Goblins, Dwarves, Sidhe, and Manticores…Oh My!

My apologies that I forgot to post this last week.

Merlin-Season 3

We come back to Camelot a year after the ending of season two with the two-parter Tears of Uther Pendragon; Morgana has been missing a year. Uther refuses to give up on finding her. She wanders into a camp that Arthur and Merlin are investigating. And for a moment everything seems well. She’s happy to be home in Camelot, telling Uther she’s seen the evil he’s fighting and promises to be a better ward. She puts Merlin’s mind at ease over his worry that she’ll remember him poisoning her. Morgana forgives him; he was just trying to protect his friends. Then, the smirking starts. She rides out to meet Morgause, calling her “my sister.” Morgause has a spell that requires the tears of Uther, which Morgana has collected. They’re put into a cauldron along with a mandrake root, it emits a magical cry. Morgana is to tie the dripping root under Uther’s bed every night. It will twist his unconscious fear and make him lose his mind. Back in Camelot, the root takes effect; Uther starts seeing those who died at his hand, ghosts of the past haunting him.

Merlin stumbles upon the root, hiding under Uther’s bed and witnesses Morgana change it. He follows her and discovers her meeting Morgause. He’s subsequently captured, tied up, and left to die. Those creepy scorpions are back and sting Merlin. He cannot break the chains, even with magic. He calls Kilgarah and the dragon saves him. The dragon counsels the young warlock; the boys did what he thought was right, which takes courage. But his seeing goodness in people could be his undoing. Morgana is the darkness to Merlin’s light, the hatred to his love. Back in Camelot, Cenred’s army marches on the citadel (I equate it to Helm’s Deep). Morgause and Morgana are aligned with Cenred, Morgana their traitor on the inside. Merlin and Gwen show their support for Arthur, who has to take control while his father is incapacitated. Merlin tells his friend “it is your fate t be the greatest king Camelot has ever known…victory today will be remembered for every age until the end of time.” Gaius follows Morgana when she sneaks away and discovers that the young woman has raised an undead army. Merlin rushes down to stop her. Morgana makes the same mistake as Morgause and underestimates Merlin, not knowing he has magic. He triumphs and the skeletons collapse. Cenred leaves when that force fails.

Goblin’s Gold is a lighter story, after the dramatic start to the season. Merlin accidentally releases a goblin into the castle. When he tries to capture the devil, it flies into Gaius and overtakes him. He then plays tricks on the castle, at one point hilariously giving Arthur the ears and bray of a donkey. The goblin, as Gaius, frames Merlin for magic and he’s arrested. The young man escapes and takes refuge at Gwen’s home. They come up with the plan to temporarily kill Gaius to force the goblin out. Things get hairy when they have to scramble for the antidote, but everything is put to right. Arthur believed Merlin about the goblin and even laid a trap for Gaius; he knew that Gaius would never condone Merlin executed. It shows that he views his servant truly as a friend.

Gwaine is introduced in the episode named after him. He ends up helping Merlin and Arthur during a bar fight; he’s injured in the process, so they take him with back to Camelot for Gaius to heal. Merlin instantly befriends the young man. A melee is to take place in Camelot and two of the thugs from the tavern intend to kill Arthur for standing up to them, using magic blades that appear blunt but really aren’t, and crystals to disguise themselves as knights. As knights, they harass Merlin. He stumbles upon the truth and intends to get proof for Arthur. Gwaine helps and takes the blame. But Uther is firm in his knight’s code; a peasant cannot accuse a knight. Gwaine is banished from Camelot. Arthur tries to argue for his new friend, but Gwaine distrusts nobles (even though his father was one) and willingly leaves. During the melee, Merlin has no choice but to secretly use magic to protect Arthur. It ends up Arthur against the two thugs, though another knight steps into help. The thugs are killed and Gwaine is revealed. Uther holds to his decision to banish the man, even though that’s twice he’s saved his son.

The Crystal Cave recalls common elements of Arthurian legend. (The Crystal Cave is the first book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga series). While Arthur and Merlin are out in the woods, they’re attacked and Arthur is injured. Merlin tries to use magic to heal when an old man appears; Taliesin. He heals Arthur then shows Merlin to the Crystal Cave, where magic began. Merlin is a powerful sorcerer and can use the crystals to see all of time. Merlin sees a future where Morgana stabs Uther. Back in Camelot, Gaius cautions that all may not be as it seems. But things start happening that Merlin saw in his vision. Arthur gives Morgana a dagger for her birthday, matching the one that Merlin saw, at Merlin’s inadvertent advice ironically. When Morgana sneaks off to see Morgause, Merlin follows and causes her to fall down a flight of stairs. She’s slowly dying. When Merlin can no longer stand watching everyone else’s grief, he goes out to call Kilgarah. The great dragon at first refuses to help save Morgana, but Merlin uses his power as Dragonlord to force the dragon. Merlin has also overheard Uther reveal to Gaius that Morgana is actually his daughter, begging the older man to use magic to save her. Gorlois was away fighting and Viviane had gotten lonely, he explains. No one can know, for Arthur’s sake. We see Morgana’s eyes move minutely. Later, after Morgana is healed, she tells Morgause. The older woman realizes that this gives Morgana a legitimate claim to the throne. Now they’ll redouble their efforts to kill Uther. Merlin’s vision proceeds, he’s stopped nothing. He races after Morgana who decides no time like the present to kill the king. She uses magic and accidently starts a fire and blows a window, waking Uther, but smoothly covers, cowering like a damsel in distress. Life is more complicated now; Arthur is all that stands between Morgana and the throne.

The Sidhe return in The Changeling, the hid a faerie in a baby princess and twenty years later, she’s old enough to wed Arthur in an effort to permanently bind the two kingdoms. This will put a Sidhe at the heart of Camelot (and that can’t be good). Her nurse, Grunhilda, is played by Professor Sprout from Harry Potter. Turns out, Grunhilda is a pixie, servant to the Sidhe. Arthur struggles with his love for Gwen, which Morgana has begun to notice. Uther insists that Arthur for the sake of the kingdom, his own feelings be damned. Arthur goes through with the proposal. Merlin slips Elena a potion to eject the faerie, killing it, Grunhilda, and the leader of the Sidhe. An instant effect takes on Elena; she’s more polished and prim, but still her personality (which is kind of awesome). She and Arthur stand in front of Camelot, prepared to take their vows, but come clean to each other that they don’t have feelings for the other. The wedding is called off and her father tells Uther that Arthur has the makings of a great king; times are changing. Merlin tells Arthur he knows what it’s like to have a destiny you cannot escape, for everything to be planned out and have no say.

Gwen is reunited with her brother, Elyan in The Castle of Fyrien. She is kidnapped by Cenred as a way to get Arthur. Cenred threatens Elyan if Gwen does not bring Arthur to him. She doesn’t want to tell Arthur, but Merlin convinces her that the best way to have help is to tell Arthur. Merlin, Gwen, and unfortunately Morgana ride out with Arthur to rescue Elyan. They’re caught, since Morgana is a traitor and Cenred plans to torture Arthur. The young people escape, grabbing Morgana in the process. Elyan is reported to have been away for four years and felt like he couldn’t come home, even when his father died.

Arthur takes on a quest in The Eye of the Phoenix to prove that he is worthy of the throne. He is to retrieve the trident from the Fisher King in the Perilous Realms. Legends state that the Fisher King was a powerful sorcerer and when he was wounded and it became infected, so did his land. But he’s supposedly still alive. Arthur is to undertake this quest alone and unaided. Merlin worries for Arthur, but the prince orders him to stay home. Then Merlin spots the bracelet Morgana gifts Arthur and its strange stone. Gaius uncovers that it is a phoenix’s eye and it will consume Arthur’s life force. Merlin races after Arthur, but stops for help; Gwaine. Arthur, steadily weakening, makes it to the merlin fisher kingbridge in the Perilous Lands, guarded by a dwarf (we recognize Warwick Davis, famed as Wicket from Return of the Jedi, Professor Flitwick and Griphook from Harry Potter and Nikabrik from Prince Caspian). He informs Arthur “you must be Courage,” he will need Strength and Magic to complete his quest. When Arthur dismisses magic, he warns the lad not to. Arthur almost drowns, due to the bracelet and Merlin and Gwaine come to the bridge, meeting the dwarf. Magic and Strength have arrived. Back in Camelot, Gwen reveals to Gaius that she suspects Morgana to have magic. Wyvern, an offshoot of dragons, almost eat Arthur in the Dark Tower, but Merlin’s there to save him. He’s separated from Arthur and Gwaine and speaks to the Fisher King. The king has been waiting for the right time. This was truly Merlin’s quest. The real prize is water from the lake of Avalon. When need is greatest, it will show Merlin what to do. In exchange, Merlin gives the king the cursed bracelet so he may be released to death.

An old friend of Gaius’s return in Love in the Time of Dragons. Alice was his fiancée years ago, right before the Purge. Gaius helped her escape, but stayed behind to not draw suspicion. Now she’s returned to Camelot with magical remedies, and a creature in a box: a manticore. Merlin hears them speaking one evening and doesn’t trust Alice. Gaius won’t hear it. Alice helps Gaius with his potions, including one for Uther. She drops poison in it one day and administers it to Uther. At that point, Gaius believes Arthur and they rid the world of the manticore. Uther blames Alice (Arthur figured out she was the one to give Uther is remedy) and sentences her to death. Gaius cannot plead with the king, but still manages to help his old love escape.

Morgana tries to split up Gwen and Arthur in Queen of Hearts when she has a vision of Gwen as queen. She gets the couple to spend alone time in the woods (it is a rather romantic picnic), then arranges for Uther to ride by them, catching the couple kissing. Uther orders Arthur to end the relationship, Arthur refuses. Morgana then plants an enchantment in Arthur’s room, so Gwen will be arrested as a witch. Merlin plans to invent a sorcerer to get Gwen freed; he’ll disguise himself as an old man, Dragoon the Great. That part works. The changing back doesn’t. He’s arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake; though he gets a chance to tell Uther and Arthur off. Gaius works out a potion to change him back and Merlin escapes long enough to down it. This is the start of the running joke that if Arthur cannot find Merlin due to magical needs, people claim the young man is in the tavern. Gwen is free and the young couple’s feelings haven’t changed, but they cannot show it.

Another sorcerer comes to Camelot for a tournament in The Sorcerer’s Shadow. Ghillie (Harry Melling again [Dudley]) is tired of being bullied and uses magic to help in the tournament. Morgana has also pitted Uther and Arthur against each other (probably hoping that Uther will be killed in the tournament). When the two face each other, Arthur has to let his father win to save face. Then Uther has to face Ghillie in the finals. Merlin tries to get Ghillie to promise not to use magic, but Ghillie is enjoying the fame he’s gotten. He even shows the other man his powers; he understands how lonely it is to be more powerful than any man you know and live like a shadow. To be special and pretend to be a fool. Merlin has to make the choice; let Ghillie kill Uther, or protect Uther and harm another sorcerer. Kilgarah cautions that if Uther is killed by magic, it will harden Arthur’s mind. Thus, Merlin works against Ghillie. Uther spares the boy in the end (obviously not knowing about the magic). Uther reveals he knew what Arthur had done; he’s followed his son’s progress all along, but he’s grateful for the actions. Arthur is truly ready to be king.

Another two-parter ends the season, The Coming of Arthur. It opens on a scene of slaughtered knights, figures moving through them. They come to Sir Leon and heal him with a magical cup. Sir Leon returns to Camelot and reports that Cenred was responsible for the attack and it was the Druids who healed him. Gauis and Uther realize that the Druids have the Cup of Life, as Gauis informs Merlin, it was not destroyed on the Isle of the Blessed, it is eternal. Uther wants the cup and sends Arthur after it, for there is another legend attached to the cup; a warlord used it to create an immortal army. Camelot is in danger. Arthur doesn’t tell Merlin where they’re going but takes him anyway. Morgana overhears the plans and reports to Morgause, who instructs Cenred to be ready. But a slave trader captures Merlin and Arthur first. There, they’re reunited with Gwaine, whom Arthur has to face in a challenge. The boys try to throw the fight without appearing to do so, but Merlin causes a distraction that gets them out. The trio continue on the search and find the Druid camp. The Druids hand over the cup to Arthur, but really to Emrys. An attack from Cenred’s men injures Arthur and lets the cup fall into enemy hands. Morgause creates an immortal army, then kills Cenred and marches on Camelot. The trio does eventually make it back to Camelot to discover dead littering the streets from the attack, they discover Elyan and make their way into the castle. Arthur and Merlin go after Uther, the rest are to wait for them in the woods. Uther is being led into the great hall, facing Morgause. She takes his crown and Morgana steps out. She claims the throne, as daughter to Uther. Arthur is shocked by the news and he and Merlin withdraw.

The second part picks up a week after that ending; Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Gwaine, and Elyan are hiding in the woods. Morgana is trying to persuade the knights of Camelot to her side, but they resist. She lines them up in front of a firing squad and instead shoots the crowd. Gwen plays along as a loyal servant, but plans to help Sir Leon escape; Leon will know where Arthur is hiding and he is the only hope Camelot has. Morgana and Morgause eavesdrop and figure they can use Gwen as a way to find Arthur, a simple tracking potion in a drink does the trick. Merlin uses the water from Avalon that the Fisher King gave him, revealing Freya. She tells him that only one weapon can slay the dead, a sword burnished by dragon fire, which lies in the lake. Kilgarah still serves Merlin and helps the young sorcerer retrieve the blade, but has him swear that when he is finished with the sword, he put it where no man can wield it. If the blood is emptied from the Cup of Life, the immortal army will fall.

merlin knights of the round table
L-R: Leon, Percival, Arthur, Lancelot, Elyan, Gwaine

Arthur and his companions are forced to retreat once Leon and Gwen finds them. They’re aided by Lancelot and a new man, Percival (Merlin had sent word to Lancelot), taking refuge in an abandoned castle from the time of the ancient kings. Inside, Arthur discovers a round table. He instructs his companions to sit and speaks of the old tradition of equality for all. Tomorrow, he will rescue his father, who is with him. Lancelot is the first to stand. These men believe in the world that Arthur will create. All join him; well, Merlin tries to stay seated as a joke, but he doesn’t have a choice. Arthur then does something he know his father would disapprove of, he knights Elyan, Lancelot, Gwaine, and Percival. Lancelot comments to Merlin that evening that the servant is the bravest of them and Arthur should really be knighting him, but doesn’t know. The men make their way back to Camelot, Lancelot planning to help Merlin destroy the Cup. Gaius enters the fray against Morgause after she flings Merlin, giving Merlin the chance to knock over the Cup. The immortal army explodes. Morgana enters to find an injured Morgause and screeches. Her magic is out of control, the walls start crumbling and they disappear.

A new time is dawning. Arthur may need to take charge; Uther is very distressed by the events with Morgana and her betrayal. Gaius tells Merlin, since no one else will, “Well done.” Merlin follows his promise and sticks the sword in a stone.

I liked the inclusion of more traditional elements of Arthurian legend, such as the Crystal Cave, but Merlin does run into the problem that often arises from prophecies; as Yoda has taught us, the future is always in motion. This is one possibly future and Merlin gets consumed by it. In trying to prevent that future from happening, he almost causes it. But he also doesn’t get the best instructions. Downfall of many fantasy wizards: I’m going to warn you about this but be very cryptic. Like the dragon. The Fisher King story was a nice inclusion as well and more and more Arthur is being shown that magic is not inherently evil, but circumstances always come about that he can’t trust it. Woo at seeing the knights of the Round Table, finally! Arthur is coming into his own now. Merlin still staunchly supports him, even behind the scenes. They’ve come a long way from wanting to kill each other.

Now, my Shide and Fae are not like the ones in this show, but it’s good to see differing views, so I can craft my own. Pick and choose which bits I like. As much as Morgause is the enemy, there is something I admire in the way she deals with Cenred, an attitude I hope to emulate in my characters: commanding, she does not outright threaten Cenred until the end. She pulls him along and I swear Cenred wants to sleep with her and she may even let him, knowing that ultimately she has the upper hand.

Next Time: Season Four

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