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Merlin “Arthur’s Bane Part 1” 

Photo Credit: Nick Briggs/Syfy
Photo Credit: Nick Briggs/Syfy

When we left Merlin last year, Arthur had finally married Gweneviere and returned to the throne in Camelot.  But the peace and happiness of the realm is only fleeting, as Lady Morgana has escaped and will not rest until she destroys Arthur and everything he’s built.

The fifth and, sadly, final season of Merlin opens with a crisis: Sir Gwaine and his men are missing. It does not take long for suspicion to rightly fall upon Morgana. Arthur gathers his knights to the Round Table and they resolve to set out on a rescue mission to Ismere, the cold, dark land where Morgana has made her stronghold.

Everything about Morgana has turned dark. Thankfully, she has left her forest cave permanently behind.  Now, she reigns from a black castle and sits on a throne in an empty room covered in cobwebs. The visual contrast between her throne and Arthur’s shows how far she has fallen. As Queen Annis tells Arthur, Morgana has been “devoured by hate.” Nevertheless, I still have hope that there will be at least a moment when the old Morgana resurfaces. I always found it troubling that someone who started out good and who viewers became emotionally invested in as the friend to Arthur and protector of Gwen, could quickly turn so evil. She may be magical, but there has to still be a fragment of humanity left in her.

Morgana is obsessed with finding Arthur’s bane – the thing that will lead to his downfall. Only Merlin and the viewers know that Arthur will be struck down by Mordred, the druid boy we last saw as a child. I have always assumed that Mordred is Arthur’s bane. That may be true superficially, but could it be something more?  Arthur is often his own worst enemy due to his sense of loyalty and morality. In this episode, he knows that he is putting his life at risk, but says he would rather die trying to rescue his men than leave them in Morgana’s clutches. Does that mean Arthur is his own bane? Is it possible that Merlin is Arthur’s bane?  Merlin has never wavered from his mission to protect Arthur. But, his myopic view keeps him from seeing the bigger picture.  Yes, Arthur may be in danger and may lose his life, but there are some things worth dying for. It’s going to be exciting to unravel the mystery this season.

As Morgana forces Gwaine and his knights to toil in a large mine beneath her castle, Arthur and his men advance from the west in an attempt to surprise Morgana. They reach a village where everyone has been killed.  That is, they think everyone has been killed.  Merlin hears someone calling, “Emrys.” It is a druid seer, at whose death images from Arthur’s final battle are revealed. Merlin sees the cold, evil face of the man who will strike down Arthur.  Merlin does not yet realize that man is Mordred.

Panicked by the vision, Merlin calls on the Great Dragon. The dragon encourages Merlin to keep protecting Arthur and Camelot.  The dragon has been a confidant of Merlin’s since the first season, and the evolution of their relationship from antagonistic to a real friendship has been a high point of the series. When the Great Dragon previously rescued Merlin from Morgause, it solidified that he is on Merlin’s side. As one of only two dragons left, the Great Dragon grounds the show in the world of medieval fantasy. Hopefully, he will make many more appearances throughout the season.  The writers better not even think about killing him.

Unfortunately, for Arthur and Merlin, things never go smoothly. Their route is divulged to Ruadan by Gwen’s maid, Sefa, who is actually his daughter. Ruadan tells Morgana who sets out to capture Arthur. Gwen learns of the betrayal and deduces Sefa’s involvement. In a surprisingly harsh turn, Gwen finds Sefa guilty of treason and sentences her to death. Her hasty decision is surprising, especially since Gwen was once on the receiving end of such a pronouncement by Uther Pendragon. She clearly reacted out of anger, but she is going to need to rectify the situation in upcoming episodes. Sefa acted out of love for her father and seemed reticent to place Camelot in harm’s way – killing her would be too extreme.

Arthur’s and Merlin’s escape from Morgana’s forces is short-lived. The two are captured by wild men who plan to sell Arthur to Morgana. As Merlin readies himself to fight off the attackers, he is stopped cold by the approach of Mordred from the woods. Arthur does not recognize Mordred, but Merlin does. Like with Morgana, there seems to be a spark of humanity somewhere inside Mordred. However, Merlin is so focused on saving Arthur that he doesn’t realize that he should focus on bringing Mordred and Morgana out of the darkness.

It will be intriguing to see Morgana’s interactions with Mordred, and how Arthur and Merlin are going to escape this time. Tune in to the next episode Friday, January 11 at 10/9c on Syfy.

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