The Story We Have Been a Part of, Will Live Long in the Minds of Men

Merlin – Season 5

We’ve come to the end of the series. I feel they rushed this series; maybe they were surprised how quick they would have to wrap things up. My one friend came back and asked me where the season was that they end up in modern times, since she had seen pictures of it everywhere (I can find them on Pintrest, maybe they’re on Tumblr; I’m not on Tumblr, I don’t know). Sadly, no, that’s not how this season ends. I feel that they should come back and do that season, or a movie at the very least.

Arthur’s Bane, begins the season in two parts. Three years have passed since Guinevere’s coronation. Arthur meets with his knights at the Round Table. Unfortunately, Gwaine and Percival are missing after an expedition. Morgana is suspected, even though they haven’t heard from her in the three years. Morgana is indeed behind the disappearances; she’s capturing men to work searching for the key to the knowledge of Arthur’s Bane, his downfall. Joined by Liam Cunningham whose character isn’t named until the second episode. (Since I’ve been wandering down the Game of Thrones path, when I saw his name in the opening credits I was surprised. I haven’t seen this season as often as the previous ones, so a lot of this was unfamiliar to me.) Arthur and his knights, and Merlin, go looking for their brethren. Merlin receives a vision that Arthur is in danger and even Gwen worries about Arthur going on the mission himself; he is Camelot’s king, he needs to be cautious. But Arthur is the type of king who will show his people he is not afraid of any task.

Sadly, Gwen’s new maid who is adorable with Merlin is also a traitor, for her father who is harboring Morgana. Her father (played by Liam Cunningham) ultimately rescues his daughter, but also dies in the aftermath. Morgana doesn’t seem particularly bothered, more concerned with the overarching search for Arthur’s destruction. Arthur is injured on their quest and he and Merlin are captured by Saxons, and a familiar looking young man. Mordred is back and now a young man (don’t think too hard on what ages they look). He shows Arthur and Merlin kindness even though Merlin does not trust him. Arthur saved his life as a child and he will repay that debt. Arthur and Merlin manage to escape and sneak into the castle where they find Percival.

Gwaine has been missing for a few days. An alien-looking being (really BBC? Let’s bring aliens into the mix) finds him and heals him after guards beat him. (And they’re all shirtless for no apparent reason. Again, does BBC really need to do this to attract viewers?) Percival starts gathering men and taking out the guards. Morgana comes across Arthur while Merlin is chasing after Aithusa. Mordred is with her and prevents her from killing Arthur. He recognizes that Morgana has gone a bit crazy; she has chosen hate. He has not. He carries Arthur to his knights. Merlin finds Gwaine and the creature. He is granted one question. Who is Arthur’s Bane? Himself.

Everyone is back in Camelot; Arthur knights Mordred. Merlin honestly likes Mordred, but doesn’t trust him. He asks why Mordred saved Arthur. “Because he’s right, the love that binds us is more important than the power we wield.” Merlin knows that for good or ill, the die is cast. Albion’s greatest trial has begun.

The Death Song of Uther Pendragon brings to light Arthur’s doubts whether he is being a good ruler. He does a lot of things his father wouldn’t approve of. He’s then gifted a chance to see his father again when he saves an old sorceress for a horrible death and no trial. And Uther is disappointed with his son. He knighted commoners, he married a commoner and not for an alliance for the kingdom. He feels that his son has failed to strengthen and protect the kingdom; he’s destroying Uther’s legacy. Meanwhile, we, along with Merlin, counsel Arthur that he is better than his father. His people love and respect him and his is a more wise and just ruler. But Uther’s spirit is released and haunts the castle. Percival is attacked. Gwen is almost killed. Merlin and Arthur set out to put Uther’s spirit back. Uther attacks Merlin and discovers that he has magic. Uther tries to warn Arthur, but Arthur sounds the horn dismissing the spirit before he is able.

Mithian’s kingdom is attacked, bringing her back to Camelot in Another’s Sorrow. It’s a ploy between Odin and Morgana. Morgana disguises herself as Mithian’s maidservant so Mithian will persuade Arthur to rescue her father. Merlin suspects the maid and discovers it is Morgana, but she knocks him out before he can warn Arthur. Arthur proceeds with the plan and walks into the trap. Merlin comes to, with magical aid from Gaius, in time to take Gawine and rescue Arthur. Arthur faces Odin and Merlin prevents his friend from killing the other king. There is a better way. Arthur asks for a truce; else, their blood feud will simply continue on. Odin accepts. And we start a trend this season of seeing Merlin injured more often. I think it’s good, because it shows that he is vulnerable and we like vulnerability in our heroes.

The Disir, the mouthpiece of the Triple Goddess, pass judgment on Arthur and find him lacking. He has persecuted sorcerers as a carryover from Uther. His fate is set; while Camelot flowers, already the seeds of its destruction are sown. Arthur argues he makes his own path, but he still wants to protect his people, so he appears before the Disir. He is not respectful the first appearance though and they attack. Mordred takes a spear meant for Arthur. Arthur now has a choice; to save Mordred, he must allow magic to be freely practiced in Camelot again. If not, Mordred dies. We can see Merlin struggle to advise his friend. Merlin desires for magic to return, for his sake and his people. But even Kilgarah warns him that Arthur’s fate is bound with Mordred. So Merlin tells Arthur there is no place for magic in Camelot, thereby sentencing Mordred to die. Yet when they return to Camelot, Mordred lives. This gets terribly confusing for Merlin; every step he takes toward not bring the future to pass actually helps it along.

Morgana kidnaps Gwen in The Dark Tower and tortures her in a way. She locks her former maidservant in a dark room with mandrake root, listening to screams, and seeing visions of people she loves. Elyan and Arthur mount a rescue attempt, though they are waylaid in a magical forest. Merlin trusts his magic and leads them out, but Elyan darts ahead to rescue his sister. An enchanted sword runs him through. At the very end of the episode, we see Gwen sneak out to visit Morgana. She now believes that only Morgana has her best interest at heart; after all, they were close friends for many years, they know each other best.

Gwen begins to work behind the scenes to help Morgana and bring down Camelot and kill her husband. Accidents begin to befall Arthur in A Lesson in Vengeance. (Yes, the stable hand is played by John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones. And due to when this season was filmed, he had already begun playing Sam. So we are correct to gasp, “Oh my gosh, it’s Sam!”) The stable hand Tyr Seward takes the fall and Gwen stabs him to prevent him from talking. Morgana gives Gwen a magical poison to slowly and painfully kill Arthur. She has no hesitation in giving it to Arthur; she plays her part as grieving wife well. Gwen next arranges for Merlin to take the fall; he’s close to Arthur and has access to cause him harm. Gaius helps Merlin out of the cell while Leon pledges the knights to follow Gwen who will succeed Arthur should he die. Merlin ages himself (we can see he is having a lot of fun in his Dragoon character). Only Merlin’s magic can save Arthur, but he doubts he has the strength for both the aging and the healing. Gaius informs his ward that the only one who doubts Merlin’s abilities is Merlin. Merlin cries when he thinks Arthur has died, but Arthur survives. Merlin sneaks back into his cell so he can be released the next day. Arthur never suspected Merlin. Well that’s good, but why didn’t the knights stand up for him? Gwen gets the credit when she finds a new suspect and pins the blame correctly on Morgana.

Arthur meets with potential allies in The Hollow Queen while Gwen arranges a distraction for Merlin. A “Druid” boy sneaks into Camelot and asks Merlin for help. He leads Merlin into a trap by Morgana (she and Gwen are just trying to get Arthur’s biggest defense away while Gwen arranges for Arthur’s assassination). She poisons Merlin and throws him into a ravine. The boy returns for Merlin; the young man had shown him kindness and helps Merlin heal. They make it back to Camelot just as the assassin sets up. The boy is killed helping Merlin. Gwen had fed Arthur the tale that Merlin was sneaking off to see a girl when Arthur began to worry about Merlin. Now Gaius and Merlin know that Gwen is working against them.

They come up with a solution in With All My Heart. Merlin helps Arthur spy on Gwen when she meets with Morgana. They know it’s Morgana’s magic this time betraying Arthur. Which means it will take even more powerful magic to undo the spell. Merlin gets the solution off of an old sorceress and must lead Arthur to a magical lake and summon the White Goddess. Gwen must enter the lake of her own will. Arthur and Merlin sneak Gwen out of the castle, keeping her unconscious. Mordred follows them, which was a good thing because both Merlin and Arthur fall off a cliff and Arthur’s arm is pinned. Merlin has to transform into an old woman so as to not arouse suspicion merlin dolma(though Mordred does note that Merlin is missing at one point). The magic works and Dolma (Merlin in disguise) asks that Arthur remembers that magic can save, as well as hurt. “She” tells him off when they almost forget Merlin and tells Arthur “one day, he will recognize the true worth of those around him.” Mordred finally realizes that Merlin has magic, but promises to keep his secret. They share the dream of magic returning to Camelot.

Alator returns in The Kindness of Strangers; Morgana has hunted him down and tortures him to reveal Emrys’s identity. He refuses, but has recruited others to his cause. An old woman warns Merlin that the great battle is approaching. Mordred and the other knights give chase when they discover the old woman, since Gaius does not trust her. She is not in league with Morgana, but Morgana finds out about her, so she too is hunting for the woman. Merlin goes to help and is injured. The woman sacrifices herself to protect Merlin and he is not discovered. He hears the prophecy of Camlan and receives word that Morgana has declared war.

A familiar face for us pops up in The Drawing of the Dark. Alexandra Dowling (Roslin Frey in Game of Thrones and Queen Anne of Austria in Musketeers) is Kara, an old friend [and love interest] of Mordred’s. She’s injured and Mordred tends to her in the woods. Merlin finds out, but Mordred swears him to secrecy. Arthur and Merlin discover Kara themselves, even after Merlin tries to lure Arthur away. Kara attacks Arthur and is arrested. She proudly defies the king; “I will not rest until you are dead and your kingdom is no more.” Mordred pleads for her life, but she shows no repentance. Arthur cannot risk her being free. Merlin even pleads on Mordred’s behalf, but Arthur believes Mordred will see that Arthur had no choice and eventually forgive him. Merlin suspects that Mordred will try to free Kara, Mordred throws in Merlin’s face, “wouldn’t you do the same for a woman you love?” We know that Merlin tried, but Arthur killed Freya when she attacked Camelot. And Merlin forgave Arthur and serves him faithfully to this day. Merlin does not tell Mordred this (there is a fanfiction story Love Lost by Revhead where Merlin does tell Mordred and changes the story a little).

Mordred breaks Kara out, she kills a guard along the way, but they’re captured. Arthur offers her one last chance, but she will not change her ways. Mordred is in a cell when she is led to her execution. His magic breaks him out of his cell and he goes directly to Morgana. He has information for her, which will lead to Arthur’s death. He knows the identity of Emrys: Merlin.

The Diamond of the Day completes the season in two parts. Morgana sends a mook into Camelot to sneak into Merlin’s chambers, planting some sort of slug. It attacks Merlin’s face and somehow steals his magic. While that happens, Morgana and Mordred attack on outpost. Gwaine rescues a young woman and they make it back to Camelot to give word. Arthur decides to ride out and meet Morgana and her army on the field, to keep the fighting away from the people and other villages. The best place is Camlan, where the path narrows. Merlin sadly cannot accompany Arthur on this great battle; he must secretly journey to the Crystal Cave in an effort to restore his magic. But Gwaine’s new friend is a spy for Morgana, she passes along the information about Arthur and Mordred surmises where Merlin is heading. Morgana is waiting for the warlock and causes a cave in.

Merlin is injured and when he wakes, he sees his father. Balinor urges his son to not let go, don’t give in. Merlin is magic itself; he cannot lose what he is. Rest, he advises, believe in the crystals. When Merlin wakes again, he is healed and sees a secret path that Mordred plans to cut Arthur off with. Merlin warns Arthur in a dream, then bursts out of the cave.

Arthur misses having Merlin with him; the man who has stood beside him in every other instance is now gone for this vital confrontation. Gwen has accompanied him, not to fight, though she will help behind the scenes, but so they can spend what time they have together. She knows there is a good chance that Arthur may not return from this battle. Arthur receives Merlin’s message (Gwen has already begun to suspect there is more to Merlin that appears) and sets the camp to business. Percival and Gwaine will meet the band coming around behind. Arthur rallies his troops; fight for a united kingdom, fight against tyranny. The battle has begun.

Aithusa spews fire on Arthur’s troop, but a sorcerer (an aged Merlin, his true Emrys form) calls him off, then directs lightning on the Saxons, saving Arthur. He knocks Morgana down. Mordred hunts down Arthur on the field and stabs him with a blade forged on Aithusa’s breath. Arthur kills Mordred. Merlin finds Arthur on the field, bypassing Mordred, and carries him off.

When Arthur wakes, Merlin is back to his normal form. Merlin apologizes to his friend; he thought he was in time to defy the prophecy. Arthur doesn’t know what Merlin is talking about. Merlin reveals he was the sorcerer.

Arthur…doesn’t take it well. He responds to Gaius, when the old man finds them, but shies away from Merlin. They need to get word back to Guinevere in Camelot. Leon is giving her updates; but they have not found Arthur. Gaius tells Arthur that Merlin is his friend; he needs him far more than he needs Gaius. The wound is fatal, due to the blade. The only place Arthur could heal is the Isle of Avalon. Gaius can take the royal seal to Gwen.

Back in Camelot, they realize that truth of Gwaine’s traitorous female friend. She is executed, after passing along misinformation to Morgana. Percival and Gwaine set out to take down Morgana. Sadly, she bests them, knocking out Percival, then torturing Gwaine. Percival frees himself in time to watch his friend die. And so starts the “how many stabs does it take to kill Morgana?” Gwen confronts Gaius about the truth of Merlin. She seems pleased and knows that Merlin will care for Arthur.

Merlin continues to care for Arthur, confusing the man. Arthur slowly comes around to the fact that his manservant has had magic all along, but it still takes time for him to get over the fact that Merlin lied about it the whole time he knew Arthur. Merlin insists, it has always been to help Arthur; he is proud of what he has done and he wouldn’t change a thing. Arthur finally apologizes for the way he has treated Merlin. Morgana finds them just as the reach the shore of the lake. Merlin faces her and stabs her with Excalibur. That does her in. He has brought peace at last to Albion. But Arthur is fading fast. “It’s too late,” he tells the young warlock and asks his friend to hold him in his final moments, and says what he has never said before: “Thank you.” We cry alongside Merlin.

merlin and arthur in the end
Pardon my blubbering

Merlin calls Kilgarah one last time to carry them to the Isle. But it is too late, the dragon tells his young friend. Fear not, he has not failed. All that he has dreamt has come to pass. “I can’t lose him! He’s my friend!” Merlin cries. Some lives are foretold, Kilgarah counsels. Arthur is the Once and Future King. When Albion’s need is greatest, Arthur will rise again. Merlin throws Excalibur into the lake, caught by a hand. Again, we cry alongside Merlin as he lays Arthur to rest in a boat and sends it to Avalon. Gwen is crowned queen; Leon, Gaius, and Percival are alongside her in Camelot. The parting shot of the show is a truck passing the tower on the Isle of Avalon and an old man, Emrys, walks along the side of the road.

Gosh, the last two episodes hurt. Part of me expected, hoped, that it would turn out different than legend, that Arthur and Merlin would work together and see the fruits of their labors. There is a chance that Gwen was carrying Arthur’s child at the end, maybe the writers threw in her accompanying Arthur to the camp in order for that to be a possibility. I have no doubt she made a just and wise ruler, but it’s not the same as if Arthur would have been around. Yes, it’s a deviation from legend, but I prefer a happy ending where heroes get some peace and quiet and rewards. You make us love these characters and then you separate them. We have no idea if Merlin even returned to Camelot, or just stayed away. (Check out fanfics, we’ve got lots of ideas. And fixes!)

Heck, I was even beginning to hope that Mordred would turn out alright. Again, doesn’t follow legend, though I like how they wrote around the incest nature of Mordred. And Merlin’s reveal has so little time to sink in. (Again, check out fanfics!) I would have preferred at least another season to the show. Again, I think they were surprised at when they had to wrap and had to bring about so much to end it, it all ended up rushed. Did not like Gwen’s storyline for several episodes. You’ve already done the “Gwen is a threat to Camelot.” They keep her a good character since none of it is her actual fault, she’s always influenced by Morgana. Still haven’t gotten over her turn and sudden descent into madness. “Oh, I’m a witch, so I must turn evil.” I don’t buy it. Never bought that mentality. (That is why my female characters who have magical powers are good. Well, they fight bad ones, but they’re still good after wielding phenomenal power).

I still like the show and I love the portrayal of characters, most specifically the relationship between Arthur and Merlin. Banter is my favorite. Yes, they insult each other, but they genuinely care for each other and they see that, even though they don’t say it (until the end and that makes us cry). I just wish it had ended different. Please, BBC, do a movie!

Next Time: Continuing a bit with fantasy type movies, Knight’s Tale (Well, it fits with the medieval setting).

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.