Buckle up, kids, it’s finally time for Jess to get her Merthur on!
The episode opens with a gently sweeping pastoral view of the village of Ealdor when a band of thugs on horsebacks rides in and demands the villagers’ crops. You can tell the leader is extra evil because he’s got a prominent facial scar…and oddly placed beard extensions.
Also, when Hunith (Merlin’s mama) tries to prevent him from taking food from the mouths of the village’s children, he backhands her. Then to really make his point, he shoots a random villager with a crossbow bolt. (No pun intended.) Cut to a view of the castle at Camelot and Hunith is making her way through the lower town. Merlin, who of course, is fetching water at that time spots his mother and demands to know who gave her the giant black eye. Aaaaand roll credits.
Hunith gets an audience with Uther Pendragon, The Least Interested King in the World and begs for help in dealing with the food raiding thugs. Uther is positively bored by the entire proceedings and looks like he’s wishing for a lively execution or something. He points out that the village of Ealdor lies in Cenred’s kingdom and that because of the treaty between the two kingdom’s sending an army of Camelot into Cenred’s lands would be an act of war. Hunith falls on her knees and begs and Uther still says no. Arthur, Merlin, Gwen, Morgana, pretty much everyone in the throne room really, looks pissed and disgusted with Uther.
Cut to Arthur standing on the parapets and Merlin going to speak to him. Arthur apologizes to him, presumably for the fact that his father is a giant douche, and Merlin tells him that he’s leaving to return to Ealdor. Arthur looks completely taken aback when Merlin says that he’s not returning. He plays it off with a bit of a joke but with the meaningful look that passes between them, the audience (and most importantly, Jess,) knows that they will truly miss one another.
In Gwen’s home, we see Gwen packing food, armor and a sword for Merlin’s journey. And we see just how bad Merlin is with a sword. When he says he’ll never be able to carry everything by himself, Morgana enters and says that he won’t have to, because she and Gwen are going with him. Merlin is stunned and touched by their friendship and goes to say goodbye to Gaius who is clearly worried about him, and off they go on their grand adventure – Hunith, Merlin, Morgana and Gwen.
That night while everyone is sleeping in the woods (and no one is keeping watch, mind you) Merlin wakes to the sound of hoof beats. He (clumsily) draws his sword and goes off to investigate. When he realizes it’s Arthur (in full armor), he swings around excitedly and almost clobbers Arthur. Arthur takes away Merlin’s weapon and heads to the campsite, and Merlin is very touched (but not in the way Jess wants him to be touched) that Arthur came to help.
The next morning, they ride toward Ealdor where Kanen and his men are ransacking the village. They find the secret stash of grain and Kanen is about to kill Matthew, the village’s leader when a sword comes flying through the air and sticks in a post conveniently located by Kanen’s head. And it’s Arthur riding in to save the day. And also Merlin, Morgana and Gwen.
There’s a brief skirmish in which our friends from Camelot fight off the bad guys – Merlin uses his magic and one of the villagers sees it – and Morgana jumps in and rescues Arthur. The thugs ride away with a threat to return and kill them all. You know…like bandits are wont to do.
The villager who saw Merlin use magic turns out to be his BFF from Ealdor, Will. Will knowing about Merlin’s powers is actually the reason his mom sent him to Camelot in the first place. But Will is loyal to Merlin and won’t breathe a word. (Will, incidentally, is Gendry on Game of Thrones. This mixes up my feels when I’m watching this episode.)
Will immediately dislikes Arthur and thinks he’s a pompous ass. Arthur gives a mini-inspirational speech to rally the villagers and Will contradicts him constantly and says he’s only there for the glory of battle and storms away in a huff. Merlin goes after him, but the other villagers are all down with fighting off Kanen and his men.
Merlin tells will that he needs to trust Arthur because he knows what he’s doing and wants to help, but Will isn’t having it. And there’s a bit of expository dialogue to let us know that something horrible and tragic happened to Will’s father because of men like Arthur. This is while Will is picking up a fallen chainmail and tabard stand so we can assume Will’s got real issues with nobility. (And we’re right.) Merlin tries to convince Will that Arthur isn’t like other nobles, that he’s actually Merlin’s friend. Will asks Merlin if Arthur knows his secret, and of course, he doesn’t, so he tells Merlin he’s living a lie.
That night, Arthur’s getting a taste of peasant life and asks Merlin if he’s always slept on the floor as they lay side by side, and they have a bit of a heart to heart about how Merlin grew up and life in a village and why he left it. When Merlin blows out the candle, Jess has vivid fantasies about some serious Merthuring happening under those thin, homespun blankets.
In the morning, Merlin is helping Arthur dress and Morgana makes a crack about him not knowing out to dress himself, meanwhile Hunith brings Arthur the breakfast he didn’t finish. As soon as Hunith turns her back, Arthur shoves the bowl of porridge into Gwen’s hands and goes out to train the men. Gwen hurriedly finishes it and lies to Hunith telling her that Arthur though it was lovely.
Hunith and Merlin are left alone and Hunith tells Merlin that Arthur cares for him a great deal. Merlin says that he’d do the same for any village, but Hunith disagrees and insists that Arthur is there for him, which Jess and I have taken to mean that Merlin’s mama ships Merthur, too.
Merlin goes off to the woods to chop wood and Will follows him. As it turns out, Will is hurt because he never really knew why Merlin left Ealdor. Then he’s pissed because he knows that Merlin could defeat Kanen on his own using magic, but Merlin won’t reveal his secret and he tries to explain to Will that he needs to hide it in order to protect Arthur, and as you can imagine, that doesn’t go over well at all.
Meanwhile, Arthur is attempting to teach the men of the village how to wield a sword. It doesn’t go particularly well. Meanwhile Gwen and Morgana are sharpening the few meager weapons they have. They decide that the men aren’t the only ones who can fight. While the men are practicing, Arthur asks Matthew to organize sentry duty which he does.
Morgana and Gwen approach Arthur and tell him they think the women should be allowed to fight. He, predictably, says it’s too dangerous and dismisses them. That night, when they think everyone is sleeping, Gwen and Morgana lay awake talking about how they don’t have a chance in the fight against Kanen. And they discuss how they all came for Merlin – including Arthur.
The next morning, Arthur is discussing creating a trap for Kanen’s men, they hear a scream from outside. The run outside to see a horse with a rider draped over its back. It’s Matthew, the sentry and he’s got a crossbow bolt with a note in his back that says, Make the most of this day, it’ll be your last. Then Matthew’s wife runs to him screaming while Will insists that Matthew’s death is Arthur’s fault and tells all the men that they’ll be slaughtered when Kanen comes.
He leaves and Merlin follows him to his hut where he’s packing his belongings. He’s planning to get out of Dodge Elador before the battle. And he points out that if Merlin used his magic no one else would have to die. Will tells him that Merlin is the one abandoning the people not him. He storms off and Merlin goes to find Arthur who’s sharpening his sword. He explains that Will’s father was killed fighting for King Cenred and that he doesn’t trust nobility. Arthur worries that maybe Will is right, that all the villagers are going to die. He contemplates telling all the villagers to leave to save themselves, but Merlin talks him into staying and fighting. Meanwhile Hunith is eavesdropping on this entire conversation.
That evening, there’s a village-wide meeting and Arthur says that the women and children need to take all the belongings they can carry and hide in the woods. Gwen steps forward and says that they’re not going anywhere. They’re going to stay and fight. The other women agree and step forward. Arthur knows when to keep his mouth shut and backs it on down and then gives a super inspiring speech about how they won’t be defeated because they’re defending their home, etc. etc. Everyone is appropriately moved. Possibly even Will. But he’s still kinda pouty.
When Merlin gets back to his mother’s hut, she’s waiting to talk to him. She’s upset that she went to Camelot. She feels she’s ruined everything for him because she fears he’s going to let his magic flag fly. The next morning Arthur is in the woods and Gwen brings him food that Hunith made. Arthur turns his nose up at it and Gwen gives him a major smackdown because food is scarce for these people and they’re sharing it with him. Then she remembers that she’s talking to the Prince of Camelot and apologizes. He tells her she’s right and thanks her.
When Arthur returns, Merlin moves to help him dress, but Arthur says for him to put on his own armor, then proceeds to help Merlin with it. This is a huge shift for them. They shake hands in a manly fashion and Arthur says it’s been an honor. Merlin says that whatever happens today, he hopes Arthur won’t think any differently of him. Arthur thinks that Merlin is just scared but we all know he’s referring to his magic. He’s about to confess when Morgana comes in to tell them that Kanen and his men have crossed the river. Opportunity lost.
Arthur shakes the hands of the men (and Gwen) waiting outside the hut then they all assume their positions. The medieval thug squad comes riding in and the villagers maintain their positions. Gwen and another person pull up a wall trapping the bandits in the village while Morgana frantically tries to start a fire. Merlin sees that she’s having trouble and runs to help, discreetly using magic to start it. The fire traps the men further and spooks the horses. Arthur gives the signal and all the villagers attack. Merlin is about to get bashed in the head with a mace when Will, dressed in his father’s mail and tabard, leaps from the roof and offs the bad guy and saving Merlin’s life. Will and Merlin realize there are too many bandits so Merlin uses his magic to create a whirlwind and scare a bunch of them away.
The villagers chase after them and only a few bandits are left in the village. Unfortunately, one of those is Kanen and they engage in single man combat. Arthur eventually prevails and Kanen falls to the ground. Arthur stalks over to Will and Merlin and demands to know who used magic. Just as Merlin is about to confess, Kanen gets a burst of deathbed energy, grabs a crossbow and tries to shoot Arthur. Will pushes Arthur out of the way and gets shot in the chest.
The carry him into the house and lay him on the table. Arthur is incredulous because Will saved his life. Then tells him he saved him twice and confesses to creating the whirlwind that scared off the thugs. Arthur tells Merlin to do what he can for Will and clears everyone from the room. After they all go, Will and Merlin have a heartfelt conversation about Merlin being a great man who will eventually serve a great king. Merlin cries and Will dies.
Later we see Will’s funeral pyre and Arthur offers his condolences to Merlin and then follows it up by lecturing Merlin about the dangers of magic and keeping secrets from him. Seriously, dude. That couldn’t wait until later!?
Hunith tells Merlin that he needs to leave because he belongs at Arthur’s side. He and Hunith have a tearful goodbye in the shadow of Will’s burning body.
Now, for the questions!
1. If I’d written this episode…I don’t know if this was something I would have changed, but I would love to know what happened when they all got back to Camelot – especially Morgana since her and Uther’s relationship is so complicated.
2. The thing I loved/hated most about this episode. I really love this episode. It’s in my top ten list – possibly even my top five. I love when Gwen gives Arthur the smackdown about not being a dick about eating food he considers substandard. I love that Merlin’s friends rallied around him and risked their lives for something that was important to him, and of course, I love the evolving friendship/merthurness between Arthur and Merlin and I love that Arthur made strides to step out of his father’s shadow and model of ruling.
I hated the fact that Uther was such an uninterested douche when Hunith was begging for help. And I also hated that Arthur felt the need to lecture Merlin on the dangers of magic so soon after Will’s death.
3. Something you’ve never noticed about this episode before. The blonde woman who was kicking ass in the battle between Ealdor and the thugs
4. Favorite Costume. This week, I've gotta give to Morgana’s battle gear. Love the silver bracers and the belt/fur/shirt combo. It’s spectacular.
5. Here is Proof of some random head canon I’ve created. I didn’t create it, but holy cow, there’s a shit-ton of Merthur moments going on.
6. What Merthur moment did Jess have the naughtiest thoughts about? Ooooh – tough one. We’ve got the opposite problem this week – too many Merthur moments to chose from. I think it has to be when they were having their heart to heart in the dark and Arthur was trying to understand where Merlin came from and what he was looking for. It was a great bonding moment. Though, in Jess’ head, I’m sure they really bonded after Merlin blew out the candle.
7. What made Jen lose her shit (in a good or bad way) in this episode? In a bad way, I think it would have to be when Uther was positively disinterested in Hunith’s plea for Ealdor.