Merlin – Season 4
The intro to season four upgrades Merlin to “young man” instead of a boy. We pick up in the two-parter The Darkest Hour about a year after the events of season three. Morgana is walking with Morgause in a cart and is discovered by knights. They report back to Arthur that she is on her way to the Isle of the Blessed. Arthur has taken over the running of the kingdom; Uther is frail and aged; he has taken Morgana’s betrayal hard. Agravaine, apparently Ygraine’s brother has shown up to help Arthur as a promise to his deceased sister (why there has been no mention of him before, we’re never told). It is Samhain and Morgana sacrifices Morgause, ripping a tear in the veil between worlds, unleashing spirits of the dead to attack the living. Merlin feels this and collapses. Attacks begin in outlying villages so Arthur, Merlin, and the knights ride out, but they can do nothing against the spirits. Then Camelot is attacked. Not even Gaius knows how to defeat their new foe, but he suggests maybe a sacrifice on the Isle of the Blessed. Arthur, being the self-sacrificing hero who will take on any challenge to protect his people, volunteers. Merlin secretly plans to sacrifice himself in Arthur’s stead. Oh, and Agravaine is in league with Morgana, reporting that the throne will be open to the “rightful heir.” The knights of Camelot ride out, Merlin continues to protect Arthur, even jumping into a spirit and collapsing frozen to the ground.
Arthur sends Lancelot back with Merlin to Camelot, despite Merlin’s weak protestations. On their way, Merlin has Lancelot lay him next to a river. Those spirits heals Merlin so he can return to Arthur and fix the veil. There’s an adorable scene when Lancelot returns to the knights and tells Arthur “bad news…he’s still alive.” We see that Arthur has really come to rely on Merlin. They make it to the Isle of the Blessed and Merlin knocks Arthur out before he can make his sacrifice. But while Arthur is dealing with the old woman in charge of the veil, Lancelot has offered himself as a sacrifice. The world is returned to rights, but now Merlin, Arthur, and Gwen must mourn their friend.
Meanwhile, Morgana has begun to receive visions of a powerful old sorcerer, Emrys, who will be her downfall. Merlin overhears Agravaine asking Gaius about the sorcerer.
It is Arthur’s birthday in The Wicked Day (another title from Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga) and a circus arrives in Camelot for the occasion. Uther breaks out of his stupor to attend the festivities. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants of the castle, the circus owner wishes to kill Arthur. They drug him and then try to attack him. Uther steps in the way, taking the blade meant for his son. Arthur is desperate to save his father and considers asking an old sorcerer “Dragoon” for help. (Really, it’s Merlin in a disguise. Arthur actually almost sees through it; he recognizes the eyes). Meanwhile, Agravaine has gone to Morgana and she places a charm on Uther that will reverse any healing magic. So when “Dragoon” goes to heal Uther, the effect is reversed and Uther dies. Arthur blames Dragoon and Merlin feels like it is his fault. But a new day has come and he and Arthur must face their new roles. Merlin waits outside the great hall for Arthur all night, so the young man wouldn’t be alone. Arthur is crowned King of Camelot.
Merlin and Arthur are drawn into a journey to discover a dragon’s egg (if the thief looks familiar, he is; he played Bonaire, the thief in Musketeers) in Aithusa. Merlin manages to save the egg and takes it to Kilgarah. He calls to it in the language of the Dragon Lords, giving it the name “Aithusa.” A white dragon is extremely rare. Kilgarah tells the young warlock that it bodes well for Albion, Arthur, and Merlin.
Arthur is tested as king in His Father’s Son. Agravaine talks Arthur into killing the King of Carlion. Word gets back to his wife, who marches on Camelot. Morgana joins her, referring herself as Gorlois’s daughter and wishes payback on Camelot as well. Arthur decides to fight single combat against the Queen’s champion in order to spare lives; he’s reconsidering his earlier decision, starting to make his own decisions about what kind of king he wants to be. (He even tries to break off his relationship with Gwen, considering to be inappropriate). Merlin helps a little in the battle; Morgana is helping her side as well, so it’s not really cheating. Arthur gets his large opponent to the ground, but does not kill him. He seeks peace with the queen and she agrees. She has a few choice words for Morgana, telling her she clings to bitterness.
Morgana attempts to turn Merlin against Arthur in A Servant of Two Masters, using magic. Luckily, Merlin is very inept at killing Arthur (it’s a bit funny to see him try, and Leon doesn’t bat an eye when Merlin says he’s going to kill Arthur). Merlin manages to disguise himself as Dragoon, who Morgana takes to be Emrys, and destroy the mother beast that’s inhabiting him. There are a few endearing scenes; Arthur is genuinely worried about Merlin when he’s missing and sends knights out to find him. Even when he gets a more efficient servant, he misses Merlin and the banter they have. Gwen happens to see Arthur without clothes while she’s trying to knock Merlin out.
Morgana and Agravaine suspect that Gaius knows the true identity of Emrys, so they come up with a plan in The Secret Sharer to kidnap the old man and use a magical interrogator to wrangle the truth out of him. Agravaine makes accusations against Gaius, but Merlin won’t listen to them and goes after his mentor. He saves Gaius, but Gaius has unfortunately revealed to the interrogator (played by Gary Lewis, he is Colum Mackenize in Outlander and Hrothgar in Eragon) that Merlin is Emrys. But the interrogator is loyal to the old ways and won’t reveal his identity to Morgana. He helps Merlin escape. Arthur apologizes to Gaius; he knows the old man has always had his best interests at heart. Gaius tells the young king that there are others out there protecting him.
Arthur sends Merlin as a physician to a village in trouble in Lamia. Merlin quickly deduces that the ailment the victims are suffering is the result of magic. He and the knights begin to make their way back to Camelot, until they run into bandits who are tormenting a young woman. Proving themselves gallant, the knights rescue the girl. But she shies away from Merlin and Gwen. And then the knights start arguing with each other and turn on Merlin. (There are several fanfiction stories that detail the emotional toll that takes on Merlin; his friends, who have protected him against others, now scorn him). Merlin determines this Lamia girl is the cause of the problem and it’s due to magic. Indeed, Gaius informs Arthur when they go to investigate that the Lamia were created by the Priestesses of the Old Religion to control men, but they grew too powerful. The knights start falling prey to her; Gwen and Merlin to the rescue, well, Arthur helps a bit.
Lancelot is back from the dead in Lancelot du Lac. Morgana finds out that Arthur proposes to Gwen and decides to bring Lancelot back to throw a wrench in the works. Lancelot enters the jousting tournament held in honor of the proposal. Merlin and the knights are pleased that Lancelot is back, but Merlin quickly discovers all is not well. Lancelot doesn’t remember that Merlin has magic. (That’s because Morgana didn’t know, so couldn’t plant that information in Lancelot). Merlin starts to worry that Lancelot is after Arthur. No, Lancelot means to beguile Gwen, through an enchanted bracelet. Arthur discovers the couple kissing (with some help from Agravaine; it’s all a trap). Lancelot and Gwen are thrown in the dungeon; Lancelot, coached by Agravaine, drinks a potion to die. Agravaine counsels Arthur to put Gwen to the death for her betrayal. Arthur cannot see her dead, so exiles her. They were one day from their wedding; she had waited years, why could she not wait one more day, Arthur asks. Gwen cannot answer. She still loves Arthur but she couldn’t help herself around Lancelot. Merlin, who had figured out that Lancelot was a shade, takes his friend for funeral rights and rids him of the enchantment. Lancelot wakes for a moment to thank Merlin, dying peacefully again. Merlin knows Morgana is behind the events, but cannot prove it to Arthur.
An old mission comes back to haunt Arthur in A Herald of the New Age. The knights accidentally disturb a druid shrine; Elyan drinks from the well. He’s taken over by the spirit of a child who had been slaughtered and goes after the king. The other knights assume he’s acting out due to his sister being banished. Arthur in the meantime is out of sorts after visiting the shrine. Merlin and Gaius investigate the shrine and try to stop Elyan’s attack. Arthur eventually admits to Merlin that Uther had ordered Arthur to lead a raid on a druid camp. Arthur was not able to stop his men from killing innocent women and children, resulting in the restless sprits at the shrine. He was young and inexperienced and wanted to prove himself. Elyan, still possessed, confronts Arthur and Arthur apologizes, offering himself for the mistakes he made. The child spirit forgives Arthur and leaves Elyan. (A little jolt from the episode when I realized that they were using salt circles to repel spirits; a basis of Supernatural, lol).
We catch up with what Gwen is doing in The Hunter’s Heart. She has moved to a village where she has old friends; but it’s attacked by bandits. Their leader spares her and speaks to her. Unfortunately, he’s in league with Morgana. Morgana discovers that Gwen is at the camp and sets after her. She catches her and transforms her into a deer. Meanwhile, Arthur has made an alliance with the promise of marriage to the Princess Mithan of Nementh. Mithan is beautiful an kind and we really can’t dislike her. She gently chastises Arthur for causing Merlin more work. She genuinely likes to hunt, a favorite pastime of Arthur’s. Merlin tries little tricks to put Arthur and Mithan off each other, due to loyalty to Gwen. Then comes the hunt, and they cross paths with a transformed Gwen. Merlin realizes the disguise and goes after the deer after Mithan shoots her. He heals her, but Gwen refuses to return to Camelot; she understands the damage she did. Arthur has also found the ring that he had proposed to Gwen with, that Gwen was still wearing until her transformation. He is in no mood to continue the hunt. Arthur realizes that Merlin was right; he still loves Gwen, despite her betrayal, which confuses him. But he cannot marry Mithan. He draws up a new treaty, giving her the disputed lands. She graciously leaves.
Morgana’s plans come to fruition in the two-parter season finale The Sword in the Stone, bringing in more elements from classic legend. Agravaine signals the attacking army into Camelot. Arthur is injured, but Merlin drags him out of the castle, magically taking his will (though there’s not much left after seeing both Morgana and Agravaine at the head of the army). Gaius, Elyan, and Gwaine are left in Camelot to aid Arthur’s escape. Morgana tortures Elyan for information and makes Gwaine fight to win supper. Leon and Percival are in the woods with the townsfolk who could escape. Merlin plans to take Arthur to Ealdor. They come upon battle couple and smugglers Tristan and Isolde. Arthur acts as a simpleton until his will returns, but Tristan dislikes kings and they butt heads. Arthur also feels defeated; he must not be the king he should be if his family members keep betraying him. Merlin points out that it’s not his fault; they just desire Arthur’s power for themselves. Morgana sends Agravaine after Arthur (I can’t tell if Agravaine truly cares for Morgana or if he just doesn’t trust her and wants to stay on her good side).
Merlin and Arthur do make it to Ealdor, along with Tristan and Isolde. They reunite with Gwen, but have to run again when Agravaine catches up. Merlin offers again to hang back and protect the rear. Kilgarah comes in handy to destroy most of the force chasing them and in the caves, Merlin uses magic to defeat the rest. Agravaine is impressed by Merlin’s deception, claiming that they are more alike than they had realized. Another toss when he makes a move against Merlin and Agravaine is dead. Tristan is surprised that Arthur risks his life to go back for Merlin.
They reunite with the other knights, but Merlin still has to convince Arthur to continue the fight. He spins a tale for his friend, claiming it’s from Gaius, about a sword that the first king of Camelot had buried in a stone. When Camelot’s need was most, only the true king of Camelot could retrieve it. Merlin convinces Arthur to try. Arthur struggles at first, but Merlin urges him to believe. And the sword comes clean out (well, it was Merlin who had put Excalibur in the stone in the first place). Arthur is back and leads his knights into Camelot. Tristan and Isolde agree to fight alongside him. Sadly, Isolde is killed in a face off against the leader of Morgana’s army. Merlin had earlier snuck into Camelot disguised as Emrys and puts a burning straw doll under Morgana’s bed. So when he and Arthur face her, she cannot cast any spells. She flees. She faces off with Gwen and almost finishes the other woman, but Merlin secretly rescues her at the last minute. Morgana is wounded and flees into the woods.
Arthur mends his relationship with Gwen and proposes again. She is crowned queen. And the little white dragon, Aithusa returns and heals Morgana in the woods.
I liked the twist that the sword in the stone was more about raising Arthur’s confidence. Merlin keeps leading Arthur to his destiny to become the greatest ruler Albion has ever known. Gwen’s brief affair with Lancelot did not bring down the kingdom and it was more brought on by magic. Merlin is proving to be Arthur’s most loyal companion and I love that Arthur is recognizing that. There’s times he will be kind and sincere to his friend, but they keep up their banter. I don’t think they would know what to do with themselves if they weren’t giving each other and hard time and calling each other names.
Next Time We wrap up with Season Five.