This review contains spoilers.
Here it is, the last ever episode recap of this week’s Merlin:
With the battle in full flow, Merlin drives back Morgana’s forces, whilst Mordred stalks the knights, seeking Arthur. Even with the help of Aithusa, Morgana is unable to drive home her advantage, and the sight of Emrys is enough to drive her into a rage, before Merlin renders her unconscious.
With Mordred driving his blade into Arthur, and a valiant show of strength allowing Arthur to kill Mordred, the King is close to death, but removed from the battlefield by Merlin, whilst Gwen tends to the wounded and the enemy force is driven back.
As the two friends exchange words, with the King wounded and the wizard back to his youthful state, Merlin finally reveals the truth. It’s a long time coming and Merlin’s revelation, with tears in his eyes, stuns Arthur, who demands that his loyal servant leave him.
With the threat once again quashed, life returns to normal in Camelot, though there is no sign of Arthur. Gwen’s anguish leads the knights to continue searching and the revelation that Gaius is also missing is a puzzle.
Gaius, it turns out, is searching for Merlin who, despite Arthur’s command, has remained with the now unconscious King. Except, of course, the King is feigning and reveals his fear to Gaius, only to discover that the physician knew all along as he counsels the King on his true need for Merlin.
Defeated, Morgana mourns the loss of Mordred, declaring that she will have her revenge, punishing her mercenaries when they declare they have been unable to find the King.
Still distrustful of Merlin, Arthur relies on Gaius to pass the Royal Seal to Gwen; bestowing leadership upon her in the event of his death. Merlin, meanwhile, will lead the King to Avalon, the only place that can overcome the deadly magic of Mordred’s blade.
With Gwaine’s wanton woman, still a spy for Morgana, sending word to Morgana, the spy is apprehended by Gwaine and Gwen, having furnished her with a lie. She will go to her death, whilst Gwaine and Percival set out to deal with the Morgana’s six mercenaries in bloody fashion before confronting Morgana, who overcomes them both, but not before Percival drives a blade through her back.
Seemingly unaffected by the wound, Morgana has the two Knights strung up, exposing Gwaine to the Nathair. Her focus is clearly on Gwaine as she underestimates Percival’s strength and he escapes, though he is too late to stop Gwaine succumbing and the Knight dies in his arms.
With Arthur weakening, Merlin must use subterfuge and trickery to get the King to his destination, unaware of Morgana’s approach. When she finally catches up with them both, Morgana looks set to kill both the King and Merlin, but is killed by Merlin’s own blade – also forged from the breath of a dragon.
With no horses, Arthur tells Merlin that it is too late and tells him that he knows that Merlin was working for the Kingdom of Camelot, before he slips away in his servants hands. In fury, Merlin calls upon the Grand Dragon, asking him to carry them to Avalon. The dragon warns Merlin that there is nothing he can do, calling Arthur the Once and Future King and that when Camelot’s need is greatest, Arthur will rise again.
Casting Excalibur back into the lake, Merlin places the King upon a funeral boat, ready to send him across the lake to his final resting place.
The King is dead… Long live the Queen as we discover that, in the future, Merlin still walks the Earth.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a series, with some truly disappointing episodes and humour that, at time, was a disastrous misstep, especially in the first season. With series four and five, Merlin really hit its stride, with darker, more grown-up story telling that benefitted from a later time slot and the departure of the played-for-laughs Robin Hood series from our screens.
In effect, Merlin had big shoes to fill – it was the series that ran when Doctor Who, which had also developed a more grown-up feel in the past few years, wasn’t on our screen.
With series five, it filled those shoes admirably. Each episode has been an achievement in storytelling, with few stories that didn’t drive forward the overall story arc. The humour returned but wasn’t overdone, the relationship between Merlin and Arthur grew, and the introduction of the Knights of the Round Table, while underused, increased an already impressive cast.
The final episode of Merlin plays heavily on Arthur and Merlin’s friendship, shattered in a single moment of honesty, with Arthur struggling to understand his servant’s revelation, whilst Merlin continues to tend to the injured King. Colin Morgan and Bradley James are at their best in some of the most dramatic scenes that this series has seen – Merlin’s confession and conviction are embodied by a stunning performance by Morgan and the tangible disappointment in James’ performance.
After five series of variable screen time, Richard Wilson has a pivotal part to play as he links the characters together, revealing his pivotal role to both Arthur and Gwen and offering counsel to both. Despite being, far too often, relegated to a bit part, Wilson remains a presence in Merlin and that is true of this final story.
Many nods to the history of the series are given – Gwen returns to the medical room and servant status as she tends to the wounded, before taking control of the Kingdom; Arthur reflects on his history with Merlin, realising that he has done more for the King than he thought; Gaius offers the counsel that one would expect of the King’s physician; and the Grand Dragon makes his final proclamation, bringing the legend to a close.
Merlin was never everyone’s cup of tea. It doesn’t stick rigidly to Arthurian legend, nor historical context. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter. This series has been mostly entertaining and really came into its own when Katie McGrath was allowed to spread her wings and turn truly evil; and she’s truly evil in this episode, without being over-the-top.
By the end of the series, a new legend is being written, lives have been lost, the bad guys are defeated and the future looks bright for Camelot.
There are plenty of stories to be told and, who knows, films, TV specials and miniseries are all potential options for what has been a fantastic journey.