The Sorcerer's Shadow
A young man is heading down a mountainous path when he's stopped by two rough-looking men and asked to identity himself. After quickly ascertaining that this is not Dudley Dursley, but Gilli, he tells the men that he's going to Camelot in order to fight in the tournament. With plenty of loud obnoxious laughter, the men take Gilli's sword and head off. After trying and failing to get it back with force, Gilli retreats to his pack and retrieves a strange ring from his belongings. As he holds it up, his eyes begin to glow.
In Camelot, Merlin is expressing incredulity as to the latest tournament to take place in Camelot. Anyone can enter in order to win a large prize of gold coins, using any methods and any weapons to win. As Arthur tells him, the only rule is that there are no rules.
Gilli tries to take a room at the local inn (which has been artfully decorated with hanging red rags), and after learning that he's a competitor, the innkeeper demands his money up front - since there's no way Gilli is going to survive the tournament. Up in his room, Gilli waits until he's alone and puts on the magic ring.
Merlin is doing chores in the armoury when the two thugs from earlier (who are apparently called Nollar and Tindr) enter and demand that he clean their boots. When Merlin is slow about getting a cloth, Nollar flicks a whip at him. Before the situation can escalate, Gilli enters from behind and quietly insists that the men leave Merlin alone. The ring on his finger glows, and a sword from the wall flies into Gilli's hand. With it he flicks the whip out of Nollar's hand, and at a warning from Merlin, he deflects a dagger as well. The thugs leave, and Merlin thanks him for his help. With Arthur hollering for Merlin, the two introduce themselves to each other, and shake hands - during which Merlin notices the ring on Gilli's finger.
The Pendragons are eating dinner when Morgana decides to shit-stir by reminding Uther of how many tournaments he's won, and how unfortunate it is that he won't be fighting again. When Arthur agrees with her, stating that he doesn't want to see his father get hurt, before excusing himself. Morgana smiles to herself, confident that she's pressing the right buttons.
- Morgana: It is such a shame. It would have been good for the people to see you compete one last time. But still, Arthur's probably right. You can't do everything.
The following day the stands fill with people, and Merlin prepares Arthur for battle, reminding him of how many people died last time. Outside, Arthur, Nollar and Gilli are among the competitors waiting in the arena when Morgana takes the stand and states the rules of the tournament before introducing a final competitor: King Uther. Arthur looks horrified, and Gaius and Merlin exchange "oh great, this is just what we need" glances.
The fighting begins, with Uther pitted against a warrior with a swinging mace. Uther takes him down eventually, and Morgana swallows her disappointment. Next up is Arthur doing his best Indiana Jones impression when a hyper-active ninja is defeated by a single punch to the face. Nollar fights a guy with a helmet who manages to knock him to the ground, but Nollar fights dirty when he uses a hidden dagger and whacks him around the head with a giant axe. The crowd boos and Gilli watches anxiously.
Gilli rubs his ring before combat, and is nearly caught off-guard by his opponent. He's driven back against the stands, but when his opponent's sword slices down into the barrier, Gilli uses magic to force it down further before knocking the man out. From the sidelines, Gaius expresses disbelief at Gilli's victory, but Merlin is already looking suspicious.
Outside the arena, Gaius and Merlin approach Gilli to congratulate him, and Gaius offers to tend to the wound on his arm. Gilli refuses, but on covering it with his hand, both get a good look at the ring on his finger. He heads off, and Gaius confirms that the ring bears a mark of the Old Religion, one which helps channel magic.
Gilli returns to the armoury where he returns his sword and winces at the wound on his arm. He creeps away as someone else enters and finds a quiet corridor with which to heal himself. However, the bright light involved in the healing magic alerts the guards, and Gilli only just manages to get away. In the scuffle that follows, Gilli looses the ring and leaves a smoking scorch mark on the wooden door behind him. Back in the inn he realizes his loss just as the warning bell begins to ring.
On seeing the mark on the door, Uther immediately blames sorcery, even though Gaius advises him not to jump to conclusions. Gaius spots Gilli's ring on the floor and manages to retrieve it without Uther noticing, having convinced him that magic is not involved. Back in his quarters, Gaius tells Merlin that the scorch marks and strange odour points to a crude healing spell that cauterises the wound. Merlin decides to talk to him before it's too late.
That night Merlin enters the inn and asks about his wound. When Gilli refuses to show him, Merlin quickly confronts him with the fact that he's using magic, and gives back the ring. After assuring Gilli that he's not going to spill his secret, he's told that the ring came from Gilli's father, a man who was exceptionally gifted, but who refused to use or talk about magic. He was so afraid of Uther that he didn't even defend himself when he was attacked. Gilli vows never to be like him.
- Merlin: You saved my life and I'm trying to save yours. You need to withdraw from the tournament.Gilli: It's an open competition. You're supposed to be able to use whatever skills you have.Merlin: Fighting skills. You're not a swordsman or a gladiator. Fighting is not your talent. Magic is.Gilli: Then why can't I use it?Merlin: Because it's banned.Gilli: Without magic, I'm a nobody. People think they can kick dirt in my face.Merlin: You're not a nobody. You're special.Gilli: Then let me prove that.
Merlin tries to give him one last warning, but Gilli's room-mate interrupts the conversation.
The following day the fighting continues. Uther bests another warrior, as does Arthur. Back in their tent, Uther laughs about the fact that they'll have to fight each other in the semi-final, much to Morgana's excitement. Arthur on the other hand, isn't happy.
Outside, Gilli is stopped by Nollar, who displays the considerable amount of weaponry strapped to his body. More loud, obnoxious laughter. Merlin watches in concern as Gilli heads back into the arena, and a brutal battle with Nollar commences. When Gilli is pushed up against the barrier, Tindr grabs his arms, preventing him from using his sword. Gilli's eyes and ring glows, and Nollar is thrown backwards onto the ground. While Nollar tries to get up, Gilli stabs him in the back. The suddenly bloodthirsty crowd cheer him on, even though he looks quite sickened as to what he's just done.
Back in the armoury, Gilli admits to Merlin that he's never killed a man before. All he wanted to feel was respected, but now he realizes that he's not a killer. When Merlin urges him to withdraw, he agrees. However, that night on returning to the inn, Gilli experiences the upside to hot-blooded homocide: free drinks and pats on the back.
Meanwhile, Arthur sulks as Merlin sharpens his sword, asking him what to do about Uther. If he fights his father to the best of his abilities, he'll end up humiliating him in front of everyone. Merlin points out that he's not going to back down, and the only course of action is to simply let him win.
- Arthur: You don't have to put up with the gloating. Do you have any idea what it's like to live with a man who constantly thinks he's the best?Merlin: Hmm. Must be irritating.
The following morning, Morgana gets her best Psychotic Smirk out as Uther and Arthur face each other in the arena.
- Uther: When I was your age, I conquered Camelot. I didn't inherit this kingdom, I won it. One day you'll be strong enough to take my crown. But not yet.
The fight begins, and the two get in a few verbal jabs in before Arthur manages to knock Uther off-balance. He falls to the ground and struggles to get up. Arthur considers the situation and takes off his own helmet to even the odds. Combat resumes, but Arthur throws the fight, allowing Uther to help him up and take the glory. Aggravated, Arthur leaves the competition, but Merlin's attention is swiftly diverted by news that Gilli is still fighting - and has just won his final fight, leaving him free to fight Uther in the final.
In the physician's quarters that night, Gaius points out that they'll have to warn the king as to Gilli's advantage. Merlin refuses, even though Gaius tells him that magic is clearly corrupting him. Merlin wants just one more chance to talk to him.
Over at the tavern, Gilli is entertaining the crowd with the story of how he defeated his opponent, but up in his room, Merlin tells him that he was seriously injured.
- Merlin: I thought you weren't going to fight.Gilli: You've seen the way people are now. They're showing me respect. You don't know what that's like for me.Merlin: I do.Gilli: No. No one does.
Merlin considers this and then shuts the door. He whispers something into his hand, and reveals a small glowing ball of fire. Gilli looks up in quiet astonishment, and both boys get a little teary. Aww.
- Merlin: It's lonely to be more powerful than any man you know and have to live like a shadow. To be special and have to pretend you're a fool. I know how it feels. I understand.Gilli: Then you understand why I have to fight. If Uther is killed, so what? How many of our kind have died at our hands? How many more will? It's time those with magic fought back.
Gilli refuses to be talked out of fighting in the tournament, telling Merlin that he's spent so long hiding his powers that he's forgotten whose side he's meant to be on. Merlin is visibly shaken by these words as Gilli storms out.
Later that night, Merlin sneaks out of his room and heads through the forest, calling for the dragon in a clearing well beyond the castle gates. The Dragon swoops down from the sky, pointing out that Merlin wants to talk, but never listen. Merlin tells him the problem that he faces, and Kilgarrah points out that they must all live in hope that one day Arthur will bring about an age when creatures of magic are free and respected - but that cannot happen if Uther is killed by magic, for it would only harden Arthur's mind against it. He advises him to let Gilli die.
- Merlin: Some choices are easy. Some stay with you forever.
The following day, Uther scoffs at Arthur's caution, while Gilli practices in his room. Just before entering the arena, Gilli and Merlin exchange challenging glances, and the crowd cheers as Gilli and Uther face off. Arthur watches from the royal box. Uther quickly disarms Gilli, and as he fumbles for his sword, he uses magic to ensure Uther's blade gets stuck in the ground. Merlin counteracts with his own magic, forcing Gilli to lose his shield. Uther and Gilli lock blades, and again Gilli uses magic to make Uther's sword fly from his hand. Uther uses his shield to defend himself, but Gilli manages to get him on the ground. Merlin uses his magic to ensure Gilli's sword becomes stuck in Uther's shield and as he tries to force it out, Gilli notices Merlin watching.
The shield and sword go flying, and as Uther rushes for his sword, Gilli hurries to his shield. As he picks it up, he once more sees Merlin watching him, and only just remembers to defend himself against Uther's attack. Down on the ground, Gilli surrenders, and Uther disdainfully walks away. Arthur claps in relief.
On his way out, Merlin tries to apologise to Gilli, but is waved aside. Later he returns to the inn to find Gilli packing.
- Merlin: I didn't have a choice.Gilli: You did what you had to do. And you betrayed your kind.Merlin: No, that was you. You betrayed us. You'd won. But you were going to kill the king anyway? There's no honour in that. Come on, look inside yourself, you're better this. Magic is not meant for fighting. It's not meant to bring you glory.Gilli: I never understood my father. I thought that he was afraid of magic. But he wasn't. He was afraid of what it can do. How it can corrupt. I know now that he was strong. Well, he was stronger than me.
Gilli apologises and Merlin tells him that one day magic will be permitted once more, and neither of them will have to hide anymore. Gilli wanders away down the street, watched by Merlin from the parapet above.
Over a dinner that is ridiculously large for the three people who are meant to be eating it, Uther and Morgana join Arthur at the banquet table. Uther is bragging about his performance in the fight. Arthur silently endures Morgana's jibes, but she is silenced when Uther points out that Arthur threw the fight. Uther thanks him for his consideration, and tells him that Arthur's actions have shown him that he's truly ready to become king. He raises a toast to Arthur, though Morgana looks like she's going to choke on it.
Finally, Gaius and Merlin have their usual ha-ha, ho-ho banter over an anachronistic meal of fried chicken and tomatoes.
- All There in the Script: You won't know Nollar or Tindr's names until the credits roll.
- Ambiguously Gay: Seriously, were Nollar and Tindr a couple? Throughout the competition, Tindr watches Nollar fight from the stands and is cheering him on like you'd expect a girlfriend to do.
- Anachronism Stew: As always in Merlin, but the tomatoes Merlin and Gaius eat at the end of the episode are a particularly glaring example
- An Axe to Grind: Nollar
- Bit Part Bad Guys: Nollar and Tindr. The former exists only to be a bully and an Asshole Victim so that Gilli can temporarily reassess his life-choices, and Tindr goes missing entirely for the third act.
- Captain Obvious: Gaius, as usual, who helpfully points out that if Uther finds out that Gilli is using magic, he'll have him killed.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: It's heavily implied that Gilli and Merlin will meet again, but he's never seen in the show again.
- Continuity Nod: A brief one, when Arthur points out that footwork was always Uther's weakness. He said as much back in Excalibur.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: This is the Middle Ages, and no rules means no rules.
- Disturbing Statistic: The amount of people who have died in this particular tournament.
- Foreshadowing: Perhaps unintentionally, but Kilgarrah warning Merlin that Uther dying by magic would only strengthen Arthur's prejudice against it, is exactly what happens in The Wicked Day.
- It's All About Me: Gilli displays some of this when he complains that he's the only one who knows what it feels like to have magic, only to be immediately snapped out of it when Merlin demonstrates his own powers.
- Pet the Dog: Uther, after an entire episode of what is essentially a mid-life crisis and bragging, often at Arthur's expense, reveals at the end that he knows that Arthur threw the fight between them to allow him to save face, sacrificing his pride for his father's sake, saying that it's proven that he's ready to be King.
- The Reveal: Uther won Camelot by conquest.
- Ring of Power: Gilli's ring, obviously.
- Secret Test of Character: Possibly by Uther on Arthur - certainly, Uther states at the end that he knew all along that Arthur was the better warrior and that he threw the fight to allow Uther to retain his pride, something which, to Uther, shows that he's ready to be King.
- Shout-Out: Arthur's "fight" with the ninja is lifted straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Uther, who's normally relatively nice to Arthur, is a bit of a dick throughout the episode as he looks to rediscover the glory days, until at the end he reveals that he knew all along that Arthur threw the fight, that Arthur was the better warrior, and thanks him for allowing him to keep his pride.
- Whip It Good: Nollar and Gilli.