But oh, where to begin with such a thing?
I suppose I shall have to start right at the end, at the very last episode, at the magic reveal – because it is here their whole relationship, like Merlin himself, finally shows itself in its true colours. It is much less a magic reveal than a revelation of love.
This meta is an analysis of Arthur and Merlin’s relationship in the light of the reveal, and what happens between them after death.
First thing first – who wrote this episode and where have they been the last 5 seasons?! Every dialogue, every look in this episode was pure gold. Every little moment between Arthur and Merlin was like the pull of a string; with each string holding the capacity to unravel their relationship to what really lies below and what they truly see when they look at each other.
It is only fair to start right at the beginning of the episode, which shows Arthur in some of his most glorious moments.
I’d like to begin with Arthur’s reaction to Merlin (or Dragoon as he knows him) turning up at Camlann and giving assistance. Arthur has every right to be confused about why the sorcerer is there, as Arthur’s history with him is rocky (and we can recall a couple of frankly hilarious piggy back rides aka that time Merlin got to ride Arthur).
In fact, Arthur has the right to be confused that any sorcerer would help him, because after all, isn’t Arthur fighting against magic?
No. Arthur bares exactly why he is fighting in his next words, his battle cry: For the love of Camelot!
He just wants to save Camelot from Morgana, and is simply grateful for any help. That is the beautiful thing about Arthur, that is what sets him apart from others, from bitter people, even from his own father: most wars are fought for the hate of things, Arthur fights for the love of them.
It may seem like a simple motto, but in those five words, Arthur entirely defines himself. Everything he does, he does for the love of Camelot, for the love of his people. Isn’t that powerful? Isn’t that why Arthur goes down as one of the most prolific kings in history?
I’d like to just take a slight diversion here and say (because it needs to be said): throughout the many centuries of seemingly endless texts and adaptations, legends and disputes of his existence, Arthur’s legacy of love and chivalry is constant and ever relevant; this core of Arthur, this spell that he has held for many hundreds of years, is portrayed beautifully within this series and his timeless message has captured many more hearts for years to come. Bravo!
One of my favourite moments where this is shown is when we see Arthur’s goodness shining even in the darkest of moments – the fatal and prophetic injury he gains by Mordred’s hands. Arthur gets stabbed because he hesitates in his surprise to see his old friend. He hesitates because he always sees the goodness in others; and he has seen so much goodness in Mordred that half of him can’t believe his former knight is actually there to fight against him. And this is where Mordred takes advantage of Arthur to deliver his blow – it is both sad and entirely fitting that Arthur dies because of his ability to always see the light in others.
Even more incredibly is the way he reveals the other side of his personality seconds later – strength; a fair judge, Arthur sees that Mordred made his decision and so must pay the price. Arthur kills Mordred before Mordred kills any more of Arthur’s men, any more of his people. He does not enjoy it, but some things are necessary and Arthur knows that. There were always going to be difficult decisions to make in his position.
And so there Arthur falls into unconsciousness until he wakes up to the most familiar face he knows. Merlin. Now let’s just take a moment to assess the situation. Arthur has just been in the battle of his life, a near hopeless situation where many of his men were lost, helped unexpectedly by a sorcerer before he was stabbed by Mordred and blacked out. He wakes up in a forest, seemingly miles away from the battle field, unknowing of what happened after the lights went out, looking at Merlin.
Here is a list of logical things he could have asked:
Here is the list of things which Arthur actually asks:
This may seem almost strange and almost uncharacteristic of Arthur, usually so caring for everyone else. Almost by instinct, his first questions should be “did we win the battle?” and “where the hell am I?” However, Arthur probably knows that he won the battle thanks to the sorcerer; and even if they lost – he is clever enough to know there is nothing he can do about it now in his dying state. He also trusts Merlin with his life – so he trusts that wherever Merlin has taken him, there is a good reason for it.
And because of the searing pain in his side, we hear the next crucial words: “I thought I was dying.”
We are looking directly at an Arthur who thinks he is on his deathbed. It is an interesting thing, that on their deathbeds, the one thing people search for most of all is peace. Peace of mind.
So then – what is the one, first, most crucial thing that Arthur must sort out before he dies?
Where Merlin has been.
The question cries out for so much more. Arthur is asking: why did you leave me? What was more important than me? And even, did you succeed in your mystery quest?
Ever since Merlin told him he wouldn’t be coming with him this time, Arthur has been in a right foul mood trying to figure out why. It doesn’t make any logical sense – this is the deciding battle of the fate of Camelot, the single most important moment in all their time together – and now Merlin leaves? For vital supplies? It must have been driving Arthur half way crazy trying to work out what on earth was going on! (Of course, Merlin’s sudden abandonment of Arthur and the knights cuts even deeper than that – but that was the subject of my last meta and it would be unfair to everyone who has read it to repeat the reasoning again. However, if you haven’t read it, and you’d like to, it’s here: http://clotpoleandsorcerer.tumblr.com/post/38589841221/i-always-thought-you-were-the-bravest-man-i-ever-met)
Critically, both Arthur’s reaction to Merlin’s absence and his asking him where his ass has been all this time shows how deeply important Merlin is to Arthur.
We then come to that beautiful moment we have been waiting for since episode one – the magic reveal. Granted it is not under the best circumstances for Merlin. The poor dear has tried over and over to save his best friend, only to arrive on the battle field, defeat the Saxons and then have to carry Arthur away in his arms amongst a litter of dead bodies – Mordred’s included. Merlin failed. The sight which he saw, which he worked so hard to prevent, that fatal injury of Arthur, has come to pass. Arthur is dying. In the end, blind panic is why Merlin tells Arthur.
“I’m sorry. I thought I’d defied the prophesy. I thought I was in time.”
Arthur just rolls his eyes at him: “What are you talking about?” he asks.
“I defeated the Saxons, the Dragon… And yet I knew it was Mordred that I must stop.”
Arthur looks at him almost pitifully, he thinks his manservant has gone slightly mad. He probably thinks that this is all some elaborate excuse or joke or cover up, but he forgives him instantly, smiling fondly at Merlin and patting his shoulder.
“The person who defeated them,” he says, “was the sorcerer.”
This is where it starts growing confusing for Arthur: Merlin not only insists on his story (it was me) but also starts to cry – it is obvious he is in a deep agony, and Merlin would not be in such pain if he was simply lying.
“Don’t be ridiculous Merlin! This is stupid… why would you say that?”
“I’m a…. I’m a sorcerer. I have magic. And I use it for you, Arthur. Only for you.”
The saddest thing of all is that Merlin has wanted him to know this for so long – wanted Arthur to know not only that he has magic, but that it is his. Merlin is his. Only his. In truth, it is not Merlin’s magic. It is Arthur’s. It is Arthur’s magic because everything that Merlin is, he gives unto his king.
Arthur’s eyes widen in realisation that Merlin is being serious, but still can’t bring himself to believe Merlin’s words, growing almost angry in his denial.
“Merlin you are not a sorcerer, I would know.”
Merlin realises he’s not going to convince Arthur just with words, and turns his hand and glowing eyes to the fire. I’m going to be immature for a moment and say: the first magic Merlin does for Arthur, he chooses to make a fire figure of the slash dragon. True sentimentalism. It is Kilgharrah that brought them together, who told Merlin of their destiny, who told him that they are two halves. And now, when Merlin and Arthur need each other most of all and yet are at their greatest divide, Kilgharrah’s image reminds us that Merlin and Arthur are destined for one another. That you cannot truly hate that which makes you whole.
After the magic is done, Merlin watches desperately for Arthur’s reaction, which is almost pointless because Arthur literally has no idea what to do. He has just received the biggest shock of his life. He is in pure disorientation. He looks anywhere but at Merlin, leans away; his whole body language saying he just wants to run, run away from all these things that don’t make sense. These strange revelations that are suddenly undeniable when moments ago they were laughable. It’s not even that Merlin has turned out to be the very thing he has sworn to kill all his life, but rather that it’s the person he thought he knew best. Good old simple useless Merlin. Defeating the Saxons. Lightening. Talk about [internal screaming]!
So he sends him away. But he’s not cruel – not angry. Arthur is never angry about Merlin’s magic. He just has no idea what else to do - it’s the only thing he can think of to say. Merlin is obviously disappointed and hurt, but even so he continues to want to take care of Arthur.
The next few hours must have been excruciating for both of them. They must have been filled primarily with pain – and yet also shame.
The reasons for Merlin are obvious – pain because Arthur did not take it well, and shame because in Arthur’s eyes, magic is a sin; and furthermore, Merlin spent all these years hiding it from him. The next morning when Gaius turns up, Merlin is still in a state of panic – just like Arthur, he has no idea what to do with himself, what to say, and even snaps at Gaius in his agitation.
However, Arthur’s feelings must have been far more conflicting.
It is interesting to see that no matter what thoughts went through Arthur’s mind that night, he ever wholly lost faith in Merlin. In who he is. Even so, his first instinct when Gaius shows up the next morning is to tell him.
“He’s a sorcerer!”
Gaius just gives him a look of ‘yup, kindofmaybetotally and did you really think I wouldn’t notice?’
At this point, Arthur tries to send Merlin away. I am convinced that this is an act of nobility – now that the secret is out, Merlin should be free to walk away and not have to act like a low down servant any more. But he still trusts him enough to ask him to go to Camelot and send word to Gwen and the knights. But of course, as Gaius says, Arthur needs Merlin.
“He’s not just a sorcerer…. There are those who say he is the greatest sorcerer to walk the earth.”
[Pause to process that]
Arthur still sees Merlin as Merlin. That bumbling idiot who is always at the tavern when you need him. (And who you go to the tavern with, and gamble with, and spend all your free time with on top of him being there when you carry out all your noble duties and…. you get the idea.)
And that’s where the shame comes in.
“I would know!” Arthur had been so quick to say to Merlin.
“I have many talents which you have failed to notice.” Merlin had said to Arthur before.
All these years, all the time they spent beside each other, and Arthur wasn’t looking close enough to notice that Merlin had magic. Imagine how incredibly shit Arthur must feel.
It was heartening to see that despite everything, he still trusted Merlin with his life. Merlin’s face when Gaius told him that Arthur had agreed for Merlin to take him to Avalon… The hope…
Unsurprisingly, Arthur was initially cold towards Merlin.
“Arthur, we need to leave at first light.”
“I can’t let you die.”
Merlin is pouring his heart out to Arthur, trying to show him how much he cares, but it still… “Doesn’t change anything.”
The situation is exacerbated even further when they start travelling, and Merlin is forced to use his magic on a couple of Saxons. It must actually be pretty scary for Arthur to see Merlin wield such power.
“You’ve lied to me all this time.” He says, because suddenly his is seeing this darker side to Merlin. Merlin does a ‘now is not the time to deal with your shit’ bitch face and they move on.
Luckily, there is a real turning point that night. Merlin can’t seem to light the fire but is still going at it despite his frustration.
“Why don’t you just use magic?” Arthur asks. The penny drops. Arthur has directly asked to see some of Merlin’s magic. There can, of course, be some dispute as to what Arthur is thinking when he asks this. The tone of his voice is tentative, questioning, yet sort of resigned; it could be interpreted as ‘the secret’s out now so why doesn’t he just use it?’, however, there is no confusion or frustration in Arthur’s voice so it seems he only asks out of…. curiosity.
Interestingly, it is not Merlin’s response, “I have it, I suppose….” but his facial expression that gives away the fact that Merlin has picked up on this. He understands what Arthur is saying, and the way he looks at Arthur is not nervous or shy, but a glance for confirmation that it’s okay to go ahead. Arthur gives him a small ‘go on then’ nod, eyebrow raised in expectance. After all, Gaius did tell him there were some that think Merlin is the most powerful sorcerer who has ever lived. Arthur has only really seen magic used for abuse, and what with his manservant prancing around with it readily at his disposal, Arthur’s curiosity wins out over whatever else he may be feeling.
Merlin lights the fire, but doesn’t dare look at Arthur again, probably too afraid of his reaction after the both the revelation and the run in with the Saxons didn’t end too well for him in terms of Arthur’s approval.
This is the moment when they start to be Arthur and Merlin again. It’s probably half desperate need of each other, and half realisation that they might only have a limited time to sort their issues out, that they start just being honest and speaking their mind to one another out loud.
Arthur only replies “yeah,” but the response is half-hearted and almost automatic, as he’s probably milling the fact that that was pretty cool over in his mind.
“Thought I knew you.”
The tone of Arthur’s voice at this point is wonderful, it is almost teasing; it’s not ‘YOU LIED TO ME’, it is ‘well you have a few tricks up your sleeve, don’t you?’
“I’m still the same person.”
“I trusted you.”
“I’m sorry too.”
And in that brief exchange, they forgive each other. Arthur forgives Merlin for hiding his magic, and Merlin Arthur for not seeing it. Merlin realises it’s safe to get close to Arthur again, to get back to the norm, and goes to take his boots off for drying. This leaves Arthur in deep confusion. Men of great power – they work for themselves. They aren’t servants. They don’t do mediocre tasks for others. Now that he knows about his magic, why would Merlin bother acting like he still owes his services to Arthur?
He manages to hold the question in until the next morning, right up to when Merlin is trying to feed him breakfast.
“Why are you doing this? Why are you… still behaving like a servant?”
Merlin puts down the plate with steady determination, looks Arthur straight in the eyes and says:
“It’s my destiny. As it has been since the day we met.”
When I wrote this, I literally had to stop for a moment and pull myself together because I teared up. Merlin says it with such conviction, such pride – his lips can’t help but quirk up a bit because he’s just so happy about it.
Here is the greatest sorcerer of all time – happy to be a servant at the feet of an arrogant clotpole.
Because he adores Arthur.
He adores Arthur, and everything he stands for, and all he is. And such is his pride to be at the side of a man he loves so much that he’s practically teeming overboard as he tells him.
They have an adorable exchange about the first time they met, Merlin owning up to the fact that he used magic to defeat Arthur (let’s be honest, we all cheered when Arthur’s brain clicked and he suddenly said: you cheated!), but Arthur, the prat, ruins the moment by essentially saying he should have killed Merlin that day.
Despite being put out by this, Merlin, ever-loyal Merlin, goes ahead and tells Arthur that he looks after him because Arthur is the king, and because Camelot needs him (at which point Arthur reveals that he thinks he is replaceable), but also because he cares about Arthur, because Arthur is his friend. (And between you and me, so much more than a friend… but more on that later.)
Arthur subsides to accepting breakfast, and it is the next time they have to stop, when, having gotten over the initial shock, having forgiven each other, decided to trust each other, and speak their hearts and minds, we eventually come to the inevitable question.
“Why did you never tell me?”
“I wanted to but…”
“You’dve chopped my head off!”
“Not sure what I’d have done.”
Quite quickly, we’ve gone from ‘should have killed you’ to ‘don’t think I ever could have’. Arthur is accepting that Merlin is exactly who he was all this time; but the only difference is that he now knows his manservant was gleefully skipping around the castle casting spells left right and centre. It is interesting to see that if we look back on previous episodes, we get glimpses of ideas of what Arthur would have done – there are times when Arthur has gone to extremes to keep Merlin safe.
Merlin’s next line hits home to Arthur just how much he cares about him:
“And I didn’t want to put you in that position.”
It was not being sent out of Camelot, not losing all his friends and his home, not even the possibility of imminent death that scared Merlin out of telling the truth, but not wanting to put Arthur in a difficult situation.
It takes Arthur a moment to actually work through that, and when he speaks again his voice totally changes. He speaks extraordinarily softly in his gratitude, voice edging on disbelief.
“That’s what worried you?”
It is also worth noting the intense lip-staring that we get from both participants at this moment. I have no idea what. on. earth. Colin and Bradley are thinking when they have these instants, but they are doing a terrible job of keeping their characters straight. Queue deep speech from Merlin that shows he has entirely accepted his destiny.
“Some men are born to plough fields…. Some live 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 here comes the uncontainable pride and adoration again with a side of my equally uncontainable tears.
And Arthur just sits there, like well fuck, he really loves me.
They move on, and in between the scenes of Gwaine and Percival and Morgana hacking away at each other, we have the rather interesting glimpses of Arthur and Merlin travelling, with Merlin using his magical skills to help things run more smoothly; but for the first time Arthur gets to see it, too. When Merlin sees the smoke from a fire and uses his magic to look ahead and see that the Saxons are long gone, Arthur questions how he knows.
“I can…. see the path ahead.”
He says it with a hopeful tone of ‘that’s pretty cool, right?’
Rather than appreciate Merlin’s funky seeing-ahead-skills, Arthur just rolls his eyes in a way that says ‘bloody hell, Merlin, you’re unbelievable’.
“So you’re not an idiot, that was another lie.” Is what actually comes out of his mouth.
And in that moment, Arthur pretty much says ‘okay, I’m over it now.’ He’s back to his usual bullying/teasing/being Merlin’s best friend, and despite the fact that he’s just given Merlin praise, he uses the resigned voice that he always uses to tell Merlin he’s useless. It’s the signal of ‘screw the magic, you’re mine and I love you anyway.’
And Merlin, always so tuned into Arthur, responds with: “No, it’s just another part of my charm,” and then gives Arthur THAT cheeky smile, which forces Arthur’s lips to curl in the subtlest of ways – because they both feel like they’re getting back what they both want most of all. Merlin is so overjoyed that they’re finally moving forward that he’s having trouble containing his grin as they ride off.
The next time they run into Saxons, Merlin uses magic to cover their tracks and create a distraction.
“You’ve done this before.” Says Arthur, coming to realise that all those lucky escapes and happy coincidences and good fortunes were probably mostly Merlin.
“All these years Merlin, you never once sought any credit.”
WE FINALLY SNOWBALL INTO MERLIN APPRECIATION TIME. Arthur is seeing that Merlin is even more honest and good than he ever knew, and all this time, all this power, and Merlin is still so modest –
“That’s not why I do it. C’mon.”
Obviously things are going a bit too well at this point, what with Arthur and Merlin about 2 inches from staring each other into twue wuv’s kiss, and so Morgana ramps up the death toll, and with his face in Percival’s hands, Gwaine dies thinking he has failed Arthur and Camelot. Apparently, this isn’t bad enough, and Arthur begins giving up on life.
“I can’t go on.” he says, in too much pain.
But it’s not I can’t go on its I won’t go on.
Arthur begins clearing up loose ends.
“Merlin, whatever happens –”
“Shhhh. Don’t talk.” Merlin isn’t taking any goodbyes.
“I’m the king Merlin, you can’t tell me what to do.”
“I always have. I’m not going to change now.”
Arthur is the king, and Merlin can’t tell him what to do. Merlin tells him anyway. In those two sentences, Merlin and Arthur’s relationship is summed up beautifully. Despite their difference in status and roles, they are just Arthur and Merlin together. They have always been equals, they have always needed each other in a way that is far more than fate.
And then comes Arthur’s coup de grace :
“I don’t want you to change. I want you to always…. be you.” Because I love you just the way you are, went left unspoken. Arthur has seen what power does to men, how it changes them, and he doesn’t want Merlin to become like those men, like his own father – Merlin is perfect and pure. Merlin is Arthur’s Camelot: Merlin is loyalty and honour and honesty and courage, and Arthur could not bear for that to be corrupted.
“I’m sorry about how I treated you,” was possibly the saddest line of them all. This is Arthur’s regret, and he can’t even look Merlin in the eyes as he says it. This is Arthur’s wow, I really was shit to you, wasn’t I? Arthur’s I wish I had shown you…. how much you mean to me. How amazing a person you are.
Arthur has spent years telling Merlin he was useless, spent years bullying him and pushing him around, but he wouldn’t change a thing. Never.
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that “Arthur is strangely fond of the boy” was the biggest understatement in all of history.
Merlin, who, of course, knows Arthur better than he knows himself, and takes everything in good humour in a show of no harm done, or maybe even I couldn’t care less that you were a twat to me.
“Hey, does that mean you’re going to give me a day off?”
“Two.” But what he’s really saying is: I’ll do anything to let you know how much you mean. How much I appreciate you.
“That’s generous!” Says Merlin, grinning and playing along. Arthur gives him an expression of ‘well, you deserve it’ before basically passing out, and we have some tentative face touching and a whispered pointless-but-telling comment (get some sleep) that’s full of concern and caring, so that if you weren’t dead from Merthur feels before, you damn well are now.
They get back on the road and finally make it to Avalon, much to Merlin’s unbounded relief.
However, his joy is short lived as killjoy-gana shows up, does some highly creative throwing-Merlin-backwards moves and then proceeds to gloat to Arthur about his death as he lays dying: the usual evil-yet-dim-witted-and-horribly-planned yibber-yabber, and consequently gets killed by Merlin. Only took 4 seasons.
Arthur watches his sister die, not being able to take his eyes off her, like he can’t believe that just happened, that Merlin just did that. It is only when Merlin puts his arms around him again that Arthur finally looks at him.
“You brought peace at last.”
And Arthur smiles at him fondly. Pride. It is almost a sort of realisation that I guess I always knew you were capable of great things.
Merlin picks his baby up again and continues hauling him to the lake of Avalon, but half way there Arthur has decided that it is time to give up.
From this point forth we go from slap in the face to slap in the face as we’re tortured with Arthur giving Merlin all his love and affection as Merlin desperately tries to get him to stop saying goodbye because DAMMIT he just wants to save him. It is agonising. Every word from Arthur shows what we’ve always known, reminds us why we love them together so much, but to hear it, to see it pass between Merlin and Arthur – it is so intimate, so sacred; every word is Arthur trying to say I love you. He’s saying I love you because there are some things you don’t go away without saying. They lie there in the grass, arms around each other, Arthur putting his hand on Merlin’s and soothing him, telling him it’s too late…
Arthur has decided to die. He knows it is time, and he is content with it.
He’s such a young soul, he’s suffered so much. He’s so tired. He’s done his job – he’s done it, he’s fulfilled his destiny, he knows it – Merlin’s slip about the prophesy told him all he needs to know. He just wants to lie at peace now.
Destiny, duty, has dictated every moment in his life, but now Arthur wants to make one choice for himself. He doesn’t want to die in the waters of some lake.
This is where Arthur wants to die. In Merlin’s arms.
Just hold me. Please.
And then it’s time for all those things you don’t go away without saying.
With your magic, Merlin…. you saved my life…
Not only has he got over it, not only has he accepted it, but he now appreciates it.
There’s something I want to say. Everything you’ve done, I know now, for me, for Camelot, the kingdom you helped me build….
“The kingdom you helped me build.”
Maybe, just maybe, those words were not for the great sorcerer that Arthur now knows Merlin is, but for the boy, the friend, the loyal servant, that has been beside Arthur all these years. It was not magic but Merlin who helped Arthur built his kingdom. Now I understand you, all your goodness, now I really understand who you are. You are mine. The gap is closed and their relationship is complete; now Arthur fully understands Merlin – he can go on to next world having finally put his finger on what it is about Merlin that he’s been missing all these years.
I want to say something I’ve never said to you before….
Here Arthur turns to look straight into Merlin’s eyes, the last time he’ll see them, one last soulful look to remember Merlin’s face;
Arthur spends his dying moments, every last breath, telling Merlin how special he is. He puts his hand into Merlin’s hair, Merlin bowing into his touch, one last gesture of love, one final fond smile. In these irretrievable moments, there has been no time for indiscretion: Merlin and Arthur will hold each other till the last.
I want to go back to the moment when they set off for Avalon – Arthur giving the royal seal to Gaius for Guinevere. I find it interesting that despite thinking he was going to die, Arthur only gives Gwen the crown, and although this is a pretty big bestowment, he gives it for she would be a good leader – only fools give such a thing out of heart not strength of kingdom. He does not send his love, no final messages, nothing. As far as we saw, the last time Gwen saw Arthur he jumped out of bed with Merlin’s name on his lips and ran out into the night. Even so, in his dying words, Arthur spoke nothing of her, only giving himself to Merlin. Although this is tragic for Gwen/Arthur fans, I can’t help but feel that in this episode Merthur becomes canon.
Even if Arthur did love Gwen, this is the point where Arthur realises that Merlin is not only his destiny, but his heart and his soul. So used to him he is, that Arthur doesn’t even realise everything that Merlin actually is to him, just like he doesn’t realise Merlin has magic. And just as he now sees that magic, he so realises that he loves him and that he belongs to him in the same way that Merlin is all Arthur’s. In that way, the two of them going on one last adventure of sorts was the most brilliant end, because it let them be Merlin and Arthur one last time.
Arthur’s last memories of the world will always be Merlin’s face, the whisper of Merlin’s words in his ear.
Arthur never actually says goodbye. You see, Uther coming back was one of the most subtly crucial moments in the whole series – it taught Arthur that the ones we love never really leave us; we get to see them again, even if we have to wait. He dies confident in the knowledge he’ll see Merlin again, that he can watch over him in the afterlife. Of course, he doesn’t know Merlin is immortal, but he equally doesn’t know he’s the once and future king and is destined to return.
Merlin is much less calm in this parting. Summoning Kilgharrah to fly them to Avalon and dragging Arthur to the edge of the lake, Merlin remains undeterred in his determination to save Arthur, even despite the Great Dragon’s words.
“Merlin, there is nothing you can do.”
“No, young warlock, for all that you have dreamt of building has come to pass.”
Merlin hauls Arthur up again and carries on with a HOW ABOUT NO.
“I can’t lose him! He’s my friend!”
This is the one time we see Merlin want something for himself – he wants Arthur. He can’t imagine living without him. And then the Great Dragon does both the most humane yet cruel thing he could of, and also the most necessary. He says:
“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 once and future king. Take heart, for when Albion’s need is greatest, Arthur will rise again. It has been a privilege to know you, young warlock. The story we have been a part of will live long in the minds of men.”
Finally, Merlin puts Arthur down in submission, throwing Excalibur back in the lake; only Arthur was worthy enough of it, and Arthur is gone now.
Merlin is beside himself in his grief as he faces a final farewell with his most beloved king. With a final whisper of Arthur’s name and a spell to send him on his way, Merlin parts with Arthur for a long, long while.
The boat carrying Arthur’s body never burns because that ship will never sink.
(Oh yes I just did!)
We see Gwen crowned queen of Camelot (an excellent ending of Camelot’s fate in my opinion), and then that final shot of modern day immortal Merlin still waiting for his once and future king.
At first I thought it was probably just because they wanted to end the series on the shot of the lake of Avalon that Merlin was there, but probably not. It makes you instantly think that Merlin never left, and maybe, he never did. But not because he couldn’t let go: but because of fear. Fear that if Arthur did rise again, Merlin wouldn’t be there. Wouldn’t be there just like when Mordred pierced Arthur with that fatal blow.
As relieving as it was for Merlin to find out that he will have a second chance with Arthur in this world, it was also horrific and really quite unfair to put him through that – never being able to move on.
Chances are that, if you’ve been around on this earth for long enough, you’ve heard Evanescence’s song My Immortal. I feel that this song puts into words why the Great Dragon telling Merlin that Arthur will rise again is this strange mix of kindness and destruction better than I ever could. The lyrics go:
I’m so tired of being here
Suppressed by all my childish fears
And if you have to leave
I wish that you would just leave
‘Cause your presence still lingers here
And it won’t leave me alone
These wounds won’t seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There’s just too much that time cannot erase
Arthur’s death was always going to scar Merlin in ways that most of us will be lucky enough not to understand. Merlin would carry around that weight for a thousand years – alone in this world, having lost his soul mate. Can you even recover from the loss of such a person? That is a question not up to me to answer. Perhaps one dayMerlin would have moved on – if the prophesy that Arthur will rise again hadn’t made that impossible. Knowing that one day he would return will both fill Merlin with hope and peace, and yet give him a maddening itch. Waiting and waiting – how many years? How many more years? When? When? Can you imagine sitting and waiting for years, then decades, then centuries – clinging onto the last word of an extinct creature, the body of your most loved at your feet, a memory constantly sharp in your mind?
Of course, it was necessary for Kilgharrah to warn Merlin. Arthur will need him by his side when he does rise again.
It is said that Arthur will rise again when Albion needs him most. But I don’t think that’s true. If Albion was in danger, Merlin, the greatest magician who ever lived, could probably save it. But he couldn’t save it alone. He couldn’t save it without Arthur – they sort of come as a non-optional two for one deal. Arthur will rise again at Albion’s darkest hour because Merlin will need him.
“You could have done it without me.”
Those were Merlin’s words to Arthur and Arthur’s reply. Merlin and Arthur are so powerful alone, that one is probably strong enough to defer an apocalypse or what have you on his own. But they don’t need each other’s powers, they need each other. So vital are they to the fate of great nations, so important a chess piece they have become, that it can often be forgotten that they are extraordinarily human.
The love that Merlin and Arthur feel for each other is far more than just destiny.
Men like that, men of great power, they stand alone – and they are often very lonely. How can a person live like that? With the weight of being so important, of not being able to make a wrong turn, and yet having nobody to lean on? That is why Merlin and Arthur are so important to one another. Not because of their greatness, but because of the way they hold each other up. They feel the weight of the same destiny. They carry it together, because one man cannot carry it alone.
Arthur dies knowing he does not carry this burden alone. Although he could not see, Merlin was always carrying it with him. Carrying it for him. We carry our burdens not for what they are, but for who we carry them for. We carry them for the love of things.
It is also worth mentioning the chorus of My Immortal:
When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears
When you’d scream I’d fight away all of your fears
And I held your hand through all of these years
But you still have
All of me
You still have all of me. You can practically hear the words escaping Merlin’s lips. It describes perfectly what Merlin was to Arthur.
And through Arthur never saw, he was always helping Merlin carry his burdens, too. At first Merlin’s destiny lay heavy on him, but because of Arthur, because of his love for him, Merlin came to love his destiny. He wanted his burden, he wanted their burden, he wanted to carry it.
When Merlin first came to Camelot (remember that day? When you first saw the very first episode?) he was a lost sheep, unknowing of what to do, unknowing of what to go, bumbling around, clueless as to his own power…. Arthur gave him purpose, conviction, drive.
Merlin only follows Arthur’s rule because everything Arthur does is for goodness, out of goodness; would Merlin follow him if he was a bad man? Or of questionable morals? No. Merlin follows Arthur because at the very core, Arthur is the best man who walks this earth, a legendary figure of incredible morals and unmovable conviction. This is why he has captured the hearts of so many over the centuries. This is why he captured Merlin’s heart.
You will always follow the one who was made for you.
And so where ever Arthur is, he’s still waiting for Merlin. A side of each coin on each side of death: one amongst the living and one amongst the dead; the veil between life cannot close because Arthur is so tightly bound to Merlin. Arthur is immortal too, not in body but in soul.
As strange as it is, I think Arthur will miss Merlin even more than Merlin will miss Arthur. Everything that Arthur is, everything he was, everything he will be, Merlin knows. But Merlin has just been unveiled to Arthur. Like a spectacular end to an unexpected magic trick, where ever Arthur on the other side of that veil, he will replay Merlin in his mind over and again, just wishing to see that magic trick once more.
Merlin has long accepted his destiny, has accepted that he belongs to Arthur with all his soul, and wishes nothing more than to spend every moment with him, protecting him. That is all he needs. And Arthur, in his dying moments, has seen Merlin in his true form, has seen his destiny – and when he comes to accept it, he will wish nothing more than to be by Merlin’s side again. With that yearning he will wait. One day, he will be whole again.
You may have noticed I used the word soul mate to describe what Arthur was to Merlin. Though you may disagree, through writing this I have found that in my eyes, that king and his warlock are the very definition of soul mates.
It is an extraordinarily rare relationship that they harbour. Arthur and Merlin are more than brothers in arms, more than friends, more than soldiers on the same side.
It was Kilgharrah that told us that they are soul mates. He told us they were two halves of a whole.
The term soul mate originates from Plato, whose character Aristophanes tells of how humans used to be in double – one head with two faces looking in the opposite direction (two sides of the same coin), four arms, four legs, fast and powerful. After a run in with the Gods, Zeus split them all, dooming them to spend their lives looking for one another so that they could be complete. When they found their other half they became extremely powerful again, being able to achieve great things by the power of love. Furthermore, these pairs, these soul mates, were in three categories depending on their parents: the sun produced a double man, the earth a double woman, and the moon the androgyne (both man and woman). It is incredible that with all the homophobia we have today, there was Plato, thousands of years ago, explaining how people could be both heterosexual and homosexual.
Soul mates by the original definition – pairs, two halves of a whole, capable of the most incredible things when they find each other once more. Now who does that sound like?
Even if you don’t think that they are soul mates, I hope you’ll agree that they reflect each other in the most beautiful of ways.
“Merlin is not just a sorcerer…” He is the most powerful one to walk this earth.
“Arthur is not just a king…” He is the once and future king.
With the same heart of goodness, their destiny is a figure eight – one always leads to the other and they will always find one another; and that ending of Arthur’s death is not an ending at all, because the story is not yet complete.
BBC Merlin have given us far more than just a TV show. They have given us a legacy. They have given us something to relate to, to learn from. They have given us a love story.
But most of all, they have given us an old legend, and made us fall in love with it.
And so just like Arthur, perhaps our last words to Merlin should be: thank you.