Cursed Ending Explained

| July 17, 2020 |

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Photo: Netflix

The following contains spoilers for the entire season of Netflix’s CURSED as well as the novel of the same name. Read our spoiler-free review of the series here.

Netflix’s Cursed puts a feminist spin on the myth of King Arthur, centering this version of the story on one of its least-familiar female characters. The witch Nimue is better known to many as the mystical Lady of the Lake, keeper of the sword called Excalibur. But at this point in the story, she’s just a young Fey girl, struggling to survive in a world in which her kind is often hated and persecuted by others. Though by the time the series ends, she’ll be something else entirely: A leader and a legend in her own right.

Some viewers will inevitably feel dissatisfied with some of the twists in Cursed’s final episodes. But one of the best things about this series is how simultaneously familiar and wide open it feels, and this slew of narrative surprises provides plenty of opportunity for the show to go in many different directions. 

Here’s a rundown of how everything ended – or didn’t – and what we think it might all mean.

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Nimue’s Destiny Comes Calling. Maybe.

The big question at the end of Cursed is, of course: What happens to Nimue? And the answer, quite frankly, is that we don’t know for sure. But things aren’t exactly looking great for our heroine at the moment.

While attempting to escape Uther’s camp with an injured Merlin, she’s tracked down and shot twice in the stomach and shoulder by the religiously obsessed and now slightly demented Sister Iris. She’s been promised she can become a true Red Paladin only if she kills the infamous Wolf-Blood Witch. Nimue, body riddled with arrows, conveniently falls from the rock bridge and into a whirling pool at the base of a waterfall, never to be seen again before the final credits roll.

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Good sign: We never see her dead body, just an image of an injured Nimue floating through water tinted with blood. Sure, that looks bad, but it also means there’s a half-decent chance that should the show return for a second season, Nimue will wash up unconscious on the shores of a river somewhere and continue her quest to save her people. Bad news: If the legend is anything to go by, Nimue is still fated to become the Lady of the Lake, who will ultimately entrust Arthur with a magical sword and the fate of a kingdom.

Which, unfortunately, will require her to at least become tied to a body of water and become something vaguely supernatural. Could Nimue’s powers – tied to nature as they are – be strong enough to save her life, but somehow imprison her at the same time? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a figure in this tale met a bittersweet or tragic end.

Merlin Gets His Magic Back

We finally get to see Merlin truly use magic in the Cursed finale and it’s as impressive as has been advertised throughout the season. (Certainly, more so than that one time he blew up a rock in a flashback.)

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Of course, the return of his magic coincides with Merlin regaining possession of the Sword of Power in the wake of Nimue’s apparent death. And given that we’ve already seen how negatively its proximity affects him, that certainly doesn’t promise anything good for the future. Particularly since he kills at least a half dozen Red Paladins using magical lightning within moments of having his abilities restored. 

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Given  Merlin’s unique and unprecedented relationship with Nimue – in every other Arthurian retelling he’s her lover not her father – it’s difficult to predict what’s next for this character. Will he seek to avenge his daughter and bring down the Red Paladins? Destroy the sword now that it’s finally in his possession? Or use it to melt Uther’s face off with magical lightning? Could he even choose to become the Merlin of legend as a tribute to the daughter he lost? (It would explain his fondness for Arthur after all, if it was Nimue loved him first.)

Morgana Becomes Something Else

Following Morgana’s run-in with the supernatural Cailleach in the Celtic caves, her story takes a much darker and more confusing turn. The visions of her dead girlfriend that predict Morgana’s powerful future and the supernatural spiders crawling everywhere would be bad enough on their own, but it also appears as though Morgana may have become death itself.

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There isn’t really an Arthurian antecedent for Cursed’s Widow character, who seems to be something of a magical grim reaper figure with a snarky attitude. But when Morgana somehow manages to kill her – perhaps bolstered by borrowed Cailleach power – she’s somehow forced to assume her identity and role afterward. (Or was it some sort of choice? We don’t know, because we didn’t actually see this transformation. But it certainly could be possible.)

However this change may have happened, Morgana certainly seems to have leveled up in the magical sweepstakes as a result. And that’s a fairly necessary upgrade for where her story is most likely headed. While it’s not clear which of the many, many versions of Morgana this one will ultimately become, Cursed does nail one particular aspect of her character, and that’s how morally fluid she appears to be. Though she clearly supports Nimue, she also clearly has her own agenda and Is more than willing to make selfish choices. And at this point, we wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up Arthur’s friend or his greatest enemy before all is said and done.

Arthur Becomes the Leader His People Need

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For much of Cursed, this version of Arthur hardly feels like once and future king material. He’s a liar, a mercenary, and a thief, who has run away from his problem as often as he’s faced them. But by the end of the series, he’s a figure working relentlessly on the side of right. 

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It’s Arthur who convinces the Tusks and other Fey groups to join together in order to reach the ships Nimue has procured for them. It’s Arthur who offers himself up as a sacrifice if that’s what’s necessary to save her – and now his – people. And it’s also Arthur who picks up a sword to defend them when he has to. The fact that he falls in love with Nimue and meets a butt-kicking Viking girl along the way is just the icing on the cake, really.

As much as Cursed is and should be Nimue’s story, she’s not the only character on a significant emotional journey. Arthur is as well. In order to eventually become the king of legend, he has to become a better man in the here and now, and his relationship with her plays a key part in that.

The Weeping Monk’s Identity Revealed

In the season’s final moments, we finally learn the identity of the brutal and emotionally tortured figure known as The Weeping Monk. He’s Lancelot. Yes, that one. The man who, according to the bulk of the stories out there, will one day become Arthur’s greatest knight.

Most viewers will likely be fairly shocked by this revelation. This is, after all, a very different sort of origin story for one of the characters that modern audiences will inevitably feel they know best. But it actually works on several levels. Lancelot himself is often depicted as something of a changeling – one of his names is Lancelot du Lac (of the Lake) – who was stolen away and raised by water fairies as an infant. Traditionally, he’s also very religious, and several of his adventures have the feel of Christian allegory. This is why his affair with his king’s wife is doubly a betrayal and the reason that later in life he’s only allowed a glimpse of the Holy Grail through a proverbial glass darkly.

The idea that, in a slightly different life, he might have become a church-obsessed flagellant trying to atone for the sin of his birth really isn’t that out of left field.

Sister Iris Achieves Her Dream

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The devout and, let’s be honest, more than a little unstable nun called Sister Iris desperately wants to serve God by becoming a Red Paladin and helping to cleanse the world of the sin and demons she sees everywhere. But with the patriarchy being what it is, the Paladins laugh at her, because she’s a woman, and claim that they’ll only allow her to join their murder brotherhood if she kills the infamous Wolf-Blood Witch for them.

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Which she does, shooting Nimue with arrows and watching her fall to her (presumed) death. As a reward, she gets more than she could have ever imagined – praised as an avenging angel by the Pope himself and officially inducted into his elite, gold faceplate-wearing Trinity Guard. (Pretty much the Red Paladins on steroids. Even Lancelot can barely best them.) The finale ends with Iris striding toward the camera, as the Pope promises that they’ll do miracles together. A threat which is probably the most frightening one yet.

Squirrel Has a Big Destiny

The Weeping Monk disavows the Red Paladins and risks his life to save a young Fey boy called Squirrel. But as the season closes, we learn one important fact. That boy’s name is actually Percival, and according to the traditional story of King Arthur, he has a fairly important future of his own waiting for him.

The real Percival is also known as the Grail Knight, and he’s the character who meets the crippled Fisher King and fails to ask the question that would have healed him. He’s also the knight who eventually finds the Grail castle again.

There’s a nice symmetry in the fact that it’s The Weeping Monk (a.k.a Lancelot) who saves the child. In later versions of the Arthurian legend, Percival isn’t the knight who finds the Grail. Lancelot’s son, Galahad, is. Perhaps in the world of Cursed, young Squirrel is meant to stand in for both of them. (Percival himself was still allowed to be part of Galahad’s Grail quest, so it makes a kind of sense.) Either way, it’s clear that his story is one that will matter more than we perhaps initially predicted.

One Big Revelation From the Book The Show Left Out

The Netflix series Cursed is based on an illustrated YA book of the same name, also written by Tom Wheeler. And, for the most part, the television version is a fairly faithful adaptation – except in one specific and very important regard.

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At the end of the novel, another secret is revealed, one which the Netflix version hints at but never says outright. And that’s the identity of the female Viking warrior known as the Red Spear. Eagled-eyed viewers will likely have noticed that no one ever calls her by her actual name, and probably also realized that a fairly significant player in the Arthurian legend has yet to make an appearance in this version of the story. Well, the book Cursed holds the answer to both those questions for us, confirming that the Red Spear is, in fact, Guinevere.

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This is a pretty big – and extremely exciting – twist for the Netflix show to leave out entirely. Perhaps the powers that be thought the one-two punch of Lancelot and Percival being named in the show’s final moments would be enough to leave viewers reeling, but the Guinevere reveal is another example of this story doing what it does best: Reinventing its female characters.

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This is a Guinevere that can more than hold her own. She’s a fighter and a leader, with her own agenda and goals that have nothing to do with becoming anyone’s wife. And while she one day very well might end up married to Arthur and/or having an affair with Lancelot, it won’t be because she’s passively coerced into doing either. And that’s a tremendously exciting thought.

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