WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, streaming now on Netflix.
The antagonists of Jim Henson's 1982 fantasy adventure The Dark Crystal and its new prequel, Netflix's The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the Skeksis a nightmarish cross between talking vultures and rats. Obsessed with immortality, even as their bodies seem to decay -- pustules ooze, digits snap off -- the Lords of the Crystal rule Thra through a blend of lies, tradition, bribes and intimidation. Although they're certainly not above torture, murder or all-out combat, they're not so much a physical threat as perhaps a psychological one. That is, except for the Hunter, who terrifies even the other Skeksis.
Introduced in the fourth episode, skekMal is brought into play by the scheming Chamberlain (voiced by Simon Pegg) in a desperate bid to regain the favor of the Emperor (Jason Isaacs). After the Scientist (Mark Hamill) discovers the liquid "essence" that remains after draining the life from a Gelfling can rejuvenate the Skeksis, he locks away a vial in his lab. The Chamberlain steals the vial, only to be confronted by the Scientist; during their confrontation, it's taken by Gelfling castle guard Rian (Taron Egerton), as it's all that remains of his girlfriend Mira. He then escapes the Crystal Castle, posing a serious threat to the Skeksis and their grip on Thra.
Humiliated when his plan to blame the loss of the vial on the Scientist backfires, the Chamberlain sounds a horn that hasn't blown in ages, shaking the Skeksis to their core. They realize immediately what the Chamberlain has done, and hope he'll be skinned alive for his trouble. After such a build-up, viewers expect a formidable and terrifying figure -- and the Hunter doesn't disappoint.
Although the Skeksis are certainly fond of the finery, with billowing robes, and metal pieces adoring their beaks (possibly to cover body parts that have sloughed off), the Hunter (Ralph Ineson) wears the skull of a large-toothed beast as a mask. Too wild to remain in the castle, he's interested only in the hunt, and acquiring trophies -- the skulls of his prey, which dangle from his body. Mother Aughra, the living embodiment of Thra, later describes the Hunter as "the most beautiful of you shriveled lot," which may be up for debate.
Convinced by the Chamberlain that this Gelfling is worthy prey, skekMal heads off on his hunt. In further contrast to the other Skeksis, the Hunter is agile; he scampers up the trunks of trees and darts between branches in pursuit of Rian and his father Ordon (Mark Strong), captain of the castle guard. Quick and brutal, the fight ends when the Hunter and Ordon fall into a patch of Gobbles, essentially living quicksand, with dozens of little tube-like creatures, each with snapping jaws. But just as swiftly as skekMal disappears beneath the ground, he leaps back out, and runs off with Rian in the blink of an eye.
The Hunter intends to behead Rian (he did catch him, after all), as he believes he consumes the strength of his prey, which may explain why he's in better shape than the other Skeksis. However, the Chamberlain once more gets his way, and heads off to the castle with Rian as his prisoner. But Rian, with the help of his friends, escapes the carriage, which means viewers haven't seen the last of the Hunter -- not by a long shot.
Seemingly unstoppable, the Hunter is like a relentless killer from a horror movie. He's only interested in one thing, bringing down his prey. To that end, he pursues Rian and his allies to the heart of the Crystal Desert. "I've come for my trophy!" he shouts over the screams of Gelfling. "Did you think I would not find you? There's no place in Thra that you can hide from me!" And the audience believes it.
It's only the sudden arrival of the Mystic's Archer, skekMal's counterpart, with whom he shares an otherworldly connection, that keeps him from his prey. He flees, but with Gelfling Princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) as his captive. Gravely wounded by the Archer's arrows, the Hunter arrives at the Crystal Castle, on the verge of death. But, like any good horror-movie antagonist, not even that can stop skekMal.
He's rejuvenated in a scheme involving Aughra's essence, becoming a sort of Frankenstein's monster, focused only on completing his task of killing Rian. "I have conquered death!" he snarls to the Gelfling forces as grips Rian. "I return more powerful than ever! More powerful than Thra itself! Nothing can stop the hunt!"
Just like in Greek mythology, in which such hubris would be met by the wrath of gods, the Hunter's boasts are cut short by the sacrifice (read: suicide), some miles away, by the Archer. Just as the Mystic experienced the Hunter's wounds through their bond, skekMal dies when the Archer does. Presumably for good, this time.
Streaming now on Netflix, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is directed by Louis Leterrier, and features the voice talents of Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel , Caitriona Balfe, Helena Bonham Carter, Harris Dickinson, Natalie Dormer, Eddie Izzard, Theo James, Toby Jones, Shazad Latif, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mark Strong, Alicia Vikander, Harvey Fierstein, Mark Hamill, Ralph Ineson, Jason Isaacs, Keegan-Michael Key, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Simon Pegg, Andy Samberg and Donna Kimball.