Merlin series 4 episode 12 review: The Sword In The Stone Part 1

The penultimate episode of Merlin series 4 is a cracker. Here's Dave's round-up and review...

Merlin

This review contains spoilers.

4.11 The Sword In The Stone Part 1

As always, let’s get started by going over what just happened.

Arthur is waiting for his clothing, worried that he won’t look particularly regal if he goes out in just his undergarments. Merlin, on the other hand, is concerned that the King may have trouble making his belt fit, and is gamely trying to skewer another hole into it before the King goes to host the latest banquet.

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As Arthur entertains guests whilst wallowing in Gwen’s absence, Agravaine and Helios storm Camelot and bring Morgana into the castle, ready to take her seat on the throne. Quickly and efficiently overpowering Arthur’s army with sheer numbers, it isn’t long before the King is injured and forced to retreat to Gaius’ surgery, whilst Percival goes missing and Gwaine and Elyan are captured.

Camelot, it seems, is lost and Morgana sits on the throne. She’s not happy, as she wants more. She wants Arthur and demands that the former King is brought to her, despatching Agravaine to complete the task. She’s also not adverse to a bit of torture to get what she wants, as Elyan discovers.

Arthur, obviously, isn’t a coward and refuses to run, so Merlin has no choice but to enchant the King. With Arthur now robbed of his own free will, Merlin gets the perfect opportunity to poke fun at the King, whilst Arthur agrees with absolutely everything the wizard has to say. The wizard also gets to bare his soul, revealing his true thoughts about the King’s attitude towards such a loyal servant. Such merriment is brought to a halt when the pair are captured by Tristan and Isolde.

After rubbing up Tristan the wrong way, Merlin manages to hitch a lift with the pair in exchange for gold. As they strike camp, Arthur gets intimate with a tree, and Merlin discovers that their new friends are smugglers and, more disturbingly, that Arthur is considered a half-wit king.

Waking the next day, Merlin discovers that Arthur is no longer under his control, realising this when Arthur awakens him by kicking him repeatedly. Arthur isn’t happy that he’s no longer in Camelot, nor in his usual armour or, for that matter, that he is considered a simpleton and must continue to charade in order to avoid suspicion.

Their cover is blown, however, when Agravaine’s men surge forward, leaving Arthur no choice but to defend their ground, protecting Tristan and Isolde in the process. Tristan’s anger toward Arthur is diverted when Isolde is injured; the smuggler may think that Arthur is a money grabbing fool, but he soon finds that the King is a noble man. It doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to be getting along like a house on fire, though.

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With Elyan, Gaius and Gwaine incarcerated, Morgana mocks their predicament. She refuses to bring food for Gaius, until Gwaine ‘sings for it’, removing him from the cell and having him delivered to the great hall, where she plans to make him fight for his life. Gwaine, despite being weaponless, manages to best the brute that Morgana sets upon him through a combination of words and brutality.

Finally, Merlin has found sanctuary as he returns home to Ealdor, greeting his mother warmly. This isn’t the only familiar face for the wizard, as it appears that Gwen has also taken up residence. She’s missed Arthur and her broken heart will take time to mend.

Awakening after a safe night’s sleep, Arthur discovers that his wounds are being tended by Gwen. The pair are reunited and embrace lovingly, realising what they very nearly lost. However, such a tender moment is broken as Agravaine, with his torch-bearing horde, attack.

It’s certainly action-packed, with plenty of sword fighting and slow motion, horse riding and fire-laden carnage, but is it any good?

After the rollercoaster ride that has been series four of Merlin, expectations are no doubt high for the final two-part story. Jake Michie returns with yet another script that finely balances action, adventure, humour and drama in The Sword in the Stone, Part 1.

Once more Colin Morgan impresses as Merlin, and nothing bad can be said about Bradley James whether he is the King or the half-wit; he plays both roles with conviction and charm, even if this aspect of his character does feel a tad overplayed. Reunited with Angel Coulby, who barely gets anything to say, there’s electricity in the air as the lovers are brought back together.

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As for the knights, Eoin Macken’s Gwaine gets to be a bit more than physical, whilst showing his caring side; Tom Hopper’s Percival vanishes (hopefully not because they’ve forgotten about him) and Adetomiwa Edun’s Elyan once again gets to be the victim.

New additions for this episode are Ben Daniels as Tristan and Miranda Raison as Isolde. Historical considerations aside, the pair are effective as the smugglers who end up helping Arthur and Merlin. He’s a straightforward smuggler whilst she’s a dab hand with weapons and unafraid to get into a fight. Both actors are more than capable of pulling of their roles convincingly and, hopefully, Part 2 won’t be the last we see of this duo.

On the side of evil, Katie McGrath is phenomenal as Morgana, portraying her not as a pantomime villain, but as a temptress with incredible power and charisma. On top of that, Nathaniel Parker manages another week of avoiding over-the-top antics with an impressive performance as Agravaine, not over-doing the cracks in the characters armour as he realises that he isn’t in the position he imagined he would be. Disappointingly, Terence Maynard’s Helios isn’t given much to do apart from stand about and look threatening.

The fight scenes take centre stage this week, with plenty of slow motion combat. The fights look impressively brutal, especially as Gwaine fights for his life or where Arthur cuts through the enemy with confidence. His enemies are numerous, too, with some scenes giving the impression of a sizeable army.

There are plenty of impressive pyrotechnics, also coupled with slow motion, as Agravaine burns Camelot. In fact, Agravaine seems to have become a bit of a pyromaniac this episode, as fire seems to be his new motif. Perhaps there’s a message in there somewhere.

There’s still plenty of stories to tell for our heroes and villains, some of which hopefully won’t be tied up until series five. That said, whilst it may be missing any sign of a sword in a stone, the first part of this two-parter is fast moving, with a good dose of humour and filled with more than its fair share of drama.

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Bring on the final episode…!

Read our review of the last episode, here.

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