Nimona constantly proves herself to be a nuanced character with complex motivations, which sets her apart from many two-dimensional, underdeveloped female characters of today’s media. She’s a villain with a heroic narrative arch, in which she sparks a change in the characters and the society she interacts with.
Nimona is not bound by moral codes when it comes to villainy; she operates outside the “rules” of classical tales of heroism and villainy: no killing, showmanship, monologuing, banter, etc. She’s bloodthirsty and has little to no moral code. In a scene in chapter 3, she shapeshifts into a child to catch a castle guard off guard, steals his knife, and kills him with it. She takes advantage of her enemies’ moral convictions.
Nimona could be categorized as an example of the “weaponized woman” trope: typically a female character who’s been modified by an outside source to be incredibly powerful, and is used as a tool by a person in power. Her seemingly unlimited shapeshifting power is unprecedented in their world, a place where magic is just a myth and science rules all. However, whether Nimona chose to become powerful on her own is not confirmed in the story, but it’s clear that she became Blackheart’s sidekick by her own volition. She defies this trope by being in control of her own path rather than letting the powers that be control her; she hates being thought of as a weapon. Blackheart considers her a friend and a partner, while the Institution considers her a tool. And despite the Institution’s dehumanization of her, she is portrayed as a sympathetic and relatable character.
She is shown to be an ambiguous and complex character, particularly when she lies to Blackheart about her backstory; her reasoning is never confirmed, but speculation could lead one down many paths. When we find out her true backstory, the differences reveal how guarded she is as a person. The lie she tells Blackheart claims that a witch turned her into a dragon so that she could save her family from raiders, but by the time she is able to return to her true form, she finds her village destroyed and her parents dead. Her actual backstory implies that she killed people in defense of her family, and was subsequently taken from her parents, imprisoned, and experimented upon. This one puts her in a more realistic light; in a way, society dehumanizing her is what humanizes her to the reader. She wanted to save those she loved, but using her powers to do so made people think she was a monster. Growing up as an outcast with too much power to be trusted by normal people, she turned to villainy. Her morality parallels Blackheart’s, both people who started with good intentions, but were forced to be evil by the societies they lived in. Blackheart retained his moral convictions, while Nimona rid herself of hers as a form of protection.
All of this leads up to Nimona being incredibly loyal despite her unethical practices. Her loyalty to Ballister Blackheart parallels the bond between a parent and child, and the Institution uses this to their advantage.
They use Blackheart as unwitting bait and capture Nimona when she comes to rescue him. The Institution sees her as a power to be tapped into through experimentation, and manages to contain her in a way her powers can’t break through. Even with her incredible strength and science defying abilities, she is helpless to escape on her own. However, even when placed in a “damsel in distress” situation, she’s still a force to be reckoned with; the cells the institution had extracted to run tests on become their own mindless entity and terrorize the town in the form of a monster while her main body is held captive. She may be loyal, but she’s not naive. She knows when she’s being taken advantage of, and she refuses to allow herself to be in that situation. She does not allow herself to be manipulated, and that is what separates her from other “weaponized women” characters.
Nimona’s story isn’t about her single-handedly saving the day, but about the changes she sparks by being present in the lives of those she interacts with and the society she lives in. She’s not necessarily the hero, but she’s a catalyst for revolution. Her villainous side together with Blackheart’s moral convictions is what allows them to do what is necessary to change the problems in their society. It seems that sometimes it takes a villain to be a hero.