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

I Know Nothing

I finally gave in. I have now seen all of Game of Thrones; I managed in about a week and a half, though considering I started on Memorial Day and had the day off and there are only ten episodes at most per season…this is also coming from the young lady who managed to catch up on nine seasons of Supernatural in about a month. When I get hooked on something, I get hooked.

My best friend lent me the DVDs of Seasons One and Two (about a year ago) and I kept meaning to watch them. Circumstances came along that I thought I’d give them a try. I had previously watched the first episode and thus was a bit wary. The rampant nudity, sex, and gore are not to my taste. I figured at the very least I could use it as inspiration as to what I didn’t want to happen in my own series. But I was going to stick it out. And in that respect it has been helpful, crafting my own characters in how they would respond to situations and what sort of elements I may actually want. By the end of season one, I was popping in the first disc for season two. As I was wrapping that season up, I was debating how I was going to watch the rest of the show. And luckily, it was available on demand. While some of the plot points and storylines are not my favorite and as a writer, I would have done things differently (no, haven’t read the books…yet)…okay, let me rephrase; I think there was a less graphic way to tell the story. And while I do like to torture my characters…not that much.

I’m still surprised I liked the show. About midway through season one, I was thinking, “how do my friends like this? There’s so much violence and how can the women stand seeing all those nude scenes?” Then, as with other series I’ve come to love, I want to know what happens. Maybe not for everyone, but I quickly came to care for certain characters. And yes, I concur with many fans that the last two seasons were not the best. But that often happens with series in my experience; the middle seasons tend to be the best honestly; they’ve built the world and situation and the characters have a chance to grow. Then things get complicated when it’s time to wrap it up.

Before I proceed further, just in case you have not had a chance to see the last season yet, be cautious of spoilers. And now, what you probably all are interested in and what every fan debates: what do I think of so-and-so or a specific episode or what happened, etc, etc, etc.

Stark family
House Stark: Bran, Arya, Sansa, Robb, Ned, Catelyn (you can just see Jon Snow behind her), and Rickon

My favorite episode of Season One is the very first; “Winter is Coming.” Watching the episode again after the series finale makes me want to cry at points; seeing everyone happy. Watching Jon say goodbye to family members he’ll never see again. Him hugging Arya. I chuckled when Jon got to the Wall and just handily beats any of the other recruits. He’s barely trying. Ned tries through season one to do the honorable thing, but he doesn’t know how to play the game. Heck, I hate the game; and this is why I hate politics. When Ned dies in the penultimate episode, I was too shocked to cry the first time; even though I knew it was coming (also, it fits with the joke that he dies in everything). Poor Sansa, having to witness it and plead for her father. Arya is luckily spared the actual sight, but I can tell her journey is only just beginning.

By Season Two I was more closely following the story of Jon Snow. The backstabbing of King’s Landing continued to annoy me; more for a want to beat them all with a stick and make them behave like proper people. I was a bit horrified at the effects of Wildfire. I cheered for Tyrion to lead the men. And then Cersei was the cruel person she always is.jon snow and ygritte Season Three is when I really started liking the show. I found Jon’s interactions with the wildlings interesting and was entranced by his relationship with Ygritte, especially “Kissed by Fire” and afterwards. I did remark that Jon Snow was a stupid boy when he left her. “I didn’t have a choice,” well, you could have chosen to take her with you. Glad he didn’t die though. And Bran and Rickon were so close to Jon!! Gah! Wouldn’t have helped Jon any, but I just want their family back together. Jamie underwent some good character growth, I think Brienne is good for him. She’s not my favorite character, just due to being stuffy most of the time. I was rendered shocked and speechless the first time I saw the Red Wedding. I didn’t cry. Now, I don’t watch because I know I’ll cry. Horrible. Simply horrible. And Arya was so close! I had hoped that she would reunite with her family then, though it was good that she didn’t. Hurray for the Hound for getting her out of there, though she had to see her brother’s mutilation. I agree with her idea of stabbing them, maybe not so gory.

Season Four I enjoy for the Jon storyline. My favorite episode of the whole show is “The Watchers on the Wall.” I enjoy a good fight sequence (one of the reasons I will repeatedly watch Lord of the Rings. And parts of the second How to Train Your Dragon movie). Jon kicks butt!! Woo! And then I was heartbroken when Ygritte died. I hoped for a minute…and Olly ruined it. That’s probably when I started to not like the boy. Tywin is still horrible. Jamie continues to show a good character arc; I like his interactions with Tyrion. They’re true brothers and just shows Tyrion that his whole family doesn’t hate him and Jamie is trying to get out from under the thumb of Cersei. Honestly, Arya should have gone with Brienne. I understand why she didn’t, but I was hoping. And again, she was so close to meeting up with Jon! And so close to Sansa and didn’t know it.

Season Five continued to be good for the most part. I still want Arya anywhere but where the Faceless Man is. I’ve never trusted Melisandre and the first time I cried for the show was when she burned poor Shireen. The religious order that takes over King’s Landing can go crawl back into whatever hole it sprang out of. I did feel genuinely sad when Myrcella died; she was innocent, sweetly in love with her prince and had nothing to do with her mother’s plots. As a loyal follower of Jon Snow, I agree that saving the Free Folk was the right thing to do with the White Walkers pressing down on them. He made a good Lord Commander and this is why heroes always need a Sam. And I believed Olly the first time through, when he said Benjen Stark had returned. Then I gasped alongside Jon when Thorne shoved a dagger into him. And I cried (even though I knew Jon was in later seasons; on the one hand, a drawback to watching the show after everyone else, you don’t get to be fully surprised. On the other hand, not quite as stressful). And immediately started Season Six.

Still don’t trust Melisandre, but at least she brought Jon back. I cheered for the few men who stood alongside Jon and aw, those hugs afterwards. Favorite scene from season six is Sansa’s and Jon’s reunion. Finally, two Starks are back together! Now, go get the other game-thrones-battle-bastardsones. The Battle of the Bastards was epic (I’ve watched some of the behind-the-scenes bits and yes, I agree very cool, it will personally never top Lord of the Rings for me). Gotta say though, that the production team does an excellent job; they’re pulling out battles that would be the centerpiece of a two-three hour movie for an hour-long show. It was a bit terrifying when Jon was almost buried alive. Yeah, the ending, Ramsay, you had that coming. You killed Jon’s baby brother mere feet from him, yes, he will pound you to a pulp and we will sit back and cheer. Sansa was poetic in her justice. I cheered when Jon became King of the North. Lyanna Mormont is an awesome young woman. Theon has redeemed himself by rescuing Sansa, hurrah. The flashbacks to a young Ned Stark are endearing. I want to hug Arya and drag her back to Winterfell. I silently cheered when she hid Needle when she was ridding herself of her old identity, silently pleading, “Jon gave it to you.” Cersei has finally lost it, blowing up a holy building. That was the real turning point in the storyline that almost turned me from the show, aside from I wanted to find out what happened to Jon and his siblings. Cersei can go rot. But hey, if those Sparrows or whoever hadn’t shown up, probably wouldn’t have happened.

My dislike for Daenerys hiked with her initial treatment of Jon in Season Seven. Lady, there are more important things going on in the world than someone calling you “Your Grace.” I object to Jon’s decision to bend the knee, but I can’t hate him too much because once again, he’s trying to save lives. The battle beyond the wall was intense; they keep a tight grasp on my heart, putting Jon in danger constantly. Sad to see a dragon go and horrified to see it with blue eyes. Finding out that Jon is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen was a bit of a shock (though, I had read a few things ahead, so I had a feeling). The Targaryen family tree confuses me, trying to remember whom is whom and related to whom. Though, cheers to Gilly for actually being the one to discover the loophole, that Rhaegar had annulled his previous marriage. Sam, you should give your wife some credit.

We have come to the point where, if you haven’t seen the final season, feel free to skip down to “The Maesters…”

I noted that when Jon and Daenerys ride into Winterfell in the Season Eight opening, the music playing is “The King’s Arrival,” which was used all the way back in the first episode when King Robert arrived in Winterfell. Hurrah, Baleish is dead! Hurrah, Arya and Jon are reunited and I want to cry. Wish Bran acted like himself. Sansa admittedly makes a good ruler and I kind of like how she dislikes Danerys, mainly on behalf of her brother. And I actually cheer that Jon attempts to steer clear of her once he finds out their relation. The battle was epic and Arya was awesome! And that duel earlier against Brienne was also cool! Gosh, cried during the funerals, but I adore the scene afterwards when everyone is celebrating. Love that kind of thing and Tormund is hilarious and adorable. Thought we were going to lose him last season beyond the wall.

And here it comes; I dislike the last two episodes. Now, would I ever sign a petition or even seriously suggest that the writers re-do them? No. I side with the cast that the crew put in a lot of work and we should not ask more. Should it have been written better from the beginning? Yes. But too late now. However, that is why fanfiction exists! Cersei should have run when she had the chance. Cersei actually should have done a lot of things different for a while. I think the death of Joffrey started her downslide. The Hound and Mountain battle was gruesome. Tyrion crying for his siblings was heartbreaking. I kept wanting Arya to find Jon. And poor Jon, his men turning into raging monsters. Never been fond of Grey Worm and his actions in the city clinched that. Jon killing Daenerys was noble and I feel bad that he was the one who had to do it. Grey Worm left, goody. I hate that Jon was banished. He’s the King of the North and sacrificed so much and he’s thanked by being sent to the tundra. I cried more when Jon left Ghost to go South then other characters’ deaths, and was so happy they were ultimately reunited. Arya shouldn’t have left. Yay, she gets adventure, but I feel her family still needs her. Sansa will rule fairly, but she’ll be made kinder if she has her siblings around. The ending political debate was a bit funny between characters that we’ve come to admire.

The Maesters as a whole turn out to be a bunch of gross old men who stick their heads in the sand. Maester Amon at the Night’s Watch was cool and I felt bad when he died Maester Luwin from Winterfell was kind of cool too. I dislike heavy religious overtones and the whole bit with the militant Religion of the Seven (or whatever) honestly pissed me off. When someone becomes so self righteous…

I feel bad for the Night’s Watch. They have a noble purpose but have been degraded so much. Slynt was horrible, deserved to die, most especially for his dereliction of duty during the battle at Castle Black. After he puffed himself up so high and mighty. I have mixed feelings about Jeor Mormont. Overall, a good person, but I do side with Jon Snow that his acceptance of Craster does not sit right with me. Did he deserve the mutiny? No. Are those who mutinied against him wrong and evil? Yes. Jon’s friends are good lads. Samwell Tarly just proves that when you into danger, take a Sam with you. And further proof that book knowledge is just as important as brawling. Jon’s a good enough man that he recognizes that. And Sam’s adorable with Gilly and the baby. A wee bit dense at times, but he’s a man. I wanted Olly to work out, but I could see he wasn’t able to see the whole picture when Jon brought the Wildlings south. And it was a jab in my heart when he dealt the killing blow in the mutiny. Disliked Thorne from the start. Now, he was a well rounded character. A mean man, but he understood duty. He stood aside and let the lads take Slynt when the other stood against the rightfully elected Lord Commander Snow. He had grudging respect for Jon once the younger man proved himself. He took good command during the attack on Castle Black. He honestly felt he was right to mutiny; my argument compared to his is that, if you felt he did what he thought was right, why did you kill him?

I respect Mance Rayder. I understand why he didn’t kneel, but I don’t agree with it; I side with Jon. Again, Jon was an honorable man to save Mance the agony of being burned tormund and snowalive. Tormund is hilarious; I love him and love the relationship he developed with Jon. He glomped Jon and interrupted his reunion with Edd. And his comment to Edd “I’ve always had blue eyes!” made me chuckle in the middle of a tense moment. And I adore the scene after the Battle of Winterfell during the feast between Tormund and Jon, toasting and cheering. Even before Jon returned to Castle Black, Tormund cared about the little crow and tried to keep him alive. Ygritte was awesome! Well rounded character, badass, but her intimate scenes with Jon Snow made me all squishy inside. I ship her with Jon Snow more than anyone else. (And I think it’s adorable that the two actors married each other!)

King’s Landing crew: Renly should not have made a big for kingship, he was not suited for it. I couldn’t decide for several seasons if I trusted Lord Varys, but I ultimately believed him when he said he fought for the realm, for the little people. Grand Maester Pycelle was creepy. And you could tell he was in the pockets of the Lannisters. Qyburn was also creepy. Quite honestly, I fast forwarded through some of his scenes because I could tell I did not want to watch. Littlefinger was a manipulative bastard; I kept hoping he would die. He did finally get his just deserts.

The Lannisters: There are times I almost respect Tywin. He was a reasonable master to Arya when she was at Casterly Rock. He treated all of his children horribly, though. But was determined to bring Joffrey into line. Tyrion is the kindest of the bunch, has some snappy one-liners (he’s my friend’s favorite character). He was genuinely kind to Sansa, even before they were married and was a friend to Jon. He did make mistakes, but he was honest about them. I respected Cersei more at the beginning of the show; I could see she was politically astute. There is something about the way her face looks and way she speaks at time that she reminds me of Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Caribbean. But then power made her crazy. I wanted to hate Jamie; he pushed a boy out of a window in the first episode! Then he had character development once he teamed up with Brienne of Tarth (and lost the look of Prince Charming from Shrek). And I would feel sorry for him. Then he’d do something that reminded me he could be a horrible person. Bronn was good when he was with Tyrion, but I always knew he was mainly in it for the money. Pod was kind of adorable; a decent character who got back up every time someone shot him down (mainly Brienne, but she came around in the end). Once Brienne loosened up, I got to like her better. The narrow worldview of “duty and honor” can be a bit off-putting. And Tormund’s crush was hilarious. I’m glad she hooked up with Jamie. And the duel between her and Arya was awesome!

The Tyrells: Mace is a simpleton. Loras was kind and honestly would have made a decent husband to Sansa. I liked Margaery, at least until the whole fiasco with the Religion of the Seven. She came back for a glorious moment. She and Olenna were kind to Sansa and were a good way for her to get out of King’s Landing; pity it didn’t work out. Olenna was sassy and savvy. And their sigil looks a dead ringer for the Tudor rose (which I find a wee bit ironic since the actress who plays Margaery portrayed Anne Bolyen in The Tudors).

The Greyjoys: The father was cruel. I got to like Yara as time went on. I initially didn’t trust Theon, he was kind of mean from the get go and could kind of tell he was out for himself. Then he betrayed the Starks and I wanted him dead. Then he was tortured (again, I honestly fast forwarded through a lot of that because “nope, don’t need to sit through that bit”) and yeah, at the very beginning, he kind of deserved it. Then it went too far. And I pitied him by the time Sansa returned to Winterfell and was genuinely sad when he died. That is a pairing that could have worked out.

Targaryen supporters: I have the unpopular view that I am not fond of Daenerys. She wasn’t as outright insane as her brother, but certainly by the end. She started out as a reasonably moral character. She found some happiness with Khal Drogo (I liked it when he supported her bid for the throne and they would call each other moon and stars. I was sad to see him die, particularly so early in the series). But when she started to use violence or threaten it to get her way, that’s when I saw her true character come out. And I strongly dislike her insistence that Jon Snow kneel to her and be demoted from King of the North. I do like Ser Jorah Mormont (it took me a little bit to realize the connection between him and the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch). He’s got a good head on his shoulder and really, Daenerys shouldn’t have been so black-and-white about his original spying on her; it was before he got to know her and fall in love. If he had been around more at crucial points, she might not have made some of the mistakes that she had.

My favorite house is Stark. They’re noble and good; but human, they make mistakes. Not the most fond of Catelyn, mainly for her treatment of Jon. I don’t think she should have left Winterfell. She jumped into action without thinking of what to do down the road. Aye, it was nice for her to join up with Robb, but her youngest two needed her more. Poor Rickon, there’s not much of a chance to get an opinion on him. He was loyal to Bran and ultimately died a horrible death, within a hand’s reach of hope. Bran was cute when he was younger; I don’t like him as the “Three-Eyed Raven.” Too emotionless. I pity Sansa when she’s held prisoner in King’s Landing and her marriage to Ramsay Bolton is a toss up to whether it was worse than marriage to Joffrey would have been. She learned to play the game and so I can’t trust her fully. Arya is badass, which is cool, but she went through so much. Here is where I would say, you can make someone badass without doing all that (though I may not be entirely innocent in what I’ve put characters through in my stories). So I can’t trust her fully either, not a trained assassin. And I think she should have stuck around at the end. I respect Eddard, though as stated previously, he didn’t play the game well. He was trying to be honorable in a dishonest place. For all that King’s Landing will spout their admiration of honor, it’s full of cutthroats. He raised his children well; they remember his teachings long after he’s gone. I genuinely like Robb. Again, he made mistakes. But I put more of the blame of the Red Wedding on the Lannisters and Freys. Aye, he gave his word, but he fell in love. He made the decisions he thought were right.

It’s probably not a surprise that my favorite character is Jon Snow. He lives by Ned Stark’s example, always trying to do the honorable thing. He spends time amongst the Free Folk and realizes they’re no different and ultimately befriends them. He is born for leadership, but is smart enough to not want command or the crown, but he’ll do his duty and he’ll do it well. I did not like his relationship with Daenerys. On the one hand, glad he’s happy, on the other hand, I don’t trust her. She barely listened to him and he has to trail along picking up the pieces.

Let’s play a game: Hey, It’s That Guy! Game of Thrones is filled with actors that I have seen elsewhere.

Karl Tanner (the Night’s Watchman that betrays Joer Mormont) is played by Burn Gorman who played Owen Harper in Torchwood; he wasn’t a terribly kind character in that show either.

Orell, the warg of Tormund’s Wildlings is played by Mackenzie Crook, Mr. Ragetti from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The High Sparrow is also familiar from Pirates of the Caribbean, Governor Swann, played by Jonathan Pryce. Pryce also plays the villain in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Osha, the Wildling woman who protected Rickon and Bran, is played by Natalie Tena, Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter

Other Harry Potter cast mates include David Bradley who plays Walder Frey here, was Argus Filch in Harry Potter. Knew we shouldn’t have trusted him.

Michelle Fairley, who plays Catelyn Stark, briefly appears as Mrs. Granger in the first part of Deathly Hallows.

Archmaester Ebrose is played by Jim Broadbent, who in addition to being Professr Slughorn in Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, was Professor Diggory Kirke in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. He’s also appeared in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Moulin Rouge.

Of course, we recognize Jason Momoa now from Aquaman and Justice League, who played Khal Drogo

Edmure Tully, the bit dim brother of Catelyn Stark nee Tully is played by Tobias Menzies, who plays a double role of Frank Randall and Black Jack Randall in Outlander, and it looks like Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on The Crown.

Jojen Reed is played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who we’ve seen as young Tristan in Tristan and Isolde, Romulus Augustus in Last Legion, and he too was part of Doctor Who.

Incidentally, he’s in the same episode as Harry Lloyd, who plays Viserys Targaryen. Lloyd was also Will Scarlett in BBC’s Robin Hood series.

Let’s not forget “Holy crow, it’s Mycroft!”  Yep, Sherlock‘s Mark Gatiss (both a creator and actor of the show) pops up every once in a while as a member of the Iron Bank.  Mark Gatiss is also in the recent Disney film Christopher Robin and acts very Mycroft-like (as in, no fun).

Davos Seaworth, probably the most sane man in the bunch, is played by Liam Cunningham. As many others in the cast, he’s been in BBC productions including Merlin and Doctor Who. He was Agravaine in First Knight and was in 1995’s version of A Little Princess.

King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, is played by Ciarán Hinds. He does play Albus’s brother Aberforth Dumbledore in Deathly Hallows, but I know him more from Phantom of the Opera and Amazing Grace.

Margarey Tyrell, who marries both Joffrey (extremely briefly) and Tommen is played by Natalie Dormer and played another famous queen, Anne Boleyn in The Tudors (also had gratuitous sex, though not as much violence). She did appear briefly in Captain America: First Avenger.

Her father, Mace Tyrell, is played by Roger Ashton-Griffiths, who was Friar Tuck in Princess of Thieves amongst other roles.

Stannis Baratheon’s wife, Selyse is played by Tara Fitzgerald, who portrayed Marie de Medici (Louis’s mother) in BBC’s Musketeers; not a warm-hearted woman there either.

Also jumping over from Musketeers is Alexandra Downing, who briefly plays Edmure Tully’s Frey wife, but shined as Anne of Austria in the swashbuckling series.

Famous name Clive Russell is Blackfish Tully, Catelyn’s uncle.

Another famous name is Julian Glover, who plays Grand Maester Pycelle.

King Robert Baratheon is played by Mark Addy; he was Roland in A Knight’s Tale and Friar Tuck in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood.

Also from Robin Hood is Max von Sydow who was Walter Loxley there and plays the Three-Eyed Raven here. He has credits going back to the fifties.

Sassy Olenna Tyrell is played by Diana Rigg, who has a credits’ list going back to the sixties, but most recently has appeared in Victoria and a small part in Doctor Who (her character in that was very creepy; I prefer her as Olenna).

Charles Dance, who played head of the Lannister House, Tywin, appeared in BBC’s Merlin as the Witchfinder. Not a likeable character and bound and determined to ruin people’s lives.

Donald Sumpter, Maester Luwin of Winterfell had a small role of the Fisher King in Merlin as well.

Joe Dempsie, who plays Gendry, was also in Merlin, as Merlin’s best hometown friend, and he was also in Doctor Who.

Tom Hopper, the second version of Dickon Tarly, is Sir Percival from Merlin.

Ygritte was played by Rose Leslie, who appeared as Gwen Dawson, a servant in the first season of Downton Abbey.

Jorah Mormont is played by Iain Glen, who also appeared in Downton Abbey, but a season after Rose, as Sir Richard Carlisle, a potential suitor for Mary. He also was in Doctor Who as Octavian, fighting against the angels, and appeared in The Last Legion and Kingdom of Heaven.

His father, Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night Watch, is played by James Cosmo. He’s very kindly as Father Christmas in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. He’s been in other historical action films like Troy, The Last Legion, and Braveheart. (He was in Highlander, but I cut out on that movie twenty minutes in) and appeared in Castle, Merlin, and a version of Ivanhoe.

Ser Alliser Thorne (pain in the ass Night Watch Commander) is portrayed by Owen Teale, who has several credits to his name. He’s recently been in the biopic Tolkien (I highly recommend), appeared in Last Legion, King Arthur, and Torchwood.

Sansa Stark is played by Sophie Turner who is now the younger Jean Grey/Phoenix in the newer X-Men films (she does not appear in the same segment as Peter Dinklage; they missed each other by a movie).

Tyrion Lannaster is famously played by Peter Dinklage who has appeared in the Avengers and X-Men franchises, and plays the no less sarcastic dwarf Trumpkin in Prince Caspian.

Noble Robb Stark is played by Richard Madden, who recently appeared in Rocketman (another movie I recommend), though sadly Richard Madden’s character turned out to be not nice, so I put on Disney’s live action Cinderella (he’s Prince Kit, which now makes me chuckle), so I could see him be a good guy.

The only other credit I know Kit Harington, the brooding Jon Snow, from is voicing Eret, son of Eret in the latter two How to Train Your Dragon movies. I am interested in checking out some of his other credits.

And if you lot don’t know Sean Bean, as honorable Ned Stark…He’s Boromir from Lord of the Rings, Zeus in Percy Jackson, Odysseus in Troy, stars as Sharpe in that collection of films, the antagonist in the first National Treasure, the villain in GoldenEye opposite Pierce Brosnan (one of my favorite Bond films, and I think the first one my parents got me to watch) and the villain in Patriot Games opposite Harrison Ford (my favorite Jack Ryan movie; I should read that book sometime).

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the show. Considering I am re-watching it and want the series on DVD, I believe it is safe to say I enjoyed it. What’s your favorite season? Episode? House? Character?

My plan is to finish up Merlin, then take another (hopefully) brief hiatus to work on some other writing, though if I manage to balance well, mayhap I will post some movie reviews at the same time.

“I’ve been punched, poisoned, pelted with fruit!”

First, let me apologize for the delay.  I actually had this almost ready to post, barring my round up at the end a month ago; but life got complicated for a bit and then I found Game of Thrones (check out my other post today).  But, I’m going to get back into this; enjoy!

Merlin: Season 2

The second season begins with Merlin dealing with The Curse of Cornelius Sigan, an evil sorcerer brought back to life when his tomb is opened. People being their greedy selves release the soul of Sigan into a living host, a bootlicker named Cedric (played by Mackenzie Crook, Ragetti from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) who manages to cause trouble for Merlin so he becomes Arthur’s servant in order to get a hold of keys to the tomb. Merlin bemoans “everything I do is for him [Arthur] and he just thinks I’m an idiot.” Arthur even throws him in prison. He breaks out so he can ask the dragon for help, but the dragon extracts a promise that Merlin will set him free in exchange for information. When Merlin faces Sigan, the sorcerer goes all Darth Vader, “join me and together we can rule.” Merlin, like Luke Skywalker, refuses. It is better to serve a good man. He’s almost consumed by the soul of Sigan but off camera gets it back into its crystal. Uther, being dense as usual, figures that they must renew their efforts to eradicate sorcerers. How ’bout, Gaius said don’t open the tomb and you wanted riches, so did so anyway?

In The Once and Future Queen, Arthur wants to be judged as his own man, not as the prince. So he concocts an idea for the upcoming jousting tournament. He won’t compete as himself; he’ll have an unknown man do all the public appearances and compete in the joust in the helmet so his opponent won’t pull up at the last moment in order to not harm the prince. (Bit like part of Knight’s Tale). Arthur secretly stays at Gwen’s home for the tournament, but still acts like a rude prince at times. Gwen stands up to him and he listens. Yet trouble still lies in wait; an assassin has been sent to kill Arthur. The assassin spots Merlin and follows the boy, finally discovering Arthur. The assassin takes the place of Arthur’s final opponent and uses a tipped lance to injure the prince. Arthur (with the secret magical help of Merlin) defeats the assassin; he still wants to prove to himself that he is a good and worthy knight. There’s a funny rant by Merlin in the episode of all his duties. He still has to clean the leech tank at the end, though.

Morgana’s magic becomes apparent in The Nightmare Begins. While she dreams, her eyes flash gold, starting a fire. Uther suspects outside magic, but Gaius knows the truth. Merlin deduces it as well and wants to help Morgana. Some of his actions are seen by Arthur, who interprets them as affection for the king’s ward. (We the fans have on occasion paired Merlin and Morgana together). Merlin thinks that the Druids may be able to help. When he asks the dragon for help, the dragon warns Merlin that the “witch” cannot be trusts and it would be better if she never knew the extent of her powers. Merlin won’t abandon her, so the dragon won’t help. Merlin manages to track down the answers and sneaks Morgana out to their camp. Which Uther sees as someone abducting his ward and sends Arthur and his knights to kill all the Druids. At the camp, Morgana meets up with young Mordred again and is so pleased to have some answers, she doesn’t want to go back to Camelot. She tries to flee but an earlier injury hampers her. Merlin secretly manages a distraction; Morgana is recovered and Mordred flees (but not before Merlin witnesses the boy’s power and Mordred calls him Emrys).

Lancelot and Guinevere are reunited in the next episode. Gwen accompanies Morgana on a day trip to visit Morgana’s father’s grave. On the way, they are ambushed by bandits. Morgana manages to get away, but Gwen is still prisoner. Uther won’t send Arthur after a servant and in public, Arthur agrees. In private, he prepares for a rescue. Gwen is held for ransom (believing her to be Lady Morgana) by Hengist (played by James Cosmo, who has appeared in Last Legion, Game of Thrones [Lord Commander Mormont], and is Father Christmas in Chronicles of Narnia). He likes his entertainment in the form of cage fights (cause those were a thing in fantasy medieval times). Who should appear and win his bout but Lancelot? He recognizes Gwen and knows that Uther will not pay the ransom, so he must get her out. He is aided by Arthur and Merlin (once they pass the wildren [“giant…baby rats”] by spreading gaia berries on their face). Arthur and Gwen are sent through the tunnel first, Merlin stays back with Lancelot so he can use magic more openly. Once they are free, Merlin notices that Gwen and Lancelot have shared some tender moments, and he knows that Arthur has feelings for Gwen. Lancelot and Arthur even speak about their shared feelings for the young woman. Lancelot, being the chivalrous knight that he is, won’t come between Arthur and Gwen, so he leaves again.

An “old friend” of Uther’s visits in the two-parter Beauty and the Beast, Lady Catrina, the last of a noble house. However, the Lady Catrina is actually a troll (who most likely killed Catrina and took her place). The troll uses a potion to look beautiful, but still prefers to eat rotten food and sleep in filth. Uther is utterly enchanted by the Lady Catrina – figuratively and literally; she enchants him to marry her so she will gain riches and power. Merlin figures out the truth of her and goes to Arthur. While Arthur is put off by the sickening romantic gestures of his father, he won’t hear Merlin call the woman names. Until she reveals herself as a troll when Merlin switches her potions. But Uther is blind. The only way to break the enchantment is for Uther to cry tears of true remorse, per the dragon (after he has a laugh). Arthur is not sure it will work; Catrina has dismissed Merlin for a crime (that Arthur knows he didn’t commit) and had Uther disinherit Arthur. Gaius knows that Uther truly loves his son, so concocts a potion that will make Arthur appear dead. Merlin just has to get him the antidote in time. (There’s a bit of a stutter there, when Merlin gets knocked out and vial smashed, but it turns out alright in the end). The plan is ultimately successful and Arthur stabs the troll.

In his continuing pursuit to rid Camelot of magic, Uther calls in The Witchfinder. Merlin was almost seen playing with magic. Aridian [Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones] arrives in Camelot and quickly finds three women who have also witnessed magic (which reminded me of the Salem witch trials) and accuses Merlin of being a sorcerer. Arthur scoffs and Merlin insists he has nothing to hide. Aridian “searches” Gaius’s chambers (more like destroys) and discovers a magical bracelet. He arrests Gaius and “questions” (read: interrogate) the elderly man. Aridian reveals that he suspects Merlin and Morgana and will have them exectued, unless Gaius confesses. Gaius confesses. But Aridian won’t hold up his end of the bargain with the comeback that he doesn’t bargain with sorcerers. Merlin (with some help from Arthur this time) sees Gaius. The bracelet wasn’t either of theirs. They realize Aridian is a fake. Now they just have to collect proof. With some help from Gwen, they uncover that the three women all had bought eye drops which caused hallucinations. Merlin magically leaves evidence in Aridian’s chambers, so he’s implicated upon a search. Then he helpfully falls out a window. Gaius is thus released and Uther attempts to apologize. Gaius calls his old friend out that he suffered at Uther’s hands, not Aridian’s. He was not the first falsely accused. Gaius shares a joke with Merlin after that the boy should promise to never save his life again.

Arthur finally discovers the true circumstances of his birth in The Sins of the Father. Morgause rides into Camelot as a knight and challenges Arthur. She almost has him beat in the fight, but extracts a promise for him to meet her later and submit to her challenge there. She also stops to speak to Morgana and gifts the young woman with a bracelet to help ward off bad dreams. Gaius sees the bracelet and realizes who Morgause is; Morgana’s half sister. The bracelet bears the crest of the House of Gorlois; Gaius admits to Uther that he was the one who smuggled the girl out of the castle after her birth to be raised by the High Priestess. (How does Morgana not recognize the crest on the bracelet?) They fear what Arthur will discover from Morgause and Uther forbids Arthur from leaving. Arthur of course sneaks out. His challenge before Morgause is to willingly place his head on an execution block. She swings the axe up, but sets it aside. As a reward, Arthur may have one wish. His heart’s desire is to see his mother. Arthur wonders, as Morgause casts magic, maybe his father’s view has been wrong. Merlin gets his hopes up a little; he and Arthur even bonded over never knowing one of their parents (Merlin never knew his father). Igraine appears to her son and admits that Uther used magic to aid in his conception and the Old Religion demanded a life in exchange. Arthur rides back to Camelot to confront his father. They fight and Arthur calls his father out. Merlin breaks in and stops the fight; claiming that Morgause lied. He has to protect Arthur and that means saving Uther. Arthur would never forgive himself for killing his father. Afterwards, Arthur thanks Merlin for showing him that magic is evil and dangerous. Uther is grateful for Merlin’s loyalty and views the young man as a “trusted ally in the fight against magic”. Gaius is proud.

Merlin meets a young Druid woman named Freya in The Lady of the Lake, locked in a cage, supposedly cursed. He frees her, even after Gaius warns him not to. Merlin falls for the kind girl, telling her she doesn’t have to be scared of magic. Unfortunately, a beast begins attacking people in Camelot, one that can fly and leave human footprints. Gaius discovers it is a Bastet. Meanwhile, Merlin decides to get Freya out of Camelot; he’ll go with her to protect her. But Gaius makes him see the truth on Freya’s condition. Arthur corners her in beast form and mortally wounds her. Merlin cannot save her, but takes her to a lake to die in peace. He sets her pyre alight, tears streaming (we cry too). Arthur sense Merlin’s sadness and tries to cheer him up with some jokes.

A visiting king tries to stir up trouble in Sweet Dreams, having his jester enchant Arthur to fall in love with Lady Vivian (played by Georgia Moffett, the daughter of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, married to Tenth Doctor David Tennant and played the Doctor’s daughter in the titled episode opposite Tennant…ain’t BBC great?) Vivian is rude at first, but is also enchanted to fall in love with Arthur so war will be declared between Uther and King Olaf (played by Mark Lewis Jones, who among other roles, was Uther in The Mists of Avalon…which makes it very funny to think that he’ll challenge Uther). Arthur’s enchantment also causes problems with Gwen, because he tells Merlin he wants to demonstrate his love to a woman, whom Merlin assumes is Gwen, causing Merlin to leaves flowers and a note for Gwen. Merlin eventually needs Gwen’s help, after Arthur breaks her heart a bit not showing for a date; true love’s kiss will break the love potion (just like in every fairy tale). It works! Arthur keeps the peace between the kingdoms. Vivian’s spell is not broken, but hopefully the right man will come along for her. Gwen tells Arthur that she cannot be his queen.

Morgana slides further towards the villain side in The Witch’s Quickening when Mordred sneaks in to Camelot to persuade Morgana to steal a crystal. Merlin hears the commotion and has Arthur knock on Morgana’s door. She refuses to let Arthur search her room, which makes Arthur tell Merlin off. Merlin knows that Morgana is the one who steals the crystal, rumored to show all time: past, present, and future. The dragon warns him that a union of evil is foretold between Mordred and Morgana. Merlin follows Morgana to Mordred’s camp where they plot against Uther. Gaius helps send Arthur in the right direction, reporting to Uther on Alva, a charismatic fanatic magician. Morgana warns the camp and Merlin leads the knights to the camp, where they’re ambushed. Merlin trips Mordred, but the boy shoves spears through two knights. He won’t forget what Merlin did, but still escapes. Only Alva is left standing. Arthur has Merlin guard the crystal; Merlin fears the power, but it compels him to pick it up. He sees a vision of Camelot in flames. Alva stands trail and doesn’t give away Morgana. Morgana confronts Uther and disowns him for hunting down sorcerers, then sneaks down and eases Alva’s escape. Both Merlin and Uther suspect her involvement. Uther issues a warning that his persecution of magic will continue. Merlin fears the future he saw and Gaius tries to comfort him; the future is not yet written, he’s only seen one possibility. But the dragon calls to Merlin to fulfill his promise.

The ante is upped in The Fires of Idirsholas. Like the Nazgul, the knights of Medhir are raised from the dead to bring doom to Camelot. Morgause uses Morgana as the host for her spell to put everyone to sleep in Camelot. Merlin and Arthur are away, investigating the knights. They’re the only two of their guard to escape and make haste back for Camelot. The dragon insists on another promise of freedom before he offers help. Merlin swears on his mother’s life; he’ll follow through. The dragon tells Merlin he must kill Morgana to save everyone else. He puts hemlock in his waterskin and gives it to Morgana. She realizes what he’s done and Morgause bursts in to save her half sister (Morgana still doesn’t know). Merlin bargains the antidote for Morgause to stop the spell. She agrees to save Morgana and magics her way out. There are a few funny bits when the three teenagers are trying to save Uther, and Merlin at first does not give away that Morgana has magic. Arthur is very brave when he fights the knights by himself. Gaius reassures Merlin that he did the right thing. And now, Merlin must keep his promise. He frees the dragon.

Which leads to the dragon attacking and burning Camelot (like the vision) in The Last Dragonlord. Arthur and his knights are no match for the dragon. They must find the last dragonlord, who Gaius reveals is Balinor (remember the visiting priest from The Musketeers?). Gaius comes clean to Merlin before he leaves with Arthur that Balinor isBalinor_mortaly_wounded the boy’s father. At first meeting, Balinor is not who Merlin thought he would be. He needs the man’s help healing Arthur from a dragon scratch (the young knight received it saving Gwen). Balinor does not want to help Camelot; Uther betrayed him. He had Balinor call in the last dragon, under the guise of peace, instead to chain him up and hunt Balinor down. But Merlin reminds him of Gaius, so he’ll come. In the woods, Merlin reveals he is Balinor’s son. But they only have a few hours to enjoy their family; soldiers attack and Balinor is killed protecting Merlin. Merlin can’t even tell Arthur why he mourns the man; the son of a dragonlord would be suspicious to Uther. Arthur will make a last stand against the dragon. Merlin insists on coming. Most of the knights are killed and Arthur is knocked out. But Merlin is able to draw on the powers of a dragonlord (since his father is dead) to make Kilgarah stop. He shows mercy when Kilgarah pleads with the warlock to not end a noble race. Kilgarah feels that they will meet again. Arthur wakes after the dragon flies off and Merlin informs him that the prince dealt a mortal blow. Gwen hugs Arthur when they return and Gaius hugs Merlin, calling him “my boy.”

I liked the evolving relationship between Arthur and Merlin; they’re definitely friends, even if a bit lopsided. Arthur is comfortable enough to joke with Merlin, even if he doesn’t treat him with the best respect. This is the reason I love the show; the banter between Merlin and Arthur. Our characters are tested this season; you pity Morgana for her fear of magic. She’s raised by Uther to view magic as evil and then finds out she has it and cannot control it. I wish Merlin hadn’t had to poison Morgana; it would have been nice for him to have a confidant his own age within Camelot. And poor Merlin, to find his father and lose him within a few days’ time. Never completely trusted the dragon. He thinks that killing hundreds of innocent people is the proper recompense for one man locking him up?

As always, let me know your thoughts or questions.  (I’ll add any further thoughts that come about)

On to Season 3 next time.

Merlin Gets to Call Arthur a Prat

Merlin – Season 1

In a land of myth, and a time of magic…The destiny of a great kingdom lies on the shoulders of a young boy. His name…Merlin.

merlin opening

Ran on BBC for five seasons from 2008 to 2012 featuring younger characters; young adults, before they became famous. For those who watch British television, it has some familiar faces and names (a whole bunch have appeared in Doctor Who). Colin Morgan (he was the teenage boy in the episode Midnight, and did go on to have a small part in The Huntsman: Winter’s War) leads the cast as Merlin with Bradley James by his side as Arthur. Angel Coulby (again, a small role in Doctor Who, The Girl in the Fireplace) is Gwen and Katie McGrath (a variety of roles; leading lady in A Princess for Christmas opposite Sam Heughan [before he became Jamie Fraser in Outlander] and Roger Moore, a small part in Tudors, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, she was Zara in Jurassic World and has had reoccurring roles in Dracula and Supergirl) is Morgana. Veterans Anthony Head (has appeared in Doctor Who, Buffy, Galavant, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters) is Uther Pendragon, Richard Wilson (who has also been in Doctor Who) is Merlin’s mentor Gaius, and John Hurt (The War Doctor, Ollivander in Harry Potter among over 200 credits and recently passed in 2017) voices the Great Dragon. It’s not specifically set in England; all of the place names being fantasy related. The show centers in Camelot, though the features a castle that actually exists in France.

We open with The Dragon’s Call, the dragon narrating that no young man, no matter how great, can know his destiny (this is before the opening was used before each episode). Merlin walks into Camelot just as Uther decrees a sorcerer executed. He has banned magic from his kingdom and they have enjoyed twenty years of peace. An old woman curses Uther and disappears. Merlin heads for Gaius’s chambers and demonstrates his innate magical ability when he saves Gaius from falling. Yeah, that’s going to be an issue; the boy was born with magic and cannot help it. And now lives in a city where he will be executed if found out. Morgana opposes Uther’s harsh law on magic (she’s not aware of her legendary abilities at this point), and shows herself to be a strong female to openly stand up to her guardian. Merlin meets Arthur as the prince is tormenting a servant; Merlin refuses to show proper decorum, referring to Arthur as a prat. He ends up in the stocks, twice, meeting Gwen as well, who is Morgana’s servant. The old woman from before has transformed herself into a famous singer in order to get into the palace (played by Eve Myles who is Gwen Cooper from Torchwood and Doctor Who and was Mrs. Jenkins in the Victoria series).

Throughout the episode, Merlin hears a voice calling him. He eventually ventures below the castle and encounters a dragon. The Great Dragon informs the young warlock that his and Arthur’s destines are entwined. Arthur is the Once and Future King, destined to unite Albion and bring magic back. Merlin’s role is to protect the young man; a duty that Merlin is not keen on at the beginning. Nevertheless, when the witch puts everyone to sleep and tries to kill Arthur, Merlin uses his powers to save the prince. Uther “rewards” him for his loyalty by making him Arthur’s servant; neither boy is terribly happy about the appointment.

Valiant brings a tournament for knights to compete. Arthur is expected to win since he’s the prince. The knight Valiant however has a magical trick up his sleeve to ensure his victory; a shield with three snakes that can come to life and do his bidding. Merlin eventually discovers the shield and tries to convince Arthur to drop out of the tournament. The servant manages to get the prince to believe his accusations, but they have no proof and Arthur is embarrassed in front of the king. He dismisses Merlin, but Merlin will see his duty through. Morgana also has dreams of Arthur dying and even tries to persuade him to save himself; Arthur cannot back down from the fight. Merlin discovers a way to bring the snakes to life on his own and quietly does so in front of the whole court. Morgana throws a sword to Arthur, who dispatches the snakes and Valiant. There’s almost a tender moment between the two after, but they bicker with each other. Merlin is once again Arthur’s servant and their lives carry on.

A plague breaks out in The Mark of Nimueh, caused by the sorceress Nimueh (played by Michelle Ryan who was in the Doctor Who episode Planet of the Dead). Merlin struggles to learn when it is appropriate to use his powers. (He is often in the position of: “Merlin, don’t do this thing.” And Merlin does the thing). He heals Gwen’s father when he falls ill, but that simply causes more problems. Gwen is accused of being a sorceress and Merlin tries to cover for her. Arthur talks him out of any consequences by saying the boy is in love with Gwen (they are adorably awkward around each other at times) [reminder, no Arthur does not know that Merlin has magic, he’s simply saving a friend]. Gaius and Merlin figure out it’s an Avank monster and gather Morgana and Arthur to destroy the beast. Gwen is saved, but Gaius and Uther both know the sorceress responsible.

The Poisoned Chalice is one of my favorite episodes, since it shows the tight friendship that Arthur and Merlin have already built. Nimueh sneaks into Camelot as part of King Bayard’s court, there to sign a treaty with Uther. Nimueh poisons a cup that is given to Arthur, then disguises herself as a servant and speaks to Merlin, spurring him to take the cup to save Arthur. When the poison takes effect after a moment, it drops him to the ground. Gaius figures out what the poison is and the antidote, but it’s a dangerous mission. Arthur barely hesitates, agreeing to retrieve the ingredients. Uther forbids his son from the mission. Arthur, encouraged by Morgana, disobeys his father and rides out. He battles a few beasts and encounters Nimueh, who leaves him to die by giant spiders (why did it have to be spiders?) While a fever rages through Merlin, he mutters magic, which Gaius has to cover in front of Gwen. He conjures a blue sphere to light Arthur’s way, and even urges the young man to save himself. Arthur grabs one vital flower and escapes. Uther puts him in the dungeon for his disobedience; he’ll just have to get a new servant when he’s let out (Uther has a habit of being cruel). Gwen manages to sneak in and get the flower and Gaius has to secretly use magic to make the antidote. Again, it takes a moment for the draught to take effect, but Merlin recovers. Huzzah!

We meet Lancelot in the self-titled episode (remember, played by a fresh faced Santiago Cabrera; later to be Aramis). He saves Merlin from a griffin attack and is injured in the process. Upon waking in Camelot, he expresses his lifelong desire to be a knight. One problem: the First Code. Knights must be from noble families; Lancelot is not. Merlin magics his way around that, including his friend in the lineage of a noble house. He encounters the librarian, Geoffrey of Monmouth (as in the writer of The History of the Kings of Britain, one of the earliest developed narratives of King Arthur). Lancelot proves himself in a test against Arthur and is knighted. But it’s all ripped away when Geoffrey discovers the lie. Arthur has no choice but to imprison Lancelot. Meanwhile, the griffin has come to the castle. It is a magical beast and can only be vanquished with magic. Merlin has a plan and is aided by Lancelot (who, upon being let out of prison by Arthur, insists on staying and goes to Gwen for weapons and aid. Gwen in turn fetches Merlin). Lancelot charges at the beast while Arthur lies knocked out. Merlin mutters his incantation and the lance glows, defeating the griffin. Uther refuses to reinstate Lancelot’s knighthood after his heroic deeds. While Arthur fights his father, Lancelot quietly reveals to Merlin that he knows of the boy’s magic; he heard the incantation. But he won’t reveal the secret. He does agree to leave Camelot.

Morgana becomes very ill, “all but dead” in A Remedy to Cure All Ills. A man comes to Camelot spouting that he has a remedy to cure all ills and will see to Morgana. In fact, the man is a sorcerer and caused the illness (with a creepy bug). He cures Morgana, which was something Gaius was unable to do, calling into question Gaius’s outdated methods and age. Uther offers the position of court physician to the man, retiring Gaius. Gaius intends to leave Camelot, though Merlin begs for him to stay; the man has been more than a father to him and Gaius admits he looks on Merlin like a son. The sorcerer causes Uther to fall ill next. Gaius confronts the young man, realizing he recognizes him; he was a boy during the Purges and his parents were burned by Uther for using magic. We also find out that Gaius knows the great dragon beneath Camelot. The dragon counsels Gaius that Arthur cannot unite Albion until Uther is dead. Merlin manages to rescue his mentor and reverse the sorcerer’s illness. Gaius is reinstated and Uther is none the wiser to the magical ailments that went on under his nose.

The Sidhe (an Irish term for faeries, a carryover from when they were considered gods) make an appearance in The Gates of Avalon. Merlin and Arthur are out hunting and come across bandits attacking and father and daughter. Arthur rescues them (with secret magical assistance from Merlin) and escorts them to Camelot. They’re invited to stay and Arthur clearly is infatuated with the daughter Sophia (played by Holliday Grainger. Among other roles, she is Anastasia in the updated Disney Cinderella movie). Arthur has Merlin cover for him so he can spend time with the young lady, landing Merlin in the stocks twice (this is the season Merlin spends in the stocks).

Meanwhile, Morgana has been having dreams of Sophia drowning Arthur; she saw Sophia before the young woman stepped foot into the castle. Indeed, Sophia is trying to drown Arthur; Merlin follows her father to the woods one evening and overhears their plan to sacrifice Arthur so Sophia can regain her immortal life as a Sidhe. Morgana goes to Gaius, who believes her and sends Merlin after them. He destroys the Sidhe and rescues Arthur. And still ends up punished.

The Beginning of the End (very ominous) introduces the Druids. A young Druid boy (who looks like a young Merlin) and his father are chased by guards; the boy is injured and the father is captured. The boy calls to Merlin – mentally, for aid, calling him ‘Emrys’. Merlin helps him and hides him with Morgana. Morgana quickly becomes attached to the boy, holding him as they hear his father executed. Uther demands the boy be found; any who harbor him will face execution as well. The boy’s wound becomes infected and Merlin is hesitant to bring in Gaius. Merlin seeks counsel from the dragon, and the dragon reveals that the boy will be Arthur’s downfall. Morgana, Gwen, and Merlin try to sneak the boy out, but Morgana and the boy are caught. Uther is furious at Morgana. Arthur is more sympathetic than his father and agrees to help get the boy to the Druids. Morgana will dine with Uther so she cannot be suspected. Arthur will get the boy out of the dungeon, but he needs Merlin’s help. Merlin almost doesn’t follow through, heeding the dragon’s caution of future danger. But he comes through and Arthur manages to get the boy to the Druids. Only then do we find out the boy’s name: Mordred. Uh oh.

Another element from the legend comes into play in Excalibur. Nimueh raises a knight from the dead on the same evening Arthur is officially crowned as prince of Camelot and Uther’s heir, now that he is of age. The knight breaks into the festivities and throws down a gauntlet. Sir Owain picks it up and will face single combat. Arthur would rather face the knight than have his knights be sacrificed. Gaius suspects and with the help of Geoffrey confirms the black knight is Sir Tristan du Bois, Uther’s brother-in-law, killed by Uther’s hand when Tristan challenged him after his sister Igraine’s death. Owain is killed by the black knight in combat and the gauntlet is thrown again. Uther stops Arthur from picking it up, instead, Sir Pelenor will face the challenge. He fares better the next day, but still falls. Merlin has noticed both times that wounds that should kill the black knight don’t. He’s once again dealing with a magical entity. Arthur this time throws down his gauntlet; he will face the black knight. Everyone tries to talk Arthur out of it; he will be killed. Nimueh visits Uther and we discover they used to be friends. Uther had asked for her help to give his wife a son. But she was not to know that it was Igraine’s life that would be lost to gain Arthur’s. This is why Uther despises magic. Uther finally goes to Gaius for help; a sleeping draught.

In the meantime, Merlin has been working on another plan. A sword burnished by dragon fire can kill a wraith. Merlin gets such a blade, promising to the dragon that only Arthur will wield it. It gains an inscription that reads on one side: Take me up, and on the other: Cast me aside. There’s a hiccup when Arthur is sleeping and Uther takes his place, including the sword. It’s does its job, but the dragon is furious. He orders Merlin to take the sword where it can never be found; the young man throws it into a lake (this is the sword from the opening sequence). Arthur confronts his father about his actions and Uther finally admits to his son that he is not a disappointment.

Merlin returns home during The Moment of Truth. His mother, Hunith comes to Camelot begging help; raiders are attacking their village. But they lie in another kingdom and Uther cannot send knights, it would look like an act of war. Merlin will return with his mother, intent on staying so he can look after her. Gwen and Morgana accompany him and they’re joined later by Arthur. Arthur encourages the men of the village to fight and stand up to Canan and his goons. One young man is outspoken against him, Will, Merlin’s old friend. His father had been killed serving a king and so he doesn’t trust nobles. Will incidentally knows that Merlin has magic and debates with him on using it, so he can spare the village. But Merlin must keep it a secret from Arthur. Gwen and Morgana join the men in the fight (wearing impractical mail). Merlin finally has to use magic, which Arthur witnesses. But Will was standing next to Merlin so it could have been either of them. Will takes a bolt for Arthur and as he dies, he takes credit for the magic; what can Arthur do? Kill him? Hunith talks her son into returning to Camelot; she sees that he and Arthur are friends; two sides of the same coin. The day will come when the truth will be known.

Arthur slays a unicorn hunting one day in The Labyrinth of Gedref, causing a curse to befall Camelot. Overnight their crops die, then the water turns to sand. An old man appears and tells Arthur he must face several tests to lift the curse. One evening, Arthur and Merlin, while looking for the old man, come across a peasant stealing food. Arthur lets the man go. Water returns. But when they venture to the woods, the peasant taunts him and Arthur fights him. The remaining grain rots and Uther decrees that the food must be saved for the army. But Arthur cares more for his people than for himself and refuses to give the order. Merlin persuades the old man to give Arthur a final test. Then follows Arthur through a labyrinth. At the end, Merlin sits across from Arthur at a table, two goblets, one filled with poison. Merlin tries to talk Arthur into letting him drink the poison; he is only a servant. But Arthur tricks him and drinks all the contents. ‘Twas ultimately not poison and Arthur wakes. The crops re-grow overnight and Camelot is saved. Arthur buries the unicorn horn and proving that he has a pure heart, the unicorn lives again.

Gwen’s father is caught consorting with a sorcerer in To Kill the King and sentenced to execution. Morgana takes pity on him for Gwen’s sake and tries to help him escape. He is killed. Morgana is furious for Uther for the way he handled the situation. If it involves magic, he loses all rational sense. He locks her in the dungeon overnight for her backtalk. Arthur pleads with him off camera in the morning to release his ward. So she decides that Uther must die and allies herself with the sorcerer. Under the pretense of visiting her father’s grave, Morgana gets Uther into the open. Merlin follows and takes care of the other men. But at the grave, Uther reveals he looks upon Morgana as a daughter and appreciates that she makes him question his actions, like her father did. From now on, he tells her, I want to listen more and quarrel less. Morgana no long wishes Uther dead and when the sorcerer attacks, she stabs in him the back as he tackles Uther.

The first season ends with Le Morte d’Arthur (like Malory’s tale). Arthur, Merlin, and his knights are in the forest, hunting the Questing Beast. They lose Sir Bedivere to the beast (like in the tale). Morgana has another dream of Arthur dying and in distress begs him not to go back out. He does and in a cave is scratched by the beast. Gaius states that a bite from the Questing Beast is fatal, there is no cure. Uther tries to carry his son to his room, but falls to his knees in the courtyard. Gaius tries to make the lad more comfortable, but Merlin searches for another answer. The Questing Beast is tied to the Old Religion and carries the power of life and death. Merlin goes to the dragon for help. He’s instructed to go to the Isle of the Blessed and strike a deal, a life for a life. Merlin willingly gives his life for Arthur. But he meets Nimueh on the Isle. She gives him water from the Cup of Life. With it, Arthur is healed. And Merlin strangely doesn’t die.

Instead, his mother arrives back in Camelot, gravely ill. Merlin is furious at the dragon for misleading him. The dragon insists that Merlin must do everything in his power to free the dragon, to free magic. Merlin tells the dragon he will not be back. Now, Merlin can’t find Gaius. He races after his mentor, who has chosen to give his life for the boy. Merlin strikes out at Nimueh, bringing lightning upon her. The balance of the Old Religion has been appeased. Gaius lives, Arthur lives, we see some tender moments between Uther and his son, along with a moment between Gwen and Arthur. Merlin tries to say goodbye to Arthur without really saying goodbye and being the men they are, they can’t really tell each other how they feel; that they’re friends and they’d miss each other. It’s another of my favorite episodes.

The theme of destiny runs throughout the series. The Great Dragon harps on it anytime Merlin asks for help. Gaius refers to it. Others speak to Arthur about his destiny as king. It’s a lot for two young men to take on, particularly when they don’t know the full extent. We as the audience know they’re ‘destined’ to become legends. For now, though, they’re teenagers. Merlin has to hide a part of himself from the person he’s supposed to protect. They all make mistakes. It’s fun to see these characters more human. Not as legends, but as young people, relatable.

Morgana’s costumes in particular have a modern flair. This is a fantastical take on the legend, rather than a historical take (Last Legion, King Arthur. Those have their places. This is fun). What made these characters into who they are? How did Arthur and Merlin have such a strong bond? It’s adorable to watch Arthur become protective of Merlin so soon. While he was raised by a sometimes-tyrant like Uther (he truly loves his son, he just has a funny way of showing it), Arthur is a different man than his father. He puts everyone else before him; well, he still gives Merlin a list of chores to do.

We will continue this discussion in Season Two next time.

Giving the women of Arthurian legend their due

Mists of Avalon

Based on the book by Marion Zimmer Bradley; I read the book when I was doing research for my Morgan le Fae capstone project (in order to complete my Creative Writing major; and at 876 pages, I am pretty sure it is the longest book I’ve read). It has greatly influenced elements of the fantasy series I am planning: how the Faerie kingdom works, heck it’s influenced character names. I also made a deal with my brother; he said he wouldn’t read it since it was about women, I found that sexist. In return, I would read Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy and a Clive Cussler book. And after having Morgan le Fae vilified by almost every other version of the tale; mainly since she is a female with magic (Merlin has magic, but since he’s a man, he’s good…that bothered me a lot in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga), I cheered that this presented the characters in a better light (well, more so in the film than in the book; the book is heavily pro Morgaine and the Old Ways).

The film was actually made for TV in two episodes. It stars Anjelica Huston (she was the stepmother in Ever After) as Vivianne, Julianna Margulies as Morgaine, Joan Allen as Morgause, Samantha Mathis (she’s older Amy March in Little Women) as Gwenwyfar, Caroline Goodall (the mom in Princess Diaries) as Igraine, Edward Atterton (he plays jerkass Atheron in an episode of Firefly) as Arthur (he’s nicer in this role), Freddie Highmore (he’s the lead in The Good Doctor amongst other roles) as young Arthur, and Hans Matheson (Lord Coward in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes, and Thomas Cranmer in The Tudors) as Mordred. Loreena McKennitt’s Mystic’s Dream features in the movie several times (I was already familiar with the artist when I watched the movie).

The film is really told as a flashback by Morgaine. She tells us that most stories about Arthur are lies and the true story is not known. The story takes place in a time of violent upheaval in Britain; the Saxons are invading. They need one great leader to unite them all. A major point of contention is the Old Ways worshipping the Mother Goddess and the new religion of Christianity. The Old Religion embraces Christianity, able to coexist. Christianity…not so much. Morgaine’s father was a Christian man, Goloris, Duke of Cornwall. Her mother was Igraine, who still secretly followed the Old Ways. Igraine’s sister Morgause lived with them and she was more open about following the Goddess. Their eldest sister is Vivianne, the Lady of the Lake. She and Merlin come to Cornwall to speak to Igraine. The current king, Ambrosis is old and due to name a successor, but they’re looking further ahead to the future. They’ve seen one who will unite Britain, but he needs to be born to two who follow the Old Ways. Igraine is to bear the king, but not by Goloris; instead to one who bears a dragon tattoo. Morgause offers, but Vivianne shuts her down. Igraine refuses. But she and Goloris attend the king, where she meets Uther Pendragon, and man who bears a dragon tattoo. He sees her afterwards and they speak of a recognition they both feel; they were lovers in a former life. Igraine still tries to resist, but it doesn’t help that Uther is named Ambrosis’s successor. Goloris notices Uther’s interest in his wife and he is turned against the High King.

But Igraine later has a vision of Goloris attacking Uther and acts to warn Uther. The two men face on the battlefield. The magic weakens Igraine. The next day, Merlin comes to Cornwall with Goloris, who goes up to see his wife. Morgaine also has the gift of Sight and realizes that the man is not her father. Goloris’s men bring his body back to Cornwall and it is apparent that the man with Igraine is Uther. He takes Igraine and Morgaine to Camelot and makes Igraine his High Queen. They do seem to love each other and it’s cute when Uther sits alongside Morgaine as they wait for Igraine to give birth. Morgaine gains a little brother, Arthur, whom she loves dearly. Their time of happiness comes to an end when Vivianne and Merlin show up; both children must be fostered. Morgaine and Arthur both cry when they’re separated; Arthur goes with Merlin and Vivianne takes Morgaine to Avalon.

women of mists of avalon
Morgause, Morgaine, Vivianne, and Igraine

Avalon lies near Glastonbury, where the Christians have erected a monastery. To get to Avalon, one must pass through a lake covered in mist. A powerful priestess can part the mist. The Old Religion teaches balance between good and evil; the Mother Goddess rules over Nature and all Nature is sacred. Morgaine acquires power over the elements and joins the sisterhood. Igraine sees this and whispers to Uther “she’s been taken.” A visitor comes to Avalon once Morgaine is an adult; she hopes it is Arthur but instead it is her cousin, Lancelot, son of Vivianne (his father is never mentioned in the film and mentioned once in the book). Lancelot wishes to have his mother’s blessing to fight alongside the other knights against the Saxons; she wishes that he would stay in Avalon. She sends Lancelot and Morgaine to the Stone Circle. Morgaine is attracted to her cousin, but then they hear the bells of Glastonbury and Lancelot catches sight of a pretty young nun and asks Morgaine to part the mists. The young Christian is Gwenwyfar; Lancelot asks her to stay in Avalon a while, but Morgaine returns the mists. Lancelot leaves.

Morgaine is prepared for the Beltaine rights, the Great Marriage. She will play the Virgin Huntress and bed the Great Hunter. They are both masked. Afterwards, Morgaine hopes that the man was Lancelot…well, about a minute after that we see the man in question washing up. Not Lancelot. The man expresses his desire to see the woman again to Merlin, Merlin names the man Arthur. (Uh oh). Arthur must set out for Uther, who is the midst of battling Saxons. Arthur arrives in time to block a blow to the king, but he still dies. A vision of Vivianne instructs Arthur to take up the sword, Excalibur, a sword from Avalon; though he must swear to obey the Old Ways. He rallies the troops and wins the fight. Morgaine returns to Camelot for her brother’s coronation. He swears to deal fairly with both Druid and Christian; he will rule a kingdom united. Her aunt Morgause has wed King Lot of Orkney (in the Scottish Isles). Lot even mentions that if one man could save Britain, it’s Arthur. Igraine plans to retire to Glastonbury and ask for forgiveness for her actions against Goloris. The priest assures Morgaine that her mother has friends among the Christian community and they will take care of her. Arthur is thrilled to see his older sister again. He tells her that he intends to marry Gwenwyfar, but there is another woman that occupies his thoughts: he knows not her face or her name; they were both masked. Morgaine realizes with horror what happened. She confronts Vivianne, who holds that everything has been done in the name of saving Avalon. Vivianne hopes that Morgaine will follow her as Lady of the Lake. Morgaine rejects the offer; she will still follow the Goddess, but not Vivianne; she will never set foot in Avalon again. She will keep the child she now carries, but she will not let Vivianne train.

In the meantime, Arthur has put Gwenwyfar in the care of Lancelot. They are ambushed and once they escape, they speak of the brief moment they had between Avalon and Glastonbury. They cannot fight their attraction to each other and passionately kiss (more uh oh).

Morgaine takes refuge with Morgause in Orkney. Lot urges his wife to let the child die so their son will be Arthur’s successor (a nephew would take precedent over a cousin). Morgause, for some unknown reason, uses dark magic to curse Gwenwyfar; she will bear no sons for Arthur. The woman intends to follow her husband’s instructions, leaving the babe in front of an open window in the middle of winter. But in a fever after giving birth, Morgaine reveals to Morgause that the boy’s father is Arthur. Morgause has a cunning plan; be the influence on the boy and then when he ascends the throne, it will be her will done in the kingdom. Morgause dislikes Vivianne and doesn’t trust her (doesn’t make Morgause a good person, but it’s one redeeming quality she has, that she does not blindly follow what Vivianne decrees.) The Morgaine telling the story as flashbacks comments that it was this point that altered the fate of Britain forever; a new dreadful power was born. Several years later, Morgause suggests that Morgaine returns to Camelot to see her brother. Morgause will keep Mordred with her in Orkney (not the best idea).

morgaine and arthur
Sister and brother reunited

So Morgaine returns. Arthur is once again pleased to see his sister again (I find it adorable, their sibling affection…we should all know by now that it’s one of my favorite relationships shown). Gwen attempts to befriend Morgaine, though she admits the other woman frightens her since she follows the Old Ways. She summons the courage to ask her sister-in-law for herbs and spells to help her conceive; it is her greatest wish and desire to give her husband a son. Morgaine visits Lancelot; she still harbors affection for the young man (though I notice that the adults of the film barely age, not till the very end). She also knows of the affection that Lancelot shares with Gwen. Lancelot declares he loves Arthur more. Unknown to the pair, Arthur is watching from above. Another of Arthur’s knights, Accolon catches Morgaine’s attentions. He too follows the Old Ways. At the next Beltane, Morgaine gives a charm to Gwen to help her conceive. Following the information he has gained, Arthur asks Lancelot to bed his wife with him (he’s also a bit drunk when he asks this, but states that he wouldn’t be able to ask if he wasn’t drunk). A child conceived in the king’s bed will be the king’s child; he feels he is at fault for their childless state (nope, Morgause’s fault). All three agree. Accolon follows Morgaine and they spend the evening together.

Afterwards, Lancelot is upset with Morgaine for the charm. “How can I go back to the way things were?” Morgaine counsels he is not to blame for loving Gwen. But to help the situation, Morgaine arranges for Lancelot to marry Elaine, a young lady who is attracted to Lancelot. At the wedding, Gwen confronts Morgaine that her charm failed, there is still no child. She feels guilty for even turning to magic and the circumstances of that night. So she plots. She notices that Morgaine seems happy with Accolon. Accolon’s father, King Uriens of North Wales attends at the wedding and is an important ally of Arthur. Arthur wishes to reward his old friend, who wishes to marry. Gwen suggests Morgaine as a match (this is when I begin to dislike Gwen). Arthur has his sister’s best interests in mind and they ask Morgaine, but Gwen deliberately keeps mum on who exactly Morgaine is agreeing to marry. Arthur is shocked at Morgaine’s acceptance, but announces the betrothal. Morgaine is surprised to find herself engaged to the father, not the son. But she carries on and moves to North Wales. She finds that she is actually happy there.

On Avalon, Vivianne knows that Gwenwyfar tricked Morgaine. She confronts Merlin, but there was nothing the old man could do. Sadly, the time has come for Merlin to die. (In the book, another young man takes up the mantle of Merlin of Britain). Merlin comforts Vivianne that they haven’t failed; they’ve always done what they thought was right for Avalon. But he urges her to find some small measure of happiness. Mordred is their best hope now.

Speaking of Mordred, he has come to manhood. Vivianne appears, asking him to be Avalon’s champion. Arthur cannot be relied on any longer, he is beginning to forget the Old Ways. And he does not have an heir. Vivianne tells the young man that he is the king’s son. Mordred says it cannot be; his mother is the king’s sister. To Vivianne, that doesn’t matter; his blood is strong in magic. When Mordred speaks to Morgause, she cautions that Mordred cannot take the throne now; Arthur’s flame has never burned brighter, his knights will tear apart anyone who challenges him. Instead, he needs to discredit the king. And the best way to do that is through his queen. Mordred weeps; he’d rather love his father like everyone else does. He’d rather love his mother, Morgaine. He is already weary of God and the Goddess and Fate (he’s sympathetic, for a moment). But he drinks to Arthur’s death.

Mordred goes to Camelot, asking to be one of Arthur’s knights. He wins his place when he bests another in a duel. Arthur embraces him happily as his nephew. They’re a bit surprised to learn Morgaine had a child; she does not speak of it as there was sadness in his making (that’s one way to put it). After a while, Mordred confronts Arthur about his due. He asks Arthur to name his successor and reveals the truth of that Beltane ceremony years ago. Gwen begs Arthur to dispute it, but he cannot. Lancelot later finds Gwen crying and she reveals the truth as well. Mordred has planned this and has knights waiting to arrest them when they’re found kissing. The couple escapes. Arthur refuses to pass judgment on the matter; he loves both Lancelot and Gwenwyfar. He leaves the matter to Mordred.

Morgaine intends to return to Avalon after Uriens’ death, but she is attacked and injured. She tries to sail to Avalon, but cannot part the mists. Instead, she comes upon Glastonbury, where a nun spots her. It’s her mother, Igraine. When Lancelot and Gwen ride from Camelot, he takes her to Glastonbury, where she sees Morgaine. She apologizes for separating the siblings, it is her greatest sin, coming between their love. Morgaine is brought up to speed and rides back for Camelot, to save her brother and her son. The Saxon’s final assault on Britain has begun. Morgaine meets up with Vivianne on the road to Camelot. Vivianne confronts her sister Morgause when they arrive. This is not what the Goddess intended. Indeed not, it’s Morgause’s will. Morgause tries to stab Vivianne, but instead she’s the one who falls to the blade. Mordred cuts down Vivianne in retaliation.

Morgaine goes to her brother and rallies him to take up Excalibur again and stand against Mordred. At the battle, Lancelot returns to Arthur, bringing more men, but the Saxons still outnumber them, now with Mordred at the lead. The two face off on the battlefield (why do they take off their armor? Idiots) while Morgaine rides from Morgause’s and Vivianne’s pyres to stop them. Mordred mortally wounds Arthur, and Arthur strikes Mordred down in return. Both have tears in their eyes. Mordred’s last word is “mother” as Morgaine holds him. Arthur asks “take me home, sister. Take me to Avalon.” They set sail. But the mists still won’t part for Morgaine. Perhaps it has been lost due to their disobedience. Arthur offers Excalibur, Avalon’s sword, as a sacrifice. Morgaine throws it into the lake. The mists separate for a moment. “We’re home, Arthur.” But Arthur dies. The mists cover again. The bell of Glastonbury tolls. Avalon has faded from the world of men; only Glastonbury marks the spot now. The Saxons overran Britain and the Goddess was forgotten. Though many years later, Morgaine wonders if perhaps it survived, as the Virgin Mary.

As I summed up in my paper on the characterization of Morgan le Fae, Mists of Avalon delves into greater detail on elements of traditional Arthurian legend. It explains why Excalibur is magical, it includes how the sword ended up in the lake and its connection to the Lady of the Lake. I don’t think it gives great reasoning on why Mordred became evil, aside from influence from Morgause. Honestly, Morgaine should have kept Mordred with her. That could have prevented some problems. He stated he loved his parents and literally a minute later is plotting their downfall. This story gives a reasonable explanation for how a child came from a union between brother and sister, without being completely *squick.* The whole “for the greater good” excuse is annoying. It’s annoying in Harry Potter and just about everywhere else it is used. Vivianne is portrayed as a grey character. She honestly believes what she is doing is right, but the methods are not great. And she didn’t know that Mordred was being raised by Morgause? How did she think that was going to turn out?

I typically have liked Gwen in other tales, naming my main character after her, but not in this retelling. She’s petty and whiny. The Gwen from Mercedes Lackey’s book is an excellent role model; but I have my character pretty well figured, though she, as much as my story, has evolved over the years. Heck, my plot has evolved since I wrote my capstone paper. After reading Mists of Avalon, my focus shifted to Morgan. And I’m still doing research!

Re-watching this film, after the mental evolution of my story, has changed my feeling on some other characters. Lancelot is mainly fluff, there because the legends say he is. Again, a reasonable explanation is given for the love triangle and I believe that Arthur is progressive, and a good man, to allow it to carry on. It does cause problems with his knights. I mean, overall, characters typically have good intentions in the beginning. But everything becomes complicated and scheming gets in the way. I like this portrayal of Arthur. He is truly a good man. The three women: Vivianne, Igraine, and Morgause (the book states they echo the Mother Goddess and I just realized that their inspiration for my characters make mine echo the Goddess as well…not sure how I did that, but nevertheless, cool) have good and bad sides, like good characters should.

Some of the costuming is better at times; what the ladies where in Avalon is…well, I understand they were going for a fantasy look, but I’m not sure it was the best portrayal. Some of Gwen’s gowns are pretty, as are Morgause’s. Some of Morgaine’s gowns are not as successful. The fur on Mordred at the end was ridiculous.

This ultimately is one of my favorite portrayal’s of the Arthurian legend (the other, you may be able to guess, is BBC’s Merlin series). It’s a complete story and aspects are answered. The movie does not delve too deeply into the religious differences (unlike the book). (I’m looking at you, First Night and King Arthur).

So, next time, we’re on to the first season of Merlin.

And if anyone has questions or is interested in my paper on Morgan le Fae, let me know!

“We eat ham and jam and spam a lot”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Because Terry Jones is an Arthurian scholar, not only is it the funniest re-telling, it is also the most accurate re-telling of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (I’ve read the book, not my favorite, but yes, this film is very accurate). About the most famous of Monty Python’s repertoire; it’s also the only one I can stand. I’ve tried watching their other films and I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, or I just simply don’t get their humor, but I do not like them. Took me several years to talk myself into watching this film and I do find it funny. In 2006, it was adapted into a Broadway show, Spamalot. The main characters are all played by about six main cast members: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and John Cleese (who I first knew as R then Q in Pierce Brosnan’s run as James Bond; he’s also narrated Winnie the Pooh).

The opening credits are…odd to say the least. At one point, there is a title card signed by Richard Nixon, there are subtitles that may be Swedish discussing moose – they end up sacked – multiple times. Then there’s crazy music and a bit about llamas. Finally, we reach the movie, set in England 932 AD (filmed largely in Scotland). We hear galloping…turns out, they’re coconuts (apparently a gag developed since the movie didn’t have the budge for horses). Arthur, King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England, is looking for knights to join him at his court in Camelot. The first castle he comes to discusses swallows and coconuts. Then he rides by someone calling “Bring out yer dead!” He comes upon Dennis the peasant shortly afterwards, who goes on about systems of governments [I would not want to learn all of his lines] and points out “strange women lying is ponds distributing swords is no basis of government,” annoying Arthur, who “represses” him.

Arthur comes upon the Black Knight next, battling the Green Knight. Arthur must face him and cuts off an arm. “‘Tis but a scratch,” the knight states, carrying on with the fight. Arthur chops off the other arm. “Only a flesh wound.” Next it’s a leg and Arthur mocks, “what are you going to do, bleed on me?” when the Black Knight insists he can fight. Finally, when Arthur removes the other leg, the knight calls it a draw. A brief view of monks intoning “Pie Jesu” and whacking themselves in the face with boards, and we come across Sir Bedevere educating peasants on how to test if a woman is a witch. From there, Arthur gathers Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, and “Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film.” They ride to Camelot! (It’s only a model). On second thought, they better not, it is a silly place (after a song-and-dance number rhyming with Camelot).
Monty-Python

God appears and gives Arthur the quest for the Holy Grail. They come across a group of taunting Frenchmen next (giving us the line “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” which I heard in high school from my boyfriend at one point; not that I had any clue what he was talking about). They try a variation of the Trojan Horse, except with a rabbit, that they have forgotten to get inside. They run away, and as a modern history professor announces, separate. The professor is killed.

First: Brave Sir Robin (and his minstrels)…runs away from a three-headed knight. Next: Sir Galahad, the Chaste, sees a Grail in the mist and comes upon the Castle Anthrax, filled with young women. Lancelot rescues him from the peril; Galahad would not have minded facing the peril. Arthur and Bedevere face the Knights Who Say “Nee,” who demand a shrubbery. In the midst, we have the Tale of Sir Lancelot, who receives a note to rescue someone from a horrible wedding. Turns out it’s a young man. Lancelot gets carried away and starts hacking at guards and guests. The boy’s father lets him drop out a window, except he’s not dead. As he starts to sing a song, Lancelot beats a hasty escape. Arthur and Bedevere acquire the required shrubbery, but now the Knights want more. Except they cannot stand the word “it.” Robin joins the pair and they ride away.

Animation shows that they meet up with Lancelot and Galahad. A year passes as they search for the grail (they eat the minstrels and “there was much rejoicing”). They discover Tim the Enchanter (sounding very Scottish) who leads them to a cave, guarded by killer rabbit. Yep, killer rabbit; only defeated by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (after some more running away). They discover a note inside in Aramaic, telling them where to find the Holy Grail. An animated monster, the Black Beast, chases them, but is taken out when the animator suddenly dies (lots of fourth wall breaking). Then, they’re on to the Bridge of Death, where they must answer three questions in order to cross. Typically, it’s name, their quest, and Lancelot passes when he answers with his favorite color. Robin perishes at “what is the capitol of Assyria?” Galahad messes up his favorite color. The old man falls when he asks Arthur about the “airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.” Arthur specifies which one. On the other side (from a brief intermission), Lancelot is nowhere to be found. The modern police inspectors arrested him. amidst holy music, a Viking-like ship (it has a huge dragon head prow) appears and carries Arthur and Bedevere to a castle (looks like Eileen Donan a bit). Except the French have gotten there first.

An army appears at Arthur’s request and they get ready to charge. Only for the police to stop them and arrest the two knights. The camera falls…and that is the sudden end to the movie. Apparently, budge had a hand in the affair.

It is a funny re-telling, but I have to be in the mood to watch it. I prefer more dramatic interpretations. There’s a short Merlin fanfic that intertwines with Monty Python: The Trouble with Legends by slightlytookish.

Up Next: Mists of Avalon

All About the Love Triangle

First Knight

This film focuses solely on the love triangle. Sean Connery leads the cast as King Arthur (I mean, it’s Sean Connery; I can’t say much against him). Richard Gere (Pretty Woman) is Lancelot and Liam Cunningham turns up again as Sir Agravaine. To me, Richard Gere is not an action hero; fine lead for a romantic role, but not at home with a sword. Follows in the footsteps of Prince of Thieves (where Connery cameos as King Richard), a 90’s action adaptation of a literary legend. I don’t think it succeeded as well.

Prince Malagant is the enemy in this film, compared to Mordred or Morgan le Fae (he does appear in the legend, but not usually as the big bad). Lots of plot holes: how is he a prince? Why did he break with the knights? How was he one of them in the first place? What are these wars Arthur and his knights were fighting? Arthur is significantly older in this film than in other adaptations. Scrolling text at the beginning of the film gives us a bit of back story, then we see Lancelot fighting in a town square, offering helpful advice to novice swordsmen. That village is later attacked. The villagers go to Leonesse, to the Lady Guinevere for help. After some discussion with advisors, she decides to accept Arthur’s marriage proposal, to save her kingdom from Malagant. She also truly loves Arthur; she had met him before. On her way to Camelot, her procession is attacked, her carriage hijacked. Luckily, Lancelot is nearby to help rescue the damsel in distress. Guinevere puts up a bit of a fight, but still evident that she needs a man to rescue her. After the rescue, Lancelot kisses Guinevere (why? If you were a gentleman, you’d leave her alone!) Thinking he is utterly desirable, he teases the young lady that she will ask him to kiss her again before her wedding.

Guinevere finishes her journey to Arthur; he in turn truly loves her. Lancelot too ends up in Camelot, in time to test a mechanical “gauntlet” (again, why? Why is this here? I don’t think it’s period accurate). Honestly, it’s a way to further demonstrate that Lancelot is this amazing, fearless fighter. He wins a kiss from Guinevere and cheekily demands she ask him. She refuses, so he plays the chivalrous man and declines kissing her in front of the king and a crowd of people. Arthur is intrigued by Lancelot’s “display of courage, skill, nerve, grace, and stupidity.” He offers the man a place in his kingdom. Arthur shows him the Round Table; everyone is equal, even the king. “In serving each other, we become free,” is their motto. Lancelot declines, but before he can leave the kingdom, Guinevere is abducted, again. He races off to rescue her from Malagant and brings her safely home (well, there’s a stop in the rain in the forest where they discuss love, again).

first knight

After being tempted by Lancelot, Guinevere happily reunites with Arthur. Arthur in turn wishes to reward Lancelot and decides to give him the empty spot at the Round Table and knight him. Guinevere begs Lancelot to leave Camelot; he does not. She and Arthur are married soon after. As the knights are swearing fealty to their queen, word arrives that Malagant has attacked Leonesse. Innumerable troops ride out. They battle Malagant’s forces and defeat them. Leonesse is burned, but survivors had hid themselves in the church (tying in with a flashback of Lancelot’s to his parents’ death, he sits and cries after). Lancelot now realizes that to be a good man, he must leave Guinevere; he cannot jeopardize her marriage to Arthur. He bids her farewell and Guinevere gives in and asks him to kiss her. Aragvaine and Arthur walk in.

Back in Camelot, Guinevere admits to Arthur that she loves Lancelot; but she loves Arthur as well, just in different ways. Arthur still feels like Lancelot betrayed him. There will be a public trial, so nothing is hidden. Lancelot admits to the king that the queen is innocent, and he will die for her if that is what Arthur wishes. Before Arthur can pass judgment, Malagant and his forces overtake Camelot. Malagant demands Arthur kneels before him. Arthur approaches Malagant…then commands his people to fight! He’s shot several times and rushed away. Knights and townspeople fight against Malagant’s troops. Lancelot goes after Malagant, getting stabbed once, then picking up Arthur’s sword and running the dark prince through. But it is too late to save Arthur. Arthur passes his sword to Lancelot, his first knight (how is he the first knight? Aren’t there other, more worthy candidates?) and asks the man to take care of Guinevere. They lay him to rest on a pyre set to sea (keeps in tradition with the legend, but how is that Christian? They mention God numerous times throughout the film and there are crosses everywhere).

Further question: how does everyone else feel about Arthur’s last proclamation? The knights didn’t trust Lancelot at first, then he proved himself, then he’s kissing the queen, now he’s been given Arthur’s blessing.

Costumes are…not the best. Not entirely period accurate, even for the jump forward in time. There’s a lot of blue in Camelot; like, everything. And the helmets are stupid, no wonder they all took them off. Honestly, I prefer Prince of Thieves to this film. The romance doesn’t capture me; I think because I side more with Arthur. Battles are…eh. I mean, they were better in Prince of Thieves. This does not capture the soul of the Arthurian legend.

Up Next: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Arthurian “Hey, It’s That Guy!”

King Arthur

Another film filled with familiar faces. Clive Owen leads the cast as Arthur. Ioan Gruffudd (a Welshman I know best as Horatio Hornblower [blame my brother], but also Mr. Fantastic in the slightly older Fantastic Four movies) is Lancelot, the primary narrator. Mads Mikklesen (later to be Rochefort in 2011’s Three Musketeers) is Tristan, joined by Ray Stevenson (Porthos in the same movie and Volstagg in the Thor movies) as Dagonet. Joel Edgerton (young Owen Lars in Star Wars) is Gawain, Hugh Dancy (Prince Char in Ella Enchanted) is Galahad, and Ray Winstone (Mac in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and voices Mr. Beaver in Chronicles of Narnia) is Bors. Keira Knightley is Guinevere, Stellan Skarsgård is Cedric, the leader of the Saxons, Ken Stott (he’s Balin in Hobbit and voices Trufflehunter the Badger in Prince Caspian) appears as Roman Marius. It came out in the wake of Gladiator‘s success and about the same time as Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, and Alexander; also big historical battle movies that attempt to “tell the real story” of popular myths. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (of Pirates of the Caribbean, which might be why some of the soundtrack is reminiscent; that, and written by the same composer).

This interpretation, like Last Legion, examines the Roman influence in Arthur. The opening screenshot states “Historians agree that the classical 15th century tale of King Arthur and his Knights rose from a real hero who lived a thousand years earlier in a period often called the Dark Ages. Recently discovered archeological evidence sheds light on his true identity.” Richard Barber’s King Arthur: Hero and Legend states “Arthur…was assigned the historical role of last defender of Britain before the Welsh were pushed back into the western hills (pg. 17).” In The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder “a new, independent Britain faced the overwhelming task of deafening its citizens and cities from barbarian invasions. Because he is the most famous of the British defends, the period has come to be known as the Age of Arthur (pg. 35),” roughly 400 AD. A British member of the clergy wrote in the sixth century that the Picts posed a serious threat to Britain and it was decided to hire Saxon mercenaries. The mercenaries were not loyal (surprise) and instead raided Britain, “until a Romano-Briton named Ambrosius Aurelianus assumed military leadership (pg. 38),” and victory at Badon Hill. Obviously, Arthur did not live during the chivalric age that he is so often associated with; there would be more written records. So this film is not far off in its assumptions, but still runs rampant with Hollywood History…eh, these things happened, let’s put them together.

Carrying on…Ioan narrates the beginning that as the Roman empire expanded, it came to conqueror the land of Sarmatia (present day Ukraine area). At the end of the battle, only five of the cavalry were left standing. They were spared, on the condition that they were incorporated into the Roman military, and their sons down the line would serve as well. “Better they died,” Lancelot remarks. He and the other Sarmatian knights would serve under Arthur. Fast forward fifteen years and the knights have a run in with the Woads (based on the Picts, but named after the woad paint they used). They escort the Romans to Hadrian’s wall, where the rest of the Romans are beginning to pack up and leave Britain. Arthur and his knights should be discharged, but the Roman bishop they rescued has one last mission for them before they can claim their papers. He wants the men to go north of the wall, into Woad territory and rescue a Roman family. Oh, and the Saxons are invading since the Romans are leaving.

king-arthur-2004-knights

The knights are angry at the deception; they have fought for a cause not their own for fifteen years, they want out. But they will follow Arthur. Lancelot is still the knight closest to Arthur and overhears Arthur pray to God to spare his knights. They argue over faith and belief; Lancelot does force Arthur to promise that if he should fall in battle, Arthur will burn him like the old customs.

The Saxons have heard of Arthur and are already planning on making their way to the Roman estate to take on the legend. At the Roman estate, Arthur demonstrates his strong sense of justice; he frees several pagans from being stoned in and left to die, including a young boy – Lucan, and a young woman – Guinevere, a Woad. Arthur insists on taking everyone who is able with them to escape the Saxons, knowing that it will slow them down. That evening, Merlin (the leader of the Woads, a bit different position than he normally has) instructs his men to trap Arthur, but not kill him. Merlin hopes to form an alliance with Arthur against the Saxons. Arthur is not keen on the notion, blaming the Woads for the death of his mother, a Briton. Merlin argues that based on that fact, Arthur is part Briton as well; these people left are as much his people as the Romans. They part for the evening. Guinevere ends up shooting and killing Marius when he tries to kill Lucan, leaving Marius’s son, Olecto in charge (a godson of the Pope and due to enter the church). Olecto reveals to Arthur along their journey that the man’s mentor was killed; the Rome Arthur has dreamt of doesn’t exist anymore.

The Saxons catch up to them at a frozen lake. Arthur sends the civilians away, standing with just his knights and Guinevere against a small army. Their bows can hit the Saxons, but the Saxons can’t hit them, so the Saxons move closer. Their combined weight cracks the ice (though why they insist on simply moving forward while the knights pick them off and don’t fire back; I don’t understand the tactics). Dagonet rushes forward and breaks the ice further, dumping a portion of the army. He falls in as well, but Arthur pulls him out. He’s been struck by an arrow and does not survive the battle. The knights return to Hadrian’s wall and are not exactly leaping for joy to finally receive their discharges. They should have never been sent on the mission and then Dagonet would never have died. The Romans still leave even when the Saxons camp out in front of the wall. The knights intend to leave as well; they finally have their freedom and want to return home. Arthur will stay and fight, bringing about another argument with Lancelot, who insists that this is not Arthur’s fight. Arthur pushes for his friend to take his freedom and live it for both of them. Guinevere comes to him that evening.

Cedric, after a meeting with Arthur, is excited to finally have an opponent worthy to kill. But he sends the battered infantry in first. The knights return to help Arthur and the Woads fire from the trees, decimating the Saxon force. Then the rest of the army rushes through the wall. The Woads have trebuchets (for some reason; I don’t think they were used in battle at that time period) and a full battle breaks out. Tristan faces off against Cedric and Guinevere goes after Cedric’s son. Lancelot sees her in trouble and takes over the fight. He’s shot by an arrow, but manages to throw his sword, killing his opponent. Arthur watches Tristan die at Cedric’s hand and fights the leader himself. A backwards stab does the Saxon in and through the haze, Arthur sees Guinevere beside a fallen Lancelot. Arthur cries to the heavens that it should have been his life. He feels he failed his knights; he never led them off the island nor did he share their fate. He holds to his promise to burn Lancelot. Ioan narrates the end that the knights gave their lives in service to a greater cause; freedom. Guinevere and Arthur marry; Merlin declaring him King Arthur. Arthur tells the masses that they are all Britons, united in a common cause. In the background, three horses run by, recalling a notion that Lancelot had grown up with that the souls of great warriors who died in battle are reborn as horses. The knights and King Arthur live forever in the legends told through the generations.

This has never been my favorite version of the Arthurian legend. It took several watchings for me to completely understand the story. The Roman influence threw me the first few times and deviating from the typical legend. I don’t quite understand how Arthur and Guinevere so quickly fell together. There’s really no love triangle (aside from long glances), but I’m okay with that. Arthur is the only character really developed. We get glimpses at the other knights. All of Guinevere’s costumes are impractical. Overall, not impressed. Never fear, we will get to some versions I actually like.

Up Next: First Knight

Arthur Started in Rome

The Last Legion

Taglined “Before King Arthur, There was Excalibur,” it has a lot of familiar faces. Colin Firth (King’s Speech, What a Girl Wants, Bridget Jones’ Diary) stars as Aurelius, Ben Kingsley (He was Nizam in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) is Ambrosinus, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (we just saw him as young Tristan in Tristan and Isolde) is Romulus, the last Caesar; and so many other faces that we’ve seen in historical and fantasy movies; and a lot apparently end up in Game of Thrones [I really need to see that show] While the movie starts in Rome (and I am horrible with Roman names, they all sound the same), it does end in Britain.

Ben Kingsley’s voice explains during the opening of the movie that years ago, legend has it a sword was forged for Julius Caesar, then hidden by his descendant Tiberius. Those who bear the sign of the pentangle guard its secret, searching for the righteous man to bear it. Rome lies in a precarious situation, a new emperor is due to be crowned and the Goths are demanding compensation for their work for the Empire. Romulus, who we think is just a boy running about the streets, is actually the new Emperor; he has Caesar’s blood running through him. His father is controlling and dismisses his teacher, Ambrosinus once Romulus is crowned. Aurelius is charged as the leader of the boys’ personal guard. The Goths attack and overrun Rome one evening. Most of Aurelius’s men are killed, as are Romulus’s parents. The boys is brought before the Goth’s leader and luckily Ambrosinus is able to make an argument to keep them alive.

Now Aurelius must first rescue his men, then his emperor. He has an ally with the Constantinople envoy, who sends one of his guards to help. Romulus will be granted sanctuary in the East. Aurelius is surprised to discover during a fight that the guard is actually a woman, Myrah. While on the island, Ambrosinus recognizes pentangles and sends Romulus after the sword. A plaque at a statue of Tiberius states “One edge to defend, one to defeat. In Britannia was I forged to fit the hand of he was born to rule.” Aurelius, Myrah, and a few loyal Romans rescue Romulus and Ambrosinus and meet up with the envoy, only to discover that everyone else has thrown their lot in with the Goths. There is no safe haven for the boy in the East. The small group manages to escape once again and head for Britain, hoping to find the lost ninth legion and gain allies. They’re followed by Wulfa and his men.

Hadrian’s Wall, a monument to Roman law and order is deserted. The remnants of the ninth legion have integrated with the Celts. They’re no longer soldiers, they’re farmers and have to contend with Vortigyn. Rome abandoned them, so they abandoned Rome. The Goths meet with Vortigyn, informing him of the sword. He is familiar with the blade; in exchange for the boy, Vortigyn gets the sword, and Ambrosinus (there’s a continued flashback of Vortigyn branding a younger Ambrosinus with the pentangle [fun fact: the young man is Ben Kingsely’s son]).
last legion

The Romans start to settle in with the others living at Hadrian’s Wall. Romulus becomes friends with a young Ygraine. A little family starts to develop between Myrah, Aurelius, and Romulus. Then Ygraine is grabbed by the Goths and watches a family (her family? Not terribly clear) die and sent back to the village to inform them that Vortigyn wants Romulus. It is decided there will be one last battle to decide the matter. Aurelius convinces some of the legion to join him and they fight under the Red Dragon banner. They’re vastly outnumbered but fight anyways, eventually reinforced by the rest of the ninth. Romulus decides it’s a fine time to wander about; I don’t think he was really prepared for the battle. Aurelius is wounded defending the boy, using Caesar’s sword. Romulus picks up the sword when it’s knocked away and stabs Wulfa for his parents’ deaths. Romulus charges Aurelius to live; he fought like a dragon. The man tells the boy that he fought like the son of a dragon. Romulus declares, no more blood; no more war, and throws the sword. It lands in a stone.

Years pass and an older Ambrosinus is walking with another young boy, telling him the story of the last legion’s battle. Romulus took on the name “Pendragon,” meaning son of a dragon; and he was raised by Aurelius and Myrah. Pendragon is the boy’s father and his mother is Ygraine. Ambrosinus took back his Celtic name, Merlin. Indeed, the boy is Arthur. The film closes on a close up of the sword, only the letters “E. S. CALIBVR” visible: Excalibur.

Some of the effects are painfully obvious C.G. Why is it that if there is a woman, there must be a relationship? Can she not simply be a female warrior, like a man? Overall, the movie is passable, nothing spectacular. I like how it was tied in with Rome; but the story is a British legend.

Up Next: King Arthur (2004)

Another Tale of Tragic Love

Tristan and Isolde

This tale quite possibly influences elements of Arthurian legend, such as a love triangle. (Well, it’s French). The movie came out while I was in high school and my interest in Arthurian legend and Irish legends were already growing, though the marketing touted it as “before Romeo and Juliet.” Lots of recognizable faces. James Franco is the titular Tristan and Sophia Myles (she would later be Renette aka Madame de Pompador in Doctor Who) is Isolde. They’re joined by Rufus Sewell (Count Adhemar in A Knight’s Tale) as Marke, Mark Strong (Godfrey in Robin Hood and Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes) as Wictred, Henry Cavill (Charles Brandon in The Tudors series and Clark Kent/Superman in the latest DC movies) as Mellot, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (if his name isn’t familiar, his face is; he’s in Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner, and Nanny McPhee) as the young Tristan.

The scene is set, telling us that Britain in the Dark Ages after the Roman Empire left is divided amongst its tribes, leaving it vulnerable to Irish incursion. The Irish king fears Britain uniting. The scenery is gorgeous as the film opens, showing a young Tristan and his father, preparing for a tribe meeting. They are betrayed and both of Tristan’s parents are killed. He’s saved by Marke, who loses a hand. On the other side of the sea, young Isolde buries her mother and already doesn’t trust her father.

Nine years later, both are young adults. Tristan faithfully serves Marke and they are hoping to work out a treaty once again with the other tribes. He is friend with Marke’s nephew, Mellot and they have discovered a secret tunnel that comes up in the castle’s keep. In Ireland, the Irish king Donnchadh agrees to give his daughter, Isolde to the warrior Morholt in reward for his loyalty; she will be his bride once he returns from Britain. Morholt leads Irish soldiers in collecting tribute. Tristan confronts Marke; they must do something to rescue the young people that were taken as slaves. Marke agrees, but they must be smart and act together. Tristan leads a group in their rescue, but he receives a cut when fighting Morholt. He kills the Irish leader, but passes out a few minutes later; the blade was poisoned (we already know what befalls the victims from Morholt showing it to Isolde. She counters that there is an antidote.) Mellot lays his friend to rest in a boat, set to sea then lit with flaming arrows.

The boat comes ashore near Isolde as she prepares to run away from her father and Morholt. Isolde chooses to save the young man. The young couple eventually falls in tristan and isoldelove…Until Tristan’s boat is found and Donnchadh begins searching for the slayer of Morhot (his sword had been found with the boat); Tristan must flee, but Isolde cannot follow. Tristan returns to Marke’s warm welcome and informed that Donnchadh has been scheming. He has set a tournament, with his daughter’s hand in marriage as the prize, along with a healthy dowry; it is an effort to divide the tribes. Marke hopes that if he wins, he will hold the support of the other tribes. Tristan volunteers to fight for him. (Isolde had told him her name was Bragnae to keep her identity secret; he does not know she is the king’s daughter).

Tristan ultimately wins the tournament (after a vicious fight with Wictred, the main opponent to Marke’s treaty) and Isolde gladly says she will be his, but is disappointed to learn Tristan won her for Marke. Marke is a kind husband, but Isolde is still in love with Tristan. At first, Tristan insists that they cannot have anything to do with each other and avoids his adoptive father and new bride. But Isolde pleads and he eventually agrees to secret meetings. Marke manages to get the other barons to sign his treaty and he will be crowned king. He names Tristan his second, passing over his nephew, Mellot. Which does not endear Mellot to Tristan, who has also been favored as a leader. Wictred, who has begun to notice the attention Tristan pays Isolde, suggests to Donnchadh that the coronation would be a good time to attack. Marke even begins to suspect that Isolde may not be entirely faithful and asks Tristan. Tristan assures his adoptive father that his wife is loyal and tries to break it off with Isolde, burning their meeting place. She still insists that they love each other and must be together somehow.

The coronation arrives and the men ride out, as an old tradition. Wictred leads them to Tristan and Isolde. The barons abandon Marke and he’s forced to arrest the young couple. Isolde comes clean. Just as the Irish are at the castle’s gates, Marke lets them go. Tristan has Isolde get in the boat, then pushes it away. He stays and helps fight. Mellot, hoping that Wictred will show him more respect, shows the traitor the secret tunnel. He’s cut down for his trouble and realizes his error. Tristan uses the same tunnel to sneak behind the Irish, rallying Marke and his men with his timely arrival. Another fight with Wictred, Wictred landing mortal blows, but Wictred falls to Tristan’s sword first. Marke confronts the barons: “there is no middle ground! Slay us, or slay him [Donnachdh].” Fights break out among the opposition. Tristan has Marke take him to the river and Isolde brought. The movie ends with Tristan’s death; Isolde apparently buried him then disappeared. Their love did not bring down a kingdom, like they feared. Legend says that Marke was victorious and reigned in peace until the end of his days.

For being so excited for this movie in high school, it’s fallen on my list. I see the definite influence for the Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur triangle (which is about my least favorite aspect of Arthurian legend). The movie drags. I connect more with the emotions of Marke than either Tristan or Isolde. It took me several viewings for me to completely understand the storyline. It’s a dark film; as in, there aren’t many sunny scenes. Those that are sunny have a layer of clouds. At the end of this last viewing, I found myself craving a return to Musketeers.

In 2009, Great Lakes Medieval Faire’s theme was the court of Arthur. It was probably the second year I had gone and I remember hearing all the characters on cast and happen to mention “I wonder if they have Tristan and Isolde?”…within hearing of Merlin. Merlin brought the woman playing Isolde over to me. (A few years later, they did Romeo and Juliet and being early to the dance, I was ensured a partner: Puck. I had a wonderful time and that was when I decided I wanted to be on cast someday). It’s funny to watch some of the older videos; because now I recognize people. Oh, hey, I know Morholt (who shouts “For Ireland!” at the end of the match. Arthur says he owns that too…no you don’t). I actually know Puck. And Mordred. And Guinevere.

Next Time: The Last Legion