This review contains spoilers.
5.8 The Hollow Queen
This week’s events began with Gwen pardoning a young boy in the middle of the night after wandering around with Sir Leon, then returning all loved up to the arms of Arthur who has romantically made the bed – though, it’s probably going to have been Merlin who did the work! Nothing unusual there – aside from Gwen wandering around in the middle of the night and being far too amorous – so it is somewhat fortunate that the boy is seeking Merlin’s help, leading the wizard on a quest to help the Druid’s sister.
Arthur prepares for the arrival of the fearsome Sarrum of Amata and isn’t too pleased that his only servant is off who-knows-where whilst the King attempts to sign a peace treaty with the vicious visitor. Arthur realises how useless at day-to-day activities he is sans servant, so is forced to recruit help from Gaius with comical consequences. The physician may not be any good at dressing the King, but he can offer counsel on the reputation of Sarrum.
Daegel the Druid Boy is obviously not what he seems as Morgana reveals her latest dastardly plan; poisoning and leaving the wizard for dead. Thankfully, her decision to pay off Daegal could be Merlin’s saving grace – if only she’d killed him!
As Sarrum and Arthur discuss how Morgana was captured by Sarrum, we discover that it was the love for her young dragon that kept her alive and the suffering that they both endured twisted them. It is all too much for Gwen as she skulks away to meet her new mistress.
Morgana plans to set Sarrum against the King in an epic power play that will dispose of Arthur and Sarrum, installing Gwen as Queen and leaving Camelot to Morgana. Unfortunately for Gwen, Sarrum sees an opportunity to dispose of Arthur and the Queen, if only he can get the timing right; of course, he has no knowledge that Morgana is involved in all this treachery. Thankfully, Daegel’s return allows Merlin to heal and together they save the day as the layers of betrayal slowly begin to peel away.
The Hollow Queen isn’t an episode about magic or fantasy – though both obviously feature. This story is more about the characters and politics of Albion, though not in such depth that you feel you’re watching an episode of Game of Thrones. Hopefully, the death of Sarrum will have consequences further down the line for Arthur and it won’t end up being a throwaway appearance.
John Shrapnel’s role as Sarrum is more than just a two-dimensional guest of the week appearance. He turns in a performance of power and control that wouldn’t have been out of place in a political drama thanks to a rivetting script from Julian Jones.
Colin Morgan gives us a real sense that the end may be near, helped by the performance of Alfie Stewart as Daegel, caught in the middle of things far beyond his understanding. We learn a little more about why Merlin does what he does, though there’s nothing earth shattering. Daegel’s fate isn’t a surprise, nor is the character’s redemption, but they’re effectively handled and even Merlin doesn’t seem to get too emotional at the end.
The women have all the power in this episode. We have Angel Coulby continuing to shine with the dual role of loving wife and cold, calculated Queen alongside the always excellent Katie McGrath. More could have been made of Morgana’s suffering at the hands of Sarrum, but hopefully this will, as with many things, have a pay-off in the near future.
Here is Merlin at arguably its most grown up. Gwen’s duplicitous character leads her to ever darker places, whilst Gaius and Merlin continue to be suspicious of her activities but lack the evidence necessary to do anything about it. The King suffers another assault on his reign and the good guys go on to fight another day.
Morgana will not be pleased…
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