Arthur pushes Camelot to the brink of war as he tries to emerge from Uther’s shadow
4.05 "His Father's Son"
Writer: Jake Michie
Director: Alex Pillai
THE ONE WHERE New king Arthur provokes war with a neighbouring nation because he's been encouraged to act like a ruthless leader. Trying to fix things, he offers himself in single combat - and triumphs, despite Morgana's magical meddling.
VERDICT This is an episode about Arthur finding out who he is, and growing into the role of king. The character dynamic is fairly simple - he is on the receiving end of advice (malevolent advice from Agravaine and well-intentioned advice from Merlin) and has to decide how to act; obviously, the correct choice is to listen to his own conscience and not be swayed. In many ways it echoes familiar high school drama, right down to ditching his girlfriend to keep his friends happy and a fight in the playground surrounded by cheering bullies. Erm, sort of. Anyway, Agravaine's Wormtongue impression makes Arthur feel he has to show strength so people respect him; it's a very grim opening to the story when Arthur is prepared to execute a rival king, and Bradley James does a great job of making Arthur look troubled following it. Notice how often Agravaine tells Arthur to think of what his father would want. Although he knows something's wrong, Arthur seems to be the only person who doesn't realise he's being manipulated - both Merlin and Gwen all but state as much.
It's tonally epic, even dark, in places, featuring large-scale battles, flaming swords and some murderous decisions. Swordfight scenes in Merlin are always well choreographed and this week's final confrontation is no exception. The final David-and-Goliath melee with both magic users interfering from the sidelines is enjoyably tense. The end result is a return, largely, to the new status quo, including the temporary rift with Gwen patched up by the final scene and Morgana rebuffed once again. Annis's parting words that Morgana is in fact more like Uther is a smart observation, mind you.
IT'S WOSSHERNAME Queen Annis of Caerleon is of course the famous Lindsay Duncan, most recently in the pages of SFX thanks to her role in Doctor Who 's " The Waters Of Mars ". She's a fantastic actress, and particularly gripping when she says steadily, "That is two favours you have asked of me this night..." to Arthur. I don't really buy how quickly she turns from angry widow into sympathetic ally, but we'll forgive the script that.
THE LEGEND In the earliest legends, Caerleon is actually the home of King Arthur. Camelot didn't enter the stories until the 12th century French romances. Even three centuries later, Sir Thomas Malory was still claiming that "Carlion" was the city where Arthur was crowned.
KILGHARRAH LITE No sign of The Great Dragon. Come to think of it, Gaius doesn't appear much either.
SLASH BAIT "This could be the last time we sleep in a proper bed!" says Merlin hopefully. "Merlin, I'd face all manner of horrors in this world, but if you think I'm sharing a bed with you..." says Arthur. Merlin laughs nervously and denies that's what he meant. Yeah right.
TRIVIA Caerleon is a real place in Wales. It's the site of a Roman fort and one of the most important cities in Iron Age Britain according to the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth. The name means "the fortress-city of the legions", an epithet which has also been applied to Chester.
INFLUENCE Right at the start there's a Raiders Of The Lost Ark moment as a howling horde with spears chase our lone hero through the woods.
Arthur: "My conscience is clean, Merlin... unlike my room, so do your job will you?"
Merlin airs on Saturday nights on BBC One in the UK.