-in-law Tristan de Bois, who had sworn to return from the dead and avenge his sister's death, as a wraith. Ultimately, Uther wielded the sword Excalibur, which had been forged by Gwen's father, taken by Merlin to The Great Dragon, and imbued with ancient magic for Arthur – to defeat Tristan. Infuriated by her defeat, Nimueh fled Camelot once again (Excalibur).
When Arthur was bitten by the Questing Beast, Merlin travelled to the Isle of the Blessed and offered his life in exchange for Arthur's. Nimueh warned that such a trade would not be so simple; Arthur was brought back by water from The Cup of Life, but rather than sacrificing Merlin, his mother Hunith was taken instead, though Gaius attempted to sacrifice himself for Hunith to prevent Merlin from doing so. When Merlin returned, he found Gaius dead; Nimueh tried to convince him to join her, but he refused. The two battled and Merlin was hit by Nimueh's magic, which appeared to kill him. He survived, however, and summoned the power of the old magic to strike Nimueh with a lightning bolt, killing her, and using her death to save Gaius (Le Morte d'Arthur).
Merlin mentioned fighting Nimueh in his rant (The Once and Future Queen). Arthur later learned from the spirit of his deceased mother that Nimueh had used magic to create him, but he was led to believe that this was a lie, even though this was the truth (The Sins of the Father). Merlin also mentioned Nimueh when he and Gaius discussed the Cup of Life, saying that he thought the Cup was destroyed when he killed Nimueh. Instead the Cup fell into the possession of a Druid tribe (The Coming of Arthur).
Nimueh appears as an embittered woman who wishes to bring ruin on Camelot and Uther Pendragon in revenge for the events of the Great Purge, which resulted in the deaths of her family and friends. She displays a mischievous exterior, and appears to have some level of vanity as well. Her youthful appearance is a mystery, though in The Poisoned Chalice it is speculated that she can cast illusions through the use of magic. She seems to play a part in the Great Purge since she obviously was capable of choosing who had to die in exchange for another life, hence taking Ygraine's life and causing Uther's wrath. In Excalibur, Nimueh claimed that she did not know that Ygraine would die but that the Old Religion did not care who would live or die, yet it is unlikely that she did not know since she was a High Priestess of the Old Religion and also a seer. She was also blamed by Gaius and Merlin to be the one who chooses who had to die to which she did not object but proved them right when choosing Gaius' life in Le Morte d'Arthur in exchange for the life of Merlin's mother Hunith. Even though Uther was warned that someone will have to die for the life of his son, Nimueh did not tell him that it would be someone close to him. It is unknown why Nimueh obviously chose Ygraine intentionally. However, the life for a life-policy seemed to be continued only as long as the Questing Beast appeared, a creature of the Old Religion that appeared on the day of Ygraine's death as well as when Arthur was mortally wounded by it and who was later rescued by Merlin when he killed Nimueh. After the Questing Beast and Nimueh's death, numerous lives were saved at the hands of magic, yet without the demand of taking another life in exchange.
As a High Priestess of the Old Religion, Nimueh was a very powerful sorceress who mastered control of the elements as well as the power over life and death. She claimed to have the power of prediction, suggesting that she was a Seer. Using a scrying fount, she's able to remotely view events as they occur. She may also have been capable of magically communicating with individuals at a great distance, as suggested by her conversation with Uther the night before his duel with the wraith of Tristan de Bois. She was in possession of the Cup of Life, and had access to its tremendous power, something many other sorcerers (like Morgause) longed for.
She was able to easily stop Merlin's magical attack on her during their final confrontation by absorbing it into her hand. However, she didn't manage to kill him because of his natural resilience to magic and he ended up seemingly slaying the powerful sorceress. Furthermore, despite her power of prediction, she was, according to the Great Dragon, at first unaware of Merlin's greatness. She was also able to use the elements of water and earth in order to create an Afanc. Moreover, it is assumed that she had a certain knowledge of magical plants as she used an enchanted Mortaeus flower to poison Merlin. She had the power of necromancy, which she used to created a wraith using Tristan de Bois' corpse. She used the element of fire to create deadly fireballs. Finally, she was able to control at a very high level the power of life and death due to the fact that she tricked Merlin by taking his mother's life instead of his.
- Series 3
- The Coming of Arthur: Part One (Mentioned only)
In the Legend
Nimueh is based on the Lady of the Lake, alternately known as Nimue, Viviane, Niniane or Nyneve. Her role in the legend includes giving King Arthur his sword, Excalibur, raising Lancelot and being Merlin's apprentice and lover. After Merlin taught her all his secrets, she used her power to trap him in the Crystal Cave, effectively killing him. Thereafter, she was an ally of King Arthur's.
There is little similarity between the Nimueh of the legends and the Nimueh in Merlin, as not only did Merlin apparently kill her (rather than vice versa), but Excalibur was created by Merlin who took a sword Gwen's father made to The Great Dragon and forged it with his breath. To further support this, in Series 3, it was Freya that gave to Merlin Excalibur, and Freya had also seemed to become the Lady of the Lake after her death.
- Other than Alvarr, Odin and Mordred, Nimueh was one of the villains that fans were speculating would return in Series 5, even though she was killed by Merlin in the finale of Series 1. It was later announced that it would be Mordred that would return for Series 5.
|Series 1 Enemies|
|The Dragon's Call: Mary Collins † • Lady Helen (indirect) † |
Valiant: Valiant † • Devlin • Serpent Shield
The Mark of Nimueh: Nimueh † • Afanc †
The Poisoned Chalice: Nimueh † • Balorian Spiders • Cockatrice
A Remedy to Cure All Ills: Edwin Muirden † • Elanthia Beetles
The Gates of Avalon: Sophia † • Aulfric † • Sidhe elder
The Beginning of the End: Uther Pendragon †
Excalibur: Nimueh † • Tristan de Bois †
The Moment of Truth: Kanen
The Labyrinth of Gedref: Arthur Pendragon (indirect) †
To Kill the King: Tauren • Morgana † • Uther Pendragon †
Le Morte d'Arthur: Nimueh † • Questing Beast • Kilgharrah