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  • Dark Action Girl: Morgana, Morgause and Nimueh.
  • Dark Age Europe: Played with, but given the lack of religion and Gauis' knowledge, isn't always true to the trope. It works out fairly well, though, because quite frankly, no one wants to see Dark Age Europe.
  • Darker and Edgier: Series 2. Especially 2x12.
    • And then Series 3, with its (hallucinations of) drowned children.
    • Series 4. The opening episode alone might be darker than the previous three series put together.
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    • Series 5. Gwen's torture in the Dark Tower and her subsequent Sanity Slippage, Merlin becoming increasingly ruthless, (and getting called out on it), and Morgana really stepping up the evil this season with Mind Rape and Cold-Blooded Torture becoming the norm...
  • Deadpan Snarker: Various characters have their witty and humorous moments, such as Arthur, Gwaine, Gauis, Gwen, etc. But Merlin is probably the biggest embodiment of this trope. He always has a witty and sarcastic comment, joke or catch phrase to say.
  • Dead Star Walking: This show loved bringing in reasonably big-name guest stars only to kill them off almost immediately, including: Phil Davies, James Callis, Gary Lewis, Holliday Grainger, Sarah Parish, Charles Dance, Eve Myles, John Shrapnel, Julian Rhind-Tutt and John Lynch, among others.
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  • Death Glare: Merlin and Morgana spend a lot of series three doing this to each other.
  • Death by Childbirth: Ygraine, Arthur's mother.
  • Death by Origin Story: Arthur's mom, Ygraine, died giving birth to him. The catalyst for Uther's magic ban and a major part of the series' premise.
  • Death by Secret Identity: Oh boy. Almost all the people who have discovered Merlin's secret are dead. Most One Shot Characters, were they Villains Of The Week such as Edwin, Sophia, Aulfric, Tauren, Sigan, Catrina, Jonas, Aredian, Grunhilda, and more recently, Borden, Lamia; or Victims Of The Week such as Will, Freya, Balinor, the Fisher King and Daegal, have died within the episode. And then we have the few who lasted longer, such as Nimueh, Agravaine, and more recently, proving that Anyone Can Die, Lancelot and Alator.
    • As of the series finale, Mordred, Morgana and Arthur have joined the list.
    • In fact, it's quicker to name the characters that haven't fallen prey to this trope: it's a short-list of Hunith, Gaius, Gilli and (eventually) Guinevere.
  • December–December Romance / New Old Flame: Alice and Gaius, as shown in Love In The Time Of Dragons.
  • Decomposite Character: It's tricky when dealing with legends, but in most cases the Lady of the Lake is usually Nimueh or Vivian. Here, they are three totally different characters: a druid girl called Frey is the Lady of the Lake, Nimueh is a High Priestess and Vivian is a completely unrelated princess.
  • Decoy Damsel: Nimueh purposely plays this trope in The Poisoned Chalice, in order to gain Merlin and then Arthur's sympathies and trust.
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    • It's also been used by Sophia, Catrina, Lamia, and Morgana. Mithian was also one in Another's Sorrow to lead Arthur into a trap, but was coerced into doing so.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Morgana seems to be heading this way and then heads all the way back.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Arthur can be sexist and elitist at times.
    • 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.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Especially in Season One, the show had a habit of taking the names of reasonably significant Arthurian characters, like Pellinore, and giving them to random knights, who were then killed.
    • In series four and five, Gaius is given virtually nothing to do except provide exposition and exist as a sounding board to Merlin. True, that was always his role, but he was also given several character-centric episodes in the past. This was not necessarily a bad thing, as the introduction of the knights of the Round Table at the end of series three meant that the show was juggling Loads and Loads of Characters, and one of the themes of the season was passing on the torch to the younger generation.
    • Gwaine became this in series four and five — oddly enough, he got more screen-time and characterization as a guest star than as a series regular.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "I want you to swear that you will keep your oath." Because no one will expect you to keep a promise unless you promise to keep it...
  • 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.
  • Deus ex Machina: Morgana looks like she's pretty much out for the count in the season four finale, but the white dragon Merlin hatched decides to drop by and heal her.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: A frequent trope for this show. Most of the time the "devil" is someone (rather easily) gaining Uther's or Arthur's trust.
  • Disappeared Dad: Merlin's father. Technically, he's less "disappeared" and more "dead" now.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Nimeuh in the literal sense (though more "Season" than "Disc"); Morgause in the sense of being the "half-way point" villain and having lasted two whole Seasons.
  • Disguised in Drag: Sir Leon in episode 3x13. Yes, really. Gwen dresses him up to escape Camelot. And Merlin himself in 5x09, when he's already in disguise as the old sorceror.
  • Disney Villain Death: Aredian the witchfinder.
  • 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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • 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?
    • Also the dragon's attack on Camelot. Uther slaughtered his entire kind, and in response he attempts to raze the city to the ground, leaving Uther untouched as his subjects die. Well, it's the exact same thing that Uther did to him, but he was still killing innocents.
  • Distant Finale: The epilogue is in modern day.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Happens frequently with Merlin: every time he first meets a woman he's momentarily dumbfounded by their beauty. However, when things get serious, he plays the reverse trope. In The Lady of the Lake, after Freya goes back to her human form for the last time, she's completely naked. The moment Merlin realizes this he takes off his jacket and covers her without even trying to sneak a glance. Happens again in The Hunter's Heart, when he finds Gwen injured in the forest. She's wearing something that looks like a harem woman outfit, but he's focused on healing her.
  • Distressed Damsel: A lot of the girls featured in the show veer between this and Damsel out of Distress , often in the same episode.
    • Le Mort d'Arthur: Hunith is the victim of Merlin's Deal with the Devil when his agreement with Nimueh to spare Arthur's life backfires on his mother.
    • Lancelot and Guinevere: Morgana and Guinevere, despite being in considerable danger 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).
  • Distressed Dude: There are actually far, far more Distressed Dudes than Damsels in the show; so many that it would be impossible to list every example. Here's a quick run-down:
  • Disturbing Statistic: While discussing a tournament Arthur is about to compete in, Merlin keeps talking about how many people died the last time, just on the first day.
  • Doctor's Orders: Gaius gives Uther orders.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Happens more often than you'd think. Sometimes stumbles into Ho Yay.
    • In 3x09 that Manticore was a little too pleased with being milked.
      • Also from that episode, Merlin holding the ring for Arthur to practice joust with.
  • Double Entendre: Cenred does not only think with his "sword".
  • Dragon Rider: Merlin gets to have a shot early in Series 3.
    • 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.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: 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.
  • Druid Boy / Druid Girl: Mordred and Freya.
  • 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.
  • Duel to the Death: Arthur is often challenged to these.
  • The Dutiful Son: Arthur. Much to his own detriment.
  • 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.
    • In the first episode Arthur was portrayed as a brutish bully, 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.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Morgana. Contributes to her ethereal beauty.
    • Merlin. He has very dark (almost black) hair which contrasts with his ultra pale skin. It's especially noticeable in later seasons.
    • Freya.
  • Egg MacGuffin: The whole point of Aithusa is to find a Dragon's egg.
  • Eldritch Location: The Valley of the Fallen Kings.
    • The Dark Tower, very much so. In addition to the stories young knights are apparently told to scare them away from it, it is surrounded by an impenetrable forest that, in addition to being nigh impenetrable, reverses directions so you can only get out if you have help. It also looks terrifying and Queen Mab gives Merlin some rather disturbing advice:
      Queen Mab: You must beware, Emrys. The Tower is not a real place. It is the heart's rest, the mind's deepest fear, the stillness in the hummingbird's eye.
  • 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.
  • Empathic Environment: In 2x09, it's raining as Freya dies.
  • Enfante Terrible: Mordred
  • 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.
  • Esoteric Motifs
  • 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).
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Arthur, apparently. According to the (male) villain in Sweet Dreams:
    Every woman in the land is attracted to this boy- I'm almost attracted to him myself.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Curiously averted (for the time being).
    • 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.
  • Everyone Can See It: Arthur is not good at hiding his feelings for Gwen. Not good. At all.
  • Evil Chancellor: Agravaine.
  • Evil Feels Good: Morgana looks positively orgasmic every time she plots against her family and friends, performs dark magic, or takes an innocent life.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The Dorocha appear as demonic, screaming skeletons made of smoke. They can kill any mortal by touching them, seemingly freezing them to death.
  • Evil Is Not Well-Lit: Most of Agravaine and Morgana's scenes in series four take place in a dark little hovel in the woods.
  • Evil Makeover: As of series four, Morgana wears a gothic black dress and green eye-shadow with dark eyeliner, as well as having wild hair.
  • Evil Sorcerer / Evil Sorceress: Morgana, Morgause, Nimueh, Mordred.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Uther Pendragon vs Nimueh and other Villains.
  • 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. although it may have been because Merlin is immortal, and, therefore, he couldn't DIE in Arthur's place
  • Excalibur in the Stone: In The Coming Of Arthur Part 2.
  • Expecting Someone Shorter: After identifying Arthur as 'Courage', Grettir tells him "you're not as short as I thought you'd be."
  • Expy: To the first series of Smallville: the superpowered teenager who can't reveal his secret (Merlin and Clark); his father figure who knows his secret (Gaius and Jonathan); his male best friend who will one day learn his secret (Pete and Arthur), his female best friend with UST (Gwen and Chloe); his future enemy pre-Face–Heel Turn (Morgana and Lex); said enemy's antagonistic father (Uther and Lionel). And later, his ally who knows his secret (Lancelot and Oliver) with a team of warriors (Knights of Camelot and the Justice League).
    • Writer Julian Jones has admitted that their version of Tristan and Isolde are based on Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005).
    • Queen Annis bears more than a passing resemblance to Boudicca, and there's some speculation that Princess Mithian was based on the more familiar characterization of Guinevere, being both high-born and in a (temporary) Arranged Marriage with King Arthur (the show's real Guinevere being a servant girl widely known as Gwen).
    • Though not strictly a character, the Mage Stone in To Kill The King is clearly The Philosopher's Stone, presumably changed in order to avoid comparisons with Harry Potter.
    • The Cup of Life is clearly the Holy Grail.
  • Faceless Goons: In season 3, Cenred's armies all wear balaclavas over their heads.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Morgana in series 3.
  • The Fair Folk: The Sidhe.
  • 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).
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: In 1x01, Merlin makes one fall on Mary Collins.
  • Famous Last Words: Coincidentally (or not, though it's likely the writers just forgot) both Arthur and Lancelot have the exact same last words: they each say "thank you" to Merlin before they die.
  • Fan Disservice: Uther spends quite a few nights in bed with a literal troll.
  • Fan Nickname: The Slash Dragon for the dragon and lately, "Smirkgana" for Morgana. King Giles for Uther
  • Fanservice Pack: Guinevere is prettied up. The difference is obvious.
  • Fantastic Racism: Uther's pogrom against magic users.
  • 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 Morgause, 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.
  • Fingerless Gloves: Gaius wears them.
  • 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.
    • Arthur started out as an arrogant prat, but he was also observant, intelligent and quick-thinking, and wasn't afraid to defy his father. In later seasons, he was given crippling Daddy Issues, would dismiss Merlin at every opportunity, and was utterly oblivious to magic even when it was happening right before his eyes. To add insult to injury, it became a Running Gag that he wasn't even able to dress himself. It's actually quite shocking to go back and watch him in the first seasons, in which he immediately takes Merlin's word that a magic-user is on the loose in the second episode, and for him to correctly identify a small hurricane as magical in the tenth.
  • Flirty Stepsiblings : Arthur and Morgana in series 1. Abandoned in series 2, leading to the revelation that they actually share a father, which retroactively gives their banter shades of Brother–Sister Incest.
  • Flower Motifs: Gwen is often associated with flowers, whether she's picking them, receiving them, or wearing them in her hair. This seems to be a deliberate contrast to Morgana, who wears jewels.
  • Friend Versus Lover: Notably avoided between Merlin and Guinevere in regards to Arthur, who are more than happy to share him.
  • 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.
  • Follow the Leader: The show is essentially repurposing the premise of Smallville for the Arthurian mythos. Both shows feature the untold adventures of a well-established hero and his supporting cast when they were teenagers, with a mix of Teen Drama and Monster of the Week elements, designed to appeal to the same Target Audience and Periphery Demographic. The similarities have been acknowledged by the cast & crew in interviews. To whit:
    • 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 socially awkward, 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.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: The Witchfinder.
  • Freudian Trio: In the trio of Merlin, Arthur and Gwen, Merlin is The Spock / Superego (Calm, secretive, has made at least one Sadistic Choice in which he sacrificed a dear friend in order to save a greater number of people) to Arthur's The McCoy / Id (Arrogant, aggressive, impulsive, is driven by his emotions, usually puts the individual before the bigger picture to Arthur's) and Gwen's The Kirk / Ego (The Heart, motherly, adored by both men as a Love Interest/Sister Figure. See The Spock.
    • In the Power Trio of Merlin (Magic), Arthur (Courage) and Gwaine (Strength), Merlin is The Kirk / Ego (Balanced, neutral, the mediator between the opposing personalities of Arthur and Gwaine, friends with both Arthur and Gwaine) to Arthur's The Spock / Superego (Stoic, serious, strategic, noble, courageous) and Gwaine's The McCoy / Id (Fun-loving, roguish, carefree, rebellious, daredevil).
      • Merlin could be seen as the Ego mediating between the magical power respresented by the wise Gaius (Superego) and the human world of the impulsive Arthur (Id).
  • Friendly Rivalry: Arthur and Gwaine.
  • Friendship Moment: All the time between the main four, especially between Merlin and Arthur.
  • 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).
  • Future Badass: Merlin, who becomes the most powerful sorcerer on Earth, Emrys.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Get Out!: Arthur when sacking Merlin in Valiant after the servant's suspicions made him look bad in front of the court.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Arthur gets donkey ears. Funny. Arthur can't speak without braying. Hilarious. But then a sympathetic Gwen begins to stroke his ears, and suddenly Arthur looks remarkably...contented.
    • 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 Merlin to tell him 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.
  • Giant Flyer: The Great Dragon, Aithusa and Freya (in her Bastet or winged panther form).
  • 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...'
  • Girl Next Door: Gwen.
  • Girly Bruiser: Morgana and Morgause are both feminine and pretty handy with a sword as well as combat.
  • 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."
    • Though not commented upon, Merlin's Dragoon disguise holds up when he looks in the mirror. This may be because his spell is much more powerful - he even has trouble undoing it, whereas Morgause had been concerned that her spell wouldn't hold.
  • 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.
    • Arthur dies smiling in the Grand Finale
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Morgana, the last two eps of season 3. And season 4.
  • The Good King: Arthur in season 4 and 5.
  • 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 hesitation, 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.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Combined with Bloodless Carnage in episode 9, during Owain and Tristan DuBois's otherwise violent (well, for bulky, armor-weighted knights) battle.
  • Go to Your Room!: Uther to Morgana in 2x10.
    "You will go to your chambers!"
  • 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?
  • Guile Hero: Merlin. In the beginning, Merlin depends on using his magic to solve problems and combat the enemies, but as the series progresses, he seems to use manipulation along with his magic.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Subverted, as despite their big words, both Uther and Arthur feel remorse and guilt for their actions against magic-users.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Arthur.
    • Ygraine. She had a pure and good heart, like her son.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: An in-universe example. In "The Witchfinder", one of the women affected by the belladonna-laced eye-drops claims to have seen drowned faces in the well who were screaming at her. We later find out in "The Tears of Uther Pendragon", that during the Great Purge, Uther actually did have people accused of magic drowned within wells, including children.
  • Hate Plague: Lamia infects the knights with this.
  • Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?
  • Healing Magic Is the Hardest: Seems to be the case for Merlin. He could not heal Arthur in 3x05, and has difficulty with healing spell again in 5x07.
  • The Heart: Merlin. He is the centrepiece as well as the emotional aspect of the series. He brings everyone together and had helped to form all of the major, important relationships on the show. Merlin is also the main influence for Arthur going from an icy, arrogant, entitled, selfish and spoiled Royal Brat to a much kinder, caring, understanding leader and king..
    • Gwen also shares this role with Merlin although to a lesser extent.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Merlin, Merlin, Merlin. It's a miracle the guy hasn't broken down in four series.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Subverted; they're always present in combat.
    • Unless you're Arthur, who almost never does.
  • The Hero: Merlin is THE hero of the series. He is the protector of Camelot and all of its inhabitants.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Arthur and all of the Knights of Camelot use swords as their Weapon of Choice. Merlin uses a combination of magic and a sword at times.
  • 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.
    • Arthur has a huge one in the series finale when he discovers that Merlin is actually a sorcerer.
    • Merlin has many of these throughout the series, but the most notable one is in the series finale when Arthur dies. Merlin ends up losing it big time.
  • 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.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Arthur and Merlin. With bonus Ho Yay. Lots and lots of Ho Yay.
    The Dragon (about Merlin and Arthur): That your's and Arthur's path lies together is but the truth.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Uther
    • Also, Merlin later on in the series.
  • Hidden Badass: Merlin. At first, Merlin seems to be a scrawny, weak and incompetent servant but in reality, he is actually very strong and powerful due to possessing magical abilities. Merlin is arguably the most powerful character in the series.
    • Also, Mordred.
  • Hideous Hangover Cure: Gaius', according to himself.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: Emilia Fox as of "Queen of Hearts". This is probably why Morgause was flung into a wall, buried under rocks, deformed, put in a cart, and stabbed to death!
  • The High Queen: As of the end of series four, Queen Guinevere Pendragon.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Finally appeared on the series 3 box set. And they were worth waiting for.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: Nix on the main characters, of debatable existence, but there's definitely some Hollywood Homely happening with the other people of the time. This was over 1000 years ago in kingdom Britain, the peasants really shouldn't be anywhere near as attractive as they are.
    Katie McGrath: They don't exist in TV. Everybody's good looking.
  • 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.
    • A darker example in "The Dark Tower". Morgana alternates between cruelty and kindness when she has Gwen hostage in an attempt to brainwash her. Morgana holding out her hand to Gwen and getting Gwen to take her hand in turn are vital steps on the road to inducing Stockholm Syndrome.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: With all of the male characters but the strongest subtext on the show is between Arthur and Merlin by far. Even Eoin Macken, who plays Gwaine, mentions how much homoeroticism exists between Colin and Bradley's characters on the show.
  • 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 professing 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.
  • Hostage MacGuffin: In one episode, Lady Morgana is ambushed and captured, knowing that she is the beloved ward of King Uther.
  • Hot Witch: Morgana, Morgause, Nimueh.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Arthur and Gwen. She stands about level with his shoulder.
    • As well as Percival and Lamia in 4x08.
  • Hunk: Arthur, Lancelot, Percival, Gwaine and Elyan. Basically all of the Knights at the Round Table are Hunk Central.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Agravaine, nuff said.
    • 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.note 
  • Hypocrite: A deliberate and fascinating example is King Uther. 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.
    • The reason he hates magic in the first place is because he made a deal with a sorceress to conceive a son with his barren wife. Furthermore, he describes his deceased wife as "my soul" and yet we later find out that he had an affair with his best friend's wife, and that (as he says to his son) "I know about the temptations of serving girls."
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