I've only seen a few episodes (and half a film) of Highlander, and I never really understood the Quickening:

The Quickening is the receiving of all the power and knowledge another Immortal has obtained throughout his/her life.

If that were true, there would be enormous differences in power between two Immortals (an old Immortal being a thousand time more powerful than a new one for instance).

But it seems to me that all of them are very close in power. How is that possible?

  • Presumably through the process of selection after hundreds of years of dueling, wouldn't the weaker immortals have been beheaded until c. 1986 the remaining immortals are at relative parity?
    – RobertF
    Nov 21, 2017 at 22:08
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    @RobertF: You'd expect the weaker highlanders to be weeded out; but you also have to consider the fact that not every living highlander has killed the same amount of (statistically weak) highlanders. Having killed significantly more highlanders than your opponent should mean that you're massively more powerful, yet we never see these "unfair" battles. That's the gist of OP's question.
    – Flater
    Nov 22, 2017 at 14:10
  • @Flater Good point - you could speculate that the strong vs. weak matchups (or encounters where one immortal uses ambushes or low tricks to incapacitate his foe) wouldn't make for interesting drama and the viewers only see the handful of evenly matched duels. I suppose if a single immortal, like the Kurgan, did end up significantly more powerful than the rest & cleaned up at The Gathering, there'd be no point in seeing the film at all - it'd be 2 hours of one immortal after another getting decapitated w/out much fight. :-)
    – RobertF
    Nov 22, 2017 at 17:49
  • @RobertF: Your point makes sense, and I agree to some extent. But rooting for the underdog is also good drama, and arguably more common than fair fights.
    – Flater
    Nov 23, 2017 at 8:29

3 Answers 3


Immortals aren't Jedi, so all this "power" talk is not very precise.

They are still humans, with human bodies and associated limitations on muscle power, reaction speed etc..., so they can't increase "power" per se other than via combat training.

The only real non-human "power" of an Immortal may be the power of healing/regeneration (aside from "Buzz") in movie/TV canon. Presumably that healing power can grow with each Quickening, but I'm not aware of canon support for such a guess.

What does grow is combat experience/skill/fighting knowledge/etc... - the quickening evidently has a mental/emotional component, as evidenced by "Dark Quickening" examples.

Caveat: in the rare cases when an Immortal does posess super-human powers (e.g. Nagano sorcerer's illusions from HL3), those powers can be absorbed through quickening. But that is rare - the only other Immortal in movies/TV with superhuman powers is Guardian of the Source with super-human speed, and we don't know if that was Quickening-transferable.

  • So hunting other Immortals is almost useless?
    – user8252
    Oct 17, 2012 at 10:47
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    @ALS - very useful if you don't want them to get The Prize Oct 17, 2012 at 13:27
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    How can they be humans if they come from the planet Zeist?
    – Mr Lister
    Oct 17, 2012 at 13:45
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    @MrLister I don't know what you mean. On a completely unrelated point, Isn't it odd that they skipped straight from Highlander to Highlander III?
    – Bevan
    Oct 17, 2012 at 18:01

Immortals remain close in power because all Immortals are in an arms-race and each is growing in power. There is also an element of chance in their combat that ensures that younger Immortals sometimes upstage their elders and take their heads against the odds - which upsets the balance of power.

For example, we see many beheadings by Duncan MacLeod, and a few by Methos and Amanda, but this is only because of the focus of the series. It is clear that many Immortals (Kalas, Damen Ross, Slan Quince, etc.) are actively pursuing as many heads as possible, so they are matches for MacLeod when they meet. An Immortal who takes time off from the game can quickly get back into form by taking a head - for example, Methos uses MacLeod to stalk and hunt Kristin, and when MacLeod declines to take her head, Methos kills her.

By doing so, he takes all the power she has absorbed by killing other Immortals (Methos notes her body count is quite high) and instantly comes on par with Immortals who have been actively playing the Game for the last two centuries. (Methos pretends to have an elusive nature, but in reality, he could likely defeat MacLeod. Kalas defeated MacLeod, and Methos fought Kalas to a draw even after a 200-year hiatus from active combat. MacLeod only defeated Kalas because his sword had superior metallurgy and shattered Kalas's sword, which might have been damaged from his recent combat with Methos, who also used a heavy Viking-style blade. If Kalas's blade remained intact, he'd likely have taken MacLeod's head.)

Also, accidents happen. Mako, for example, could easily defeat Ritchie Ryan. However, a chance stumble left him vulnerable, so Ritchie took his head. This gave Ritchie the power of an 800-year-old Immortal, which is why Ritchie successfully defeated many older Immortals who underestimated him. It was Mako's power and skill that allowed Ritchie to triumph.

The nature of "power" in the Highlander universe appears to be the knowledge of each Immortal, and a subconscious ability to influence mortals around them. This accounts for the extreme sexual attractiveness of Immortals, their apparent ease at hiding themselves among mortals, etc. AnImmortal with the combined power of all Immortals has total psychological control over the entire mortal world, and the knowledge to rule effectively. How they use that power depends on their morals and personality - an evil Immortal would be an anti-Christ like tyrant, while a good Immortal would take humanity to the stars. An immortal becomes a better fighter by learning the moves known by his defeated opponent, but after several Quickenings, an Immortal likely knows all there is to know about sword-fighting. (And this knowledge still needs to be practiced, just like knowing how to play a guitar.)

The knowledge of languages, science, architecture, psychology, etc. that they absorb doesn't make them better fighters - but it makes them better Immortals, able to amass fortunes and slip through the world unnoticed. Had Kalas defeated Methos, for example, he likely would've become a marginally better sword-fighter - but his real advantage over MacLeod would have been a new brilliance in manipulation, strategy, and ability to anticipate outcomes that would have been far beyond MacLeod's.

  • 1
    This is rambling in nature and I'm not sure how it answers the question. Please edit this answer to be more clear.
    – amflare
    Nov 21, 2017 at 20:59
  • Uhm...wot? Not sure what the point here is?
    – JohnP
    Nov 21, 2017 at 21:09
  • Um...do you need bullets or a numbered list for an answer to not be "rambling?" I stated that all immortals are receiving Quickenings so they remain on par with each other, that chance occurrences sometimes promote less experienced immortals to a level on par with their elders, and that the nature of the Quickening has to do with a lot more than fighting. And I used examples for the series to show it. Feel free to contribute your own less "rambling" take.
    – Oxnardt
    Nov 21, 2017 at 21:20

The thing is they are most often relatively near in power (at least portrayed that way), but often there are counterexamples where they are quite far away from each other.

  • Film 4 Endgame: There were statistics by the watchers how many Quickenings everyone had. They even said, that both McCllouds by themselves had no chance as the other guy had double their quickenings.
  • The Series: McLeod battled a very old Immortal just before going to Paris. It was said that he had almost no chance due to the other one being extremely powerful and old. And even if he had, the chance was there that he would become evil (as the other was such a strong evil Immortal).

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