Last week’s Merlin ended on a dramatic high note as Morgana (Katie McGrath) finally learnt the truth – her mysterious nemesis Emrys is actually her former friend Merlin (Colin Morgan). Now fully in possession of the facts, the saucy sorceress is more ruthless than ever – she cruelly robs the powerful warlock Ari (Peter Guinness) of his magic and has a similar fate planned for Merlin?
Larks abound for the unwitting wizard and Arthur (Bradley James) – who banter and bicker over a game of dice – but it’s a safe bet that the jollity will be short-lived. That night, Morgana’s creature – a beast from the time of the Old Religion – strikes, in a sequence that’ll have the little ‘uns diving behind the sofa?
Merlin survives the attack, but his great gifts have vanished and he now has the joint threat of Morgana and Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) to contend with. Fans have waited a long time to see this particular villainous pairing in action and it’s been worth the wait – Katie McGrath and Alexander Vlahos have a wonderful chemistry.
Arthur’s knights have lurked in the background for much of this series, but with Camelot under siege from the terrible twosome, all the king’s men play a larger role this week, with Tom Hopper, Rupert Young and in particular Eion Macken getting more screen time.
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It’s the antepenultimate instalment of Merlin – yes, that’s third-to-last in fancy talk – and things are getting serious. We all knew that Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) would play a key role in this fifth series when he was first introduced in the opening episodes, but since then the writers of Merlin have seen fit to relegate the character to a supporting role for the most part.
This week though, Morded is afforded a great deal more screen time, allowing Vlahos to showcase his range – and the 24-year-old actor does not disappoint when asked to do more than simply lurk in the shadows.
Out on a hunt, Arthur (Bradley James), Merlin (Colin Morgan) and the knights stumble across the scene of a brutal attack close to the city walls. Mordred pursues a mysterious figure lurking nearby – it’s Kara, with whom he appears to have a past connection, quite possibly a romantic one.
When Mordred allows his old friend to escape, Merlin’s suspicions about his fellow warlock are once again inflamed. But in these early scenes, we were surprised to find ourselves actually siding with Mordred – who genuinely means no harm – over Merlin, who ruthlessly pursues his quarry. Could it be that our hero’s undying suspicion and refusal to trust Mordred is what ultimately pushes him to the dark side?
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Merlin‘s time is running out and it’s almost like Morgana (Katie McGrath) knows it, as the single-minded villainess is stepping up her quest to hunt down Emrys by capturing reformed villain Alator (Gary Lewis). When Merlin (Colin Morgan) learns what’s happened to his foe-turned-friend, he begins to fear that Alator may break under torture and reveal his secret…
So far this series, Merlin’s elder statesman Gaius has been relegated to delivering wild-eyed warnings, barking “It’s a trap!” at his young ward like a silver-haired Admiral Ackbar. This week, he even grumbles, “You shouldn’t have gone, it might’ve been a trap!” at our hero after he’s already returned home safe.
But ‘The Kindness of Strangers‘ finally gives Richard Wilson’s wise mentor something more to do – Merlin co-creator Julian Murphy promised Digital Spy that viewers would witness “Merlin’s strength in relation to Gaius’s vulnerability” in these final episodes, and that finally comes to pass here, with the character wallowing over the fact that he was the one who confessed Merlin’s true identity to Alator – a satisfying nod to past events.
Things become even more complicated for Merlin when he receives a dark omen about Camelot’s future from Finna (Sorcha Cusack) – a high priestess of the old religion. A guilt-ridden Gaius begging Merlin not to pursue his investigation is a highlight of the episode – a touching scene ably played by Morgan and Wilson, with their two characters displaying a palpable mutual affection.
So between last week’s Merlin and tonight’s new instalment, the BBC announced that the show would not be returning for a sixth run in 2013 – this current fifth run is to be the show’s last, with just five episodes remaining to wrap up the show’s multiple story strands. Would this mean that ‘With All My Heart’ would take big steps in advancing the series towards its conclusion?
One of those lingering Merlin plot threads is the ‘dark Gwen’ arc, and this week’s episode certainly does take a surprising turn a mere two minutes in when it’s revealed that Gwen and Morgana’s latest scheming session is being spied on by Arthur (Bradley James) and Merlin (Colin Morgan).
It always makes for a refreshing change when the frequently clueless Arthur is seen to be in the know and he quickly takes steps to thwart Morgana, but has he made a mistake in taking on Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) as one of his trusted few?
Gwen’s new-found villainy is quickly revealed to be the result of powerful dark magic – let’s face it, she was never *really* going to turn out to be a proper baddie – which sends Merlin on a quest to uncover the secret of her salvation. Rather than simply lingering on the sidelines, looking concerned, as he is often wont to do, Colin Morgan’s lead is again pleasingly proactive here.
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This week’s events began with Gwen pardoning a young boy in the middle of the night after wandering around with Sir Leon, then returning all loved up to the arms of Arthur who has romantically made the bed – though, it’s probably going to have been Merlin who did the work! Nothing unusual there – aside from Gwen wandering around in the middle of the night and being far too amorous – so it is somewhat fortunate that the boy is seeking Merlin’s help, leading the wizard on a quest to help the Druid’s sister.
Arthur prepares for the arrival of the fearsome Sarrum of Amata and isn’t too pleased that his only servant is off who-knows-where whilst the King attempts to sign a peace treaty with the vicious visitor. Arthur realises how useless at day-to-day activities he is sans servant, so is forced to recruit help from Gaius with comical consequences. The physician may not be any good at dressing the King, but he can offer counsel on the reputation of Sarrum.
Daegel the Druid Boy is obviously not what he seems as Morgana reveals her latest dastardly plan; poisoning and leaving the wizard for dead. Thankfully, her decision to pay off Daegal could be Merlin’s saving grace – if only she’d killed him!
As Sarrum and Arthur discuss how Morgana was captured by Sarrum, we discover that it was the love for her young dragon that kept her alive and the suffering that they both endured twisted them. It is all too much for Gwen as she skulks away to meet her new mistress.
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This week’s Merlin – the intriguingly titled ‘A Lesson in Vengeance’ – begins with established trio Merlin (Colin Morgan), Arthur (Bradley James) and Gwen (Angel Coulby) coming under attack from vicious thugs. As ever, Arthur’s swordsmanship and Merlin’s covert magic ensure that no-one is harmed, but a larger, unseen threat still lingers; if you remember, following the traumatic events of the previous episode, Gwen is now Morgana’s puppet queen…
Arthur naturally doesn’t suspect that his darling wife could have been involved in the attack and the blame falls squarely at the door of poor stablehand Tyr Seward – fans of fantasy television will recognise guest actor John Bradley from his role on HBO’s Game of Thrones, and he’s just as endearing here as he is as Jon Snow’s pal Samwell Tarly.
It’s not long before poor Tyr is sentenced to death, but Merlin quickly comes to suspect that things aren’t as straightforward as they appear – when are they ever? Tyr opens up to the young warlock – with Bradley and Morgan making for a compelling pairing – but refuses to name the true culprit behind Arthur’s attack…
With the innocent inmate keeping schtum, Gwen takes advantage and visits Tyr in his cell, stabbing him to death; a shocking moment for sure, though you’re left with the feeling that a recognisable face like Bradley was wasted with a mere ten minutes of screen time.
The Sword In The Stone Part 2
So how about that for a finale, eh? ‘The Sword in the Stone (Part 2)‘ kicks off with Merlin secretly summoning the Great Dragon to deal with Agravaine and his troops. Our heroes take refuge in a winding series of cave tunnels, but Aggy and his surviving goons follow…
Merlin isn’t adverse to using his magic to protect his friends and, after far too long an absence, the dragon returns, affording Merlin and company the opportunity to escape from the forest into some nearby caves, whilst Agravaine flees from the fiery onslaught.
Whilst Tristan is questioning Gwen about her relationship with Arthur, Merlin sets out to protect his friends once more, doubling back to intercept Agravaine as he enters the tunnels. Sadly, for Merlin, he takes a wrong turn and Agravaine corners the young wizard. Rapidly rendering his attackers unconscious, Merlin seems to get the upper hand until Agravaine recovers, identifying Merlin as Emrys. With little choice, and realising that his secret is in even greater danger, Merlin takes extreme measures.
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The Sword In The Stone Part 1
The episode begins when the traitorous Agravaine lays siege to Camelot and creates an opening for Morgana and her forces to attack. You can’t help but be engrossed in the action sequences this week, particularly the opening battle and its striking scene of the horde marching into the citadel, torches ablaze. Director Alice Troughton selects a stop-start combat style that juxtaposes speed-up and slow-mo moments common to the likes of 300. Sometimes it works (Arthur tackling a corridor full of villains, for instance), sometimes it doesn’t (the unnecessary slow-mo of Merlin running).
Despite their best efforts the Knights of Camelot cannot defend the castle, which forces Merlin to take an Injured King Arthur away from the Castle, but in order to do so Merlin has to put an enchantment on Arthur so that he loses his will to fight, but this spell also makes Arthur much less combative and much more co operative to the point of him practically being an incompetent simpleton, which provides much humour in the earlier half of the episode.
Admit the tumultuous affairs at Camelot, we arrive at a turning point for Arthur’s character, and I’m not talking about him doing the washing up. This is the episode where he realises that Agravaine – his uncle, a man he’s trusted all year – is his enemy. There’s a stunned moment of realisation as Arthur sees Morgana and Agravaine enter the citadel. He stares; his shock turns to despair, then to anger. It’s such a shame that Morgana and even Helios act like such pantomime villains. They might as well cackle “mwahaha!” after gleefully boasting, “He’s nowhere left to run!” Agravaine, with his slightly ineffectual trickery, is by far the most interesting adversary, and you almost feel sorry for him when Morgana is reproaching him for his failure (although I am amused how he’s upstaged by Morgana’s magic when he tries to intimidate Elyan).
Meanwhile having captured all the Knights and taken over the Castle Morgana orders Agravaine to find Arthur. Agravaine and his solders get close to capturing Arthur and Merlin, but ultimately they make a fairly good get away and wind up crosses paths with Tristan and Isolde who seem to be living hand to mouth via their smuggling operation.
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A Herald Of The New Age
Tonight’s episode is fairly slow and mostly a transitional story from the drama of the previous week, which makes sense as it leads into the last three shows of series four. The Knights of Camelot are randomly out in the forest when they come across a creepy shrine, its chilling atmosphere betraying a dark history best left undisturbed.
Everyone but Elyan heeds Merlin’s warning that they should leave the place undisturbed and his actions cause him to act in a way unbecoming of a knight…and a friend. As usual, it’s up to Merlin and Gaius to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.
Back in Camelot, the visit to the shrine appears to have spooked Arthur. Gaius explains to Merlin that the ribbons and flags placed at the site are a warning – the delicate magic that keeps tormented souls at bay must not be disturbed.
Elyan tries his best to sleep, but is disturbed by the sound of whispers and dripping water. When the ghost child appears in a terrified Elyan’s chamber, Gwaine hears his cries and comes running. But only Elyan can see the spirit, which places its finger to its lips…
So instead of picking up immediately after “Lancelot du Lac”, the show delivers a seemingly standalone thriller that revels in Merlin‘s new-found murkier tone. Spiritual possession, the slaughter of innocents and the need for redemption are the themes but above that there’s also a claustrophobic atmosphere, a sense of bitterness following Gwen’s departure perhaps. The joy has gone out of Arthur’s life and our heroes’ banter seems more spiteful. I don’t think I’ve seen so much physical violence between the knights before – sure, they’re always jousting or sparring, but this week Elyan is punched unconscious by his supposed friends at least twice. Has Merlin‘s trademark slapstick turned sour? Elyan’s crossbow attack hints back to “A Servant Of Two Masters” but when an enthralled Merlin wanted to kill Arthur it was played for laughs – this has a bleaker quality altogether. With its creepy music and atmosphere of mistrust, even the exchanges between Merlin and Arthur have a sharper edge to them. Everybody in Camelot is going to have cracked skulls at this rate; few characters get away without a beating (or the threat of one).
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Lancelot Du Lac
Betrayal, battle, tears, suicide… this is not your usual Saturday teatime romp. There’s an epic feel to it, with the grand outdoor locations, the excitement of the tourney and the general atmosphere of a plot properly moving forward. You sense the programme makers are trying to have their cake and eat it. It’s Lancelot back! Except it isn’t really our Lancelot. The classic love triangle is in place! Except Gwen isn’t really acting herself. But then Merlin always twisted the legends a little bit, and I like how the traditional story is modified so that it’s Morgana’s scheming which puts Lancelot between Arthur and Gwen.
On the one hand, they’ve nullified the future love triangle by having Lancelot return as a brainwashed zombie. On the other, they also use it to throw a major spanner into the works of the Arthur/Gwen relationship, just when it looked like everything was going to be smooth sailing. All credit to them for not taking the easy way out in the end, though, which is what I expected as soon as magic bracelets started getting passed around. The bracelet may still get discovered in the future but for now, much like in the Uther-killing episode, Morgana is allowed to win. This did make for a dreary final ten minutes, featuring Arthur getting scarily angry about the injustice of it all, as well as a resolution to the Lancelot loose end that was surprisingly mature for a family show. We’ve had a few suicides on Doctor Who, but I see that as skewing a shade older than Merlin.
So, what does the faithful uncle do with such information? He rushes to Morgana’s shack in order to break the momentous news. She realises that this is yet another threat to her plans to seize Arthur’s throne and immediately puts into action a plot to halt the wedding plans by revealing Gwen’s darkest secret… her love for another man.
Travelling to a nearby cave, Morgana speaks to yet another shady looking character. This week it’s an elderly, and quite hideous looking woman called Dochraid, who remembers the old religion and helps Morgana recover a lost soul.
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