Title: “The Dragon’s Call“
Obviously, this episode is the pinnacle of nostalgia. Meeting all of the legendary characters when they were just starting out; Merlin, Gaius, Prince Arthur, King Uther, Lady Morgana, Guinevere, The Great Dragon. As Merlin waltzes into the gates of Camelot, the viewer can see the awe and wonder in his eyes as he looks on the beautiful, diverse kingdom for the first time. It’s so natural seeing Merlin’s eyes glow gold as he slows down time and moves objects with his mind, but the episode reminds us that Merlin is literally a child at this point who doesn’t even know any spells. The happiness on his face when Gaius gives him his first magic book is priceless, as a lonely, young boy finally realises that he’s found his purpose in life. Not to mention, the interactions between Merlin and Arthur are hilarious and exciting. Seeing Arthur behaving so arrogantly and heartlessly to servants reminds you how much he develops over the years, and how his experiences make him the compassionate and caring Arthur we come to know and love in later seasons. Meeting Gwen and Morgana for the first time are also highlights, especially as Merlin looks at Morgana like she is an angel which, let’s face it, she might as well be.
This episode really reminded me of how combat and action-driven the show used to be. I’m pretty sure Series 1 has more sword fights, tournaments and fights-to-the-death than the rest of the seasons put together. As much as I love the realistic element and grittiness of all the fighting, I do find the sequences quite boring and rather enjoy episodes with a bit more magic in. I’m obviously a fantasy over action kind of person. This episode never really interested me, I think the villain is very boring and two-dimensional and a lot of the air time is taken up with the tournament which, as I said, I almost want to fast forward. This episode probably appeals to a lot of other people but I’m just not one of them. However, I do enjoy the theme of voices and how Merlin’s voice and accusation’s mean nothing in the eyes of royalty because he is just a servant. It’s so heart-breaking, and equally uncomfortable, when Arthur tries to do the right thing and support his servant’s belief that Knight Valiant is cheating and using magic because he trusts Merlin, regardless of whether he is a servant, to then get completely torn down by his father as being a coward. The audience can see that Arthur is good and pure in his heart, as he regards everyone’s voice equally, but is so conflicted and troubled within himself due to his father’s disgust and harshness at these beliefs. Watching Arthur sack Merlin because of his father’s outrage really shows how challenging Merlin’s destiny is.
Title: “The Mark of Nimueh“
The focus of this episode is definitely how appalling the Afanc monster looks. Obviously, they didn’t get much of a budget in Series 1, but I believe this show is more than special effects so it was still a great watch for me. Merlin and Arthur unite, with sword and magic, to defeat Nimueh’s monster who is poisoning the people of Camelot. It’s beautiful to see Merlin prepared to risk everything to heal Gwen’s father, and Morgana equally as determined to prove Gwen’s innocence that she is not a witch. It’s the start of a short-lived friendship as Merlin, Arthur and Morgana venture the caves to slaughter the magical beast. Merlin even announces to the royal court that he used magic to heal Gwen’s father in order to save Gwen. It’s ironic and hilarious when Arthur saves his servant’s backside from execution, stating Merlin is too much of an idiot to be a sorcerer, and that he is only taking the blame because he is love with Gwen. Morgana also believes Merlin has a little crush, but nobody seems to catch on to Merlin’s blatant use of magic. I was never a big fan of Nimueh so her small appearance doesn’t really excite me.
Title: “The Poisoned Chalice“
When I first started watching Merlin, this episode was one of my favourites that I would watch over and over, despite the fact that Merlin himself is hardly in it due to being poisoned by Nimueh and falling into a coma. However, I think what draws me in once again is the friendship. Arthur, after begging his father to ride out in search for the anti-dote to save his manservant and being refused, disobeys Uther and risks his life anyway, journeying alone in search for the revival of his friend. He faces a deadly cockatrice, large spiders and Nimueh herself but prevails, with the help of Merlin’s magic guiding the way. This suggests that Merlin and Arthur have some kind of link with one another, and I am disappointed that it’s never touched on again in the show. I always believed that this episode showed Arthur that he does have a guardian angel watching over him. Merlin appears to have impacted Arthur after willingly drinking Arthur’s poisoned cup knowing he would die, saving his master’s life. Similarly, other friendships are also developed on. Gwen does not leave Merlin’s side as he grows weaker and even kisses him in relief when he awakes. Morgana, although in the background for most of the episode, persuades Arthur to go against his father’s wishes and do what is right to save Merlin. Even now, you can see that Morgana knows how to manipulate people. Contrastingly, Uther continues to regard servant life as worthless which is interesting to see what life used to be like between the classes. It was great to see Gaius doing some magic of his own, and I did enjoy Nimueh’s appearances in this episode too. The high priestess’ power of foresight is so exciting to see as she exclaims that Arthur’s destiny is not to die by her hand. We never really get a similar villain in following seasons who has so much wisdom of the future which is what I think is so special about Nimueh.
Lancelot has never really been one of my favourite characters but I do understand his importance in the legend and applaud the writer’s for giving his character such a twist. In this interpretation, Lancelot does not have the nobility to be a knight and so Merlin helps him forge his credentials in order to be knighted. There is obvious friendship between Lancelot and Arthur, and a small attraction for Guinevere. It’s very interesting seeing Gwen and Lancelot’s bond before the famous Gwen and Arthur bond. Again, we are reminded of Uther’s strict rules and codes regarding nobility and royalty, not mixing with the “common person”. Arthur genuinely seems upset at Lancelot’s betrayal but also respects his skills and loyalty, even proposing to his father that the knight’s code is wrong after Lancelot kills the Griffin who was terrorising the city. I do love the magical, half-lion, half-eagle, mythical creature and watching Merlin’s magic and Lancelot’s bravery defeat it is stunning. Lancelot finds out about Merlin’s powers in this episode which paves the way for later collaborations between the two of them which is always exciting to see. Lancelot is also the first Knight of the Round Table to appear in the show. He is the beginning of so many great times as the knights become as much apart of the show as Merlin and Arthur themselves in later seasons.
Title: “A Remedy to Cure All Ills“
This episode isn’t very impressive in my opinion. When the episode first aired obviously it made a big impact because the villain, Edwin, had believable and understanding motifs for wanting to kill the King. As a child, he watched his parents sentenced to death for using magic and tried to rescue them from the flames, leaving his face badly scarred. We really get an insight into how awful and chaotic the Great Purge was and how Gaius had to stand back and watch his friends get killed for studying magic, in order to be spared himself. Edwin is a character viewers can feel sympathy for, that is until he gets Gaius fired. It’s so sad to see Gaius being accused of making errors in his medical work because he is too old, and Gaius submitting to it in order to protect Merlin from Edwin. Additionally, I find it uneasy when Edwin performs magic without his eyes glowing gold. In Series 1, the trait of a sorcerer’s eyes glowing gold whilst performing magic, was only specific to Merlin’s innate powers and was not evident in any other witches or wizards, but, in Series 2 and onwards, the golden glow in the eyes became a universal characteristic in the face of any magic no matter who the sorcerer, shown when Morgana first begins to use magic. This is a plot hole that probably doesn’t mean much to anyone else but it always slightly bugs me throughout Series 1.
Title: “The Gates of Avalon“
For the first time in the show Arthur is enchanted to fall in love. The villains in this episode, although caring and loving towards each other, are completely heartless for anyone else, especially when they walk Arthur to his death. On first glance, the blue Sidhes who were summoned to the lake by Aulfric look beautiful and peaceful, shown in Merlin’s amazed expression when he sees them. However, Aulfic and Sophia themselves are filled with range and anger, after being forced to live a mortal human life, that their eyes burn bright red which I thought was really unique and contrasting. I also think that Arthur, when enchanted with the Sidhe’s red eyes, looks even scarier than the Sidhe. Lady Morgana is so important in this episode as Gaius reveals, after she dreams of Sophia murdering Arthur, that she is a magical Seer, and can vision the future in her sleep which causes her disrupting nightmares. It’s sad to see Gaius and Merlin having to lie to Morgana about her powers, convincing her that she didn’t see the future, when it was her vision that saved Arthur’s life. It’s the first time we see any magical ability in Morgana which is really exciting to link back to the legend. Morgana is already scared and confused about her powers, and worries if Uther were to find out. It’s also interesting seeing Morgana and Arthur paired romantically as Sophia suggests that Morgana is jealous. Additionally, Merlin saving Arthur from drowning after killing the Sidhes is a fan-favourite shot that is so heroic. Personally I think that this episode is one of the funniest in Series 1 as Merlin is forced to cover for Arthur when he goes on dates with Sophia, leading Uther to continue to publicly flog Merlin.
Title: “The Beginning of the End“
Another interesting episode that proves how diverse the first Series was, regarding the Arthurian legend. Like every other aspect of the show, Mordred is a real twist. Rather than being Arthur’s son who betrays him, the character is a young, shy, Druid boy. Merlin and Mordred’s telepathic link is something new and different that we don’t really see much of again in the show, and is ironic seeing as Merlin is destined to protect, and Mordred destined to kill, Arthur. Morgana’s bond with the boy is just as strong and she shows the first signs of her powers when Mordred telepathically communicates with her too. Morgana and Uther begin to grow apart during this episode as Uther appears to show no mercy or compassion in the face of magic. Mordred himself is presented as a very powerful apprentice, evident when he smashes Morgana’s mirror using magic when his guardian is executed. It’s also so interesting to see Merlin make the decision on whether to let Mordred face execution because of what he is destined to do in the future, or to save him because he is just an innocent boy at this point in time. Arthur helping to get the boy out of Camelot is also ironic as Mordred kills Arthur in the future. Arthur’s purity and care is emphasised here which is why the episode is such a large mystery, making the viewer question Why the hell does Mordred turn against Arthur when he is older, even after Arthur showed him so much kindness?
Again, such a Legend-based episode. Not only does the sword, Excalibur, make an appearance, but Nimueh also stirs up some mythical plot points. The priestess resurrects Tristan de Bois, who was the brother of Ygraine, Uther’s wife and Arthur’s mother, and the event reveals how Uther asked Nimueh to help conceive a child using magic. However, Ygraine’s death during Arthur’s birth caused Uther to blame sorcery and strive to eradicate magic from Camelot. This explains why Uther’s character is so full of anger due to feeling guilty for his wife’s death. Tristan’s resurrected form is a physical reminder of Uther’s guilt and self-blame and I think this really brings out another side to the King that the audience maybe had not seen yet. Uther discusses protecting Arthur with Gaius and Merlin, and fights Tristan in Arthur’s place in order to save his son, revealing afterwards that Arthur means more to him than the entire kingdom which surprises the audience as well as Arthur himself who always thought he was a massive disappointment. So Tristan is destroyed by Excalibur, which can kill the living dead after Merlin forged it in the Great Dragon’s breath. The Great Dragon stresses the importance that the sword was forged only for Arthur and only Arthur can wield it, so Merlin insures it is hidden deep under the lake where, in legend, the Lady of the Lake retrieves it from Avalon, a gateway to the dead. This is a very important episode that I didn’t appreciate until I had re-watched it.
Title: “The Moment of Truth“
I’ve already expressed how I love the friendship between Merlin, Arthur, Morgana and Guinevere and this episode really gets deep into the bond between the four of them. I love seeing Morgana sword-fighting, as we hadn’t previously seen her in that role before, and Gwen and Arthur’s interactions are such sweet hints on the romance that is blooming. Gwen continues to call Arthur out on his ignorance and rudeness, and then it’s so adorable seeing her getting all embarrassed about shouting at the Prince of Camelot and looking confused when she actually changes Arthur’s attitude. Merlin’s love for his mother and his village causes him to risk his destiny alongside Arthur when he uses magic to defeat the raiders attacking his village. Will, Merlin’s childhood friend, is caught in the crossfire and, on his dying breath, admits to performing the magic to protect Merlin’s secret. It’s really tense and exciting to get a glimpse of what the show would have been like if Arthur had found out Merlin’s secret sooner. Furthermore, this episode also shows not only how much Arthur needs Merlin, but also how much Merlin needs Arthur as Merlin explains how lonely he was whilst he was living in Ealdor with his mother because he and his magic didn’t fit in. It’s here the viewer realises how much Camelot has given to Merlin.
Title: “The Labyrinth of Gedref“
Less of the Arthurian legend in this episode and more comedy in my opinion. However, as well as the funny bits, I feel that this episode is predominantly a character development of Arthur. After killing a unicorn, Arthur accidentally brings a curse upon Camelot, turning the water to sand and destroying the crops. Arthur must prove himself to be pure of heart in order to save his people from starving. Meanwhile, Morgana and Gwen are shown in union, stealing food from the palace kitchens to feed the hungry people of Camelot which I find really sweet. This episode really delves deep into Arthur’s character, showing him to be caring, merciful and kind but also being easily-taunted, proud and aggressive. Anhora, keeper of the unicorns, sets tests for Arthur that he must pass in order to lift the curse from his kingdom. The first test reveals Arthur as pure of heart as he gives food supplies to a man caught stealing in order to feed his family. However, the second test shows that Arthur is haunted with expectations and disappointment from his father as he tries to kill the man caught stealing after he finds out he had lied to Arthur. The thief taunts Arthur, calling him weak for being so easily manipulated, and of being naive and not worthy or strong enough to be King. The scene indicates that Arthur’s childhood and status makes him feel insecure and not confident of being a good King. In the final test that Anhora carries out, Arthur is prepared to give his life to save a servant, Merlin, which demonstrates his heart’s purity and lifts the curse, proving that Arthur regards all life as sacred and special. Going back to the comic aspects, Merlin and Gaius eat beetles for food in this episode, Merlin continuously gets confused at Arthur’s hand signals, and did I mention that Merlin feeds Arthur rat stew and then is forced to eat it himself?
Title: “To Kill the King“
The first time I watched this episode I didn’t think much of it, and thought it was badly written. Morgana’s character is all over the place and her relationship with Uther changes dramatically and constantly throughout the episode. However, after re-watching I’ve realised that, being Series 1, it’s aim was to foreshadow Morgana’s dark potential and, in that respect, it does do well and creates a lot of excitement and tension for Morgana’s storyline. After Gwen’s father is killed for consorting with a sorcerer, Morgana lashes out at Uther in anger to which he restrains her in the castle dungeon. This action really is the start of Morgana’s growing hatred for her guardian, and her alliance towards those with magic as she works with the sorcerer Tauren to assassinate Uther. Merlin is, once again, faced with a dilemma on whether to let Uther get killed or to stop the attack, so he speaks to the mourning Gwen for advice which I think is really interesting as Gwen explains that, even though Uther wrongly executed her father, killing Uther wouldn’t solve anything and would make the killer as bad as Uther himself. Gwen’s wisdom and kindness in this episode is really something special. Arthur also seems thoughtful and caring as he comforts Gwen and persuades Uther to release Morgana from the dungeon. It seems the characters have learned to care for each other in order to counteract Uther’s tyranny. Despite Merlin striving to stop the assassination, it is, in fact, Morgana who saves the day as she changes her mind about wanting Uther dead and stabs Tauren before he can kill him. Uther’s character is, again, shown as a conflicting personality with care and love being expressed with harshness and pride but, ultimately, it is admitting he was wrong that saves his life as Morgana realises that Uther does love her and want the best for her. This relationship is very special because it shows the viewers that Morgana and Uther’s bond was real and intimate at one point, although only lasting a short amount of time before Morgana turns evil. This episode is so important in Morgana’s development.
Title: “Le Morte d’Arthur“
I have mixed views on this episode as I think that the majority of it is beautifully well-written, but the ending and the killing of Nimueh is just not worthy to be a finale. I also think that Nimueh had a lot of potential that was never explored and was one of the few villains who knew of Merlin’s magic and that was a great aspect. The thing I disliked about Morgana as a villain was the fact that, at times, she didn’t even know who she was fighting, despite having the power of foresight, as Merlin took the mysterious role of Emrys. Nimueh, on the other hand, seemed to be all-knowing and all-powerful however all this appears to be pointless as she is so easily killed by Merlin, whereas Morgana is stabbed multiple times in the upcoming seasons and doesn’t die. Sometimes the writers just make up rules as they go. However, I think that Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship in this episode is really sweet and beginning to flourish as Gwen comforts and nurses Arthur after he gets bitten by the Questing Beast. The Old Religion seems to want Arthur dead but Merlin is having none of it when he bargains his life for Arthur’s with Nimueh to which she shows him the power of the Cup of Life, which is speculated to be the Holy Grail from the Arthurian legend. Merlin becomes angry when he realises that his mother must die in Arthur’s place, and not himself, as she falls ill. Merlin turns against The Great Dragon, because the dragon most likely knew that the price for Arthur’s life would be Merlin’s mother and did not warn him. It’s interesting to see this hateful relationship between the two of them because we don’t really see it again in the show, as Merlin later becomes a Dragon Lord. It’s heart-breaking when Uther attempts to carry the dying Arthur across the courtyard to his chambers. The sadness and distress on the King’s face is so real that the viewers can almost feel sympathy for him. I absolutely love the title of this episode being that of the famous Sir Thomas Malory’s traditional tales, the title meaning “the death of Arthur”. A lot of Arthurian fantasy novels and re-workings source their material from Malory’s work so it’s so nice to see him recognised in this finale. However, as I said, I really dislike the climax of this episode, whereby Gaius gives his life for Merlin’s mother’s but Merlin saves him by murdering Nimeuh. However, I surprisingly enjoyed the last shot of the Series which I hadn’t remembered from the first time the show aired. The last shot shows Morgana waking violently from a nightmare which I think is so exciting and almost like a cliff-hanger as the viewers know that Morgana is starting to develop her powers even more. Looking back, I really enjoyed Morgana’s appearances in this episode as she dreams of Arthur being bitten before it happens. Her distress, fear and manic determination to stop Arthur from going out in search of the beast is something we’ve never seen in Morgana before and don’t think we see again. She looks ill and deranged and has to be restrained by guards and taken back inside, as she almost collapses to the ground, which is so unlike her usual calm and collective manner. Another scene shows Morgana acting mysteriously as she catches Merlin suddenly and brings him aside to warn him cryptically of what is to come. You’d think, having so much knowledge of what’s going to happen, that Morgana would know that Merlin has magic in this episode but, anyhow, it’s really interesting seeing Morgana act so out-of-character, and it foreshadows to a second season. Although the ending of this episode doesn’t excite me, the apprehension of what is to come really keeps viewer’s on the edge of their seats.