Warrior Nuns Through TV History

The superpowered lead in Netflix’s new comic book fantasy Warrior Nun is all well and good, but how does she measure up to these fictional TV sisters of the highest order?

Good Omens The Last Kingdom Hunters Nuns

TV nunning is a broad church. Sometimes, it’s all gunfire, demon-dissolving punches and running through walls, as in Netflix’s latest comic book adaptation Warrior Nun. In that show, a mystical artifact gives a non-believing teen superpowers passed down the generations from holy sister to holy sister. Defeat the demons, protect the world, praise the Lord, and so on.

Other fictional TV nuns lead quieter, more cake-focused lives, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also fighters. You might say that like superheroes, not all warrior nuns wear capes. You’d be wrong – nuns definitely wear capes. They’re called mantles and though roomy and practical, likely represent a significant time commitment with regard to ironing.

Warrior Nun‘s superpowered teen follows in the echoey footsteps of a whole conventful of fictional TV nuns remembered here – some good, some bad, some inordinately fond of biscuits, but all, in their own way, warriors.

Sister Mary Loquacious in Good Omens (2019)

Nina Sosanya in Good Omens

Played by: Nina Sosanya

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Allegiance: Satanic nuns of the Chattering Order of St Beryl

Warrior level: Novice

Weapon of choice: Infantilising baby talk of hoofikins and widdle demonic tails

Specialism: Biscuits with pink icing

Most likely to say: ‘Fancy me holding the Antichrist! Counting his little toesy-woesies!’

Getting into heaven? Absolutely not

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Demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale may have been Good Omens’ major players, but Sister Mary Loquacious kicked off the whole mess by accidentally confusing the infant Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Prince of this World and Lord of Darkness with the human child of a couple from the Oxfordshire village of Tadfield. Easily done.

Sister Agatha in Dracula (2020)

Dolly Wells in Dracula

Played by: Dolly Wells

Allegiance: The Army of the Faithful, St Mary’s Convent of Budapest

Warrior level: Intellectually? Top Tier. She’s Dracula’s ‘every nightmare at once: an educated woman in a crucifix’

Weapon of choice: Wooden stakes and double-barrel wit

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Specialism: Scientific rigour and one-liners

Most likely to say: ‘A house of God is it? Well that’s good, we could do with a man about the place, eh sister?’

Getting into heaven? Ja, if she cared to grace it with her presence.

Unfazed, brave, funny and intellectually curious, Dutch-born Agatha put both her faith and folklore to the test when she took on Count Dracula, meticulously gathering research on his powers and learning the rules of the beast to try to use them against him. A true scientist and quite a woman.

Sister Michael in Derry Girls (2018)

Sister Michael in Derry Girls

Played by: Siobhan McSweeney

Allegiance: Our Lady Immaculate College/Rawhide

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Warrior level: Untested in battle but doubtless lethal

Weapon of choice: Apathy, withering sarcasm and eye-rolls

Specialism: Judo (on Fridays)

Most likely to say: ‘Sweet suffering Jehovah’

Getting into heaven? I wouldn’t be the one to stop her.

You won’t find an ounce of sentiment beneath this wimple, Sister Michael’s dry disdain for the pupils at Our Lady Immaculate is expressed only through cutting remarks and declarations of boredom. Not a fan of priests, the French, love songs or… most things, she’s an authority figure for the Derry Girls. Every so often though, like when she turned a blind eye to Erin and co. distributing their banned lesbianism-focused edition of the school magazine, she’ll surprise you.

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Sister Jane Ingalls in Orange is the New Black (2013)

Beth Fowler in OITNB

Played by: Beth Fowler

Allegiance: Catholicism

Warrior level: Basically nil as she’s a committed pacifist, though she does punch Gloria in the mouth at one point for PR

Weapon of choice: Civil disobedience and the Good Book

Specialism: Activism

Most likely to say: ‘I was afraid nunning was going to be boring!’

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Getting into heaven? Sure

As a young novice in the 1960s, Ingalls fell in with the bad nuns and got a taste for non-violent activism. A bunch of protests and a memoir later (full points for the title: Nun Shall Pass), and the church didn’t want anything to do with her, neglecting to cover her legal fees after she handcuffed herself to a nuclear facility, landing her in Litchfield.

Sister Harriet in Hunters (2019)

Kate Mulvany in Hunters

Played by: Kate Mulvany

Allegiance: Anti-Nazi, Pro-Quip

Warrior level: Top level. A highly capable operative.

Weapon of choice: Gun, blowtorch, you name it

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Specialism: Threats of extreme violence delivered in the voice of a Downton Abbey marchioness.

Most likely to say: ‘I will set you aflame, child’

Getting into heaven? There’s some intrigue as to her real deal but she certainly seems to be on the right side of history.

This MI6 agent/Nazi-hunting nun from Amazon Prime’s Hunters is something of a Scary Poppins. She does an excellent line in death threats and action-movie quips. She’s deadly, has a shady backstory, speaks in a cut-glass English accent and is fond of biscuits. In other words: our kind of nun.

Matron Casp in Doctor Who ‘New Earth’ (2006)

Sisters of Plenitude Doctor Who New Earth

Played by: Doña Croll

Allegiance: Sisters of Plenitude

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Warrior level: Merciless eugenicist

Weapon of choice: Cat claws and science

Specialism: Incinerating conscious and begging-for-help human cloning experiments without a spark of fellow-feeling.

Most likely to say: ‘Who needs arms when we have claws’

Getting into heaven? Nah. Space prison more like.

The Sisters of Plenitude, healers on New Earth, may have called their work ‘the tender application of science’ but ‘the incredibly painful application of bastard cruelty’ better sums up their human cloning farm. This order takes a lifelong vow to help and mend, but clearly not to do no harm. And their hospital doesn’t even have a shop.

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Abbess Hild in The Last Kingdom (2015-)

Eva Birthistle as Hild in The Last Kingdom

Played by: Eva Birthistle

Allegiance: Uhtred of Bebbanburg/the Lord

Warrior level: Advanced (but retired)

Weapon of choice: Dagger

Specialism: Throwing buckets of cold water on a sleeping Uhtred and sawing through the necks of dead Danes

Most likely to say: ‘I have killed, and I will kill again I’m sure, but hopefully not today’

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Getting into heaven? Big yes.

Hild’s journey in The Last Kingdom took her from nun to warrior and back again. Rescued from attack by Uhtred, Leofric and Yseult, she swore to become a fighter and more-than earned the title. Eventually, her vocation called her back to the church, where she now remains as the Abbess with whom you don’t mess.

Sister Jude in American Horror Story: Asylum

Jessica Lange in AHS Asylum

Played by: Jessica Lange

Allegiance: Catholicism and the teachings of Monseigneur Timothy Howard

Warrior level: Complicated

Weapon of choice: Forced commitment to an insane asylum,

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Specialism: Guilt

Most likely to say: ‘All monsters are human’

Getting into heaven? Bad things happened under her watch but she does try to atone

The head of Briarcliff, an institution for the criminally insane, Sister Jude is a complex character with a complicated trajectory. She mistreats, but is also also gravely mistreated.

Sister Monica Joan in Call the Midwife (2012-)

Sister Monica Joan watching Doctor Who in Call The Midwife

Played by: Judy Parfitt

Allegiance: Raymond Nonnatus, patron saint of childbirth

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Warrior level: Yoda

Weapon of choice: Forceps and fey literary quotation

Specialism: Sniffing out and emptying hidden cake tins

Most likely to say: ‘My first responsibility is to ensure the consumption of this cake’

Getting into heaven? Hundo P

AKA the best Call The Midwife nun, and an OG resident of Nonnatus House ever since the BBC One series began. Owing to her advanced years and developing dementia, Sister Monica Joan is now retired from midwifery, but in her prime there wasn’t a birth canal in Poplar that hadn’t welcomed her up to the elbow. She’s highly educated and extremely well-read with an instinctive love of beauty, poetry, cake and Doctor Who, which makes her the patron saint of all our hearts.

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Sister Sybil in Camelot (2011)

Eva Green in Camelot

Played by: Sinéad Cusack

Allegiance: Shady but ultimately loyal to Morgan

Warrior level: Witch

Weapon of choice: Dark magicks

Specialism: Child sacrifice?

Getting into heaven? Nah.

When Uther Pendragon banished his daughter Morgan in Chris Chibnall’s 2011 Camelot, she was raised in a nunnery by a sister who was no stranger to the dark arts. When Morgan (played by Eva Green) returned to claim her birthright, Sister Sybil was the one whispering poison in her ear and teaching her how to channel her powers.

Sister Bertrille in The Flying Nun (1967)

Sally Field in The Flying Nun

Played by: Sally Field

Allegiance: El Convento San Tanco in San Juan

Warrior level: Negligible

Weapon of choice: Not so much a weapon, but her flight-enabling cornette was the big thing.

Specialism: As the title suggests, flight

Most likely to say: ‘When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly.’

Getting into heaven? Si señor.

A creation of Tere Ríos’ book The Fifteenth Pelican, Sister Bertrille was the fresh-faced nun-next-door whose cornette combined with the Puerto Rico coastal winds allowed her to fly in the 1960s TV series. According to Sally Field’s excellent memoir In Pieces, the whole experience was more drag than take-off.

Miss Clavel in Madeline (1988-2001)

Miss Clavel Madeline cartoon

Voiced by: Judith Orban & various

Allegiance: An old house in Paris/the Catholic church

Warrior level: more sentry than prize fighter

Weapon of choice: Education! (Read: day trips to the circus)

Specialism: Waking up in the middle of the night with a nagging sense that something’s off kilter with her young schoolgirl charges, then singing a song about it.

Most likely to say: ‘Vite, vite mes petits’

Getting into heaven? Mais oui

The headteacher at Madeline’s Parisian boarding school in the Ludwig Bemelmans’ books and their various TV and film adaptations, Miss Clavel is a kindly sort. She gives her young boarding school pupils warm moral instruction and generally manages to extract Madeline from the mouth of whatever tiger she’s crawled inside that week. Not ferocious, as warriors go, but kind and dependable.

Septa Unella in Game of Thrones (2015)

Septa Unella and Cersei's walk of shame

Played by: Hannah Waddingham

Allegiance: The Faith of the Seven

Warrior level: High Bastard

Weapon of choice: Wooden spoon and ignominy

Specialism: Torture and bell-ringing.  

Most likely to say: ‘Confess!’  

Getting into heaven? Not in one piece she won’t after what Cersei did to her

The Geneva Convention didn’t reach the Seven Kingdoms. If it had, then the supposedly holy Septa Unella wouldn’t have beaten Cersei Lannister with a water ladle and made her drink from the floor like a dog before parading her naked to jeering crowds around the city. Not a nun to mess with, unless you’re a Lannister.

Also-Nuns

  • Sister Boniface in Father Brown (2013)
  • Mother Superior in Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005)
  • Kassia the Byzantine nun in Vikings (2019)

Warrior Nun is available to stream now on Netflix.