As always, recaps of the previous episodes here: Arthur's Bane Part 1, Arthur's Bane Part 2, The Death Song of Uther Pendragon, Another's Sorrow, The Disir, The Dark Tower, A Lesson in Vengeance, The Hollow Queen, With All My Heart, The Kindness of Strangers, The Drawing of the Dark and The Diamond of the Day II
We're back where we left off two days ago, in the midst of battle and Arthur really is carrying his weight. He looks invincible as he cuts his enemies down in a fell swoop, but of course we know that that won't stay true for long. Just as Arthur is faced with a good half-dozen Saxons ready to end his life, a bolt of light flashes through the dark sky and knocks them down. It's Emrys! He's standing on the top of a mountain with a staff in hand, the source of his power. Yay for Merlin! Morgana, as you might expect, is horrified and really, what could she expect when she didn't take the time to kill him properly?
Arthur is wandering around the battlefield after the remaining Saxons have been scared off by the sorcerer's magic to check if any of his men are still alive. Mordred comes along and ruthlessly sticks his sword into Arthur, with the words, "You gave me no choice." I think Mordred had plenty of choice, thank you. Arthur isn't one to give up and even more ruthlessly guts Mordred and twists his sword around to make him die faster. The look on Mordred's face is priceless as he crumples to the ground. Painfully, Arthur pushes turns and walks two steps but collapses.
Emrys is the one to find Arthur and with nary a glance for Mordred sprawled a few feet away, garners the type of strength only found by the truly desperate in emergencies, hefts Arthur up and slowly carries him out of the battlefield. When Arthur wakes, his first sight is Merlin and although he's in obvious agony, he couldn't be more pleased that Merlin is back by his side. Merlin, for his part, is consumed with grief:
"I thought I defied the prophecy. I thought I was in time. I'd defeated the Saxons. The dragon. And yet, And yet I knew it was Mordred that I must stop ... It was me. I'm a sorcerer, I have magic. I use it for you, Arthur. Only for you."Merlin is openly crying during his confession and when he is forced to demonstrate his mad skills to a very sceptical Arthur, Merlin only has cause to be more distraught when Arthur gets scared and can't bear to meet Merlin's eye. To Arthur's credit, his reaction is understandable. Merlin has been his servant for more than five years and while he can often be found belittling and mocking his servant, Merlin is truly his closest friend, confidant and advisor. To learn now, when he is so vulnerable, that the seemingly most harmless person in his life was the threat that sent all the remaining Saxons running for their lives, is humbling indeed. And Arthur is only going to be more humbled and put-in-his-place as the episode goes on.
Arthur is stunned that Gaius has known of Gaius' abilities for all these years and Gaius tries to reassure the King that he really is safe in Merlin's hands. There is only one place where Arthur might be saved after the severity of the injury he has sustained, and Merlin will be able to get him there.
Arthur, he is your friend. He can do far more than me, far more than you can ever imagine. Arthur, he doesn't just have magic. There are those who say he is the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the Earth ... If you are ever to stand any chance of survival, you will need Merlin to help you.I don't really know why I ever thought otherwise, but Morgana isn't dead yet. She buries Mordred with his sword acting as a headstone, looking rather worse-for-wear with the words "The Battle is not over, Mordred."
Just as they embark on their journey, Arthur hands over the Royal Seal to Gaius to give to Gwen for safekeeping. He's clearly not very positive about his chances for recovery and he says that he can't think of any other person to fill his shoes. When she hears the news, Gwen can't believe that Merlin can provide better protection than an army, but when she later realises that Merlin and the sorcerer who helped win the battle are one and the same, she has utter faith in his abilities.
Gwaine and Percival have themselves a little quest to capture and kill Morgana but all I can ask is why Leon hasn't been involved. He's probably my least favourite of the three, but it's just strange without him. There's a moment when you think that 'Yes! They've cut down all her men and there's only Morgana left to exterminate!' but of course it doesn't end well. Just watch it - I can't do it justice.
There's a wealth of Merlin-Arthur bonding moments in this episode where the latter tries to wrap his head around the fact that his servant is the most powerful sorcerer to walk the Earth, and he's managed to keep it the most closely guarded secret of Camelot for the entire time that they've known each other. This is one of my favourite exchanges, one that leaves Arthur just open-mouthed in awe at the poignancy and utter honesty in Merlin's words:
Arthur: Why did you never tell me?Before we know it, Morgana has learned that Arthur is not dead and that he and Merlin are bound for Avalon. She's riding furiously through the night to reach them before Merlin can save her brother and she catches up just as Merlin is trying to drag Arthur the last distance to the boat that will take them across the lake. Morgana and Merlin have had plenty of stand-offs since she turned evil, but this is the first and last when she knows that the outwardly-innocent Merlin is her greatest nemesis, Emrys. Exponentially spoilerish now, but if readers have taken my warnings on board, people reading this should have already seen the episode. If you haven't and are reading anyway, then (1) you should be ashamed of yourself but (2) I guess it's too far along for a little more to hurt:
Merlin: I wanted to, but ... You'd have chopped my head off
Arthur: I'm not sure what I would have done
Merlin: I didn't want to put you in that position.
Arthur: That's what worried you?
Merlin: Some men are born to plough fields, some [become] great physicians... others to be great kings. Me, I was born to serve you, Arthur. And I'm proud of that. And I wouldn't change a thing.
Morgana: What a joy it is to see you, Arthur. Look at you. not so tall and mighty now. You may have won the battle, but you've lost the war. You're going to die by Mordred's handIronic, isn't it? Peace with death. FINALLY, is all I can say. Finally, the bitch is dead.
Merlin: The time for all this bloodshed is over. I blame myself for what you have become, but this has to end
Morgana: I am a high priestess. No mortal blade can kill me.
Merlin: This is no ordinary blade. Like yours, it was forged in a dragon's breath. Goodbye, Morgana [Kills her with his own forged-in-a-dragon's-breath sword!]
Arthur: You've brought peace at last
Soon after, Arthur can't hold out any longer. His final, parting words aren't the most eloquently spoken, but the guy has a sword fragment in his body after all. They bring everything that has happened between Arthur and Merlin during this episode and the whole series to a bittersweet climax, though it's a bit of an anticlimax given the rest of the action in this episode.
Merlin is in some serious denial and why shouldn't he be? For the last five plus years, he's been slaving away for Arthur, protecting him and giving him gentle nudges towards the man he has become and helping him build the Kingdom that is the stuff of legend. All without any recognition or thanks. There's a huge emphasis in Merlin on duty, responsibility, fate and consequences and when Merlin has worked so hard doing his duty by Arthur's side to create the epic future that Arthur was born to rule over, his upset is understandable given that Arthur's part in it all is over so soon. Or is it? The Great Dragon returns for the end of the show to really bring it to a close and his parting words inject the hope and expectation that has really helped keep the legend alive all these years and hopefully will do for generations to come:
No, young warlock, [You have not failed]. For all you have dreamt of building has come to pass. Though no man, no matter how great, can know his destiny, some lives have been foretold, Merlin. Arthur is not just a king - he is the Once and Future King. Take heart, for when Albion's need is greatest, Arthur will rise again ... It has been a privilege to have known you, young warlock - the story we have been a part of will live long in the minds of men.I feel an immense pride in the BBC for retelling a legend that has so much history and background and really making something that stands out and will live long in the minds and hearts of viewers. Once they've got their act together and release an actual boxset that is worthy of the term 'boxset', it's going straight on my wishlist.
There was a little more after the Great Dragon scene, but I'm not going to retell it - watch it for yourself! As to the way the producers/writers etc decided to close the show - yes it was a bit of a shock and out-of-place, disjointed and a touch crass, it was quintissentially Merlin in its humour and it just adds further hope to the idea that the story hasn't ended quite yet.
I'm all for historical accuracy and although I would have loved it if Arthur had lived another fifty years, happily married to Gwen with half a dozen kids, ruling over a peaceful land, that's just not the way the legend goes and ultimately, you have to stick to the legend. There's been countless adaptations of Arthurian legend and while each adds its own twist to the tale, at the core, they all must follow the story and Arthur must die by Mordred's hand. It can't be any other way and I would have been severely disappointed if it had been. Yes, it hurts but it's meant to be. That's fate and history for you.
What the hell am I going to watch now? Merlin and Downton Abbey were the only two shows I kept up with once term properly started and now I have nothing. I even stopped University Challenge (and missed the Christmas episode(s)) because I didn't have time, but I'm going to be picking them up again from now otherwise there's literally nothing I have to watch on catch-up, though I'm considering Mr Selfridge as a serious possibility.
So long, Merlin. You've been a fantastic show and it's been a true experience watching the writing, characters, actors and storylines grow over these past five years. I hope to see all the actors in a lot of new, exciting ventures and that the BBC brings out something new of the historical variety very soon to sate my appetite ...