TV REVIEW: Merlin Series 5, Episode 3 – The Death Song of Uther Pendragon

When I heard that Anthony Head would be returning to Merlin, I guessed it would be in spirit form and I was right! Penned by Misfits‘ Howard Overman who wrote the fantastic series 2 father/son-centric episode “The Sins of the Father”, he tells the tale of a dying woman giving Arthur an item with the power to summon the dead.

The young king finds himself missing his father on the eve of his coronation — and Uther’s death. With that in mind, he uses the magical item to speak with the former king but doesn’t necessarily like what he has to say. As he says goodbye, a small mistake comes at a terrible price and Merlin must put right Arthur’s mistake before Camelot and everyone Arthur cares about, is destroyed. With fantastic performances by Colin Morgan and Bradley James, you’re in for a treat.

The classic banter between Merlin and Arthur opens this episode and you can already tell that many of the shows other characters will not be heavily featured. It’s this banter and moments of humor that help keep the overall tone balanced — not too heavy, not too funny. When a screech of some kind is heard, Arthur goes into hero-mode with Merlin following; he pays the latter a compliment for taking initiative.

The scene they happen upon is pretty grim – a woman deemed a sorceress is about to be burned at the stake. Arthur demands that the village leader free her and the man looks at him incredulously, stating that his father wouldn’t have hesitated in killing this woman and goes to light the pyre. A bit of foreshadowing going on there for what will happen later on. I was surprised that Arthur continued to push for the sorceress to be released after magic causing both his parents death. The show seems to go back and forth on his stance – Arthur states he’s not his father but also hasn’t repealed the anti-magic laws. Eventually, the duo free the woman and try to make her as comfortable as possible as she won’t make it through the night. Though before dying, she gives him a gift that has the power to summon the spirits of the dead.

Gaius identifies the item as the Horn of Kathbad and confirms its use. He also reveals a bit about his magical past – that he took part in ceremonies to summon spirits before the Purge. We see a lot of this introspective, regardful Arthur throughout the story.

The little we see of the knights begins with Mordred staring at the King. Elyan notices and informs him that Arthur is always melancholy on the eve of his coronation because it’s also the anniversary of Uther’s death. We get our first glimpse of Gwen who watches Arthur leave the feast, as does Merlin. Arthur visits Uther’s tomb, contemplating his passing and the look in his eyes is heartbreaking. You can tell he misses his father dearly.

Eventually, we get moments of humor between Arthur and Merlin as he ponders using the horn. Threatened with a spoon (and off-screen yowling), Merlin accompanies his friend to the stone circle, even though he can feel danger surrounding them. There’s a bonding moment between the two about the price they would pay to reunite with their lost fathers. Stepping into the light, he walks towards a figure that turns out to be Uther, who then immediately berates Arthur for his choices as King in a low, monotone voice. This is Uther from the first series of Merlin.

While he cruelly states that fear is the only way to gain respect and some things are more important than love, you can see the confusion and seeds of doubt being planted in Arthur’s mind. At the end of his tirade, a deflated Arthur turns back for a second as Uther says he loves him (after all that rubbish talk?) and walks away.  Merlin sees Arthur return with no expression on his face and asks his friend if he wants to share he thoughts. Contemplating his father’s words by the fire, Arthur voices his doubts – that Uther doesn’t approve of Arthur’s methods and Merlin rises to the occasion to defend Arthur to himself. I’d say that this is some of Bradley James’ and Colin Morgan’s best work on the show to date.

Returning to Camelot, things start to go a bit funny: during a session of the Round Table, the chamber doors swing open and the chandelier drops on the table. Merlin feels a breeze run through the corridor and later, a falling axe stabs Percy in the arm. Gwen feels a presence following her and trying to scare her. Knocked down and dragged through the corridor screaming, a shield is thrown at her, a candelabra knocks her in the head and a sword comes at her before she is knocked out, a fire starting in the room she’s in. Gaius soon states that if someone looks back at the spirit while the veil is closing, the spirit gets released. Uh oh. Didn’t I say that a small mistake would come at a terrible price?

When confronted by Merlin, Arthur bashfully admits that he may have peaked around very quickly and Merlin tells him that Uther’s spirit has returned and causing trouble of the fatal variety. (I kind of feel like singing the opening lyrics to “Without Me” by Eminem but I digress.) The incidents are about everything that Uther hates about the way Arthur is ruling. When Merlin persists in saying Uther is dangerous, Arthur refuses to believe his father could be this cruel but slowly begins realizing that there is nothing Uther wouldn’t do to protect his legacy – including killing his son.

The main action takes place at the end of the episode with news that the horn can reopen the veil and it must be Arthur who has to force Uther back to the spirit world. Given a potion to see the dead, the begin searching for Uther and happen upon Leon – Merlin’s excuse of why they’re sneaking around together late at night? Poetry. Ha! It’s a nice comedic moment before things go a bit crazy. Merlin gives Arthur his usual pep talk and they split up – Merlin to the storeroom, Arthur to investigate glass breaking down the hall.

Barrels start rattling, boards creak and items on shelves start falling over on Merlin, who calls for Arthur. He can’t hear him though – he’s too far away. Arthur hears footsteps as his torch goes out. He whispers for Merlin and knows it’s not him. Uther sneaks behind Arthur’s back, just out of the corner of his eye. One of the many creepy moments that made me jump out of my seat! Arthur takes the horn out and a door creaks open for him to walk through.

It leads to the throne room and the door is barred by Uther who is sitting on the throne. He defends his actions and tells Uther he’ll have to kill him before anything will change. With that, Uther knocks Arthur out and goes to destroy him and the horn. However, Merlin escapes his temporary prison and something I’ve wanted to see for ages finally happens: he reveals his magic to Uther. The late king’s reaction is one of the best moments of the episode and I loved Merlin’s proud stance in facing the man who’s made him hide who he really is for so long.

Uther is horrified and Merlin uses his magic to protect Arthur. As the dead king is about to kill Merlin, Arthur holds up the horn and blows it before Merlin’s secret can be revealed. So it’s not exactly the Pendragon I would’ve wanted to find out but it was a reveal nevertheless. Overall, I really enjoyed this; I think the show’s strength lies in only focusing on a few characters at a time. What did you think of the episode?

Check out next week’s episode trailer:

Rating: 4/5
Reporter: Sharlene

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6 comments

  1. Mai /

    Loved Merlin during the whole episode he was always there to give the better advises. He is a wonderful concelor. Colin Morgan was really wonderful especially while confronting Uther. Fantastic scene!

  2. well, I am shocked about the relationship between Arthur and Gwen in this episode… they don’t eat together, he doesn’t confide in her, she doesn’t go to her own room when she is injured… why didn’t they just leave them loving each other in the background??? at least we would have maybe accepted that they couldn’t really be seen in public etc… but this one… totally disastrous episode…

  3. I loved the subject and the acting was superb but Overman’s script wasn’t nearly as tight as his “Sins of the Father” (which I still regard as one of the show’s highlight episodes). Too much time spent on banging doors and spooky sounds. But the Arthur/Uther, Uther/Merlin and Merlin/Arthur serious scenes all crackled with intensity. I wish they had put a three-way scene (Merlin/Arthur/Uther) in there and I would have paid a week’s pay to see sopping wet Igraine show up and directly remind Uther of the price he paid. After all, Gaius DID say “ancestors” plural.

    So, excellent scenes but overall I wanted more out of Overman.

  4. adrienne5413 /

    Excellent episode! Bradley,Colin, and Anthony were stellar. The three of them play off each other so well. I do miss Uther simply because Anthony brings so much to everything he does. I was really looking forward to this episode as I was none too pleased with ep2. This ep did not disappointed. As usual, Colin and Bradley have a way together. Bradley was able to show off his immense talent, which is somewhat stifled in his role as Arthur. Colin, of course, brilliant as always. Great review.

  5. Austell Nnanyere Ihedioha /

    I have not really seen Merlin Season 5 but from what I have heard so far, I believe it is awesome. More power to the elbows of the producer and director.

  6. godannotook /

    I was very impressed with this episode, they had the chance to bring Uther back for one more story and wisely centred on the intense, complex and contradictory emotions between him and his son – I’ve noted before that “Merlin” has an underlying theme of father and child relationships. Antony Head was compelling and genuinely scary, especially good as the audience had not seen this Uther for some time, the last we saw of him was as an invalid broken by his daughter’s hatred, who rallied for one last brave act in saving his son from an assassin, but now all of Uther’s ruthless cruelty in maintaining his view of power was back

    In this intense emotional story both Bradley James and Colin Morgan excelled themselves, they were always talented, but now they bring such nuance and maturity to their roles. Especially in Bradley James’ vigil a his father’s tomb – silent acting, far more compelling than all the possible dialogue that the script could have used, and Colin Morgan showing Merlin’s layers of emotion in the confrontation with Uther, a hint of residual fear and dread of reveal then the wonderful release in his defiant show of power, telling the late king that his own act had brought Magic to the Heart of Camelot. And of course the interplay between Merlin and Arthur was peerless – wonderful I am now going to allow myself a smidgen of HOPE that we will see a magic reveal to Arthur, and that the series will continue to grow from that “great leap” for Merlin

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