Previously on Merlin: The war has begun. Camlann is a dirty word that nobody wants to hear and Arthur is going to die. Morgana trapped a powerless Merlin in the Crystal Cave. Gwaine’s brain was replaced by his penis. Merlin’s brave little heart finally broke and fandom’s collective heart did the same. Arthur and the knights ran into the sword clanging-battle of doom, while the ghost of Balinor helped Merlin rediscover his BAMF-ness.
Is anyone else crying during the opening theme song? This is going to be a loooong episode.
In a land of myth and a time of THE VERY LAST TIME EVER OH MY GOD SOMEBODY HOLD ME, the battle of Camlann is in full swing, as is Arthur’s sword. There’s the usual quick-slow-quick-quick-slow fighting sequences that are either the show being all hip and action-movie-ish or perhaps letting the BBC know that half of these actors are destined for the Foxtrot on Strictly Come Dancing in a year or two. Let’s hope it’s the former, or I’ll HAVE to watch them and I went through that once with Chris Hemsworth and never plan to repeat the experience ever again (although I have never ACTUALLY fallen off my chair in front of the TV until the very first night he literally waltzed onto that stage and danced to the Brokeback Mountain theme – I KID YOU NOT. There has never been so much flailing in my living room and probably never will be. I think I ran LAPS to try and calm myself.)
ANYWAY. Fighting. (I may be trying to distract myself from impending heartbreak, cut me some slack here.) While the swords clang, BAMF!Old!Merlin rides through the forest at full speed. Over on Mordred’s side of the battle, he gets to kill off a few redcapes (hilarious death sounds ahoy) before being surrounded, because the plan Merlin helped Arthur formulate over crystal Skype was a good one. And just when it looks like at least half of the battle has been won, Morgana uses her eye flash to blast every single knight away from her boy. If they inserted a bowling pin sound effect then, it would have been hilarious. I guess that makes up for the episode we had without any magic blasting spell. Morgana nods smugly at Mordred and he continues on his way.
While Merlin and his horse keep galloping, Arthur is still in the thick of the battle. He’s doing okay and, let’s face it, the more men Arthur gets to stick his sword in on any given day, the happier he is. But then we hear the cry of an eagle. I’m not sure why. Somebody obviously thought that attacking dragons sounded like this:
Come on – Eagles and Morgana. It was an obvious choice for our vintage musical interlude!
So, yeah, Aithusa swoops in and flambés a heap of redcapes, narrowly missing Arthur. So much for being the symbol of Merlin and Arthur’s beautiful kingdom of destiny, you stupid, pasty lizard.
Since her husband up and left her once he saw the man of his dreams in his, er, dreams, Gwen has found something to keep herself occupied. She and Gaius man the medical tent at camp!Camelot. She cries out for more bandages but as everyone is either occupied with dying or currently trying to stop people from dying, she has to go fetch her own damn bandages. And as she’s grabbing a supply at the front of the tent, a random Saxon barges in while in the middle of a battle with an equally random knight. And just as it looks like they’ll have one more knight to add to the dead pile, Gwen steps up behind and plunges a sword into the massive Saxon. YAY, BAMF!GWEN!
Old!Merlin’s hair looks spectacular as he rides across the plains. Leon’s hair still looks pretty good in motion, too. Arthur’s pretty even with his stupid hair, and nobody can match him in the foxtrot action sword-wielding stakes. That’s why a group of Saxons grow a collective brain and decide to all rush Arthur as a group. Arthur wobbles a little and steels himself to face them. And then, just before they crush Arthur under their considerable weight and weaponry, they are suddenly blasted back, so Arthur swings at nothing but air. The same thing happens with the next group who dare to come at our King. And it’s not the usual glowy-eyed blast spell we’ve seen from Morgana already. Nope. Merlin stands above them on a cliff and sends BOLTS OF FUCKING LIGHTNING down with every pound of his staff until Arthur is the only one standing, surrounded by the lifeless corpses of his enemies.
Arthur looks up in wonder and, gotta say, Old!Merlin looks MAGNIFICENT. His hair and robes flow in the breeze and he’s backlit by a red sky and his FACE is just, like, saying, “I’ve got this, Arthur. I do this for you.” Merlin pounds his staff again and another lot of Saxons fall. All the remaining men let out a battle cry as Morgana looks on from the other direction, screaming out Emrys’ name. Merlin blasts her, too, because he is so done with her shit, and then he basically takes out everyone else while Arthur stands there, trying not to come in his pants.
It’s impressive. But as we cheer Merlin on, we hear the familiar sound of Hotel California, heralding the approach of Aithusa. Merlin goes into Dragonlord mode and brings Aithusa to heel just in time before the remaining men of Camelot are toasted like marshmallows over a campfire. He sends his wayward adolescent dragon away to places unknown, and Arthur looks up at him with the most GORGEOUS expression. “If I were 50 years older,” Arthur thinks. “The things I would DO.” Arthur takes stock of his surroundings and tries to gain his composure and lead his men. He raises his sword in the air. “FOR THE LOVE OF CAMELOT!” he shouts, when we all know he really means for the love of that mysterious man on the cliff who might look really old but is giving him strange feelings he should probably not be feeling in public. With another glance to his hero, he leads his men forth to defeat the rest of the Saxons, and Merlin helps out from above. Yay, teamwork at last.
Taking in the show from their cheap seats back at camp, Gwen asks Gaius who the strange, mysterious man was. “Someone truly remarkable,” Gaius answers, and Gwen realises that Gaius knows him. “Let’s just say he deserves our gratitude,” Gaius says, smiling proudly at Merlin in the distance. Gwen gets her first clue in the Nancy Drew subplot.
Merlin makes is way down to the battlefield, walking through the absolute carnage. The entire path is littered with Saxon and redcape bodies, and Merlin sighs. Arthur and his men finish off the stragglers and an injured knight on the ground raises his hand for assistance. Arthur, the idiot, turns his back on the battle and kneels at the dying knight’s side. We see the skulky/sulky figure of Mordred appear behind him. The entire world screams at their televisions/computers. Arthur either hears that, or the footsteps, because he turns around with his sword just in time, to face off against Mordred. Their magical swords SING as they clash together, and Arthur stops in shock when he realises who he’s fighting. They stare at each other and I yell for them to just hug it out so we can finish all the bleak stuff and go back and celebrate a joyous, heartwarming Christmas at Camelot special for the rest of the episode. And then Mordred plunges his sword into Arthur and I WAS SO NOT READY FOR THAT TO HAPPEN SO EARLY. There is shock all ‘round. From me, from Arthur, and even a bit from Mordred, as Arthur falls to his knees.
“You gave me no choice,” Mordred tells him, sadly. Arthur responds by leaping up and running his sword through Mordred. I love how quiet Arthur is, there’s no battlecry or shout and he doesn’t even speak or try to reason with Mordred. He just WATCHES as Mordred looks back. And then Mordred creepily SMILES as he faces Arthur. He smiles as he dies and I’m not sure if it’s relief, or if in killing him, Arthur proved that Mordred was right, or he just appreciates the symmetry of them both dying here from each other’s swords. But he dies. Arthur walks away but doesn’t get very far before his wound is too much for him.
RIP Mordred. I will never forgive you for what you did but had things been different, the internet would have been filled with threesome porn of you, Merlin and Arthur. And so I mourn and give you your own funeral song as a mark of respect.
Gwen has returned to nurse duty when Leon pops in to deliver the good news that the battle has been won. He has dispatched two hundred men to go after the Saxons, who have retreated with their tails between their legs, to drive their advantage home. Gwen asks after Arthur and Leon gets all quiet and sad. “We’ll keep looking,” he assures her, and watches as Gwen falls apart and then quickly puts herself together again to help the injured. He doesn’t offer her comfort, and he clearly admires her resolve. I can’t help but ship them.
Merlin is still picking his way through the bodies when he notices Mordred lying dead on the ground. But any reaction he may have had to that is suddenly gone as he notices Arthur slumped against the wall a bit further behind. He walks straight over the top of Mordred to get to his man. The music is beautifully sad and even through the five billion layers of make-up, you can see how much love and concern Merlin has for Arthur. He checks Arthur’s pulse (still alive, thank god) and carries him out of the battlefield, sparing one brief glance back to Mordred as he steps over the body again.
Arthur wakes with a gasp, somewhere in the woods. He looks over the campfire to MERLIN. REAL, YOUNG, BEAUTIFUL MERLIN. I was absolutely terrified that we’d get too much Old!Merlin and am so relieved now, you have no idea. Arthur is also relieved, and calls his manservant back to his side. After trying and failing to sit up due to unimaginable pain from his wound, his first question is, “Where have you been?” Bless! Merlin tells him it doesn’t matter now. The wound in Arthur’s side is pretty bad and Merlin tells him he’s bleeding. “That’s alright,” Arthur says. “I thought I was dying.”
But Merlin’s sad little face cannot manage to joke. “I’m sorry. I thought I’d defied the prophecy. I thought I was in time.” Arthur rolls his eyes and it is so very familiar and heartbreaking all at once as he asks what Merlin is talking about. Merlin steels himself. “I defeated the Saxons. The dragon. And yet I knew it was Mordred that I must stop.”
Arthur pats Merlin’s shoulder and smiles, like he’s comforting a cute puppy. He tells Merlin that person who defeated them was the sorcerer. Merlin’s face crumples and he holds Arthur’s hand at his shoulder like it might keep him there as he says, “It was me.” He starts crying and Arthur and fondly tells him not to be ridiculous. But Merlin’s FACE and his sniffles and the way he’s CLINGING to Arthur’s wrist, and Arthur KNOWS Merlin is serious. Arthur is confused and scared and he’s trying to give Merlin an out, but Merlin isn’t taking it.
“I’m a sorcerer,” Merlin says between sobs. “I have magic.” He keeps his grip on Arthur. “And I use it for you, Arthur. Only for you.” Arthur still denies it and yanks his hand out of Merlin’s grasp, but lets the ghost of his fingers linger on Merlin’s face, kind of pleading and terrified, and Merlin turns and raises and hand towards the campfire. SPARK DRAGON. Just like he on the road to Ealdor when everyone was asleep and Merlin was worried about his mum. It’s beautiful and in flight and it’s a perfect reminder of a time when they were all young and full of naïve ideals and had the entire fucking WORLD ahead of them. When Morgana was compassionate and cared about those less fortunate than herself, before defying Uther’s rule became so twisted and wrong. When Gwen was loyal and brave and was able to actually DO something and prove her worth. And when Merlin and Arthur were stumbling toward this great big destiny that neither of them were prepared for, both still a little surprised at the genuine friendship they were developing along the way.
But Arthur doesn’t know this. He’s dying and he has just found out that the person he trusts more than anyone else he has ever known has been lying to him since they day they met. So let’s cut him some slack and allow him this freak out, even if Merlin’s resulting heartbroken face is difficult to watch as Arthur tells him to leave. And, I dunno, but being out in the forest like that, it’s just like every animal movie ever where the human has to be mean to their pet to get them to leave and be better off in the wild or whatever. Like Arya throwing rocks at Nymeria or the kid and the yearling/Lassie/wild mustang or *sob* Window Jenkins dumping Tod in the woods so he won’t be shot at:
(Just in case you weren’t crying already.)
Having returned to Camelot, Gwen watches from the window as the dead are covered and the injured are carried into the castle. Leon enters to give her the latest Arthur update and the news is not good. They have questioned every man, woman and child in the villages but there has been no sign of him. Gwen isn’t ready to give up the search however, because her Arthur senses are telling her he’s still alive. She asks Leon who else hasn’t been accounted for and it turns out Gaius hasn’t been seen since the battle, either.
Speak of the white-haired devil! Looks like Gaius has managed to do what every surviving knight of Camelot could not, and finds Merlin and Arthur. Merlin hasn’t left Arthur because he’s one of those really loyal and devoted dogs who ignores all the rocks being thrown at him and just sits the fuck down and refuses to move. It seems that Gaius has already assessed Arthur’s condition and is returning from a supply run. Merlin is not impressed with Gaius’ paltry collection of herbs and questions everything, especially the lack of sticklewort, which he seems quite upset about. Gaius has had enough of Merlin projecting all his feelings onto leafy medicine and sends him away to feed the horses so they can be on their way soon.
Arthur, who has been acting unconscious until now, opens his eyes to watch Merlin leave, then grabs Gaius urgently. “He’s a sorcerer.” Gaius’ face says it all, and Arthur sighs in the ‘fuck me, fuck everything’ tradition as he realises Gaius knew. Gaius tries to tell Arthur that Merlin is his friend and really isn’t all that scary, but Arthur wants him gone. He tells Gaius to have Merlin return to Camelot and deliver news to Gwen, so you know, points for not wanting him dead outright. Arthur thinks he needs a physician more than a sorcerer at this moment, but Gaius assures him that Merlin is the one he needs, as Merlin can do far more than he can and is also, according to many, “the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the earth.”
Arthur’s adorably disbelieving, “Merlin?” makes me laugh in spite of all the sads. Gaius tells him that Merlin is his only chance of survival and I just want to grab Arthur and tell him to get over it already because every remaining minute of the show is important and we still have to get them to forgive, declare their undying love for each other and then make sweet, heartfelt deathbed love, then be reincarnated so they can get to all the dirty stuff before the end credits. It’s a lot to get done and the clock is ticking.
Merlin is hand-feeding the horses and letting them comfort him with their velvety noses when Gaius joins him. He tells Merlin that Arthur has a fragment of sword embedded in his chest and they can’t simply use magic to draw it out because it came from a sword forged in a dragon’s breath. Convenient. Also, GOD DAMNIT, AITHUSA. YOU ARE THE SHITTIEST EXCUSE FOR A DRAGON LOVECHILD EVER AND I RUE THE DAY YOU EVER HATCHED. I can’t believe Arthur is going to die because of Aithusa’s subpar sword-forging skills.
The fragment of the blade is apparently travelling towards Arthur’s heart and there is nothing Merlin can do to thwart its magic. THIS IS STUPID AND I REFUSE TO BELIEVE IT. INVENT A MAGICAL MAGNET OR SOMETHING. FORGE A PAIR OF FORCEPS IN KILGHARRAH’S BREATH AND PLAY AN EPIC GAME OF OPERATION WHERE ARTHUR’S NOSE LIGHTS UP IF YOU TOUCH THE SIDES. I FAIL TO SEE HOW THIS STUPID CHUNK OF METAL IS THE ONE THING MERLIN CANNOT FIX. Gaius tells Merlin it will take a power as ancient as the dragons themselves and Merlin is pretty much willing to do anything so Gaius tells him that only the Sidhe possess the power. The source of their power is located on an isle in the mist of the lake of Avalon. ROAD TRIP. Merlin doesn’t think Arthur wants him as his plus one for his lakeside holiday, but Gaius assures Merlin that he has spoken to Arthur and it’s all good.
Meanwhile, Morgana drives the broken sword into the ground in front of Mordred’s grave and vows that they will have their revenge. She’s not exactly the picture of health and happiness right now.
Merlin tries to approach Arthur and gets the cold shoulder. Of course, that could just be because of the ridiculous armour covering said shoulder, but still. Merlin says he can’t let Arthur die, and Arthur says that it doesn’t change anything. GAAAAAHHHHHH, WE ARE WASTING MAKE-UP SNOGGING TIME, YOU GUYS. Gaius pulls Merlin away to let Arthur sleep until first light, assuring him that he was right to tell Arthur. Huh. He probably would have been right to tell him all those times Gaius advised him not to, as well, but let’s not dwell.
Morgana has returned to her spooky throne of evil and is addressed by a few of her men.
Morgana: *crazy eyes*
Men: Yeah, look, we’ve been totes thorough, but we can’t find the king. Soz.
Morgana: AJLKJLSJHDHTFGHS I WANT HIM DEAD!
Men: Dude, chill. We tried, alright?
Morgana: *strangle spell TO DEATH*
Remaining Men: *back away from the crazy person*
At first light, Merlin gets Arthur on to his horse, which would probably be a lot easier if Arthur removed the 5000 kilograms of amour first, but maybe it’s like Arthur’s security blanket or something. Arthur hands Gaius his royal seal to give to Guinevere. “If I am to die, I could think of no-one who I’d rather succeed me.” Aw. Merlin reminds Gaius that he was betrayed and not to trust Gwaine’s new girlfriend, then quietly asks how long Arthur has. “At best, two days,” Gaius tells him. Hey, two days is PLENTY of time to make up, take your vows and get a good 24 hours of snuggle time in on the island. Provided nothing slows them down.
Before they part ways, Gaius calls Merlin to him for a sweet farewell hug and promises to have his favourite meal waiting for him at home. OH GOD I’M CRYING AND IT ISN’T EVEN AN ARTHUR/MERLIN SCENE. Gaius then has to do the trick of pushing Merlin to leave him like a movie dog, only this time, Merlin leaves because he has Arthur with him.
Gaius returns to Camelot and during the ride, his horse got so dirty that its legs, mane and tail turned completely black. Gwen rushes to greet him by the griffin statue, as Gwaine escorts him inside. He tells them that Arthur is alive, but wounded, and hands over the seal. Gwen isn’t stupid, and knows what this means. Gaius tells her that there is a place where he may be saved, and that Merlin is taking him there. She orders Gwaine to sends as many knights as they can to help, but Gaius assures her that Merlin can cope by himself. “How can one man be as strong as an army?” Come on, Nancy Drew, THINK. Gaius tells her that two men have a better chance of evading Morgana’s army, especially if she has no idea where they are heading. Gaius looks at Gwaine meaningfully. Gwaine looks at Gaius, confused. Gwen looks at the both of them and fires up her Nancy Drew brain.
Seriously, is that another tear in Gwaine’s eye? The poor guy really has been put through the ringer lately. He stares out the window all emo-like until Eira joins him. Oh great, so she’s back. I’m not sure why she returned to Camelot once she was paid by Morgana. Then again, WHAT AM I SAYING? She had Gwaine to return to. Who the hell wouldn’t! Or maybe Morgana’s employment wasn’t just a one off and she has been put on contract or something, because she seems really keen on getting intel from Gwaine when any normal girl would just be trying to get him out of the armour right now.
Riding across the plains, Merlin and Arthur stop when Merlin spots an approaching pair of Saxons. He covers Arthur under a blanket, magics more campfire smoke in the distance, and pretends they’re just poor downtrodden peasants who were attacked by knights of Camelot. Even though the distant smoke is good evidence, the Saxons are suspicious. Mostly because Camelot knights don’t really go around storming the camps of pretty young men when they could easily just recruit them instead, and also, Excalibur is poking out Arthur’s blanket. They remove Arthur’s blanket and draw their swords to attack the king, so Merlin blasts them back, all badass. “You’ve lied to me all this time,” Arthur says, and Merlin ignores him.
That night, Merlin isn’t having much luck starting the fire with flint. It’s like he’s one of the many stupid contestants on Survivor who didn’t think to learn a valuable skill they have needed for the past twenty-something seasons already. “Why don’t you use magic?” Arthur suggests from where he’s lying down against a tree. Merlin thinks it might be habit. Arthur looks between Merlin and the fire pointedly, so Merlin starts the fire with a glance. He tells Arthur it feels strange. “Yeah,” Arthur agrees, deadpan, AND I WANT TO HUG BOTH OF THEM BECAUSE I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. Merlin steps away to set up his bed for the night.
Arthur: “I thought I knew you.”
Merlin: “I’m still the same person.”
Arthur: “I trusted you.”
Merlin: “I’m sorry.”
Arthur: “I’m sorry, too.”
Merlin walks back over and removes Arthur’s boots to dry them by the fire, and Arthur watches him, contemplating.
Back in Camelot, Eira shoots off a quick r-mail to Morgana and is sprung by Gwaine and Gwen. She tries to convince them that she would never betray the king. “And you didn’t,” Gwen tells her. “You can go to your death safe in that knowledge.” FUCK YEAH, GWEN, YOU ARE AWESOME. Their sneaky plan worked, and now the raven will send Morgana in the opposite direction from where Merlin and Arthur are actually heading. Gwen calls for the guards to take Eira, and poor Gwaine now has proof of her betrayal and I just want to hand him a beer, hold him and make his week a little better than it has been so far, the poor bastard.
Day two, and the sword fragment is rapidly moving closer to Arthur’s heart, while Merlin’s journey to Arthur’s heart is a little slower, but progressing. He tries to get Arthur to eat, and Arthur wants to know why he’s still behaving like a servant. “It’s my destiny,” Merlin tells him, and HERE COME THE TEARS AGAIN. “As it has been since the day we met.” Arthur remembers that day and can’t help the fondness that creeps over his face as he recalls trying take Merlin’s head off with a mace. Merlin cheekily admits that he stopped Arthur by using magic and Arthur’s indignant, “You cheated,” makes me beam as much as Merlin. Merlin chuckles, saying that Arthur was going to kill him, and Arthur says that he should have. There isn’t really much venom in it, but it still stings and Merlin gets quiet and he says he’s glad Arthur didn’t.
“I do this because of who you are. Without you, Camelot’s nothing.” Arthur doesn’t think that’s true anymore, and thinks there are many who could fill the crown these days. “There’ll never be another like you, Arthur,” Merlin says, and Arthur’s FACE as he processes everything is just…GAH. I know I keep saying they should just kiss and move on already, but I am so loving the slow build they’re giving this. I love that they’re giving Arthur time to accept Merlin and magic, and how it changes everything he thought he knew. It’s beautiful. And just to help the process along, Merlin starts feeding Arthur again and says, “I also do this because you’re my friend and I don’t want to lose you.”
Gwen has called Gaius to join her in the throne room, between the empty thrones and empty round table, to thank him for unmasking the traitor and to thank Merlin, whom she assumes found Arthur. “He’s a good servant,” Gaius says, and Gwen agrees, noting that Merlin has always been there at Arthur’s side. Gwen smoothly segues to the sorcerer they saw during the battle and asks if she knows him, pleading for an honest answer. Gaius tells her she does, and Nancy Drew basically has her mystery solved. “He’ll take good care of Arthur,” Gaius assures her.
“Yes, I’m sure he will,” Gwen says. “I’m pleased.” And there is relief and gratitude and a bit of surprise, but mostly, Gwen seems happy to finally know that Arthur could have nobody better at his side, and we know that should Merlin return to Camelot after everything ends, he will be welcome and loved and I doubt very much that Gwen is going to let him continue as a mere servant. (Also, Gwen gives her approval for Arthur and Merlin’s holy union y/y?)
Morgana’s scam r-mail finally arrives and she smirks as she reads Eira’s message, probably telling her a Nigerian prince is taking Arthur in the opposite direction of Avalon and if Morgana gives him her bank details, date of birth and High Priestess registration number, he will pay her a large sum to take the annoying king off his hands.
Eira’s hanging is overseen by Gwen from the balcony and Gwaine from inside the castle. Percival joins him and squeezes his shoulder to offer some g-rated comfort. Gwaine needs something to keep his mind off everything and revenge against Morgana might be just the ticket. He tells Percival they have a good idea where she might be heading, gives him a tiny smile, and then the two of them rare galloping off together to make themselves the next heroic OTP of the series. Oh, I love them so. Ride, you big damn heroes, ride.
Not looking quite as heroic, Arthur is having trouble sitting upright on a log while Merlin prepares the horses. Merlin rushes over to mop his brow and tell him to hold on for one more day. Shut up, they left themselves wide open for this:
(I know there is pain, Arthur, but if you hold on for one more day you can break free from the chain(mail)s)
Merlin links his arm through Arthur’s to keep him upright and let him drink from the water skin, and this is basically every hurt/comfort fanfic come to life on the screen and it is glorious. And now that they’re snuggling together, Arthur is contemplative, and asks why Merlin never told him. “I wanted to but…” Merlin pauses until Arthur prompts him to continue. “You’d have chopped my head off,” he says, sort of half-jokingly, because he can’t really believe that. Arthur takes another drink with Merlin’s help and says he’s not sure what he would have done. “And I didn’t want to put you in that position,” Merlin tells him and I swear to fucking god, the Violins of Love start playing as Arthur’s gaze turns to Merlin, assessing.
“That’s what worried you,” Arthur says, with a little chuff, and his voice is gentle and soft and he starts to realise EVERYTHING and he is LOOKING AT MERLIN’S MOUTH like it holds all the answers and they should be KISSING already OH MY GOD.
“Some men are born to plough fields,” Merlin says, returning Arthur’s gaze. “Some to be great physicians, others to be great kings. Me, I was born to serve you, Arthur. And I’m proud of that. And I wouldn’t change a thing.”
And their eyes never leave each other’s for a second during the entire thing and THAT IS DEFINITELY THE LOVE THEME PLAYING FOR THEM and they are SO CLOSE and sweet, merciful Jesus, this is the most beautiful episode of all time and I still can’t believe it’s happening.
In the opposite direction, Gwaine and Percival watch from above as Morgana and a handful of her men arrive to ambush the king. It’s an ambush of an ambush. It’s ambush inception. Percival manages to take a guy out with nothing but one crushing bicep (nice), and he and Gwaine use their swords to get rid of a few more.
Gwaine jangles up behind Morgana noisily, and gives her a cocky yet frightened little grin when she turns to see him. I want to tell him he’s an idiot, as does she probably, but then Percival jumps Morgana from behind and it appears Gwaine was just bait in their plan. Percival runs his sword through Morgana, but just like when Merlin got her in the Crystal Cave, it seems she has awesome healing powers when it comes to pointy objects. She blasts them both unconscious and gloats over their snoozing bodies.
Riding through the forest, Merlin’s spidey senses tingle and his horse shakes its head in warning, so they pause. Merlin uses his magic vision to see that there have been Saxons through the area but they’re long gone. Arthur wants to know how Merlin knows, not taking any of that ‘funny feeling’ bullshit this time, and Merlin, kind of embarrassed, admits he can see the path ahead. “So you’re not an idiot,” Arthur says. “That was another lie.” <3 <3 <3 When Arthur rediscovers his snark, you know he’s working through it. Merlin disagrees about the idiot lie and says with a shy grin it’s just another part of his charm, and he turns and completely misses the tiny little smile Arthur gives him in return and THAT MOMENT RIGHT THERE? THAT’S MY FAVOURITE OF THEM ALL. That’s the moment Arthur figures out how much Merlin means to him and knows that nothing else matters.
But let’s not get carried away with our giddy joy, because Gwaine has woken to find himself bound and kneeling at the mercy of Morgana. Gwaine/Morgana has been one of my not-so-secret pleasures during the latter years of this show. He’s her favourite knight to torture and you can’t fault her taste. Gwaine’s cocky banter kind of falls flat in the face of the box of tricks Morgana has to get him to tell her Arthur’s location. Yep, it’s the Snake of Painful Truth again.
Meanwhile, Percival wakes nearby. He has also been bound, standing with each arm stretched out and tied to a tree trunk. He struggles a bit, but there’s not much give in the thick ropes. That is, until he hears Gwaine’s screams of pain in the distance. SAVE YOUR MAN, PERCIVAL! Percival gathers all his strength and, using the power of his massive arms combined with the power of his love for Gwaine, manages to break free. YEEESSSSSSSSSS.
Still on the road to Avalon, Merlin hears approaching Saxons and gets Arthur and himself hidden before they arrive. There’s still the matter of their tracks, however, so Merlin magicks up some leaf cover to erase all trace, and rustles some bushes in the opposite direction to send the Saxons away. Arthur watches the entire thing intently, recognising that Merlin has done this before. “All these years, Merlin. You never once sought any credit.” Merlin tells him that’s not why he does it, matter-of-factly, and carries him back to his horse. I AM SO IN LOVE WITH THE SLOW BURN. SO IN LOVE.
Speaking of epic romances, Percival finds Gwaine alone. Gwaine… Okay. Yeah, all right, I can do this. Gwaine doesn’t look so good. Percival holds Gwaine’s head up as Gwaine struggles to tell him that Morgana is riding for Avalon. “I failed,” Gwaine says, and Percival holds Gwaine’s face in his big, gentle hands and tells him he hasn’t as Gwaine chokes on his final breath. I CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS ONE, YOU GUYS. Sure, I wouldn’t be happy with the death of any of these knights, but Gwaine was the one with that sliver of character development in the beginning that let me become more attached. I’ve always wanted to know if Arthur ever learned of his past, if he clashed with Leon sometimes because Leon was born into knighthood like himself but accepted it all along, if he sometimes drank too much and told Merlin things Merlin pretended to forget the next morning, if he ever felt the return of his wanderlust and felt a bit restricted in Camelot, and I wanted to know if sometimes Percival would find Gwaine in a nearby tavern and place a hand on his arm and tell him he’d had enough and it was time to come home. And the loss of Gwaine is the loss of all that potential that I wanted for so long and ultimately never got. It’s a lot to mourn, and as Percival continues to hold Gwaine’s face in his hands and press their foreheads together¬ as he sobs, at least I don’t have to mourn alone.
RIP, Sir Gwaine. My beloved Sir Rhosis. Merlin’s friend. May you be in a better place now, where streams of whiskey are flowing.
(Because, yeah, I don’t think Gwaine wants a sad, depressing funeral song, and I think he would really appreciate this one.)
Arthur, meanwhile, has slumped on his horse and things are not looking too good for our primary OTP, either. Merlin urges him to continue as they don’t have far to go, but Arthur is ready to give up. “All right,” Merlin decides. “We rest for an hour.”
There is no rest for Morgana’s horse. She rides all through the night, in foreboding slow-mo.
Merlin has Arthur seated by a fire and is trying to get him to save his strength by shutting the hell up. “I’m the king, Merlin,” Arthur replies with an epic eye roll. “You can’t tell me what to do.” Merlin tells him he always has and he’s not going to change now and their faces are SO CLOSE and I might die from the UST. “I don’t want you to change,” Arthur says, slurring a bit. “I want you to always be you.” Excuse me for a second, I have to go combust somewhere.
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 x 10000000000000000000
Reveal? Check. Acceptance? Check. Making out? IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME.
But wait, there’s more! Arthur holds a hand out towards Merlin’s chest. He’s gesturing to him to listen, but I legit thought he was trying to get Merlin to hold his hand at first. “I’m sorry about how I treated you,” Arthur says, and he’s kind of ready to pass out after so much emotional honesty in one go, so Merlin rouses him by asking if that means Arthur is going to give him a day off. Arthur gives him two, which Merlin finds sarcastically generous. Arthur is stupidly proud right before he passes out. Merlin tells him to get some sleep, and keeps watch, tears filling his eyes.
As the full moon (goodbye, moon, I shall miss your total lack of cycles.) watches over everyone, Morgana rides, Merlin wakes Arthur and gets moving, and Percival tracks (alone - *sob*). Merlin and Arthur take a break at the Avalon scenic lookout point so Merlin can show his beloved their beautiful honeymoon destination. And just as he declares that they’ll make it, the horses spook and gallop off. Running after them and shouting probably wasn’t the best idea in hindsight but whatever, Merlin panicked.
(Goodbye, Arthur and Merlin’s horses. In my head, they run off to be together forever in the wild, maybe hooking up with the unicorn for a bit of equine threesome action when things get a bit stale. They probably considered going back and helping out their boys, but figured Arthur and Merlin would just get fresh horses as soon as they switched to the next location anyway.)
“Hello, Emrys,” Morgana greets, and blasts him out of the way so she can go and gloat over Arthur’s dying body for a bit. She’s pretty happy about Arthur dying by Mordred’s hand, and promises that her dear brother won’t have to die alone. “I’ll stay and watch over you. Until the wolves gorge on your carcass and bathe in your blood.” Well, that hardly seems sanitary. If wolves are anything like my dog, they HATE bathing, and I imagine blood would be even worse than allergen-free oatmeal shampoo & conditioner.
But don’t worry about any sort of canine feast upon Arthur’s royal innards, because Merlin is back! He sneaks up behind Morgana, draws Excalibur and tells her that the time for all this bloodshed is over.
Merlin: You turned into a crazy, evil witch, my bad, but this madness has got to end. Seriously, I’ve got, like, five minutes of episode time to save Arthur and then get in his pants at last. I do not have time for any more crazy-eyed theatrics.
Morgana: I’m a high priestess, bitch. Your pissweak mortal blade ain’t gonna do shit.
Merlin: Yeah, I’m 9000% done with you. *stabs*Oh, P.S. This sword was forged in a dragon’s breath, too. I WIN.
Merlin twists the sword inside Morgana, because he has earned the right to be a bit vindictive as well as coldly callous, and he and Arthur watch her fall between them. “Goodbye, Morgana,” Merlin says, and Morgana exhales her last breath.
RIP Morgana Pendragon. I think this may have been disrespectful if I honestly hadn’t mourned the loss of the real you ages ago, so here:
Merlin doesn’t have time to even react to the end of a ridiculous plot arc because he’s busy trying to save the only story anyone really cares about. He helps Arthur to his feet while Arthur is kind of in awe and tells Merlin he brought peace at last. Merlin’s just like, yeah, you can blow me later, we’ve got to save your life first, and drags him away through the trees.
Reaching a clearing, Arthur’s fully armoured weight becomes too much and they fall on their backs, Arthur on top of Merlin. Merlin struggles and urges Arthur to keep going but Arthur knows that without the horses (they switched locations – where are the new ones?) it’s too late. “All your magic, Merlin,” Arthur says, “and you couldn’t save my life.” And his voice is so gentle and reassuring, like MERLIN is the one who needs the most comforting even though it’s Arthur who’s about to die.
Merlin sits up a bit, arms around Arthur from behind. “I can. I’m not going to lose you.”
Arthur uses one hand to support himself and places his other over Merlin’s, patting reassuringly and then holding it close against his chest as he says, “Just, just, just hold me. Please.”
And that, Merlin fans, is the moment every single fangirl/boy gasped out loud, flailed for a second, and then burst into great, sobbing, ugly-crying tears. My twitter timeline exploded into allcaps of simultaneous disbelief, joy and grief in quick succession. It was probably the most glorious thing I have ever witnessed in my life. Five frustrating years of anticipation, slow-burning agony, teases where we were brought to the brink and then denied every time, all building to this moment of fireworks-exploding proof that THIS was the love story we were watching all along. And they gave us this now, at the end of all things.
I’m completely torn between cheering because it happened and weeping because it’s ending.
Arthur leans back into Merlin’s arms, hand still on Merlin’s to keep him close and THERE. “There’s something I want to say.”
“You are not going to say goodbye,” Merlin tells him, bless his brave little heart.
“No. Merlin. Everything you’ve done. I know now, for me, for Camelot, for the kingdom you helped me build.” OH MY GOD. Arthur is not just telling Merlin he loves him, now he’s telling him that everything he has is THEIRS. They’re essentially married now, right?
Merlin tells Arthur he would have done it without him. “Maybe,” Arthur says, in a way that indicates there is no fucking way he could have. He kind of laughs, and then fades and I’m guessing that sword fragment has almost reached its final destination. “I want to say something I’ve never said to you before,” Arthur says, and everyone around the world is leaning so far towards their screens that their noses leave prints on the glass. Well, mine almost did.
“Thank you,” Arthur tells Merlin. At last. And he reaches up with one hand to grasp the back of Merlin’s head with a smile, pulling him closer. Merlin lets Arthur pull his face down to meet his and OH, ARTHUR’S FACE, happy and content for this to be the last thing he sees. And just as their lips are about to meet, Arthur’s had slips, and his eyes close and Merlin keeps calling his name, trying to bring him back. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! They were about to kiss and nobody can ever, EVER, tell me otherwise.
Arthur’s eyes open briefly, and the equally brief look of relief on Merlin’s face is the most heartbreaking thing of all. Trembling, Arthur finally succumbs to that stupid sword fragment. Merlin struggles to lift Arthur’s body, eventually falling back down as he ROARS for Kilgharrah. Then he slides out from under Arthur, cradling Arthur’s head in his arms. He leans over and presses their foreheads together until Kilgharrah appears.
Our beloved Slash Dragon is still looking rough, and, really? All Merlin’s friends are dead or dying right now. Merlin sort of apologises for rousing Kilgharrah from his deathbed but asks for one last favour.
Dammit, I always wanted Merlin to take Arthur for a dragon joyride, but I wanted Arthur to be slightly more alive during it. The dragon drops them off at the edge of the lake where a little boat waits for them.
So Arthur isn’t 100% dead, right? Or there would be no reason to continue. He’s, like, mostly dead. Like Merlin could have got the dragon to take them over to Miracle Max and Arthur could have told him his noble cause was true love and Miracle Max would have given Merlin the chocolate-coated cure and been all, “Have fun storming his castle, wink wink.” MAYBE.
ANYWAY. Kilgharrah tells Merlin that there is nothing he can do. Merlin’s face falls. “I failed?” (NO. Merlin, you do not get to echo Gwaine’s last words at this moment. It is too much.)
“No, young warlock,” the dragon tells him. “For all that you have dreamt of building has come to pass.”
Merlin struggles and lifts Arthur upright. “I can’t lose him,” he shouts over Arthur’s shoulder, not letting go. “He’s my friend.” I’ll just be over here, curling into a ball and sobbing for all eternity, okay?
“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 One and Future King. Take heart, for when Albion’s need is greatest, Arthur will rise again.” WE NEED YOU NOW, ARTHUR. I mean, I may not actually live in Arthur’s united kingdoms, exactly, but surely colonies count? He’d still be my king, okay?
Now that Merlin has quietened down a bit with the promise that he will see Arthur again, the dragon continues. “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.” AND FANGIRLS. Mostly fangirls.
As Kilgharrah flies off to go die in peace or something, Merlin lays Arthur down on the grass and looks across the lake to the Isle of Avalon. The camera reveals that he is holding Exacalibur. He raises the sword and gives a tiny little smile as it glints in the sunlight. Excalibur sings for him, and the choir start up, and Merlin throws it into the lake. A hand rises from the water to catch the sword by the hilt. FREYA. Yes, a very masculine handed Freya, but she was last time, too. I think all the water makes her fingers puff up a bit. Freya takes the sword back down with her, and Merlin looks on, knowing she’ll take good care of it until Arthur needs it once more.
Merlin has arranged Arthur’s body in the standard sleeping-vampire pose on the boat. He presses his hand to Arthur’s forehead and finally allows himself to break down. I can’t watch Merlin cry anymore. I am done. And I thought he might be able to do that thing he did with Lancelot that gave him a few extra moments to say goodbye, but he doesn’t. Maybe he COULD have. Maybe he was going to and then realised that it would have just been more painful to have Arthur taken from him again and couldn’t bring himself to do it in the end. I don’t know. But Merlin steps back and, with a spell and a flash of his eyes, sets the boat’s course for the island.
We watch Merlin cry. We watch Arthur sail away. And we watch Merlin pull himself together, piece by heartbreaking piece as Arthur leaves him and, for the first time since they met all those years ago, Merlin cannot follow.
(Yes, this is Westlife. It is cheesy as fuck. I am aware of this. But you watch that final Merlin/Arthur scene and then listen to this and if you don’t at least get a bit misty-eyed, I have no idea why you have made it through all 8000 overwrought words of this recap. Heh.)
In Camelot, Queen Guinevere sits on her throne, holding Arthur’s ring in her hands. Leon stands at her side. Judging by all the sad faces and the fact that Percival has returned from tracking Morgana and is kneeling before them, I gather they have been informed. Percival’s eyes meet Leon’s and Leon gathers himself for his official duties, like the true professional he has always been. “The king is dead,” he announces. “Long live the queen.” Percival and every remaining knight and royal echo in unison. We get a shot of the entire hall from above so we can see Gwen on her throne, Arthur’s throne empty, and Gaius and Leon standing on either side. Percival is kneeling in front of the thrones, and everyone else is standing in formation in the room, with the round table that was there earlier nowhere to be seen. And neither is Merlin.
And I just wonder – did Percival catch up with Merlin at Avalon? Did Merlin tell him that Arthur was dead, and did Percival tell Merlin about Gwaine? Because, DAMN, their poor hearts. And did Percival try to get Merlin to go back with him but Merlin couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the kingdom he and Arthur built without Arthur at his side? Did Merlin tell him to look after Gaius and Gwen, and did Gaius have a meal waiting for Merlin every night, just in case? GAAAAAHHHH, WHY IS EVERYTHING SO SAD?
Wait, here’s something that’s not sad: LEON LIVES. He doesn’t get a funeral song, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate a little, because YAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY, HE MADE IT. SIR VIVOR.
So, yes, I’m happy that Leon lived. And Percival. And Gaius, too, because someone needs to be Gwen’s magic adviser and I’m guessing that’s why he has been given an elevated position at her side. But as we leave Gwen, sitting on her throne with the weight of the kingdom on her shoulders, it kind of hits me: five years ago, we started watching this expecting the story of how our OT4 grew up and built the great and magical kingdom of Camelot together, and now only one remains to see it to fruition. And I think she can do it. The quiet, unassuming girl without any magic or social standing ended up being the strongest of them all.
But we can’t end there, because this is the love story of Merlin and Arthur, and they have to pull on our heartstrings one last time.
The scene in Camelot switches and the choir fades out until we’re looking at the Isle of Avalon in silence. The tower on the island is looking a bit more worn that it had previously and there is fog all around the base where the lake was, so we can’t really see the water surrounding it and as the camera pulls back, it actually looks like grass now, like the lake has gone, and JESUS FUCK WHAT? (I seriously jump every.single.time.) A bloody great lorry honks as it drives past the camera and down a little hedge-lined lane.
The truck drives past an old hobo…hey, it’s Merlin! It’s old beardy Merlin in a relatively modern tramp!chic ensemble, carrying a couple of bags of what must be his worldly possessions. He walks past the line of bushes and stops, just briefly, in front of the isle. He doesn’t even turn to look at it. Just pauses, drops his chin slightly, and then continues on out of camera.
And Arthur rests.