TV REVIEW: Merlin Series 4, Episode 10 – A Herald of The New Age

Tonight’s episode is fairly slow and mostly a transitional story from the drama of the previous week, which makes sense as it leads into the last three shows of series four. The Knights of Camelot are randomly out in the forest when they come across a creepy shrine, its chilling atmosphere betraying a dark history best left undisturbed.

Everyone but Elyan heeds Merlin’s warning that they should leave the place undisturbed and his actions cause him to act in a way unbecoming of a knight…and a friend. As usual, it’s up to Merlin and Gaius to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

Howard Overman has written some of my favorite episodes: Series 1’s “Labyrinth of Gedref”, Series 2’s “The Sins of the Father” and Series 4’s “The Wicked Day”, but I have to say I’m a bit disappointed in this one as the dialogue seems a bit clunky and not quite there yet.

The episode opens with the setup for why Elyan is the one to cause this week’s drama – someone also known as Gwaine has drunk all his water so Elyan is left thirsty! When some rags of cloth catch Arthur’s attention, they go to investigate and realize that they’ve stumbled upon a creepy and unsettling scene. Merlin quickly explains that the place is a shrine for unsettled spirits and that they should leave immediately. For once, Arthur heeds Merlin’s warning without question (though he doesn’t outright acknowledge it) and orders everyone out.

And everyone listens — except for Elyan. Because he’s thirsty and sees a well, he wanders off alone. What’s a knight to do but ignore his instincts, disturb the site and drink? Well, he should have listened to his liege because now, he’s got a spirit boy for company.

The spirit slowly starts to drive Elyan mad and to get rid of it, creates a salt circle underneath his bed. It manages to keep the spirit away from his chambers but not from seeing him everywhere else. On the other hand, Arthur is unfocused and troubled due to Gwen’s banishment. Every time Merlin tries to empathize and comfort Arthur, he gets “punished” many ways like having to polish armor at midnight and be the practice dummy for training the knights. At one point during training, Elyan hits Merlin’s shield reluctantly and then descend into a blind rage where Arthur must stop him before he actually hurts the servant.

As Elyan comes undone, the spirit tells him that the only way he either of them will find peace is if he kills the king. Of course, we know where this is headed. Since Gaius nor anyone else has actually told Arthur of Elyan’s “ailment”, the only other reason for attacking Arthur would be revenge for his sister’s banishment. If someone would just tell Arthur things from the get go, we wouldn’t have this problem. But we wouldn’t have much of an episode either so there goes that!

Agravaine takes full advantage of this to sway Arthur in sentencing Elyan to death but the king is once again reluctant to do so. With Merlin there to counter Agravaine’s every argument, he’s put doubt in Arthur’s mind to not fully listen to his smarmy uncle. If they’re trying to show Merlin in more of an advisor role, they’re not really pulling it off quite yet until Arthur actually takes his advice without throwing an insult (playful or otherwise) at his friend.

Later on, Merlin follows a hooded Arthur out of the castle and a humorous exchange is had when he’s caught. Arthur is headed back to the decimated druid camp in a last ditch effort to save Elyan and expel the spirit that’s possessed him. When confronted with the spirit boy, we find out the crafty truth of the situation. When the boy was asking for revenge on the king for his death – we all thought it was Uther who was responsible. But in reality, Arthur reveals that it was he who massacred the village in his youth.

Inexperienced and not yet the leader he is today, he sobs out that he told the men not to harm the women and children but froze when they did not listen. It’s a very strong performance from Bradley James and in the end, Arthur promises that the druids will be given the respect they deserve from this day forth.

It’s a strong statement for magical freedom in Camelot; when the duo return to the castle, Merlin asks if he was telling the truth. To which Arthur replies that he did what had to be done. Does that mean that he lied to the spirit or that he’s considering a different stance on magic regardless of how Uther died? It’ll be interesting to see the repercussions of that in the next three episodes.

What did you think of the episode? Vote below:

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  1. godannotook /

    I felt the dialogue between Merlin & Arthur was off kilter – when Merlin finds Arthur asleep at the table he’s not exactly sympathetic – have you ever fallen asleep like that ? waking up is not particularly pleasent and Merlin seemed rather snide. And why did he let Arthur walk out with stew on his hair – a bit petty and spiteful wasn’t it ?

    The attack on the Druid camp was back in series 2 The Nightmare Begins – ordered by Uther as he thought Morgana had been kidnapped by the Druids and carried out (regretfully even then) by Arthur…….But Morgana was only there because Merlin had sent her to the Druids rather than risk sharing his magic …yet way back then she was not evil and the events at the camp help to turn her to The Dark Side so maybe Merlin shared just a tiny bit of responsibility for the circumstances that led to the massacre.

    • Sharlene Mousfar /

      You’ve got a better memory than me that’s for sure! I completely missed that it was the same druid village as in Series 2 – the continuity nods are getting better this series than in any other.

      I think the dialogue between Merlin & Arthur was meant to be off because of the events of last week – Arthur’s focused on the decision he made in banishing Gwen and all the repercussions that came with it meanwhile Merlin’s trying to empathize with someone who doesn’t want any comfort – so it’s a lose/lose sitch for both of them in my opinion.

      • archaeologistD /

        I don’t think it was the camp in series 2. The way Arthur was talking it sounded like it was before Merlin came on the scene and that Arthur was much younger. If it had been, Merlin would have certainly known about it since he was there. Also for continuity’s sake, it wasn’t in the same filming location (yes Puzzlewood but a different area).

        In this episode, he told the spirit that he ordered that the women and children be spared when the Druid camp was attacked – which he did not do in the series 2 episode mentioned above (he told his troops in that episode to take no prisoners). So I really don’t think it was the same camp.

        Okay, as for this episode, I really liked the twists and how everyone thought it was Gwen Arthur was brooding about when it was really about his guilt. Also loved that the knights are getting more lines and showing how they are a team! Plus Bradley has shown yet again just how good an actor he is. Finally getting some real meaty roles. He and Colin have been wonderful.

    • adam dens /

      This was not the same druïd camp as in series 2, I think. That camp was a couple of days away, while this one was in walkable distance. Also, Merlin would have remembered it, since he was there. He would have known Arthur was responsible, yet he claims throughout the episode it was Uther. I believe it was before the first season, when arthur was indeed very young, and on one of his first missions.

      • Sharlene Mousfar /

        Now that I think further on it, you & ArchD are right. I re-watched that scene and it does sound as though this all occurred before Arthur knew Merlin. And I do agree that at first, his brooding was about Gwen, but afterwards, it was about what he’d done so long ago. Bradley really did a fantastic job; am glad they’re giving him more emotional scenes to play out.

    • godannotook /

      Good Points Archaeologist and AdamDens – I can see what you both mean about the dialogue and the distance to the druid camp, and true enough it’s even more powerful placing the massacre longer ago when Arthur was much younger – he’d have been a boy, and that kind of gives weight and sadness to his line from the pilot

      ……..”I’ve been trained to kill since birth “…..

  2. Jess /

    I agree that the dialogue was off kilter. In this episode Merlin knows what Arthur has just been through with losing Gwen and his approach to the sleeping Arthur was unusually harsh and a bit out of character. Also, in series 4 and after all they have been through together, all the ‘shut ups’ and ‘get outs’ from Arthur to Merlin are wearing a little thin and not done with the same light touch as in previous series, or am I being over sensitive to it?! . I guess they are saving the change in the balance of the Arthur/Merlin relationship for series 5, but it’s not ringing true and they are getting it slightly wrong in my humble opinion.

    The episode’s heart was the atonement by Arthur at the shrine at the end – stonkingly well done by Bradley James I thought who showed what a good actor he is.

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