Like many other fans of the BBC fantasy series Merlin I was severely disappointed in its ending. For five years we had been told that Arthur Pendragon is destined to unite the warring kingdoms of Albion and bring magic back to the realm.
Unfortunately however this never happened! Arthur if anything looked like a rather inept king. He did bugger all in his five years as the ruler of Camelot.
Many fans argued that Arthur dying before he brought magic back made the whole series itself redundant.
Other fans meanwhile developed their own theories to explain why Arthur died in spite of what the Great Dragon kept telling us. A favorite of mine is the Kilgharrah conspiracy here.
I meanwhile have developed my own theory as to why Arthur and Merlin’s supposed destiny never happened.
I think that the reason Arthur never became a great king was simply because Merlin fucked up.
Throughout the series Arthur and Merlin’s destiny are if you will pardon the pun, not set in stone. It’s presented as a possible future that might happen, but it could just as easily not.
The Dragon says that there is a prophecy that Arthur will unite the lands of Albion and bring magic back, but lets not forget he also warns Merlin that there are a number of threats that could prevent this from happening. Even just simple monsters like the Questing Beast that poisons Arthur are powerful enough to prevent this great destiny from happening.
It is never presented as a case of no matter what happens Arthur and Merlin are destined to bring about this great kingdom. It’s more a case of if Merlin does things correctly then that future will unfold.
This is further backed up by the fact that we see many other futures change in Merlin. For instance Gwen being crowned Queen does not unfold the way Morgana had foreseen it, nor does Morgana’s death at Merlin’s hand.
Merlin and Arthurs destinies were not a foregone conclusion either. They were simply one of many possible futures that the Dragon had foreseen in some way using magic.
A lot of fans have blamed Kilgharrah and even Arthur himself for the bleak ending, but to me the blame for Arthur’s death and Camelot’s fall rests solely on the shoulders of a young man. His name. Merlin!
In this article I am going to go through the ways in which Merlin fails to save Arthur and Camelot and fails to bring about the future Kilgarrah had foreseen, entirely through his own mistakes.
Lets get started shall we.
In the season 1 episode “The Beginning of the End” Merlin meets a young druid boy named Mordred. The Great Dragon warns Merlin against saving this boy, as if he does then the boy will kill Arthur when he grows up. Once again neither Arthur’s destiny as a great king, or his death at Mordred’s hand are absolutely going to happen. The Dragon makes it very clear that there are two possible futures that could unfold here.
Now in all fairness to Merlin this is the least of his mistakes. Mordred was just an innocent child at the time. It would take a cold hearted bastard to let a pleading child be executed.
Still you can see what I mean about how this episode alone shows us that Arthur’s destiny is not a something that is definite. It can easily be changed and the Dragon even tells Merlin that if he allows the child to live, then he cannot fulfil his destiny, and hey this is what happened exactly in the finale.
Still I wouldn’t put the blame of what happens entirely in the finale on Merlin’s actions in this episode. Like I said this a very understandable mistake, however I think Merlin does make it worse by hesitating to save Mordred. Mordred clearly knows that Merlin hesitated to save him. The look Mordred gives Merlin when he says that he was delayed says it all.
Whilst this isn’t the sole reason Merlin does not fulfil his destiny it certainly does mark the beginning of the end.
Saving Uther Pendragon Twice
There are two moments when Merlin should have let Uther die to bring about the future the Dragon had foreseen.
The first is in “To Kill the King” in series 1. Here Morgana has finally decided to dispose of Uther and Merlin hearing of her plan talks to the Dragon. Once again the Dragon gives the young wizard advice that could have avoided the future we see in series 5. “FREE THIS LAND FROM TYRANNY MERLIN! FREE US ALL!”
Merlin however decided to save Uther instead. Gaius tells him that Arthur’s time is not ready and Gwen says that it would be wrong to stoop to Uther’s level and allow him to die.
Thing is Merlin should have listened to The Dragon. If he had allowed Uther to die then the following things would have happened.
Arthur would have become king. Gaius may have thought he wasn’t ready, but the Dragon thought Arthur was. Why believe Gaius’s word over the Dragons? Remember that not only can Gaius not see the future, but Gaius is a friend of Uther’s, or closest thing he has to a friend. Gaius even thinks Uther has done a lot of good for the people which is clearly not true. He may have protected them years ago from evil sorcerers, but he has since drowned and burned innocent men, women and children! Gaius however doesn’t see it that way, because Uther is his friend and he has some misplaced loyalty to the king.
Uther dying at that point would have allowed Arthur to become king. Now Arthur at that point was already shown to be a lot more open minded to the use of magic. Okay yes he held some of his fathers prejudices, having been raised by him, but clearly he is a much more open minded person naturally than many other people in Camelot. The fact that he went out of his way to save Mordred alone proves this.
Arthur most likely would have continued some of his fathers laws for a short while, but not to the same extent. He most likely would have continued arresting sorcerers, but he would not have continued persecuting them to the same extent that Uther did, IE having them burned at the stake. On top of that he would have had Morgana convincing him not to treat those with Magic so cruelly. Morgana frequently tried to do this to Uther in series 1, but it was of course pointless.
Its extremely doubtful that Morgana, Gwen and Merlin all would not have been able to influence Arthur in a positive way regarding Magic Users. Can you really imagine Arthur who already tried to make Uther see reason, refusing to listen to his family and friends and go ahead and murder innocent men, women and children?
Eventually Arthur would have come into contact with Morgause, whowould have shown him the truth about Uther’s role in his mothers death. This would have convinced Arthur once and for all that magic was not a force for evil.
Arthur most likely would purged all memory from his father in shame after this revelation. (Remember when he found out he tried to actually kill Uther. Imagine what he would have thought had he found it out after his death.) Arthur would have made sure that Magic users were treated with the utmost respect to make up for his fathers past misdeeds and hypocrisy.
Following this Morgana would have been able to discover her magic powers, but would have been able to do so in the open and would not have become bitter and hateful. Morgana may have felt some guilt over Uther’s death for a while, but ultimately as Uther was a tyrant and his death allowed the fair and just Arthur to emerge. She most likely would have realized it was for the greater good.
Sadly Merlin stopped this from happening by helping to save Uther Pendragon’s life. Though in all fairness its not entirely his fault. Morgana relented and decided not to kill Uther. Still Merlin did play a hand in it by delaying the assassin and giving Morgana enough time to save Uther’s life.
The great kingdom Arthur was supposed to build would have happened by season 2 and Morgana would not have gone down the path of darkness, had Merlin listened to the Dragon. The Dragon’s advice in this instance was only wrong in that he should have told Merlin to make sure Uther died.
Merlin’s biggest blunder Re:Uther however comes in series 2 in the episode “The Sins of the Father”. In this episode Morgause tells Arthur the truth that Uther caused the death of Arthurs mother Iygraine through a deal with a sorcerer Nimueh.
Arthur is so enraged by this he tries to kill Uther. He declares Uther a hypocrite and a liar who has murdered innocent people simply to ease his own guilt over his wife’s death. Arthur would have killed Uther had it not been for Merlin lying about it and convincing him that it was the work of Morgause. Merlin only did this to stop Arthur from killing his father in a moment of rage and having the guilt of that plague him for the rest of his life.
Another understandable mistake, but still one that has a very negative effect on his and Arthur’s destiny, and ultimately the greater good of Camelot.
If Uther had died then and there Arthur most likely would have felt guilt over it, but again when he learned of the atrocities his father committed, including the murder of innocent children he probably would have seen sense and realised he had no choice.
He would have continued to look on Morgause as an ally, as she had revealed the truth to him. He would have definitely brought back magic to make up for his fathers mistakes. Magic users across Camelot and all of Albion would have looked on Arthur as their hero. He would have been the one who killed his father, the enemy of all magic and exposed his hypocrisy.
This coupled with his saving Mordred another powerful sorcerer would have made him very, very, very popular among magic users and sorcerers to say the least. Furthermore once again Morgana would then have revealed her magical abilities, Merlin his too which would have further cemented magic’s place in Camelot. It would have also only further have helped to undermine Uther Pendragon by revealing that he was unaware that there was magic in the heart of his kingdom.
The Dragon would most certainly have been freed too. Its doubtful the Dragon would have attacked Camelot had Uther already been dead. It only did so to get revenge on Uther Pendragon. With him dead it most likely would have been the guardian of Camelot.
Morgause also most likely would have become an ally of theirs too. Arthur certainly would have trusted her. It is unclear what Morgause’s true nature was. Was she pure evil, or was she just simply wanting to free the land from Uther? Its possible she may have still tried to take the throne from Arthur, but doing so would have been no easy task for her.
She would not have been able to manipulate Morgana as she only did so because Morgana felt scared and alone, being magical in Uther’s kingdom. With magic no longer banned and Arthur as king then this would no longer have been a problem. Also though Morgause is a powerful sorcerer, she would not have been a match for the combined might of Arthur wielding Excalibur, Merlin whose magic would be out in the open, Morgana who would most likely side with Arthur and the Great Dragon! Added to that there would be plenty of other sorcerers in Arthur’s kingdom that would support him too.
Morgause didn’t seem to want to rule by herself anyway. She was happy for Morgana to rule in series 3 and there she would most likely be happy to be a prominent member of Arthur’s court which she most certainly would be in his new kingdom.
Arthur may have even been able to form an alliance with King Cenred. Cenred was at war with Camelot because of his hatred of Uther. Chances of an alliance with Cenred would have been stronger with an Arthur, who had not only killed Uther, but had exposed him as a hypocrite to the kingdom he had ruled over. (Arthur would have obviously revealed why he had killed him) and had destroyed his legacy, by bringing magic back to the realm.
Added to this Cenred had close ties to Morgause and therefore through her, could become an ally of Camelot. Finally Cenred who was a coward and unlike Uther hated losing any men, would never launch an attack on Camelot. The Dragon alone could have destroyed Cenrid’s kingdom.
Also with the power that Camelot would yield its doubtful anyone would wish to challenge it. Within a few years, probably by the time of season 5, all of the kingdoms would have been united.
Arthur therefore would have fulfilled his destiny, as would Merlin and neither Morgana nor Mordred would be in a position to threaten them, nor would either of them want to anyway.
By sparing Uther, Merlin not only delayed his destiny from coming true, but put in in danger.
As a result of lying to Arthur about Morgause (who did not deceive Arthur at all) Merlin convinced Arthur that magic was evil.
Prior to this Arthur as I already mentioned had been very open minded about magic. He spared Mordred. He also showed respect to the unicorn and was actually delighted when it returned from the dead. He even bowed to the sorcerer involved with the Unicorns wishes to save the kingdom and went through with the tests. Can you imagine Uther doing that? Even if it was to save Camelot from starvation, Uther would be too proud to go through a sorcerers test. Arthur also argued that even if Gwen’s father had been using magic then he did not deserve to be persecuted as long as he had not used it to harm anyone. It was obvious that the Arthur from seasons 1 and 2 did not hate magic like his father and in time could have easily been swayed to view it as a force for good in some instances.
Ironically it was Merlin who convinced him that Magic was evil.
Also as Uther was still alive, he would continue to persecute Magic users which in turn led to Morgana feeling more paranoid and ultimately led to her siding with Morgause, becoming a powerful enemy to Camelot in the process.
By lying to Arthur about Uther. Merlin created an Arthur who hated magic as much as his father.
Driving Morgana Insane
It’s one thing to spare a tyrant who persecutes your kind, but to drive your friend down the path of villainy is another.
Every step of the way Merlin made the wrong choice in how to deal with Morgana.
In the season 2 episode “The Nightmare Begins” Morgana suspects that she has magic. Merlin is told by Kilgarrah that the best course of action is to not let her discover her powers
If Merlin had followed Kilgharrah’s actions then it could have bought him more time. As soon as Morgana found out she was magic it turned her against Uther. Things had always been tense between them, but after Morgana found out she had magic then she became scared at what would happen if he found out. She felt she could not confide in anyone, even Arthur out of fear of being found out. It was this that ultimately led to her siding with Morgause who was later able to twist her mind into becoming totally ruthless and willing to murder even her own brother Arthur.
If Merlin had not told her about her powers and allowed Gaius to make her think that they were merely hallucinations. It may have prevented her from feeling so paranoid until Morgause showed Arthur what really happened. Then obviously if Merlin had reacted accordingly, and allowed Arthur to kill Uther, it would not have mattered afterwards. Morgana could have explored the full extent of her powers and would not have posed a threat to either Arthur or Merlin.
Having said that though Morgana may have still felt paranoid anyway as she still would have suffered from her dreams. Personally I think it would have been better if Merlin had told her about his secret. That way she would have come to see him as a loyal ally and friend and could have confided in him. He maybe could have even told her a piece of the prophecy that Arthur would one day restore magic to Camelot. Hell she may have even become an ally of his, and helped him protect Arthur.
Morgana certainly would not have turned Merlin over to Uther at that point. She was his friend and had already shown sympathy to magic users before anyway.
Personally I think that was the best option for Merlin and to be fair to him he wanted to do that, but once again it was Gaius (and this time the Dragon) who advised him against it.
Instead Merlin picked the worst option. He took Morgana to meet the Druids who told her exactly what she was and became allies for her outside of Camelot.
In the penultimate episode of series 2 however “The Fires of Idirsholas” Merlin makes the biggest blunder of his career. Morgause, (who had it not been for Merlin lying to Arthur about her would have become their ally by now.) Casts a spell that makes everyone in Camelot fall asleep.
Morgause does this so that she can sneak in and kill Uther and Arthur. Again she only wishes to kill Arthur because of Merlin who has successfully turned Arthur against magic. The source of the spell is Morgana and the only way to break it is to kill Morgana. The Dragon tells him that he must kill her. He says that if he does not then Morgause will kill Arthur and the future Merlin and Arthur are destined to create will die with him. Once again this shows that Arthur and Merlin’s future can be changed and is not set.
Now Merlin has three options and once again he picks the worst one.
He can follow the Dragons advice and kill Morgana and then Morgause. Disposing of both of them obviously eliminates the threat they pose to Arthur and Merlin. Once again however this is a pretty ruthless thing to do. The Dragon does always to be fair give Merlin the most ruthless and callous suggestion. Let the young boy be hanged, poison your best friend, let Uther die etc. Still that doesn’t mean he isn’t 100 percent right every single time. If Merlin had done all of those things, none of the threats that destroy Arthur and his kingdom would have existed.
Still Merlin did not need to kill Morgana. I think he could have approached her and told her he knew what she was doing and convinced her to try and reason with Morgause. After all Morgana did still love Arthur very much at that point, and if she pleaded with Morgause, who loved her, its doubtful that Morgause would have killed Arthur.
Uther most likely would have still met his end at Morgause’s hand. Not that that is a bad thing mind you, to dispose of the mad tyrant. Again all that would happen is that Arthur would become king. Though it might be more difficult thanks to Merlin’s actions to convince him that magic was a force for good. With Morgana’s help in time, I am sure he would come around.
Merlin could have even suggested to Morgana that she drink the poison so as to throw Morgause off, and assured her that he had the antidote. Morgana may have been willing to do this in order to save Arthur. Also Merlin could have turned Morgana against Morgause by telling her that Morgause had made her the source of her spell, which Morgana did not know about.
Once again however Merlin did the stupidest thing imaginable. He poisoned Morgana destroying the last bit of good in her and convincing her that Camelot could never be a place where she would be accepted. Yet he did not kill her. He gave her the antidote. If he was going to actually poison her, then he should have gone through with it. Poisoning her and then sparing her life, did nothing but piss her off and make her go mad. Worse still he allowed Morgause to run off with her. In the time they were together Morgause proceeded to corrupt Morgana, who lets face it already had enough reason to go mad. Living in constant fear of Uther, being betrayed by her best friend etc.
Thanks to his foolish actions both Morgause and Morgana became Arthur’s enemies when they could have instead become very powerful allies of his, or both disposed of.
Morgana’s role as a villain not only posed a threat to Arthur’s destiny because of her power, but also because she used sorcery for evil means. This only further convinced Arthur that magic was a force for darkness and could not be allowed in Camelot.
Merlin would later give up another golden opportunity to kill Morgana in season 3 in the episode “The Crystal Cave”. Here Merlin causes her to suffer a fatal accident and the Dragon tells Merlin that all of the suffering she will cause can now be averted. Not wanting to have her blood on his hands, Merlin forces the Dragon to heal Morgana. The Dragon even tells Merlin that all the evil that will happen from now on is entirely down to him. If Merlin had listened to the Dragon once again, he would have eliminated a powerful threat, but he instead kept her alive.
Trying to Save Uther Again
When Uther is mortally wounded Merlin tries to save him with magic by using a spell that will heal him. He hopes that this will convince Arthur that not all magic is evil. Unfortunately it backfires considerably on him when Morgana cast another spell which reverses the effects and kills Uther.
This hardens Arthurs heart to magic once and for all and causes him to persecute it just like Uther did.
Had Merlin not used magic to heal Uther, Uther would have died and Arthur may have come to the conclusion that Magic was not evil somewhere down the line by himself.
Thanks to Merlin’s actions by the time Arthur takes over, he is a far cry from the man Kilgarrah saw in his vision of the future. He has been utterly convinced that Magic is evil. By this point he should have been convinced otherwise.
Trying to kill Mordred
The final killing blow to his and Arthur’s destiny is dealt by Merlin in the season 5 episode The Dsir. Here Merlin is told by The Dsir that he has one chance to avert the bad version of the future that Kilgarrah had foreseen many years ago if he embraces magic.
This is clearly the last chance Arthur has to fulfil this part of his destiny. Once again however its because of Merlin that he doesn’t get to do it.
Merlin had been told earlier that he must kill Mordred in order to save Arthur. This is why he later told Arthur that magic has no place in Camelot. Arthur pleaded with The Dsir to save Mordred whom they wounded. They agreed only if he brought magic back to Camelot. For this reason Merlin convinced Arthur not to agree to their demands and not to bring magic back. Ironically this did the very opposite of what he had hoped for, as The Dsir brought Mordred back to life.
This was a test on The Dsir’s part and Merlin failed. They were giving him one last chance to fulfil his destiny. He failed ironically because this time in contrast to his mistake with Mordred in the past, he was too ruthless. He tried to murder an innocent man whose only crime was to try and protect his king with his life.
Had he told Arthur that magic has a place in Camelot then Arthur would have agreed with him. Even after all the ways Merlin turned Arthur against Magic, Arthur was still willing to accept it into Camelot, but Merlin finally convinced him not to.
Merlin sealed Arthur’s fate. Not only does the man who was destined to kill him get brought back, but Arthur continues to persecute magic which in turn leads to Mordred turning against him. The woman Mordred is in love with whom Arthur later kills, only attacks Arthur because he continues to outlaw magic just like Uther Pendragon did. If Arthur had accepted magic into Camelot during the time of The Dsir, this would not have happened. Even if the Dsir had brought back Mordred then he would have had no reason to turn on Arthur and return to Morgana, if magic had returned.
Many have blamed the Dragon for this but I don’t think you can completely. The Dragon certainly should have given Merlin better advice than “just kill everyone near to you from Morgana, Mordred, Uther etc.” (It’s not hard to see why some people paint the Dragon as a villain.)
Still Merlin had plenty of opportunities to do so without telling Arthur magic had no place in Camelot. He could have pushed Mordred down the stairs with his magic. He could have lead him out into a field and had the dragon burn him to death.
He chose the worst possible opportunity to do so and doomed Camelot instead.
Merlin further sealed Arthur’s fate by betraying Mordred and not allowing him to flee with the woman he loves either, and therefore gives him a reason to hate Arthur and the knights of Camelot.
Thanks to Merlin’s bad judgement, his compassion and his ruthlessness, he prevented Arthur from fulfilling his destiny as much as the poison of any Questing Beast.
Whilst its true that he did save Arthur’s life and Arthur would never have made it to throne without him. Ultimately his mistakes prevented the Great Dragon’s prophecy from coming to pass.
Had Merlin done things a little better Arthur would have fulfilled the destiny the Great Dragon talked about. He would have united the lands of Albion, he would have restored magic to Camelot. he would have created a perfect society that would have flourished to this day. Merlin’s bungling however stopped that in the following ways.
1/ Sparing Mordred: He should have followed the Great Dragon’s advice and killed him, or at the very least not made Mordred suspicious of him.
2/ Saving Uther twice: Both times would have lead to Arthur’s reign beginning much earlier and would have allowed Arthur to learn the truth about his fathers war against magic and how unjust it was. Arthur would have also come to power before Morgana discovered her true abilities, and when Mordred was a child. Neither one of them would have become villains under these circumstances. Mordred would have grown up in a society where his kind was accepted, and would have looked on Arthur as his hero who slew the evil tyrant Uther and saved his life, whilst Morgana would have been able to discover her magic powers and not felt like an outsider because of them.
Merlin stopped this from happening by ignoring the Dragon’s advice that Uther’s time had come to its end. As a result Arthur didn’t ascend when he was supposed to and Morgana was twisted by Uther’s persecution of magic and Arthur thanks to Merlin’s efforts grew to despise Magic, when he was on the cusp of supporting it.
3/ Fucking up Big Time with Morgana: Merlin drove Morgana down the path of villainy. He helped her discover her powers and make allies among the Druids, he poisoned her but did not kill her, allowed her to go away with Morgause and then later when she had become a vastly powerful and dangerous sorceress, he gave up another golden opportunity to finish her, ignoring the Dragon’s warning.
4/ He turned Arthur against magic for good, by killing his father with it, which only happened because of Morgana whom he had turned evil.
5/ He wrecked Arthurs last chance by turning him against magic: The Dsir warned Arthur that he would not get another chance if he did not bring magic back and sadly thanks to Merlin’s influence, he didn’t and perished as a direct result of his persecution of magic at Mordred’s hand.
Was This What The Writers Had Intended?
A part of me wonders if this was what the actual writers of the show had intended. This is certainly how I interpreted the show, but of course what one fan thinks means nothing. Still when you watch it back it does appear that the writers wanted us to think that Merlin was making decisions that would doom his future. In “The Beginning of the End” the Dragon explicitly tells us that Merlin will not fulfil his destiny if Mordred is spared. Furthermore the Dsir warn him that he will not get another chance if he does not return magic. The fact these are both crucial to Arthur’s eventual death leads me to believe that this was what the writers had in mind the whole time.
In this respect the ending of the show makes more sense to me now. Its still not perfect mind you. I like the idea of prophecy’s only giving you a possible future, and it still being possible to change. However I think they should have had Arthur bring magic back after season 4, but still had Merlin and Arthur’s actions ultimately bring about the end of the kingdom.
The fact that we never saw Arthur do anything noteworthy is too bleak and disappointing.
Still perhaps this is also why it is stated that Arthur will rise again. Maybe this will be Merlin’s second chance to do things better this time. His redemption for his past mistakes.
The only problem with this entire theory though is that in the finale the Dragon states that Arthur has already built what he was destined to achieve. This suggests to me that the writers maybe just forgot what it was he was destined to achieve.
Still I’d like to think that this is what they had in mind that actually Merlin ultimately failed to fulfil his destiny, but perhaps he will learn from his mistakes and he and Arthur will make a better fist of it next time.