by Mark Greig
Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus.
Here lies Arthur, the once and future king.
After five seasons, sixty-five episodes, 'The Diamond of the Day' brought Merlin to a somewhat satisfying end. It wasn't a perfect episode, indeed there was much which annoyed the hell out of me (more on that later), but it did manage to wrap up Merlin and Arthur's story in a way that should please fans' hearts and minds. A word of warning: you will need hankies. Lots of hankies. This is going to get emotional.
Once again the writers managed to remain true to the popular legends while giving them the typical Merlin twist. As was prophesied, Arthur fell in battle at Camlann, slain by Mordred, who was then quickly killed by Arthur. Too quickly, if you ask me. The poor lad was killed before he could even utter a second line of dialogue. Even Evil Lord Lynly got a better send off than this. Poor Mordred. Ignored for most of the season, his character development rushed through in a single episode and then killed off without a second thought once he'd done what he was supposed to.
But enough about the druid boy. He's dead and there's nothing to be done about it. Time to get back to the really important issue here, namely the writer finally acknowledging that Merlin and Arthur, not Gwen and Arthur, is the central love story of this show. I don't know how anyone can watch this episode and still doubt the love these two have for each other. Even learning that Merlin had been lying to him all this time couldn't crush Arthur's love for his loyal servant.
The best part of the finale was their final road trip to Avalon, which more than made up for previous one's shocking Merthur shortage. This entire episode was just wall to wall Merthur action as Merlin finally, FINALLY, told Arthur his secret. Phew. I was worried that he was going to wait until Arthur uttered his last breath before decided to come out of the magical closet. True, I would've preferred if he'd told him, say, two seasons ago, but I am happy we got to have almost an entire episode devoted to Arthur dealing with this revelation.
It goes without saying that Colin Morgan and Bradley James both excelled themselves. They have never been better than they were here. Arthur was understandably hurt that the one person he trusted more than anyone just so happens to be a sorcerer. But since he has never shared his father's intense hatred for those who practice magic, he got over that rather quickly. Once he realised everything that Merlin has done for him over the years, he was so grateful he even apologised for treating him so badly agreed to give him two days off. Blimey. Arthur giving Merlin time off. He must be dying.
I will admit to getting a little misty eyed over their final scenes together. Even though I saw it coming five years ago, I was surprised at how much Arthur's death actually affected me. I've seen dozens of different versions of this story, from John Boorman's Excalibur to the horrendous First Knight with Sean Connery and Richard Gere (I was young and foolish and there was nothing else on). All have featured the death of Arthur in one way or another and none of them got so much as a single tear out of me.
But Merlin is different, because Merlin is the first screen version of the Arthurian legends I can think of to feature an Arthur I actually liked and cared about. He may have often been a pampered brat who couldn't even get dressed without Merlin's help, but I liked this version of the Once and Future King and was sad to see him die. Especially since he left poor Merlin heartbroken. We have never seen the young warlock cry this much before.
Merlin and Arthur's relationship is the cornerstone of the entire series and it was right that they be the focus of the final episode. The only downside was that this left little room for the other characters. While some got the endings they deserved, others weren't so lucky. I've already mentioned how underwhelming Mordred's death was, so now I'm going to rant for a bit about how angry I am about Morgana.
I have seen some seriously lame TV deaths in my time, from Tasha Yar getting zapped by that annoying oil monster, to Gwaine and Mordred in this very episode, but this one takes the cake. Along with Merlin, Arthur and Gwen, Morgana is one of the series' central characters as well as its principle villain. And that is how they decided to finish her story? Did the producers blow all the FX budget on Camlann that they couldn't afford to give us magical showdown between Merlin and Morgana that we'd all been patiently waiting for? I can't help but feel cheated. And I feel really sorry for poor Katie McGrath. She deserved better ending for her character than this.
I may not ship it, but I do feel for the Arwen shippers. This episode was not their friend. There was no big goodbye scene for their favourite couple. Or any kind of scene, for that matter. The last time Gwen saw her husband was in the previous episode when he leapt out of bed after getting that telepathic message from Merlin. Because of that final roll in the hay, I was convinced for much of the episode that they were going to reveal that Gwen was pregnant with Arthur's child. Well, I was wrong. With Arthur dead and no heir, Gwen is left to rule Camelot alone. Which is a much nicer fate then her legendary counterpart. The Guinevere of legend joined a convent and remained there until her death. Being the badass Queen of Camelot is a much better ending for Gwen. And, let's be honest, she really the best person for the job. Now that she knows the truth about Merlin, it is implied that Gwen will undo Uther's law and stop the persecution of those who practice magic.
She may have lost her husband, but Gwen still has Gaius (who is that rare wise mentor who doesn't actually die) and what remains of the Knights of the Round Table to help her rule the kingdom. Ever resilient, Sir Leon survived and continues to do what he has always done – loyally serve the ruler of Camelot and deliver crucial pieces of exposition. When we saw him chasing after Morgana, I wrongly assumed that Percival was going to catch up with Arthur and Merlin and take on Bedivere's role by returning Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. Instead that role went to Merlin, which I think was a shame. It would've been nice for Percival to have something significant to do for once. At least he got his Samson moment.
And, like Leon, he also survived. Alas, the same could not be said of Gwaine. Poor Gwaine. In many of the legends he is killed during the battle with Mordred's forces. Our Gwaine manges to survive the battle only to die a little later at Morgana's hands. Along with Mordred and Morgana, the Knight with the most luscious of hair was granted a horribly rushed and disappointing death that served little purpose other than to let Morgana know where Arthur was and give Percival an excuse to cry.
I'm still not sure how I feel about the coda. It reminded me a lot of the ending of Battlestar Galactica, in that it came across as intrusive and unnecessary. And I could've done without the lousy CGI of Glastonbury Tor. However, part of me does like the idea of Merlin living forever in Glastonbury, watching over Arthur's resting place, waiting for his return, stopping only to attend the festival and grumble about the quality of this year's line up.
So many to chose from, but this one wins the prize:
Actual dialogue. I'm pretty certain that Merthur shippers everywhere went into meltdown when he said that.
Notes and Quotes
--Season 5 is the only season not to feature an appearance by Santiago Cabrera as Lancelot or Michael Cronin as Geoffrey of Monmouth.
--The swift end to the battle and Mordred's lame death are just two reasons why I think these final two episodes should've aired as one. Spreading the Battle of Camlann across two episodes was a serious mistake and upset the flow of the whole thing.
--Merlin told Arthur his secret right after the battle. Gwen figured it out not long after. And Morgana already knew. So why even bother having Old Merlin at all? It would have been so much better if we'd got to see the Merlin we know, the one we've followed for these past five years, being the all powerful wizard who saved the day and sent the Saxon's packing.
--We never found out what happened to Aithusa after he was sent away by Merlin. We know that the Great Dragon is dying, but where did Aithusa go?
Gwen: "Who is that?"
Gaius: "Someone truly remarkable."
Gwen: "You know him?"
Gaius: "Let's just say he deserves our gratitude."
Merlin: "You're bleeding."
Arthur: "That's all right. I thought I was dying."
Merlin: "I'm a sorcerer. I have magic. I use it for you, Arthur. Only for you."
Arthur: "Merlin, you are not a sorcerer. I would know!"
Gaius: "He can do far more than me, far more than you can ever imagine. Arthur, he doesn't just have magic, there are those who say he is the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the earth."
Arthur: "You've lied to me all this time."
Arthur: "Why did you never tell me?"
Merlin: "I wanted to, but..."
Merlin: "You'd have chopped my head off."
Arthur: "I'm not sure what I'd have done."
Merlin: "And I didn't want to put you in that position."
Arthur: "That's what worried you?"
Arthur: "So you're not an idiot. That was another lie."
Merlin: "No, it's just another part of my charm."
Merlin: "I can't lose him! He's my friend!"
The Great Dragon: "Though no man, no matter how great, can know his destiny, some lives have been foretold, Merlin... Arthur is not just a king, he is the Once and Future King. Take heart, for when Albion's need is greatest, Arthur will rise again. It has been a privilege to have known you, young warlock. The story we have been a part of will live long in the minds of men."
There's nothing more for me to say but thank you to the cast and crew of Merlin for the last five years. The show has had more than its share of ups and downs oever the years, and while the final season was mostly disappointing for me, I am sorry to see it come to an end.
Three out of four immortal wizards dancing to Muse as they rock the Pyramid Stage.