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  • Abandon Shipping: Interest in Arthur/Morgana had already begun to wane after their dramatic decrease in scenes together during Season 2, but the third series revelation that they were secret half-siblings ended it for a lot of viewers — though there are still some fans out there.
  • Accidental Aesop:
    • Destiny completely ruins Merlin's, Arthur's, and Morgana's lives, and Gwen, The Unchosen One is the one to free magic and unite the kingdoms in a golden age. Every single bad thing in the series short of The Great Purge happens due to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, and the only good things that result are due to people ignoring what's expected from them and just focusing on doing what's right and reasonable.
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    • On a similar note, another Accidental Aesop that can be drawn from the finale is: "if you sit around and just wait for destiny to happen, it'll never actually happen."
  • Accidental Innuendo:
    • The frankly ridiculous levels of Ho Yay between Arthur and Merlin make this trope unavoidable anyway, but then we have the sleeptalking sequence...
      Merlin: Go on Arthur... faster... move it ...climb!
    • One can only imagine the faces of the guards outside Arthur's room listening to this exchange. Merlin was holding onto a rope that allowed Arthur to escape from his room. Unfortunately, the rope wasn't long enough and Merlin was forced to drop Arthur halfway down.
      Arthur: (muffled) What are you doing... the rope!
      Merlin: (panicking) THERE IS NO MORE ROPE!
      Arthur: (straining) Merlin...
      Merlin: (groaning) Oh...I don't know if I can hold on any longer!
      Arthur: (even more strained) ...don't let go of the rope!
      (Merlin groans until there's a startled shout and then a thump)
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    • Not just Arthur and Merlin.
      Lancelot: Do you submit, Sire?
      (guards restrain Lancelot. Arthur gets up, apparently angry, and grabs his sword)
      Arthur: On your knees.
    • Also quite prominent in the Season 3 premiere, with Arthur's quip of "aww is your little bottom sore?" after Merlin complains he's been in the saddle too long.
    • Happens so frequently that even the actors aren't impervious. During Comic Con 2011 Bradley James kept discussing how he liked to get his sword out and wave it around. Either side of him, Anthony Head and Katie McGrath try to stifle their giggles.
  • Actor Shipping:
    • Bradley James gets shipped with all three of his co-stars, especially Colin Morgan. Colin/Bradley's fanbase is almost as big as the Merlin/Arthur one. Also, Colin gets shipped with Katie McGrath (Morgana) quite often, as well.
    • Angel Coulby and Rupert Young, given the two seem to be quite chummy on-set, do a lot of promotional work together, and have been paired up for at least one DVD Commentary.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
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    • Morgana is a biggie. Many fans (including Katie McGrath herself) don't consider her evil, but rather anything from a Well-Intentioned Extremist to just plain Ax-Crazy. However, given what the writers and directors have her do, it would seem they want the audience to consider her a full-blown villain. Whether or not her significant Freudian Excuse (living in constant terror of Uther, watching his genocide of those who practise magic and Merlin's betrayal) is an adequate justification for her actions (which include the needless deaths of innocent civilians, her horrendous treatment of Gwen and excessive smirking) is a matter of debate.
    • The Guards of Camelot often appear so utterly useless. It's gotten the point where it's gone beyond simple passive aggression to looking like they actively let the villains of the week in because they're hoping Uther will be killed.
    • Arthur, at least in regards to how he treats Merlin. A lot of fans think that either he already knows Merlin is a warlock, or he at suspects that he is and is in denial. On the other hand, there's the question of whether he really deserves to be king, as he needed help to draw the sword from the stone, has been easily manipulated throughout his entire kingship, and doesn't seem to realize that a crisis is the worst time to go into Heroic BSoD.
    • Gwen following the events of The Dark Tower. Did Morgana finally get sick of her resisting and outright enslave her mind, as most people suspect from the final scene between the two in the tower? Or did the mandrakes leave her so open to suggestion that she just went along with whatever Morgana said? Very few people believe she turned of her own free will, and a few even theorize that she's pretending to have turned to get in good with Morgana. Really, Gwen at this point is very open to interpretation.
      • Finally answered in With All My Heart. Gwen's spirit was pulled out and replaced with Morgana's will.
    • Kara. Deranged terrorist who remorselessly kills people and deserves to be executed, or noble freedom fighter who goes bravely to her death rather than renounce her beliefs?
    • As of the finale, there are several "Kilgharrah was a giant troll" theories floating about.
    • Was Merlin truly in love with Freya or did he want to help her because, subconsciously, he saw a chance in her to escape the extreme pressure and stress of his destiny? If he left with Freya and dedicated his life to protecting her, he'd be free of his crushing responsibilities to the kingdom and would be with one of the few people he could openly practice magic with. So did he really almost leave for love, or was Merlin just too honourable to simply run away and abandon Arthur and believe that, with Freya, he was both doing the right thing and getting an excuse to run out on his destiny?
    • Kilgarrah essentially is responsible for every evil thing Morgana does in the series. His prejudice towards her leads to Merlin doubting her - when he has no reason to. The fact that she's so alone in Camelot when she realises what's happening to her is why she trusts Morgause in the first place. If Merlin hadn't listened to the dragon, chances are Morgana's Face–Heel Turn would not have even happened.
    • Did Morgause ever feel anything for Morgana? Or did she see her as a pawn in her schemes just like she did Arthur? We've seen that Morgause can lure people in with a Honey Trap just as she did to Cenred - and she killed him as soon as she had no further use of him. She seems to feel some affection for her sister, but if she ran out of use for Morgana or the latter had a Heel–Face Turn - would Morgause have turned on her just as easily?
    • Uther Took a Level in Kindness as the series went on. While the writers may have tried to avoid making his enemies Unintentionally Sympathetic - it's possible that Uther the Blood Knight of a tyrant was who he was in his youth, especially over the death of Igraine. He could have in fact softened over the years due to fatherhood and maturity. Notable is a seen in "The Coming of Arthur", where Morgana has the soldiers open fire on civilians to get the knights to swear loyalty to her. Uther is appalled that she would attack innocents, and Morgana fires back that it was no different to his pursuit of magic users. Uther looks very guilty, suggesting he did feel some remorse for what he did in his younger days.
  • Angst? What Angst?:
    • All those evil deeds Gwen did while brainwashed, i.e. murdering an innocent man, poisoning her husband, sending several men to their deaths seem to have zero effect on her in the episodes after. What, did they just not tell her what she'd done?
    • Arthur has been betrayed by every single important person in his life: Uther, Morgana, Agravaine, Guinevere, Lancelot note , Mordred and even Merlin and Gaius by keeping the truth about Merlin's magic hidden from him for so long. You'd think this would have some sort of long-term psychological effect on Arthur's ability to trust people, but after a brief period of unhappiness he always bounces back.
  • Arc Fatigue:
    • Most would agree that the withholding of Merlin's magical reveal has gone on way too long. It finally gets resolved in the series finale after Arthur is mortally wounded and his canon fate all but assured.
    • Arthur becoming king was another one. It's resolved, but in a way that will further the above Arc Fatigue. Uggggggh.
  • Ass Pull: Morgana becoming a villain was foreshadowed. What made no sense is her character switch into an Obviously Evil pantomime villain who tortures Arthur and Gwen simply because they are obstacles to her getting the throne. In the first two seasons, her conflict with Uther came from seeing him mistreat innocent people. Come the Season 3 finale and she has her guards open fire onto a crowd of civilians just to make the knights swear loyalty to her. What also makes little sense is the other characters' acceptance of her new ways once they are revealed - acting as if it was inevitable.
  • Awesome Music: Lancelot's theme.
    • The music played at Arthur's coronation is a more epic version of the credits music.
    • The soft piano played when Arthur sees Excalibur in the stone. Just a single muted piano with a soft background, and the impression that no one is there but Arthur, Merlin, and the sword. Ends a couple seconds later, but it's awesome in its simplicity.
    • The gloriously creepy refrain in The Tears of Uther Pendragon when Merlin follows Morgana out into the forest. Coupled with the visuals (Morgause arriving in slow-motion on horseback, Morgana standing alone in the midst of the trees) it's a true spine-chilling moment.
  • Badass Decay:
    • On a show where Status Quo Is God, the character of Morgause was simply too intelligent to avoid getting this treatment for the storylines that the writers wanted. In her debut episode she storms into Camelot, single-handedly takes down several guards, challenges Prince Arthur to a duel, beats him, drops a bombshell about his mother, makes him chase her across the countryside for answers, shows him what may or may not be a real apparition of his mother who tells him that his father was responsible for her death, and then watches from a crystal as he goes storming back to Camelot to kill King Uther in a fit of rage. Fast forward to Season 3 and she's a completely ineffectual and one-dimensional villain who plots to overthrow the kingdom with a range of increasingly convoluted plans. She still gets the occasional badass moments (the pillar of fire), but her IQ has dropped exponentially and she's eventually taken out by Gaius. Gaius. How embarrassing.
    • Mordred in Season 5, at least in regards to magic. He's a still a badass knight, but he's quit using his considerably powerful magic. It's justified in that he's been hiding it in the years since his last appearance in Season 2, and has got used to life without it.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Guinevere, to a certain extent. She was well liked up til the end of the first season with even the most diehard Merlin/Arthur and Morgana/Arthur fans appreciating her warm personality and adorable dorky moments. Then Season 2 started and the Arthur/Gwen ship was suddenly thrust to the forefront of the show with very little build-up. This would have been damaging enough for Die for Our Ship reasons, but then Gwen's personality took a hit too. She lost a lot of her endearing qualities that had made the fanbase warm to her in the first place and instead just seemed to spend every moment she was onscreen mooning over Arthur. Their relationship did improve a lot in the third season (see Strangled by the Red String below) and some of her old personality was allowed to come back, but for some the damage was already done.
    • To a much lesser extent, Alvarr. Some found him if not entirely sympathetic, then at least an interesting and charismatic Well-Intentioned Extremist, with intriguing ties to Mordred, Morgana and the Druids. Others just found him manipulative and skeevy.
    • Agravaine, for much the same reasons as Alvarr. For some he's an enigmatic wild-card with yet-to-be-revealed motivation, others find his lecherous behaviour around Guinevere and Morgana extremely creepy and disturbing. Though that may have been intentional considering what a slimeball he turned out to be.
    • Mordred in Season 5. On one side, you have the fans who absolutely adore him and wish that he wasn't Doomed by Canon. On the other, you have the fans who wish that he had died in "The Disir".
  • Broken Base: The finale. Some found it satisfying, others criticized the dangling plot threads, i.e. Aithusa, what happened to the kingdom after Arthur died. It gets worse due to the magic ban only implied to have been lifted rather than explicitly shown. Gwen knows about Merlin and respects what he did, so while she didn't have the authority at the time, it's heavily implied that she did lift the ban. And yet the fact that there was no real closure is more than enough to cause this.
  • Cargo Ship:
    • You'd be surprised at the amount of fans who have taken to shipping Arthur/Merlin/Hat.
    • Gwaine/Apple (Gwapple) is a relatively popular Crack Ship.
  • Crazy Awesome: Dragoon. Merlin has to avoid snarking at important people, act like he's helpless, and maintain some level of sanity so no one suspects him. Dragoon, on the other hand, tears into King Uther for his crimes, hams it up like crazy, forces Prince Arthur to give him a piggy-back ride, and uses knights as steps to get on his horse when they annoy him.
  • Creepy Awesome: Why Mordred is an Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • Designated Hero: Oh, so much Kilgarragh! While he does give Merlin advice, it's nearly always in riddles, and he is a selfish, arrogant Jerkass, who could well be said to be responsible for many of the characters' Face-Heel-Turns.
  • Designated Villain:
    • Mordred, who, in this version, is played by a child. We're supposed to view Mordred as a Creepy Child because the show plays ominous music over extreme close-ups of his large blue eyes, but all that's played out on screen is a kid who's been hunted, persecuted, and had everyone he's ever loved killed by the people who are generally considered "the good team". He uses his magical powers to kill a group of knights advancing on him with swords drawn, clearly preparing to kill him - this was apparently meant to prove to the audience that he's evil incarnate, even though the good guys make self-defensive kills all the time. When Mordred reappears as a young adult in Season 5, the results are...muddled. At first, he very much fits this trope: He saves Merlin and Arthur's lives more than once and proves his loyalty to them, yet Merlin insists on seeing him as evil to the point of twice leaving him to die (even choosing to encourage Arthur to continue persecuting magic users rather than save Mordred). When Mordred's Face–Heel Turn finally comes, it's because Arthur has the woman he loved executed. Understandable but perhaps unfair, since she had tried to murder Arthur and he was prepared to show her mercy if she had shown any sign of wanting peace. (Although Merlin didn't help by abruptly deciding the best way to reconcile Arthur and Mordred was to foil Mordred's attempts to take her away from the area peacefully.) In the end, Mordred dies after less than two episodes as a Type II Anti-Villain, during which he only really qualifies as a villain because he's on Morgana's side and shows clear distaste at her more ruthless acts.
    • Morgana in the first two series. What she has done is no worse than what Merlin has done to his own kind, including her, yet he is viewed as the hero and she the villain. Like Mordred, at first she is only a villain because Merlin believed the dragon when he said she was.
    • Morgause, who doesn't really do anything particularly villainous, and some of her actions even heroic, like putting the entire city to sleep to assassinate Uther without actually killing any innocents. Season 3 does damage control by showing her committing much more evil acts - including eventually killing Cenred simply because she no longer needed him.
    • Aithusa was confirmed to be an evil character by Word of God but never actually did anything evil after hatching. Although the white dragon was a bad omen in the mythology, Aithusa was pretty much a dropped plot point.
  • Die for Our Ship:
    • Guinevere and Lancelot get the worst of it, the former from Merthur and Armor shippers, and the latter from Arwen shippers.
    • Mithian was around one episode and is getting this from the Arwen shippers.
    • Likewise, Merlin's One-Shot Love Interest Freya took a lot of heat from the Merthur faction.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse:
    • Nimueh: She was the breakout villain for the first season, and was popular enough that many fans hope that Morgana and Morgause would bring her back from the dead. Sadly it never came to pass.
    • Sir Leon. He is literally too popular to die. Introduced at the start of Season 2, the fandom latched onto him as a recognisable Mauve Shirt among the Red Shirt Army of Camelot's knights. After his apparent death at the end of Season 5, his popularity among the fans and other actors on the show secured his Unexplained Recovery and a larger role in every season that followed. It all came to its natural culmination with this spoof interview in which actor Rupert Young explains why Leon is so integral to the show.
    • Aredian the Witchfinder. He was one of the few villains in the show that didn't use magic, and he had the added bonus of being played by Charles Dance.
    • Sir Gwaine most definitely. He's a genuinely memorable and hilarious character. It also doesn't hurt that his first grand entrance in the show was helping Merlin and Arthur out in a bar fight just on matter of whim. Not to mention, his friendship with Merlin, throughout the show, is quite touching as well.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending:
    • A fandom example. After the Arthur/Morgana ship was sunk at the start of the second season, the shippers consoled themselves with the fact that these two characters would eventually end up on Avalon together (as per the legendary accounts). If you're not a shipper, the thought of Arthur being stuck on an island for all eternity with his Ax-Crazy half-sister may seem a Fate Worse than Death.
    • The Distant Finale also counts. The fact that it takes place in present day with Merlin still alive is a hopeful note at first, but then Fridge Horror kicks and and you realize that every single one of his friends are dead and gone. Although, to be fair, a future where Arthur comes back to the world and is completely alone is even more esoteric.
  • Evil Is Cool: Morgause naturally, given that in her debut she curb stomped five knights at once and shows herself to be a powerful sorceress who probably could have ruled Camelot herself if she wanted.
  • Evil Is Sexy:
    • Uther Pendragon is played by Anthony Head, aka Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    • The first episode has Eve Myles as an evil witch.
    • Lady Catrina...when she's in public, at least.
    • Not to mention Nimueh and Morgause.
    • And as of Season 3, Morgana.
    • And Cenred.
    • After being Brainwashed into twisted versions of their true selves, Lancelot and Guinevere get a sudden increase in sex appeal.
    • Averted with Merlin, who is usually pretty sexy, but can only be described as pretentiously goofy in his evil state.
    • Well, "evil" is stretching it, but Mordred in Season 5 has tons of fangirls.
  • Fan Nickname:
    • The Slash Dragon, because the Great Dragon is always talking about how Arthur and Merlin are meant to be together.
    • Merlin and Gwen are often called the Camelot Detective Agency. And with Season 3, Morgana became Smirkgana.
    • Agravaine was already being called Uncle Creeper after his first two appearances. Once he hit Scrappy status he became known as "Aggravating". "Agrapain" is also quite popular.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple:
    • Arthur/Merlin and how. Many fans watch the show just to see them together. On every youtube video that the two appear together in, almost all the comments are about the homoerotic subtext in their relationship, about how good they look as a couple or how they are secretly boyfriends/married. Not to mention that there's another fanbase almost as large as the Arthur/Merlin one, just for Colin Morgan/Bradley James.
    • Lancelot/Gwen.
  • Fanon: Fans theorise that the Dark Tower Morgana uses to brainwash Gwen in Season 5 is how Morgause corrupted her in the first place.
  • Faux Symbolism: When Aithusa first hatches, Kilgharrah says that he's a good omen for the future of Albion. A few years later, this "good omen" is sick and malnourished, perhaps to indicate that Arthur's death is imminent.
  • Foe Yay:
    • Merlin/Nimueh and perhaps a hint of Uther/Nimueh. The theory that they have a child together was Jossed in Excalibur, which is conversely the episode in which they seem the closest.
    • Morgause behaves quite predatorial towards Merlin, especially with her suggestive delivery of the line "you intrigue me, Merlin" in the Season 3 premiere.
    • In Season 3, Merlin and Morgana crank this Up to Eleven, what with all the sweaty sword-fighting, smouldering glances, dragging each other into alcoves, and the fact that they're spending almost every minute obsessing over each other.
    • Arthur/Morgause. After the events of Sins of the Father, Arthur sees red every time they cross paths.
    • Inevitably Gwen/Morgana after spending the first two seasons as a Romantic Two-Girl Friendship. During the course of Season 3, as Morgana begins to realize that Arthur and Gwen are an item, several scenes can be construed as Morgana getting jealous, or of her trying to seduce information out of Gwen, what with all the hand-holding and fake hugs.
    • Agravaine and Guinevere. It's mostly one-sided, but Agravaine is acutely aware of Gwen's presence, is deeply interested in her relationship with Arthur, refers to her as a "beautiful woman", has tried to touch her hair without her noticing at least once, and seemed rather intrigued with Morgana's claim that Guinevere would one day be Queen.
    • Morgana spent the end of 4x12 checking out Gwaine, although she was also mocking him and making him fight to the death at the time.
    • With the recasting of Mordred in Season 5 as downright adorable 23-year-old Alex Vlahos this has exploded between Merlin and Mordred.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • You'll only get this if you watch with DVD Commentary, but the one of Season 1 Episode 10, had Bradley making a Running Gag that Hunith (Merlin's mum) gets an arrow in the head. A whacky, Big-Lipped Alligator Moment at the time, it's a lot less funny when Merlin's father dies in the next season... No, actually it's still pretty funny.
    • Merlin's rant in The Once and Future Queen becomes this. It's pretty funny at the time, but then the second half of the series kicks in and he's permanently cemented himself as a The Woobie, and the fact that he could have an extensive rant about his normal life before all that happened just makes it all worse.
    • In the episode The Once and Future Queen, Guinevere asks Arthur: "would it kill you to say please and thank you once in a while?!" In the series finale, Arthur's last words to Merlin are: "please hold me" and "thank you". So yeah...apparently it does kill him.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • Aconite, the poison Merlin uses to try and kill Arthur, also has medicinal applications so there's a good reason for Gaius to have some.
    • Also, Geoffrey of Mounmouth is the court historian. In real life, Geoffrey of Mounmouth was a record keeper- why does this mean anything? He's one of the early sources for the King Arthur Mythos.
    • In "The Hunter's Heart", Gwen is transformed into a fallow deer. Fallow doe was a medieval term for young woman.
  • He/She Really Can Act:
    • Bradley James in "Sins of the Fathers" and Katie McGrath in "The Fires of Idirsholas".
    • Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Santiago Caberra and Colin Morgan in "Lancelot du Lac". Arguably some of the best acting of the series so far.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Giles sure hates magic nowadays.
    • In Season 1, Episode 2, the Dragon says of Arthur and Merlin: "The half cannot hate what makes it whole". Fast forward a couple of years, Inception comes and give us this line, from Mal: "Do you know what it's like to be a lover? To be the half of a whole?". Slash fans did not fail to pick up on this.
    • One of Bradley James's first roles on television was in the detective series Lewis in which he played the third point of a Love Triangle. Given his role in the famous Arthurian love triangle, it's rather amusing to see the actor playing the role of Lancelot elsewhere. And then in the film Fast Girls, where once more he's in a Love Triangle...this time as the Guinevere!
    • In The Coming of Arthur, Uther is dragged before the throne, de-crowned, and forced to bow before Morgause. After a few angry words, Morgana steps out from behind the throne and confronts him. Theatrically done, but it does make you wonder just how long she'd been hiding behind that throne waiting for the right time to make her grand appearance.
    • In the episode where Uther falls prey to a mandrake spell, he goes mad and tries to run to the frontline of an ongoing battle for Camelot, but Arthur manages to pull him back. Which should have settled that case... until Uther suddenly takes a completely out-of-nowhere arrow in the knee.
    • In 2x09, Arthur catches Merlin with a dress and thinks he's sneaking off to put it on. In 5x09, Merlin cross-dresses to keep his cover since Dragoon is compromised.
    • Santiago Cabrera's casting becomes this, due to about a decade later he gets cast in Transformers: The Last Knight which also features King Arthur.
    • After starring in this series, which is considered a Spiritual Successor of Smallville, Katie McGrath would go on to keep her hair died black to play a character in an actual show of the Superman mythos. Not only that, her character there is also the adopted daughter of a wealthy and powerful family who turns out to be the illegitimate biological daughter of her supposedly adopted father and is a close friend of someone who, unbeknownst to her, has special abilities. She also grows up to fight against everything that her family represents, except in that show that makes her one of the good guys.
    • Asa Butterfield as the experienced magic user introducing Morgana to that world. It's amusing when he's on the other end in the adaptation of Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children - where he stars alongside Eva Green, who played Morgan in the other Arthurian series Camelot.
  • Incest Yay Shipping: Since Season 1 had a Flirty Step Siblings dynamic between Morgana and Arthur, there's quite a bit of shipping involved. Some of it even endured after The Reveal they're biologically related.
  • Ho Yay: Lots and lots of it and even to the point where many fans watch the show for the main reason that Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur) look really good together. There's a main page of this.
  • Iron Woobie: Merlin. His normal life consists of having to save the day off-screen because he will most likely be killed for his efforts for no other reason than he's a warlock, something he can't control, is abused by Arthur despite constantly putting his life on the line to protect him, and is considered an idiot despite the fact that he's always right.Once in a while, something good will happen to him, such as finding his father, falling in love, and finally getting a chance to show Arthur magic will be good...no, it's Yank the Dog's Chain. Even so, he keeps pushing on, never even letting on how much he's hurting, taking comfort in that fact that there's one person in Camelot who knows how much he's done, and holding a firm belief that because Arthur is a good man, he will one day be able to see magic for what it is.
  • Jerks Are Worse Than Villains: Uther is often considered by fans the most unlikable character on the show, because his blind hatred for magic makes him a ruthless dictator. Many villains, especially Morgause and post-Face–Heel Turn Morgana, get much sympathy from fans beacuse they have a good reason for their actions against Uther, even if they also want to kill the heroes Arthur and Merlin. It helps that Morgana was genuinely likable in the first two seasons and many fans see her as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds even after she becomes the main villain.
  • Launcher of a Thousand Ships: Just about all the main characters get shipped with each other, and there's a bevvy of supporting characters who do as well.
  • Les Yay: Morgana/Gwen. Morgana/Morgause. To spice things up, Morgana is unaware of Morgause being her half-sister...until Season 3, and the Les Yay still abounds.
  • Memetic Loser: The knights of Camelot are constantly touted as useless Red Shirts to the degree fans speculate they just let any enemy into Camelot to avoid being killed.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • Morgana's smirk.
    • Showing a picture of a couple prone to ship tease, followed by the ship from Peter Pan and the caption "this ship sails itself".
    • By its prevalence in the fandom, you would think that the phrase "two sides of the same coin" is brought up so often on the show that it could count as Arc Words. In truth, it was only ever said twice, both times very early on in the show's run.
  • Moe: Teen-Mordred. The guy is the perfect combination of Adorkable, The Team Wannabe, and The Knights Who Say "Squee!". Add to that him being an invoked example of Designated Villain, and this will become probably the only version of Mordred you want to hug.
  • Moral Dissonance: Merlin blindly takes orders from the morally ambiguous Kilgharrah gets more and more exasperating at the series goes on. Among other things, the dragon holds back on vital information that nearly results in Merlin’s mother’s death, guns for the deaths of Mordred and Morgana before they’ve actually done anything wrong (and whose condemnation of them partially results in them becoming the antagonists that he initially warned Merlin against) and who at one point lays waste to Camelot once he’s freed from his chains, killing at least seventy-six people, and even taking a near-fatal swoop at Arthur.
    • Now, this wouldn’t be Moral Dissonance if Merlin acknowledged all this and cut ties with the dragon, but the bizarre thing is that no matter what Kilgharrah says or does, Merlin (and the narrative) continues to treat Kilgharrah as a font of wisdom and good advice. Even when his prophesies are flat-out contradicted by events, or when he clearly manipulates Merlin into doing something against his better instincts (which always leads to disaster) it’s simply ignored by Merlin, who continues to trust that Kilgharrah gives him sound information and guidance, calling him "old friend" on more than one occasion.
    • Despite all of Kilgharrah’s prophesies that Arthur would be The Good King who lifts the ban on magic and allows everyone to live in peace and harmony – he’s not. Merlin and Arthur never actually get around to legalizing magic, much less integrating magic-users back into society, rendering all of Kilgharrah’s prophesies/Merlin’s efforts null and void. What we end up with is a hero who – instead of fighting the oppressive, genocidal regime he lived in – spent ten years actively supporting it, eliminating any threats to it, and protecting the two people who enforced it, in the hopes that one day things would get better simply because a manipulative, deceitful dragon told him it would. Since it doesn’t (at least not under Arthur’s reign, it’s confirmed by Word of God that Guinevere handled things much better after Arthur’s death), then all of Merlin’s methods in protecting Arthur and Camelot’s anti-magical stance are thrown into a highly questionable light.note  Also baffling is that Kilgharrah waxed lyrical about Arthur’s destiny as a fair and just king, even though he didn't end up doing anything to improve the lot of magical folk, whilst simultaneously condemning Morgana as an evil witch, even though she was initially fighting for magical rights and was desperate to remove Uther from the throne – two of Kilgharrah’s own goals. You can’t help but feel that Kilgharrah was betting on the wrong horse, even though his frequent warnings to Merlin about Morgana’s imminent evil only resulted in Merlin isolating Morgana — one of the key factors in turning her against Camelot in the first place.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Morgana spent from a year away from Camelot in the company of her half-sister and returned as The Mole, having performed a Face–Heel Turn in the interim. Over the course of the third season, her plots to bring down her father and half-brother have intensified in brutality, but it's not until Queen of Hearts that she crosses the line and ends up framing her servant and former best-friend Guinevere for witchcraft. Why? Because she had a dream that Gwen would one day become Queen of Camelot. Up until that point, fans were capable of some degree of sympathy for Morgana's Well-Intentioned Extremist views, but after seeing her smiling to herself as a terrified Gwen is hauled away to be burnt at the stake, the general consensus became: "the bitch must die!"
    • Uther from that same series passed the horizon before the series even started. He committed the "Great Purge" in which he hunted down and killed anyone with magical blood, even drowning children of magical parents in fear that they inherited magical blood. In series, he wanted Mordred killed when he was still a child, and had his guards kill an unarmed man who escaped from his dungeons, even though he surrendered.
  • More Popular Replacement:
    • Although Nimueh was liked, most fans will agree that her successor Morgause was far more memorable.
    • Mordred's adult self in Season 5 was much better received than his Creepy Child persona in the first two seasons.
  • Most Wonderful Sound: Arthur pronounces Guinevere's name (with an emphasis on the vere) as though it's the most beautiful word he's ever heard. Even non-shippers have been known to admit that the way Bradley delivers those three syllables results in a few tingles.
  • Narm:
    • Morgana's nightmare in The Darkest Hour would have been much more effective if it didn't include the Funny Moment from Queen Of Hearts.
    • Also Morgana's "I WANT HIM (Arthur) DEAD!" line, screamed like a three year old having a tantrum.
    • The Burger King crown.
    • Mithian's poor choice of simile when she recounts the massacre of her people: "They cut us down like... corn." Corn?
    • In "The Labyrinth of Gedref", Merlin sees a unicorn in a forest and looks absolutely in awe of it, calling it beautiful and such. However...the unicorn has this overgrown gray mane going into its eyes, making it look really scruffy.
    • Gawain's sheer stupidity at failing to see anything suspicious about Agravaine standing over an unconscious man. How did this man become a knight?
  • Narm Charm:
    • Admit it, you laugh every time Gaius says: "Sire, the most likely explanation is... SOSSERY!"
    • Morgana's smirks. It's not that she's always got one on her face, nor that they're always accompanied by an ominous musical cue, but the fact that no one ever notices the king's ward perpetually smirking to herself whenever something bad happens in Camelot.
    • Gaius storms into Camelot in order to help Merlin defeat Morgause. Nothing wrong there, but the word that he yells in order to throw her across the room sounds like: "OATS!"
    • Gaius often reminds Merlin to keep his magic secret, at all costs. Too bad he usually either screams it or says it while standing right next to someone Merlin's supposed to hide his magic from. But if no one has noticed it in the four seasons and ten years taking place between seasons...
  • Nausea Fuel: Try watching the Lady Catrina eat her preferred type of food and not feel like barfing...
  • Never Live It Down: Perhaps because of his tendency to take Honor Before Reason Up to Eleven, and with a side helping of Die for Our Ship, Lancelot is considered something of a dolt in the fandom. This is a dubious distinction since he remains the only character to correctly interpret the available evidence and deduce that Merlin has magical powers, something that the Loads and Loads of Characters that Merlin interacts with on a daily basis has yet to figure out.
  • Newer Than They Think: Arthur was shown lighting candles with matches in "The Darkest Hour". Even though matches are Newer Than They Think, having been invented in 1826, most would know that there were no matches a whole millenium before firearms. Even the predecessor to the match (invented in China in 577 AD) had yet to be thought of. More accurately in those days, flint and steel would have been used to start fires during the night (or a burning glass during the day). The match used isn't even an old fashioned "lucifer", but a modern safety match, which was invented even later, in 1844, a year after the fax machine was invented.
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • Igraine appears to Uther as a hallucination in the third season, dripping with water and screaming: "PLEASE!"
    • The Doracha. Their appearance is not that frightening, but the idea of them is: undead, unstoppable spirits that can kill with a touch.
    • Herald of a New Age. You'd think that one of the Knights of the Round Table dripping wet would be a turn on. Not so much in this episode.
    • Future-Merlin literally becomes this to Morgana in Season 4.
    • On that note, the way that he kills Agravaine and his guards is very chill-inducing in just how effortless it is for him to do so. Word of God says that this was the intention, and it shows in Colin Morgan's performance.
    • Gwen being mentally tortured by the Dark Tower. Remember the mandrake root from earlier? There's rooms full of them. And there's ghosts screaming in the halls all night.
    • In The Kindness of Strangers, Morgana makes the skin grow over a knight's face until he suffocated. The actual deed is not shown, but we see the results.
  • Older Than They Think: Having Arthur and Morgana being paternal half-siblings rather than maternal originated with the 1953 film Knights of the Round Table. The difference is that Arthur is illegitimate while Morgana is legitimate causing the latter to plot with her lover Mordred (Yes, lover. Not son or nephew but lover.) to steal the throne from Arthur once he has pulled the sword from the stone.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • George, the servant who temporarily replaces Merlin when he disappears.
    • Mary, the tavern keeper from Gwaine who hits on Merlin.
    • Grettir and the Fisher King from The Eye of The Phoenix.
  • One True Threesome:
    • Merlin/Arthur/Gwen is practically canon. With the three of them destined to rule Camelot together, the writers have created Ho Yay between Merlin/Arthur, established Official Couple status between Arthur/Gwen, and provide plenty of friendship between Platonic Life-Partners Merlin and Gwen. A recent dream sequence showed Arthur crowning Guinevere queen whilst Merlin watches with a look of abject adoration on his face.
    • Gwen also originally had a crush on Merlin, who was oblivious, but obviously admired her and recognized to Lancelot that he found her admirable and very beautiful.
    • As of A Lesson in Vengeance, it's revealed that Arthur and Gwen take Merlin with them on their wedding anniversary. Think about that for a minute.
  • Periphery Demographic: It's primarily a family show, but with liberal application of Ho Yay, Ship Tease and Mr. Fanservice, the fandom is largely made up of women who like to write slash fiction.
  • Portmanteau Couple Name:
  • Relationship Writing Fumble:
    • As of the revelation that Arthur and Morgana are half-siblings, much of their interactions in Season 1 borders on Brother–Sister Incest. Word of God states that the writers specifically backed off the Arthur/Morgana ship in order to avoid these implications, though it's uncertain whether this latest reveal was thought of as far in advance as Season 1. As it stands, the flirting and lingering glances of the first season now seem rather squicky, and there are sure to be some rather ticked-off shippers. Then again, in some versions of the Arthurian mythos, Arthur and Morgana do actually hook up at one point without Arthur knowing they're related note , resulting in Mordred's birth (in some versions he is Arthur's illegitimate son, though this isn't the case in the show), so one could possibly interpret this as a PG reference to that part of the original stories.
    • Merlin/Arthur were probably envisioned as Heterosexual Life-Partners while the show was being developed. Well...they got the Life Partners part, at least. The Heterosexual bit? Not so much.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Most of the guest stars on the show are already established actors, but at least one went on to greater recognition elsewhere.
    • Holliday Granger played a Monster of the Week back in Season 1 and is now widely recognized as Lucrezia Borgia on The Borgias.
    • Though he'd starred in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Asa Butterfield was still a relative unknown when he starred as young Mordred. Since then he's had leading roles in Hugo and Ender's Game.
    • Merlin's friend Will was already known to young British viewers as Chris Miles from Skins, but became recognisable to the international viewers after becoming Gendry in Game of Thrones.
    • Cenred is Lucifer.
  • Ron the Death Eater: Guinevere in her fifth season story arc gets a lot more grief than she deserves for her actions, considering they are the result of magical brainwashing and most likely additional mind enslavement rather than her own free will.
  • Rooting for the Empire:
    • Quite a few viewers want the magic users who fight against Camelot to win because they have justifiable reasons, and Arthur while honorable and sympathetic arguably does not measure up to what he's promised to be.
    • Morgana and Morgause in are curious examples. Morgana was presented as a good-natured and sometimes heroic character for the first two seasons, but made an abrupt Face–Heel Turn between Seasons 2 and 3, returning essentially as a pantomime villain and without a trace of the original Morgana. As such, fans rooted for her because a) they hoped she would eventually be redeemed, and b) the writers appeared to have forgotten that she was previously good. Morgause got this because she was just so dang cool. Fans also leapt on the Season 2 episode where she tried to kill Uther by putting everyone else in Camelot to sleep. However, they also forgot that she had attempted to manipulate Arthur into murdering him in her previous appearance and that she was clearly trying to kill Uther for her own selfish desires rather than the good of the kingdom.
    • Cendred, whom Morgause teams up with is depicted somewhat sympathetically in the series. He seems to be a decent ruler who (unlike Camelot) can muster a huge army and is willing to retreat when it's clear the battle's lost. His relationship with Morgause is sweet and he only loses because of trusting her. Some fans found that they wished he had won.
  • The Scrappy:
    • Agravaine. Reasons include having no coherent backstory or discernable motivation, taking up a disproportionate amount of screentime, making Merlin, Arthur and occasionally Morgana look like idiots, and being Obviously Evil. Furthermore, many fans were squicked by his lecherous behavior around Morgana and Guinevere, annoyed that he played such a pivotal role in Uther's death, and unimpressed by his death scene.note  The fact that there was no confrontation between Arthur and Agravaine post-betrayal was another disappointing oversight.
    • Kilgarragh, for being selfish, arrogant, vicious, and actually responsible for a lot of the trouble. Perhaps his worst crime was simply judging Morgana as "the witch", when she was just a scared young woman who had no idea what to do with her growing powers. If Kilgarragh hadn't been writing her off as evil, Merlin probably would have helped her and her Face–Heel Turn could have been avoided.
  • Seasonal Rot: Seasons 4 and 5, due to the writers not caring about previous plot details, like Arthur knowing his mom died due to magic, despite Uther going to great lengths in Season 2 to hide that fact. This also applies to the Dragon's prophecy falling apart because of Mordred showing that Arthur will die on the fields of Camlann by a druid's hand. And on top of that, the dream of Morgana's death in Season 4 is nothing like her death in the finale. That, and Arthur can't remember Mordred at all. Not to mention the whole Aithusa debacle.
  • Ship Mates: The three most popular pairings and their adjacent "ship-mates" work thusly:
    • Those that ship Official Couple Arthur/Guinevere are often just as supportive of Merlin/Morgana.
    • Those that ship Ho-Yay-tasic Merlin/Arthur either support Lancelot/Guinevere or ship Guinevere with Morgana.
    • The Arthur/Morgana lot usually Pair the Spares: Merlin with Freya and Guinevere with Lancelot. Ironically, these couples have the most credence when it comes to Arthurian legends, but have more or less been sunk by canon.
  • Ship Tease: Season 1 involves one long Ship Tease between Arthur/Morgana and Merlin/Gwen before the former end up being Like Brother and Sister and the latter become Platonic Life-Partners.
  • Ships That Pass in the Night:
    • Even before their brief interaction at the end of Season 3, there was a surprising number of Morgana/Leon shippers.
    • Gwaine/Mithian seems to be picking up some steam, despite the two of them having never interacted (yet).
    • Gwaine/Elena never even shared an episode, but are hailed as an ideal couple by fans who forget that most of Elena's Tomboy Princess behaviour was due to the spell and wore off at the end.
    • Morgause/Aredian have gotten a few videos on You Tube, even though Morgause didn't appear in Aredian's episode.
  • Ship-to-Ship Combat: The fandom used to be quite harmonious until Season 2, when the Arthur/Guinevere ship kicked off. The main division in the fandom is now those that love the ship and those that (despite the inevitability of the future Pendragon marriage) wanted Merlin/Arthur or Arthur/Morgana instead. They cite bad writing, lack of chemistry and certain comments made by cast members as their reasons for disliking the ship, while supporters cite the improved writing of the couple in Season 3, the sincere performances of the actors involved, and Arthur/Guinevere's Official Couple status.
  • Spiritual Successor: Of Smallville.
  • Squick: Season 2, episode 6. We did not need to see Uther go to bed with that.
  • Strangled by the Red String:
    • Arthur/Guinevere , one that has led to something of a Broken Base among the fandom. Basically, neither Arthur nor Guinevere interacted very much in Season 1, although the scenes that they did share had a strong emotional punch to them (Arthur comforts Gwen after her father's death, Gwen tends Arthur on his sick-bed, etc), but come the second episode of Season 2, Arthur stays at Gwen's house for a short period of time and impulsively kisses her when the time comes to leave. From this point, there are several rather overwrought declarations ("I care about her more than anyone!" and "Anyone who spends five minutes with you can see how you feel about each other!") that don't feel particularly earned, as well as violins, slow-motion, and dramatic back-lighting whenever they're together (and at least one True Love's Kiss). The level of chemistry between the actors is entirely a matter of opinion, but because there are at least two opposing ships on the show, it's difficult to separate what could fairly be described as Strangled by the Red String from the Die for Our Ship attitudes of some fans who are just looking for an excuse to dismiss the romance. In any case, things calmed down a bit in the third season when Arthur/Gwen were given more of a chance to flirt and have actual conversations, and no one could doubt the talent of the actors involved, arguably making this a case of Strangled by the Red String that is nevertheless pulled off by the sheer effort of the actors. And given that Gwen doesn't officially become queen until the end of Season 4, it makes one wonder why the writers rushed having them fall in love rather than letting it develop slowly.
    • It also happened to some extent with Merlin/Freya. A Rescue Romance that begins with Merlin saving Freya from a Bounty Hunter suddenly has the young warlock willing to give up his entire life in Camelot to run away with a girl he’s had exactly three short conversations with. The only reason he doesn’t go through with it is because Freya didn’t survive the episode. Lancelot and Guinevere could easily fall under this trope as well.
  • Strawman Has a Point:
    • This is played with (usually consciously) with King Uther. The man hates magic due to the fact that it killed his wife, and his genocide of all those who practice magic, no matter how benevolent, is seen as terrible. And yet, most the time the threats against Camelot are entirely magical in nature (though in turn, many of Camelot's magical enemies are striking against Uther out of vengeance of what he's done to them). It's a vicious circle.
    • This is true of any villain of the week. In virtually every case, Uther's genocidal tyranny is what drives their attack. Several of them make the entirely legitimate point that killing Uther would resolve every problem Merlin faces. The basic continuity of the show is so lopsided towards the idea that Uther is an existential threat to Merlin and that if he simply chose not to save Uther his life would improve dramatically, that the show has almost always a Kick the Dog moment where the villain of the week decides to commit genocide against the entire kingdom. Often there is no motivation for this sudden genocidal impulse other than giving Merlin a licence to save Uther.
    • Other times, Uther has to make tough decisions about how to rule, and though he's often portrayed to be in the wrong, it's not difficult to see his point when he refuses to help a small village in a neighboring kingdom because sending armed knights in to help might be construed as an act of war, or when he cuts off supplies from the lower towns during a famine because he needs what little food is left to feed the knights and thus maintain Camelot's safety.
    • That first one falls through in the Season 2 finale, when it's revealed that while he was unwilling to risk war on account of a peasant village getting wiped out, he was willing to send soldiers in order to exterminate the last dragonlord, who at this point was completely powerless, was outside his kingdom, and if anything had only helped him. Balinor's initial willingness to let Camelot get wiped out is Disproportionate Retribution, but can you honestly blame him?
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character:
    • Nimueh was an interesting character with plenty of mystery and backstory left to be told when she was unceremoniously killed off with a bolt of lightning.
    • Aredian, a witchfinder played by Charles Dance who was one of the memorable non-magic threats with a murky backstory and history with Gaius had a lot of potential drama.
    • Most of the Knights like Elyan, Percival, and Gwaine were mostly stuck in the background after their introductions. At least Elyan and Gwaine got moments in the limelight; Percival never got an episode to himself!
    • Tristan and Isolde, a smuggling Battle Couple who were introduced in the finale of Season 4, could have been a really interesting addition to the supporting cast. Instead, Isolde is killed for pretty much no reason other than to provide Tristan with angst, and Tristan is never mentioned again. Even more so because the original story was about a knight and a princess having a forbidden romance, with no mention of them being smugglers. Given that a large part of their original relationship revolved around the class differences between the two, the show could've gotten a lot of mileage out of the Arthur/Guinevere parallels; while they do end up inspiring Arthur to marry Gwen, it's odd that the show would change their backstories so much for no apparent reason.
    • Surely more could have been down with Gwen's treacherous handmaiden Sefa, either before or after she's exposed as a spy. She gave Gwen the opportunity to interact with another woman, she had interesting bonds with a variety of other characters, and she was sympathetic in her own way. In particular, her feelings toward Gwen after what happened to her father and what she planned to do about it could have made for an episode in itself.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • Imagine what would have happened if Arthur had found out about Merlin before Uther's death. Arthur would have been torn between loyalty to his friend and love for his father, he would have seen Merlin use his magic for good, and that could have been a tipping point for Arthur to unite the kingdom just like the dragon promised. Sure, Mordred would have had to have another reason to go evil, but it probably would have been better than what we got.
    • Morgana is never conflicted after her Face–Heel Turn. She disappears between Seasons 2 and 3, and is a complete pantomime villain when she returns. She's even perfectly willing to have Gwen executed - when she was her Only Friend. What's more is that her entire transition to villainy is off screen. It's not even said how Morgause corrupted her.
    • Merlin appears to develop feelings for Morgana, and a couple of Season 2 episodes hint at a Ship Tease. Him playing the part of her lover versus Morgause's corruptions could have made for some nice conflicts in Morgana's arc - especially if Morgana discovered that Merlin hid his magic from her.
    • There was even a way to avoid the Unfortunate Implications in "The Fires of Idirsholas", regarding resolving the spell. Merlin could have offered Morgana the chance to take the poison willingly to save everyone else, offering her the chance to make a Heroic Sacrifice and prove Kilgarrah wrong. This could have resulted in two things: Morgana refuses and Merlin is forced to give her the poison, thus making her Face–Heel Turn a bit more credible. Or else she does so willingly, but Morgause intervenes and spirits her away to corrupt her, and Merlin then has to try and find out if she can be rescued. Either would have provided something more interesting that the infamous pantomime villain Morgana became in Season 3.
    • Conflict between Morgana and Morgause is never explored either. Morgause goes to very underhanded methods to get her way, including hurting Arthur with the revelation of his parentage. Morgana is always on board with whatever Morgause wants to do in Season 3, never questioning her and being happy to hurt Arthur and Gwen if it'll get her to the throne. It could have made for some fascinating conflict to even have the sisters' alliance implode, allowing either a Heel–Face Turn for Morgana or an Evil vs. Evil situation. Plus it would have allowed for some stellar acting from Emilia Fox and Katie McGrath.
  • Too Cool to Live: Ruadan. Finna. Isolde. Aglaine. Alator. Balinor. Kara. The writers were way too fond of this trope.
  • Tough Act to Follow: One of the reasons Agravaine is so disliked as a villain is because he was following two very well-received baddies of the previous season. First there was Cenred, who was actually an effective ruler and leader, with just enough sympathetic qualities to make himself fun. Then there was Morgause - a Magnificent Bitch who essentially became one of the most popular villains on the show. Agravaine had to follow two villains who personified Evil Is Cool.
  • Trapped by Mountain Lions: In the two part Season 4 finale while the others are trying to work out a way to stop Morgana, she herself does nothing of note in Camelot itself. She makes Gwaine fight in front of her for bread, which adds nothing to the plot. It seems she's spent so long plotting to get the throne, she has no idea what to actually do once she has it.
  • Ugly Cute: The Manticore.
    • Aithusa, post imprisonment.
  • Uncanny Valley:
    • Gaius' smile in Season 2, episode 12, when Merlin tries to wake him up. SO. CREEPY.
    • Some viewers felt this way about Isolde, with her strange little smile and her tendency to not blink.
    • Mordred's huge eyes enhance his Creepy Child vibes a lot. The producers mention that they were enlarged with CG in the DVD commentary for his introductory episode.
    • The... thing that finds Gwaine in the first episode of Season 5 does seem benevolent from what we've seen of its actions so far, but it looks creepy.
  • Unfortunate Implications:
    • Noted here about the process of Morgana's Face–Heel Turn robbed a female character of all agency in her own story, and that she only became the villain because she was first screwed over by an alleged friend who betrayed her trust to save his own skin, and then brainwashed by a half-sister with her own agenda - and it's presented as her own fault even though she had no say in her turn to villainy.
    • Dave Bradley published an article on the poor treatment of the show's female characters; citing how most of them became a Damsel in Distress, Disposable Woman or Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
    "I loved Merlin and I treasure its five-year run including the lads' tearful finale, but I can't help feeling it suffered from a boys' club atmosphere where women were often treated as invaders."
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Morgana big time in Seasons 1 and 2. Any time she rebels against Uther, it's meant to be Foreshadowing for her Face–Heel Turn. Except her rebellion includes trying to stop an innocent child being executed and helping Gwen's father escape certain death. Throughout Season 2, everyone talks behind her back and decides her fate without any thought to her feelings. Kilgarrah's 'warnings' read very hollow, considering Merlin listening to him is what leads to Morgana being spirited away by Morgause. And in "The Fires of Idirsholas", if Kilgarrah knows that Morgana is the source of the magic, then he must also know that she was not a willing participant in the spell and therefore doesn't know fully what's going on - but he misleads Merlin into thinking Morgana is doing everything willingly.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic:
    • The basis for Morgana's Face–Heel Turn - Merlin poisoning her in "The Fires of Idirsholas" - is entirely Merlin's fault. Morgana is the source of the spell that's keeping everyone in Camelot asleep, but she doesn't know this. Morgause knocked her unconscious without telling her what she was going to do. Morgana is clueless about what's happening, and Merlin betrays her trust to trick her into drinking poison. He really had no good reason not to tell her she had to die for the spell to break (if he wanted to keep his cover, he could easily make up a story to explain how he knew). He just believed the dragon's word that she was evil and poisoned his friend.
    • Merlin gets a lot of this regarding Morgana in Season 2. Other characters tell him she's not to be trusted - even though she's a scared and confused young girl who doesn't know what's happening to her. He considers revealing his magic to her to help her deal with her own and...he just doesn't. Because the dragon says she shouldn't be trusted. Morgana nearly murdering Uther doesn't stand because Merlin has killed his enemies multiple times. So rather than trying to help a friend, Merlin decides to save his own skin. If he weren't the protagonist, these actions would make him the villain.
    • And in the Season 2 finale, his sympathetic status in that episode was somewhat diminished by the fact that he had just deliberately released a dragon who then explicitly killed hundreds of innocent people, yet the majority of his angst in that episode revolved around his dad. Instead of the fact that he'd, again, caused the foreseeable deaths of hundreds of innocent people.
  • Values Dissonance: Inverted. By today's standards, Uther is a ruthless tyrant. By medieval standards, he would have been positively benevolent (especially compared to the likes of Cenred). Lampshaded in-show in To Kill The King. Merlin says that Uther is a horrible king for executing everyone he disagrees with, while Gaius points out that Uther ended a civil war and brought peace and stability to the land.
  • What Do You Mean, It's a Family Show?: Merlin is primarily marketed as a family show, and it has stayed that way for its entire run. Yet they are constantly toeing the line on how much they can imply. They can't say the word "sex"? They have a scene where Uther says that a lord's wife was lonely, and that lord's daughter is his own. They can't do incest? Well, they'll have this UST relationship between Arthur and Morgana in Season 1, then reveal that they're brother and sister in Season 3 after they've both moved on. Violence? The huge amounts of Gory Discretion Shot and Bloodless Carnage should give you some indication of just how much they manage to get past the radar. The last two seasons originally aired in a later timeslot (after 8 PM) in the UK compared to the earlier times for the first three seasons (although this was at least partly to do with the unmovable live two-hour show airing beforehand).
  • The Woobie:
    • Merlin in the second season finale learns who his father is, meets him, and then about five minutes later has him die in his arms after taking a sword aimed at Merlin. And this is just piling it on: in the preceding episode, he ended up having to poison Morgana, one of his good friends, and doesn't know if she's alive or dead, and a few episodes before that, he fell in love only to have Arthur unknowingly kill his beloved. Poor guy needs a hug.
    • Morgana throughout Season 2. Her terror at her magic being discovered is palpable, and it takes a heart of stone not to be affected when she begs Merlin for understanding in "The Nightmare Begins."
      "I'm scared, Merlin."
    • Poor Gwen just keeps getting emotionally tortured - her father is killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she falls in love with two men she can never hope to have a future with, her best friend inexplicably turns on her and nearly gets her executed, she's Mind Raped into first becoming an adulterer and getting banished for it, then getting brainwashed to evil and resulting in her brother's death. Then by the finale, her beloved husband dies and it's unknown if Merlin ever kept in contact with her.
    • Freya, good God Freya! A poor innocent young woman who's cursed to turn into a demon every night. And then she has to be killed before she can run away with a man who has fallen in love with her.
    • Princess Mithian ends up being rather fond of Arthur and is genuinely nice. Even to Merlin, despite his obvious dislike, and even he softens up to her a little bit. It's hard not to feel sorry for the poor thing when she becomes a Romantic Runner-Up.
    • Aithusa. The poor thing has been locked at the bottom of a well for two years, and is sick and malnourished. When Merlin meets her, she attacks him and has to be calmed down like a wild animal. She's so traumatized she can't even speak, and from the way she was hopping, she might be unable to fly.

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