Nimueh

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Character
Name: Nimueh
Occupation: Priestess
Title/Rank: High Priestess of the Old Religion
Location: Her cave, Isle of the Blessed
Status: deceased
Relationships: Wants revenge on Uther and was once his friend, feels betrayed by Gaius. No clear family.
Fandom: Merlin
Other:
Nimueh
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The sorceress Nimueh is the principal antagonist of series 1 of the BBC's Merlin, which aired in 2008. She is a High Priestess of the Old Religion, which Uther opposes and has attacked. She first appears in episode 1x03, "The Mark of Nimueh", as the creator of the Afanc that brings a plague to Camelot's residents. She then spends several episodes attempting to kill Arthur, only to be foiled by Merlin and others. Her death is the dramatic climax of series 1.

Nimueh was a member of the First Generation, a group of characters who include the parents of the current protagonists of the show. She was a member of Uther's court, an apparent friend to Gaius, and familiar with Ygraine as well. She was the also first member of what would later be called "Team Eyeliner", aka the main sorcerer antagonists attempting to bring down Uther's regime due to his violent purges of magical people. As such, she is linked with Mordred, Morgause, and later Morgana.

Nimueh is played by Michelle Ryan.

Fannish perceptions and tropes

As an arch-villain with motivations that include the genocide of her people, Nimueh is a complicated character. Her reception by fandom reflects and expands that complication.

As a villain

Nimueh is frequently used as a slightly ambiguous villain. Even in later series and fannish years she is often brought back as the main villain (such as in ...In Thunder, Lightning, or Rain? by Blue Gold) often by people uncertain or displeased by the Morgana and Morgause as the new villains plot direction, or those wanting to avoid all the emotive repercussions on the other characters linked to using Morgana. (Find link!) She is also used as the main villain or as a sympathetic villain in AUs, especially magic-based AUs like A Lever and a Place to Stand by Lassiter. She was used as a villain in several Merlin Big Bangs (Box of Magic, Paperlegends).

As a woman

"What We Have (and What We Have Left)" story cover by sandrainthesun

As the first recurrent adult woman in the show, Nimueh is often used as a mother figure in fanworks. For example, she is Arthur and Merlin's parental figure in On the Isle of Apples, Merlin's guardian in What We Have (and What We Have Left), and Morgana, Merlin and Gwen's evil step mother in Cinderella AU Merlinella.

Nimueh is often present in fanworks celebrating the women in Merlin, such as in the vid Ladies of Merlin by Ophelia.

As a catalyst

Nimueh's strange death has led to many debates about what it says about Merlin. Some have speculated that he is now the new leader of the Old Religion, as in The Course of True Love and Deluge.

The memory of Nimueh or references to her often appear in fanworks, even when she herself is not present.

Parallels were drawn by some between Nimueh's relationship with Gaius and Morgana's later relationship with Merlin[1][2], implying that either history is repeating itself or the relationships formed in the previous generation are actually helping cause the current generation's enmities. A variant on this theme was proposed in the vid It's Not Over Yet by Charmax.

Controversies

As the first "big bad" of the show, Nimueh is embroiled in several early controversies surround magic users and women in general. She was a prime example used in the debates over gender and power that raged in late 2008 and into 2009.

Are all magical women in Merlin evil?

Thingswithwings was one of many fans to object early on to the show's tendency to equate women's magic with evil. In her post about problems with series 1, she referred to the treatment of Nimueh as an example of the show's misogyny:

women's magic is evil; women with power are evil temptress sorceresses who want to kill you; women who have actually pretty legitimate grudges are apparently insane and must be stopped (I kind of don't get why Nimueh isn't supposed to be sympathetic)[3]

This post set off significant controversy both within and outside Merlin fandom about how fans should approach TV shows and other source texts with sexist and racist elements.[4] In response to that post, Solarcat said:

Nimueh is given a backstory and motives consistent with her previously-shown obsession with killing Uther and/or destroying everything he cares about. Uther is killing her people. He has killed many of her friends. Just as the grieving mother in Episode 1 is a sympathetic character, so is Nimueh as of this point in the show.[5]
Although many fans responded by pointing out positive portrayals of female characters and women's relationships in Merlin, the tendency for women with magic to be seen as evil (while the character Merlin uses magic to defend Camelot) has continued in later seasons.

As of February 2012, following series 4, the BBC Merlin official page listed all female magic users as villains.[6] This issue has been heavily debated in both conversations and fanworks[7], at least in part due to Nimueh's ambiguous comments in 1x09, where she tells Uther, "I did as you asked! I used the magic you so despise to give your barren wife the son you craved." Later in the same scene, she said:

Nimueh: "To create a life, there had to be a death. The balance of the world had to be repaid."
Uther: "You knew it would kill her."
Nimueh: "No, you're wrong. If I had foreseen her death and the terrible retribution you would seek, I would never have granted your wish."
Uther: "I wish you hadn't."

This scene lent fuel to the debate over what actually happened in the months before and after Arthur's birth. It also raised the question over how much Uther knew and understood the consequences of his wish, and whether he directed Nimueh to fill it or she did so independently. Some fics, such as For the Miracles and the Consolations by zvi, also considered whether or not Ygraine might have had a hand in the decision herself.

Despite her official status as a villain, some fans responded to Nimueh's death with dismay, especially the manner in which Merlin killed her.[8] Indeed, some fans began to see Camelot itself as the source of evil, and the magic users who oppose it as the heroes.[9] This position would be adopted by more fans once Morgana allied with Morgause in series three, leading to the semi-joking designation of Team Evil, aka Team Eyeliner[10], for the magic-using women and their allies who defied Uther's rule.

Some fans view Nimueh as another misunderstood female character, leading to fanworks about her past such as scissorsandglitter's Nimueh (the series) on Tumblr, or about her reaction to the great purge, as in gwpe's artwork The Purge, which shows Nimueh looking toward Camelot from the Isle of the Blessed.

Criticism of Nimueh's actions

Some fans wondered if the bargains Nimueh struck with Uther and/or Merlin unfair, because she didn't reveal all the consequences.[citation needed] Nimueh's scene with Uther in 1x09 does not make clear whether Uther knew that someone would have to die to give Arthur life, and she is not given another scene in which to clarify this point.

Her attempts to take revenge against Uther include killing innocent people of Camelot (1x03). Some fans abhored her methods but sympathized with her reasons[11]. Others saw her behavior in hindsight as part of a larger pattern of morally dubious or repugnant actions by magic users.[12]

Irish fetishization

In the first two series, most of the main magic users were of Irish descent or looked dark Irish. These included Nimueh, Merlin, Morgana, and Mordred. After details of Freya's episode were released, a debate occurred about whether or not this trend showed a fetishization and othering of Irish people by both the show and the fandom.[13]

Ships

Nimueh is often shipped with magical characters or characters from the older generation.

Older Generation

Although she is played by a younger actress, Nimueh is (indirectly) referred to by Gaius as "an ancient sorcerer" in 1x03 and was an adult in Camelot at the time of Arthur's birth and the great purge. Many fanworks imagine her relationships with the protagonists of those years.

  • Nimueh/Uther - Both romantic and non-romantic versions of this relationship exist. For example, Balance of the World by leafy07 suggests that Uther and Nimueh might have had a destiny similar to Arthur and Merlin's. Curse of Gifts by Aramis_chan depicts a more sexual relationship, one that leads in part to the fury and guilt Uther feels when Ygraine dies.
  • Nimueh/Ygraine - This was one of the earliest femslash pairings, after Gwen/Morgana. It existed long before Ygraine appeared in series 2. Examples include the fic Warm by anon, the art the witch's sea by nilecrocodile, and the fanmix Diamantine by Fly_to_dawn.
  • Nimueh/Uther/Ygraine – This threesome exists in both gen and sexual forms.
  • Nimueh/Hunith - Another series 1 pairing, this one is based around the idea that Hunith originally lived in Camelot and fled later, either before or after becoming pregnant with Merlin. An example is The Love You Kept Inside by Sophinisba. While the two never meet on the show itself, as with the case of Nimueh/Ygraine, the implied history is enough for some fans.
  • Nimueh/Gaius - Nimueh and Gaius show evidence of a complex past, especially in the finale of series 1. Speculation ranges widely about what that past is, and about Gaius's role in Arthur's birth and the following purge, and about what Nimueh thinks that role was. An example of a fanwork assuming Gaius played a knowing and active role in Arthur's birth is this untitled artwork by eska-rina, made for merlin_santa.
  • Nimueh/Uther/Ygraine/Gaius - Sometimes called the "Older generation OT4", this is a collection of the known power-wielders of Camelot from the years before Arthur's birth. An example is the graphic art Pre-series OT4 by Varlyns-gambit. Sometimes Gorlois was substituted for Gaius.
  • Nimueh/Kilgharrah - Kilgharrah speaks of Nimueh in disparaging tones in series 1, calling her a witch and warning Merlin against her. He does the same regarding Morgana. Some fanworks explore the idea that Kilgharrah and Nimueh may once have been allies and had a falling out, possibly around the time that Kilgharrah was chained, or during the purge. [Note to self - include "Apples" remix here.] Some other fans see their relationship as an example of Kilgharrah speaking for the male establishment against female power.[citation needed]

Magic Users

Nimueh is paired with a number of magic-users in a variety of ways, most of them centering on their mutual connection through magic.

  • Nimueh/Merlin - Works about this pairing include everything from hate-sex to identity play when she played a servant, to evil!Merlin/Nimueh, and more. This pairing has a whole comm: Merlin_nimueh. This pairing includes versions where she's somehow not dead, such as in the vid I don't care by 7_key. Gen works about Merlin and Nimueh's conflict also exist, or their relationship may be in the background of works about other relationships.
  • Nimueh/Morgause - This pairing is fueled by Gaius's admission in 2x08 that he smuggled an infant Morgause to the High Priestesses and allowed her to be raised in the Old Religion. Some speculated that Nimueh was the one who raised Morgause, giving Morgause an independent reason to hate Camelot and Merlin.[citation needed] An example of Nimueh/Morgause is Ice Palace by anon.

Other

Occasionally, Nimueh is paired with non-magical people of the younger generation.

  • Nimueh/Arthur - This pairing may have been first proposed on Kinkme_merlin. The first clear example of it on Livejournal was posted there: Waterlogged by anon.

Communities and Challenges

Nimueh has inspired several communities and challenges. These include (but are not limited to):

Examples of Fanworks

Nimueh is most present in fanworks as a background villain. When she appears in fanworks as a main character, it is often as a way to explore her role as well as her actions and their consequences rather than as an hero figure. Contrary to several other villains from S1, she still regularly appears in new fanworks.

Crafts and Cosplay

Podfics

Vids

Fanart

Fanfic

  • Tintagel by seperis, Nimueh/Ygraine and Arthur/Merlin, and its related podfic, translation, fanarts and fanvid trailer.

References

  1. I never thought I’d see you here again, by McMorgans. Included the tag: "(also can we talk about HOW MUCH I NEED SOMETHING LIKE THIS IF AND WHEN MERLIN EVER CALLS MORGANA 'MY LADY' EVER AGAIN? CAN WE?)". Accessed February 11, 2012.
  2. You know that heartbreaking moment when you, by McMorgans. Included this comment: "You know that heartbreaking moment when you suddenly realise this was the last time Merlin ever called Morgana ‘my lady’ on the show? Yeah, well, I kinda just had that moment." Accessed February 12, 2012.
  3. Did I tell you that I watched Merlin? Posted Jan. 2, 2009. Accessed February 11, 2012.
  4. Meta links + Merlin rec, by Merelyn. "I think there’s certainly a time and a place for serious critical analysis about the media we fangirls watch and whether it does have a subtle insidious impact on the way women view themselves. If a show is repeatedly and blatantly suffering from Women In Refrigerators Syndrome, and yet fandom is too focused on the pretty boys and the gay to notice? Sure that’s a problem. Merlin isn’t perfect, but it’s hardly such an extreme case." Comments by Solar_cat, Merelyn, and Krazykipper. Accessed February 11, 2012.
  5. Well, Then. *Puts on her Magical Merlin Meta Hat (tm)*, by Solarcat. Thread includes comments by Zillah975 and Wistfuljane. Accessed February 11, 2012.
  6. BBC - Merlin - Characters. Listed on "villains" pages: Mary Collins, Nimueh, Sophia, Freya, Morgause, Lady Catrina, Lady Vivian (who doesn't even have her own magic); Alice, Morgana, Grunhilda, Lamia, and Docraid. Enmyria and Forridel are not mentioned on the pages at all. Accessed February 11, 2012.
  7. Merlin - Darkness Within, by Cat_77. Graphic art with accompanying meta. "You could say women tend to equate to evil on the show, or you could say that the women tend to get majorly screwed over, which leads to some interesting decisions and life choices, which may or may not tend towards vengeance. Or, at the very least, being seriously pissed off." Accessed February 11, 2012.
  8. I finished watching Merlin., by Heyiya. "I'm a little disturbed by the way they maintain the family-friendly morality/sympathetic character death avoidance by having cute little Merlin break every witch he comes across into tiny little pieces. He 'does the right thing' by not killing Uther, but Uther certainly deserves to die by the logic that makes it okay for Merlin to blast Nimue and the Sidhe; however, he's the king and not magic. Uther proves that he deserves to live by saying he made a mistake in killing Gwen's dad not because it wasn't right to kill him but because he didn't realise it would upset Morgana, so apparently emo plus royal trumps moral. But the underlying morality seems to be that people have to prove themselves to be worthy of living, especially if they fall into an undesirable category. After all, if we let all the witches and wizards and magical beings live, they will take over the world! Magic out of the service of the king is too dangerous to be let loose." Accessed February 11, 2012.
  9. anon_merlin: Anon III: Our Love Potion Brings All the Trolls to the Yard, thread by anon. Comments include: "Sigh. I read this, and I go "why am I supposed to care? Camelot *should* be overthrown." I mean, they've made it clear as of last week that Merlin will do nothing about the massacres and oppression but continue to prop up Uther until the end. While Arthur, who at least recognized the moral follow-on of his new knowledge about his father (even if it doesn't erase his own mass murdering ways), has now been lied and manipulated back into line, there to helpfully continue to slaughter innocents." "I agree with everything else you said, though; I'm over Camelot. I'm glad Morgause is gunning for it. I see no reason why it shouldn't be overthrown and reforged. The show consistently writes itself into weird moral corners. Uther is presented as the bad guy, yet the people trying to kill him are somehow more bad, Merlin is constantly out to save Uther from them in order make a clear path for Arthur to become king. It never occurs to him that Arthur becoming king is not the only way for Camelot to change, or that Arthur can still assume power in ways that don't involve him simply surviving long enough for it to be handed to him. As it is, none of the oppressed are allowed to do anything to improve their lot until Arthur's ready to be king and change things for them from the top. Until then, the poor and magic-users alike should just lie down and take it. It offends my sensibilities." Accessed February 11, 2012.
  10. Eyeliner of Evil tag, by Yourethevoice. Accessed February 11, 2012.
  11. this is such a scatterbrained reply, by Esotaria. "She's brutal and cunning, broken and twisted beyond belief, but... what happened to her. The shit she's gone through. While I don't want her killing Arthur, and I abhor her methods of trying to destroy Camelot, I do think she's more in the right than Merlin." Accessed February 11, 2012.
  12. Merlin discussion: what do we know about magic?, by Vanessarama. "Then there are the more powerful and organised magic users; Nimueh, Alvarr and Morgause. Again they have been wronged but again they fall into the "bad" camp because they will ruthlessly kill the innocent in their pursuit of their own purposes. I think Nimueh's body count is highest - look at all those people who died of plague in Camelot[.]" Accessed February 11, 2012.
  13. anon_merlin: Anon II: Yes we can! (haz beer), thread by anon. Comments include: "It's interesting, the decision to cast so many powerful magic users with Irish actors or who have similar 'black Irish' coloring, given the long history of exoticizing Irish and Welsh people." "Yeah, it's been on my mind, especially given the massive Irish!kink in this fandom ("omg hot Irish people! kissing! and they have accents!!1!"). Which I think the show subtly emphasizes/plays up with the casting. It's a pattern for the more regular and especially powerful magical characters, but there are outliers, which is a good thing -- Morgause is blond as well, though I suspect that's for plot/family purposes." "I think the fannish squee would be less problematic if the show didn't create a subtext (especially in S1) of "dark!Irish = magic user = Other", because the text of the show itself others magic users." "I'm not sure if it's subtle, really. They made Michelle Ryan wear those contacts, right? So they're definitely playing up the connection." Accessed February 11, 2012.
  14. Merlin Celtic Animal Project Assignments, Accessed February 11, 2012.