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Merlin: 501 “Arthur’s Bane: Part 1″ Advance Review

Merlin begins its 5th series in fine style with the first of a two part story, Arthur’s Bane. The episode crams in a lot, and jumps into the action from the get-go. A party of Camelot Knights, including Gwaine and Percival, are captured by Morgana in the icy Northern wastes. Despite the risks, King Arthur is adamant that no man will be left behind and sets out on a dangerous mission to try and bring them back alive. Meanwhile, Merlin receives a shocking future vision that foretells some very dark days ahead…

This brief summary doesn’t quite do the episode justice as there are numerous other story arcs set in motion. Morgana’s quest for the titular “Arthur’s Bane” and the (brief) return of Mordred being two of the other bigger elements. Undoubtedly these will play out throughout the duration of the series, but we are given some tantalising teasing of things to come.

The guest cast includes Liam Cunningham and Lindsay Duncan, playing new sorcerer Ruadan and returning character Queen Annis, respectively. Cunningham brings a powerful presence to the proceedings as Morgana’s evil new ally. It’s nice to see Duncan reprising her role as Annis and it helps to solidify the world of Camelot. Annis doesn’t have a great deal to do in this part though.

It’s been three years since the events of the last series and a number of characters have developed in that time. Gwaine and Percival get much more screen time (along with their bare chests). Gwen is undoubtedly the best served though, free from her servant beginnings and more than a love interest for Arthur. She is now a much more powerful character, helping Arthur and making some very tough decisions. You will question whether she will really go through with something later on though… Actress Angel Coulby clearly is enjoying a bigger role here.

As for Merlin, if there is one criticism that can be leveled at the episode it’s that for the growth of the characters elsewhere, you can’t help but feel that the star of the show is still stuck in the past. Colin Morgan’s performance can’t be faulted, but the Merlin and Arthur relationship has evolved very little. For the first half of the episode Arthur ridicules Merlin and still treats him like a joke, dismissing his genuine concerns. It’s just frustrating at this point. Yes, it can be argued that their brotherly love/hate relationship has always been a part of the show, but when the episode makes strides with the other character developments you can’t help but feel it’s time to move on here as well. It’s early days though, and hopefully this will be balanced throughout the rest of the series (with a magic reveal as well, we can hope).

This episode looks absolutely wonderful. The cinematic scope, scale and CGI work have been vastly improved. The creators recently claimed that shows like Game of Thrones have encouraged them to up their own game and it certainly shows. The snowy landscapes and other locations are all gloriously shot. What’s remarkable is that Merlin is achieving this on a fraction of the budget. There’s also a superb and nicely choreographed battle scene towards the end. The show just feels bigger this year and more epic for it.

Overall, this is a very strong opener and it certainly leaves you wanting more.

8/10

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  • Nimueh123

    ‘For the first half of the episode Arthur ridicules Merlin and still treats him like a joke’ This sounds rather depressing and I can only hope that it will be amended swiftly as the season moves on. Merlin must also be allowed to grow as a character!!!

    • The Doctor

      It annoys me so much to see Merlin as nothing more than a petty servant after all he has done for Arthur! I can’t believe the writers refuse to develop this. It really puts me off Arthur when he’s a jerk to Merlin.

      • TARDIS44

        You have to remember it’s all part of the journey. Merlin can’t have been born into being the most powerful sorcery alive, he has to start as being ridiculed and move into the legend.
        I will agree it is irritating, but there are reasons behind it

        • mpamies

          It’s been ten years (in the show) and 4 seasons. This is, probably, the last one. This is the end of the journey.
          Everybody else have reached their potential and more. If now is not the time for Merlin to develop as the character, then when will that time come? Or better yet, will it come at all, or will he always remain the same? A servant, a peasant, a fool. Nothing.
          From what I’ve read in interviews and spoilers, I’m afraid we still haven’t seen the worse.
          I pray I’ll be proven wrong.
          But I doubt it.

  • AmyPondIsAwesome

    Sounds good. I do hope Gwen doesn’t get too queen-y though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1200587857 Gabby Dahlberg

      how does one get too ‘queen-y’?

      • AmyPondIsAwesome

        I just hope she stays true to her good natured character and doesn’t change and go all high and mighty.

        • The Doctor

          At least it sounds like Gwen has had some character development. Merlin is still being treated like crap.

          • AmyPondIsAwesome

            Yeah.

            Although I enjoy the humour between Merlin and Arthur, it’s time to move on.

          • The Doctor

            If this is the last year of Merlin I hope we don’t have to wait until the end of the series for this. Imagine if Merlin revealed his magic in the last episode and we never see a follow up!

  • That Awkward Silent

    Sounds good. Really hoping for a magic reveal this series especially if its the last one.

  • angst4colin

    “As for Merlin, if there is one criticism that can be leveled at the episode it’s that for the growth of the characters elsewhere, you can’t help but feel that the star of the show is still stuck in the past. Colin Morgan’s performance can’t be faulted, but the Merlin and Arthur relationship has evolved very little. For the first half of the episode Arthur ridicules Merlin and still treats him like a joke, dismissing his genuine concerns. It’s just frustrating at this point. Yes, it can be argued that their brotherly love/hate relationship has always been a part of the show, but when the episode makes strides with the other character developments you can’t help but feel it’s time to move on here as well. It’s early days though, and hopefully this will be balanced throughout the rest of the series (with a magic reveal as well, we can hope).”

    The producers is really lapping it up making the masochist out of Colin (as an actor) and supporters alike. Their deliberate device of keeping Merlin’s character development stunted and as source of perpetual ridicule is nothing short of sadistic and delusional. The would-be magic reveal could not make up for the all drivel leveled to the titular character. Colin deserves better. :(

  • mpamies

    I want to feel excited. I really, honest to God wish I could…
    It’s nice to know there’s better SGI, good guest stars, that Gwen has a more prominent role than before etc.

    But all I can feel now is disappointment. To me, a show shouldn’t be only about what looks nice. It should respect its characters, and especially the main one.
    So, no change for Merlin. Still the fool. I can’t really say I’m surprised. I’m just tired at this point.
    This has gone long enough. If it is indeed the last series then they should have focoused on Merlin, on his character development and the magic reveal, the things that fans have been asking/praying for for years.

    And, honestly, what does it say for Arthur if , after all these years, he still disregards Merlin’s warnings and treats him like the fool, when every single time in the past Merlin has been proven correct in the end? How can this be the greatest king of all? Has he learned nothing of his -many- mistakes?

    Even kids that I know (10 year olds) say that it’s becoming frustrating to them…
    And what message are they actually trying to pass here to the younger ones? You can do all the work, save the world a hundred times over but the best thing you can hope to get in return is a ‘go clean the toilets’ from your ignorant boss? Is this some sort of ‘real life is a b***’ kinda lesson?
    I’m seriously thinking about not watching this series. The neglect of Merlin’s character has become painful. And I doubt that there’ll ever be any change. The writers/producers seem to think of Merlin as a cartoon that can’t and won’t ever change. Always alone… a ‘tragic hero’ figure.
    This wasn’t supposed to be a tragedy. This began as a kids show. Even GoT does some justice to its characters before it kills them off…

    • MOUNA D

      I totally agree with you. Merlin is not only badly treated by the ignorant and stupid Arthur, but he’s also badly treated by producers and writers who should get him stories centered and focused on him to allow him much needed development, growth and a better position. Merlin is the main character here! Colin Morgan as the star of the show does his job more than excellently! Why don’t the producers do the same?

  • http://twitter.com/ophelia_kills Kirra

    Can’t wait to see Queen Gwen.

  • MOUNA D

    Ok so it’s probably the last series and Merlin is still at the same point and place he was in the first episode of the whole show? WTH!!

  • http://twitter.com/EmrysDragonlord Emrys Dragonlord

    UGH! JULIAN JONES ! JULIAN MURPHY ! JOHNNY CAPPS !!! I SUMMON YOU FORTH TO BEAR WITNESS TO THIS REVIEW AND THESE COMMENTS!!! “the star of the show is still stuck in the past. Colin Morgan’s performance can’t be faulted, but the Merlin and Arthur relationship has evolved very little. For the first half of the episode Arthur ridicules Merlin and still treats him like a joke, dismissing his genuine concerns. It’s just frustrating at this point. Yes, it can be argued that their brotherly love/hate relationship has always been a part of the show, but when the episode makes strides with the other character developments you can’t help but feel it’s time to move on” THIS IS A FRUSTRATION WE HAVE BEEN BATTLING FOR A WHILE, THE CAUSE OF WHICH RAN RAMPANT IN S4! [Oh god.. I’m hyperventilating now.] Reason says ‘watch the episode for your self first,’ but I KNOW!!! I KNOW TOO WELL WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT HERE (see Series 4) the TYPE of banter they are STILL using is NOT WORKING anymore! There can still be banter, but if you can’t figure out how to make it evolve, please have someone study successful portrayals of the evolution of deep relationships in film/shows/books/whatever. The Merlin/Arthur relationship is THE REASON why I watch the show, but that was the 1 major disappointment I had about S4.. [I can’t even type about this anymore, I feel sick. I’m just going to remain calm & hope beyond hope that it hasn’t happened again in S5. Let’s not think about that right now, REMAIN CALM Merlinians! We’ll get through this, we will, together.]

    • mpamies

      I feel your pain. But even hoping beyond hope seems delusional now. I think that tptb really don’t consider Merlin their protagonist any more. For them the true hero is Arthur. So this is his story.
      Merlin is, like CM said, just a cartoon character, for them. He’s there as a means to an end. He doesn’t change, not ever. His relationship with Arthur doesn’t change, not ever.
      Nothing we care about will ever evolve in this show. I can see that now. Personally, I’m giving it three episodes. If the Arthur-Merlin relationship is the same with s4, then i’m done with this.

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