“At the end of the day that was the most important thing in telling this story: Not undermining her capabilities,” Cursed star Katherine Langford told Refinery29 over the phone recently, pondering the journey of her newest Netflix character, Nimue. When we first meet Nimue — Cursed’s heroine and the girl destined to one day become the Lady of the Lady in Arthurian Legend — she is the person most likely to question her own abilities. After years of being told her immense power is dangerous, if not directly linked to evil, Nimue is terrified of herself — and the newfound “enormous responsibility,” as Langford said, of the Sword of the First Kings, a supernatural weapon thrust upon her through her mother Lenore’s (Catherine Walker) dying wish.
Yet by the end of Cursed’s seventh episode, “Bring Us In Good Ale,” Nimue stands above the fey — this world’s remaining magical folk, who are hunted nearly to extinction by militant Catholic group the Red Paladins — and gives a rousing speech fit for a king, proudly brandishing the Sword. Or, as the fey cheer, a queen — the fey queen.
Twenty-four-year-old Langford’s performance is a stunning look at a scared girl becoming a fearless woman right before our very eyes — and the moment almost lost all of its magic. But Langford, like Nimue, realised it was time to take her power.
“As Nimue progresses through this journey and more people learn about the sword, they keep saying, ‘This is the Sword of the One True King,’” Langford began. “It doesn’t for one moment cross Nimue's mind that she could be the one to use this sword, that she could be a king or a queen. Because she’s never seen that.”
As fans who have watched Cursed know, it’s a conversation with Kaze (Adaku Ononogbo), a fey warrior woman in her own right, that opens Nimue’s eyes to her own possibilities. In “Good Ale,” Nimue, Kaze, and Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin) wind up trapped in a series of haunted caves. At an extremely low moment, Nimue tells Kaze her fears about wielding the Sword and her relation to dubious figure Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård), Nimue’s secret biological father. Throughout the episode, Kaze has been steadfast in reminding Nimue that she possesses the fortitude of a leader. This conversation explains why: Kaze's people are ruled by queens not kings. You can see the wheels begin to turn in Nimue’s mind about what this new information means to her, as she asks, “Did these queens make mistakes?”
The scene almost didn’t happen.
“There was a really powerful moment in the middle of the season. And then in a re-write it got cut out,” Langford began. “I went back to [co-creator Tom Wheeler] and I said, 'This moment is really important because there needs to be a reason why Nimue suddenly feels like she can have this power.' Tom ended up writing this beautiful scene between Nimue and [Kaze].”
As you watch “Good Ale,” it becomes clear the Nimue who walks out of that cave is a new woman. “That moment that Nimue and Kaze share really changes her perspective, and it builds in her this hope and this motivation and this courage that she hasn’t had before,” Langford explained. “From there, Nimue starts wrestling with the power, or the responsibility, of having power and leadership.”
It’s particularly stirring to see Langford grow so rapidly toward adulthood in a single episode of television since her other most famous character — fellow Netflix youth Hannah Baker, of 13 Reasons Why — is permanently trapped in the tragic amber of adolescence following a death by suicide. Langford suggests it is time that allowed her to give herself fully to Nimue and her complicated story after living in Hannah's mind for so long.
“I feel like maybe it’s different for me because I left the series a couple of years ago. So there has been that breathing space between 13 Reasons Why and the other projects that I’ve done,” Langford said, considering the difference between leading her breakout Netflix series and Cursed as a more seasoned actress. The two streaming shows debuted over three years apart.
“Nimue has a powerful personal journey, which isn’t just to do with embracing herself and finding her courage… but it’s also about coming into her womanhood,” she continued, stressing the difference between becoming a legal adult and “really coming into yourself” as a woman. Langford admits she has recognised this gap in her own life, as have her friends. “It feels like a new chapter [to show on-screen], which is really cool to experience,” she added.
That’s why Langford believes the ultimate message of Cursed is “owning” whoever you are in order to start your next phase of life, as she did by recognising what she needed as an actress and ensuring it ended up in her series. “Nimue has been taught to be ashamed of herself and what she has,” Langford said. “In order to become the woman and the leader that she needs to be, she has to really, really embrace herself in order to find that courage.”
“Embrace all of yourself and don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t be ashamed of who you are, because what you have is so special. Even if other people don’t understand it.”