Merlin series 4 episode 10 review: A Herald Of The New Age

Those who gave up on Merlin during its first three series? It really is time to give the show another go. Here's our review of A Herald Of The New Age...

This review contains spoilers.

4.10  A Herald Of The New Age

Let’s go through the recap first.

This week’s Merlin finds that the knights are taking part in some teasing banter, when Arthur suddenly discovers a shrine that Merlin identifies as belonging to the old religion, warning of the curses that hang around such shrines. Heeding the wizard’s warning, Arthur gets them all to leave as quickly as possible. If only Elyan had listened to the warning instead of drinking from the spooky well…

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Returning to Camelot, there’s clearly something wrong with Arthur as he spends a lot of time being silent and staring into the distance. He tells Merlin he’s just thinking, but there’s clearly more to it than that, what with Gwen having recently been banished and the King’s life now being loveless. In the meantime, Elyan is on edge having seen a child in the well and seeing things in the shadows of his room. It’s not made any easier when the watery child appears in his bedroom.

A training session sees Merlin once more act the comic foil as Arthur sets about him with his mighty weapon; punishment for Merlin’s foolish comments after discovering Arthur with his head in a plate of food. Elyan, however, goes a step too far, battering Merlin to the ground before being restrained by Arthur.

Another encounter with the spirit results in Gawaine knocking Elyan unconscious. Leaving him in the hands of Gaius, the knights believe it is Gwen’s banishment that has left him a broken man, but Gaius knows there’s something more to this, especially after he discovers a ring of salt underneath Elyan’s bed.

Merlin tries to counsel Arthur, also bringing up the topic of Gwen, but the King dismisses him, leaving Merlin to rant at Gaius. The wizard is frustrated, realising that all Arthur does is shout at him, despite his constant and loyal servitude. Gaius breaks the wizard’s self pity by revealing that Elyan disturbed a spirit and may very well be possessed.

Finally awakened, Elyan and the spirit converse. All the spirit wants is peace for the wrongs that were committed. All Elyan has to do in order to achieve this is to kill the King. So, kill the King he must… wandering into the King’s chamber, drawing his sword and attacking Arthur who, defenceless, fends him off with a variety of household furniture before the knight flees.

Agravaine is incensed by this injustice and demands that the knight is found, whilst Merlin tries to convince Arthur that Elyan’s possessed. The knights are deployed to capture Elyan in efficient fashion, cornering and subduing him before dumping him, unceremoniously, in the dungeons. Agravaine, of course, wants Elyan put to death, ignoring Merlin’s belief that spirits are involved as it’s clearly all to do with Elyan’s loyalty to his banished sister. Agravaine believes that the King will look weak and he says Arthur has no choice but to sentence the knight to death upon capture.

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Knowing that Elyan’s life is on the line, Merlin plans to learn the magic that will be required to expel the spirit. All Merlin has to do is break the knight out of the cells, get him to some secluded area and carry out the exorcism. Thankfully, Arthur has gone idiots for guards, so it’s not a difficult for him to carry out this amazing plan, though he doesn’t count on Elyan knocking him unconscious.

With Elyan free again, he manages to get closer to the King than seems possible, with the guards rendered unconscious. Arthur realises that Elyan is possessed and the two engage in a sword fight whilst Merlin breaks in using magic just moments before Arthur would have run the knight through with his sword. The realising of the truth leads Arthur to let Elyan, much to Agravaine’s chagrin; it’s got to be said that Elyan seems to have done a lot of escaping and the guards aren’t looking too good at the moment with their inability to keep him under lock and key or, more concerning, away from the King.

Finally coming to terms with what has happened to the knight, Arthur seeks advice from Gaius who reveals that Elyan may be too far gone leaving Arthur with no choice but to kill him, if Agravaine doesn’t get to Elyan first. Arthur has a plan and it involves doing something that Merlin’s very good at; he’s going to sneak around in the woods and find Elyan. Fortunately, Merlin stumbles across Arthur’s fantastic plan and the pair head back to the Druid camp to free Elyan, put the spirit to rest and undo a wrong that Arthur committed.

So then.

Howard Overman’s script continues the impressive track record of series four. Though little time is spent dealing with the aftermath of Gwen’s departure, there are mentions of her throughout the story and some fine moments of character development for Gawaine and Arthur as they deal it.

The story shifts from emotion to action and back again fairly seamlessly and doesn’t overplay any particular emotion. Whilst there are a few fun moments, the over-the-top, slapstick, pantomime humour that was often a trait of earlier series has been reigned in here, instead opting to tell a compelling story. On top of that, we’re not subjected to yet another possessed bangle or necklace! Though the possession of a key character isn’t particularly new, the revelation that it wasn’t Uther but Arthur that was responsible for the angry spirit does open up the possibility that Uther may not have acted alone in his conviction; after all, Arthur has seen loss at the hands of magic users long before the appearance of Merlin.

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This knights haven’t really been the focus of any particular story, so it makes a change to see one of them get close to the centre of the storytelling with Elyan being the focus of this episode. He’s not given much in the way of dialogue but Adetomiwa Edun still manages to give a decent performance. The other knights are, as often has been the case, restricted to secondary (or even tertiary) characters, though there’s plenty of opportunity to explore their stories in the already announced series five.

Sullen and brooding, Bradley James continues to impress of Arthur. His barbs are much less jovial, his attitude much more stoic; both traits suit the look and style of James. Towards the end of the episode, with Arthur’s revelation of responsibility and his pledge to treat the Druids with respect, we get a rather emotional plea for forgiveness that allows James to demonstrate his range as an actor.

Untethered from the strings of Morgana’s machinations, Nathaniel Parker’s Agravaine is, once again, a political manipulator, driving Arthur to be appear strong to his people instead of the benevolent ruler that he wants to be. It would be nice if there were some consistency in the character as, once again, his ties to Morgana appear to have been forgotten. In this role, free of any trace of pantomime villainy, Parker is captivating to watch.

With just three episodes to go, Merlin remains in a strong position having taken four series to find its feet. Of course, there are plot holes and some issues with episode-to-episode consistency, but it still doesn’t take away from a very good story in a series that continues to impress.

Read our review of the last episode here.

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