Arthur's Ascension – Bradley James did an excellent job of showing the impact on Arthur of taking charge. More comfortable with battle than politics, his loyalty to his father and innate understanding of the responsibilities he assumed was evident. We could see him weighing the lives lost versus long term impact on the kingdom. Little moments like steeling himself before putting on his "game face" as he encouraged the knights sold the pressure he was under. Although he made a brave face of it, his appreciation of the support offered by both Gwen and Merlin also showed he needed reassurance. As Merlin said, he made a tough call but it was impressive how he rose to the occasion. His handling of Uther when he was a distraction showed he was back into a comfort zone. Conversely, letting Leon have the battle cry charge and all the credit going to Morgana took away something from this arc. Still, this episode did a good job of showing the difference between warrior and king and that Arthur is preparing but still in development. Merlin/Morgana – Excellent final scenes between these two. Although Morgana often came across as whiny with Morgause and the smirk was overdone, her scenes with Merlin were compelling. Katie McGrath showed just a hint of doubt when Merlin appealed to her to use her magic for good. It was a shame that her rationale for rejecting this was not better explored. The final staredown between the two in the throne room was electric.
The Battle – Nicely played with multiple angles. First the defense of the lower town was given appropriate time to develop. The battle for the Citadel showed Camelot's natural defenses to best advantage. Cendred could not take the Citadel unaided. The choke points and high castle walls were too well defended. Typical battle strategy for an entrenched defense would require five to one odds. Cendred had two to one. The army of the dead was a blatant Pirates of the Caribbean ripoff but made sense – what other inside army would be available to undermine the castle? Overall, good sword fighting, special effects, and a nice diversity of locations.
Merlin/Kilgarrah – A good reunion with a nice setup of how the Dragon will continue to be involved (he will come when called). Nice sly smile on Colin Morgan's face when he explained he woudn't be walking.
Arthur/Merlin – The food gag was much better than the bucket and water for the requisite "insert light-hearted scene" but it was the serious moments that remind us why we love this bromance. For the first time, Merlin showed actual admiration for Arthur's leadership when he made the choice for a siege. He's always acknowledged Arthur's warrior prowess but this was something different. And of course Arthur was uncomfortable receiving actual praise from Merlin. The "wisdom" moment was an episode highlight.
The Old Lion – Uther dragging himself out of bed to run to the front. It's nice that the nobility of Camelot are on the front lines versus watching from a hillside like the villains. Potentially stupid, mind you, as killing the King or the Prince is a major victory for the enemy but it shows a classic leadership style which gives both men referent authority with the knights. It also shows that Uther is not willing to give Arthur the Kingdom just yet as he yells it is still his. The Uther/Arthur dynamic remains one of the best played in the series and it's a little sad that Uther shows potentially some paranoia about Arthur besting him. Anthony Head's ability to show Uther's feet of clay while acting like an old-school king is superb.
Stalemate – The idea that Merlin has to keep quiet about Morgana is obviously required to keep the plot going but the contrivance was a little obvious. Gaius is generally excellent as Merlin's sounding board but he gives a lot of bad advice. It really makes no sense for Merlin to let the castle be in danger. Isn't Merlin clever enough to make Arthur suspicious (if not Uther) about Morgana? Arthur is devoted to Morgana after failing to protect her as he promised last year, but even Arthur has to know that there is a well-place traitor in their midst. Uther's Torture – What is lurking in the dark recesses of Uther's mind is not a pretty site. His guilt and horror at the truly frightening images was palpable. On the other hand, Morgana taking pleasure in torturing Uther was a step too far. What Didn't Work:
Temporal Anomalies – Merlin is gone for two days and Arthur lets it go at "I don't have time for this?" There really was no reason to make his absence for two days either. There was a day wasted in Part 1 with the serkets approaching Merlin but not stinging him until the end of the day. The Dragon rescued him at night. Arthur apparently didn't miss Merlin for the first day but only the second. They should have had the serkets and Dragon rescue take place on the same night he was captured. They also have Merlin running around the castle and Arthur noting that again he is missing. It is a little too much like Clark and Lex in Smallville where Lex starts to notice anomalies about Clark. Stretching that out for 7 years on Smallville was terrible storytelling. If Arthur is going to start to piece thing together then he needs to move along at a faster pace. If the "Merlin goes missing" is not intended to raise Arthur's suspicions then it just makes Arthur look dumb. Another temporal nit: Merlin runs up to Arthur in the throne room like he's going to tell on Morgana. Where was he for the previous several hours while Morgana was recovering and putting on a nice frock? It seemed like too obvious of a "near miss that wasn't really near at all".
Overall grade 9. This was superior TV even with the plotholes, temporal anomalies and the Smirk of Doom. The action sequences, the pressure on Arthur, the tension between Merlin/Morgana were all compelling storytelling.
Spoiler Warning -----
Total Season Context Below -----
Upon Second Review:
Having seen the entire season, this episode stands out as one of the best. It looks like they blew the special effects budget on this episode but it was truly outstanding as a major action piece backed up by compelling drama. One thing to note is this theme of Uther's mental instability. Anthony Head played it so very well in this two-parter and it had a nice bookend with the finale. Reflecting on the news that Morgana is Uther's daughter also allows one to see that she is a borderline mental case. Between torturing Uther in this episode and screaming like a banshee in the finale, it seems like Morgana is a couple slices short of a full loaf. It will be nice if the producers play that angle in Series 4.
"The Tears of Uther Pendragon, Part II", is an excellent conclusion to Season 3's two-parter / opener.
Acting is on a very high level, especially from Uther, whose desperation and fear are more striking than ever; and so is his latter courage and determination to save his kingdom from a disaster. One may hate Uther for persecuting countless of guiltless people, but one also has to admire him on the basis of his dedication to his kingdom. He is so convinced that he is the saviour of Camelot that he would even charge in the mid of battle and risk his life (and indeed take an arrow to his leg without expressing particular pain) for this cause.
Morgana's evil smirk is back. Some fans have noticed that she has become two-dimensional. Still, there is some reluctance in the scene with Morgause, and a glimpse of an internal suffering that she had to grow up as a stranger in her own home just because she had magic. No wonder Merlin pities her. I hope there is some chance of (even failed) repentance left for her.
We also got to see Arthur as a king, even if for a short period. His performance in the throne room shows his authority and makes him look like a capable king who has courage to make hard decisions.
And Merlin? Merlin has, paradoxically, resorted to telling the truth instead of making up lies to cover for himself. 'I was dying'. 'We've [Camelot] got you... and me.' He is more honest with Arthur, and with proper development, I wouldn't be surprised if he plainly told him about magic.
This opener promises much, even more than S2 opener which was also a brilliant episode.
This was an amazing continuation of the first part. It was full of wonderful one on one character moments, amazing CGI effects, and awesome fighting scenes. There was lots of drama with snippets of humor to lighten a few moments here and there.
I absolutely loved the dragon during the first part of the episode, and his interaction with Merlin.
This will definitely be a fan favorite I bet.
My whole family enjoyed it and we can tell that the cast and crew have really stepped up this new season. What a great beginning, and I can't wait for what else they have in store.
I have a hard time reconciling the Morgana we see now with the character she was before. She's gone from a complex and generally good-hearted person to a one dimensional villain who is little more than her sister's puppet.
I thought I saw a little remorse on her face in the last episode after Uther's toast to her and perhaps once here too, but this is far outweighed by her evil smirks. These are her friends and family. It's hard to believe that Morgana doesn't care about the pain her actions will bring them.
Her relationship with Uther has always been complicated. They've butted heads often, but he does love her and has raised her for several years. You'd think she would feel something more than hatred towards him. Even when her anger over Gwen's father drove her to plot his death, she ultimately couldn't go through with it. Their relationship eventually got worse again in season two, and although I always felt the show did not spend enough time or effort developing how her feelings changed so drastically towards him again, she could never bring herself to directly attack him. Maybe Morgause told her how Uther separated them years earlier. But if that's the case, wouldn't Morgana's anger over this come out in either her scenes alone with the comatose king, Morgause, or later with Merlin?
And even if her feelings towards Uther are now so simple, what about everyone else? This is a woman who once helped defend Ealdor from raiders. She gave up her own food and distributed all she could when the people of Camelot were starving. She's shown concern for even the servants when she encouraged Arthur to find the cure for Merlin after he was poisoned and later to save Gwen.
Now when Merlin tells her that women and children are dying, her only response is "Good."? She kills a guard without remorse and appears to care little for even Gwen, Arthur, or Gaius. She no longer seems to think for herself or acknowledge that there is good and evil among both people with magic and without. She has become worse than Uther. He is also blinded by his beliefs about magic, but at least he doesn't seem to take such pleasure in the suffering he can inflict. I hope we'll get more insight into Mogana's thought process as the season continues. Perhaps learning what happened to her over the year long absence will make her radical change in personality more understandable. But I'd also like to see her questioning Morgause once in a while rather than following her blindly and remembering that she once cared for the people of Camelot.
Merlin is a show with multiple facets, each of which appeal to a different demographic; it is this, among other things, which has made it such a success. In general, Merlin fans can count on excellent action for the thrill seeking crowd, interspersed with both clever and slapstick humour for the more mature and the younger viewers respectively - as well as some touching moments and thought provoking concepts. That's on top of a truly excellent cast; British TV greats Richard Wilson and Anthony Head, plus newcomers Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath. It is the cast dynamic that truly makes this show so enjoyable.
In this episode of Merlin, we see Arthur rising to the challenge of protecting the kingdom and confronting his future as king in the most real and large-scale manner yet, making the difficult decision to open the city to siege in response to Cedred's oncoming assault. Bradley James pulls off the conflict and nobility of this new, mature Arthur brilliantly, and it is because of this that we see some more mature interactions between him and other characters. Arthur has matured insurmountably since the beginning of season one, but his default manner is still a (more endearing than offensive) prat, which shapes the way he speaks with people - okay, Merlin. Here we see him truly vulnerable and afraid for his people, yet still willing to shoulder the burden of their survival with grace; and Merlin sees this, openly stating that he 'has faith' in him. Merlin's honesty and Arthur's considerate outlook create an opportunity for them to mutually appreciate what one another contributes to their little duo; we see the first overt display of the kind of advisor/king relationship we know they will eventually have.
Merlin is as usual a very strong character; Colin Morgan plays him with subtlety and emotion, but is never hammy. His sadness about the changes in Morgana remind us about the old, good Morgana we all loved; this new one, while interesting, has so far been relatively two dimensional (my God, the SMIRKS...). I understand why the writers had the show skip forward a year, but that leaves out a very large space of time where Morgana changed and grew into what is basically Merlin's nemesis, and going straight from the conflicted but still predominantly good heroine we last saw in 'The Last Dragonlord' to this evil sorceress is a little disconcerting. I wish we'd been able to see more of her development; as she is now, it's easy to see the anger, the hatred and the nasty pleasure she takes in manipulating Uther, but we don't see much of her human side, and the transition would be easy to accept if we did. Old Morgana was all humanity - this one is completely devoid of it. Gwen wasn't really used to her full potential in this episode, only acting as a kind of behind-the-scenes support for Arthur, which is okay but not really enough to do her character justice in her own right. Gwen only ever seems to get noticed in Gwen centric episodes, which kind of isolates her. I think we need a return of the Gwen-Merlin friendship in full force.
Other characters worth mentioning are Uther and Sir Leon (Gaius bored me in this episode). Anthony Head did a great job playing Uther at the end of his rope, and Sir Leon's bravery and steadfast love of Camelot continue to make the struggle for its protection a tangible adventure, rather than just a struggle of Arthur and Merlin versus the world. It's Arthur, Merlin and a kingdom of people like Sir Leon that fight off threats from the outside.
The fight scenes were intense and exhilerating; there was some funny dialogue between Merlin and Arthur ('pickled eggs'... LOL), and as usual the characters banded together in the face of adversity, which is truly a pleasure to watch. My main criticism of this episode would be the slightly convoluted plotline... and I really dislike Morgause, not just as a villain but as a character. She really annoys me.
Overall, a great episode that sets up for some interesting season 3 developments - can't wait for the next one!