This is the pivot point for the season. Who has been right about Mordred? Arthur, who believes that he is an exemplary member of the Knights of the Round Table? Or Merlin, who has been told by so many people not to trust him – and who has had the vision of Mordred killing Arthur?
What makes this episode so gripping is that Mordred himself doesn’t necessarily know. He is clearly in love with Kara – a good performance by guest star Alexandra Dowling – and he genuinely does not know how to square the circle. She is implacable in her hatred of all that Uther and Arthur Pendragon stand for; he respects and trusts Arthur, and believes that a better time is coming. Alexander Vlahos excels and makes Mordred’s actions totally believable.
Although he’s necessarily reactive rather than proactive for much of the episode, Merlin is key, working behind the scenes trying to create a situation where Mordred doesn’t storm off, angry at Arthur. There’s an increasing rift between him and Gaius – at one point, his mentor points out that Merlin is being rather hypocritical, which doesn’t sit well. Colin Morgan matches Vlahos’ impassioned performance – as does Bradley James, showing Arthur’s desire to be more humane than his father, yet aware his kingdom is at war.
This isn’t an episode for very young viewers – Merlin began with an execution off-screen, but there’s far more attention given to the mechanics of the death in this episode than we’ve had previously. It’s appropriate, given what rests on it, but make no mistake, this is not a children’s show.
As to what’s coming up? There have been a lot of comments from fans – not least here on this site – complaining that the show hasn’t been true to Arthurian roots, and that we should see the golden age and/or Merlin acting as Arthur’s adviser. That perhaps isn’t what this show has been about: it’s a time of myth, remember. And this is a new telling of the myth – it may not be to everyone’s taste but there are many who’ve enjoyed it.
Verdict: The darkness is falling. 8/10