"In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young man. His name... Merlin".
—The Great Dragon
A BBC 1 series that started on 20 September 2008 and ended 24 December 2012. The timeslot and intended audience is the same as for Doctor Who and Robin Hood. It was picked up by NBC to air in January 2009. This is the first time in several years that a British TV show has been bought for broadcasting by a major US network. It got a second series, after having done very well against The X Factor and following a third series, a fourth and fifth have been commissioned. It follows Merlin of King Arthur fame in the early stages of his career (except that he's younger than Arthur).The story follows the young wizard Merlin, who goes to live with his mother's old friend Gaius, Camelot's greatest physician. Merlin hopes to find a way to use his powers for good but finds that King Uther, ruler of Camelot, has banned magic and executes anyone found practicing it. Merlin saves the life of Prince Arthur, Uther's son, from an evil witch and is rewarded with a position as Arthur's servant. Merlin also encounters the Great Dragon, who prophesies that Arthur will someday create the fair and just kingdom of Albion and tasks Merlin with protecting him. Merlin must use magic to combat magical enemies while keeping his true nature a secret.Other main characters include Morgana and Guinevere. Morgana, Uther's ward, struggles with visions of the future and her emerging magical powers, which gradually turns her against Uther. Guinevere works as Morgana's servant, is close friends with Merlin, and eventually becomes Arthur's main love interest.Has a Character Sheet and an Episode Guide.Not related to the 1998 miniseries starring Sam Neill, besides having the same source material.
This series contains examples of:
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Abhorrent Admirer: Grunhilda, to Gaius. Vivian, to Arthur (by the end of the episode at least).
Aborted Declaration of Love: Arthur seems to be on the verge of telling Guinevere that he loves her in the series three finale. However, she interrupts him after he makes the mistake of saying "if I never see you again..." which only compels her to insist that they will meet again.
Adaptational Villainy: Obviously it depends on what source material you're working with, but the likes of Morgana, Morgause, Mordred, Nimueh and Agravaine can be portrayed much more sympathetically in various legends and other adaptations than they are in this series.
Adorkable: Merlin and Gwen (especially in her early appearances).
Arthur and Lancelot can be this at times, especially when they're interacting with Gwen. Who could forget Arthur's face when he rescues Guinevere from an invisible wasp?
In the series 4 premiere, Gwaine and Percival trying to swipe a chicken.
Mordred rides a horse in reverse because the knights told him it's tradition.
Adult Fear: Think about this from Gaius's point of view. Merlin is like a son to him. He probably fears more for Merlin's life than Merlin himself does. A lot of the time, he doesn't even know the whole story of what Merlin's up to. So it makes perfect sense that he's constantly pestering Merlin about keeping his magic secret- he's terrified that Merlin isn't taking his warning seriously enough, and he knows that if Merlin is caught in the act just once, he's as good as dead.
Think of all the times when Gaius has to lie and say Merlin's at the tavern. He covers for Merlin, but half the time even he doesn't know where Merlin is or what he's doing. He's just hoping that, whatever the situation, Merlin's going to make it back home.
Cast members expressly said that we could expect most of the conflicts of series 5 to center around Adult Fear types of issues, and that it would be “a lot darker” in tone. They were right.
Adults Are Useless: Uther's the bloody king, for crying out loud. Though he apparently was very good at killing everyone with magic.
Subverted with Gaius. Played straight with everyone else even if, in typical showbiz fashion you shave a few years off the actors real ages they're still in their late teens (Merlin) to mid twenties (Gwen) so maybe "Authority Figures Are Useless" would be more accurate.
All Just a Dream: Episode 3x10 opens with Gwen becoming Queen of Camelot with Arthur as king, but it is shown that it is just a dream of Morgana's though this dream comes true in the series 4 finale.
Almost Kiss: Arthur and Gwen in The Castle of Fyrien and at the end of Queen of Hearts. They actually do manage to get there earlier in the latter episode, but are interrupted just as they're getting started.
Always Save the Girl: Arthur, Merlin and Lancelot have all been willing to give up what is most important to them in order to save Guinevere; respectively, his entitlement to the throne, his magical secret, and his life.
Always Second Best: Arthur and Lancelot have this mentality in regards to each other, each believing that the other is "the better man" in everything from their skills in combat to how Guinevere feels about them.
Anachronism Stew: It pretty much turns Anachronism Stew Up to Eleven, but somewhat justified in that it's probably not set in our timeline at all (though this may have been Jossed by the closing moments of the Grand Finale). When the creator was criticized for it, he pointed out that it isn't supposed to be historically accurate. People complain about the tomatoes, he said, but oddly enough no one's commented on the dragon.
Knights in plate armour and huge stone castles in pre-Saxon England.
Gaius' medical knowledge being far too advanced for the time period.
Gwen's kidnappers use chloroform. I mean, "compound of hog's wart."
In Lady of the Lake, Arthur appears to be having pre-packed deli meat for breakfast. Oddly enough, in the same episode, when Merlin steals the original meal and replaces it with food from a cupboard in Gaius's quarters, one of the components is a shriveled, close-to-rotten whole apple... an uncomfortably realistic detail of medieval life.
Parodied in the 2009 Children In Need special, in which the kingdom contains microwaves, hairdryers and mobile phones. See it here.
French chivalry in the middle of dark age Britain. Although you can't blame them for that one, that was in the original myths.
And let's not forget the infamous aluminium beer cans on the table in Lancelot and Guinevere.
As well as the coat hangers, which didn't appear in that form until the 1900s.
Anti-Hero: Almost everyone can be considered Type III, due to the show being in the Middle Ages where killing and not losing sleep over it is the norm. Adjusting, most of the knights and Arthur are Type I or Type II with a side of Hero Antagonist.
Anti-Villain: Several of the villains in the series. Uther was a genocidal tyrant but he also genuinely loved his children and cared about his people. Morgana, Mordred, and most of the Villains of the Week attack Camelot because of its laws that persecute them.
Anyone Can Die: The first three episodes of Series 4 see the deaths of Morgause, Lancelot and Uther.
Series 5 kills off, in order: Elyan, Mordred, Gwaine, Morgana and Arthur.
A Real Man Is a Killer: Arthur describes himself as "the ultimate killing machine" and this is in no way an Informed Ability. In fact, it's almost disconcerting to see him kill another man (albeit one who was trying to kill him) without a moment's hesitation in the very second episode of the show.
Arc Symbol: The Round Table. Hints of it turn up throughout the first four seasons - Arthur gathers villagers in a circle around him and tells them that they're all equal, his knights form a circle around him when he asks for volunteers to help him fight the dragon; and he gathers all his closest allies around a circular stone table while they're on the run and tells them that it symbolizes the way they all worked together. Finally appears in season five in the hall of Camelot Castle, with everyone gathered around.
Army of the Dead: Used several times. One time with skeletons, one time with technically undead (the Cup of Life was used to make an army immortal, and they counted as undead), and one time with actual spirits. In the latter case, it wasn't so much an army as a swarm of angry ghosts attacking at random, but the spirit is the same.
Despite centuries of characters added with the retelling of the Arthurian myths this TV show opted to still add the character Gaius who was made up for the series.
In The Gates Of Avalon Gaius states that a staff had Ogham script on it, then show the page. The script shown does carry the same format as Ogham in that there is a line connecting all the letters and it is a series of lines, but the props department then embellished the script by making it much more TV friendly (most of Oghams' letters are a series of 1-5 dashes connected on a line, the script shown only had the vaguest basis on Ogham.
In To Kill The King Gaius talks about a magic stone that has been lost for 1000 years. Said stone has writing on it, in Anglo Saxon runes, which are from two hundred years after the time period of Arthurian myth. 1000 years before THAT the writing the writing would have been in the Euboean alphabet. Or at least cuneiform.
Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Arthur and Merlin may insult each other like no tomorrow, but deep down, they really do care for each other and are willing to sacrifice themselves to protect the other.
Ditto for Arthur and Morgana in season one.
Automaton Horses: In a sense. They're used a lot, but we never see them getting groomed or fed or watered.
Merlin mucking out the stables is a running gag, though. In Aithusa Merlin has to forgo his own dinner to feed the horses. And in Sword in the Stone Part 1 Merlin has simpleton! Arthur rub down the horses. So caring for the horses is definitely there, but Law of Conservation of Detail often Hand Waves it.
Back for the Finale: At the end of series three we get reappearances from Lancelot, Elyan, Gwaine and Freya.
Bad Boss: Arthur can appear as it towards Merlin, but it's mostly for comedic effect. Morgana to Agravaine, and it's played seriously.
Badass Abnormal: Even for those with magic, its repeatedly mentioned that Merlin is insanely powerful for someone with no training.
Badass Boast: In Aithusa, when Gaius' power hungry and traitorous former pupil scoffs at Merlin's assertion that the Dragon's egg should not be used as a tool, Merlin comes up with this gem just before he blasts him into a wall. The Oh Crap look on the man's face just makes the scene.
Merlin: I am the last Dragon Lord. And I am warning you - leave this egg alone.
Although it's debatable as to what extent they could be called "bystanders", Sir Owaine and Sir Pellinore in Excalibur take up Sir Tristian's challenge to a duel in order to prevent Arthur from doing so, and go to certain death as a result.
Badass Cape: The red capes with a embroidered golden dragon of the Camelot knights, though it ironically makes them a literal Red Shirt Army.
Balancing Death's Books: Basic rule of the Old Religion is a life for a life (it seems that the life of the person most important to the one who asks will be taken, hence Igraine dies because of Uther's request for a son, and Hunith nearly dies because Merlin asks for Arthur to be spared).
Bar Brawl: A Medieval bar brawl at the beginning of 3x04.
Bar Slide: When Gwaine first appears in 3x08, he's being slid across the bar.
Beautiful Dreamer: Almost every character has watched either Merlin or Guinevere sleep at one stage or another. The most notable examples are when Merlin lends Gwen his bed in To Kill The King and then stays by her as she sleeps, and when Arthur finds Gwen under a sleeping spell in The Fires of Idirsholas he watches her for a few moments after putting her on Morgana's bed.
Beauty Is Bad: With few exceptions Freya, Mithian, every single beautiful woman on the show ends up being a villain, or is at least meant to be perceived as unsympathetic.
Subverted marvellously with Princess Mithian. You'd think they would have made her as unpleasant as possible so Arthur would come and throw himself at Gwen again but she's actually rather nice.
Beleaguered Assistant: Several times Merlin had to help bail Arthur out of some sticky situations. Particularly in the episode The Gates Of Avalon, where poor Merlin had to deal with the consequences of a spellbound Arthur courting Sophia. In this one episode alone, Merlin got placed in the stocks three times!
Berserk Button: Even if you are an incredibly powerful sorceress, do not try to kill Gaius with magic in front of Merlin. Of the two who have tried so far, one was telekinetically hurled into a pillar at neck-breaking speed, and the other was struck in the face by lightning.
It is generally considered a bad idea to harm Morgause in front of Morgana. She doesn't like it. At all.
Mess with a certain maid-servant and you'll have to deal with her best friend (a powerful warlock), her boyfriend (the crown prince), and a team of the best knights in the land. Best to just leave her be...
Also... messing with Merlin will result in Gaius, Gwaine and Gwen unleashing hell on you.
As Lancelot du Lac has demonstrated, kissing Gwen, the love of his life, is the best and quickest way to drive a composed and compassionate Arthur into a blind,murderous rage.
And we can't forget Uther, where magic is concerned.
It is also generally a bad idea to mess with Hunith, Merlin's mother.
Also, we cannot forget Arthur when he is called fat and later, actually turns out to be fat!
A seemingly all-powerful Future Merlin, standing triumphant over her on the field of battle, a staff in hand and a look of utter Tranquil Fury, literally becomes the stuff of nightmares to Morgana in Series 4.
Morgana: Help me, Emrys! Please!
Merlin: Is this really what you wanted, Morgana?!
Morgana, herself. She was once one of the nicest characters on the show, but even then demonstrated she could be a dangerous adversary. Unfortunately, she became not so nice later on.
Big Bad Ensemble: Morgana was paired up with a different cohort once per season; first with Morgause, then Agravaine, and at the very end with Mordred. Then there were the Monsters of the Week, who were usually out to seek revenge against King Uther, who was himself something of a villain.
Big Brother Instinct: Kilgharrah's treatment of Merlin in Series 2 is best described as a come and go fondness. In Series 3, after becoming spiritual brothers, Kilgharrah burns up Serkets trying to kill Merlin, doesn't want him to leave the cave until he's fully recovered, and allows him to ride him despite the fact that the series 3 finale shows he detests being used as a horse. He still occasionally treats him like an idiot, but given that we have only one talking dragon to draw references from, this could have been a normal big brother relationship among dragons.
Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, especially Gwaine and Lancelot, are fiercely protective of Merlin. Justified in that he's small, scrawny and a few years younger than all of them, but still funny considering he could kill them with a wave of his hand.
Arthur, after barely knowing Mordred a few weeks, is already showering him with attention, praising him and going to insane lengths to save his life - lampshaded by Merlin and Gwen. "The Disir" ends with an adorable moment of them sword-fighting and then Arthur lifting Mordred up in the air, goofing off like a big brother with his little brother. It's oddly fitting, considering in the myths Mordred was supposed to be Arthur's son.
Big Brother Mentor: Arthur probably fancies himself as this to Merlin, though Gwaine or Lancelot probably fit the bill better.
Arthur ends being one for Mordred. Gwen points out he's growing fond of the boy, and Arthur couldn't shut up on what a promising knight Mordred is.
Big Damn Heroes: Merlin and Arthur, usually. Occasionally Morgana, Gwen, Gaius and Lancelot.
Every good character in The Coming Of Arthur Part Two.
The Big Damn Kiss: Arthur and Gwen's first kiss came complete with dramatic lighting and an orchestra of violins.
Heck, it's more noteworthy when one of their kisses isn't a Big Damn Kiss.
Big Entrance: Morgause and Mithian both get fairly impressive entrances onto the show. Tristan de Bois as well when he interrupts Arthur's crowning ceremony by leaping through a stained glass window on horseback.
Big "NO!": When Gaius dies for Merlin and Merlin rushes to his side only to find him dead already, Merlin says "Nnnnnnoooooo!" twice. Except that Gaius wasn't actually dead.
Morgana lets out an absolutely humongous one when Morgause is apparently killed; seriously, we're not kidding, it LITERALLY brings the roof down. Literally.
Big Screwed-Up Family: As of the end of series three, the Pendragons definitely qualify, what with Uther and Arthur's strained relationship and the fact that Morgana is not only Uther's illegitimate daughter and Arthur's unacknowledged half-sister, but actively trying to kill them both. Both of Arthur’s uncles tried to avenge Ygraine’s death: Tristan by coming back from the grave to kill Uther and Agravaine by plotting with Morgana.
Bit Character: Geoffrey of Monmouth, who started out as the court genealogist, but who now also serves as Mr. Exposition whenever Gaius isn't around, and is trotted out whenever the writers need someone to preside over a coronation or wedding. He even seems to be a member of the council, and is the one who backs up Guinevere in The Darkest Hour.
Also Audrey, the head cook of Camelot's castle kitchens, and Isildur, a druid leader. Both have appeared in three episodes each.
Bittersweet Ending: The end of series three. Though the Knights of the Round Table and Guinevere return to Camelot in triumph, the hug that Arthur and Guinevere share is clearly marked by their sadness over Morgana, and Merlin's smile fades as he watches them, no doubt reminded of Freya.
The entire series pretty much ends like this, Morgana has finally been defeated for good and Camelot is safe, but Arthur was killed in the process along with Gwaine. In addition, the epilogue shows that everybody Merlin once knew is now dead. Nevertheless, the fact that Merlin is still alive means he's waiting for the day when Arthur will rise again at the day of Albion's greatest need.
Black and Grey Morality: Uther hunts down anyone related to magic, even healers, even children. He's a cruel dictator. Getting rid of him would be a good thing. However the villains trying to kill him, Morgana and Morgause, have some evil tendencies in a Well-Intentioned Extremist way. They will kill others, but only if they have to to get to Uther or Arthur later.
Bling of War: Morgana's "action gear" involves a shiny metal corset of some kind. Unless she were shot directly in the stomach, it's utterly impractical.
Blood on These Hands: Uther carries a lot of subconscious guilt for the death of his wife and the innocent lives he's taken in the destruction of magic in the kingdom.
Bloodless Carnage: Plenty of people die in this series, but you will rarely see any of them actually bleed.
Bluff The Impostor: Arthur does this to goblin-possessed Gaius - he talks casually about Merlin's uselessness and impending death sentence, and when "Gaius" isn't bothered, Arthur knows something's up.
And Merlin and Arthur bond over one of them having a missing father and the other a missing mother.
Book Ends: In the first episode of series two Guinevere saves Arthur's life from a flying gargoyle in the castle courtyard by tackling him to the ground. In the last episode of series two Arthur saves Guinevere's life from a flying dragon in the castle courtyard by tackling her to the ground.
In the first episode of series three Merlin is witness to a hug between Arthur and Morgana; in the last episode he watches a similar embrace between Arthur and Guinevere.
In both the opening and the closing two-parters of Series 3 Camelot was attacked by an army of immortal soldiers sent by Morgause and Cenred.
Arthur is crowned King at the beginning of series 4; Guinevere is crowned Queen at its conclusion.
The beginning of Series 1 sees Merlin walking on a road to Camelot; the end of Series 5 sees older!Merlin walking on a road in the same manner, waiting for Arthur.
Brainwashed: This happens to Arthur in at least three episodes, with the first case bordering near Brainwashed and Crazy. In the third case, it's by Merlin. Then it happens with Gwen in season 5.
Brainwashed and Crazy: In A Servant of Two Masters in series 4, Merlin is bewitched by Morgana to kill Arthur, but is thankfully a terrible assassin.
The knights in "Lamia". They start fighting each other, being incredibly disrespectful to Merlin (to whom they're usually Cool Big Brothers, and threatening Merlin and Gwen for speaking out.
In season five, Morgana is at it again, this time with Gwen.
Break the Cutie: Morgana. Goes through a season of terror only to have the one person in Camelot she could trust poison her. Ouch. Not to mention being trapped in a pit for about two years straight. With a growing dragon. And in chains.
Averted by Merlin, thanks to being an Iron Woobie. But let's face it, half the reason he hasn't gone into total breakdown is because of his potential to be a terrifying Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds if he did.
Guinevere in Lancelot du Lac, in which she is enchanted into betraying Arthur by Morgana, is banished from Camelot and none of her friends are there to see her off except Merlin. Not even her own brother wants to see her. The cherry on top? Only the audience and the villains know she was enchanted, so she believes everything is her fault. This isn't so much Break the Cutie as smash her to bits, stomp on the pieces, and grind them to dust. As if that isn't enough, she gets enchanted AGAIN by Morgana to kill Arthur and was probably tormented a bit while she was held captive.
Aithusa. Being trapped in a pit you outgrow and end up barely able to even move in at all will do that to you.
Bullying a Dragon: Quite literally, in one case. Metaphorically, it often happens elsewhere. Merlin tries to play this in the first episode by warning Arthur he doesn't want to see what he's capable of. But since he can't use his magic in public, it was a pretty futile threat, and Merlin just ends up getting his ass kicked.
Although in the literal example, said dragon does take a shot at incinerating Merlin, and Merlin magically blocks the fire.
Call Back: In the pilot episode Merlin says of Arthur: "I said you were a prat, I just didn't know you were a royal one." In the final episode of the first series, on saying goodbye to Arthur, they have the following exchange:
Arthur:You know, sometimes I don't think you know who I am.
Merlin:Oh, I know who you are. You're a prat. And a royal one.
Arthur and Gwen's conversation at the end of 3X10 is filled with allusions to the one they had at the conclusion of 2X02; particularly repetition of the words: "when you/I am King, things will be different."
In 2x04, Merlin tells Arthur that everyone can see his feelings for Gwen and that even a "blind man could see it." Morgana repeats a similar line to Arthur in 3x10.
Merlin giving Morgana flowers in 2x03 and later in a deleted scene in 3x01.
Merlin's conversation with Morgana in 3x07:
Morgana: Why are you telling me this?
Merlin: Because I don't understand why anyone would want to hurt their friends.
Morgana: No, you just poison them.
In 1x13, Morgana pulls Merlin behind a pillar to warn him about Arthur being in danger. In 3x02, Morgana pulls Merlin behind a pillar once more, but only to threaten him not expose her villainy by reminding that Uther would have him executed if she revealed to him that Merlin poisoned her.
In 2x12, Morgana recalls to Morgause her assassination attempt on Uther in 1x12.
Merlin and Arthur's conversation on horse in 4x01 alludes to 2x01:
Arthur: Yes, that you're a clotpole.
Merlin: That's my word.
In 4x05, Queen Annis says with almost reluctant admiration "There is something about you, Arthur Pendragon..." which seems very reminiscent of something Arthur himself to Merlin in 1x01.
On the same note, Arthur's line in 1x01 was "There's something about you, Merlin." Perhaps coincidentally, Gwen delivers the exact same line to Merlin in 4x08.
The scene where Gwen sentences her servant to death mirrors the scene where Gwen is dragged before Uther.
At the end of 3x02, Uther presents Morgana to the court as the person who turned the tide of the battle and saved Camelot, causing everyone present to applaud her bravery. Morgana was, of course, the traitor who initiated the whole thing. Episode 5x07 ends with Arthur congratulating Gwen for rooting out the traitor who had been trying to kill him (she was, of course, the traitor.) The episode ends with the court cheering "Long live the Queen!"
In 2x13, Arthur advises Merlin with "No man is worth your tears", to which Merlin replies "You're certainly not". In the Grand Finale, Merlin breaks down when Arthur is dying and Arthur tries to calm him.
Cardboard Prison: Not only Camelot's dungeons, but also its "impregnable" vaults.
Cassandra Truth: Merlin lives this trope. In every season and most episodes therein, Merlin usually has foreknowledge of the (dis)loyalties of basically everyone. But he can't ever prove this because it variously involves a) exposing himself as a wizard, b) selling out someone he would rather not, or c) being pitted against someone who Uther and/or Arthur trust implicitly. You would think, considering everything Merlin says turns out to be true, people might just start giving him the benefit of the doubt.
More conventionally, there's one instance of Merlin bursting into the throne room and insisting he's a wizard.
Surprisingly, Arthur finally catches on to this in the season 4 finale. He realizes that Merlin knew, and has always known, about such betrayals. Arthur, meanwhile, always sees the best in people right up until they stab him in the back. He finds it quite frustrating that the people he treats as friends are so willing to betray him. He predictably reacts quite badly to Merlin's confession of having magic at first.
Also obviously Morgana due to her powers as a seer which ultimately are often ignored especially by Arthur who frequently dismisses them as nightmares or taking it as a sign of romantic attraction that she dreams about him (this is entirely shippers choice although it does seem to be rather obvious in season 1!) This is subverted by the fact that Gauis and Merlin often use these dreams to their own advantage to help Merlin protect Arthur-often without telling her and again almost always attempting to brush it off as just a dream
Catapult Nightmare: Despite suffering from at least one nightmare per episode, Morgana has surprisingly few of these. However, most recently she flung herself upright from a dream about Gwen becoming Queen of Camelot. She later does this when Agravaine bursts into her hut in Series 4, though, she's not waking from a nightmare, she's just scared.
In The Last Dragonlord, Balinor refuses to help Camelot initially due to his legitimate grudge against Uther, but changes his mind.
Changeling Tale: Unsurprisingly, "The Changeling", even though they tweak the traditional definition of what a changeling is.
Character Title: Merlin, obviously, but also episodes themselves such as Lancelot and Gwaine.
Characterization Marches On: Before becoming something of a regular in the third series, Ensemble Dark Horse Sir Leon had a few scenes in the second. One of his first appearances involves him violently tearing apart Gaius's study in the search for evidence of magic. The sight of him smashing bottles and ripping down tapestries is completely at odds with the gentler character of later episodes, who is also on good enough terms with Gaius (in a Deleted Scene) to confide in him that the knights have no confidence in Uther's ability to rule.
Chekhov's Gunman: The fact that Freya was cremated on the waters of the same lake that Merlin threw Excalibur into seems mightily suggestive.
In "The Coming Of Arthur Part 2" she is pretty much confirmed to be the Lady of the Lake.
Chickification: Gwen in series two, later in season three she's regaining her reputation as a Badass Normal (fending off an intruder with a poker, joining the men on their rescue mission, lighting a fire when Arthur cannot), whilst still remaining within the boundaries of what a slight young woman would realistically be capable of.
Gwen: I am the blacksmith's daughter, remember?
But still reverts to "Stay in the Kitchen and make bandages" for the series finale, and whilst season four has her defending Merlin from an enemy and having a sword fight with Morgana, season five has her playing this trope fully.
Children Are Innocent: Initially played straight with Mordred, who despite being supposedly destined for evil, is at first just an ordinary (if telepathic) little boy; however, averted with each subsequent appearance, as Uther's persecution drives him to become more and more vengeful.
YMMV on this. In the two occasions, he was attacked by adults and just defended himself.
It's still pretty scary for a kid who was raised by an extremely pacifistic people to kill without remorse.
Clap Your Hands If You Believe: When Arthur is trying to draw Excalibur, Merlin says that he needs to truly believe he can in order to do it. Subverted since Merlin was just trying to boost Arthur's confidence: once Arthur is sold on Merlin's story, Merlin covertly uses magic to make the task extremely easy for Arthur, thus reinforcing the idea he was trying to instill.
Closet Shuffle: In Camelot, cabinets are not meant for storage. They're meant as convenient hiding places for Merlin.
Clothing Damage: Nimueh must have been dragged through a hedge at some point as the bottom half of her dress is ripped in a way that exposes Michelle Ryan's legs. Well, she has been living in a cave for twenty years!
Also Freya's dress, but it can be explained since she's been Halig's prisoner for who-knows-how-long.
YMMV here. In season 5, Mordred's eyes match Morgana's, perfectly. Still suggestive, though, yes?
Comforting Comforter: A variation of this at the end of series two. When all of Camelot is put under a sleeping spell, Arthur picks up Guinevere from the floor and places her on a bed.
Composite Object: As with many modern retellings, Excalibur is combined with the Sword in the Stone (the oldest versions of the tale describe them as two very distinct swords - when Arthur breaks the latter in battle, he gains the former from the Lady of the Lake).
Conflicting Loyalty: Merlin, most especially in series 2. His destiny is clearly to stand by Arthur, but Arthur's views on magic, even if only impressed upon him by Uther, can make for some not inconsiderable moral tension. The Sins of The Father showcases this dilemma to particularly heart-breaking effect.
Morgana to some degree as well regarding Uther and his ruthlessness towards magic. Made all the worse when she finds out that she's a seer and has magic herself
Arthur also has moments where he butts heads with Uther, usually when the latter is being too harsh, accusing an obviously innocent person of witchcraft, or not taking good enough care of the people of Camelot.
Continuity Nod: In The Castle of Fyrien, Morgana pointedly refuses to let Merlin pour her a drink.
In The Darkest Hour Part 2, Arthur leads his knights back to the cave of the Wildrynn and tells them to smear themselves in berries to mask their scent.
Costume Porn: Morgana's entire wardrobe, including dresses that wouldn't look too out of place at a cocktail party, as well as the gowns of various ladies and princesses that turn up throughout the series and Guinevere's coronation gown◊. The decoration on Arthur's armor◊ is remarkably intricate although it won't show unless in close-up.
Cradling Your Kill: Merlin with Morgana's body in 2x12. He also holds Morgana as she's dying in the series finale.
Merlin can be this at times as well. He demonstrates jealousy toward anyone who poses a threat to his relationship with Arthur, such as Cedric and Princess Mithian, and is willing to share Arthur with only one other person in the world: Guinevere, who happens to be his own very close friend.
Crazy-Prepared: Myror just happened to be carrying a retractable, needle-tipped lance along with him.
If the spell translations are to be believed (hinges on Word Of God here), Merlin is too. Half the spells are so tailored to the situation that either he's making them up as he goes or he really does learn spells just in case he wants a magnetic sword, he needs to drop bed covers on someone, or he needs to throw a bench.
Creepy Child: Mordred. Also, a hallucination Uther suffers at the beginning of Series 3.
The ghost child from A Herald of a New Age that possesses Elyan.
Curse Cut Short: Watch Arthur carefully when Uther tells him that Elena is his prospective bride. He clearly mouths: "What the f...?"
Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Non-lethal version. In "The Death Song of Uther Pendragon", Arthur warns Merlin to keep quiet about the spirit-summoning horn he intends to use. Merlin points out that Arthur is making said threat while holding a spoon. Cut to outside the room, and Merlin suddenly shouts in pain.
The entire attitude toward killing on the show. What, you thought that the PG rating would put Rose Colored Glasses on? Nope. If someone's trying to kill you, you kill them. The only two exceptions are when Mordred kills soldiers because he's a child, and when it's in cold blood, like Arthur executing King Caerleon.
Merlin calling Morgana out in the Series 3 opening for killing can come across as hypocrisy, but if you notice his main problems are that she's killing innocents and her actions will only cause more hatred against magic.
However, it should be noted that the show is set in a time when battle was considered glorious and killing someone when there were justifiable reasons was acceptable. This is an accurate portrayal of the era.
Deliberately Cute Child: Mordred. Or Deliberate Woobie. This troper firmly believes the big blue puppy-eyes and the woefulness was put on to convince the Power Quartet to help him.
Demoted to Extra: Gaius in series four, who only has one episode that centers on him, and for the most part is just used for exposition.
Designated Villain: Invoked with Mordred. As several characters point out in-show, Mordred is an innocent who shows Merlin nothing but kindness, but Merlin is still determined to end him because he believes Mordred will kill Arthur.
Disposable Woman: This show has a bad track record of woman-shaped plot devices. They are as follows:
Ygraine, whose death begins Uther's reign of terror against all those who practice magic.
Freya, whose death provides Merlin with plenty of manpain (and who dies in order to fetch Excalibur from the bottom of Lake Avalon).
Isolde, whose death motivates Arthur to get back with Guinevere.
Kara, whose death spurs Mordred into turning against Arthur and Camelot.
Valdis in The Death Song of Uther Pendragon who Arthur saves from execution before she gives him the episode's Plot Coupon and promptly dying anyway.
Alice, a non-fatal example, is Gaius's old girlfriend who rolls into town under the thrall of a manticore. She needs Gaius to dispose of the manticore and break her out of prison, then promptly disappears, never to be seen or heard from again.
Uther wanted an heir but his wife was barren. Nimueh cured his wife's sterility but to keep the balance of life and death she died in childbirth and for this Uther has mounted a genocidal campaign against all magic users. Particularly disproportionate if Nimueh is telling the truth that she didn't know it would be Ygraine that would die
We also have the episode where Arthur killed a unicorn and the keeper of the unicorns cursed Camelot. All the crops rotted overnight and all the water turned to sand.
No mention of "The Lady of the Lake" when a sorceress cursed Freya to turn into a bloodthirsty, killing Bastet every night for accidentally killing said sorceress's son in self-defense?
Lancelot and Guinevere: Morgana and Guinevere, despite being in considerable danger, are BadassDamsels who manage to escape their captors with a Show Some Leg ploy. Guinevere then switches between the two poles: on the one hand, she has a You Shall Not Pass moment to ensure Morgana's escape and keeps up a convincing performance of a high-born lady to trick her captor into thinking that she's Morgana, on the other hand, the fact that she trips over is what gets her captured in the first place, and after Lancelot faciliates her escape, she's re-captured again off-screen.
The Lady of the Lake: The titular lady is Freya, who is a frightened and vulnerable runaway who relies completely on Merlin to protect her. Even as a giant flying panther she's fairly helpless.
The Changeling: A strange case of a damsel who isn't even aware that she's in distress. Elena was possessed as a baby by a member of the Sidhe, and it isn't until she's twenty years old that Merlin and Gaius exorcise it from her body. She remains completely unaware of this.
Love In The Time of Dragons: Alice is under the sway of the Manticore, needing Gaius to not only rescue her from its power, but from the dungeons once she's exposed as a witch.
The Hunter's Heart: Again, Guinevere flips between the two poles: she handles herself well when taken captive by Helios, manages to escape and evade his men with important information and disguises herself from Morgana, but is then turned into a deer, shot with an arrow during a hunt, and has to be healed by Merlin.
Another's Sorrow: Mithian is coerced by Morgana into leading Arthur and his knights into a trap, though she's resourceful enough to get a warning out to Merlin. However, she's otherwise helpless throughout the entire ordeal, and badly burned by Morgana's magic.
The Dark Tower: Guinevere is kidnapped by Morgana and has psychological torture inflicted upon her. Though she holds out for longer than expected, she's eventually broken.
Morgana in general fluctuates between the two states. Depending on the Writer she can be a fighter in her own right (1x10), to being held with a knife to her throat (2x07). This remains the case even after her Face Heel Turn, depicted as a fierce opponent (4x01) as well as a terrified woman held in a pit for two years (5x02).
And then again in the final episode of the same series.
Dramatic Irony: And how! The fact that Merlin has to hide his magic makes this happen all the time, with Arthur laughing at how useless Merlin is (when Merlin can't admit to saving his butt all the time) or with, one episode, Uther commenting on how useful he is to the fight against sorcery.
The Dreaded: By Series 4, Merlin literally becomes the stuff of nightmares towards Morgana.
Dressing as the Enemy: In 2x04, Merlin and Arthur disguise themselves as two of Hengist's thugs to rescue Gwen. In 5x02 (part two), Arthur and Merlin acquire the uniforms of a pair of Morgana's guards to find the others.
Dropped a Bridge on Him:Agravaine seems to be leaning this way. Sure, his death scene is an important moment in Merlin's character arc, but it's not about him, it's about Merlin. His death scene has nothing to do with him, he's just there to advance Merlin from Beware the Nice Ones to Good Is Not Soft, and he's only mentioned once afterward in passing.
Dude, Not Funny!: In-Universe. Merlin's reaction in 4x10 when the Knights make fun of his warnings about the Druid Shrine being cursed.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: Merlin, despite bravely following Arthur into dangerous situations time and time again, is still treated like a lowly servant.
Early-Bird Cameo: Used in a curious way; a number of significant knights, including Pelinore and Bedivere, have been killed, before we even get a Round Table.
Particularly odd in Bedivere's case considering most of the legends agree that he was the last surviving member of the Knighthood of the Round Table (and the knight who returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake on Arthur's insistence).
Cenred is first mentioned in 1x10. Guess who appears in 3x01.
Though when you think about it, there are quite a few explanations for the 'deaths' of those knights: it could merely be a dramatic subversion of Early-Bird Cameo by in turn averting the One Steve Limit, or the legends of Arthur's court be rather inaccurate, or perhaps one or two of those knights could end up being resurrected (without turning evil) later on.
Or they could be the fathers of the historical versions. "Sir Bedivere" could also be what Bedivere Junior is called.
Early Installment Weirdness: The first few handful of episodes introduced a number of things that were dropped later on in the series, including Ship Tease between Arthur/Morgana and Merlin/Gwen, Merlin's ability to slow down time and to cast spells without any incantations, a telepathic bond between Merlin and Arthur, and a scene in which Gaius seems to be on relatively friendly terms with the Great Dragon - a connection that has not been alluded to since.
Considering that Uther frequently calls upon Gaius' knowledge and counsel regarding magical creatures, it is incredibly likely that Gaius was called upon to deal with the Dragon in the past. Given that Uther executed all of the Dragonlords, those with knowledge of Dragon-lore are practically non-existent.
In the first episode Arthur was portrayed as a near-homicidal asshole, gleefully attacking Merlin with a flail because of an insulting comment and throwing knives at a servant for his own amusement. Later episodes toned his jerkiness down considerably.
Easily Forgiven: Subverted. Morgana pretends to forgive Merlin for poisoning her, but still carries a pretty hefty grudge.
Embarrassing Cover Up: Whenever Merlin needs to disappear for a noticeable amount of time, Gaius invariably claims that Merlin's been spending said time at the tavern. Mind you, he'll be missing for days and Gaius will default to this excuse.
Entendre Failure: After Uther catches Arthur with Guinevere he laughs and says: "I know about the temptations of serving girls!" Given how the rest of that conversation goes, Arthur has no idea what he means.
Eternal Sexual Freedom: There's no indication that Hunith lost any prestige for having a child out of wedlock or any indication that Merlin received any persecution for being a bastard child. In fact, when they discuss it in Sins Of The Father, Arthur treats it like Merlin lost his father. Justified in that it's a family show and they couldn't say the word "bastard", much less discuss what it means. It's also a Fantasy Counterpart Culture, so they can have whatever moral views the writers decide.
Even more so with Morgana, not only illegitimate daughter of Uther (and who therefore would not, by the way, be eligible for the throne), but the result of an adulterous affair with the wife of his best knight, Gorlois. Kings could legitimate their children (usually if they had no other heir), but he never does, and once she committed high treason by seizing the throne for herself, she'd have forfeited any chance.
Evasive Fight Thread Episode: Arthur has won in combat against practically everyone...but never decisively against Lancelot. Even in 4x09, he needed magical help from Merlin in order to overcome him.
Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Uther truly loves his children. Morgana and Morgause dearly loved one another. Agravaine seems to genuinely care for Morgana. In fact, many of the villains, even the Monsters of the Week were acting out of love for another (Sophia and Aulfric, Mary Collins, etc).
Guinevere, of royal blood in most of the legends, is reimagined as a commoner and servant. In fact, she and Arthur seemed to have almost swapped roles as traditionally Arthur was raised as a commoner.
Morgana has been the legal ward of King Uther since early childhood but apparently has not been granted the title of princess, as she is always addressed as the Lady Morgana. In Series 2, Vivian is the daughter of a king (as was the real "Lady Catrina") but both are also known as Lady rather than Princess.
Actually, this is endemic to the show, and not just with the ladies. Even Uther is frequently addressed as "My Lord" rather than the correct "Your Majesty". (And Arthur, by the way, should be "Your Highness".)
While technically correct, such terms as "Your Majesty" were not commonly used towards royalty until Henry VIII.
Series three features a Princess Elena, but she turns out not to be your typical princess - She's possessed by a Sidhe, which makes her very clumsy and gives her disgusting personal habits.
In series four, the trope is finally played straight with the visiting Princess Mithian. She falls for Arthur, but he rejects her affections because he is still in love with Gwen.
Exact Words: Subverted in Le Mort d'Arthur. After Arthur is mortally injured by the Questing Beast, Merlin makes a deal with Nimueh for his life. He makes it very specifically clear that he is bartering his life for Arthur's, but that doesn't stop nature & the universe from trying to take Merlin's mother's life instead.
Fake Brit: Morgana is played by Irish actress Katie McGrath, and Merlin is played by Northern Irish actor Colin Morgan. Morgana, however, retains her Irish accent. This decision occurred during casting, where the producers did not want two Irish-speaking leads - had Colin Morgan not been able to fake a decent English accent, he would've retained his Irish one and Katie Mc Grath would've had to put on a convincing English accent or not get the part. Gwaine is also played by an Irish actor (Eoin Macken.)
Fascinating Eyebrow: A particular skill of Richard Wilson's, so naturally Gaius uses it a fair bit. Sometimes his face seems to be stuck this way.
Faux Action Girl: Morgana. She is presented as a feisty girl with a sword, but she never accomplishes anything. Read this.
Also Isolde. Were you hoping that she'd be as tough as she looked? Sorry, she gets knocked out in less than three seconds and is carried around for the rest of the episode. In fairness, she made up for it in the following episode, even if she was killed by the end.
Feet of Clay: Out of universe example: Merlin is repeatedly referred to as the most powerful sorcerer ever and frequently shows his skill with housework, but as soon as he is faced with an injury, a troll, other magical creature, a sticky hiding-in-the-cupboard situation, or heaven forbid one of those other witches/wizards who are obviously infinitely less powerful than him, such as Nimueh, Edwin, Cedric/Cornelius Sigan, then he immediately either forgets his 'amazing abilities' or finds himself completely outdone.
Female Gaze: Katie McGrath and Angel Coulby have to put up with a few CleavageWindows, but it's overwhelmingly the men that are ogled by the camera. Remember the days when Arthur would get dressed behind a screen? Well now the camera just follows him behind it. And when he's not around, there's usually a knight wandering around with his shirt off.
Fisher King: In episode 8 of Series 3 (The Eye of the Phoenix), Arthur must travel to the Perilous Realms which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, affected by it's King who was wounded in battle, but "The wound festered, affecting not just his body, but his kingdom as well, rendering it a wasteland." In universe, this seems to be his title, rather than a term for what he caused, but it's still sound.
Five Year Plan: According to the cast and creators in recent interviews, the show was always designed to span five years, with the actors' contracts ending after that point and the four leads ready to move onto new projects. The announcement as to the show's end came as no surprise to most of the fan-base, though as this (somewhat melodramatic) open letter points out, the way in which the showrunners went about dealing with it was decidedly strange.
Flanderization: Merlin used to be quite good at hiding his magical abilities by rationalizing (or completely avoiding) the odd situations he often found himself in because of them. Nowadays not an episode will go by that doesn't have Merlin getting caught in compromising positions (usually with a dose of subtext), and having to explain himself with increasingly bizarre excuses. By this stage, Arthur thinks that he's an alcoholic weak-bladdered cross-dresser who prowls around the castle at night, is obsessed with pest infestations, and has serious mental problems.
Foil: Morgana to Merlin in series three, described by the dragon as "the shadow to your light, the hate to your love."
Lancelot to Arthur. In Lancelot and Guinevere, Lancelot's presence highlighted both Arthur's faults and his virtues. On the one hand, when Arthur realizes that there may be something between Lance/Gwen he pulls a massive sulk and makes an off-handed comment that he's only there because Morgana begged him; whilst Lancelot graciously admits defeat and bows out of the Love Triangle before there's any more trouble. On the other hand, the fact that Lancelot leaves in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye highlights Arthur's honesty with Gwen when he tells her that nothing can ever happen between them.
In the DVD Commentary Bradley James said that in the campfire scene he wanted Arthur to be snoring loudly, just to highlight how superior Lancelot was to Arthur.
Gwen to Morgana. It's similar to the situation with Lancelot and Arthur: she usually makes both Morgana's faults and virtues come to light .This is specially noticeable in 1x12 (while Gwen refuses to get revenge on Uther for killing her father, Morgana tries to have him assassinated; but Gwen's situation also highlights Morgana's compassion and friendship with her) and for the whole of Series three, with the obvious good girl/bad girl dynamics and both of their 'Coronation' Scenes in 3x10 and 3x12.
The teenage hero is developing special powers hithertofore used only instinctively which he must master and hide for fear of discovery, surreptitiously saving people around him with them without them knowing. The hero is told of the great destiny that awaits him whether he likes it or not, and has to deal with conflicting messages from his peers and mentor figures about how to use his powers. Many of the canonical character relationships are also inverted at the beginning of the show. Both works feauture an sociallyawkward, reluctant but chronic hero who comes from humble origins that are actually fantastical (Merlin/Clark); a friend-destined-to-be-nemesis (Morgana/Lex Luthor); misdirected love interests (Gwen & Merlin/Chloe & Clark); lovers initially disinterested in their destined spouse (Arthur & Gwen/Clark & Lois); an ethnically-recast female lead (Gwen/Lana), a loving and sternly cautious father figure contrasting an ambiguously motivated supernatural mentor (Gaius & Jonathan Kent/The Dragon & Jor-El's recording); a Plucky Girl who won't keep her mouth shut (Morgana/Lois); a faithful female friend (Gwen/Chloe); future allies who initially dislike each other (Clark & Oliver/Merlin & Arthur); awkward friends from radically different social classes (Merlin & Arthur/Clark & Lex); the rich friend is heir to a vast empire but has misgivings about it (Arthur/Lex) and has an extremely powerful Well-Intentioned Extremist father and is both a potential ally and an implicit threat to the hero if he were to discover his secret (Lionel Luthor/Uther Pendragon).
Oddly enough, they got accused of doing this with Series 5 and GameOfThrones, as it features snow, Gwen learning politics, and a more multi-stranded story line. The creators pointed out these tropes are hardly original to Game of Thrones, although they do envy their production budget.
Foregone Conclusion: Morgana and Mordred becoming evil; Lancelot and Guinevere's mutual attraction; Arthur and Guinevere getting married, Arthur's death by Mordred.
Foreign Looking Font: the book of spells given to Merlin by Gaius. At first glance it looks like Old English (which is what they do the verbal part of spells in). Closer inspection reveals it's modern English, with this trope.
Foreshadowing: At the conclusion of 1X08, Arthur asks the young Druid boy for his name and is told: " My name is Mordred." A strange, somewhat uneasy look comes over Arthur's face as the boy is lead away; all history fans who knows what Mordred is to become scream in horror. But the ominous chanting and drum-beats are just overkill.
Also, in the first episode, Gaius mentions Morgana's nightmares; in Valiant, she gives Arthur a very heartfelt warning before the tournament. A few episodes later, it's revealed that she's a seer and has been dreaming about the future. (The first example may also qualify as a Brick Joke - at the time it seemed like the sleeping draft was just a lead-in to an awkward comedy scene).
In 1X10 Arthur rallies together a group of villagers in the defense of their homes: they stand in an obvious circle in which Arthur calls them all equals: a collection that includes peasants, servants and women.
Near the end of 03x07: "Camelot was built on trust and loyalty. It will never be defeated, so long as we stay true to those ideals." Anyone who knows anything about how Camelot will be defeated knows how true that statement is.
In 1x5, Gaius has this line: "I would give my life for you without a thought." Guess what happens a few episodes later.
A couple in 2x09, fulfilled in the episode. The first, when Merlin brings Freya food (she eats like an animal)and the second, when he is stealing a dress for her and tells Gwen that, since it's infested with moths, he'll have to burn it. Cue Freya being cremated while wearing it.
When Gwaine first meets Gwen in 3x04, he says: "you look like a princess to me."
In 1x05 Merlin points out Arthur and Lancelot to Gwen and jokingly asks: "Which one would you chose?" She laughs and replies: "I don't have to chose, and I never will!" Oh man...
The Four Loves: The show features all four amongst its central cast. Merlin/Arthur are Storge, the Knights of the Round Table are Phileo, Arthur/Guinevere and Merlin/Freya are Eros, and Lancelot embodies Agape in his love for Merlin and Guinevere.
Four Temperament Ensemble: Merlin is sanguine, Arthur is choleric, Gwen is melancholic, and Morgana is phlegmatic. In fact, Morgana growing out of her place in the ensemble arguably is part of the drama of series two.
Alternatively, Gwen is sanguine, Arthur is choleric, Morgana is melancholic, and Merlin is phlegmatic.
Functional Magic: Definitely Rule Magic and Device Magic and possibly also Inherent Gift, at least with Merlin himself (Gaius is astonished at Merlin performing magic without having been taught).
Gambit Roulette: Nimueh succeeds with one in "The Poisoned Chalice" with a plot to force Merlin into drinking poison by switching Arthur's chalice with a poisoned one, disguising herself as a serving girl, and telling Merlin that she witnessed the visiting lord of another kingdom spike the chalice that he presents to Arthur as a gift. The gambit hinges on Merlin taking the poisoned chalice from Arthur instead of knocking its contents onto the ground, and on Uther forcing Merlin to drink from it to prove his accusation (though knowing what she does about Uther, this would probably fall into a Batman Gambit). Of course, what Nimeuh doesn't count on is Arthur successfully finding the cure, and she only refrains from killing him Because Destiny Says So.
Genius Ditz: Merlin abilities come from simple instinct, not years of patient study.
Merlin: I could move objects like that before I could even talk.
Genre Savvy: Played for Drama with Lancelot. He knows where he stands in the Love Triangle, and he also knows that breaking it off early is the only chance Gwen has at happiness. Which makes it all the more tragic when that, along with everything else about him, gets twisted around in Lancelot du Lac.
Geographic Flexibility: In the first two series it appears that Guinevere's cottage is a reasonable distance away from the castle. In series three, Morgana is not only able to see it from her bedroom window, but at a close enough range to watch the kidnapping that she's staged.
When Helios captures Gwen, he has her bathed and dressed in a slave outfit and brought to his room. There's a bed in the corner, which Guinevere eyes worryingly, and when a servant comes in, he says (paraphrased) "I said no interruptions." Given how the show was unafraid to imply sex, Gwen was most likely a temporary, (albeit luckily unused) sex slave.
When Merlin disappears on a secret quest with a young Druid, Gwen tells Arthur that he's gone away to meet with a girl he's been seeing, and is met with much skepticism. When Merlin gets back - in the company of a cute young guy - Arthur asks him to tell Arthur about the girl he was visiting ... and about why he's limping.
The Ghost: King Lot is mentioned a couple of times at the end of series 4, but is never seen on-screen.
Also, an odd variation concerning Arthur's dogs. He apparently has several, and on occasion tells Merlin to look after them, but they're never seen on-screen.
Giving the Sword to a Noob: Merlin doesn't have much experience in sword fighting. However, in 3x13, Merlin retrieved Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake (Freya) in order to defeat Morgana's immortal army. Kilgarrah had told Merlin that in the wrong hands, the sword was capable of doing great evil. But at that particular and crucial moment in time, the sword was used by Merlin to defeat the enemy (Morgana's immortal army), even though the sword is meant for Arthur.
Gilligan Cut: 'I think I'm starting to get the hang of this whole deception lark...'
Glamour Failure: Magical disguises are always exposed if one stands in front of a mirror. This is best seen in "The Dragon's Call" and "The Eye of the Phoenix."
Go Out with a Smile: Lancelot almost achieves this when he faces death with the knowledge that Guinevere has escaped - up until he realizes that she's been recaptured. But then Arthur saves them both anyway.
In 4x02, Lancelot does it again when he sacrifices himself to close the veil.
And then, in 4x09, he does it again when Merlin brings him back for a last moment before he dies for the second time - this time probably for good.
The Good Chancellor: Despite not having any rank at all, Merlin fits this trope perfectly. It's so prevalent that Princess Mithian is able to figure out that Arthur values his opinion above all others after being in Camelot for one day, and asks him for his support.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: Arthur and Merlin wear red and blue. As of series 4, the bad guys wear black. Guinevere is steadily making her way through every shade of pastel that the costume designer can come up with.
Morgana has interesting wardrobe changes throughout the course of The Witch’s Quickening. When she takes her own initiative or is sabotaging Camelot, she wears green. When she is being manipulated or subjected to the men around her, she's wearing white.
And when she's just being Obviously Evil, she wears red. Lots and lots of red. As of Series 4, her makeup has been gothed up a bit.
There might be a bit of Foreshadowing and Fridge Brilliance in the use of purple, the royal colour, in some female characters. In the first series, Morgana has a few purple◊ dresses◊, with only the first one appearing briefly in Series 2 (as she drifts further apart from the crown). In Series 3 she has another one◊, which could indicate her intentions to get the throne. Then we have Gwen, whose first purple dress◊ appears in Series 2, when she starts having some scenes about the possibility of being queen. In Series 4 she has another one◊, but the best example is her Queen gown◊, which is bluish-purple. A possible example would be Freya, since the dress Merlin gets for her is a purple one of Morgana's , and that is the dress Freya wears when she becomes the Lady of the Lake. Both Gwen and Freya wearing one of Morgana's dresses in Series 2 might be another sign showing that, whether Morgana ever had royal qualities or not, she's losing them, while Gwen and Freya are gaining them.
Good Is Not Dumb: Arthur. Even if he does not believe Merlin's warnings in Series 4 that Agravaine is a villain, he nonetheless will still investigate the validity of the claims before reprimanding Merlin for accusing his Uncle of treachery.
He also came this close to arresting him for treason in episode six. He actually wisely went behind his back on this, making sure there was no other possibilities, and then confronted him, notably with a hand on his sword. If Agravaine weren't a Manipulative Bastard on level with Petyr Baelish, he would have had him then and there.
Good Is Not Soft: Merlin oh so much. He befriends nearly everyone he meets and bonds tightly with them, and is putting his life on the line just by being in Camelot because he believes that when Arthur becomes the Once and Future King, magic will return to Albion peacefully. Yet when the time comes to kill the monster, he will. No regrets, no hesistation, just "You threatened my friends. Bye." followed by instant death. Best demonstrated in the series 4 finale, when he is cornered, unarmed, and there's no way out except to use his magic. He tries to talk them down, even though he knows it's futile, but fails. When they finally close in, he flicks his eyes and kills five guards without hesitation.
Guinevere, who is usually quiet and sweet-natured, but doesn't suffer fools or villains lightly.
Grand Romantic Gesture: Invoked throughout Sweet Dreams after Arthur is made to fall in love with Princess Vivian. He tries to woo her with increasingly elaborate measures, from taking her a roast chicken to scaling the castle wall to visit her bedroom to fighting a duel to the death with her overprotective father. It's subverted at the end of the episode: once Guinevere has broken the spell with a True Love's Kiss Arthur thanks her by bringing her a simple red rose.
Great Offscreen War: Uther versus the High Priestesses. Bits and pieces are mentioned: the High Priestesses created the lamias as weapons against the Ancient Kings but lost control of them, there was a temple on the Isle of the Blessed that fell to Uther's forces, but it's all very vague.
Grey and Grey Morality: Dips into this a bit. If we didn't know Arthur was going to be a the greatest king ever, and that killing Uther would impede that then we would probably be cheering for the magicians.
Also some magicians want to kill Arthur as well.
The Guards Must Be Crazy: The guards are frequently distracted by objects that not only fall over for no reason, but then proceed to start moving under their own power. The fact that the doors then often magically shut behind them also seems to go unnoticed.
Then there was the time in Le Mort d'Arthur when a cloaked and hooded figure limped through the castle gates at night, right between the guards that were on duty about a metre away on either side, who stare at the figure in alarm. They...do absolutely nothing.
What about when Arthur was captured by Cenred and they let him keep his armour?
Heroic BSOD: Arthur, after learning the truth about his birth. He tries to kill his own father, then breaks down in tears in front of Merlin, Gaius and Sir Leon. Ouch.
Surprisingly avoided with Merlin, although any more Conflicting Loyalty episodes during series 3 might finally push him over the edge.
Arthur again, after finding out that Morgana has usurped the throne, and she is his real sister. Well, half-sister. Uther as well.
Arthur has another (sensing a pattern here) after Agravaine's betrayal is revealed. Combined with Morgana's betrayal last season, he begins to question his ability to be king. After all, what good is he as a leader if he is such a horrible judge of character?
Arthur has another one (hello... major pattern here!) when it turns out he's to fat for his belt... he also has one when he's dealing with his past and the massacre of the Druid camp.
Heroic Sacrifice: In 4x02, Arthur fully intended to sacrifice himself so that the veil between the human and spirit world would close. Merlin knocks him out last minute and tries to take his place. Only for Lancelot to step up and do the deed.
The Hero Dies: Not Merlin himself, but Arthur dies in the finale.
Holding Hands: A frequent motif between Guinevere and Lancelot. Lancelot turns Gwen's handshake into a chance to kiss her hand. They touch each other's hands through the bars of a grating whilst Gwen is being held captive. When they are facing death together, there is a close-up on their linked fingers. Finally, Arthur notices that there's something between them when he sees that Lancelot has offered Gwen his hand to help her to his feet, and is rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.
There is focus on Arthur and Gwen's hands when he helps her to her feet after crowning her Queen of Camelot.
Happens also with Merlin and Freya, when he's helping her escape from Halig, when he tells her he has never known anyone like her, and when they kiss for the first time.
Horrible Judge of Character: Uther. Among other things, he's chummied up to a knight who was trying to kill his son, invited two murderous Sidhe into his castle, married a troll, flirted with a shape-shifting witch, indulged the whims of a con-artist witchfinder, hired a man who tried to kill him to avenge his parents' deaths, and (in the third series) doted on the woman who was hell-bent on destroying him and taking over his kingdom. It goes both ways, as he's also banished both Gwaine and Lancelot, two accomplished and loyal knights, and is constantly belittling, alienating or even trying to execute Merlin and Guinevere, the two people in the world who would give their lives for his son without a second thought.
Arthur isn't much better. Season 3 and 4 has him professesing his undying trust towards first Morgana and then Agravane, only to find they've both been trying to kill him the whole time. (After ignoring Merlin's warnings about the very fact). You'd think the guy would learn better after a while.
Merlin too. Throughout the entire series he's always the one killing the monster and saving Arthur from his own stupidity.
Series 4 is more of a duel between the two of them than Arthur and Morgana. Arthur spends most of the series being puppeted and Morgana dwells more on her petty vendettas than anything that will actually help her, leaving Merlin and Agravaine to do anything actually beneficial. To further the parallels, they seem to be the only ones actually aware of how competent the other is.*
While Morgana dismisses (or pretends to dismiss) Merlin as a mere serving boy, Agravaine's actually smart enough to get him out of the way before abducting Gaius and watch him in case he does something. Later, Merlin states that Agravaine is far too dangerous to be left alone and his treachery should be exposed before he does real damage, and Gaius basically tells him that he's overreacting and refuses to confirm Agravaine kidnapped him to Arthur.
Hypocrite: Uther, oh so much, in his attitude towards magic. After enlisting the help of a sorceress in order for his barren wife to conceive, he set about killing and terrorising everyone who practised sorcery (even those who did so for perfectly innocent reasons) even though he had no one to blame for his wife's death except himself. The real kicker is when Morgana gets sick in series 3, and he actually coerces Gaius into using magic to save her. You'd think this act of blatant hypocrisy would make him decide to ease up on the sorcerers a bit from then on, but you'd be wrong...
Later on in series 3, there was a sorcerer going around healing people miraculously who was Gaius's former lover. Uther wanted Gaius to see if sorcery was involved in the healings and it is implied he would have executed whoever did it. The fact that he was willing to use magic to miraculously heal Morgana is made even more hypocritical because of that in retrospect.
Idiot Ball: Morgana seems to have read the Evil Overlord List, but it looks more like she's trying complete each item rather than avoid the mistakes. One example: Morgana says, "So, you have failed me again," to Agravaine no less than three times.
I Have No Idea What I'm Doing: Arthur wasn't entirely sure that his plan to smear himself in Gaia berries to confuse the Wilderen would be successful. Merlin is not hugely pleased when he finds out.
Arthur also gets a moment of this when his father starts dying.
Arthur in 4x11 when faced with marriage to a lovely princess or seeking out the woman that (he thinks) betrayed him, tells Merlin that he has no idea what to do.
I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Arthur begins to fall for Guinevere after she calls him out on his rude behaviour and he realizes that she's the only one who doesn't just tell him what he wants to hear.
Also the reason why Arthur and Merlin get along so well.
I'd Tell You But Then I'd Have to Kill You: Merlin tries to lampshade this in "The Coming of Arthur" when Arthur refuses to tell him the destination of their latest secret mission. Arthur responds by telling him that yes, he would have to kill him if he divulged that information.
Info Dump: Uther's speech on the balcony in the first episode. He's been king for twenty years? Check. There's a dragon under the castle? Check. Magic is outlawed? Check. Thanks writers!
Informed Ability: Uther's ability to stamp out or indeed recognize magic in his kingdom. Basically, he can be as competent at this in the back-story as the writers need him to be, and as incompetent at it in the present as the writers need him to be.
Gaius describes his past love thusly:
I was just a novice, but Alice's power and ability was uncanny. She had the gift. Soon she had mastered every aspect of sorcery, healing above all.
She spends the entire episode helplessly under the Manticore's power, and all of her healing occurs off-screen.
Informed Attribute: In Sweet Dreams the main villain remarks about how every girl in Camelot is attracted to Prince Arthur. Though Arthur's attractiveness is the general consensus among fans, the show never shows Arthur being unusually popular with the girls of Camelot, possibly because of his station.
Though as Bradley James has pointed out on more than one occasion, there only seem to be a total of two women in Camelot, one of which is his sister. As of series 4, this has been whittled down to one.
Excalibur is described constantly as a powerful and dangerous sword that can only be wielded safely by Arthur. Yet not only is it used by both Uther and Merlin in two separate episodes with no drastic consequences, by the time Arthur finally gets his hands on it at the end of series four, nothing particularly exceptional is done with it. He can't even defeat Helios without help. The sword lives up to its reputation of being able to kill the dead, but it's neither as awesome in the right hands or as dangerous in the wrong ones as its maker would have you believe.
Because of the change in actors, Mordred's youthfulness is often mentioned throughout series 5 in a bid to remind viewers of the significant age difference between Mordred and the other characters. However, Alex Vlahos is only two years younger than Colin Morgan, and very much looks the same age as him (and everyone else).
Likewise, Merlin is described as weak and scrawny. Maybe in the first and second series that was true, but the actor has since filled out and it barely applies. Loose clothing seems to shake this somewhat, but whenever you see Colin Morgan out of costume it's blatant that he's just as big as some of the other knights that are described as muscular.
I Will Wait for You: The trope is first invoked when Arthur claims that he can't expect Guinevere to wait for him, but in series 3 Gwen tells him that she will "count the days" until he becomes King, at which point he can change the customs that keep them apart.
Jerk Ass: Uther. The Dragon has his moments too, though one could argue that being chained up in a cave for twenty years will do that to you, but it is no reason to destroy Camelot. Just take Uther and go! You'd have done us all a favour.
To be fair to the dragon, even after only watching the first season, I'd have said, at least once: "Tell me the truth kid, you come down here to ask my advice so you can go do the opposite." The dragon isn't quite that blunt...yet in the first season.
Morgana is starting to fall under this category too. Her animosity towards Uther (and Merlin) is understandable but her treatment of Arthur and Gwen is down right cruel.
Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Morgana. Possibly justified, since in-show, she was with Morgause a whole year and was probably thoroughly indoctrinated in that time - but from the viewer's perspective, she ended one series as conflicted and unhappy, and returned at the start of the next series as pure evil.
Just Eat Gilligan: So many of the problems on the show could be solved if Merlin would just let one of the many people who want to kill Uther succeed, putting Arthur on the throne and allowing him to become the great king he's supposed to be. But this never happens only because of Merlin is a weird brand of Technical Pacifist, who regularly kills Mooks and nonhuman villains but has moral qualms about letting Uther die.
But if Uther were killed by magic, Arthur would likely become just as fanatically anti-magic as his father when he gains the throne. The Dragon says as much in Sorcerer's Shadow. And it finally happens in 4x03.
Morgana’s Face Heel Turn could have been avoided if Merlin had told her about his magic or at least treated her better. Her bonding with Mordred and Morgause was mostly caused by her confusion and sense of loneliness.
Just Friends: Merlin was teased with Gwen by Morgana in 1x03 and Lancelot in 1x05 because of Gwen's obvious crush on him and Merlin's semi-obliviousness to it. When Merlin secretly helps Morgana in 2x03 when she discovers that she is a seer, Arthur is under the belief that Merlin is in love with Morgana and warns him Uther would have his head for it.
Kick the Dog: In The Poisoned Chalice, Arthur rushed to get the flower to cure Merlin, despite his father telling him not to. However, as soon as he came back, his own father imprisoned him for disobeying him. Even when Arthur begged his father to at least deliver the flower to Merlin, he crushed the flower, told him to get another servant and dropped the flower just out of Arthur's reach.
In Love In The Time Of Dragons Uther is poisoned by a witch who was under the thrall of a magical creature. Despite Gaius saying that the woman had no choice (and implying that she was forced to do magic), Uther decides to kill her anyway, as she still practiced magic even if it was out of her control. This is on top of his hypocrisy earlier of being willing to heal Morgana with magic but wanting to execute whoever was healing other people.
Kill It with Fire: Or rather, drive it off with fire. The flying ghost skull Dorocha can pass through solid matter and are totally immune to harm. They even negate magic. Fire, however, disperses them for a while.
Until The Coming of Arthur when Arthur and his loyalists become La Résistance.
Lady and Knight: Played remarkably straight with Lancelot and Guinevere, even though they aren't a lady or a knight when the show begins. However, Lancelot always makes a point of referring to Gwen as "my lady" and by the end of the third series he's been permanently knighted and by the end of the fourth season, she is "my lady" as she's Queen!
There's a little of this with Gwen and Gwaine as well.
Nimueh, especially in early episodes where every time she was defeated she would stand over her bubbling cauldron thingy and yell "Merlin!"
Merlin, when masquerading as Dragoon. He's quite obviously enjoying every minute of it.
Last of His Kind: The Great Dragon. And Merlin in 2x13, when he becomes the last dragonlord.
As of Aithusa, Kilgarrah is no longer the Last Dragon.
Left for Dead: The third season premiere had Morgause decide that the best way to keep Merlin from foiling her plan to conquer Camelot was to leave him in magical chains to be killed by poisonous beasts while she went on her way. Of course, the titular character of the show escapes, much to her surprise.
Legendary Weapon: Excalibur, which Arthur is going to rip out of that stone as revealed by the series trailer, and Lancelot's sword which I have momentarily forgotten the name of.
Lethal Joke Character: In-Universe. Out of any number of elite knights, it's Merlin who ends up getting dragged along whenever Arthur goes on a solitary mission. Arthur seemingly does this because Merlin makes him laugh and provides moral support. He's completely unaware that Merlin is the only reason he survives these missions.
Let Them Die Happy: Merlin brings Freya to the lake so that she dies in a place similar to her home.
Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Guinevere (light) and Morgana (dark), somewhat ironically considering the actresses, who are mixed-race and uber-pale, respectively. The trope is somewhat played with, considering Guinevere is aligned more with love and romance, whilst in the later seasons, Morgana is practically asexual.
Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: At the start of the show, Arthur is the best knight in Camelot by a long shot and Merlin has virtually no magical training. As such, in the earlier seasons it would often be Arthur going out to slay the monster while Merlin figured out his spells at home and turned up for the final blow. As Merlin started to get more experienced though, he was more proactive in fights and took out way more guys than Arthur. By seasons four and five he was the main powerhouse of the group, and in season five finale curbstomps an entire army, Morgana who's the closest in power to him, and a dragon all at once. Arthur gets one level-up (Excalibur), and that's it. And even at the start of the show before his development, it's clear Merlin would beat Arthur in a fight if the gloves were off.
Line In The Sand: Arthur gives one in the Series 3 finale to Merlin, Gaius, Gwen, Lancelot, Percival, Gwaine, Leon and Elyan. They then proceed to each stand up and give a speech about why they refuse to leave Arthur, one by one, until it reaches Merlin who remains seated and jokes, "Actually I don't really fancy it."
Literary Agent Hypothesis: With the court genealogist Geoffrey of Monmouth; the real Geoffrey of Monmouth was a 12th-century bishop who named the character of Merlin, and was one of the earliest writers of tales of King Arthur and his father Uther, along with a whole host of other legendary British kings.
The Lost Woods: Jam-packed with magical critters and evil bounty hunters lurking behind every tree.
Love at First Sight: Lancelot toward Guinevere. Notably averted with Arthur and Gwen, who knew each other for years before starting to take notice of each other.
Also, with Merlin and Freya.
Played with between Arthur and Mithian. Were you to watch the beginning of The Hunter's Heart completely out of context, you'd probably assume that this trope was being played straight, what with their initial Meet Cute and Birds of a Feather similarities. They're obviously attracted to each other at first sight, and find themselves increasingly well-suited to each other as the episode goes on, but Arthur's prior feelings for Guinevere puts a halt to their relationship before it ever really gets started.
Love Ruins The Realm: Averted. Though the likes of Agravaine argue that Guinevere is unsuitable, she ends up being a very effective Queen.
Magic A Is Magic A: While the magic system is not as fleshed out as it could be, there is definitely a rule that one sort of magic cannot affect a being of another magic. And every kind of magic is practiced in a different language.
Magic A: Human magic. The language is Old English. Gaius mentions at one point that Merlin's powers protected him from getting harmed by the Sidhe, and his wooziness in The Gates of Avalon seemes to stem less from getting a bolt of magic to the chest and more from getting thrown into a wall.
Magic B: Sidhe magic. The language is Old Irish. Any time we see Merlin engage them, he uses one of their own staffs.
Magic C: Dragon magic. The language is Homeric Greek. The dragon was immune to Merlin's magic until he became a Dragonlord and the enchantment Morgause put on the chains to make them unbreakable didn't seem to stop Kilgharrah from breaking them.
Magic D: Troll magic. We don't know very much about this one, as it only appeared twoepisodes.
Magic Feather: The sword in the stone, apparently. At least, the "pulling it out makes you a king of Camelot!!!" part is.
Magic Knight: By Series 3, Merlin seems to use sword and sorcery equally well together to take down his enemies. It's likely he picked up fighting techniques purely in self-defense from a combination of always being attacked and Arthur's insistence upon using Merlin as a sparring partner (or practice dummy).
Magic Staff: Merlin has the Boom Stick he appropriates from the Sidhe though he seldom uses it. Alator and the three women representing the Triple Goddess are also staff users.
The Man Behind the Man: Merlin is this to Arthur, so much it's practically a Central Theme. Arthur's going to rule all of Albion, the greatest kingdom that ever was or ever will be? Yep. He's the Chosen One? Yep, so much that he has a Chosen One chosen to protect him. Merlin on the other hand: is partially responsible for Morgana and Mordred's villainy via Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, got Arthur and Gwen together, made friends with Lancelot and Gwaine and ignited the idea of commoners being knights, put the sword in the stone, put the lady in the lake, convinced the dragon to forge Excalibur, and is responsible for a lot of Arthur's Character Development into the Once and Future King he was supposed to be in the first place.
Mama Bear: Morgana's strong attachment towards Mordred causes her to become very protective of him and a willingness to do anything for him in order to keep him from harm's way.
A deleted scene from series four has Agravaine confessing his love for Morgana.
Meaningful Name the name that Merlin bestows upon the baby dragon turns out to mean 'Light of the Sun' in dragon-speech.
Meet Cute: It's played with. Whenever Merlin meets a pretty girl, he shows interest, evident with his encounters of Gwen, Morgana, Nimueh, Lady Catrina, and Freya. Colin Morgan lampshades it in an interview.
Although it's hinted that Taliesin might. Though it might be his close proximity to the crystal caves, he also makes several pointed remarks about time and memory that suggest he's intimately aware of the future.
Mix-and-Match Critter: Naturally includes a few of the traditional mythological ones. Arthur also makes one up to find an excuse to leave the castle, simply by listing random animal bits as he thinks of them.
"It is said to have the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle ...and the ...face of a bear."
Modest Royalty: In stark contrast to Uther and Morgana, Arthur usually wears simple tunics or battle-stained armour.
Moment Killer: Poor Arthur and Gwen have to suffer through dozens of these. Possibly the most hilarious was when a quiet moment between them at Gwen's house is interrupted by Merlin crashing through the door and shouting: "There's an assassin in Camelot trying to kill you!" The WTF expression on their faces is priceless.
Monster Vision: In 2x09, right before the Bastet kills the couple and the guards, we see the scene through its eyes.
Mood Whiplash: Lancelot and Guinevere. One minute, Gwen's in mortal danger, declaring her undying devotion to Lancelot. Next, some of the funniest banter of the entire series.
Done deliberately in Queen of Hearts. At first, Uther thinks it's hilarious that Arthur has been making out with a serving girl in the woods (and gives him a congratulatory pat on the back because of it), but he soon turns nasty on realizing that his son is serious about Gwen and ends up banishing her from Camelot in the very same scene. In fact, the entire episode is made of this trope considering Arthur and Gwen go from loafing about in the sun to having Uther accuse Gwen of witchcraft and ordering that she be burnt at the stake in the space of a day.
Also in Excalibur. It goes from light-hearted banter between Gwen and Merlin about washing Arthur's socks to a freaking undead knight bursting through the window.
The Darkest Hour Part I has Arthur, Merlin and the knights investigating an empty village, tension is mounting and they don't even know what the monster looks like. Then they are startled by Gwaine taking a large bite from an apple. It switches back as Elyan finds the village people dead, covered in frost.
The Witchfinderhas a terrifying scene where the Witchfinder in question tells Uther that there is a sorcerer in the room. The music is chilling, a still sympathetic Morgana looks petrified and then he points at our hero and accuses him of using magic. And then music stops and you have Arthur's reaction.
Arthur: *with a look on his face of pure skepticism* Mer-lin. You can't be serious.
Morally Ambiguous Mentor: The Great Dragon knows a lot and likes to talk big about Merlin's glorious destiny, but as the first series goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that he is also ruthless, utterly selfish, and carries some major grudges.
And as of the second series, Merlin sees (through a soothsaying crystal) the Dragon helping to burn Camelot to the ground once he releases him. And then the Dragon asks for Merlin's end of the bargain... Which Merlin honours in the finale. Fire ensues. Lots of fire. Lots.
Gaius is also morally ambiguous (though by no means evil). He focuses on Merlin's safety to the point of denying help to other magicians who need it, including Mordred and Morgana, which brings him into conflict with Merlin's Chronic Hero Syndrome. It's also implied he betrayed Nimueh and his other fellow magic-users to Uther as a young man.
Mr. Exposition: All things considered, Gaius's full name could well be Gaius Exposition.
Moral Dissonance: Arthur in 3x12, when he threatens to kill an innocent druid boy who's obviously scared out of his wits unless he answers his questions, and then continues to hold a sword to the kid's throat long after it's clear that he's no threat and the Druids intend to give him what he came for anyway. Seriously, the kid's what, ten? Not cool, buddy.
Although Merlin calls him out on it. And as these are Druids and he's the son of a magic-hating king, he might have felt the need to make an example.
Merlin and Morgana have a huge Not So Different thing going on. Anything she's done, he's done as well. Attempt to murder an innocent to prevent a prophecy, take away free will, betray a close friend, the works. *
Although it's not really a double standard, as Merlin spends a long time angsting over these decisions, and Morgana is positively gleeful to do them whenever she has the chance.
When given the opportunity to prevent Morgana from assassinating Uther, Merlin is conflicted (since Uther is a tyrant and assassinating him is pretty justifiable), but ultimately decides that he would be a "murderer" if he didn't do everything he could to save him. However, he casually kills Mooks and sapient, named non-human villains on a regular basis, despite knowing a harmless sleep spell.
Motive Decay: Morgana initally wanted revenge against Uther for the genocide against her people, as of late she's more interested in offing her half-brother so that she can claim the throne of Camelot.
Although she technically gets her revenge in the season three finale, as her betrayal breaks Uther's spirit so it's more of a case of her first objective is completed, onto the next one. She also claims she wants the throne so she can bring magic back to Camelot, rather than just for the power.
Mr. Fanservice: Bradley James' (Arthur's) shirt collar becomes progressively more open with each episode. Episode one? Could barely see his clavicle. Episode 9? A good third of his (admittedly quite nice) chest is exposed. The first episode of series 2 is reliably following this pattern, with multiple shots of Arthur bare-chested and then the bath scene.
In the cast commentary of the series 2 premiere, Bradley and Colin count the number of times Bradley appears shirtless. Apparently he needs to be shirtless to put a key in the drawer.
Series 3 got off to a good start with him taking his shirt off quite early on in the first episode.
And then for every episode since. (Except 3x04, "Gwaine" - in this one, Gwaine gets plenty instead.)
Also Arthur is pants-less in two consecutive episodes, 4x03 and 4x04. Pants-less Arthur seems to be the new shirt-less Arthur.
Cenred wears awfully tight leather.
Merlin's Adorkable smiles are their own form of fanservice. As is his general adorkableness. On another note, he was the first one in the show to get a Shirtless Scene, before they caught on to what the fangirls wanted.
To some, Morgause as well, whether in her red dress or her armor.
Mugging the Monster: A very common trope in this series. Merlin is a small, untrained peasant boy who often goes unarmed, so he looks like a good target for attack. But as those who are unlucky enough to try soon find out, Merlin goes unarmed because he is completely capable of killing you with a thought.
My God, What Have I Done?: Gwen's reaction after Arthur witnesses her and Lancelot kissing the night before her and Arthur's wedding. Made all the worse because only the audience knows that she was under a spell the entire time and she actually believes that she willingly betrayed Arthur even if she doesn't understand why.
Gwen: I was drawn to him, I couldn't stop myself, I don't know why!!
Mysterious Protector: Inverted with Merlin's alter-ego Dragoon. Though he's trying to save Gwen's life, his plan involves him making everyone believe that he's their enemy.
Mythology Gag: Guinevere's remark about having to never choose between Arthur and Lancelot. However, recent episodes suggest this was more Foreshadowing.
An early episode also has her sarcastically mutter: "Who would want to marry Arthur?" Well, actually, Gwen...
1x10: "In this circle, we are all equal."
The frequently shown long, rectangular table (which always has Uther sitting at its head) is also an allusion to the Round Table. They contrast the tyranny and elitism of Uther with the fairness and equality of Arthur's future reign.
Arthur's and Morgana's flirty repletion in Series 1 is possibly a reference to how in some of the myths Arthur was tricked into sleeping with Morgana so she could conceive a child with a right to the throne.
My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Merlin is often instinctively aware of magical activity around him, most notably in To Kill The King with the Expy of the Philosopher's Stone, and in "The Tears of Uther Pendragon" when he recoils in the same moment that Morgana drives the staff into the ground in order to raise the dead (and even Breaks The Forth Wall while he does it, considering he seems to be staring straight at the camera). He also seems to sense that there's something a bit off about the bracelet that Arthur is wearing when he leaves for his quest in "Eye of the Phoenix."
The Needs of the Many: A Central Theme. Uther and Merlin will usually adhere to this line of thinking; Arthur will usually chose his friends, family, or personal honour over the greater good (so far it's worked out for him).
Nice Guy/Nice Girl: Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot and Mithian are all genuinely sweet-natured and friendly people - though the first two are also cases of Good Is Not Soft as the series goes on.
Nice Hat: The official servant's ceremonial clothes include a huge feathered monstrosity of a hat. Gwen even comments, "nice hat," in between giggles.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Freeing the dragon is not Merlin's best idea ever. Merlin's treatment of Morgana and Mordred is a contributing cause of her Face Heel Turn and his Start of Darkness. To some extent perhaps, Merlin trying to heal Uther - even though Uther's death isn't his fault, Merlin/Dragoon's price to gain peace for the magic-users may be lost.
Works to Merlin's benefit when lifting the dragon's egg causes the tower in which it was hidden to collapse. Evokes a Nothing Could Survive That from one of the knights.
Uther's crusade against all magic only seems to create more enemies than it eliminates. By killing all the minnows in the pond, he's effectively left the sharks. And they are clearly not happy.
In the last episode, Gwen successfully manages to feed a spy false information and send Morgana looking for Arthur and Merlin in the wrong place. Gwaine and Percival then think it's a good idea to chase after her, get captured and tortured and tell her where they really are, allowing Morgana to stop Merlin getting Arthur to Avalon in time.
Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Inverted. Uther's genocide of the dragonlords actually causes the birth of Merlin, who is destined to undo all his work.
Nice to the Waiter: Arthur flip-flops with this in regard to Merlin. While he clearly assumes he's the superior and constantly insults and berates Merlin while Merlin's trying to do his job, he has shown that he cares about the common people and occasionally shows Merlin some measure of affection and respect.
He's also willing to risk his life to protect or save Merlin without a second thought.
Mithian shows that she's a genuinely nice person through her treatment of Merlin, a servant.
Noble Demon: Uther might be a genocidal tyrant but he's also a loving parent and a brave warrior who will put himself in harm's way to protect his kingdom.
No Hero to His Valet: The show is built on this trope. As Arthur's manservant, Merlin sees him at his worst - and most vulnerable.
No Man of Woman Born: You can't kill a High Priestess with a mortal blade. As the show demonstrates, however, this is quite easy to poke holes in if you're feeling creative. Lightning, wall-smashing, and magical blades have all been used to dispatch high priestesses.
Throughout series one the most important person in Gwen's life was Morgana.
Morgana and Morgause.
Not So Different: Said almost word by word by Agravaine to Merlin. They're both close to Arthur and both betray his trust one way or another.
Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: A variant. Agravaine is quick to say that he personally has no problem with Arthur's relationship with a servant when he advises him to break things off with Gwen.
Not What It Looks Like: Merlin frequently gets walked in on in various compromising-looking situations, usually by Arthur or Gwen. Not only does he have to explain that it's not what it looks like, he usually can't even tell the truth and so has to come up with another (comedically improbable) excuse. While they usually don't believe him, they trust him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Now Let Me Carry You: Mordred is glad to take care of an injured Morgana, in thanks for her previously caring for him.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Deconstructed. All the characters who aren't Lancelot, Gaius, or Gwen seem utterly convinced Merlin's a moron. Merlin is occasionally bumbling and clueless, but since he keeps his more deductive, perceptive, and wiser side hidden from the other characters, when it shines through they acknowledge it then immediately forget it. You'd think that since he's always right, someone would catch on, but Status Quo Is God.
This happened several times to Merlin, whenever someone (usually Arthur or Uther) complimented him for helping them in the fight against magic.
Oblivious to Love: Guinevere is a little oblivious to Arthur's feelings for her between episodes 2.02 and 2.04. She's astonished by their First Kiss and gobsmacked by the fact that he came to rescue her from Hengist's fortress. By 2.10 she seems to have caught on...
Some fans would say also Merlin and Gwen, who have teamed up on more than one occasion to investigate the fantastical mysteries in Camelot, earning them the Fan Nickname of "Camelot's Detective Agency."
Offscreen Teleportation: In the season four finale, Merlin magically throws Morgana backward, at the same time knocking down part of the ceiling. Morgana is apparently knocked out. What can't be more than ten seconds later, Morgana has completely vanished, even though she was already badly injured and in a castle full of hostile soldiers.
Older and Wiser: The changing of the Opening Narration in Series 4, a subtle indication that the Great Dragon considers Merlin as a young man, rather than a "boy".
There have been three Marys: Mary the tavern-keeper, Mary Howden, and Mary Collins (though the last was never named on-screen).
Once per Episode: Merlin cries. Morgana gives an evil smirk. Arthur mocks Merlin. [[Hard Head: Arthur gets conveniently knocked out]].
And in the first season especially, a monster appears Camelot's best knights try to fight it and fail, Gaius does some research and tells Merlin "It can only be killed by magic," Merlin uses his magic powers to slay the monster, and everything is back to normal.
Only a Flesh Wound: Averted every single time. If you get stabbed, you'll pass out pretty quick from blood loss. Even a small wound has to be treated and can be infected if you aren't careful. They do use this to knock people out at plot-convenient moments, but to their credit it's always realistically played.
Only Friend: Will is implied to have been Merlin's before he came to Camelot.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Colin Morgan. In the episode Lancelot & Guinevere, his Irish accent slips through a bit in this line:
Merlin: Is it really that hard to admit you like her?
Our Monsters Are Different: The traditional Manticore is a reddish lion with a head resembling a bearded man's, either a scorpion's tail or a dragon's tipped with poisonous barbs and three rows of razor-sharp teeth in its mouth. Here, it's a tiny frilled lizard with a man-ish head.
Our Trolls Are Different: Green skinned, greedy and love to eat rotting fruit and vegetables. Able to use potions to take on human form and enchant humans.
Out-of-Character Alert: Subverted when Arthur offers up his right to the throne if Uther only spares Guinevere's life. Uther declares that this is something that Arthur would never say were he not under an enchantment - only Arthur isn't under a spell, and he does mean it.
Out of Order: 3X08 ("The Eye of the Phoenix") and 3X10 ("Queen of Hearts") were switched around in order to boost ratings, which did some pretty serious continuity damage to Morgana and Guinevere's relationship. And ironically, "Queen of Hearts" ended up being the highest rated episode thus far.
2x07 ("The Witchfinder") was originally meant to be 2x04, but was pushed back.
Parental Abandonment: None of the four main characters has a complete set of parents: Arthur, Morgana and Gwen have all definitely lost a parent. The status of Gwen and Morgana's mothers remains unknown, but they are presumably also dead. Merlin's father is not a straight-up example as he was forced to abandon Hunith to flee from Uther before he even knew that she was pregnant, and thus has no idea that he has a son. Then he died when Merlin finally met him.
Morgana views Uther keeping the secret that he is her real father explicitly as this.
Which is Morgana's view, but probably shouldn't be anyone's else's. Her father dotes on her in not just "I'm giving you riches, be nice", but actually and very willingly spends a lot of time with her; he even spends a whole year having the kingdom searched and sacrificing a lot of men to retrieve her, he also listens to her advices, something he's not always done for Arthur, and while he has on occasions "punished" her for standing up to him, he has also acknowledged that this standing-up to him is vital to him running a fair and just kingdom. Plus, it's not like Arthur hates or even dislikes her, and like the prince would throw her out had he the chance. In short, Morgana is literally living like a princess and she is set for a life as such, but she's ready to kill her father because he won't jeopardize his position (and hers, as been pointed in the Succession Crisis entry below ). Yes, Uther is a hypocritical tyrant on many levels, but while his treatment of magical people or even of Morgana's "father" (Gorlois) are very slow in turning her against him, as soon as he declines recognising her as his daughter, she immediately tries to kill him. Spoiled child's tantrum, much?
Parental Favouritism: Played with, for either Arthur or Morgana could be described as Uther's favourite. Although Arthur is considered the most important of Uther's children (being the heir to the throne), Uther excessively dotes on Morgana and gives her far more leeway than he does Arthur. In light of recent events, this has come back to bite Uther in more than one way.
Patricide: Morgana has a definite hand in finally killing Uther.
Pet the Dog: Sophia and her father come across as standard villains, but at the conclusion of the episode there is a surprisingly touching scene in which Sophia's father gives up his immortality in order to secure his daughter's.
Uther genuinely cares about his children.
Phrase Catcher: "When you are king, things will be different" to Arthur.
Politically Correct History: Gwen (Guinevere) is black. Anachronistic, perhaps, but we're not that fussed. Lancelot's race is never mentioned but he is noticeably darker-skinned than the rest of the cast (he is played by Santiago Cabrera, who is Chilean.)
This is not necessarily true, as there have been black people in Britain since the Romans conquered it, and southern Europeans tend to be darker than those in the north (in reference to Lancelot, not Gwen).
Actually, Gwen's physical appearance may just be one of the least anachronistic aspects of the show: her darker skin and curly hair suggest that she is Silurian (no, not that kind of Silurian).
Poison Is Evil: Inverted, as it is first the heroic Merlin who uses it for morally-dubious means (killing Morgana in order to break a fatal spell upon Camelot). Later Morgana plays this trope straight when it comes to killing a man who would have otherwise been able to identify her as the traitor.
Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Arthur does this to Merlin. However, he did it to ensure that Merlin wouldn't get the poison and that he would, to save his friend's life.
Power Glows: The eyes of magical people/creatures briefly glow during spellcasting.
Power Incontinence: Merlin initially. As he points out in the first episode, he's never studied magic, or knows any spells, but his power... just sort of happens.
Morgana is a better example. She has no control over her seer powers at any point, and has to wear a special bracelet to keep them away unless they are really important, such as prophecies. When she first uses actual magic, she has no control over it, and even after training for a year with her half-sister, she still loses control once and tosses Merlin into a wall.
Mordred as well. It doesn't look like he meant to break those mirrors.
Alternately, you could say Merlin is notable for averting this, since all the other inherit magic users need training to get control of it, whereas Merlin was able to move objects at will even before he could talk.
The Power of Love: The Dragon instructs Merlin to use this to break the enchantment that has left Arthur infatuated with Vivian. A True Love's Kiss from Gwen does the job.
The Power Of Trust: Is a Central Theme in season 4, when Arthur finally assumes the throne. He spends most of the season under the pretence that he can trust no one. In a cruel twist, his uncle, the one person that he really can't trust, actually uses this to get him to mistrust everyone else. When he realizes this in the finale, he goes in complete Heroic BSOD, and it takes pulling the sword from the stone to make him believe he can be a king again.
Power Nullifier: In the season 4 finale, Merlin uses a mandrake doll placed under Morgana's bed to (temporarily at least) completely block her magical powers. Needless to say, she reacted poorly when she tried to use her magic later. Also a Call Back to Season 3 when Morgana put a doll beneath Uther's bed and made him go crazy.
In Series 5, Morgana has a magic-eating slug to de-power Merlin in the Grand Finale.
Power Trio: Merlin ("Magic"), Arthur ("Courage") and Gwaine ("Strength"). Arthur, Gwen and Merlin also form a trio.
The Promise: played straight many times, from Freya to Merlin ("Someday I will repay you"), Arthur and Gwen ("I can promise you that when I am King, things will be different"), Merlin's promise to the Dragon that he will free him, and mentioned with Uther's promise to Gorlois about taking care of Morgana. And every promise has been kept, or at least it has been hinted that they will.
Lancelot was not able to keep his promise to Guinevere that he would rescue her from Hengist's fortress. Though he tries his best, it is Arthur who saves her. This leads to Lancelot's decision to leave in the middle of the night, feeling himself unworthy.
Arthur broke his promise to Guinevere that her home was hers for life when he banished her from Camelot. Yes, there were mitigating circumstances, but the promise was still broken.
The Prophecy: The prophecy about Merlin helping Arthur become the great king who will unite all of Albion.
And the prophecy that Morgana is now spending all her time trying to prevent happening: that Emrys (Merlin, though she doesn't know it) will be "her destiny and her doom."
Prophecy Twist: The series ending. After five series and ten year in-show worth of promise that Arthur is the one who will bring magic back and lead Albion to a golden age, it's Guinevere who will achieve those things. Arthur merely makes it possible to happen by making her his queen, repeals the oppression on the Druids (magic is still banned), and maintains cordial diplomatic relationship with leaders like Queen Annis.
Protectorate: For Merlin, it is Arthur and Guinevere, the former because of his destiny and the latter because of their pre-existing friendship and her eventual relationship with Arthur. His protection also extends to anyone with magical abilities, such as Mordred and Freya.
Public Domain Artifact: Excalibur in the episode of that name. Also, who wants to bet that the Cup of Life in "Le Morte d'Arthur" is actually the Holy Grail?
We've now also seen the Round Table.
Public Execution: Tons of 'em, either by beheading, hanging or pyre. In fact, the very first thing Merlin sees on arriving in Camelot is a magic-user getting his head cut off.
Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Lancelot du Lac has the scene where Arthur is rather calmly confronting Gwen after catching her kissing Lancelot the night before their wedding, coldly trying to supply reasons for why she did it. When she fails to come up with a rational, coherent answer, he just snaps:
Arthur: Then forgive me! Because I must be really stupid! WHAT! WERE YOU DOING!!!
The Purge: Known as "the Great Purge", this is the time in which Uther had all those who possessed magic executed.
Put on a Bus: Unfortunately, Asa Butterfield (Mordred) won't be in Series three because of scheduled filming conflicts. Also doesn't appear in Series four, and is too young when season five rolls around.
Real Men Hate Affection: At the end of Beauty and the Beast Arthur thanks Merlin for his help in getting rid of a troll, and reaches out to pat him on the back. Merlin misinterprets the gesture and tries to hug him, only to get a resounding no from Arthur. Finally averted in Season 4, when Arthur hugs Merlin in relief on finding him alive after being captured by Morgana
Averted between Merlin and Gwaine. On getting separated in The Eye of the Phoenix, Gwaine hugs Merlin once they're reunited (Arthur only pats him on the back).
Really 700 Years Old: Nimueh. Her actual age is unknown but she is clearly at least a generation older than she looks.
Merlin in the Distant Finale. It takes place in modern times and he looks quite old, but whether or not that is a magical disguise Merlin is way older than he looks.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: Merlin gets to tell Uther's ghost a piece of his mind in 5x03. Earlier, under the Dragoon guise, he says some scathing things to both Uther and Arthur.
Religion is Magic: Merlin and dragons (as well as various magical beings) are creatures of Old Religion, which appears to be a form of paganism.
Requisite Royal Regalia: There have been at least three different crowns worn by the Kings of Camelot. Uther had two: a simple circlet and a more elaborate one (which was only seen at the beginning of the first series), whilst Arthur wears a large golden one with Fleur-de-lis spikes. The crown for the Queen of Camelot (as worn by Morgana and then Guinevere) is larger and covered in jewels.
Most kings, queens and princesses that guest star on the show wear some sort of crown or coronet to indicate their status.
In the second episode, the villain uses a shield with snakes that come to life.
Morgana uses a miniature Hydra to take control of Merlin's mind.
Lamia is definitely abhorrent.
Reset Button: The writers have done this a lot with regards to the progression of Merlin and Arthur's friendship, causing enormous fan frustration. One episode they're starting to trust each other, the next, Arthur is treating Merlin just like he did back at the beginning of series one. Alas, even with a complex story arc, it seems that Status Quo Is God in many ways.
This is also the case with the Uther/Arthur relationship. No matter how many awful things Uther does, Arthur continues to fight for his approval and affection. The worst example is when Uther almost has Guinevere burnt at the stake despite his son's pleas, yet by the very next episode Arthur is worrying about whether he should fight (and potentially injure) Uther in a tournament.
Averted heavily in Series 4 with the death of Uther.
Also averted in Series 4 with the Arthur and Merlin relationship. Arthur finally calls Merlin his friend, admits he's right, seeks out his advice and even goes as far as to investigate whether Devil in Plain Sight Agravaine is betraying him purely because he knows that Merlin would not defy him unless the situation was grave. When he does treat him as a stupid manservant in A Herald of the New Age, it's clearly demonstrated as being out of character.
Rivals Team Up: Arthur and Lancelot team up in order to defeat the Wildren (giant rats). Somewhat subverted in that they don't realize that they're rivals until a few minutes later when Arthur notices Lancelot holding hands with Guinevere.
Royal Brat: Both Arthur and Morgana have their moments, though neither one holds a candle to Lady Vivian.
Royally Screwed Up: It's revealed in series three that the Pendragon men have a history of mental illness, one which King Uther ultimately succumbs to after his illegitimate daughter betrays him and takes the throne.
Rule of Funny: Why Merlin doesn't use magic while trying to kill Arthur in "A Servant of Two Masters."
It could be argued that it was because Morgana,who doesn't know about Merlin's magic, was the one controlling him.
Alternatively, Merlin was still in there somewhere and didn't want to actually kill Arthur, or be arrested before he could.*
But that's highly doubtful.
Sadistic Choice: When Merlin claimed the the wine from a visiting king was poisoned, Uther calmly gave the cup to Merlin to drink. If it was poisoned, Merlin would die. If it wasn't poisoned, Merlin would be given to the infuriated visiting king to do whatever he wishes to Merlin.
In another episode, Merlin and Arthur were given two cups, one with poison. All the liquid in the two cups had to be consumed, and neither cup could be drunken from by more than one boy. They TookAThirdOption by combining the liquids into one cup, which was then definitely poisoned. Merlin would have drunken from it, but Arthur sacrificed himself.
Towards the end of series two, Merlin is given the choice of either allowing Camelot to be destroyed by some freaky enchantment placed on Morgana or personally trying to kill her. Ouch.
It looks like Gwen's headed for one in 3x07, where she must choose to save the life of either Arthur or her estranged brother Elyan. This is instantly nipped in the bud when she tells Arthur of the deal.
Sadly Mythtaken: The show takes several, uh, liberties with traditional Arthurian legend. It also sometimes uses less familiar versions of the legend (preferring Monmouth to Mallory).
Frankly they could remove all Arthurian references by changing the characters' names without damaging the series in the slightest - it's just that far from the conventional narrative.
By the end of the third series, the characters and their storylines are mostly headed toward their familiar legendary roles.
Secret Keeper: Outside Merlin's village, the only two people who know his secret (thus far) are Gaius and Lancelot.
For a long time, the only people who knew about Morgana's prophetic dreams were Gwen, Gaius and Merlin. That now includes Morgause, and possibly the men under her command.
Arthur and Gwen's secret love affair is swiftly becoming the worst-kept secret in Camelot. Merlin was pretty much in the know right from the start, followed by Gaius. Lancelot and Gwaine were quick to catch on as well. As of the third series Morgana has figured it out and spilled the beans to Morgause.
Secret Test of Character: After Arthur had killed a unicorn, the keeper of the unicorns tested him on a few occasions, to see if he was pure-hearted. The first test was seeing if he would let a thief who was stealing food go, despite the rules. The second test was if he would forgive the thief, after he found out that the thief had stolen more than enough food. The third test was to see whether Arthur would sacrifice himself for Merlin, by taking the poison.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Morgana turning against Camelot seems to be one of these. The Dragon warns Merlin about her turning evil, and as a result Merlin drives her away.
Merlin's attempts to prevent the potential future which he has seen in The Crystal Cave lead to this.
Morgana's schemes to break up Arthur and Gwen only cements their relationship.
Merlin tries to prevent Mordred from escaping the Camelot knights and seems to cements the child's hate although in season five, Mordred doesn't appear antagonistic toward Merlin.
The entire show is this trope. Interestingly enough, after The Crystal Cave, Merlin becomes Genre Savvy enough to recognize this and uses it to his advantage a couple of times, advising Arthur more often so that he will become the king he's prophesied to be.
Merlin: You may be destined to rule Camelot but you have a choice as to how you do it.
Thus it is no surprise that the Sensitive Guys (Merlin and Lancelot) get along perfectly, whilst the Manly Men (Arthur and Gwaine) do nothing but snark at each other.
Separated By The Wall: In 3x08, Merlin accidentally activates a trap and gets separated from Gwaine and Arthur by a falling stone door. Then the three of them press their heads against it trying to communicate but failing.
The Beginning Of The End, The Crystal Cave and The Disir each have Merlin trying to deal with the inviolate nature of fate. Each time he builds on his experiences of the time before in order to make a different and more morally ambiguous decision.
Shipper on Deck: Gaius, apparently...at least if his little chat with Gwen in The Last Dragonlord is anything to go by. Merlin also actively encourages Gwen/Arthur. In early series one Gwen of all people seemed to be encouraging Arthur/Morgana.
Ship Tease: Arthur/Gwen, Gwen/Merlin, Merlin/Arthur, Morgana/Merlin, Gwen/Morgana, Arthur/Morgana, Arthur/Lancelot, Merlin/Lancelot: pretty much any way you want to pair things, so far.
A lot of the reason the show has such a harmonious fandom is that there is subtext for every possible ship. Even the incestuous and huge-age-differenced ones. And the show knows this. Many, many fans simply ship the main four characters (Merlin, Arthur, Gwen and Morgana) as "one big OT4 orgy".
The trailer for season 4 contains a passionate kiss between Guinevere and Lancelot, a scene that ends with Arthur storming in on them and attacking Lancelot. Out of everything else featured in the trailer, it's this scene that is currently generating most of the debate in the fandom.
Shirtless Scene: As the series has progressed, it has become more and more apparent that Arthur is never going to be able to rule Camelot effectively if he really has quite such a debilitating allergy to clothing as the now practically mandatory per-episode use of the "and then Arthur gets naked" scene seems to imply. Not that this is in any way a bad thing...
Thus far we have had Shirtless Scenes from Merlin, Arthur, Gwaine, Uther, Leon, and that random shape-shifting bad guy in "Gwaine". Takes a little longer for Lancelot and Percival to strip off. Yet to whip his shirt off is Elyan.
In 4x07, Agravaine gets one, too.
Shout Out: The ornamental Celtic mask that is on the cover of the Winter King can be seen on Arthur's table in the background in the first series finale.
Which is in turn oddly similar to the helmet from Sutton Hoo.
Several episodes are named after famous Arthurian texts: "Le Morte d'Arthur" is named after Sir Thomas Malory's compilation of Arthurian tales, The Once and Future Queen is a play on T.H. White's The Once and Future King, The Coming of Arthur is the first chapter/poem in Tennyson's Idylls of the King (as well as a chapter title in Roger Lancelyn Green's more contemporary retelling of the legend) and The Wicked Day is a quote from Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, as well as the title of the fourth book in Mary Stewart's Merlin series.
The goblin giving Arthur donkey ears (and braying) is reminiscent of Puck giving a donkey head to Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It is also similar to something that happened to King Midas of Classical Mythology and in the book Pinocchio.
In "His Father's Son", two armies meet on the battlefield and each send out a champion, one of which is much larger than the other. Sounds a lot like the story of David and Goliath in The Bible.
Merlin being the one who puts Excalibur into the stone and afterwards orchestrates Arthur's retrieval of it is reminiscent of Discworld's commentary on the Sword In The Stone trope.
Silk Hiding Steel / Proper Lady: Arguably, Gwen: patient, gentle, devoted to her loved ones but doesn't hesitate to take up arms when Camelot or someone she cares for is in danger. Although she does not fill the housewife image that usually accompanies the trope, she considers her job as a servant a worthwhile one and makes this very plain to Arthur when he is dismissive of her.
Sins of Our Fathers: Subverted in "A Herald of the New Age". The spirit of a druid boy killed during Uther's reign possesses Elyan and compels him to take revenge upon the king. Merlin assumes the spirit wants revenge against the deceased Uther and is targeting the current king, Arthur, instead. When Arthur goes to make amends, he reveals that he actually led that particular raid when he was younger. Though he tried to spare the women and children, things got out of hand and he froze up instead of calling it off.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: A bit of an odd mix. Doing the right thing frequently makes everything worse, and the heroes often have to do morally ambiguous things to save the day. On the other hand, things like love, honour and justice are strongly present and presented as good things, and there is the constant hope that one day, when Arthur is King, those things will be what rules the land.
The series' ending is plain depressing. Arthur dies because Merlin tries everything to save him and because Arthur himself does what he thinks is right for Camelot. Merlin's magic and contribution is recognized but it is not confirmed on screen that the ban on magic is lifted post Camlann.
Smooch of Victory: A strange variant of this where Gwen had kissed Merlin, after he had woken up from the poison.
Merlin can defeat an entire raiding party with one spell, but he absolutely sucks in a sword fight.
Unless, of course, he has a sword that makes people explode!
Averted with Morgana and Morgause, both of whom are skilled with the sword, though Morgana's magic isn't quite as strong. Both are even able to defeat Arthur in fair fight (Morgause does so on screen, while Morgana at least claims that she can).
Spell My Name with an S: The man known to anyone who's ever taken an English literature course as Gawain is here called Gwaine for no particular reason. (Medieval literature was less concerned with spelling conventions, and his name is even spelled Wowan at one point in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but Gawaine isn't an overly utilized spelling.)
Likewise, the traditional spelling of Nimue, is here spelled with an h: Nimueh.
Spit Take: In 3x04, Merlin does one after Gaius says "You must remember that not all masters are as good to their servants as Arthur."
Spot of Tea: Merlin and Gaius drink it often; when Merlin comforts Gwen in The Castle of Fyrien he brings her a cup of tea.
Averted in series 4. Gwen and Arthur ship de-anchors, Arthur starts asking Merlin for advice, Uther dies and Arthur finally becomes King of Camelot, we've seen the first step towards lifting the ban on magic (Arthur ending the persecution of the druids), Anyone Can Die, and Guinevere gets banished from Camelot for cheating on Arthur on the eve of their wedding and doesn't return until the end of the season, where they are married and she crowned.
Succession Crisis: In 3.05 this is implied to be a consequence of the revelation that Uther is father of both Arthur and Morgana, making both of them potential heirs to the throne. In fact, Merlin has a potential future vision of Morgana as queen. It comes true in 3.12 when she temporarily overthrows Uther and appoints herself queen.
Some would say that an unacknowledged, unmarried bastard daughter would not be allowed to ascend the throne legitimately, despite seeing in the series that [[bastard children]] are not treated differently (see Merlin himself).
Morgause and Morgana simply plan to kill Arthur, because they think that, with only one child left, Uther would no choice but no make Morgana his crowned heir: after all, we are shown that it's not a simple matter of lineage, as Arthur has to be made official heir, that legitimacy is taken away later in the two-parter episode and Catrina becomes in turn the designated heir; in addition, Uther reminds Arthur that he personally had to win his kingdom, not inherit it, and thus puts Arthur though quite a few ordeals and trials to judge if his son is ready to become king.
Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Averted. One would have thought that Arthur knighting Elyan would have sufficiently elevated Guinevere's status to a level that, if still not entirely acceptable, would not create quite as much of a stir should Arthur wish to marry her. However, this loophole seems not to have occurred to anyone, and despite Elyan's presence within the inner circle of Arthur's most trusted knights, Gwen is still working as a servant (albeit to the king). One must also consider that until recently, only nobleman could be knighted, and such change happens very slowly, one thing at a time.
Swiss Cheese Security: It is surprisingly easy to break into and out of, not only the castle itself, but also the dungeons, Arthur's room, the throne room, Gaius's room, and any guest room.
Table Space: The increasing estrangement between Uther and Morgana is often symbolised by the two of them sitting at opposite ends of a long table. When the family unit is more cohesive, they sit together down one end.
Take Care of the Kids: When Morgana's father Gorlois died, he extracted a promise from Uther that she would be taken care of. This is revealed to be a subversion later in the series when we learn that Morgana is actually Uther's biological daughter.
The trope is also invoked between Arthur and Guinevere: on two separate occasions they ask Merlin to take care of the other one on finding themselves in grave danger.
The Chosen Zero: Merlin's immediate reaction to being told that Arthur is the destined King who will save the land is "There must be another Arthur, because this one's an idiot!"
The Mole: Agravaine. And previously, Morgana to a point.
Time Master: Merlin is occasionally shown to be able to alter the flow of time at will.
Time Skip: Most seasons have been paced close a year apart, mostly in order to justify why winter never comes to Camelot (because the series is filmed in spring/summer in Real Life). It's justified since the major plot elements happen close to each other and things mostly slow down in-between these skips. More notably, though:
There is a one-yearTime Skip between seasons 2 and 3, which was at least partially done to facilitate Morgana's off-screen Face Heel Turn.
Three years have passed between seasons four and five.
Torture Technician: Alator of the Catha, and the rest of the Catha. Morgana also uses a magical snake, the Nathair, to torture Elyan in 4x12. Afterwards, Gaius described him as "tortured to the limit of human endurance". Aredian fits this also.
Trailers Always Spoil: 4x03 was (probably) a legitimately surprising twist for the series. SyFy proceeded to spoil that twist before ever airing the fourth season. It can't even be blamed on a random montage, either; they outright spell it out in case it wasn't obvious enough.
Making your soldiers do the job doesn't count, otherwise it would be Morgana.
Unicorn: Arthur killed a unicorn despite Merlin warning him not to, and Camelot was cursed. Arthur had to succeed at three tests to prove his worth in order to lift the curse. He almost failed, but passed when he attempted to drink the allegedly poisoned drink to save Merlin. In the end, he buried the unicorn horn and the unicorn came back to life.
Arthur/Gwen, starting from series 2 and building from there. It gets resolved in series 4, despite a slight hiccup, when Gwen is made Queen.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Something of a meta-example. The show is filmed in the real French castle of Pierrefonds, which features a bizarre stone statue of a pelican with exposed breasts on the balustrade of the castle's exterior staircase. Often it appears in the background of certain shots, but no one ever comments on (or laughs about) it.
Vague Age: Arthur was twenty one in series 1, but for as for the rest of the young cast, there are only vague implications that Morgana is a few years older than Arthur, and that Guinevere and Merlin are younger.
Merlin's age can be roughly worked out from canon info: Merlin was conceived at the end of the Great Purge which was described as having taken place 20 years ago during series one when Arthur is 21. So Merlin must be roughly a year and nine months younger than Arthur.
Lancelot's funeral in 4x09. Again, Merlin's task. Same for Arthur's sendoff in the Grand Finale
Villain with Good Publicity: The only thing keeping Merlin from revealing Morgana's villainy in Series 3 is the fact that 1) she is the King's Ward and daughter and that 2) if the knowledge of him having poisoned her in the past were to be exposed, Merlin would be executed on the spot.
“Well Done Son” Guy: Employed rather well, since whilst we are initially led to believe that Arthur is simply a bit of a prat, it quickly becomes clear that more or less everything he does, he simply does in an attempt to impress or win the respect of the rather emotionally distant Uther. Subverted in more recent episodes, as Arthur's ideas on how best to govern Camelot become more clearly separate from his father's and he starts to assert himself more as future King.
5x05. It's just as bad a Downer Ending as Lancelot du Lac, only worse...only Merlin knows how bad it is, and he can't tell anyone.
5x06. By the end of the episode, Elyan is dead and Gwen has switched sides to join Morgana. And nobody yet knows of her Face Heel Turn.
5x11 Mordred does a Face Heel Turn, defects to Morgana and tells her who Emrys is
5x13, which is to be expected considering it's the Grand Finale. Mordred seriously wounds Arthur in battle, before Arthur kills him, Merlin reveals his magic to Arthur, Gwaine is murdered by Morgana, Morgana is killed by Merlin, Arthur succumbs to his wound and dies, Gwen becomes the ruler of Camelot.
What the Hell, Hero?: Gaius gives a pretty epic one to Uther when he is nearly put to death because a con-man framed him as a sorcerer, preying on Uther's overzealous fear of all things magical.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Merlin kills Grunhilde, even though she wasn't actually doing anything particularly threatening, nor even trying to actively kill anyone at any point during the story. And it's treated as something you do casually.
There's also the former Sidhe he murdered with the same weapon. While he might have been justified in killing the father to ensure Arthur's rescue, one imagines that his killing the man's unarmed, griefstricken daughter in cold blood would have been taken more seriously if she'd been human.
What's Up, King Dude?: Although there seems to be some degree of security in place, almost anybody is free to drop by Camelot and be given an audience with the king.
When He Smiles: Merlin has a goofy grin that is both adorable and quite beautiful at the same
Who Would Be Stupid Enough: In 3x10, when Merlin suggests to invent a sorcerer to take the blame on Arthur being "enchanted", Gaius asks "And do you know a sorcerer stupid enough to get caught doing such a thing?". Cue Merlin's obvious answer.
Window Love: Guinevere and Lancelot speak to each other through the grated window of Gwen's cell.
A Wizard Did It: When Merlin wonders how the gang of renegade sorcerers knew that a royal party led by Arthur was coming for them, Arthur is content to say, "They used magic or something." Admittedly, this trope is probably more justifiable in this show than elsewhere.
Words Do Not Make The Magic: In 1x02, it shows how Merlin struggles through a long night in order to master the spell he needs to save Arthur, even though he can say the incantation properly, it's not enough for him to use that spell.
World of Badass. Somehow every single character manages to be this, despite most of them being Woobies as well.
Would Hit a Girl: Merlin has no qualms about maiming or killing female enemies with his magic (Nimueh, Sophia, Mary Collins, Grunhilda, Morgause, Morgana).
Uther has gotten physically violent with both Morgana and Guinevere.
Arthur is actually the most gentle when it comes to women. He was squeamish about fighting Morgause in combat, and only kills Catrina when she's reverted back to troll-form. The one time he man-handles Gwen, he immediately backs off and apologizes.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Arthur is under the impression that he's the main character, that Merlin is just his Side Kick, and that most of the Monsters of the Week are dispatched by him or his knights. He also remains completely unaware that long before Guinevere was his Love Interest, she had a crush on Merlin and even kissed him once.
The X of Y: Out of the 65 episodes produced, about 20 (that is, about a third) are titled with variants on this trope.
Yank the Dog's Chain: When she takes over Camelot, Morgana offers to give Gaius food if Gwaine provides entertainment by fighting. When he wins, she tosses him a paltry amount of food and has him fight two more guys for something substantial. Mind you, Gwaine is already starving at this point.
And then again in "Beauty and the Beast: Part Two".
You Can't Fight Fate: Multiple times, most notably when in 5x05, Merlin forces himself to advise Arthur not to let magic return to Kamelot just to bring forth the death of Mordred which he forsaw killing Artur, only to find out that not only had he passed on the opportunity to lift Uther's bane on magic, his actions also healed Mordred. And of course the series finale.