Merlin: 503 “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon” Review
Prepare for scares in the third episode of Merlin’s fifth series, The Death Song of Uther Pendragon.
During a trip out in the woods Arthur ends up saving an frail old women who is about to be sentenced to death. She repays his kindness by giving him an item which has the power to open a door to the spirit world. On the anniversary of the King’s coronation and his father’s death, Arthur finds the temptation too powerful to resist and hopes to see Uther one last time. Needless to say, the reunion doesn’t quite go to plan and all hell breaks loose in Castle Camelot.
After the more cinematic, multi-stranded opening two-parter, Merlin returns to more traditional standalone instalment. In many ways this episode feels like a coda to last year’s Series 4 episode, The Wicked Day (also written by Howard Overman), with Arthur once again dabbling with dark magic to see his father.
This episode is really all about Merlin, Arthur and Uther and, as such, the other cast members are side-lined. There’s no evil scheming from Morgana, the Camelot Knights including Mordred are barely in it, and Gwen is back to being a rather unfortunate victim. That’s not a criticism though as it gives Colin Morgan, Bradley James and Anthony Head a chance to dominate the screen with some very strong performances. In particular, James does some of his best work on the show.
It’s nice to see Head return after being such a prominent cast member for four-and-a-bit years. He puts in a suitably cold and menacing turn here, much more in line with how he was portrayed back in his early years on the show. Uther is horrible to his son in their reunion scenes bringing Arthur literally to tears. The scenes he shares with Arthur and Merlin are easily the highlights of the episode. Another moment with Merlin late on will have fans cheering as the warlock shows no fear standing up to the former King.
There’s an air of tension throughout this episode and it’s genuinely scary in places. Younger viewers will probably want a cushion to hand. While several horror tropes are checked off, the episode’s creepiest moments are often what you don’t see.
That’s not to say the episode isn’t without its moments of humour though. There’s a healthy supply of the trademark banter between Merlin and Arthur to break up the scares. This time though you can tell there’s warmth to their “horseplay,” as they put it. In some ways it feels like this episode is paving the way for the eventual magic reveal. Arthur goes makes it clear that he is not his father several times and there’s a rather close call…
All in all, this is a great episode. The cinematic scope may have dialled back a bit, but it makes for a more contained and creepier tale.