Season 5 of the hit series Merlin premiered on Sy Fy last night (BBC viewers have already seen the entire season). Fortunately, I’ve avoided all the spoiler sites before viewing this season. I haven’t been so excited about a season premiere in years since this will be the last season of Merlin and it’s been my favorite television show since the cancellation of The Lost World (that’s another Arthurian blog for the future). All that said, I was a bit disappointed in this season premiere, although I did a good job of setting up the rest of the season, which I trust will just continue to build.
As usual, there was plenty of repartee between Merlin and Arthur. The series is worth watching if only to watch the interaction between these two characters. Colin Morgan is a fabulous actor and his character really came into his own at the end of last season when he openly demonstrated his magic to Agravaine. Bradley James also plays his somewhat stuck-up Arthur quite well. These two characters did not disappoint at all.
The season opens after three years of peace in Camelot, followed by the disappearance of Gwain (why isn’t his name spelled Gawain in the series?), Percival, and several other knights on a mission. Arthur sets out to find the knights. Gawain and Percival are revealed to the viewer as imprisoned in a dark cave with the others, apparently being forced to pound rocks and do hard labor – although I noticed it couldn’t be too hard since their hair was still combed perfectly and they were devoid of sweat. I won’t give away much more of the plot. Arthur and Merlin have yet to find Gwain and company when the episode ends.
Then there was a young serving girl at Camelot named Sefa who seemed to have eyes for Merlin. She and Gwen become friends, but she is also the daughter of a sorcerer so she ultimately betrays Guinevere and Camelot’s trust. When Guinevere discovers this, since Arthur is away seeking Gwain, she sentences Sefa to death. Clearly, the viewer is to be stunned by Guinevere’s harshness, and Gaius appears surprised from the expression on his face. What is up with Guinevere’s lack of humanity? She is following the rules of Camelot, but considering her own father was burnt at the stake by Arthur’s father, you would think she’d be a bit more sympathetic (I never have figured out why she stuck around Camelot after that happened; I’d have left rather than marry the son of my father’s murderer – I’ve never been a fan of Uther in the series) – that said, Guinevere assumes Sefa’s father is siding with Morgana, who is a threat to everyone at Camelot. This scene suggests something major is going to happen with Guinevere this season – we will have to wait and see. Throughout the series (no offense to Angel Coulby’s acting skills; it’s the weakness of the script at fault), Guinevere has been the least appealing character, having no real chemistry with Arthur and being somewhat unbelievable as his love interest considering she is a serving maid. And while I’m all for multiculturalism, we never have had an explanation for why Guinevere and her family are the only black people in Camelot – where did they come from? I am hoping there is some mystery about Guinevere’s past, perhaps one even she does not know, that will be revealed before the season is over.
Finally, for me the highlight of this entire episode was the appearance of Mordred at the end, no longer a boy, but a young man, and still in alliance with Morgana. When Merlin and Arthur are captured and their death appears imminent, Mordred appears, making certain their lives are spared, at least temporarily, so he can bring them to Morgana.
As for what happens next, we must wait but the previews for the future episodes look fabulous. Will magic and the old religion ultimately prevail – a part of me seriously hopes so, but regardless, I’m sure Morgana will be defeated (poor Morgana, most interesting character in the show, most misunderstood – but someone has to be the villain). For magic and the old religion to be restored, it will take Merlin revealing his secret of having magic to Arthur. And since Merlin in this episode had a dream that Mordred would slay Arthur, I don’t foresee a happy ending. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see how the rest of this season plays out. Will the legend’s ending be changed? Even if a happy ending is created for the series, the end of the best Arthurian television series ever will be a sad one.
Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about Arthur’s descendants. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com