Camelot’s Golden Age Faces
the Threat of Destiny … and the
Return of Morgana
On Jan. 4, the Magic and Adventure of MERLIN
Begins Season 5 Only on Syfy
For three years, Camelot has prospered. Under the reign of King Arthur, it has known peace. But even as Camelot flowers, the seeds of her destruction are being sown. As the forces of darkness gather, Merlin finds himself standing between Arthur and a fate that has been written since the dawn of time as the majestic adventure and unforgettable magic of MERLIN return to Syfy at 10 p.m. ET/PT Friday, Jan. 4, for an epic fifth season.
The premiere episode, “Arthur’s Bane,” airs in two parts – and begins just as the most glorious time in Camelot’s history comes to an end. King Arthur (Bradley James) has married Queen Guinevere (Angel Coulby). Together with the ever-loyal Merlin (Colin Morgan), they assemble with the Knights of Camelot at the Round Table – to learn of devastating news: Some of their own are missing.
Could it be the work of Morgana (Katie McGrath), whose disappearance three years earlier heralded the dawn of a spectacular new era for the kingdom? Or might the dying words of a Druid seer be correct … could Arthur be facing the never-ending circle of his foretold fate?
“Lots of really interesting back stories will come out over the course of this season,” says Johnny Capps, co-creator and executive producer of MERLIN, which during its first four seasons has come to enchant an international audience in more than 180 countries worldwide. “In episode one, the people of Camelot haven’t heard about Morgana for a long time. Then suddenly, strange things start happening in the North. A number of knights have gone missing there, and Arthur wants to rescue them. In addition,” he adds tellingly, “Mordred makes a return.”
Since its debut in September 2008 on the BBC, and subsequent appearance on American TV beginning in the summer of 2009, MERLIN has seen its audience continue to grow. Last season, the series saw its biggest audience ever on Syfy in the U.S., with more than 2 million people and an increase in viewers of more than 15 percent from Season 3.
MERLIN has fans around the world, too – the series is one of the most popular on SuperRTL in Germany, Network Ten in Australia, SPACE in Canada, and NBC-e in Turkey.
“From the outset, we set out to tell action-adventure stories that are universal and appealed to the whole family. We have done that, and the series has touched an international nerve,” Capps explains. “The Arthurian legend is known throughout the world because of the romantic nature of the story – people continue to be fascinated by it.”
MERLIN not only has international fans – it’s an international production, shot on location in both France and Wales. But filming in two different countries isn’t always easy, says Colin Morgan, who plays the title character. “We go to remote locations in Wales, where you’re lucky if you run into a flock of birds. Then we go to Chateau Pierrefonds in France, which is our Camelot, and you run into a flock of fans!”
Those fans, Morgan thinks, will enjoy the revelations and adventure that await in Season 5. “I don’t think they’ll be disappointed in the slightest by this season,” he says. “In fact, I think they’ll be gripped. This fifth season is the most sophisticated in terms of storylines.”
It will also feature a number of well-known guest stars, including Game of Thrones’Liam Cunningham; return appearances by Lindsay Duncan (Alice in Wonderland) as Queen Annis and Janet Montgomery (Entourage, Black Swan) as Princess Mithian; and the eagerly anticipated reappearance of Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Uther.
Making debut in the series is actor Alexander Vlahos as Mordred, a character whose first appearance in MERLIN was as a young boy – played by Asa Butterfield, who went on to star in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Mordred has been unseen for years … but his importance has never been greater.
“Mordred is not as straightforward as people think,” Vlahos says. “He is still a druid, but now he is very ambiguous. You never know where his allegiances lie. He is loyal – but to whom?”
Whether new viewers or loyal fans, audiences will begin to learn the secrets Mordred harbors, and the fate of an entire kingdom, when MERLIN returns for its action-packed fifth season.
Secrets, Strangers and Sorcery
New Characters and Adventures Meet Old Friends and Foes
In the Fifth Season of MERLIN
Years ago, as a prince, Arthur helped Merlin, Guinevere and the not-yet-evil Morgana spare the life of a young Druid boy named Mordred. No one has heard from or seen him since, but in Season 5 of MERLIN – which debuts at 10 p.m. ET/PT Jan. 4, 2013, only on Syfy – Mordred makes a stunning return.
Quickly, Mordred becomes integral to the story of MERLIN, which in its five seasons has taken the legends of Camelot known the world over and put a different, compelling twist on them. As the Great Dragon revealed to Merlin in the very first season of the series, prophecy states King Arthur shall die at Mordred’s hand – yet both Merlin and Morgana helped protect him, and his reappearance leads to enormous consequences in this season of MERLIN, raising the dramatic stakes to new levels.
“It’s full of intrigue, magic and fantasy,” says Angel Coulby, who after four seasons of playing Guinevere as a humble, love-struck servant ascends to the throne this season – with a solid sense of purpose. “She’s become the queen I always thought she would be – she is innocent, strong, humble, but noble; she possesses a great humanity, kindness and love, but she can also be quite ruthless as she is fiercely protective of Arthur and the kingdom.”
As MERLIN’s newest season begins, there is change throughout the kingdom, but some things never change, particularly the view that both denizens of Camelot and loyal viewers have that Morgana is evil through and through. But Katie McGrath, who has played her since Morgana was the loyal ward of the late King Uther, sees her a bit differently. Her determination to overthrow Uther’s son, King Arthur, isn’t simply a nefarious obsession, she says. “It’s a plea for tolerance,” McGrath insists. “She’s misunderstood. The problem is that the story is told from Merlin’s point of view; if it was told from Morgana’s point of view, it would be fine. I think they should rename the series! We need a new show called Morgana.”
That view is one that she often discusses with her fellow cast members. “I’ve had lots of arguments with Colin and Bradley about this: ‘Colin, if Merlin had just stepped in and helped Morgana in season two, none of this would have happened. It’s all your fault!’ I think she’s doing it for the right reasons: I don’t think she’s selfish, she simply doesn’t want to live in fear of being exposed as a magician. She knows that, sister or no sister, Arthur would put her to death of the spot if he ever found out she had magic powers.”
Somewhere between Guinevere’s unswerving loyalty and Morgana’s unyielding need for revenge is the shadowy world Mordred inhabits, and actor Alexander Vlahos says it’s a role he is tackling with relish in Season 5. Mordred’s motives may be foretold, but the prophecy could prove changeable – especially after Mordred finally meets Morgana after so many years of searching for his savior. “He’s really shocked by this woman in front of him. She has grown up – her life experiences have changed her into someone completely different. The audience has seen Mordred’s quest to find Morgana, and when it’s finally realized, they expect a big hug. But in typical Merlin fashion, expectations are immediately flipped on their head.
“Beforehand, he was 100 percent loyal to her,” Vlahos reveals. “Now he has seen how she has changed, 1 percent of doubt enters his mind, and things begin to unravel. That scintilla of doubt clouds his relationships with Morgana, and that’s the arc of this amazing series.”
Viewers will get to learn more of the secrets and lies that are at the heart of an increasingly mature and compelling MERLIN when the series returns to Syfy beginning Jan. 4.
Servant, King … and Inseparable
Actors Colin Morgan and Bradley James on
the Central Relationship of MERLIN
To the world, Merlin is Arthur’s servant – just as he has been as long as anyone can remember. True, Arthur is now king, but the two bicker, fight and look out for each other the way they always have, the way any king would look after a trusting and loyal servant.
But there are unspeakable secrets here, obfuscations that are at the very heart of MERLIN: No one, not even Arthur, knows that Merlin is not simply a servant. He is a man of magic, a warlock in a kingdom where the use of sorcery remains punishable by death. More than that, Merlin has a mission about which he can never speak, for it is his fate to protect Arthur, to make certain that Arthur’s prophesized destiny comes to pass, no matter what it takes.
So Merlin has only one task foremost in his mind: Regardless of how Arthur treats him, he must stand by his side. Their relationship has been the core of MERLIN from the start, and it is one that is a constant source of both joy and amusement for the actors who bring Merlin and Arthur to life.
“Merlin is the unsung hero who is often responsible for things turning out positively, but rarely gets credit for that,” explains actor Colin Morgan. “People love the banter between the two characters – that’s a very big part of it. Even in the most serious situations, Merlin and Arthur find something to life them – that’s a huge part of their friendship.”
No matter the social or regal standing of the characters, viewers often see themselves and their own lives reflected in the relationship between Merlin and Arthur, says actor Bradley James.
“Why do people love their relationship so much? I think that if you have someone in your life with whom you really get on, and with whom you go through a series of quite extreme events, you really bond with that person. Viewers watch it and think, ‘I’d like to have a friend like that.’
“In Merlin, Arthur has a very loyal friend who keeps him on his toes. Arthur enjoys those challenges. Meanwhile, in Arthur, Merlin has a friend he can really rely on. They have a great rapport and enjoy each others’ company – despite not admitting that!”
One detail that many viewers have pointed out is not lost on James … or Arthur. “The fact that Arthur always brings Merlin along on the most dangerous missions without any chainmail shows how much he needs him. Merlin never says, ‘Shouldn’t I be wearing armor? I’m completely ill-prepared for this mission.’ He just accepts it, as he has been doing for years. People really identify with their relationship. They think, ‘If I had someone like that in my life, I’d be very happy indeed.’”
But doesn’t that leave Queen Guinevere somewhere out in the cold at times? Angel Coulby, who plays Gwen, says the queen understands the relationship between Arthur and Merlin well. “She approves of Merlin’s influence on Arthur. She would never want to get in the way of Merlin’s relationship with Arthur – she appreciates that they have a ‘bromance’ and she enjoys their bantering. She doesn’t want to put a stop to that.”
And yet … there is a much deeper side to the relationship, one that only Merlin truly knows. He has a lifelong mission to protect Arthur – but Arthur is, in many ways, one of his biggest enemies, for Merlin was born with magic, and if Arthur knew, his own kingdom’s laws would decree the King put his servant to death. So, quietly and carefully, Merlin has spent his life waiting for the day he can reveal his most important secret to his best friend. That day, Morgan hints, might be coming.
“Merlin’s life’s goal is to get magic accepted,” he explains. “But the kingdom is the most settled it’s ever been, and Merlin does not want to do anything to put that at risk. Arthur associates magic with fear, conflict and betrayal, and for Merlin to be connected to that would be very bad.
“However, as the series builds, Merlin is gradually bringing Arthur toward the point of confronting magic – in the most dramatic fashion,” Morgan says. “It’s very exciting, and people will want to see that. It’s Merlin’s big dream – but whether it goes to plan or not is another story.”
The path to that confrontation begins Jan. 4, when MERLIN returns to Syfy at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Fans who want to experience the entire story of MERLIN, from the moment the young warlock steps foot into Camelot to the climactic showdown that ends Season 4, have several options:
All four seasons of MERLIN are available on DVD from BBC Video
Individual episodes or entire seasons are available for purchase and download at the iTunes Store
Seasons 1 through 4 of MERLIN are now available on Netflix
Episode 1: ARTHUR’S BANE, Part 1
As the forces of fate cast a shadow over Camelot, Merlin must confront his darkest fears.
Synopsis: Camelot basks in the halcyon days of a new Golden Age. But even as she flowers, so the dark seeds of her destruction are being sown. For in the frozen wastelands of the North, men are disappearing without a trace. In search of answers, King Arthur and his Knights must undertake a dangerous mission to the unknown. As the sun sets on the icy plains, Merlin finds himself locked in a battle unlike any he has fought before – a battle with Fate itself.
Episode 2: ARTHUR’S BANE, PART 2
Ancient prophecies of Mordred weigh heavily on Merlin, for not even he can sway Arthur from his chosen path.
Synopsis: On the icy tundra, Merlin and Arthur are close to exhaustion. With each tortured step, the Fortress of Ismere looms ever nearer, and Merlin’s fear intensifies. What game is Mordred playing? And what powerful secrets are Morgana and the Druid Ruadan (Liam Cunningham) searching for amongst its twisted catacombs? It seems like this time, not even Merlin can stop Arthur from walking right into the lion’s den … for in this bleak and transient wilderness, only one thing is certain: The great trial for Albion has finally begun.
Episode 3: THE DEATH SONG OF UTHER PENDRAGON
Arthur risks everything when he summons a spirit from the dead – Uther.
Synopsis: When a stranger gives Arthur the power to summon the dead, the King finds himself torn between head and heart. Unable to resist temptation, he seizes the chance to speak to the person he misses most – his father, Uther (Anthony Head). But the spirit world is a dark and dangerous place, for little does Arthur realize that his decision comes at a terrible price. Against all odds, Merlin must put right Arthur’s mistake before Camelot, and everything they have built, is destroyed forever.
Episode 4: ANOTHER’S SORROW
Amongst the smoking ruins of Nemeth, Morgana and King Odin make a sinister pact to lure Arthur to his death.
Synopsis: With Princess Mithian (Janet Montgomery) as the perfect bait, Morgana conjures a deception so powerful, the whole of Camelot is taken in – even Merlin himself. But as the storm clouds gather, will the young warlock see through the lies? Or will Morgana at long last fulfill her dreams of revenge?
Episode 5: THE DISIR
When Arthur angers the ancient Disir, Merlin must make the hardest decision of his life.
Synopsis: In the inky depths of an ancient pool, three soothsayers cast a dark judgment upon the King of Camelot. But despite Merlin’s warnings, headstrong Arthur refuses to take seriously the words of the Disir (Frances Tomelty, Sian Thomas, Helen Schlesinger), and their fury rains down on Camelot. Only the greatest sacrifice can appease them. With the kingdom in jeopardy, is it one that Arthur is prepared to make? Faced with the king’s uncertainty, Merlin has just one chance to save him from his destiny, but this decision comes at the highest price.
Episode 6: THE DARK TOWER
Morgana uses Gwen to lure Arthur into a deadly trap.
Synopsis: When Gwen is snatched from Camelot without warning, Merlin knows there can only be one person responsible: Morgana. Arthur is determined to rescue his Queen, but it is not going to be easy, for she is locked in the Dark Tower, a place that haunts the dreams of men. Arthur and his Knights must embark on a quest like no other, battling through a landscape riddled with hidden dangers, perilous obstacles and magical beings. As they near their goal, Merlin’s sense of dread reaches its braking point. What twisted game is Morgana playing? And more importantly, just what is the final test that awaits them in the Dark Tower?
Season 5 of MERLIN premieres 10 p.m. ET/PT
Friday, Jan. 4 … only on Syfy.
(Information and photos provided courtesy of FremantleMedia Enterprises and Shine Ltd.)