Willow leans heavily against its own history in “The Whispers of Nockmaar”, a decent outing that flirts with haunted house horror in some fun ways.
This recap of Willow season 1, episode 4, “The Whispers of Nockmaar”, contains spoilers.
Willow changes tack a little this week and becomes, essentially, a haunted house horror, as the gang takes refuge in Nockmaar, the former fortress of the evil Queen Bavmorda, to try and cure Graydon’s possession by a lich. This is the fate that befell Commander Ballantine, you’ll recall, the death of whom Jade is still reeling from. But “The Whispers of Nockmaar” are, as we’ll see, nothing to be trifled with.
Willow season 1, episode 4 recap
As tends to be the case in this kind of thing, a lot of this hour revolves around mysterious whispers and strange visions, the real and the imagined, but it also sags under the weight of the show’s own history – in the form of the feature film – and the grossly exaggerated sense of in-universe history that has developed around Willow’s exploits defeating Bavmorda and saving Elora in the first place. It’s the first episode to really feel connected to the film in a meaningful sense, and I liked that about it.
Willow, for instance, has built an entire outsized reputation as a sorcerer on what happened in this very fortress all those years ago, but – as becomes a plot point here – he didn’t so much defeat Bavmorda as benefit from happenstance. As we’ve seen already, he’s barely a sorcerer at all, and certainly not the all-powerful world-saving kind. He stepped up in Episode 3, but he’s still knackered from that, and there are only so many times he can bang his staff on the floor and topple over before he becomes surplus to requirements.
You get the feeling here that the rest of the group can sort of sense this. Graydon is rapidly expiring, and there’s a genuine chance that he might be totally corrupted before Willow’s long-winded solution takes effect, which will mean that someone – probably Jade – will have to lop off another head against her will. Kit, rather callously if you ask me, actually pushes this as a solution, especially since Airk remains in captivity of the Crone.
On the subject of the show’s internal history, we’re also reminded that Kit and Airk possess Bavmorda’s blood, the much-talked-about “Blood of the Six”. This obviously matters and will come to matter more, in a world-building sense, but I think it explains a lot about Kit in the meantime since her general disinterest in the quest is causing more problems than her presence solves at this point. Her revealing to Elora late in the episode that she did manage to grow the ekleberry bush turns out to be the thing that really activates her latent magical abilities, so there’s a very strong case that if she’d done that earlier we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. But hopefully, she has learned her lesson.
So, most of “The Whispers of Nockmaar” revolves around the gang being tormented by their own anxieties and traumas thanks to the castle’s dark magic, all while trying to rustle up a potential elixir that’ll purge the lich from Graydon before it’s too late. That doesn’t end up happening, though, as the spirit possessing him is able to lure Elora into the High Tower, where it exposes Willow’s real role in Bavmorda’s defeat in an effort to sow more dissent among the fellowship. This is when Kit finally reveals that Elora is capable of real magic, and she’s able to improvise a solution by sucking the lich out of Graydon’s mouth, clearly playing on their subtle romantic connection (even though she remains devoted to Airk).
But this process reveals something else worrying. As Elora removes the corruption from Graydon, she sees a vision of him as a child, pushing his better-liked brother from a tree, presumably to his death. Graydon’s eyes flash red when he does this, implying some sort of corruption, but I couldn’t quite make heads or tails of what this scene was trying to tell us. Has Graydon been possessed in the past? Does he have latent evil inside him that manifested at that moment? Or was this just the last attempt of the defeated lich to tear the group apart?
As I say, it’s hard to tell, and part of the reason is that the castle’s ill intentions aren’t particularly well-realized. It seems to torment each individual in a totally random way, and what these torments reveal about the characters isn’t especially illuminating either. There are some fun bits – Boorman, especially, gets some great lines and moments this episode – but nothing that really expands the lore or solidifies the dynamics.
Eventually, we just start getting actual clips from the original film, mostly seen by Elora as visions that explain her backstory a little bit; she sees her mother being killed, herself as a baby, Bavmorda’s defeat, and eventually, as mentioned, Graydon’s worrying childhood memories. There’s also a nice moment when the others burst through the door to the High Tower to save the day that’s edited quite nicely to merge with the original heroes doing the same back in the day, but I’m not sure if this was purely for the audience’s benefit or if it was visible to Elora too.
At the very end of the episode, we finally get a glimpse of Airk, who takes up in the ashy midst of a ruined Immemorial City as a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” by Nouela, from her debut solo album Chants, plays. It’s better than the “Enter Sandman” one from last week, anyway.
You can stream Willow season 1, episode 4, “The Whispers of Nockmaar” exclusively on Disney+.
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