Hi! It’s Annie!
I have no idea why I haven’t talked about this show on the blog yet. BBC’s ‘Merlin’ is one of my favorite shows of all time if not my favorite. This show has so much heart and completely feeds all of my medieval fantasy dreams while keeping a certain wholesomeness to it. Well, up until the last couple seasons. But the first three (and some of four) seasons of this show are without a doubt some of the best television you will ever see. And if you’re scared, for obvious reasons, that the show might be too inappropriate for younger viewers, don’t be. Though some of the episodes might be scary for younger viewers, largely this show is pretty family friendly. And I guarantee you the show will draw you in from the opening music. But my absolute favorite part of this show are the characters. So, I’m going to go over some of my favorite characters and the very different way they are portrayed in this show in comparison to the original legends of King Arthur. There are SPOILERS for the show below, but only for if you are not familiar with the original tales of King Arthur. If you are, you were probably expecting these spoilers to be in the show in the first place.
Merlin in most adaptations of the legends of King Arthur is portrayed as a wizened old man with a beard miles long and years of experience already under his belt. Merlin, who is the main character of this portrayal, begins the series as nothing but a young man who doesn’t know how to control his powers. Everyone around him knows that he has the potential to be something great, but you know as an audience member that he still has so much to learn. Merlin is quite possibly the most sassy and sarcastic character on the show despite his adorable appearance and attitude. It’s his smart mouth and bravery to stand up to Arthur that gains (the equally as young) Arthur’s respect. In the end, this is a show not only about Merlin learning to master his powers. This show is fundamentally about the relationship between Merlin and Arthur. A relationship that begins as hatred peppered with respect, to a start of a friendship, to a bond stronger than anything else in the show. And to top off all of this, Camelot in this version has outlawed magic. So Merlin has to hide his magic from everyone, including Arthur. Despite the fact that he often has to use magic to help Arthur. This complicated mess makes for an amazing show, and a twist on the legends that is different enough that you can be sure you’ve never seen anything like it. No matter how many adaptations of Arthurian legend you’ve watched before this.
Arthur is just as young as Merlin starting out, but his journey is rather different. While Merlin learns to become wiser in knowledge and in his powers, Arthur must become wise in a different way. Arthur starts the show as a bully who delights in picking on servants and whose ego is unmatched. Though through this you can see the glimmer of respect he has for the people around him. Throughout the series his capacity for respect and kindness grows until he becomes the kind and noble leader Arthur is well acclaimed to be. Much of his journey to learning to respect anyone despite their position comes from his relationship with Merlin. Merlin is the manservant to Arthur and over time Arthur sees Merlin as less of a manservant and more like an advisor, confidante, friend, and his closest companion. Arthur is discovered, as the series goes on, to be one of the kindest presences in the show. Just like Merlin, Arthur differs from the legend by starting out much younger and less experienced.
Another one of the most changed from the original legends. Gwen is actually Guinevere, the famous Queen of Camelot. But in this she, like Merlin, starts out as a servant. Gwen’s innocence, kindness, and bravery makes her stand out from the rest. She’s often one of the only ones, along with Merlin, who will stand up to Arthur’s ego. This is also one of the only portrayals you’ll see of this character played by a Black woman. Which we need to see so much more of. Though many would argue that her connection with Arthur is not as strong as Merlin’s (which they’re right), that doesn’t make Gwen unlikeable or a useless character. She’s often the heart of the show and one of the warmest and smartest presences in it. Gwen is integral and a lovely character I fall in love with more every time I rewatch the show.
Morgana, if you know anything about the legends of King Arthur, is one of the two major villains. And while this show does eventually get to her villainy, Morgana definitely doesn’t start out that way. Just like everyone else, she too starts out much younger than she is depicted in the legends. Not only that, she is the ward of King Uther and often treated as a kind of princess with that. But her compassion at the beginning causes her to constantly clash with the evil Uther and it is this that eventually blinds her to everything else. Seeing her compassion fall into a blind hatred is a dramatic plot change. And maybe this show doesn’t handle this particular story arc the best; but you’ll go from loving Morgana to absolutely hating her. Which is a feat in itself.
There are many knights depicted in this show. And many would automatically assume that Lancelot is probably the best. But even growing up, for me my favorite knight was always Gwaine. Gawaine and the Green Knight is a popular story from legend, and one that recently has gotten even more popular. But Gwaine in this show is my favorite I’ve ever seen him portrayed. Have you ever wanted to see a rogue commoner become a knight after being one of the smoothest and funniest characters in the show? Then here’s Gwaine! Who is also very attractive because he’s played by the amazing Eoin Macken. If there’s any character that’s bound to make you laugh in this show, it’s Gwaine. I had a real problem the first time I watched ‘Merlin’, because he almost became my favorite character after his very first episode. Which is in season three.
It is difficult to talk about this character without discussing spoilers, but he’s very kind. I only wish his kindness was better utilized. Another commoner turned knight.
Another commoner turned knight. He doesn’t speak much, but he’s got a soft spot for kids and Gwaine.
Gwen’s brother and another commoner. Unfortunately, he’s given just as much time in this series as he is in the legends. Which is not much.
The only one of Arthur’s knights to have started out as a nobleman. He is also close with Gwen, as her family used to serve his. Leon is frequently treated as the leader of the knights and is possibly the smartest member. Leon is not the name of a knight in most legends.
This is a character I had to mention, even though he also is not in the original legends. He’s the kindhearted healer of Camelot, often the only one to know Merlin’s secret, and Merlin’s father figure. He’s probably what you expect when you think of Merlin as a character in the legends. He is kind and wise and makes Merlin sandwiches. What more is there to love?
Sword fighting, amazing characters, and filming on location all at a real castle are all pieces of this show that are sure to wrap you in this world immediately. That and the music. If you haven’t watched this show, you are seriously missing out. And you should also watch the behind the scenes if you get the chance. Part of what also makes this show so great is the chemistry between all of the actors. And only then will you fully appreciate the song ‘The Voice’ by John Farnham. And trust me, that bit is also important. This is definitely one of my comfort shows and by introducing it to someone who hasn’t seen it, I hope that this might become a comfort for you too. And if you’re looking for where to watch this, thankfully it’s all on Netflix!
See you across the pond!