Merlin is a British fantasy-adventure television programme by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps. It began broadcasting on BBC One on 20 September 2008. The show is based on the Arthurian legends of the wizard Merlin and his relationship with Prince Arthur but differs from traditional versions of the legend in many ways. It is produced by independent production company Shine Limited. After a successful first series, U.S. broadcaster NBC began airing the programme on 21 June 2009, but after a decline in viewers, it was moved to the cable network Syfy, where it began broadcasting the second series on 2 April 2010. The second series began airing on 19 September 2009 on BBC One. On 5 September 2010, BFI Southbank in London previewed the first two episodes of the third series for its September Film Funday programme.
Merlin is a young wizard who arrives in the kingdom of Camelot after his mother arranges for him to stay with the court physician, Gaius. He discovers that the king, Uther Pendragon, has outlawed magic and imprisoned the last great dragon deep under the kingdom. The dragon tells Merlin that he plays an important role: to protect Uther's son, Arthur, who will bring forth a great kingdom. When Merlin meets Arthur, he believes that he is an arrogant bully and Arthur, likewise, has a less than stellar opinion of Merlin. Merlin must keep his magic secret or face being executed by Uther.
Morgana is Uther's ward with the power of prophetic foresight, which frightens her and which she keeps secret. Guinevere, whom she calls "Gwen", is her maid and close friend. The first series focused on the development of Merlin and his friendship with Arthur, while the second series focused more on the development of the other cast members. Some of the later series' central themes are Morgana's struggle to control her powers and her eventual corruption to evil because of Uther's actions, as well as the maturation of Arthur to become the great king of legend and his blossoming romance with Gwen. A year later, Morgana returns darker and more powerful than ever before. At the start of the fourth season, she learns about Merlin's identity as Emrys (though she doesn't know that Merlin and Emrys are one and the same) and Merlin finds himself powerless against the spirits of the dead that Morgana summons. Arthur eventually becomes king of Camelot after Uther is killed when protecting him from an assassin.
Other characters from Arthurian legend have also appeared. Lancelot longed to become a knight but was unable to do so because of his birth as a commoner. Mordred has appeared as a Druid boy who formed a bond with Morgana (in the legend he is her son and, according to the legend, either Arthur's illegitimate son or nephew), and it has been predicted by the Great Dragon that Mordred will cause Arthur's death (in the legend this occurred at the Battle of Camlann). Mordred and occasionally the Great Dragon refers to Merlin by his Druidic name, Emrys (the Welsh form of Ambrosius); Ambrosius Aurelianus was a historical figure that Geoffrey of Monmouth partially merged with Merlin. Excalibur is an ordinary sword that becomes enchanted by the Great Dragon and is later thrown into a lake (in the legends, this was the sword Nimueh gave to Arthur).
Cast and characters
Colin Morgan portrays Merlin: The series' protagonist is a young and talented magician who attempts to keep his powers secret and will one day become the world's greatest wizard. He is also Arthur's servant, protector, and friend, despite the initial animosity between the two and his annoyance at Arthur's rudeness. He is compassionate and tries to see the good in all people, doing what he feels is just.
Bradley James portrays King Arthur Pendragon, previously Prince: The extremely headstrong yet brave and good-hearted son of King Uther, and current King of Camelot. He deeply cares about the people of Camelot even more than he does about himself. Though Arthur has been "trained to fight since birth" and is excellent in combat, he is often vulnerable, and Merlin must protect him to fulfil this legend. Arthur befriends Merlin, despite being his master, and feels protective of him, unaware of his power. The pair often save one another's lives. Although Arthur shares his father's prejudice against magic, he is more tolerant and fair-minded than Uther, often advocating second chances and banishment over execution. At the end of series one he develops respect for Guinevere; later, in series 2 and 3, he develops romantic feelings for her. In season 4 he is shown to have been ruling Camelot in his father's stead. After Uther's death in the third episode of the fourth series, Arthur is crowned King of Camelot.
Angel Coulby portrays Guinevere (Gwen): Morgana's humble maid and former best friend. She has an open, friendly, and forgiving personality. In the beginning it was insinuated that she had a crush on Merlin; later, there was a romance with Lancelot and recently Arthur. Gwen's father, Tom, was the castle blacksmith but was executed by Uther for suspicion of practising magic, despite Morgana pleading his cause. It turned out that Tom had been framed and Gwen was allowed to stay in their house. There are indications that Tom taught Gwen some of his skills. It has recently been revealed that Gwen has an older brother, Elyan, who was estranged. He later became a knight of Camelot. At the start of season 4, it appears she has been caring for Uther whilst he is broken; she does this for Arthur's sake and not Uther's.
Katie McGrath portrays Morgana: King Uther's ward and his illegitimate daughter (revealed in series 3 to Gaius, and which Merlin overhears.) Morgana is best friends with Gwen despite their class differences, as well as good friends with Merlin in series 1 and most of series 2. She is secretly a "seer" – a person with prophetic powers. Although she does not realise it until the beginning of series 2, she—like Merlin—was born with magic (although Merlin is more powerful). While Gaius acts as a mentor to Merlin, he tells Morgana that she lacks any magic power in an attempt to protect her, giving her a sleeping potion to prevent her prophetic dreams. She is constantly lied to and thus feels alienated and confused. She is brave and forthright, caring deeply about others and strongly opposing Uther's persecution of anyone who comes into contact with magic. After realising that she cannot convince Uther to change, witnessing the persecution of those she cares for, and fearing Uther will discover her powers and kill her, she forms a bond with Morgause, a powerful sorceress with murky intentions, and thus finds herself in opposition not only to Uther but to Merlin as well. It is revealed by Gaius that Morgause and Morgana are actually half-sisters. In series 3, she is the main villain, serving an agenda developed with Morgause. Morgana is now fuelled by a desire for revenge against Camelot in general and Uther in particular. In season 4 she is again the villain, hating Camelot all the more because of her sister's disfigurement and eventual death.
Anthony Head portrays Uther Pendragon: Arthur's father and previous king of Camelot. Uther is often a ruthless and cruel man whom some have called a tyrant, but he does care deeply about Camelot, as well as Arthur and Morgana, despite often being strict toward them. However, he is frequently blinded by his hatred of all forms of magic. Since his wife's death while giving birth to Arthur (which he blamed on the pregnancy having been created through magic), he has waged war against magic-users, going as far as genocide. It has been indicated that he killed children who were born with magic and will execute anyone seen with a magician, thus Merlin and Morgana must be very careful (he is neither aware of their powers, nor that the latter of the two seeks to overthrow and kill him). He reveals to Gaius that Morgana is actually his biological daughter, born out of a short affair with Morgana's mother while her husband was away. His refusal to acknowledge this further turns Morgana against him. Morgana's betrayal leaves him a broken man and still so a year after the end of season 3. Uther dies in the third episode of Season 4 (The Wicked Day) from a fatal sword wound, attained whilst fighting to protect Arthur. Merlin, disguised as his older version, attempts to help but his spells are reversed and amplified by a necklace placed around his neck by Agravaine, according to Morgana's plan. Uther subsequently dies and Arthur is crowned King by the end of the episode, although he blames himself and magic for his father's death.
Nathaniel Parker portrays Agravaine de Bois. He portrays Arthur's Uncle, and ultimately is the brother of Ygraine. He returned to Camelot after a long period of time away, and while he seems to be guiding Arthur through the choices of Camelot, he has allegiance with Morgana, trying to help her become the queen she believes she is. After Anthony Head left the series as main cast, Nathaniel took his spot in the main credits.
Richard Wilson portrays Gaius: Camelot's court physician, Merlin's guardian and one of the few who know Merlin's secret. Gaius is a sorcerer himself, but Uther pardoned him long ago on the condition he give up magic. Gaius is also an alchemist and magical scholar. He has a dry sense of humour and sees Merlin as the son he never had. He is a trusted friend of Merlin's mother. Gaius is a great source of advice to Merlin and assists the young warlock with his knowledge of magic and magical creatures.
John Hurt portrays the voice of The Great Dragon – Kilgharrah. Merlin often visits the dragon when in a predicament, especially since he claims he knows Merlin's destiny. The dragon is also one of the few who know Merlin and Morgana's secret. However, where he encourages Merlin to use magic and protect Arthur, the dragon tells Merlin that Morgana must remain unaware of her powers. The dragon appears omniscient at times, and at the end of series two Merlin is revealed to be Kilgharrah's natural master. In series three, Merlin and Kilgharrah share a close bond of Dragonlord/Dragon and the Dragon comes to Merlin's aid when needed. Due to the Dragonlord bond, he must obey Merlin even when he disagrees with his orders or intentions.
Emilia Fox portrays Morgause: Morgause is a powerful sorceress who stops at nothing to destroy Camelot. She is the half sister of Morgana through their mother. She eventually corrupts Morgana and turns her against Camelot. In Series 4, Morgana sacrificed Morgause to take her revenge on Camelot.
Santiago Cabrera portrays Lancelot: Lancelot longed to be a knight but was unable to do so due to his lack of noble birth. In Lancelot(The fifth episode of the first series), he found out about Merlin's powers after an incident with a griffin. After helping Merlin and Arthur many times, he eventually became a Knight of Camelot along with Sir Percival and Gwaine. In Series 4, Lancelot sacrificed himself to save Camelot.
Eoin Macken portrays Gwaine: Gwaine is a loyal person who befriends Arthur and Merlin and eventually becomes a Knight of Camelot.
Tom Hopper portrays Percival: His first appearance was in the final episode of Series 3, when his character arrived with Lancelot just in time to save Arthur and Merlin from defeat. He was later knighted by Arthur before continuing to fight along side him in the re-taking of Camelot. Percival returned in Series 4, now one of Arthur's best knights.