Missed Merlin series 5 episodes 1-5? Find them here: Arthur's Bane Part 1, Arthur's Bane Part 2, The Death Song of Uther Pendragon, Another's Sorrow, The Disir. Beware of spoilers!
Awful, awful spoilers here. There's no way that I can avoid talking about them, just because it's so heinously against the grain of what's expected from this interpretation of the legend that I'm gobsmacked. More to the point, I don't want to not talk about them. I do hope that there's a real reason for this betrayal - hasn't Arthur been through enough already? So if you plan on watching this episode for yourself and want the 'surprise', as it were, then don't ruin it for yourself and read my review.
I'm seriously heartbroken by this episode; as if The Disir hadn't been bad enough already, they've just completely made me hate a character that I don't normally love. I just don't know how they could possibly take Merlin down this route, especially, like I've said, the shocking blow we received last week. Like there aren't enough evil regular and special-appearance characters already, they had to add another to their midst.
We begin with Gwen and Elyan laying flowers on their father's grave. The usual band of Knights have accompanied their Queen (Gwaine, Leon, Percival and Elyan himself) and brilliant observationists they are, they don't notice that Morgana is watching them, lying in wait. She performs an enchantment on a small clearing and when Gwen and the Knights approach, two snakes slither from the grass, spooking the horses and throwing Leon and Percival from their horses, inflicting lethal bites. In the chaos that ensues, Elyan yells for his sister to run and she disappears into the forest where she is captured by Morgana.
One thing I want to know is why Percival is always the one who gets hurt. And this isn't the only time in this episode. I guess because of his size, he's sort of like the Big John of Robin Hood: of mighty-strength and invincible, which is how he seems to recover in an instant. But, I digress.
Arthur is distraught when he learns from his men that his wife didn't return with them. They'll be riding at first light to get her back and Merlin tells him of his suspicions that Morgana is behind Gwen's disappearance and the enchanted snakes. On seeing the utter defeat on Arthur's face, Merlin makes him a promise: "You're not going to lose her." They shake hands and I just squee in delight at its cuteness! Gaius is surprised that despite the magic poison coursing through Leon and Percival's veins, they aren't dead. Morgana clearly has a reason for wanting them alive.
Morgana journeys with her Queen until they reach a huge spire-like building. They walk all the way to the top and Gwen is locked in for the night. It's like one of those rooms in horror movies where a person is locked in a room to slowly go mad. As we later see, my initial guess wasn't too far off.
Arthur and his men have set up camp for the night in the forest. They are woken halfway through the night by Leon's scream ... he has just had a nightmare where he was shut up in a tower and people were screaming around him ... much like what is happening to Gwen. As if that wasn't strange enough, Percival has just had the same dream. Arthur knows of the place they are talking about. The Dark Tower has been the darkest nightmare of Knights of the realm for years. It is what they are trained to fear the most and Arthur believes that Morgana is holding Gwen there. He tells his men in the morning that he intends to travel there alone, but one by one, they stand by him and show their support for their Queen. Gwaine's answer is the best: "A maiden in a tower. A damsel in distress. I was born for this moment."
As they embark on their journey, they quickly come upon the Impenetrable Forest. It's impenetrable, but Arthur is determined to get through it. A hard day's work turns out to be fruitless as they discover that they've only managed to walk around in a huge circle and Arthur is livid. As they rest for the night to start afresh in the morning, Merlin is woken by rustling in the trees and comes face to face with Queen Mab, the "spirit of this place and all the places that bring despair to men's hearts." Ominous.
Queen Mab looks something like a pixie and she's got that evil, mischievous look that's associated with her kind. Anyway, she talks Merlin into confusion with her riddles and when he tells her to stop, she talks in rhyme instead. Basically, the gist is that Merlin must use his Mind's Eye to get them out of the backwards-forest where left is right and right is left. She warns him that "The Tower is not a real place. It is the heart's rest, the mind's deepest fear, the stillness in the hummingbird's eye ... One of you will not return."
In the morning, Merlin tells everyone that he knows the way they need to take. "Trust me. Just this once" he pleads to Arthur and to everyone's amazement, he does exactly as promised. If they knew he'd used magic, I can imagine that they might not be as happy.
Back at the Dark Tower, Gwen is slowly being driven out of her mind as Morgana leaves her trapped and alone. She hears screams of presumably previous inhabitants of the room and she's tortured of images of people that she loves who only laugh and mock her when she realises that they're not real. As Morgana 'comes to her senses', she apologises to Gwen for making her suffer unnecessarily and draws her former best friend in for a hug. Morgana trying to be nice now that we've seen her this evil is really a very scary thing. Gwen is not going to be fooled. She tears herself away with the words "Whatever twisted game you're playing, I want no part in it. I would rather stay here and die." Go Gwen!
Once they reach the Dark Tower, Arthur and his men are confronted by another series of challenges and it is Elyan who reaches his sister first. Morgana has enchanted a sword to protect her and Elyan takes up the challenge with all he's worth, still blaming himself for letting Gwen get captured. It's a scene of utter courage and selflessness on Elyan's part and he fights to the death ... literally.
We end with the barge carrying Elyan's body being lit aflame and Gwen standing stoic beside Arthur. That night, she waits until Arthur is asleep before slipping out of bed. I thought she was just still torn up about Elyan's sacrifice for her and wanted a walk because she couldn't sleep ... how wrong was I?
Gwen goes to meet Morgana in the forest and I just want to cry. Of all the interpretations of Arthurian legend that I've read and watched, Merlin is the only one in which I actually like Gwen's character. Until now, that is. In the others, she's just a selfish, foolish bitch who is the cause of Arthur's downfall; looks like the same is going to be true now. What a fucking shame that they (producers, writers etc) had to consign Merlin to the same fate as the rest. It makes me angry (as you might have already guessed) and while it's in no way going to make me stop watching the show, I've now got a whole lot less respect for a show that I thought was trying to be a little different.
There are parts of me that make me doubt how 'real' Gwen's betrayal is. I thought her 'I would rather die' scene was really very genuinely well done and so her complete turnaround was an even bigger shock to the system. I have a theory that Morgana has bewitched her to turn evil so that she can use her like a puppet like she'd done before with the Lancelot-bracelet thing, but I'm not sure. I think that's my way of trying to find a logical reason to keep Gwen as one of the good guys, but we'll have to wait and see how accurate it is. It's going to be awful if Arthur's going to be betrayed like this. There might actually be tears.