In the third episode of Season 5 of Merlin – “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon” – the series takes a real shift, and although I didn’t feel the episode as complexly well-plotted as some, it did provide plenty of dramatic atmosphere and interest.
Arthur and Merlin both have key life-changing moments in this episode. The two are traveling when they come upon a group of villagers about to burn a witch. Arthur decides to order them to release the witch – something they point out would not have been done by his father, but Arthur replies that he is not his father. Despite his being in agreement with his father about forbidding magic in Albion, he is not as stringent about it.
The witch thanks him for his saving her, although it is too late for her. Before she dies, she gives him a horn that can allow him to speak with the dead. Soon after, the three year anniversary of Uther’s death approaches, causing Arthur to want to see his father again. He and Merlin then travel to the Stones of Nemeton (which look a lot like Stonehenge). Arthur blows the horn and enters through a light that appears where he speaks to his father, but the meeting is not cordial. Uther upbraids him for making commoners into knights and marrying Guinevere and destroying tradition. Then he orders Arthur to go before he his trapped in the spirit world. Unfortunately, as Arthur leaves, he looks back in his father, resulting in Uther having the ability to leave the spirit world and visit Camelot.
Uther’s ghost is a far cry from King Uther, a troublesome spirit intent on having Camelot ruled the way he used to. After doors fly open, a chandelier falls, and other strange events happen, Merlin realizes Uther is haunting the castle. Arthur is not convinced until Uther’s spirit goes after Guinevere, trapping her, throwing things at her, and trying to burn her. Fortunately, Gaius has a potion Merlin and Arthur can drink to help them defeat Uther.
In the final battle, two key things happen. First, and only after Arthur is knocked unconscious, Merlin stands up to Uther, who laughs at him as a servant boy until Merlin reveals he has magic and tells him he was always wrong about magic. I loved this scene where Colin Morgan’s eyes flare and he steps into his power (just as happened when he revealed his magic to Agrivaine last season). Arthur rejoins the battle and blows the horn to send Uther back to the spirit world. Uther tries to warn him that Merlin has magic, but the horn’s sound drowns out his words. Merlin’s secret is safe still. But, secondly, it is key that Arthur has confirmed he will not live in his father’s shadow. He tells Uther he had his chance to rule, and now it is Arthur’s turn.
Although this episode is not tied to the bigger overarching plot of the Arthur-Morgana conflict, I think it is a key scene because it shows Arthur thinking for himself and I suspect it is hinting toward the time when Merlin will be able to reveal to Arthur that he does have magic.
SyFy, in advertising this episode, made a point of talking about the bromance between Arthur and Merlin in this episode. Many fans want to believe there is some gay erotica going on here, but I think it is clearly Merlin’s loyalty to Arthur that makes him affectionate toward him. If they were not master and servant, wizard and king opposed to magic, they would be able to express themselves more clearly to one another, but all the tension and magic would be lost. It’s so much more fun watching Arthur hit Merlin and then claim it’s horseplay.
Bring on the last 10 episodes of the series. I will be watching. Who knows? Maybe this time the story of Camelot will have a happy ending.
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