Merlin series 4 episode 11 review: The Hunter’s Heart

Emotions are at the fore in the latest excellent episode of Merlin. Here's Dave's review...

Merlin

This review contains spoilers.

4.11 The Hunter’s Heart

Let’s start, logically, with the recap.

Lovely Gwen, now living in a village, is shovelling hay and feeling quite sorry for herself. Unexpectedly, the village is raided by some evil looking guys wearing black and riding black horses, led by the warlord Helios. With no Arthur and Merlin in sight, the bad guys capture Gwen with ease, though don’t kill her as Helios thinks that having the lovely Gwen as his prisoner may be fun.

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Arthur announces that the kingdoms of Camelot and a disputed neighbouring kingdom have reached an accord and that, as part of the deal, he’s going to get married to the princess of said kingdom. Merlin isn’t happy and makes his feelings quite clear, though Arthur has banned all mention of Gwen, threatening to exile Merlin if he repeats his belief that Arthur still loves Gwen.

Agravaine is being his usual sly self, threatening young men this week. Sadly, this results in Agravaine murdering a young man before riding off to see Morgana. She’s not particularly happy that Agravaine has failed her once more. All she wanted were the plans to the siege tunnels and he can’t even deliver those. It’s up to him, Morgana decides, to get the plans.

With Gwen in the hands of the warlord Helios, she discovers that the man is a rather charming individual, despite his strong-armed tactics. Things seem to be going well for Helios and Gwen, until Gwen hears mention of Morgana’s name and goes to her room. Helios and Morgana are old friends, it seems, and, after discussing their plans to lay siege to Camelot, Helios extends an offer for Morgana to stay.

Finally, the Princess Mithian arrives and she’s not too pleasant and happens to be an ogre… oh, sorry, that’s series two. She’s actually quite, quite pretty… and an ogre. Nope, still not an ogre. She’s actually really quite lovely and witty. Arthur is instantly smitten, as is Mithian, and he announces there’s going to be a feast in honour of the newly established peace between kingdoms.

Merlin is torn between his loyalty for Gwen and his loyalty for Arthur. Gaius offers some advice, though it doesn’t really help our favourite wizard. It also doesn’t help when Gaius is called upon to investigate the death of the boy. Despite the appearance of suicide, Gaius isn’t convinced, though the investigation is brought to a halt when he discovers a letter of betrayal upon the boy’s person. Agravaine swiftly delivers the letter to Arthur, granting him access to the room where the plans are kept.

With the tunnel plans in hand, Morgana uses a bit of magic to photocopy them and passes them onto Helios, unaware that their actions are being observed by Gwen. After Morgana has managed to reveal Agravaine’s involvement, Gwen makes a move, but alerts Morgana and Helios to her presence, giving her no choice to but to escape into the forest, her cover finally blown as Morgana realises who she is.

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With the great feast in full flow, Merlin tries to serve soup to Arthur and uses magic to make him look a tad foolish. Mithian isn’t put off by such buffoonery, lovingly tending to her future husband. Bumbling through a show of affection, Arthur and Mithian finally agree to a picnic breakfast the next day. He may be a strapping lad with teeth that sparkle and a kingdom to call his own, but he’s a bit of a dunce when it comes to speaking to women.

With Merlin carrying the picnic stuff, it’s time for a little comedy as Arthur teases the wizard, making him carry it back and forth for no more reason than the King’s amusement. With more silly moments of magic, this time featuring belching, Merlin is still intent on driving away the rather lovely princess, though finds that she’s as accomplished in the skill of belching as the King! Can nothing stop this romance?

Having spent the night in the forest, wearing little but a lacy gown, Gwen is awoken by the sound of horses. Morgana approaches and she’s going to track down her prey. A brief exchange sees Morgan teasing Gwen before she goes off running again, only to be cast through the air by Morgana’s magic. With Gwen unconscious, Morgana casts a spell, promising that it will let Gwen see her beloved Arthur once more.

As the hunters hunt, with Merlin complaining and Arthur offering to give him a headstart, they spot a deer. Merlin gets there first, managing to see into its mind and realises that the deer is an enchanted Gwen. Merlin is thunderstruck, barely averting her death, though Mithian is a better shot. As they hunt for the injured deer, Arthur finds Gwen’s ring and calls the hunt off.

In the dead of night, Merlin returns to the woods and finds the injured Gwen, no longer in deer form. He tends to her with magic and stays until the morning, when Gwen awakens, recovered. She shares her knowledge of Morgana, revealing that she and Helios are planning to invade the siege tunnels. She also identifies Agravaine as being involved, which spurs Merlin to declare that she must return to Camelot. Gwen can’t return, however, as she betrayed her beloved and must live with that guilt, so Merlin returns alone.

Arthur asks Merlin how he can love someone who betrayed him and how he can possibly love anyone else. Without using magic or other buffoonery, Merlin tells Arthur to do what his heart knows is right, pointing him in the direction of Gwen and the loyalty that she offers. He is, after all, the ‘once and future king’ and will always do the right thing.

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Morning comes, with Mithian departing the kingdom of Camlot on less than amicable terms, Arthur plans to rescue some of his relationship with the princess and the neighbouring kingdom by offering the disputed lands back to the princess and her descendants. He admits that his love is for Gwen is greater than his love for anyone or anything else and Mithian admits that she, too, would give up her own kingdom for such love.

Well then. What can I say?

With Mithian leaving, Gwen still in exile, Agravaine about to be discovered and Morgana ready to bring Helios’ forces to Camelot, there’s only the two-part finale to go for this excellent series. Emotions are running high and friends are being consolidated, with Arthur coming to realise that Merlin is important to him and that Gwen is his true love.

Save for the belching scene and magic tomfoolery, this week’s Merlin was an emotional rollercoaster, with love and loyalty playing at the heart and Morgana’s storyline seemingly building up to an epic conclusion in the final two episodes.

Bradley James plays the lovestruck and lovelorn king perfectly whilst Janet Montgomery, as Mithian, steals her scenes with the kind of delivery and humour that wouldn’t look out of place in a BBC period drama. As for the other cast members, Colin Morgan offers some emotional moments as Merlin, mixed in with the usual horse play, whilst Gaius spends a lot of time being suspicious. Nathaniel Parker returns to his plotting ways without the pantomime villainy that he’s occasionally been subjected to in some scripts.

Richard McBrien’s first script for Merlin captures the soul of this series of Merlin, injecting just enough pathos for our leads without going overboard. There’s very little action this week, save for the hunt and some magic use, but the episode really didn’t need it. Considering McBrien had also contributed to the excellent final series of Spooks, which was replete with emotion and depth, it’s no surprise that he is able to provide some real substance without descending into soap style melodrama for Merlin.

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Two episodes to go then? It’s been one big build up to a final conclusion. Let’s hope it’s been worth it, because it’s been an impressive ride so far.

Read our review of the last episode, here.

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