Season 1 Episode 4

The Poisoned Chalice

Aired Unknown Oct 11, 2008 on BBC
out of 10
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229 votes

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Episode Summary

As Bayard and the Knights of the Western Isles are welcomed to Camelot for a feast, Nimueh infiltrates Bayard's entourage and begins a plot to get revenge on Merlin. Posing as a servant girl, she tricks Merlin into drinking from a poisoned chalice. Falling gravely ill, the only chance Merlin has is for an antidote to be prepared. Arthur takes it upon himself to retrieve the needed ingredients but, with Nimueh doing everything she can to thwart Arthur's quest, will they be able to save Merlin in time?moreless

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  • Nimueh poisons Arthur's goblet during a peace treaty, but Merlin drinks from it to save the Prince. This leaves Arthur battling against time, in a race to find the cure before its to late and Merlin dies.moreless

    Love, love, love this episode. Lots of drama and suspense, and i also gives us a good look at how the relationship between Merlin and Arthur is growing. It showsur is now willing to defy his fathers orders to save a man who is considered beneath him.

    I have watched this episode several times because it has become a favorite of mine. I enjoy the portrayals of all the characters, and the unfolding of their blossoming friendships. Uther shows off his willingness to let a commoner die just to prove his point, where as his son shows the strengths that will one day make him the legend he is to become. We also discover that Nimueh was targeting Merlin this time, which means even she sees how powerful Merlin is to become. Altogether, it was a great episode, I give it two thumbs up :)moreless
  • not a bad episode...not as good as last week's...

    so it didn't have a whole lot of Merlin in it at all. Except at the beginning when he wears a stupid hat. Then he gets tricked by Nimueh in disguise (also wearing a stupid hat) into thinking that Arthur's chalice has been poisoned. He makes the mistake of telling Uther this, who makes what must be around his fifth completely illogical descision this series and forces Merlin to drink it. So if he's wrong...we kill him. And if he's right...then he dies anyway. woot. Rather predictably Merlin falls over, some special flower must be gotten to cure him yadda yadda...Arthur goes out to get the cure and proves that this episode isn't good for arachniphobes (or wyvernphobes, but I'm not sure that's even a word). Merlin dreams about Arthur in his fever, which I'm sure is doing nothing to ally my friend's suspisions that this show has homo-erotic undertones, but does some funky long distance magic to help him anyway. Arthur gets back, Merlin is saved, yadda yadda. Uther makes a cuple more pointless and illogical decisions, just for the look of the thing, and everyone alludes mysteriously to Nimueh being someone's log lost relation of some sort, I have no doubt. Oh, and Merlin makes a hilarious attempt at hetrosexuality when Gwen kisses him. Bless. All in all, not a bad episode, but not brilliant. Oh and I forgot to mention, apparently Gaius can do magic? not as shocked as I should be I have to admit. But since I doubt anyone will read this anyway, it's all a moot point anyway :Dmoreless
  • Three down and we have our first first episode...

    Three down and we have our first first episode, what is going on? I am not sure if I understood this episode at all, but there were large chunks missing in my opinion - like a good beginning were it is explained that the kingdom is at war. The middle could do with some re-writing as well, giving it some story line and maybe a little bit of an edge and help the viewer understand the motivations of the various characters and their actions. The ending was just pitiful, almost as if the writers knew that they couldn't save anything in this episode anymore so they didn't even bother.

    To think that I missed out on other, better things because of watching this drivel for 43 minutes still gives me a bitter taste...moreless
  • Nimeuh uses a poison chalice to invoke a war between Camelot and the Knights of the Western Isles.

    One thing I like about this show is that you never what you will see next. The stories are interesting.

    Here another interesting story. Nimueh is very cunning and sly when it comes to spreading her evil.

    Here she uses a poison chalice to try and invoke a war in Camelot. She poses as a servant so she can gain Merlin's trust and tell her that Lord Bayard is using poison to kill the King.

    Merlin intervenes obviously he can't ignore a threat like this.

    Merlin is poisoned himself. Arthur must find the cure.

    This was a nice Merlin/Arthur episode. Arthur shows that he is brave. He even goes against his father who could care less about this servants.

    In the end, Merlin survives and Arthur is made aware of who Nimueh is.moreless
  • Not realizing that he is the target Merlin is forced to reveal that a chalice is poisoned at a feast celebrating the truce of Camelot and the Western Isles. He is forced to drink becoming very ill and only Arthur can quest for the remedy to save him.moreless

    Nimueh rears her ugly head with a plan to destroy Camelot by ridding herself of her biggest adversary. In one fell swoop she poisons Arthur and causes a new all out war with the Western Isles.

    We learn that Merlin has an ally not only in Gwen but also in Morgana. Morgana convinces Arthur through wit and guile to break his fathers orders to save Merlin. It is not difficult as Arthur wishes to go and save Merlin anyways. Merlin has saved Arthur at least three times so far and it is now Arthur's turn. He is turning into the man that the Dragon revealed to Arthur he would be. A leader of men who is willing to do the right thing even for a servant and even if it is against his fathers wishes. The kind of man others will follow as a leader and hero.

    His quest is blocked at every turn by the powerful sorceress Nimueh who in the end cannot actual give the death blow to him as it is not in his or her destiny for that to happen.

    Of course Merlin is saved but in being saved Merlin saves Arthur when he is trapped in the dark while on his quest. We begin to see the great power that even in a near death state Merlin can wield almost naturally. Gwen is so relieved that she kisses Arthur when he awakens from the deadly sleep he was in. Of course she puts it off to being relieved that he is alright. The war is stopped when it is revealed that Nimueh again was behind the treachery.

    Uther reveals to Arthur that he is familiar with Nimueh. The Arthur Legend says that Nimueh was responsible for Arthur's birth and Igraine's death. Nimueh has been called by many names and also referred to as the Lady of the Lake in different mythology.

    Another enjoyable episode I would recommend watching. I understand that these episodes are getting very little play on Sunday nights on NBC. This is quite a good series and people are really missing out on a thoughtful, well produced family show. Thanks for reading...moreless
Clive Russell

Clive Russell


Guest Star

Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan


Guest Star

Paul Kynman

Paul Kynman

Sir Cador

Guest Star

John Hurt

John Hurt

Voice of the Great Dragon

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (18)

    • The episode is called The Poisoned Chalice but the word 'Chalice' is never used. It's always called a 'goblet' rather than a 'chalice'.
      'The Posioned Chalice' may be an allusion to the old idea of pretend friendship to hide betrayal. 'Offering a poisoned chalice/gauntlet' was referenced in Medieval times (possibly before) where two leaders meet under terms of truce and/or peace but at least one of the leaders has no intention of making peace, and instead intends to kill his/her rival at the peace talks.

    • Goof: When Cara is talking to Arthur in the forest she tells him that the mark on her arm came from her master and that she escaped but got lost. However, later on she offers her help to find the morteaus flower because she knows the area.

    • King Bayard's device is: "Or, a pale azure with a tower." (On a gold background, a blue stripe with a tower).

    • Goof: A rudimentary type of mop can be seen in Gaius' chambers. However, the mop as such is a way later 19th century invention.

    • Goof: After Gaius says that Merlin's heart has stopped, the boy's pulse can be seen beating in his neck.

    • Gaius is first seen doing magic when he prepares the morteaus flower to save Merlin's life. Also, despite constantly warning Merlin to be careful about magic, he casts the spell with the door open.

    • Goof: The disposition of the food and the flower on the plate differs considerably from the moment Gwen leaves Arthur's cell to the moment she is stopped by the guard.

    • Goof: After being poisoned and carried to Gaius' bed unconscious, Merlin's right arm changes from being stretched to being folded over his hip once and again.

    • We are introduced to the official ceremonial robes of the servants of Camelot. However, only Merlin is wearing the cape and the hat. Some servants can be seen wearing the red tunic alone while others like Gwen are in their regular clothes.

    • Goof: Strawberries can be seen among other fruit pieces in a tray in Lord Bayard's room when Nimueh/Cara exchanges the goblets. However, strawberries were only first introduced in Europe in the 17th century. This same goof occurred in episode 1x01 The Dragon's Call and episode 1x03 The Mark of Nimueh.

    • Goof: Despite Arthur is firmly held to the rocks he is climbing not to fall, his right hand is loose when he removes the glove on his left one, just using his feet to climb.

    • Goof: Arthur climbs with hands and feet to pick up the morteaus flower with big effort; however and once he gets it, he just turns around and shoves it in his pocket without grabbing the rock with his hands, clearly setting his feet comfortably.

    • After thinking that he was dead, Gwen kisses Merlin in this episode.

    • Goof: The guards realize that Gwen has tricked them when another servant shows up with food for Arthur, however, they don't follow her when she runs away.

    • Goof: The wings of the cockatrice Arthur kills (rounded) look nothing like the ones of the beast in Gaius' book (pointy).

    • Mercia and Camelot have been at war for years. Lord Bayard of Mercia and King Uther of Camelot sign a treaty to put and end to it.

    • Goof: In the signing of the Treaty scene, Merlin's cape collar is up in the close up takes and down in the distance shots.

    • Goof: When Merlin first begins to feel the effects of the poison after drinking from the cup, he reaches up to his face and throat with his right hand. When he falls to the ground, the cup is first heard, then seen being dropped also from his right hand, which was empty the second before.

  • QUOTES (16)

    • Gaius: Arthur may give you a hard time, but at heart he's a man of honour. There aren't many who would risk what he did for a servant.
      Merlin: It would have all been for nothing if you didn't know how to make the antidote.
      Gaius: Eat your dinner.
      Merlin: I still don't understand why she went to all the trouble of framing Bayard. She could have just kept quiet and killed Arthur.
      Gaius: Destroying Arthur and Camelot wasn't all she was after. She knew you would be forced to drink that wine. It was you she wanted to kill. It seems someone else knows you're destined for great things, Merlin.

    • Arthur: Still alive then?
      Merlin: Yeah, just about. I understand I have you to thank for that.
      Arthur: Yeah, well, it was nothing. A half-decent servant is hard to come by. I was only dropping by to make sure you were alright. Check that you'll be back to work tomorrow.
      Merlin: Oh, yeah, yeah. Of course. Bright and early. Arthur... thank you.
      Arthur: You too. Get some rest.

    • Uther: Arthur. The woman you met in the forest. What did she tell you?
      Arthur: Not much. She was too busy trying to get me killed. It was strange, though.
      Uther: In what way?
      Arthur: I was at her mercy. She could have finished me off, but she chose not to. She said it wasn't my destiny to die at her hand.
      Uther: You must have been scared.
      Arthur: Had its moments.
      Uther: Those who practice magic know only evil. They despise and seek to destroy goodness wherever they find it, which is why she wanted you dead. She is evil.
      Arthur: It sounds as if you know her.
      Uther: I do. To know the heart of one sorcerer is to know them all. You did the right thing, even though you were disobeying me. I'm proud of you, Arthur. Never forget that.

    • Gaius: Sire, forgive the interruption, but may I speak with you?
      Uther: Not now.
      Gaius: Please, Your Highness, it is important.
      Uther: Word of Bayard's arrest has got back to Mercia. We're about to be attacked.
      Gaius: I fear that what I have to tell you may have some bearing on your plans. Please, it will only take a moment. (Uther takes Gaius to one side) I know who tried to poison Arthur.
      Uther: So do I. He's locked in my dungeons.
      Gaius: It wasn't Bayard. The poison was magical, and I'd recognise the hand that made it anywhere. Nimueh.
      Uther: You must be mistaken.
      Gaius: I wish I was.
      Uther: It can't have been. We'd know her. That witch's face is not easily forgotten.
      Gaius: She's a powerful sorceress, she can enchant the eye that beholds her. We never knew it was her.
      Uther: Have you any proof?
      Gaius: The poison used against Merlin was made more potent by the use of magic.
      Uther: Are you saying she conspired with Bayard to kill Arthur?
      Gaius: No. Bayard is innocent. Look at what's happening. This is what she's wanted all along. A war to bring strife and misery to Camelot.
      Uther: How long before Bayard's armies reach our walls?
      Sir Cador: A day. Maybe less. We should send our cavalry out to meet them.
      Uther: Instruct your men not to leave Camelot until I give the word.

    • (On Arthur's return, Uther has him locked in the dungeon)
      Uther: You disobeyed me!
      Arthur: Of course I did. A man's life was at stake. Do not let Merlin die because of something I did.
      Uther: Why do you care so much? The boy's just a servant.
      Arthur: He knew the danger he was putting himself in. He knew what would happen if he drank from that goblet, but he did it anyway. He saved my life. There's more. There was a woman at the mountain. She knew I was there for the flower. I don't think it was Bayard who tried to poison me.
      Uther: Of course it was.
      Arthur: (handing the Mortaeus to Uther) Gaius knows what to do with it. Put me in the stocks for a week, a month even. I don't care. Just make sure that it gets to him. I'm begging you. (Uther crushes the flower in his hand) No!
      Uther: You have to learn there's a right and a wrong way of doing things. I'll see you're let out in a week. Then you can find yourself another servant.

    • (Nimueh leads Arthur into the caves to find the Mortaeus flower. As he walks across the ledge, she casts a spell to make it crumble. Arthur jumps for the other side and hangs on by his fingertips)
      Nimueh: I expected so much more.
      Arthur: Who are you?
      Nimueh: The last face you'll ever see. It seems we have a visitor. (A large spider comes along the ledge; Arthur beats it with his sword) Very good. But he won't be the last. I'll let his friends finish you off, Arthur Pendragon. It's not your destiny to die at my hand.

    • Uther: I expressly ordered Arthur not to go!
      Morgana: It worked like a charm too.
      Uther: Not another word!
      Morgana: My lips are sealed.
      Uther: I should have put him under lock and key.
      Morgana: You can't chain him up every time he disagrees with you.
      Uther: Just you watch me! I will not be disobeyed. Especially by my own son.
      Morgana: No. Of course you won't.
      Uther: You knew about this, didn't you? Morgana... Don't lie to me.
      Morgana: Arthur's old enough to make decisions for himself.
      Uther: He's just a boy.
      Morgana: Have you seen your son recently? You have to let him make his own mind up.
      Uther: Even if it means letting him go to his death?

    • Gaius: It says here that once a rash appears, death will follow within two days.
      Gwen: You said he had four days.
      Gaius: Something's increased the flower's potency. It warns that the effects of the Mortaeus will be more rapid if an enchantment is used during the flower's preparation.
      Gwen: An enchantment? But Bayard's no sorcerer.
      Gaius: No, he isn't.
      Gwen: Then who did this?
      Gaius: It can't have been. She wouldn't dare come here.

    • Morgana: Say what you like about the food, but you can't beat our feasts for entertainment.
      Arthur: Morgana, I'm sorry. I should have made sure you were alright.
      Morgana: Disappointed, actually. Was looking forward to clumping a couple round the head with a ladle.
      Arthur: I'm sure the guards could have handled Bayard and his men.
      Morgana: Yeah, but why let the boys have all the fun?
      Arthur: Morgana, you shouldn't get involved. It's dangerous.
      Morgana: Spare me the lecture. I've already had it from Uther.
      Arthur: If it's any consolation, you weren't the only one.
      Morgana: Not that I listen to him. Sometimes you have to do what you think is right and damn the consequences.
      Arthur: You think I should go.
      Morgana: It doesn't matter what I think.
      Arthur: If I don't make it back, who will be the next king of Camelot? There's more than just my life at stake.
      Morgana: And what kind of king would Camelot want? One who would risk his life for that of a lowly servant, or one who does what his father tells him to?

    • Uther: What's the point in having people to taste for you if you're going to get yourself killed anyway?
      Arthur: I won't fail, no matter what you think.
      Uther: Arthur, you are my only son and heir. I can't risk losing you for the sake of some serving boy.
      Arthur: Because his life's worthless?
      Uther: No, because it's worth less than yours.
      Arthur: I can save him. Let me take some men...
      Uther: No.
      Arthur: We'll find the antidote and bring it back.
      Uther: No.
      Arthur: Why not?
      Uther: Because one day I will be dead and Camelot will need a king. I'm not going to let you jeopardise the future of this kingdom over some fool's errand.
      Arthur: It's not a fool's errand. Gaius says that if we can get...
      Uther: Gaius says? That's exactly what makes it so!
      Arthur: Please, father. He saved my life. I can't stand by and watch him die.
      Uther: Then don't look. This boy won't be the last to die on your behalf. You're going to be king. It's something you'll have to get used to.

    • Gaius: The petal comes from the Mortaeus flower. It says here that someone poisoned by the Mortaeus can only be saved by a potion made from the leaf of the very same flower. It can only be found in the caves deep beneath the Forest of Balor. The flower grows on the roots of the Mortaeus tree.
      Arthur: That doesn't look particularly friendly.
      Gaius: A cockatrice. It guards the forest. Its venom is potent. A single drop would mean certain death. Few who have crossed the mountains of Isgard in search of the Mortaeus flower have made it back alive.
      Arthur: Sounds like fun.
      Gaius: Arthur, it's too dangerous.
      Arthur: If I don't get the antidote, what happens to Merlin?
      Gaius: The Mortaeus induces a slow and painful death. He may hold out for four, maybe five days but not for much longer. Eventually, he will die.

    • Bayard: May the differences of our past remain there. To your health, Uther. Arthur. The Lady Morgana. The people of Camelot.
      Uther: And to fallen warriors on both sides.
      (Arthur begins to drink as Merlin bursts into the room)
      Merlin: Stop! It's poisoned! Don't drink it!
      (Merlin grabs the goblet from Arthur)
      Uther: What?
      Arthur: Merlin, what are you doing?
      Merlin: Bayard laced Arthur's goblet with poison.
      Bayard: This is an outrage!
      (Bayard and his men draw their swords; the knights of Camelot do also)
      Uther: Order your men to put down their swords. You're outnumbered.
      Bayard: I will not allow this insult to go unchallenged.
      Uther: On what grounds do you base this accusation?
      Arthur: I'll handle this. Merlin, you idiot. Have you been at the sloe gin again?
      Uther: Unless you want to be strung up, you will tell me why you think it's poisoned. Now.
      Merlin: He was seen lacing it.
      Uther: By whom?
      Merlin: I can't say.
      Bayard: I won't listen to this anymore.
      Uther: Pass me the goblet. (Arthur passes it to him) If you're telling the truth...
      Bayard: I am.
      Uther: Then you have nothing to fear, do you? (Bayard sheaths his sword and gestures for the goblet) No. If this does prove to be poisoned, I want the pleasure of killing you myself. (holds the goblet out to Merlin) He'll drink it.
      Arthur: But if it is poisoned, he'll die.
      Uther: Then we'll know he was telling the truth.
      (Merlin takes the goblet from Uther)
      Bayard: And what if he lives?
      Uther: Then you have my apologies and you can do with him as you will.
      Gaius: Uther, please. He's just a boy. He doesn't know what he's saying.
      Uther: Then you should have schooled him better.
      Merlin, apologise. This is a mistake. I'll drink it.
      Merlin: No, no, no. It's all right. (he drinks deeply from the goblet) It's fine.
      Uther: He's all yours.
      (Merlin begins to choke and then falls to the floor)

    • (Nimueh has disguised herself as a servingmaid, Cara, to infiltrate Camelot)
      Nimueh: It wasn't until I saw him give the goblet to Arthur that I realised.
      Merlin: Slow down, slow down. Start from the beginning.
      Nimueh: Two days ago, I was bringing Bayard his evening meal. We're supposed to knock. He didn't expect me to walk in...
      Merlin: So what are you trying to say?
      Nimueh: If he knows I said anything, he will kill me.
      Merlin: I won't let that happen to you. I promise. Please tell me what you saw.
      Nimueh: Bayard is no friend of Camelot. He craves the kingdom for himself.
      Merlin: Cara, tell me. What has Bayard done with the goblet?
      Nimueh: He believes that if he kills Arthur, Uther's spirit will be broken and Camelot will fall.
      Merlin: What has he done with the goblet?
      Nimueh: I saw him putting something in it.
      Merlin: What?
      Nimueh: I shouldn't... He'll kill me!
      Merlin: Please tell me. Was it poison?
      (She nods; Merlin runs off)

    • Bayard: People of Camelot, for a great many years, we have been mortal enemies. The blood of our men stains the ground from the walls of Camelot to the gates of Mercia. And though we remember those who have died, we must not allow any more to join them. As a symbol of our good will, and of our new-found friendship, I present these ceremonial goblets to you, Uther, and to your son, Arthur, in the hope that our friendship may last.

    • Merlin: (helping Arthur dress): When was the last time these were cleaned?
      Arthur: Last year, sometime. Before the feast of Beltane.
      Merlin: Did it end in a food fight?
      Arthur: Don't all feasts?

    • Merlin: Why do I always get landed with the donkey work?
      Gaius: You're a servant, Merlin. It's what you do.
      Merlin: My arms will be a foot longer by the time I get this lot inside.
      Gaius: It's character building. As the old proverb says, hard work breeds... a harder soul.
      Merlin: There's no way that's a proverb. You just made that up.
      Gaius: I didn't!

  • NOTES (8)

    • This episode makes #3 in the French DVD release.

    • One of Bradley James' favourite scenes in series 1 is the one in which he climbs the wall inside the cave while being chased by the giant spiders.

    • Broadcasts:
      11 Oct 2008 at 19:05–19:50 on BBC One.
      24 Aug 2009 at 19:00–19:45 on BBC Three.

    • The cockatrice's moves on the woods removing leaves with every step were created with a rake and a silver ball.

    • Also Known As:
      France: La Vengeance de Nimueh , meaning 'Nimueh's revenge'.
      Germany: Vergifteter Kelch.
      Italy: Il Calice Avvelenato.
      Poland: Zatruty Kielich.
      Portugal: O Calice Envenenado.
      Spain: El Cáliz Envenenado.
      Ukraine: Отруєний келих.

    • Filming locations:
      Château de Pierrefonds, Pierrefonds, Oise, France (Camelot).
      Surrey, UK (Studio sets).
      Ivinghoe Beacon, Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire, UK (Pathway Arthur follows in his way to the Forest of Balor).
      Burnham Beeches, Beeches Road, Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire, England, UK (Forest of Balor where Arthur finds where Arthur finds Nimueh and then fights the cockatrice).
      The Chislehurst Caves (Interior of the cave where the morteaus flower can be found).

    • International Airdates:
      Australia: May 24, 2009 (Channel 10).
      France: December 2, 2009 (V TV).
      Germany: October 24, 2009 (RTL).
      Italy: December 23, 2008 (Italia 1).
      Poland: March 28, 2009 (Polsat).
      Spain: June 12, 2009 (Neox).
      The Netherlands: April 18, 2009 (KRO).
      Turkey: September 27, 2009 (CNBC-e).
      Ukraine: June 13, 2009 (1+1).
      USA: June 28, 2009 (NBC).

    • The Great Dragon does not appear in this episode, but John Hurt is credited (for the voice-over which has begun each episode since 1x02 Valiant).


    • Arthur: Before the feast of Beltane.

      Beltane is one of the earth festivals within the year, celebrated on May 1. The Celts saw it as the beginning of summer. Wiccans and pagans see Beltane as one of the eight sabbats (the solar holidays which make up the wheel of the year).

    • Gaius: A cockatrice. It guards the forest. Its venom is potent. A single drop would mean certain death.

      A cockatrice is a creature from myth and legend, supposed to resemble a large rooster with the tail of a lizard. Similar to a basilisk, the difference between the two creatures is that the cockatrice has wings. According to a twelfth-century text, the cockatrice is born from a chicken egg that has been incubated by a toad or a snake. The cockatrice in this episode seems to resemble more closely a basilisk, which is described as 'a huge multi-limbed lizard'.

    • The Poisoned Chalice

      Not only does the title refer to the actual chalice used by Nimueh to poison Merlin, it also refers to a thing or situation which- upon first receiving it- appears good but is later revealed to be bad (Nimueh seems good when she is in the guise of the maid Cara but turns out to be evil).