*All of our episode recaps contain spoilers*
The Holy Grail
This week we got our first real look at Merlin’s past, discovering how he originally obtained his powers as well as how both Excalibur and the Dark One came to be. In the opening of the episode we see Merlin and another man stumbling through the desert,1000 years prior to the Age of Arthur, when he spots something sparkling in the distance. The pair trek over to the light and discover a cup of liquid they decide is a ‘gift from the Gods’. When Merlin’s friend reaches out and touches the cup he is immediately turned to dust and Merlin realises he must ask permission before attempting to drink. Managing to successfully drink from the cup, Merlin sinks to the sandy floor… but it doesn’t stay sandy for very long. As he touches it, the floor turns to fresh green grass as he utters the words ‘I have magic’.
In a flashback to Merlin’s past (prior to being trapped in a tree!) we see him teaching his apprentice when a mysterious woman arrives. The woman we later learn is the episode’s title character Nimue, tells Merlin of how her village was destroyed by Vortigan (an evil masked man known for burning towns to the ground) and that she fled to the woods. Nimue is set on revenge and reveals that she is keen to see the Middlemist flower (native to her village, and as we already know Guinevere’s favourite) live on elsewhere despite what Vortigan did to the land. Producing the Middlemist seeds she saved, Merlin instantly makes them grow on the spot, encouraging Nimue to stay in his village and beginning their story.
Later in the episode we see Merlin tell Nimue the tale of how he found the cup – or Holy Grail - out in the desert 500 years earlier. Merlin’s powers mean that he has eternal life and doesn’t age, but he is no longer happy with this fact. Having found Nimue, he decides he wants to share his life with her, a ‘normal’ life, not one where he will go on living long after she is gone and he presents her with a ring. Willing to give up his powers for Nimue, Merlin comes up with an interesting plan to turn the Holy Grail into a sword powerful enough to rid him of his immortality and allowing the pair to live out their lives together.
They set off to find what’s left of Nimue’s old village, and discover many cups on the floor amongst the wreckage, leading them to realise Vortigan was there searching for the Holy Grail. The sight only makes Nimue angry and she suggests Merlin use his powers to kill Vortigan. Merlin refuses, knowing that the darkness will take over if he does. As they reach the destination where Merlin’s plan will be put into action, he places the cup down and uses his powers to transform it into the sword we now recognise as Excalibur. Unfortunately for the pair, Vortigan has been following them closely. He shows up and stabs Nimue, leaving Merlin devastated.
The Original Dark One
As it turns out, Nimue is still alive and as we see her rip out the heart of the man who attacked her, we learn that she secretly drank from the Holy Grail. Merlin begs with her to spare Vortigan, knowing that she will be giving into the darkness if she doesn’t, but Nimue refuses to listen and crushes the heart, killing him instantly. With this action, Nimue becomes the original and first ever ‘Dark One’ (a twist I think we all saw coming!).
Back home, Merlin and his apprentice set to making sure that Excalibur will be safe by securing it in the stone. They also create the dagger, tethering Nimue’s spirit to it ensuring she can still be controlled.
The Plan To Retrieve Excalibur
Over at the Camelot version of Granny’s Merlin tells Regina, Robin, Hook, Snow and David that he is able to reunite the two parts of the sword, and that doing so may be able to save Emma. Whilst no one is exactly happy with the odds, Hook attempts to find out more about how they will go about reuniting the sword. When Merlin is unable to give him a real answer, Hook flips out a little, shouting ‘You’re willing to send us behind enemy lines but when it comes to specifics, everything’s a little fuzzy isn’t it?’.
Zelena also joins the group and reveals that whilst she was playing the role of Regina’s ‘mute handmaiden’, she was also plotting her escape. It turns out Zelena thinks that her knowledge will be able to help the group get hold of Excalibur, but of course, she wants her magic back in exchange. Leading them to a tunnel, Regina states that Zelena’s magic will be restored… but only once they make it out safely with the sword.
Regina, Robin, David and Hook head off into the tunnel, leaving Snow to keep an eye on Zelena, who naturally, they still don’t trust. Back outside Zelena begins to get upset, saying that she feels hurt that no one believes she will help them and that Regina is going to take her baby away from her. As Snow leans over to comfort her, Zelena shows her true colours, knocking out Snow and tying her up.
Emma & Merlin’s Quest
Whilst the rest of the squad are set to head off on their mission to win back Excalibur, Merlin asks Emma to go on a short quest with him in order to retrieve a spark (from the flame of Prometheus) needed to reunite the sword with the dagger. He warns Emma that once they reach the destination they will need to deal with the original Dark One, and we learn that a Dark one does in fact have the power to kill Merlin. He is honest with Emma, letting her know that he sees two potential outcomes for their journey; if she is able to resist the darkness they will succeed, but if she succumbs to it he will die.
Hoping that the darkness will soon be gone if they are able to reunite Excalibur with the dagger, Emma agrees to go with him. Before they leave she speaks to Hook and he gives her the necklace her wears… the one with a ring on it, although he is quick to confirm that this is not a proposal – sorry Captain Swan fans! Claiming that he is doing so because believes it is what has kept him alive all of these years, Emma is quite quick to tell him that she is immortal, to which he replies ‘the Dark One is immortal. Emma isn’t’.
On their way to find the spark, Emma confesses to Merlin that she has done some dark things recently, explaining that she hurt Henry and therefore, feels that deep down the darkness is winning. Thanks to Merlin’s plan, she does still believe that there is hope for her yet. When they reach their destination Merlin passes the dagger to Emma stating that she will need it to communicate with the original Dark One. She calls upon the spirit of previous Dark One’s and as she does so we see many names flash across the blade, until it finally settles on Nimue. Realising Merlin’s lost love is also the original Dark One, Emma finally truly understands what he meant when he told her that the Dark One killed the woman he loved.
Encouraging Emma to harm Merlin, Nimue states ‘If they try to stop you from being you, then you have no choice. You have to kill them’. We then see Emma with her hand around his throat, insisting that it isn’t really her that’s trying to harm him. Knowing that he may not come out of the situation alive, Merlin begs Emma not to let the darkness win and she turns on Nimue. Emma steals the spark the pair were searching for, the one that will allow them to fix the sword and Nimue leaves, but not without warning Emma that the sword has more than one use, followed by parting words - ’You know where to find me when you want me. I’ll be right in there’, pointing directly at Emma’s head. As the successful pair make their way back to the centre of Camelot, Emma asks if it is possible for someone to have the darkness yet use it for good, to which Merlin replies ‘don’t let those thoughts tempt you’. He confesses that someday perhaps it will be possible but sadly, the next part of their conversation is cut short when Merlin vanishes from the forest.
Over at the castle the group track down Arthur, and Regina uses her powers to freeze him, ensuring he will not stop them from retrieving the sword. Unfortunately for them it looks as though Arthur is Zelena’s new ally, as she shows up with her captive Snow and reveals that Arthur restored her powers, leaving her free to perform magic once again. Zelena then uses a spell to engrave Merlin’s name onto what’s left of Excalibur, tethering him to it, allowing him to be controlled just as the dagger can control the Dark One. Even though Arthur cannot reunite the sword with the dagger, he now has control of the most powerful wizard alive.
Summoning Merlin straight to the castle, Arthur uses the sword to make sure the Storybrooke squad can’t attack him by compelling Merlin to use his powers. Merlin reveals that Emma has ‘passed the test’, retrieving what is needed to restore Excalibur. Of course, seeking the glory, Arthur is still infuriated with Merlin, annoyed that he ‘lied’ about his fate – to be the one who would use Excalibur to remove darkness from the world. Merlin tells him that he did not lie, the prophecy is still coming true and right now Arthur is a part of the removal of the darkness from their world. Still unhappy with Merlin’s responses, Arthur commands him to make the ‘intruders’ leave and our Storybrooke squad (minus Zelena) are vanished from the room.
This week’s only snippet of what’s currently going on shows Emma back in Storybrooke, accompanied by both the Rumple-vision and a Nimue-vision too, both encouraging her to reunite Excalibur and the dagger. As Nimue tells Emma ‘We are proud of you. All of us.’, Emma sees many fellow Dark One’s in the room with her and uses the spark to fuse the weapons.
As she does so, Emma has a flashback, vividly remembering her first meeting with Merlin at the cinema back when she was a young girl. His words are with her – ‘leave the sword alone’ – and she hesitates before reaching for it. As the Rumple-vision tells her to take the power, the other Dark One’s echo his sentiment and she grabs the sword. Question is, what will she do with it?
What did you think of ‘Nimue’?