This article may contain spoilers.
The second season finale brought a showdown between the last dragon and the last dragonlord. Because the Dragon Kilgharrah (John Hurt) was the last of his kind and so filled with rage and vengeance, all he wanted was to inflict the same pain he felt for so many years held captive in Camelot. But Kilgharrahs anger knew no bounds as he indiscriminately killed everyone within his path. He wanted not only his vile jailor Uther (Anthony Head) to feel his wrath, but also entire kingdom of Camelot who supported their abusive king.
Finally in desperation, Uther heeded Gaius(Richard Wilson) advice and allowed Arthur (Bradley James) to seek out the last dragonlord Balinor (John Lynch). However, unbeknownst to him, Balinor was also Merlins (Colin Morgan) father. So as Arthur and Merlin set out to find Balinor and persuade him to return to vanish Kilgharrah, each had a different motive for doing so. For Arthur, he wanted to save the people of Camelot. For Merlin, it was a chance to meet the father he had never known. But, like Kilgharrah, Balinor only wished ill upon Uther and Camelot for forcing him to flee his one true love and live amongst the caves in order to survive. Yet, as Merlin reminded Balinor, what is life if he is only to live in a cave while there are those to whom he owes a great debt? Confronted by his past and a son who fervently believed that his father would do the right thing, Balinor reluctantly agreed to aid in conquering Kilgharrah.
Alas, fate is cruel. Just as soon as Merlin had found his father, Balinor was cruelly snatched away again. It was heart-breaking to see how easily and willingly Balinor sacrificed his life in order to save his son, not knowing that Merlins magical abilities would have protected him.
But, even in death, Balinor gave Merlin the one gift that he would need to defeat the dragon, for it was only upon death that Balinor's gift passed to Merlin -- the ability to speak to the Dragon and compel him to do Merlin's bidding.
Destiny's cruel joke ruled again. The tale of Arthur and Merlin is not a tale of their fathers, but how their journeys together made them the men who would bring Camelot into its finest hour. While Uther's days may be yet numbered, Balinor's time was up. He was living on borrowed time as it was. It was only due to Gaius' desire to save the last dragonlord that he survived at all -- and he begat a son that would one day become the savior of the entire kingdom. Upon Balinor's death Merlin was finally bestowed with the dragonlord gift and only then could he defeat the Dragon Kilgarrah.
Colin Morgan was seamless in this episode. His emotions transitioned effortlessly from barely contained glee to heart-wrenching pain. He carried the weight of the story and reminded everyone why in the end Merlin is the true hero of the story.
From the moment Merlin told Arthur, "I'm sorry you have to do this and Arthur responded, "Why? You're not to blame," we could see the guilt tearing Merlin apart. He knew that but for his promise to release the Dragon, the people of Camelot would not be dying. But just like Merlin chose Arthur's life over Morgana's, Merlin chose to honor his promise with an untrustworthy foe and now must face the consequences of that decision. He will have to remember that when playing with the lives of kings, even the smallest decision can cause ripples of unintended consequences.
Heeding Gaius' words that "Dragons are not monsters. They're creatures of wonder and magic. You must realize they are immune to your powers," Merlins quest to find a way to either slay or vanquish Kilgarrah brought about his greatest wish: to find his father. Seeing his joy upon hearing who his father was and the happiness he radiated upon meeting Balinor was beautiful. Despite Gaiusbest efforts to be a surrogate father, Merlin has always been a lonely little orphan while living in Camelot. But it is Merlins destiny to remain alone in search of his rightful place in the world. It is what compels him to seek out and value his friendships with Arthur and Gwen and to rely upon Gaius for fatherly advice. If Merlin were to have a happy family with his mother and father, he would not rise up to be the great sorcerer who aids Arthur in bringing about Camelots peace and security. Heroes are not born, they are made by the hardened chisels of fate and destiny.
However, it was fascinating to see how Merlin simultaneously embraced the hard choices he was forced to make and yet struggle to preserve his soul in the process. When he granted the Dragon a reprieve, he showed that he is not an unfeeling magician who will stop at nothing to secure the destiny before him. Even Kilgharrah was surprised and with great respect he said, "Young warlock, what you have shown is what you will be. I will not forget your clemency. I'm sure our paths will cross again." It may have sounded foreboding, but it was with deference that the Dragon knelt before Merlin and vowed to remember his kindness. The true gift to be revealed was that Merlins heart was stronger than any magic or sword.
Like any good classic fantasy tale, intertwined with the epic battles and fights with destiny there is at its core a love story -- and Merlin would be nothing if not for the love story of Arthur and Guinevere (Angel Coulby). Arthur may be thinking like a king and making the welfare of his people a priority, but Arthur is also a man and to rule a kingdom alone is a lonely life. Arthur has fallen in love with a mere servant girl, but to him, she is much more: she is his soul mate and he feels it with every fiber of his being. He cannot resist being drawn to her. Even as she cleans his wounds, he cannot help himself and draws her hand back to him to hold it against his beating heart; and in the midst of battle and attack, he always thinks of her -- rushing to keep her safe and out of harms way. Arthurs past fear of the impropriety and the impossibility of openly declaring his feelings for Gwen are slowly slipping away. He is realizing that they live in uncertain times and they need to cherish the moments they have before it is too late. So when Gwen chastised him, "You shouldn't have risked your life," Arthur merely smiled and replied, "I wasn't going to let anything happen to you.
Later as Gaius tried to reassure Gwen, "I think [Arthur] cares the same way about you," Gwen resignedly said "I know it can never be." Yet Gaius smiled and sagely replied, "The world is a strange place . . . never under-estimate the power of love. I've seen it change many things." Gaius has lived a long life and knows the truth of these words. It does not take a prophecy to see that true love is a force that cannot be deterred. Love will seek out love and nothing in the universe will keep it apart. Just like when Gwen could not help herself and ran into Arthurs waiting arms and said, "I thought I'd lost you," the magnetic pull is irresistible. Gwen and Arthur are simply destined to be together and we shall love every magical moment of their sweeping love affair.
Just as powerful as romantic love is the bonds of friendship. While fate has pre-ordained that Merlin and Arthur shall rise up together, their relationship is not merely of future king and sorcerer. They are growing up together and forging the bonds of brotherhood. Both are virtually alone in the world as Uther surrounds himself with his unnatural hatred of magic and those who wield it; and his hatred pushes Arthur farther and farther away. Thus, it is not a stretch to see that Arthur would turn to his closest companion, Merlin. Merlin has proven not only to be a loyal servant, but he is a staunch comrade in battle as well.
It was revealing when Arthur finally admitted that he no longer viewed Merlin merely as his servant when he asked, "What is wrong with you today? . . . It pains me to admit it, but I do enjoy your silly retorts. In fact, it is probably you're only redeemable feature." When his cajoling inquiry was met with silence, Arthur reluctantly admitted, "Alright, I know I'm a prince, so we can't be friends. If I wasn't a prince . . . well, we'd probably get on." It was not so long ago that Arthur would have never even thought of Merlin as a friend, let alone voiced it aloud. Yet his concern for his friends welfare prompted him to break through the barriers of propriety and to simply ask what was the matter.
As Arthur continued to press Merlin about his unusually quiet demeanor and said, "I always thought silence would be a blessing with you, but I find it just as irritating. You're a riddle, Merlin . . . but I've grown to quite like you. . . I realize you're not as big a fool as you may look," this was another surprising admission. For it showed that Arthur was not only concerned about Merlin, he also revealed that he no long saw Merlin as an idiot. Merlin may work hard to appear like a bumbling fool, but Arthur has demonstrated again a level of perception that is advanced for his years. Like with Morgana (Katie McGrath), when he wondered why she alone was not struck by Morgauses (Emilia Fox) spell, Arthur is now wondering if Merlin is a lot smarter than he may appear. It is a huge step for Arthur to set aside their different stations in life and to treat Merlin as an equal and a peer. But perhaps it has occurred to Arthur that if he can fall in love with a servant girl, he may also be friends with Merlin.
It will be an interesting world to behold once Arthur throws off the imaginary restraints of his fathers arcane and discriminatory laws. It is only then that the true wonder of Camelot will shine throughout the whole world.
What Didn't Work
Merlin's reflexes seemed a bit unnaturally slow in this episode. He was taking more of a reactionary stance each time they were attacked. If he is to continue stepping out directly into battle, he must learn to be quicker with his response time. His magic needs to be more instinctual and not as a last resort.
Also sorely felt was the absence of Morgana. After building up such a huge storyline of Morgana coming into her own powers and her being at the center of Morgues plan to destroy Uther, it felt like the audience was cheated to not see her again in this episode. Let us hope that she will again return to be the great, conflicted nemesis of Merlin next season.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
"Merlin" stars Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Katie McGrath, Angel Coulby, Richard Wilson and Anthony Head. "The Last Dragonlord" was written by Julian Jones and directed by Jeremy Webb.
"Merlin" airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.
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