The Darkest Hour Part II
The episode picks up where the last left off, with Merlin badly injured by a Dorocha. Outside in the courtyard of the abandoned castle, Lancelot tries to make him more comfortable as Arthur discusses the situation with Sir Leon. Arthur is eager to take Merlin back to Camelot to seek medical aid, but Leon reminds him that more people will suffer if they don’t press on toward the Isle of the Blessed.
Lancelot steps forward and offers to take Merlin back to Camelot, taking a shortcut through the Valley of the Fallen Kings. Arthur agrees and Percival carries Merlin to his horse, despite Merlin’s pleas that he be allowed to accompany Arthur to the Isle. Together Merlin and Lancelot leave, and Arthur and the rest of the knights prepare to embark in the other direction.
Lancelot and Merlin make slow progress through the mysterious forests of the valley, whilst Arthur and the knights gallop toward the shore, stopping only for a quick rest. As Gwaine investigates the sound of bees in the hopes of finding honey, Leon commends Arthur on making the tough decision to let Merlin return to Camelot, telling him that he’ll be safe with Lancelot.
Lancelot carries Merlin to a resting place by a stream and covers him with his cloak. As he goes to fetch water, Merlin’s hand drifts into the water and a soft voice calls Lancelot’s name. He watches in astonishment as a droplet of water floats out of the stream. A woman’s face appears in the water, and she introduces herself as the Vilia, spirit of the brooks and streams. She tells him that Arthur will need both their help in mending the tear in the veil, and that she and her sisters are already healing Merlin’s wound. Lancelot looks down to see that Merlin’s skin is glowing softly. The Vilia tells him that she will protect them while they sleep.
Meanwhile, Arthur and his knights dismount in order to traverse the tunnels through the mountains. Gwaine complains that the tunnels are filled with wilderen, though the others claim they’d rather face them than the Dorocha. Gwaine hesitates outside the tunnels, hearing the screaming of the Dorocha, and is just about attacked by one when Percival tackles him to the ground.
Gwaine: Never knew you cared!
Arthur emerges from the tunnels to hustle them both inside. As the knights march through the tunnels, Arthur reminds them that wilderen find their victims through their sense of smell, and by smearing themselves in gaia berries, they should all go undetected. After stumbling over a skull, Gwaine hurries to the front of the line.
At the sound of the wilderen, the knights hide behind a rocky outcrop and peek out to see the giant rat-creatures approaching. They duck down against the rock, and Arthur warns them all to keep still as one draws in close. Gwaine smiles as he hears it leave, but the faces of the other knights tell a different story. A wilderen closes in on Gwaine and shoves him up against the rock, sniffing his face and hair.
Gwaine raises his sword and kills it, much to Arthur’s displeasure. The wilderen hunt in packs, and now the rest of them are closing in. The knights make a run for it through the tunnels pursued by more wilderen.
Meanwhile, back in Camelot the front gates are being closed against a crowd of frightening peasants. Gwen watches from a window, and on spotting Gaius, tells him that the guards were under Lord Agravaine’s orders to shut the city gates at dusk. Together, Gaius and Gwen enter the council chambers in order to confront him. Gaius speaks up, but Agravaine tells him that it’s for the city’s own good. By shutting out the people, they can prevent starvation and disease within the city walls.
Gaius backs down, but Gwen speaks up and asks permission to address the court. Agravaine decides to indulge her, and Gwen tells them that Prince Arthur would not deny his people shelter for the Dorocha. She points out that since the refugees have come from the outlying farmlands, they bring their own food with them which they then barter with Camelot’s citizens in exchange for shelter. When Agravaine tells her that the farmers’ wares will eventually run out, Gwen counters that Arthur will have soon completed his quest, and the city will only have to hold out for three more days at the most.
Gwen: Or do you think he will fail?
Agravaine: Of course not.
Lord Geoffrey speaks up in approval of her words, and Agravaine magnanimously makes the order to reopen the gates. Gwen curtseys, though Agravaine’s smile falters a little as she leaves.
The following morning Lancelot wakes up to find Merlin missing. He’s not far though; he’s fishing in the river and has already caught breakfast.
Lancelot: Merlin – what? What are you…?
Lancelot: You’re meant to be dying.
Merlin: Sorry. Here.
Merlin hands him his fishing pole.
Lancelot: What’s this for?
Merlin: You look like you’re going to fall over.
Lancelot playfully tries to whack him with it, but Merlin dodges out of the way and insists that they go after the others. Lancelot tries to convince him to return to Camelot, but Merlin is having none of it.
Merlin: Arthur can’t finish this without us.
Lancelot: Arthur’s right about you. You don’t ever do as you’re told.
Arthur and the knights take a moment to wash their faces clean of the gaia berries, and then continue on their way.
Meanwhile, Agravaine gallops through the forest on his horse, and bursts through the door of Morgana’s shack. She’s sulking by her fire, and though Agravaine tells her that Camelot is falling and Arthur will soon be dead, he describes Guinevere as a “minor irritant.” Though Agravaine dismisses her as a servant, Morgana believes she’s dangerous.
Who wants to bet that they'll be successful in this assassination attempt? Anyone?
Morgana: I have dreamt the future, and in it that servant sits upon my throne. I would rather drown in my own blood than see that day.
Agravaine: Then we must make sure it never comes.
Morgana: I couldn’t agree more. We must make sure she never sees another dawn.
Back in Camelot, Gwen is tending to Uther, who is asking relentlessly for Arthur. Gwen tries to make him comfortable and is about to leave when she realizes that Agravaine has entered the room unnoticed. He commends her on her concern for the King, and tells her that he’d be grateful to seek her advice on dealing with the townsfolk. Gwen seems uneasy, but Agravaine lays on the charm and asks her to attend him in his quarters later on that evening. She agrees, now looking a little flattered, and Agravaine leaves just as Gaius comes in. Gwen tells him of Agravaine’s invitation, and Gaius looks after her with some trepidation.
Lancelot and Merlin gallop through the forest and come upon a huntsman’s shack. Inside dead animals hang from the ceiling, and the occupant sits at his table, frozen by the Dorochas. Lancelot covers him with a sheet and Merlin expresses reluctance in staying the night. Lancelot tells him there’s nowhere else, and Merlin lights a fire with his magic to keep them safe.
At a side-door into the castle, a cloaked and hooded Morgana blasts upon the lock with her magic and hurries up the stairs with a torch. At the sound of a guard, her eyes glow with magic and she throws him against the stone wall without even turning around.
In Agravaine’s quarters, Gwen is being poured a drink as Agravaine asks her questions about the people’s safety. She tells him that the best way to proceed is to put up a show of courage; something that was not helped by his insistence on shutting the castle gates. Agravaine seems to take her advice seriously, and moves behind her chair.
Agravaine: I am grateful for your advice. You have a wise head upon your shoulders, Guinevere.
Gwen looks a little uncomfortable as Agravaine leans over the back of her chair. He reaches out with his fingers, looking as though he’s about to touch her hair, but then stops himself and withdraws. Gwen looks thankful to leave as Agravaine walks her to the door, relieving her of her duty to the king that evening, and telling her that his guards will escort her safely home.
Two guards with flaming torches walk either side of Gwen through the lower town. Up on the battlements Morgana looks down at her former maidservant and performs a spell that throws all three of them off their feet.
Out in the forest, Arthur and the knights have prepared a bonfire. Arthur is standing on guard with a torch when Elyan approaches him.
Elyan: See anything?
Arthur shakes his head.
Elyan: Do you know what we’re going to face on the Isle of the Blessed?
Elyan: Do you wanna tell me?
Arthur: The burden’s mine and mine to bear alone.
Elyan: Look around Arthur. We would fight a thousand armies with our bare hands for you. You’re never alone. We stand together. Come on, I’ll take over. You need some rest.
He takes the torch.
Arthur: Thank you.
Suddenly the screaming of the Dorocha fills the evening air, and the knights gather together around the fire.
Gaius enters the king’s chambers to find Uther asleep on his bed. Gwen does not answer his calls, and so Gaius leaves the castle to search the village with a flaming torch. As the cries of the Dorocha fill the air, Gaius comes across Gwen and the guards lying upon the ground. Gwen is still alive, though she has a nasty gash upon her forehead. A Dorocha comes screaming down the street, and Gaius fends it off with the flaming torch.
In the huntsman’s cottage, Merlin and Lancelot have discovered a bottle of wine. Already they look a little tipsy.
Merlin: You don’t have to continue with me on this journey you know.
Lancelot: Try and stop me.
Merlin: Why? Because you’re a knight and you feel honour-bound?
Lancelot: You wouldn’t understand. It doesn’t make any sense to me either.
Lancelot: I made her a vow I would keep Arthur safe.
Merlin: You don’t have to worry, I’ll keep him safe.
Lancelot: I made a vow, Merlin.
Merlin: Do you still think about her?
Lancelot: No. Arthur’s…a better man than me.
Merlin: I’m sorry.
Lancelot: Why? He loves her and...she’s happy.
Back in Camelot, Gaius is tending to Gwen’s injury. She recalls the guards walking her to her door, but she’s confused as to why she doesn’t feel cold. Gaius tells her that she wasn’t attacked by the Dorocha, but someone else that wanted to do her harm. Gwen points out that they didn’t do a very good job of it, and Gaius tells her that cold-blooded murder is suspicious, and she was knocked out and left for the Dorocha.
Later that night in the woodsman’s hut, Lancelot and Merlin are sleeping when the candles gutter and the fire dies down. A Dorocha comes screaming through the night. Merlin wakes Lancelot and throws the last of his drink on the embers, causing the flames to flare up. The two run into the forest, and Merlin begins chanting as he runs, the Dorocha in pursuit. It seems just about to catch up with them when Kilgarrah comes swooping down from the sky, burning the Dorocha with his fire.
He lands before them in a clearing, and Lancelot is about to attack when Merlin stops him. He introduces the two of them, and Kilgarrah seems to recognise the name “Lancelot”, addressing him as the bravest and most noble of them all. He gets down to some exposition, telling them that the veil between the two worlds must be fixed, and that it is the Callieach who asks for a blood sacrifice, not the spirit world. Merlin tells him that he intends to take Arthur’s place, and the two bid farewell to each other.
By morning, Merlin and Lancelot are still galloping toward their destination.
Lancelot: When we get to the Isle of the Blessed, do you really intend to sacrifice yourself?
Merlin: What do you want me to say?
Lancelot: I look at you and I wonder about myself. Could I knowingly give up my life for something?
Merlin: You have to have a reason. Something you care about. Something that’s more important than anything.
They emerge from the castle and look down on yet another abandoned castle, smoke rising from within. Realizing that someone is already there, the two gallop toward it.
Inside, the knights have gathered around a fire, but quickly move away from Gwaine when he removes his socks – and then accidentally sets fire to them. Arthur hears a noise and the knights stand with their swords at the ready, only to be confronted by Lancelot.
Arthur: Lancelot? How’s Merlin?
Lancelot: Bad news. He’s still alive.
Merlin emerges from the shadows behind him, and the knights gather around to pat him on the back. Gwaine hugs him, and Arthur looks on the verge of doing the same before settling for a pat on the shoulder.
While the other knights sleep, Merlin and Arthur quietly discuss the situation by the fire.
Merlin: It’s going to be fine. Everything will be alright.
Arthur: I’m just tired.
Merlin: You don’t have to sacrifice yourself.
Arthur: I have to save my people.
Merlin: I will take your place.
Merlin: What is the life of a servant compared to that of a prince?
Arthur: Well a good servant’s hard to come by.
Merlin: I’m not that good.
Arthur: True. One thing. Look after Guinevere. I want her to be happy in her life. She deserves that.
Merlin: Don’t worry. I’ll make sure.
By morning, Arthur, Merlin and the knights looks out over the lake that contains the Isle of the Blessed. They take the same boat across the waters and begin to explore the ruins. They draw their weapons at the sound of wyverns and briefly fight them off as Merlin discreetly whispers an enchantment and turns his golden eyes upon them. The wyverns retreat on his order, but still linger in the sky. Leon, Elyan and Percival stay behind in order to fend them off, and Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin and Gwaine run ahead to the castle.
Together they approach the plinth and the giant tear in the veil. The Callieach greets them as they near, and refuses to close the veil despite the loss of innocent life. Gwaine makes a run for her, but she effortlessly throws him back across the flagstones. Arthur speaks up, telling her that he’s prepared to pay whatever price is necessary, and the Callieach beckons him closer.
Arthur walks forward to meet his doom, but Merlin is a step behind, and pulls him back with magic, conveniently knocking him out as he does so. He steps forward in his place, and Lancelot watches as he and the Callieach take their places either side of the plinth.
Callieach: So Emrys, you chose to challenge me after all. Will you give yourself to the spirits to save your prince?
Merlin: It is my destiny.
Callieach: Perhaps. But your time among men is not yet over, Emrys. Even if you want it to be.
Merlin frowns in confusion, and the Callieach turns toward the veil. Lancelot is already standing there, and looks back at Merlin with a smile before he steps into the darkness. Merlin cries out in shock as the veil closes and the Callieach disappears, taking Lancelot with them. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and then all is quiet.
Back in Camelot, two scenes of mourning are intercut with each other: Arthur addresses the court, lined with the council and his knights, as well as Gwen, Agravaine and Merlin; and outside a pyre with Lancelot’s sword and cloak is burnt in the courtyard.
Arthur: I want to pay tribute to Sir Lancelot. We owe him a great debt. It is not just his deed we will never forget, it’s his courage, his compassion, his unselfish heart. He is the most noble knight I’ll ever know. He gave his life for all of us.
Merlin holds back tears as he hands Arthur a flaming torch to light the pyre. Leon, Percival, Gwaine and Elyan watch somberly, and Gwen stands to the side. As Arthur joins her and takes her hand, she begins to weep.
Gwen: He didn’t sacrifice himself for Camelot. I asked him to look after you and he promised me with his life. He was true to his word.
Arthur looks a little disturbed by these words, but touches her shoulder briefly before leaving her to grieve. Long after the courtyard has been emptied, Gwen still stands before the burning pyre, weeping.
Back in Morgana’s shack, Agravaine breaks the news to Morgana, who throws the contents of a table onto the floor. While Agravaine blames bad luck, Morgana believes that the two of them were thwarted by the “Emrys” that the Callieach warned her about. She enlists Agravaine’s help in discovering who this Emrys really is.
In the physician’s quarters, Merlin sits quietly at a desk, only to hear Agravaine approach Gaius in the other room. Both are astonished to hear him ask Gaius if he’s ever heard of a sorcerer called “Emrys”. Gaius denies any knowledge, but once Agravaine has left, Gaius tells Merlin that it’s likely that Agravaine got the name from Morgana, who in turn got it from the Callieach. This means that Agravaine is in league with her, and Gaius points out that he has every reason to hate Uther, and the episode ends with Gaius telling Merlin that Morgana must never find out who he truly is. (Well, duh
- Badass Grandpa: Gaius takes on a Dorocha without even flinching in order to save Gwen.
- Balancing Death's Books: The veil was opened with Morgause's death, and so the Callieach demands another life to close it again.
- Behind the Black: Sure, he had his eyes on the Callieach, but Merlin fails to notice Lancelot moving around him to reach the veil, all of which happens off-camera.
- Big "NO!": Two, followed by a Little "No" from Merlin when Lancelot steps into the veil.
- Butt Monkey: Gwaine complains about the other knights making fun of him.
- Call Back: This is not the first time Lancelot and Merlin have gotten drunk together.
- It's also not the first time Arthur covered himself in stinky berries to get through those tunnels. The last time was during Lancelot and Guinevere
- Character Development: This episode is the first time Gwen does something queenly, appealing to Agravaine on behalf of the people of Camelot. This is probably foreshadowing and planting the seeds for when she eventually becomes queen and takes a very active role in Camelot politics.
- Chekhov's Skill: Merlin uses his Dragon Lord powers again.
- Deus ex Machina: The Vilia. Just what?! Even for a world with magic it was a bit of an Ass Pull.
- Ending Memorial Service: The episode closes on a memorial service for Lancelot.
- Everything's Worse with Bees: Gwaine finds out the hard way.
- Foe Yay: Agravaine and Gwen. Don't deny it.
- This troper thought it was mostly a one-sided deal from Agravaine to Gwen, more Dirty Old Man than Foe Yay.
- Foregone Conclusion: Lancelot will be back.
- Go Out with a Smile: Lancelot.
- Guilt Complex: Gwen has just picked up a doozy of one, blaming herself for Lancelot's death.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Lancelot.
- Holding Hands: Arthur takes Gwen's hand at Lancelot's memorial.
- I Gave My Word: Lancelot keeps his vow to Guinevere to protect Arthur no matter what the cost.
- It Is Not Your Time: The Callieach says this to Merlin as he prepares to sacrifice himself.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Both Arthur and Lancelot invoke this trope regarding Guinevere in their words to Merlin.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: Morgana is convinced that Emrys is protecting Guinevere. She's right, just not in this particular set of circumstances.
- Suggestive Collision: No wonder people ship Gwaine and Percival.
- Tear Jerker
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Surely more could have been made of the fact that Merlin's magic malfunctions when the Dorocha are about. As it is, this aspect is barely relevant.
- Likewise, Merlin's illness is barely touched on, as not even ten minutes into the episode and he's fine. Even well enough to do some fishing. Could the writers not have had him cough or limping a bit? They could have taken out that scene where the Great Dragon saves Lancelot and Merlin from the Dorocha and gave more time for Dying!Merlin. The writers also missed a golden opportunity to have another appearence of Freya, referencing the legend with The Lady of the Lake and Lancelot...
- Agreed on the Lady of the Lake bit. Once Lancelot laid him by the creek and began to here a voice I got excited for a moment thinking they were going to connect that. But nope. Guess they couldn't get the actress or simply didn't think of that possibility