This review contains spoilers.
4.13 The Sword In The Stone Part 2
As always, I’ll start with the recap. And after last week’s explosive finale, our heroes are trapped, surrounded by Agravaine and his army, Gwen and Arthur have been reunited and Merlin has some choices to make.
However, before we get there, we have some running to do. Yes, there’s more running in this episode as the heroes have no choice but to flee into the forest whilst Agravaine burns things.
Merlin isn’t adverse to using his magic to protect his friends and, after far too long an absence, the dragon returns, affording Merlin and company the opportunity to escape from the forest into some nearby caves, whilst Agravaine flees from the fiery onslaught.
Whilst Tristan is questioning Gwen about her relationship with Arthur, Merlin sets out to protect his friends once more, doubling back to intercept Agravaine as he enters the tunnels. Sadly, for Merlin, he takes a wrong turn and Agravaine corners the young wizard. Rapidly rendering his attackers unconscious, Merlin seems to get the upper hand until Agravaine recovers, identifying Merlin as Emrys. With little choice, and realising that his secret is in even greater danger, Merlin takes extreme measures.
Back in Camelot, Gaius isn’t looking particularly healthy, despite Elyan’s best attempts to help him. Thankfully, Gwaine is now Morgana’s favourite plaything and, gifting him a wooden sword, she plans to make him fight for more food. As if the wooden sword isn’t bad enough, he also has to fight with no shirt on.
Tristan is needling Arthur, pointing out his shortcomings and his lack of standing in society. Even Gwen can’t reassure Arthur as he’s still hurting from her betrayal and makes his position clear, sending the poor girl away. All this has put him in a very dark mood as he decides he’s trusted the wrong people and isn’t worthy of being a king.
Merlin is at a loss as to how to help his master and races deeper into the forest, calling upon the dragon once again. He needs advice and all the dragon can tell him is that the fate of Camelot rests in Merlin’s hands. Merlin’s got a plan that involves waking Arthur up in early hours and taking him into the forest.
Recounting the history of the Kings of Camelot, Merlin reveals that the first king buried his own sword into a stone. All Arthur has to do is pull the sword out of the stone and he’ll be the best king ever. Arthur’s got reservations, but Merlin is confident and Arthur goes forward, spurred on by the timely appearance of his entire retinue of knights.
So, with everyone looking, Arthur grasps the sword and pulls… only to find it doesn’t move. All he has to do is believe, but it seems Arthur has performance anxiety. Merlin’s words finally work and Arthur tears the sword out of the stone, with additional help from Merlin.
With renewed confidence, Arthur plans the fight of his life, with his army at his side. Arthur isn’t worried about the men he has to fight, but the power of Morgana; thankfully, Merlin has more of the story of the sword to tell, this time explaining that the man who pulls it from the stone will be the greatest king ever known. Arthur’s not convinced by the story, though Merlin revealing he’s always believed in Arthur may help him with the whole confidence thing.
Helios reports back to Morgana, explaining that all her forces, including Agravaine are dead. Realising that the only man capable of commanding a dragon is Emrys, she’s a bit nervous, moreso when Merlin sneaks into the castle and disguises himself as Emrys, allowing Morgana to catch sight of him. Even with Helios on his tracks, there’s no stopping Emrys as he brazenly uses magic before returning to his younger self and disguising himself as a guard. Morgana is scared and completely unaware that Merlin has secreted an enchanted corn doll under her bed.
With Tristan and Isolde choosing to fight alongside Arthur, the sneak attack sees the knights storm the castle. Helios alerts Morgana, who coldly offers to welcome Arthur home. With Tristan and Isolde in the mix, the knights of Camelot fight a vicious battle to secure the castle. Percival rescues Gwaine and Elyan, whilst Arthur fights alongside Gwen and Merlin.
Finally, Morgana and Arthur come face to face. Morgana tries her magic, but discovers that it’s no longer in her command, leaving her to flea whilst Helios and his men fight Arthur, Tristan and Isolde. A brief fight ensures, whilst Merlin and Gwen go after Morgana, in which Arthur is nearly bested by Helios. Isolde manages to defeat the great warlord, though suffers a fatal wound the attempt.
Also injured in her attempts to escape, Morgan retreats to her quarters only to be discovered by Gwen. Morgana hates Gwen because of what she’s destined to be and nearly kills the servant, however Merlin is on hand to knock Morgana unconscious by causing part of the ceiling to collapse. Before he can explain what happened to the dazed and confused Gwen, Morgana vanishes.
Mourning the loss of Isolde, Tristan is distraught as he sees her pass away in his arms. Gwen is putting Arthur’s bedroom back together. Merlin can sort it out, Arthur says, before telling Gwen she can stay as he doesn’t want to lose her again. This time, they’re going to get married and nothing will stop them. Finally, the king has his queen.
Morgana is not going to be happy! With the dragon Aithusa making a reappearance, we can be sure that Morgana will be back and even more dangerous than ever.
Take a moment to catch your breath, then.
If last week’s story was a bit shallow in places, this week’s is like swimming in the deep end. From the start to the very end, there’s enough action and drama in the episode to fill every minute of the story, though the siege of the castle does seem to happen a bit too quickly.
There’s plenty of dialogue on the side of good, but the bad guys seem to think actions matter more than words. If there was one downside to all this action, it’s that there’s far too much running and far too little combat; the sword fight scenes have improved dramatically over the series and we get yet another tantalising look at knights fighting for their lives that really deserved to be much, much longer.
The cast, as always, are superb right across the board. There really isn’t a weak cast member, even if some of them don’t seem to get much in the way of dialogue. Tom Hopper finally gets the opportunity to look aggressive as he cuts through all and sundry, whilst series five.
Colin Morgan’s turn to the dark side, as he kills off Agravaine and his men, is suitably cold, without turning him into Anakin Skywalker. He steals the show, as always, alongside Katie McGrath, Angel Coulby and Bradley James.
Once again, some plot threads are cast aside – Percival returns, though no mention is really made as to his whereabouts; Gaius survives despite being close to death; and, it isn’t really explained whether or not Merlin was telling the truth about the sword in the stone as, the last time we saw Excalibur (it isn’t named as such in this story) was when it was thrown into the lake and not buried in a piece of rock.
Why couldn’t the story get a longer run time than forty three minutes? With an extra fifteen minutes, more could have been made of the moment when Arthur and Morgana meet again, as it’s an exchange that finishes far too quickly considering the history of both characters. More time could have been spent on the siege of the castle as it deserved to be the set-piece of this story.
That said, Julian Jones manages to finish series four the same way that that he started it: on a high and leaving us with even higher expectations for what is to come.
Merlin will return… and it can’t be soon enough.
Read our review of the last episode, here.