"City of the Dead"
by Michelle Erica Green

Walk Like an Egyptian

"City of the Dead" Plot Summary:

"Egypt is dead," announces the daughter of Queen Nefertiti to the assembled court. Once the great empire was vast, but now the Egyptians cower behind their borders. "We have become weak and small," accuses Princess Mensu. Now that Greece has been weakened by Dahok, she believes they should strike, but Nefertiti is horrified by this suggestion. Professing that war brought Egypt only death, the queen says that she has invited Greece's favorite son to discuss peace. Prince Ramses suggests a feast in the hero's honor.

Hercules works on a ship sailing to Egypt while Iolaus enlightens him about the myth of Osiris and various other Egyptian trivia, especially the food. The pair arrive at the palace and are surprised to find no one to greet them - not even guards. Hearing a scream, they discover a group of apparent assassins in the Queen's bedchamber. But the men have already gotten what they came for: an impression of the royal seal in clay. Iolaus jumps out the window to foil a half-hearted attempt on the life of Nefertiti. The two Greeks are celebrated at the feast, where Iolaus eats two of everything in sight while Hercules argues with Mensu about whether or not peace is the last defense of the weak.

Later, Iolaus has indigestion while Hercules tries to figure out who would have tried to kill the Queen. They find a secret passage, leading the hero to guess that it was an inside job...and that it wasn't really the Queen's death the men were after, since they had plenty of time to kill her quickly. He and Iolaus overhear Mensu leading a secret meeting where she insists that Egypt must rebuild its armies, even if it means going against the will of its ruler. When Hercules scolds her, she says that if he sticks his nose in, he's liable to get his head cut off.

Iolaus chats with Nefertiti, who is impressed with his knowledge of Egypt. He identifies the Great Pyramid as the location of the Necronomicon, the book of the dead, but the queen says she had the Priesthood of Osiris move it to a new hiding place to protect it from tomb raiders. Nefertiti also explains that the fourth pyramid was never finished because her husband died before it could be completed. She has neglected the structure - and her own children - in trying to ensure Egypt's prosperity. Ramses has forgiven her, but Mensu has not.

Inside, however, Ramses is meeting with a metalsmith who has made a copy of the seal from the clay model. He picks it up before it cools and it scars his hand in the shape of the seal. His sister arrives to tell Ramses that the court supports their takeover bid, but what about Hercules? Her brother replies that the next day, the Queen will be Queen no longer, and Hercules will be dead.

Seeing Ramses' injured hand, the hero in question inquires about the wound and looks suspicious when told there was an accident, even though Iolaus seems sure Mensu is the villain and Ramses the protector of their mother's legacy. Ramses stands before the court to accuse Nefertiti of selling out her kingdom, claiming to have intercepted a message ceding half of Egypt to Greece. When Hercules demands to see the document, he proclaims the seal a forgery, and asks again to see Ramses' wound. The prince is forced to show the scar in the shape of his mother's seal, and his mother orders him taken to prison, saying, "I am so sorry, my son."

At night by the water, Nefertiti thanks Hercules for saving her once again, but blames herself for neglecting her duty as a mother in fulfilling her duty to the kingdom. Hercules says that it's not too late to reach out, but the queen knows her son must be executed in the morning. She cannot change the law for her own personal gain, and again must choose nation over family. Nefertiti also knows that Mensu was in on the plot to discredit her. But, when her daughter comes to her feigning ignorance, she gives Mensu the key to free Ramses, asking her to see him safely out of Egypt.

But Ramses won't leave. He doesn't care if his mother tried to spare his life: "Too little, too late." When Hercules and Iolaus find Mensu lingering in the prison, she reluctantly tells them that her brother intends to restore their father's kingdom. As Hercules realizes Ramses must be going after the Necronomicon, the prince sneaks into the Temple of Osiris, killing the priest who guards the map to the secret book. Hercules and Iolaus arrive and learn from Mensu that this was the same priest who raised the children while their mother ruled Egypt.

Ramses sneaks into a secret passage beneath the Sphinx, using a secret code to unlock a hidden doorway. Inside he finds the Necronomicon and begins to read aloud. The scar on his hand heals itself. While Mensu returns to the palace to make peace with her mother, Hercules and Iolaus find the hidden door and nearly die from a booby trap before the son of Zeus breaks in with his super-strength. "You're just in time to witness my ascension," taunts Ramses, bringing to life a pair of Anubis-headed statues that fight the heroes. Though the good guys win the battle and escape, Ramses has already gone to Mensu, promising that they will be gods and will rule Egypt together if she will help him.

While Ramses chants incantations on top of the unfinished pyramid, Nefertiti tells Hercules the truth. Her husband became obsessed with the book of the dead, and she killed him by taking it from him after he had summoned its power. She asks them to do whatever it takes to protect Egypt, even if it means letting Ramses die the same way. Hercules goes to the pyramid, telling Ramses he gives egomaniacs a bad name. They struggle for the book, which ends up in the hands of Mensu. Hercules tells her that the book killed her father, but Ramses interrupts, saying no - it was their father. Mensu throws the book in the air. Hercules catches it and hurls it into the night sky, where the book vanishes.

Ramses rushes back to the top of the pyramid, where primordial forces swirl. Without the book, the power strikes him down. Telling Iolaus to rescue the princess, Hercules follows the prince but cannot save him as the pyramid explodes. Returning to Nefertiti, he apologizes for being unable to save her son, but she says he destroyed himself. At least she and Mensu are together and can learn to be a family. Iolaus too feels better, and has gotten himself and Hercules pyramid-shaped hats for the return journey.


If one ignores Egyptian history, chronology, and tradition, this was a terrific episode, even if there were no mummies as the teaser promised with Iolaus describing how to remove a dead man's brains. The first half of "City of the Dead" consisted mainly of lush costume drama and palace political intrigue, while the second half offered Mummy-like artifacts and a cool supernatural crisis. Never mind that the Necronomicon gained fame in the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft, not ancient Egypt. It always makes for a good story when someone uses a mythological book to summon deadly primordial forces, so who cares if the queen shared a name with a Biblical figure from centuries earlier?

The suggestion of incestuous desire between Ramses and Mensu added a nice titillating touch, considering that in ancient Egypt, royal siblings could and did marry. Hercules had the best line, "We spent all our Frequent Sailor miles to get here," though the script promptly killed the laugh when he announced that he always wanted an excuse to say that. Ramses calling his bid for power an Ascension is good for a laugh from Buffy fans as well.

I was sorry the script didn't capitalize on the sexual tension between Hercules and the Queen, who didn't look much older than her daughter and had considerably more charisma. All the time spent on Iolaus and food jokes could have made for a more engaging personal story. Names out of The Ten Commandments aside, it would have been nice to get some direct references to the era of prosperity Nefertiti ushered in without dependence on slaves or conquering armies. But this isn't history, it's The Legendary Journeys...and that's fine!

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