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  • Rags to Riches: Guinevere when she goes from being a poor maidservant to the sole ruler and Queen of Camelot after she marries King Arthur.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Merlin and Morgana.
  • 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.
  • 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
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    • 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. Whether or not this is a magical disguise, Merlin is by this point way older than he looks.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Merlin gets to give Uther's ghost a piece of his mind in 5x03. Earlier, in his Dragoon guise, he says some scathing things to both Uther and Arthur.
  • Rebellious Princess: Deconstructed with Elena in 3x06.
  • Red Is Heroic: The red capes of Camelot knights. Though it's also ironically Red Shirt for knights who are not main characters.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Merlin is the Blue Oni to Arthur's Red Oni. While Merlin is logical (mostly), intelligent and practical, Arthur is impulsive, hot headed and passionate.
    • Lancelot is the Blue to Arthur's Red.
    • Merlin is the Blue to Gwaine's Red.
    • Gwen could be considered as the Blue to Morgana's Red.
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  • Redemption in the Rain: At the end of Le Mort d'Arthur, when Gaius comes back to life.
  • Red Shirt: Rather literally, in regard to the various knights and guards of Camelot.
    • Redshirt Army: How many times have we seen knights get killed? Geez.
  • Reducedto Ratburgers: A Running Gag.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Probably the only reason Merlin keeps his job is because of this (that and for all his apparent eccentricity, he's utterly loyal to Arthur, has saved his life countless times, and a surprisingly good adviser).
    Arthur: What are you doing?
    Merlin: Looking for woodworm
    Arthur: Before breakfast?
    Merlin: That's when the worms are most active.
  • 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.
  • Remember the New Guy?:
    • The writers take advantage of a year's Time Skip between series three and four to introduce Arthur's uncle Agravaine as though he's been present in the kingdom all along. Even though he's never been mentioned before, there are lines like: "I promised your mother I'd always be there for you," and "I've known him since I was a child," though there's no indication where he's been all this time.
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    • A similar thing happened with Guinevere's brother Elyan and Morgana's half-sister Morgause, even though these examples were partially justified in that the former siblings were estranged for years, and the latter were deliberately kept apart.
  • 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.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent:
    • 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. Sadly, though, this kind of attitude is Truth in Television in many dysfunctional families.
    • 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.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Uther.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Queen Mab.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Aithusa. Don't you dare claim you didn't say "Awwwww," when he hatched.
  • Risking the King: Arthur's Honor Before Reason nature often leads to him personally going on dangerous missions, even if it's not a wise thing to do.
  • 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.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: The Wildren.
  • Romance on the Set: Bradley James is dating Georgia King (Elena).
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Gwen and Morgana, at first. Becomes Morgana and Morgause, though they're half-sisters.
  • 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.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • The series shows Prince Arthur to be not only the Camelot's heir apparent, but also the day-to-day commander of the kingdom's armed forces. He not only leads them in battle, but also recruits the knights and oversees their training. He also seems to be the closest thing that the kingdom has to a sheriff or chief of police. If any "crime" occurs, it's usually Arthur that's sent to investigate.
    • It's heavily implied that his father King Uther was this as well in his youth. He does prove himself quite handy with a sword, despite his age, and for all his many flaws, you can see where Arthur gets it from.
    • The first episode that showcases Guinevere as Queen makes a point of demonstrating how active she is: she gives advice at a council meeting, she rules the kingdom in her husband's absence, and she ferrets out a traitor that was leaking information to her enemies.
  • 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.note 
  • 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. Politically speaking, this was actually probably the best call under the circumstances - from Uther's point of view.
    • 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. This, unfortunately, led to a Heel–Face Door-Slam and pushed Morgana towards darkness.
    • 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 - ironically, the former actually appears several times as a royal adviser and archivist).
    • 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.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Morgause, who waltzes into Camelot, kills five guards, enters the Great Hall, challenges Arthur to a duel which he accepts, then removes her helmet. Win..
  • Sarcastic Confession: Morgana telling Arthur where she's hidden Mordred.
  • Satellite Love Interest:
    • Deliberately an Invoked Trope between Arthur and Vivian, the latter being a Royal Brat who only exists to flounce around in pretty clothes. The two of them are put under a Love Spell that makes them act like Sickening Sweethearts, much to the bafflement of everyone else.
    • But notably subverted with two more of Arthur's Romantic False Leads: Princess Elena and Princess Mithian. Both are brought to Camelot (at different times) to join in an Arranged Marriage to Arthur, but instead of treating them as mere impediments to his happiness with Guinevere, both are likeable and developed characters. Elena's importance to the narrative has less to do with her relationship to Arthur as it does her role as an Unwitting Pawn in The Fair Folks' attempt to take over Camelot, and though Mithian's function was simply as a Love Interest to Arthur, she was also a three-dimensional character who ended up being popular enough to return to the show in the next season.
    • But played straight with Freya, Merlin's Lost Lenore. She gets one scene in which she's permitted to share details of her past (and even that is more of a Mythology Gag that establishes her affinity for lakes), the rest of the time she only exists so that Merlin can be her Caretaker, enjoy openly using his magic in front of her, and experience manpain when she dies. It's especially glaring when he takes her to a lakeside in order to Let Her Die Happy and she mutters: "you remembered..." Well of course he remembered - her love of lakes is the only personal detail she ever shares with him!
    • Guinevere is often accused of being "just a love interest" by detractors, and though it's true that most of her screen-time does indeed centre on her relationship with Arthur, the ultimate purpose of her Character Arc was to become Queen of Camelot — and it's unclear how her cynics expected this to happen without a relationship with Arthur arising (as you may have guessed, a lot of Die for Our Ship was at work here). Her Character Development involved a significant boost in confidence brought about by Arthur's love for her, and many of her strongest scenes note  occurred when Arthur was completely absent. And by the end of the series, she assumes control over Camelot after Arthur's death with confirmation by Word of God that she successfully ruled over the Golden Age in his stead. She could be described as a case of a Satellite Love Interest in the sense that she's Never a Self-Made Woman, but her character was given plenty of personal development and independent power as a direct result of her role as Arthur's Love Interest.
  • Say My Name: We get a few between the boys, but none of them beats Arthur's holler of (say it with me now!) GUINEVEEEEEEEERE.
    • Very true, although Merlin's whole Arthur! Go faster! thing kind of has its own merits...
    • And the way Merlin pronounces Freya is quite lovely.
    • Arthur's constant shouting of "MERLIN!"
  • Scatting: In 2x09, after kissing Freya for the first time, Merlin can't stop humming. While eating.
  • Schiff One-Liner / Wham Line: 1x08.
    Mordred: My name is Mordred.
    • Immediately followed by Ominous Latin Chanting. If that does not say wham...
    • "There can be no place for magic in Camelot." in 5x05.
  • Scars Are Forever: Uther's forehead.
  • Scenery Porn: Plenty of this in the series.
  • Screw Destiny
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Uther, ordering the use of magic if necessary to save Morgana.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In 5x08, it only takes Merlin taking out one of the bandits for the rest of them to realise they've bitten off more than they can chew. Daegal's impressed.
  • 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 swiftly becomes 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 Relationship: Arthur and Gwen, up until the end of series three.
  • 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.
  • Seen It All: Nimueh.
  • 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 cement 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 learns 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.
    • Unfortunately, though, Merlin's increased obsession with protecting Arthur from an apparently genuinely heroic Mordred who is supposedly leads to the latter's final Face–Heel Turn and instrumental role in Arthur's demise.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Merlin and Arthur, with Merlin being the Sensitive Guy to Arthur's Manly Man.
    • Lancelot and Arthur, with Lancelot being the Sensitive Guy to Arthur's Manly Man.
    • Merlin and Gwaine, with Merlin being the Sensitive Guy to Gwaine's Manly Man.
      • 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.
  • Sequel Episode:
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Elena, especially when that sidhe was removed from inside her.
    • Guinevere in the dream sequence of her coronation. And in season five, with those rich dresses.
  • Shining City: Camelot
  • 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 copious 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 generated most of the debate in the fandom. As it turns out, Gwen was enchanted by Morgana, who'd resurrected Lancelot as a shade, specifically to stir up trouble. And try and kill Arthur.
  • 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...
    • Also, Gwaine. Thank you, gods of Fanservice!
      • 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.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: Agravaine ticks all the prerequisites of this trope. He pops up completely unannounced in series 4, having been integrated into the court during the Time Skip with no explanation as to where he was beforehand. He's the well-respected Evil Uncle of Arthur, who speaks of him as though he's known him all his life, even though he didn't get so much as a mention in any of the prior seasons. He has a close working relationship with Morgana, though their history together is never explained. Actor Nathaniel Parker is Promoted to Opening Credits by the fourth episode after his introduction, and appears in every episode of that season (to add insult to injury, regulars Katie McGrath and Angel Coulby had to sit out a few episodes). And he proceeds to do absolutely nothing of note except feed information to Morgana and act Obviously Evil. The writers never gave him any clear background or meaningful motivation (although his talk about his sister suggests that he may be motivated by his resentment of the fact that his sister died giving birth to Arthur), and they eventually Dropped a Bridge on Him in the final episode. By the time season five rolled around, it was difficult to remember that he'd ever existed at all.
    • The show also had Alvarr, who only appeared in one episode, but who was touted as extremely important to the series as a) the leader of a group of renegade druids which included Mordred, b) a Chessmaster who could easily manipulate and control those around him, c) a Love Interest to Morgana (complete with a Love Triangle given the presence of his druid girlfriend), d) a pivotal reason as to why Morgana turns against Uther, and e) as someone who survived the episode in which he appeared, escaping from the dungeons with Morgana's help with the implication that they would meet again. He was never seen or mentioned again.
  • 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 Darthur, 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 - namely, the bloke who put the sword in the stone is the impressive one.
    • The show has a scene lifted straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Prince Arthur is facing a warrior in a duel. Said warrior starts off with an elaborate sword-spinning display; Arthur simply punches him in the face.
    • Gaius saying "Who would have believed it?" refers to his role in One Foot in the Grave where his character Victor Meldrew would often exclaim "I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" This was eventually used for a Children In Need special.
  • Shown Their Work: Merlin's magic incantations are Middle Welsh, written for the show by the Welsh department at Aberystwyth University, Wales.
  • Single Tear: Merlin when he kisses Freya for the first time.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: In season one, this seems to be set up between Arthur and Morgana.
    • And Arthur & Merlin.
      • That is probably going to remain unresolved, though after Arthur marries Gwen in the series four finale.
  • Sibling Team: Morgana and Morgause.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Arthur and Morgana, naturally, but also Gwen and Elyan.
  • 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 vs. 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.
  • The Smart Guy: Merlin. He's probably the most intelligent, wise and logical character in the series. You'd never guess, though...
  • Smooch of Victory: A strange variant of this where Gwen had kissed Merlin, after he had woken up from the poison.
  • Smug Smiler: Morgana and Agravaine.
  • Smug Snake: Morgana.
  • So Happy Together: In Lady Of The Lake, Freya and Merlin are planning to leave Camelot that same night, they share a kiss, Merlin leaves with a big smile on his face... and then we find out Freya is going to escape without him to keep him from losing the good life he has. Ouch.
    • In The Last Dragonlord, Merlin happily talks to Balinor about a family union with Hunith in Ealdor. Sure enough, Balinor dies shortly afterwards.
  • Squishy Wizard:
    • Merlin can defeat a raiding party with one spell, but he absolutely sucks in a sword fight.
      • Unless 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.
  • Status Quo Is God: Oh, so very much. Whenever anything looks like it's going to change, the writers just hit the old Reset Button.
    • 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.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Gwen and Lancelot. Also pretty much everyone else, eventually, I expect.
    • Merlin and Freya so much.
  • The Starscream: Morgana beginning in Series 3 becomes this to Uther.
  • Stealth Pun: Uther has a penned dragon, the smith is black.
    • Gwen's even-darker-skinned brother is named Elyan. As in, the Arthurian character Elyan the White?
  • Stock Episode Titles: Quite a few, including The Beginning of the End (5), The Kindness of Strangers (9), Queen of Hearts (13), Sweet Dreams (17), Beauty and the Beast (31), and Sins of the Father (59).
  • Stock Punishment: Merlin, a lot in series one. It was used as a Running Gag in The Gates Of Avalon.
  • Stripperiffic: The bizarrely slashed up dress aside, just take a look at those platform heel sandals of Nimueh's that lace up to her knees...
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Between Merlin and Morgana, back in series one when she tells him that she "knows his secret." Wrong secret, dear.
  • Sword & Sorcery: Merlin and Arthur. Although Arthur doesn't know it.
  • Sword over Head: Lancelot does this when fighting to the death in a cage match.
  • Subordinate Excuse: Despite Arthur's claims that Merlin is the worst servant he's ever has, there's no real indication that he's willing to replace him with someone else...
  • 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 to 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. The fact that her father was executed as a traitor (he was framed) probably doesn't help.
  • Suicide Mission: In The Coming of Arthur Part II, taking Camelot back from Morgause, Morgana and an army of immortal soldiers, with nine people.
    • Gwaine sees the mission to rid Camelot of the Dorocha as this, claiming cheerfully that they're "all riding to their deaths anyway" when Leon comments on his recklessness.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: Merlin when he uses magic. Also Morgana and Morgause, and most other magic users. This seems to be a common trait among magical creatures: the Dragon and the Manticore have them as well.
  • Supernatural Is Purple: Nimueh, Freya and Lamia wear purple dresses, and Alator wears a purple robe.
    • Let's not forget Merlin's "purple shirt of sex" from 4X06.
  • Super Strength: Percival appears to have this.
    • Also, Merlin seems to possess this as Emrys in the series finale when he carries Arthur.
  • Super Weight:
  • 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. This might be a sly reference to Smallville, on which the series was heavily based, and the Running Gag of just about anyone getting into Lex's supposedly highly secure mansion.
  • 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.
  • Take Me Instead: In Le Mort d'Arthur, Arthur is bitten by a Questing Beast. This leads to Merlin negotiating his life for Arthur's, only to discover that his mother Hunith becomes grievously ill instead. Anticipating Merlin's sacrifice, Gaius goes to barter his life for Hunith's, only for Merlin to offer up his own instead. The whole thing is resolved when Nimueh is struck by lightning summoned by Merlin, thus maintaining the balance of life and death.
  • Take Over the City: Morgana and Morgause in The Coming of Arthur two-parter and again the end of season 4.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Lancelot and Gwaine.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Merlin and Gwaine.
  • Tap on the Head: Arthur gets knocked out from one almost Once per Episode.
    • And in a deleted scene from 3x04, Gwaine uses a jug to knock a knight out.
  • Teens Are Short: Averted. Merlin is taller than almost the entire cast.
  • Teen Genius: Merlin. Averted now that he is no longer a teen.
  • Tempting Fate: Arthur in 3x12.
    Arthur: Who knows? Maybe just this once, we'll have no trouble.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: It clocks in at about five minutes when Gaius leaves in 1x06 after his place as court physician is usurped by a younger man who naturally turns out to be evil.
  • Terrible Trio: Morgana, Helios and Agravaine.
  • They Do: Uther and Catrina. Arthur and Gwen
  • The Bad Guy Wins: 4x03 4x09
  • There Are No Rules: The melee in "The Sorcerer's Shadow".
  • Thicker Than Water: A subtle theme in the series. Characters on both sides are loyal to their families. Hunith and Gaius are Merlin's Berserk Button. Gwen rescues Elyan. Many antagonists are motivated by revenge for their loved ones killed by Camelot. Uther loves his children and them being in danger tends to lead to reminders that Arthur's badassery didn't come out of nowhere. Morgause takes care of Morgana, before the roles are switched. The only exception to the norm is Morgana, who wants to kill her father Uther and half-brother Arthur
  • There Is Another: Dragons, with the birth of Aithusa.
    • Excalibur isn't the only blade forged in dragon's breath as Morgana makes another one for Mordred later.
  • These Hands Have Killed: 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.
  • This Is Not My Life to Take: Early on Nimueh puts Arthur in a dangerous situation but doesn't just kill him, saying that he was never meant to die by her hand.
  • ¡Three Amigos!: Merlin (The Hero, The Protagonist, The Heart, Messianic Archetype), Arthur (Royal Blood, Bromantic Foil to Merlin, Heterosexual Life-Partners with Merlin, Love Interest to Gwen), and Guinevere (The Chick, Token Chick, Black Best Friend to Merlin, Love Interest to Arthur).
  • Threshold Guardians: The Cailleach, the gatekeeper of the spirit world.
  • Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Literally, in several episodes.
  • Throw It In!: Arthur smushing his foot in Merlin's face in The Moment of Truth was ad-libbed by Bradley, and Colin's reaction is real.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Arthur in The Poisoned Chalice, and again in The Moment of Truth although the second time he might have missed as all he hit was a post next to the man with the axe.
  • 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-year Time 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.
  • The Time of Myths: Straight from the narrator's mouth.
  • Title In: A curious aversion in the episode Excalibur. The famous sword is never named, and though many characters comment on its power, no one save the audience knows what it truly is.
  • Title Montage
  • Token Minority: Mixed-race actress Angel Coulby was the result of Ability over Appearance when it came to casting her as Guinevere on Merlin, and to their credit, the producers have never once defended or explained this decision beyond saying that she was the best for the role. However, one can't help but feel that the later inclusion of Gwen's brother Elyan was the result of this trope: he's the only black knight of the Round Table and doesn't really get to do much. His death, which seemed to only serve as an excuse for people to brush off Gwen's post-brainwashing strangeness, was far from encouraging. After Gwen returned to normal, he was forgotten. Their dad also served as this before he too was killed off.
  • Tomboy Princess: Elena.
  • Tonight, Someone Kisses: The episode promos often show characters kissing, such as Arthur and Sophia in The Gates Of Avalon, Uther and Catrina in Beauty and the Beast Part I, Merlin and Freya in Lady of the Lake, Arthur and Vivian in Sweet Dreams, and Gwen and Arthur in both Queen Of Hearts and The Coming Of Arthur Part II.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Uther, to the point that you start to wonder how he and Arthur managed to stay alive until Merlin arrived.
    • Nimueh. Granted, Merlin can't seem like much of a threat. But she decided that, rather than avoid angering Merlin by choosing a victim he would not know, she would go for his mother which she knows is a Berserk Button of his. And then she lures him to the Isle of the Blessed for a face-off. And when he gets up unscathed from a fireball to the chest, she just smirks at him patronisingly. The worst part? Unlike most villains, she actually knew she was fighting the greatest wizard of all time, and it doesn't even occur to her that this might be a really bad idea. Merlin proceeds to show the audience just why this was a bad idea: by exploding her with lightning. As Gaius anticipated, Merlin would have sacrificed himself to save his mother, and she might well have counted on that to get him out of the way. She certainly didn't expect Gaius to turn up instead, dismissing him as a Dirty Coward for saying nothing during The Purge.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Morgana in the third series, so much.
  • 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.
  • The Tourney: Once a Season
  • Toyless Toyline Character: It was not until 2012 that Guinevere got turned into an action figure, years after all her co-stars were toyified. You could argue that this coincided with her character becoming Queen of Camelot and thus a more interesting character for children to play with, though it doesn't explain why the manufacturers thought that a Gaius action figure (available for years before Gwen's) was considered more marketable than she was.
  • 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.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Arthur with the people from Merlin's home town.
  • Transformation Sequence: In 2x09, Freya suffers the Monstrous Transformation type: with pain, bulging muscles and ripping clothes.
  • Traitor Shot: Too many to count from Morgana in series three.
  • True Companions: In the beginning of the series, Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, and Morgana are this to one another. Inverted with Morgana at the end of Series 2 after Merlin poisons her to defeat Morgause's spell threatening Arthur and Camelot. Merlin saves Morgana by reversing the effects of the poison, but being poisoned spurs Morgana's total Face–Heel Turn into a villain and inverts this, seeing her friends as her enemies. The rest of the group remain True Companions to one another, while Morgana becomes a case of We Used to Be Friends.
  • True Love's Kiss: In order to snap Arthur out of the spell where he was madly in love with Princess Vivian, Gwen had to kiss him.
  • Tsundere: Arthur towards Merlin. He's Type A.
    • Also, Merlin towards Arthur. He's Type B.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: In the third season, a lot more emphasis is placed on Gwen joining what was previously the Heterosexual Life-Partners relationship between Arthur and Merlin to form a Power Trio destined to rule Camelot together as King, Queen and Advisor.
  • Tyrannicide: Morgana kills Uther by using her own magic to cause the amulet Merlin-in-disguise gives Arthur to save Uther to backfire and kill him, seeing him as a tyrant for his brutal repression of magic users.
  • Undeath Always Ends: The undead armies from The Tears of Uther Pendragon Part II, The Coming Of Arthur Part II, and the Dorocha from The Darkest Hour Part I and The Darkest Hour Part II end up being kicked back to death by the heroes. Also the Fisher King, but by his own choice.
  • Underestimating Badassery: You have two royals, a bunch of knights, a High Priestess, and a skinny, untrained, proverbially clumsy manservant. Guess which one has the highest body count of the series? note 
  • 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.
  • The Un-Smile: Gaius, 2x12.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Some say Arthur/Morgana, in the first series.
    • 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.
  • The Un-Reveal: So, so many times. The teaser for the next episodes sets up Arthur finding out that Merlin is a warlock every other episode, and yet... nothing.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Something of a meta-example. The show was 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.
  • Viking Funeral: Merlin gives Freya one of these in 2x09.
    • 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. Both of which she points out herself.
    • As of Season 4, Agravaine is this as well.
  • Violent Glaswegian: The Saxons, for some reason.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Gwen. She knocked out Merlin twice when he attempts to kill or hurt Arthur in 4x06.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Again, Merlin and Arthur.
    • All the Knights of the Round Table would also qualify.
  • Wake Up, Go to Work, Save the World: Merlin.
  • Warrior Prince: Arthur, of course.
  • Weapon Twirling: Whenever there are swords out, somebody twirls one at least once.
  • We Can Rule Together: Nimueh tries this on Merlin in Le Mort d'Arthur. Does not work.
  • Wedding Deadline: Merlin just misses it in "Beauty and the Beast".
  • Weirdness Censor: No one notices either Merlin mumbling nonsense to himself or his eyes turning gold, even if he's right in front of them.
  • Weirdness Magnet/Doom Magnet: With all the stuff going on, one has to wonder if it's Merlin or just the whole of Camelot that's attracting it.
  • Welcome Episode: All of the key relationships of the show (sans Arthur/Gwen) are well established in Camelot when Merlin shows up in the first episode.
  • Welcome to the Big City: When Merlin arrives at Camelot, the first thing he sees is the execution of a man accused of sorcery.
  • "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.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: 99.9% of villains are sorcerers looking for revenge against Uther/Camelot.
    • And, perhaps, Uther himself, who does have a repeatedly demonstrated point about how dangerous magic can be. However, most of that danger was caused by his actions in the first place, and he turns out to be something of a Hypocrite.
      • As of series three Morgana, though her obvious glee in causing havoc among her former friends pushes her into For the Lulz territory.
    • Merlin has officially become this in Series 5, where the other characters call him out for his questionable actions, especially towards Mordred.
  • Wham Episode: 2x12, especially the ending. Holy crap.
    • 3x12. All of it. Talk about a Downer Ending.
    • Episodes 2 and 3 of Series 4. Holy crap!
    • 4x09. Just...4x09.
    • 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, grief-stricken 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 the Clock Strikes Twelve: In 2x09, Freya starts transforming into the Bastet.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Only for Merlin himself, though.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Fisher King in episode 8, who has been waiting for someone to come so he can finally die.
  • 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.
  • Witch Species: Merlin, Morgana, Mordred, Morgause and other minor characters are all born with magical abilities, though the prevailing belief seems to be that it can be learned by anyone.
  • Wizard Beard: Merlin usually averts this trope, since he's a youth in the series. But it is put into play when he uses the aging spell to turn himself into "Dragoon" and the beard is definitely there. His future self also sports one.
  • 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.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Nimueh, Sophia, even Morgana at times.
  • Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide": Type A: Uther and sorcery
  • 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.
  • Xanatos Gambit: King Alined attempts one in Sweet Dreams. To disrupt peace talks, Alined magically forces Arthur to fall in love with Lady Vivian, which causes her overprotective father King Olaf to challenge him to a duel. Alined notes that if Arthur dies, Uther will start a war and if Olaf dies, his men will start a war. Merlin and Gaius can't say anything because if Uther finds out magic was used against his son, he'll start a war anyway. He even says "I can't lose!" However, his gambit fails when the spell is broken and Arthur spares Olaf's life. And even then, he gets away scot free.
  • 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.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: Camelot is awfully cosmopolitan and clean for the Middle Ages, though the former is potentially justified by the setting being loosely (what with the castles in particular, very loosely) post Roman Britain, which was actually very cosmopolitan - graves of highly ranked people of North African origin, for instance, have been discovered in Britain, and a number of Roman legions (which recruited from all over the vast Empire) were garrisoned in Britain for hundreds of years, meaning that the cosmopolitanism isn't entirely surprising. The cleanliness, on the other hand, is.
  • "Yes"/"No" Answer Interpretation: Arthur proposes to Guinevere who responds with The Glomp. Arthur looks puzzled for a moment and asks "Is that a yes?" prompting Gwen to let him go and clarify that she did mean to say yes.
  • You Are Not Alone: An unusual villainous example when Alvar says this to Morgana. He's doing it to manipulate her.
    • Merlin says this to Freya.
    • Later, Merlin says this to Arthur after Uther dies.
    • Morgana to Gwen in The Dark Tower, while trying to induce Stockholm Syndrome. It works.
    • Also Leon to Gwen when Arthur is dying (again), telling her he and all the knights are behind her.
  • You Are Too Late: Merlin in Le Mort d'Arthur. Except, not. Sort of. Almost. In a way.
    • 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 Camelot just to bring forth the death of Mordred, who he foresaw 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.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Morgause to Cenred in such a classic example of this trope that it's a wonder he didn't see it coming.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: This is Merlin's usual tactic. He never has any proof, because obviously A Wizard Did It, and so it never works. You'd think he'd learn after a few tries. Or maybe he just assumes that since he's always right, people will take him seriously. Sadly, Camelot's pretty Genre Blind in that regard.
  • You Just Showed Me: In the first episode Gaius tips over a water pitcher in order to force Merlin to instinctively reveal his magic powers by freezing it in midair.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: In 3x13, Gwaine says this to Merlin, who has just seen Freya in the water from the lake of Avalon.
  • You Must Be Cold: Merlin to Freya in Lady of The Lake, twice.
  • Younger and Hipper: In this series Merlin is a young man about the same age as Arthur, not an old man with a beard. Though in his Dragoon guise, he looks (and, hilariously, spectacularly over-acts) the part.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Morgana and Agravaine's plan in 4x09 was designed to cast Gwen in this light. and it works.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Magic-users. Even the ones that can qualify as villains were this trope before they finally fell into blind villainy.
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