Immortals are a group of beings that are immune to disease and stop aging after becoming Immortal. They can live forever and they only die when they are beheaded.
The Immortals were first introduced in Highlander in 1986. They were created by Screenwriter Gregory Widen who, according to Bill Panzer, producer of the Highlander franchise, "was a student at film school, and he wrote this as his writing class project. He was apparently traveling through Scotland on his summer vacation and he was standing in front of a suit of armor, and he wondered, 'What would it be like if that guy was alive today?' And that's where everything fell into place - the idea that there are Immortals and they were in conflict with each other, leading secret lives of which the rest of us are unaware. In the Highlander universe, the origin of the Immortals is unknown. Panzer states, "We don't know where they come from. Maybe they come from the Source. It is not known yet what the Source actually is. An attempt to explain the origin of the Immortals was made in the theatrical version of Highlander II: The Quickening (1991), which revealed that Immortals are aliens from the planet Zeist. Yet this was edited out of the director's cut of the film made in 1995, Highlander II: The Renegade Version, in which the Immortals are from Earth, but from a distant past. Neither of the two versions is mentioned in either later movies or the television series.
Except in either version of Highlander II, Immortals themselves do not know where they come from or for what purpose they exist. In Highlander, the Immortal mentor Ramírez, when asked by newly Immortal Connor MacLeod about their origins, answers, "Why does the sun come up? Or are the stars just pinholes in the curtain of night, who knows?" In Highlander: Endgame, protagonist Connor MacLeod says, "We are the seeds of legend, but our true origins are unknown. We simply are." In the TV series episode Mountain Men, protagonist Duncan MacLeod expresses the same ignorance when he tells Caleb Cole, a fellow Immortal, "Whatever gods made you and me... made us different," and his next line, deleted from the episode, has him say, "They're just having a little fun.
Wherever they come from, the Highlander franchise assumes that there have always been Immortals on Earth, well before the beginning of civilization. In Highlander, Ramírez's narrative starts, "From the dawn of time we came; moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives..." and in Highlander: Endgame, Connor's narrative says, "In the days before memory, there were the Immortals. We were with you then, and we are with you now."
The Rules dictate that all Immortals are to fight and behead each other until only one of them remains. As Ramírez reminds Connor MacLeod, "If your head comes away from your neck, it's over”. This concept of Immortals beheading each other to be the "last man standing" is referred to as "the Game" and is summarized in the signature Highlander motto, "There can be only one." As a result, Immortals who live long enough develop strong fighting skills, usually transmitted from teacher to student, as Ramirez did with Connor in Highlander. Most Immortals can fight with all sorts of weapons like Axes, Sickles, Machete, long spear, but the most common is the sword. Consequently, Immortals are usually very fond of their weapons and almost always have them handy. The script of the Highlander: The Series pilot episode, The Gathering, says about Duncan MacLeod: "Seemingly out of nowhere MacLeod lifts a beautiful Samurai sword. We can see that it is as familiar to him as a .38 Police Special would be to a cop. When he gives a similar sword to Immortal Felicia Martins, Duncan tells her, "Take good care of it. Make it a part of you. It may be the only friend you have." She later breaks the sword in a fight with Duncan, showing neglect of the sword and henceforth demonstrating the student-teacher relationship throughout the series.
The Rules also dictate that when one challenges another to combat, the two Immortals are supposed to duel one-on-one. For example, in "The Gathering", Slan Quince challenges Duncan MacLeod then gets challenged by Connor MacLeod at the same time. He protests to them both: "Not two against one!", Connor MacLeod answers, "Thanks, Slan. I know the rules. You and me. Now!" This does not always happen and battles may be unfair. Examples of cheating include the group of Immortals who served under Immortal Jacob Kell in Highlander: Endgame, Slan Quince's modified sword which fires a dagger from its hilt and Zachary Blaine keeping a gun to slow down his adversaries. If the Rules are interpreted strictly, once two Immortals begin dueling, no outside interference is permitted, even to save a friend or innocent. For example, Duncan warns Richie that if he engages the vengeful Annie Devlin or the relentless Mako in a duel, Duncan will not permit himself to intervene.
The Immortals play the Game in accordance with their personalities. Some, like Slan Quince, go head hunting full-time. Some others only fight when they are challenged, to defend their head. Immortals are free to play the Game or not and some chose to "retire" for various reasons. Duncan MacLeod temporarily retires in 1872 because he is tired of death after his wife and adopted son are murdered. Some Immortals, like the pacifist Darius and the epicurean John Durgan, even attempt to retire from the game completely. Darius, who was a great general in Late Antiquity, retires permanently because he turned his back on war. Some retired Immortals chose to get on with their life without carrying a sword, like Grace Chandel. but they are in particular danger of losing their heads. A safe option for Immortals who wish to retire from the Game is to live on Holy Ground. However, this leaves them vulnerable to the Hunters.
The Immortals do not live as a united people on a territory of their own, but are scattered around the world and across history. The only bond between them are oral traditions called the Rules that are transmitted from teacher to student. The creator of the Rules is unknown. The Rules are never enumerated, like a body of laws, but they are quoted according to the circumstances. They are taught to newborn Immortals by Immortal mentors called First Teachers (see below). The main Rules are:
- Engaging in combat on Holy Ground is forbidden
- Once a battle has begun, interference of any kind is not allowed.
- Combat is limited to one on one
- Combat should be in secret and not in front of a crowd.
- Only bladed weapons can be used (IE no ranged, explosive, or projectile weapons)
- In the end, there can be only one.
Creative Consultant David Abramowitz stated, "When you do a show like this Highlander: The Series, what you do is you make up a lot of it as you go along. The fans used to ask, 'Do you know all the rules from the beginning?' and it's just like in life: You don't know any of the rules. You make them up as you go along and you try your best to be consistent and so that no one turns around, and says, 'Wait a minute, you're cheating!' Because that's one thing we didn't want to do. We didn't want to ever cheat."
The Rules forbid Immortals from fighting on holy ground. Holy ground is defined as any land or building held sacred by any people in the world. Examples of holy ground include; Native American sacred lands, cathedrals, churches, chaples, cemeteries, monasteries, and mosques. The interpretation of this rule has changed as the series progressed.
Highlander states that the holy ground rule was a tradition. Highlander II: The Quickening calls it the "Golden Rule". In the Highlander: The Series episode, The Hunters, Duncan MacLeod says, "Even the most evil of us wouldn't desecrate Holy Ground." In Unholy Alliance (1994), James Horton is attacked by Duncan MacLeod in the Dawson family crypt and says, "Holy ground, MacLeod! Shame on you... You're forgetting the rules. I tried to get Xavier [St. Cloud] to come but even he wouldn't kill here." In the episode, Little Tin God, Watcher Joe Dawson mentions that according to legend, this rule was broken in AD 79, resulting in the destruction of Pompeii. In Highlander III: The Sorcerer, during a fight in a Buddhist shrine between Connor MacLeod and antagonist Kane, Connor's blade shatters and the power of the shrine is revealed to Kane. In Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, Colin MacLeod is struck by lightning for refusing to put down his sword inside Stonehenge.
Mortals are not bound by the Rules and are allowed to behead Immortals on holy ground; the Hunters (see below) do this to Darius in Highlander: The Series. A practical result of this rule is that Immortals use holy ground as neutral territory on which they can meet each other without risking losing their heads. In Highlander, The Kurgan taunts Connor MacLeod in a church. When MacLeod becomes aggressive with the Kurgan, he says, "Holy ground, Highlander! Remember what Ramirez taught you!" Immortals wishing to retire from the Game often chose to live on holy ground. In Highlander: Endgame, Immortal Kell disregards this rule and slaughters a group of Immortals that were hidden in stasis on holy ground called the Sanctuary. This caused some controversy among fans, which prompted the producers to eliminate the reference to the Sanctuary being on holy ground. In Highlander: The Source, The Guardian attacks Reggie on Holy Ground, though there is no obvious attempt to kill and the fight is short, following which Duncan attacks Methos, exclaiming that he did not care that it was holy ground. In neither case was there a beheading. (The events of The Source have been acknowledged by the actors and series head writer David Abramowitz as having been nothing more than a bad dream, and are not part of the overall continuity.)
When an Immortal is beheaded, there is a powerful energy release from their body which is called a Quickening. Lead Highlander: The Series actor Adrian Paul explains, "The Quickening is the receiving of all the power and knowledge another immortal has obtained throughout his/her life. It is like the receiving of a sacrament or a massive orgasm. The producers describe it so: "The power of the Quickening is the equivalent to a major electrical storm hitting -- windows explode, lights short circuit, it is almost as if the victorious Immortal is in the center of a lightning storm."
This energy is absorbed by the Immortal who did the beheading. Panzer explains that if "an Immortal is decapitated by something other than the sword of the Immortal he was fighting, (...) what we thought was, as long as an Immortal is present, he gets the Quickening. If an Immortal is beheaded and there is no Immortal nearby to receive the Quickening, for example if the beheader is a mortal, then the Quickening dissipates. Panzer says, "If there is no Immortal present, then the Quickening just goes to the Source. It is not known yet what the Source exactly is.
When a good Immortal beheads an evil one, it rarely happens that the evil Quickening completely overwhelms the personality of the good Immortal, making him evil. This is a Dark Quickening. The contrary can also happen; Darius is the only known example of a Light Quickening.
An Immortal knows when a Quickening happens nearby and he knows which Immortal is dead, as demonstrated by Duncan MacLeod in Highlander: The Series. He falls on his knees when his friend Lucas Desiree is beheaded by Howard Crowley, and he knows it is Lucas who died. However, when Duncan witnesses the quickening when Richie kills Kristov in "Testimony", he first suspected that it was Richie who had been killed.
In Highlander: The Series, the producers had to make the beheadings less violent and acceptable to television standards. Panzer explains, "In the movies, you know, we had a lot more license. But this being television in the early 1990s, we couldn't have a lot of body parts flying around. So, we tried to use something that created the idea that somebody got their head cut off, but that it was more like a jolt of light came out of the head, and the lightning flew around them. This, I suppose, was less violent than the movie version."
Consequently, the Quickening scene in the pilot episode "The Gathering" is described in the script as follows : "We will call this shot for want of a better term, the Quickening Thrust. This will be one of our signature shots of the show. Perhaps it is a slow motion shot. Perhaps there is particular glint to the sword as it slashes towards us on a POV shot, representing the coup de grâce which is about to be delivered. In any event what we will NOT see, is a decapitation. No head leaves the body, indeed no sword strikes the neck. Instead, we cut to: The Quickening is a blinding flash of blue light emanating from what was the bad guy and filling the screen and arcing into anything electrical nearby. Thus, street lamps, car headlights, windows, etc. are blown out.
In Highlander, Ramírez describes the Gathering to Connor MacLeod in this way: "When only a few of us are left, we will feel an irresistible pull towards a far away land, to fight for the Prize." The Gathering is the reunion of the last few Immortals left on Earth who then fight each other until only one is left; this last one wins the Prize. The time of the Gathering is not consistent throughout the movies and series most likely due to the fact that the first Highlander movie was scripted to end the story without sequels in mind. In Highlander, the Gathering happens in 1985, the "far away land" is New York City and Connor wins the Prize. In Highlander: The Series, set in 1992-1998, the Gathering is supposed to happen during the first season for continuity with the first film. In all subsequent Highlander: The Series seasons and Highlander movies and series, the Gathering has not happened yet and the Game continues. In Highlander: Endgame, the Gathering is said to be set in "a very far off time" and it is not mentioned at all in Highlander: The Search for Vengeance.
The very last Immortal still alive at the end of the Gathering wins the Prize. The nature of the Prize is "ultimate power and knowledge", according to the Season 1 promotional booklet of Highlander: The Series.
In Highlander, when Connor MacLeod wins the Prize, he screams out, "I know everything! I am everything!" He later tells Brenda Wyatt, "I can love and have children. Live and grow old." Ramírez tells him, "You are generations being born and dying. You are at one with all living things. Each man's thoughts and dreams are yours to know. You have power beyond imagination."
In which way the last Immortal uses the Prize depends on his personality. David Abramovitz, Creative Consultant on Highlander: The Series, explains: "Because there can be only one, at the end there will be only one. If that one is good, the world will see a golden age. If evil, the world will fall into anarchy. In Highlander II: The Quickening, Connor MacLeod has become mortal after the Gathering and uses his vast knowledge to help mankind to solve its environmental problems. Conversely, in the Highlander: The Series episode "The Gathering", at a time when the Gathering has not happened yet, Connor describes what would happen should an evil Immortal win the Prize : "The last one will have the power of all the Immortals who ever lived. Enough power to rule this planet forever. If someone like Slan Quince (an evil Immortal) is that last one, mankind will suffer an eternity of darkness, from which it will never recover." This makes the Game, as Producer Barry Rosen puts it, an "ultimate battle of good and evil".
Immortals can be "found" in any time era and in any place around the world. They can be of any race, ethnicity, or gender. For example, Xavier St. Cloud is a Moroccan Berber, Carl Robinson is an African American, Luther and Haresh Clay are West Africans, May Ling Shen, Kiem Sun and Jin Ke are Chinese, Kanwulf is a Viking, Axel Whittaker is Swedish, Sean Burns, Annie Devlin and Tommy Sullivan are Irish, Rebecca Horne is an Ancient Egyptian, Karros is a Thracian to mention but a few.
There are comparatively few female Immortals. Abramovitz explains, "You have to be realistic. Women survive in a warrior's game by being different kinds of warriors. (...) You can't expect a woman who is 5'4" and 130 pounds to survive in the same way. (...) So it's hard for me to understand, no matter how good she is with a blade, that a woman could take on a great athlete and survive." In the first three films, all Immortals depicted were male. Female Immortals were introduced in 1992 in the fifth episode of Highlander: The Series, Free Fall With Felice Martins.
Many of them are foundlings, like Duncan MacLeod and Richie Ryan, but it is not known if all of them are. Connor MacLeod, for example, is never said to be one; in Highlander: Endgame, he is seen protecting his aged mother from being burned as a witch. The matter is not settled in the movies or series, but in the Highlander novels it is assumed that all Immortals are foundlings. For example, in White Silence Duncan MacLeod tells Danny O'Donal, "We're all foundlings." Baby Immortals are never shown on screen but there are accounts of them in Highlander: The Series. In Family Tree, Ian MacLeod, Duncan's foster father, tells him, "When the midwife looked into your eyes, for it was you the peasant brought in, she cringed back in fear... and said you were a changeling... left by the forest demons... and we should cast you out for the dogs!" In Avenging Angel, Alfred Cahill says of his stepfather, "He knew I was different the first time he set eyes on me."
Immortals are raised in the societies to which they were born or adopted into and often retain their personality, customs and habits most of their life. Abramovitz explains, "Even if you are an Immortal, who you are as a child in many ways is who you become. Immortals grow up and age exactly like mortals, except that they do not have children. The wounds they get heal normally; Colin MacLeod, for example, carries a permanent diagonal scar on his face as a result of his head having been cleaved in two, causing his First Death. They do not feel the Buzz but they trigger a very faint Buzz in full-grown Immortal. Full-grown Immortals know what pre-Immortals really are when they encounter them."
According to Panzer, Immortals "carry within them the seed of their immortality which is triggered by a violent death." Duncan MacLeod explains this to Felicia Martins in the Highlander: The Series episode "Free Fall"; he says, "It's only when we die that we become Immortal." They come back to life some time later, fully healed. This is called the First Death. Most Immortals feel their resurrection is a miracle. In "Avenging Angel", Duncan MacLeod comments, "That's what we die as other humans."
Mortals usually react violently when they witness a First Death; Connor MacLeod was banished from his clan for witchcraft in 1536 and this had become legendary in Duncan MacLeod's time around 1600, which he recalls (likely referring to Connor), "When I was growing up there was a legend in my clan about a strange man in my grandfather's time. He was killed in battle and then miraculously revived. (...) I thought it was an old wives tale." Newborn Immortals are vulnerable because they do not know about the Game and they can get beheaded before they learn what they are.
The new Immortal usually does not learn about their situation until they meet another Immortal willing to teach them. This Immortal is referred to as the mentor or First Teacher. The First Teacher teaches the new Immortal the Rules of the Game, how to use a sword and the tactics needed to win, as Connor MacLeod did for Duncan MacLeod and Duncan for Richie Ryan. The First Teacher can become an important figure in an Immortal's life, as is Ramírez for Connor. Or it can be that teacher and student eventually have to fight each other, as in the case of Xavier St. Cloud who beheaded his First Teacher, Henri St. Cloud.
After their First Death, Immortals can theoretically live forever, but in practice, it depends on their ability to defend their head against an opponent. Joe Dawson puts it so in his Chronicle about Alfred Cahill: "'Immortality' is a relative thing. A new Immortal has the chance to live for untold millennia - maybe even as long as the mythical Methos - or maybe all he gets is another week." Methos, the oldest living Immortal, is over 5000 years old, while Richie Ryan has been beheaded at the age of 22. They do not age any more and retain forever the appearance they had when they died for the first time. A First Death happening too early in life can be a hindrance at playing the Game; Kenny is an 800-year-old Immortal who died for the first time at the age of twelve and has retained the body of a 12-year-old ever since. Immortals are sterile, and they have perfect dentition. While Immortals have only slightly more than normal human abilities in Highlander movies and series, in Highlander animated movies and series they have superhuman abilities such as fast speed and enormous strength.
After their First Death, Immortals can feel the Buzz. Panzer defines the Buzz as "the concept of Immortals being able to sense each other's presence from a reasonable distance. We called it the Buzz. That word was never used, but that's how it was featured in the scripts." Indeed, the script of Highlander: The Series pilot episode "The Gathering" describes it as, "We hear something we will describe as the Highlander Buzz. Perhaps it is accompanied by a moving camera, an odd angle... something. Whatever it is, [Duncan] MacLeod suddenly senses it, strongly. The Buzz is something felt, not heard." In the above described scene, Duncan says that he feels something, although Tessa does not hear anything. Pre-Immortals do not feel the Buzz, but full-grown Immortals can sense and identify pre-Immortals in this way (though the Buzz is faint and easy to miss). Pre-Immortals start triggering the Buzz in full-grown Immortals when they are dying for the first time; a mortally wounded Alfred Cahill caused Duncan MacLeod a Buzz even before he was actually dead. Immortals who are not yet aware of the meaning of the Buzz often experience it as a headache, like Colin MacLeod, or migraine. Temporarily dead Immortals do not trigger a Buzz.
The Buzz is signaled by a brief sound effect in the movies and series. On Highlander: The Series, Buzz sounds were produced at the Post Modern Sound postproduction facility in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sound Supervisor Tony Gronick explains the Buzz as "a metal grinder that's affected so it jumps from left to right and has reverb on it, and a whoosh-like sound created by former Sound Effects Editor Mike Thomas." Former Sound Supervisor Vince Renaud says further, "The standard Buzz stays pretty much the same, then every once in a while they want something different for a Buzz." Sound effect variations on the Buzz include, according to Gronick, "Just getting a note of choir and then looping it, so it extends. Or we've taken the highs out of it and echoed it. Or one has an autopan on it, so we have it shifting from left to right."
In Highlander: The Series, Immortals have normal susceptibility to the things that are fatal to mortals and they will 'die' from them, only to resurrect shortly thereafter. However, Immortals often shrug off injuries that would likely kill normal human beings (theoretically because their bodies are so accustomed to pain), particularly in the movies (Connor surviving underwater without breathing, the Kurgan shrugging-off multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, Connor walking through fire in Highlander II: The Quickening, Duncan fighting through multiple stab wounds in Highlander: Endgame). Highlander: The Animated Series portrays Immortals as being extremely hardy and impervious to many causes of death (they clearly cannot drown), but can be harmed or killed by sufficient force beside beheadings. Immortals appear to be immune to disease, but they are susceptible to toxins and poisons. For example, Xavier St. Cloud uses poison gas to incapacitate his opponents. Bill Panzer said, "One of an Immortal's greatest fears is to be buried alive and probably unfound for thousands of years and being burned alive."
Every wound an Immortal obtains quickly heals and disappears, except in the neck area, as seen in Immortals The Kurgan and Kalas. The healing is performed by a small Quickening flashing across the wound. An Immortal cannot regenerate or replace a limb or a major portion of the body when it is separated from the body. Panzer states about the Highlander: The Series episode For Tomorrow We Die, in which Xavier St. Cloud's left hand is severed by Duncan MacLeod's blade, "We hold the question of what happens when an Immortal loses a body part other than his head. It does not grow back, does not regenerate." Creative Consultant David Abramowitz explains, "It posed a number of questions for us, as to whether a hand regenerates and we had decided that it didn't, even for Immortals. That they could heal, but they couldn't regenerate. (...) In truth, we, the writers, sat around the room for hours, talking about 'could we do this?', 'could we not do this?', and finally we decided to go for it." However, the separated portions can be reconnected to the body provided that the Immortal has the pieces together and is in the condition to perform the reconnection. In Highlander III: The Sorcerer Immortal Kane reconnects the upper and lower portions of his body after Connor MacLeod cut him in half during their final battle. This may, however, have been Kane demonstrating his powers of illusion, i.e., that he only looked like he'd been cut in half.
Way of LifeEdit
Panzer thinks that for the most part, Immortals are very much like ordinary people, and most of them do the same things as mortals. "Some make a lot of money. Some become terrorists like Annie Devlin, who is an IRA terrorist leader. Some become policemen because they like to fight. Some like Caleb Cole and Carl become recluse who remove themselves from society and live in isolation. Some become great lovers. Some, like Duncan MacLeod, become righters of wrongs. And some like Kuyler, Anthony Gallen and Paul Kinman become the highest paid, most successful assassin/contract killers there's ever been." Panzer and Abramowitz also reckon, "Most of the time, when we think about immortality, we think about the problems of immortality. The loneliness, the idea of losing loved ones over the centuries. The danger of being in conflict with other Immortals, (...) the solitude, the living a dark shadowy life. This show [Highlander: The Series, season 2, "Run For Your Life"] showcases how great it can be to be an immortal, how a man can, in three lifetimes, go from being a slave to being someone with hopes and dreams of becoming a professional baseball player, to finally someone who had hopes and dreams of actually changing the world."
Immortals have much more time than mortals to mature their skills. Kuyler, mentioned above, lived for 354 years and killed 2760 people. Immortals usually try to blend in. Panzer says, "It's pretty much life in a shadowy world, making sure that after twenty years or twenty-five years you leave the place you are, change your identity, because you're not getting older and people are gonna start to notice." Connor MacLeod muses, "Do you think we ever lived like this, like a tribe, together with a common language, a reason and a name for each living thing? Did we once belong somewhere, a time, a place, however briefly?" When Richie Ryan died in a public accident in Paris where he was a motorcyclist, Duncan tells him that he will have to return to Europe in a generation
In the same way, relationships between Immortals are like those of mortals. Panzer explains, "They have Immortal friends that they like, they have Immortals that they don't like, except from time to time they fight. And from time to time Immortals run into each other, after twenty years, fifty years or hundred years. Immortals can be friends, enemies, lovers, teachers, students or they can avoid their kind. The only difference is that they are supposed to play the Game, and trusting another Immortal can result in a severed head." "If it came down to us two, would you take my head?" asks Connor MacLeod to Ramirez, his mentor.
Immortals rarely tell mortals about their immortality and even more rarely about the Game. Relationships between Immortals and mortals are difficult because while mortals grow old and die, Immortals remain the same and cannot have children. Mortals still chose sometimes to live with Immortals. Panzer recalls about the Highlander: The Series episode The Sea Witch, One of the issues of immortality that is intriguing is why does somebody chose to spend their mortal life with someone who won't grow old, and with whom they can't have children. In this episode Tessa Noël, Duncan MacLeod's lover, gets to know a little girl and becomes very fond of her. She says, For a while there, just for a few hours... I felt like she was mine. I liked how it felt. But she's not... I have my own life and it's more than enough." Panzer comments, "It brings home in a very powerful way what exactly she's giving up to be with MacLeod. Immortals often come to despise mortals for their fragility." Abramovitz comments, "It's very easy for an Immortal to become cynical."