This article may contain spoilers.
The Sidhe Fairies had hoped that by infecting a princess that they might one day have one of their own sit on the throne of Camelot. But thrones cannot be so easily stolen, for both Princess Elena (Georgia King) and Prince Arthur (Bradley James) desired a love-match, much to the dismay of King Uther (Anthony Head) who was anxious to have Arthur’s future settled. Fortunately for the young Prince and Princess, Arthur elicited Elena’s confession that she did not love him with such grace that Elena’s father was pleased with Arthur’s kingly demeanor and wisdom in calling off the wedding where neither party was in love — as Lord Godwyn (Simon Williams) did not want his beloved daughter to have married solely out of duty and not for love.
So while it may have been easy enough to fool everyone into not suspecting that the Princess was infected with a fairy, Arthur was true to his heart and could not marry a woman he did not love. It was just a matter of him standing on the courage of his convictions and being willing to act like the king he would one day be. A king does not allow anyone to tell him who he must marry — a king must decide for himself what it best for him and his kingdom; and as Merlin (Colin Morgan) helpfully pointed out, an unhappy king cannot guarantee a strong kingdom.
In yet another long line of lessons Arthur must learn, Arthur had to learn that he must choose for himself who will rule at his side. After all, the fate of Camelot may very well rest on such a momentous decision.
Georgia King as Princess Elena managed to convey her clumsiness and awkwardness with such charm that we were beginning to wonder if perhaps Arthur could be falling in love with her. Elena’s pure heart and unfiltered joy with her life and the freedom it provided was delightful; and even Gwen (Angel Coulby) playfully noted that Elena was too good for Arthur.
Credit should also be given to Arthur for trying his best to find something to love about Elena. He openly admired her horsemanship and enthusiasm for riding, and even presented her with a rose – alas, which promptly caused her to sneeze on him. Mortified or not, Arthur was actually trying to make an effort to appreciate Elena’s good qualities and took the time to try to get to know her. Rather than just rebel and whine about not wanting to marry her, he did the gentlemanly thing and spent some time with her to see if there was any chemistry or common interests. It reflected well that he did not reject her outright without knowing anything about her. So when Arthur later stopped the wedding, it felt done with such tact and graciousness that it befitted the king he will one day be. It provided a graceful way out of an arranged marriage for both he and Princess Elena without making her look bad or like she was being rejected in the process.
Also delicately handled was Gwen’s resolve in accepting Arthur’s engagement and impending nuptials. So much so that when Arthur went out of his way to reassure Gwen that he had no intention of marrying Elena when the subject of marriage was first mentioned Gwen merely remarked with a smile, “Marry?” Which prompted Arthur to hastily add, “Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to.” To which Gwen confidently replied, “I wasn’t worried,” and Arthur hastened to add, “No, no. Why would you be?” Despite their attempts to put a brave face on a situation that neither of them could control, they both looked upset at the idea that Arthur may be forced to marry Elena. Thus, with each step of the engagement progressing like a funeral march to the altar, Gwen did her best to stand faithfully and good-heartedly by Arthur during the ordeal, even giving him a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder during the awkward dinner party after Elena was struck with hiccups.
Then later in order to make it clear that she would stand by his decision to honor his father’s command, Gwen sought out Arthur to talk to him as he debated the heavy burden placed upon him. She cautiously told him, “I’m sorry. I know I should not just turn up like this. Everyone is talking about your marriage to Elena. I know you said that it isn’t what you wanted — but I also know that you cannot always have what you want. I know that very well.” And in a rare moment of dropping his guard and talking to Gwen without reserve, Arthur exasperatedly asked, “Is what I want really that insane?” To which Gwen sadly replied, “Yes, Arthur, from anyone’s perspective apart from yours and mine — it’s completely insane.” Arthur then angrily retorted, “Then I’m happy being insane! It’s better than being miserable.” Gwen then wisely noted, “I don’t think [Elena will] make you miserable. She has a good heart.” Yet it was Arthur’s soft reply, “As do you,” that prompted Gwen to gently remind him, “We both know it can’t be.” So in anguish Arthur asked, “And if I do it — if I marry her — what will you do?” and Gwen firmly and bravely replied, “I will watch you grow into the king that Camelot deserves. It is as it should be.” It was a glimpse into the private hearts of two young lovers who destiny seemed determined to keep apart.
Thus, in the end, after Arthur escaped the arranged marriage with Elena, Arthur playfully told Gwen, “So I’m still a single man,” and she teasingly replied, “Indeed. I don’t think you deserve [Elena] actually. She’s really very lovely.” To which Arthur softly replied, “Well, I had hoped to have forsaken her for one equally as lovely. Who knows, maybe even more so,” and Gwen quipped right back, “I do not know such a person.” Prompting Arthur to smile and cryptically say, “Me either, but I guess only time will tell.” Destiny is indeed not done with these young lovers yet. But it is reassuring that Arthur has firmly made up his mind that Gwen is the only woman for him and one way or another, he will marry her one day.
Another fun moment in the midst of Arthur’s turmoil over whether he must marry Elena, was when Merlin teased Arthur that he may have more in common with Princess Elena than he thought, which provoked Arthur to throw a pillow at him. Then just as Merlin ducked, Uther walked in. The look on Uther’s face when he saw the pillow land at his feet was priceless.
Just as much as the romance between Arthur and Gwen is a tent-pole on which the legendary story relies, so is the depth of the friendship between Merlin and Arthur. It was never more so prevalent than when just before the wedding and that Merlin presented Arthur with the ceremonial sword, and Arthur mournfully asked, “Is that for me to fall on?” To which Merlin quipped, “I believe not,” and then carefully asked, “What’s wrong?” Arthur then darkly replied, “You wouldn’t understand, Merlin. You have no idea what it is like to have a destiny you cannot escape,” and Merlin merely smiled and then wisely said, “Destinies are troublesome things. You feel trapped. Like your whole life is being planned out for you and you’ve got no control over anything and sometimes you don’t even know if what destiny decided is the best thing at all.” Staring with astonishment, Arthur curiously asked, “How come you’re so knowledgeable?” and Merlin breezily replied, “I read a book.” Not certain whether he believed him or not, Arthur then asked, “What did this book tell you? Do I marry her?” After debating whether to answer such a crucial question, Merlin firmly told Arthur, “You really want to know what I think? I think you’re mad. I think you’re all mad. People should marry for love, not convenience. And if Uther thinks an unhappy king makes for a strong kingdom, then he is wrong because you may be destined to rule Camelot, but you have a choice.” While Merlin’s words belied the wisdom he has gained and previewed the role of counselor he would one day play in Arthur’s royal court, it was the fact that Arthur solicited and then heeded Merlin’s advice that is significant. Arthur not only trusted Merlin’s opinion, he took it to heart and used it to strengthen his resolve in his decision to halt the wedding.
This felt like the first episode in which all the masks were coming off. Arthur revealed how much he trusts Merlin as his friend. Arthur and Gwen are more openly acknowledging their feelings for each other. And Morgana discovered the feelings between Arthur and Gwen, which Morgana will undoubtedly exploit soon enough for yet another evil plan to topple Camelot. Merlin needs to keep a closer eye on Morgana, whose mask is slipping too.
What Didn’t Work
Grunhilda (Miriam Margolyes) offering Princess Elena live frogs to eat was pretty disgusting. One never doubted that Elena was infected by a fairy, but to force such a lovely girl to eat live frogs seemed a bit much.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
‘The Changling’ was written by Lucy Watkins and directed by Dave Moore. Merlin stars Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Katie McGrath, Angel Coulby, Richard Wilson and Anthony Head. Merlin airs Fridays at 10/9c on Syfy.