Our favourite sorcerer is back on Saturday night television, as Merlin returns for a fifth series that promises to be darker than ever, and to explore some of the more well-known Arthurian legends. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Merlin’s return for a few months now – I remember when this show first aired and I’ve watched from a distance although last series I couldn’t keep away from it on a Saturday night. Now it’s back and I’ve got to say it’s still on top form!
It’s no secret that the series is set 3 years after the events of the series 4 finale which saw Gwen take her place by Arthur’s side and become Queen, whilst Morgana licked her wounds from the battle of Camelot, defeated once more. The episode’s story starts immediately with the round table being assembled, and the sense of danger mounting as several of Arthur’s men are missing. We find out that they have been taken captive by Morgana, who has taken over the fortress of Ismere, as she searches for a key to knowledge to overthrow Arthur once and for all.
Arthur sets out to rescue his men and a sense of danger is felt throughout the episode – within the first 20 minutes we have been introduced to the ‘Arthur’s Bane’ prophecy that we have seen foreshadowed in the trailers for the series. The threat is very much prominent through the episode, and the dangers are all too serious. Series creator Julian Jones gives us a script that is not only filled with foreshadowing, but is also filled with some lighter, humerous moments – the juggling trick and the interactions between Arthur and Merlin make the episode not all serious. The epic fight scenes are also great and it seems we’ll be seeing more of the epic scale through the series.
It is clear that the characters have grown in the three years that have passed, and all the main characters convey that in their performance: Colin Morgan may still be in the same outfit but Merlin has more of a maturity and weariness now, whilst Bradley James’ Arthur looks more comfortable in his position as King, looking more regal, and conveying a sense of power. Angel Coulby can finally wear majestic and regal dresses and she also carries maturity and a level head as Arthur’s Queen. It is clear that Gwen’s counsel is important to Arthur and we can see this as she sits at the round table next to him. She also is not afraid to dish out punishment and justice as she shows by sentencing Sefa to death for treason. Katie McGrath’s Morgana is still as evil as ever, and she seems even more determined to destroy Arthur, becoming extremely erratic in the process.
One other thing I want to touch on is the fact that Arthur and Merlin’s unlikely friendship is certainly still at the heart of the show. Their scenes together are often comic, but also show the care and love between master and servant, which turned into friendship. It’s brilliant and lovely to watch on screen and Colin Morgan and Bradley James have a great chemistry.
The end of the episode introduces us to an old friend/turned enemy in the shape of Mordred. He has been recast into an older version of the character, and is now played by Alexander Vlahos who certainly brings a sense of creepiness and threat to Mordred. I certainly can’t wait for next week’s conclusion to the two-parter and to the series as a whole – it will certainly make my Saturday night television viewing!
P.S. it’s always great to see Knights with their shirts off and performing hard labour – writers more of this please!
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Arthur: I swear I’m going to rescue my men…or die trying.
Merlin: Then I swear, I will protect you or die at your side