Cult Villains 3/ Morgana Pendragon

Morgana, played by Katie McGrath was the main antagonist throughout most of Merlin’s run. She was based upon the character of Morgan Le Fay from Arthurian legends, though this particular version of the character also drew from a number of other characters for inspiration, including Lex Luthor from Superman, and even Magneto from the X-Men.

Character Overview

Morgana is the daughter of Uther Pendragon and Vivienne, though it is not known that she is Uther’s daughter until part way through season 3.

Initially she believed that she was the daughter of Lady Vivienne and Gorlois, a very respected member of Uther Pendragon’s court and Uther’s best friend. In truth however she is secretely Uther’s daughter. Uther had had an affair with Lady Vivienne when Gorlois was away which resulted in the birth of Morgana.

It is unclear if Gorlois ever found out about this or Morgana’s true parentage. He raised Morgana as his own nevertheless, and Morgana grew up believing Gorlois was her father.

Eventually Gorlois would be killed in battle when Uther failed to send him reinforcements. Uther had promised to look after Morgana should anything happen to Gorlois and took her in as his ward.

Things were difficult between Morgana and Uther. Morgana it appeared blamed Uther for failing to save her father and she also fought with him over many of his more unjust policies, particularly towards those who used magic.

Still despite this Uther appeared to respect Morgana and considered her a friend. He later said to her when they were visiting her “fathers” grave.

“When he died I took you into my care. You fought with me from the beginning. Your will is as strong as my own. You challenge me as a friend must. As your father did in his time.” 

It appears that Morgana respected him too for a while. Ultimately the two’s relationship by the start of the series had become somewhat strained.

In the very first episode Morgana chastises Uther for having a sorcerer executed. She tells him that the sorcerer did not use his magic to hurt anyone, but Uther refuses to listen. He tells her that no use of magic can be tolerated as twenty years ago sorcerers brought pain and suffering to everyone in the kingdom. Though Morgana does not deny this, she states that Uther cannot keep persecuting people for what happened decades ago.

She also refuses to attend a celebration for outlawing magic that night too and warns Uther that his ruthless actions will simply create more enemies. This is proven true when the mother of the sorcerer he had just executed very nearly kills Arthur at the celebrations.

Still surprisingly it is obvious that despite their differences that Uther favours Morgana over his son and heir Arthur. Despite their differences, Morgana is able to talk to Uther in a way that even Arthur could not. The fact that she can questioning his decision to ban magic at all shows this.

On the one hand Morgana is very much a daddy’s little girl. Even before she finds out that she is actually his daughter, whilst on the other she is also in many ways the troublesome child too. Arthur meanwhile is the perfect child who never sets a foot wrong, does everything he can to please his father, yet it is still Morgana who is the favourite.

Nevertheless Morgana and Arthur have a very close relationship. Initially there appears to be some attraction (which kind of makes Uther a bit dodgy in my eyes. Well more dodgy than he already is. He knew they were secretly siblings yet allowed them to flirt with each other all the time!)

Still overall their relationship is generally like that of a brother and sister. Though they tease each other all the time, Arthur deeply cares for her and often only defies his father to help her in some way, whilst Morgana in turn regularly tells Arthur that he is a better man than his father will ever be.

Morgana is also very close to her maid Guinevere too. Indeed they are so close that Guinevere even states after her father dies that if anything happened to Morgana too, she doesn’t know what she would do.

Finally Morgana also develops a very close relationship with Merlin the main protagonist and even helps him on many occasions such as when Guinevere is accused of magic.

Overall throughout season 1 Morgana is presented as a brave, kind and loyal friend to the other main characters.

On many occasions she is presented as a more sympathetic and certainly a more mature character than even Arthur himself. This can be seen in not only how much better she treats Gwen, her servant, than Arthur does Merlin, but also in the way she stands up to Uther more often than Arthur. Arthur on a few occasions even arrests innocent people accused of Magic on his fathers orders, in contrast to Morgana who is always questioning his more ruthless actions.

When Gwen’s father is arrested Arthur does not really do much to stop his execution. He does voice his concern to Uther, but ultimately as Gwen herself later mentions during Gaius’s near execution, he more or less just stands back and watches an innocent man die. Morgana on the other hand quarrels with Uther and warns him that if he kills Gwen’s father she will never forgive him. She later after he actually does kill Gwen’s father declares that Uther has blood on his hands that will never wash off, insults his judgement and ability to run the kingdom, and accuses him of being a paranoid tyrant. She even ends up in chains for the way she speaks to him.

And you will remain here until you learn your lesson”

“Then release me because I have learned it already! That you care not for me, or anyone but yourself! That you’re driven mad with power! That you’re a tyrant!”

Morgana later decides to avenge Gwen’s father by siding with one of Uther’s enemies the sorcerer Tauren. She even arranges to have Uther assassinated. She later however changes her mind when Uther apologises for the pain he caused her and expresses guilt over the death of Gwen’s father and promises to rule in a more fair and just way. Morgana ends up saving Uther’s life from the very assassin she was trying to help kill Uther.

Throughout the first series Morgana is definitely the most interesting character to me, alongside both the Dragon and Uther.

Merlin was always very good in its early years for giving us more nuanced villains. Uther, The Great Dragon, Morgana and even Nimueh’ s motives were well developed. None of them were just simply evil. They were all capable of both great and evil things. Uther on the one hand did persecute innocent people, but on the other he had also saved his entire kingdom from the genuinely evil sorcerers that had plagued the land for many years before. He also was shown to be willing to sacrifice his life to save both Morgana and Arthur many times throughout the first series as well.

The Dragon meanwhile is in some ways selfish and vindictive, yet he does genuinely care for Merlin and even later saves his life.

Morgana similarly though shown to be willing to kill Uther, the man who raised her, only does so to protect innocent people. Her actions are perfectly understandable. How many more people are to suffer as Gwen did? Even then however she is shown to be conflicted throughout it, and ultimately cannot bring herself to actually murder him when she sees the depth he cares for her.

All three of these characters offered up more than just cardboard cutout villains for Merlin to interact with.  Merlin as series I feel stood out from many of its contemporaries, as it was was never just a simple case of black and white, good versus evil. Overall it was a very morally grey show.

Morgana’s decision to kill Uther alone is one that raises many questions among the viewers, more so than an attempt on a villains life in most other series would have done. Many people who watched that episode such as myself saw it as perfectly justified in light not only of everything Uther has done, but everything he may still do. Others however might view it as still being just as evil as anything Uther himself has done.

After all Morgana is figuratively and literally stabbing the man who took her in and raised her in the back. One cannot help but pity Uther in spite of everything he has done as he declares how much Morgana and her friendship means to him, all the while she is literally plotting his death.

Katie McGrath who played Morgana was also absolutely superb in the role too. She had brilliant chemistry with all of the leads, but I think the scenes between Morgana and Uther in series 1 were her definite highlights. Even though it was among her first acting roles McGrath more than holds her own against Anthony Stewart Head, a very experienced actor.

The second season would see Morgana’s character begin to change somewhat. At the end of the first season she discovers that she has magic when she begins having prophetic dreams. In Merlin magic is not simply something that people learn. Many are born with it.

Morgana soon becomes terrified of what will happen if Uther finds out and this among other factors is what leads to her descent into darkness.

In series 1 Uther did actually threaten Morgana’s life at one point when she helped to free a young druid boy named Mordred, that Uther was going to execute. Though Uther had no proof that she had helped him. He still suspected her and said, that even though he made a promise to her father to protect her he would happily break it if she dared to cross him again. Morgana is clearly left terrified at this, though this does not stop her from standing up to him on Gwen’s behalf later on.

Still you can see that Morgana is clearly left shaken by Uther’s threat. She obviously thinks that there is every possibility that Uther would kill her without a seconds thought if he discovered her magic.

Of course ironically whilst he may talk a good game we later discover that Uther would never ever hurt Morgana in a million years. When she is mortally wounded in a later series he hypocritically orders Gaius to use magic of all things to heal her.

Still as far as Morgana knows he would happily send her to her death like so many other innocent people.

Many fans have seen Morgana turning on Merlin as being a self fulfilling prophecy. The Great Dragon warns Merlin that she is dangerous and can’t be trusted and from that point on Merlin is always suspicious of her. Gaius however also must take a large portion of the blame too, as Gaius knowing full well that Morgana’s prophetic dreams are a result of magic lied to her about them. He sadly just didn’t trust her and also advised Merlin against telling her about his secret, which Merlin wanted to do.

I think that had Merlin told her about his secret then things would have been different. Morgana would have had someone to confide in properly, someone who understood the pain she was in and could have even helped her hide her magic.

Merlin I think should have also told her that Arthur would be destined to bring magic back. Obviously he should have left out the bit about her being an evil witch! Still if he had told her that then she would have continued to see Arthur as a friend. In later series Morgana comes to despise Arthur just as much, due to the fact that he views magic the same way as Uther does, but if she had known that one day that was to change then perhaps her views of him would have been different.

Ultimately Merlin did the worst thing possible. Still wanting to help his friend, he took her to the druids, then enemies of Camelot and Arthur who informed her that she was magical after all. This only caused her paranoia to grow and at the same time the Druids became allies of hers outside of her friends and family.

Morgana would eventually have another blow out with Uther towards the end of the second season when she frees another Druid from his prison. Once again Uther threatens Morgana, knowing full well that she was the one who betrayed him, though it is in a less direct way.

Whatever respect Morgana may have once had for Uther is gone by this point and she once again seeks to topple him from his throne.

The final big confrontation between Uther and Morgana in “The Witch’s Quickening” is one of my favourite moments in Merlin. I love it when Uther screams at her in rage “you will go to your chambers” and she responds coldly “And you will go to hell”.  He just simply loses his temper with her, whilst she truly despises him, as her reaction is just so much colder and vitriolic than his. Uther for the first time looks genuinely at a loss for words afterwards too.

In addition to this Morgana’s relationship with Uther is further strained by the arrival of Morgause, Morgana’s half sister on her mothers side who is also a sorcerer and whom Morgana feels a certain kinship with.

Morgause later hatches a plan to dispose of Uther and though Morgana is willing to help dispose of Uther, (and only Uther) she does not actually take part in it willingly. Morgause simply uses her as a pawn. She casts a huge spell that causes all of Camelot to fall asleep and allows Morgause and her troops to wander in and swiftly murder both Uther and Arthur and seize the kingdom. This spell only works as long as Morgana is alive.

Merlin is told by Kilgharrah that he must kill Morgana in order to break it. Throughout series 2 the Dragon has demonstrated a dislike of Morgana, having warned Merlin that she is destined to do great evil and threaten his and Arthurs destiny. A part of me often wondered if The Dragon hated Morgana because she was the child of his hated enemy Uther, but unlike Arthur did not play a role in his freedom. Remember when the Dragon was free it tried to kill Arthur too.

Merlin is reluctant too follow the Dragons advice, but ultimately he does actually poison Morgana.

Its heartbreaking watching the look on Morgana’s face when she realises what Merlin has done to her. Merlin was the last person in Camelot she felt she could trust. She had become estranged from Arthur due to his own feelings about magic, and even Gwen she wasn’t entirely sure she could trust due to the role magic had played in the death of her father.

Merlin however had known her secret and she felt safe around him. To her, he felt like the one person that she could not only trust, but also the one person that didn’t view her as a freak or a monster because of her magic.

Now however he was betraying her and even making an attempt on her life thus proving to her that she was all alone. Its even worse when you consider that Morgana was completely innocent at this point too. Morgause had made her the centre of the spell without her knowledge and she certainly at this point would not have wished for Arthur to have died. Ironically Merlin could have very well convinced Morgana to have consumed the poison herself to save Arthur, or may have even been able to turn her against Morgause by revealing that Morgause had used her for her spell.

What he did however was the worst possible option. He poisoned her destroying her trust in him (and possibly by extension Arthur whom she may have believed was in on Merlin’s plan.) Worse after poisoning her he allowed Morgause to escape with her. Merlin agreed to give Morgause the antidote for the poison provided she called off the attack. With no other options Morgause agreed and took Morgana with her. Therefore Merlin not only destroyed the last bit of good left in Morgana by utterly betraying her trust and friendship, but he also allowed her to fall into the clutches of an evil sorcerer who would continue to corrupt her.

The sad thing is that Merlin never knew that Morgana was innocent of this attempt on Arthur’s life. The Dragon did not tell him this and therefore he and also Gaius believed that Morgana had betrayed her brother when in truth she had not. Gaius even mentioned that Merlin had no choice but to poison her, as she unlike him had decided to use her gifts for evil.

Merlin and Gaius proved that they weren’t great friends to her. Ultimately both did not trust her and Merlin especially did not when it mattered. He let her down and ultimately ended up playing a key role in her descent into darkness.

At the same time however Morgause though caring for Morgana was still willing to use her as a pawn in her scheme without Morgana’s consent. Morgana at the end of series 2 is therefore completely alone.

When we next see Morgana at the start of series 3 she has returned from a year with Morgause to Camelot. Uther has spent ages searching for her and has lost many men in doing so. At one point he states that he does not care how many men he loses as long as he finds her.

Eventually when Morgana does return to Camelot she is a different person entirely. On the surface she appears to be the perfect Ward to Uther showing more outright affection and respect to him than ever before. She even claims to Merlin that she has changed and is sorry for her past actions.

It is of course an act and she is in fact plotting with both Morgause and King Cenred to bring down Camelot acting as their spy.

Incidentally I think that Cenred and Morgause have a real Ares and Callisto, the main villains from Xena vibe to them.

One is an egotistical guy with long hair in dark leather, the other a blonde psychopath. Their interactions are pretty similar too.

Morgana by this point has lost all of her former compassion and kindness and is shown to not only be prepared to murder Uther, but also innocent guards, Arthur and even Gwen. Furthermore she is also even shown to take a sadistic delight in harming the likes of Gwen and Arthur too.

A lot of fans felt this was when the character of Morgana began to suffer from poor writing and sadly I would agree to some extent.

Up until series 3 I felt the writers did an excellent job of showing us how Morgana was being slowly pushed into becoming a villainous character.

Sadly however here they just reduce Morgana to a smirking villain who takes pleasure in killing for no reason. Clearly Morgause is meant to have had a bad influence on her in the year she was away from Camelot, but in exactly what way is never made clear. Some fans have suggested Morgause enchanted Morgana, some have even suggested that Morgana did die and that it was merely a Shade like the evil version of Lancelot, Morgana herself summons in series 4. I don’t like this theory however as to me it just reduces Morgana to being a rather dull villain who turns completely evil because of a spell.

I think they should have still had Morgana care about what happened to Gwen in series 3. That would have not only made Morgana still seem like a darker version of the Morgana from series 1 and 2 rather than a completely different villain, but it also would have given Gwen more to do as well. We could have seen an interesting dilemma for Gwen being forced to choose between her dearest friend Morgana, and the man she loves, Arthur.

Gwen would have had plenty of justification for siding with Morgana. Gwen has no real hatred of magic, but she would have every reason to want to see Uther removed from power. Not only did Uther kill her father in cold blood but he also refused to allow her and Arthur to be together as she was a mere servant. He even hit her across the face and accused her of enchanting Arthur too, and demeaned Arthur’s love for her “why else would he fall in love with someone like you”. He also tried to have her banished when he falsely believed sorcery was involved.

Gwen arguably suffered the most under Uther out of the main cast. It would make perfect sense for Gwen to perhaps be drawn to Morgana’s side at first. We could have even had more sympathy for Morgana that way as in the end Gwen would be forced to ultimately betray Morgana too just like Merlin had done. The fact that they both betrayed her for Arthur, despite having more reason to side with her, could have also helped fuel her hatred of Arthur too.

Sadly however all that happens is that Morgana suddenly hates Gwen when she has no reason to whatsoever, and the wonderful friendship Gwen and Morgana had in the earlier series is tossed out the window. Morgana who once was put in shackles to defend Gwen’s father now grins like a total psychopath at seeing Gwen get dragged away to be executed.

I think they should have explained why she hated Arthur more too. I always thought that she was meant to have thought Arthur was in on Merlin poisoning her. This would also explain why she didn’t just tell Uther about that and have Merlin executed too. However its never actually explained why she doesn’t either shop Merlin in or hates Arthur. All I have is my fan explanation but really it was up to the writers to explain those big plot points, not me.

This is not to say that all of Morgana’s development in series 3 is bad. Katie McGrath’s performance is still brilliant as always. You can tell she really loves being able to play a much more outwardly villainous character and she is able to inject a lot of menace into the character. Even in moments where the character is written in a more cartoonish fashion, such as her constant evil grinning.

I think my favourite evil grin moment of hers, of which there are many, is when Merlin is accused of using magic in “Goblin’s Gold”. It’s not even Morgana that accuses Merlin its a Goblin. She has nothing to do with it, but Morgana still can’t help but laugh to herself as he is dragged away. It always made me chuckle seeing how petty Morgana was.

Also I loved Morgana’s relationship and interactions with Uther in this series too. Morgana completely plays Uther throughout the entire series. She appears to be the perfect daughter and for once, her and Uther do not quarrel.

Uther has clearly never been happier than in series 3. He has his daughter back and thinks that she has finally seen things his way after having seemingly suffered at sorcerers hands in the year she was away from him.

Morgana meanwhile can barely contain her disgust for him. I also love the way she thinks nothing of the fact that he uses magic to save her life. Whilst this obviously is an extreme act of hypocrisy on Uther Pendragons part, it can also be seen as an example of his extreme devotion to Morgana that he was willing to face his greatest fear, Magic, in order to save her life.

Morgana however still despises him and later when she finds out that she is his daughter her hatred only grows. Morgana discovers she is his daughter after she makes an attempt on Uther’s life and Merlin accidentally wounds her. Just before Merlin heals her Uther stands over her thinking she can’t hear him and tells Gaius that she is really his daughter.

Morgana’s hatred becomes so great that she can no longer contain the need to kill him and attacks him in his sleep but is again stopped by Merlin.

In many ways Morgana discovering she is Uther’s daughter can be seen as her worst nightmare coming true. She had always believed she was the daughter of Gorlois, the most brave and honourable man in Camelot. Now she discovered that she was in fact the daughter of the man she hated more than anything else in the world, the man who made her constantly afraid simply because of who she was.

It would be a devastating blow to anyone.

I also liked some of Morgana’s interactions with Merlin too. A highlight is their sword fight in “The Tears of Uther Pendragon” where Merlin tries to reason with her and Morgana says that she has to stop Uther, as she is living in a land where she will be persecuted for who she is. It’s hard not to side with Morgana here. She did not choose to be magic. She was born with it and has had from her point of view people stab her in the back because she is magic, (ironically Merlin most of all) for her entire life. You can understand how she might be willing to do anything it takes to topple Uther.

Morgana’s strongest appearance in season 3 is in the two part finale “The Coming of Arthur”. In this episode Morgana helps Cenred and Morgause capture a magic cup from the druids that allows Cenred’s army to become indestructable. Afterwards Morgause kills Cenred, no longer having any use for him.

As Morgause’s army claim Camelot, Uther is deposed. Uther declares that Morgause has no right to the throne, only to witness Morgana emerge and taunt him saying that she is, as she is his daughter whilst being crowned Queen of Camelot.

After Morgana becomes Queen she locks Uther in a dungeon. She then begins a reign of terror on the people of Camelot. A memorable moment is when she demands that the knights bow to her, but they refuse, still proclaiming their loyalty to Uther. Morgana in response raises cross bow bolts against them. Thinking that she will kill them unless they swear an oath of loyalty to her, the knights gladly face their death, but to their horror Morgana then opens fire on a large crowd of innocent people slaughtering them all instead.

Some people felt that this was out of character for Morgana, and I can understand why, but I still liked this moment as to me unlike her hatred of Gwen, it did make sense.

Morgana had seen plenty of people in Camelot go along with Uther’s persecution of magic. In her mind they would be just as guilty as Uther for supporting him. Also this shows how Morgana would not be a just ruler. If Morgana had been a perfect ruler then ultimately there would be no point in Merlin ever stopping her from overthrowing Uther. If she treated everyone fairly and justly in the kingdom then why wouldn’t Merlin help her?

Having Morgana be just as bad as Uther was a nice touch as it showed why Arthur needed to be king. Uther persecuted and killed innocent people who used Magic, where as Morgana persecuted and killed innocent people who were normal, just like the sorcerers before Uther came to power. It was also a nice irony that Uther who had banished those earlier sorcerers had now created the most dangerous sorceress of this type who has ever lived.

Arthur meanwhile would be the one person who made sure that both magic users and ordinary people could live together in peace and Merlin was therefore right to put his faith in him rather than Morgana. Morgana is the Magneto to Merlin’s Professor Xavier. Of course the writers fucked this up by not actually having Arthur bring magic back to Camelot throughout his reign. Arthur therefore was sadly was as bad as Morgana and Uther after all. Still at this point in the show because we are led to believe that Arthur will bring it back, it makes perfect sense to show Morgana as in her own way just as cruel and merciless a ruler as Uther himself was.

I also loved Uther and Morgana’s final moment in the cells together. Both Anthony Head and Katie McGrath as always are on top form here.

The roles are completely reversed from “To Kill the King” I love watching a tearful Uther ask Morgana how she could kill innocent people, only for Morgana to snap back that he had killed plenty of innocent people too.

Once again however in spite of all his past misdeeds you can’t help but pity Uther as her tearfully asks Morgana before she leaves; if she really hates him so much, only for her to sneer “You can never hope to understand how much I hate you”

Uther is a completely broken man after this. When Arthur and the knights of the round table come to rescue him. He doesn’t even attempt to save himself. He doesn’t even notice that two of the nights who rescue him, Gwaine and Lancelot were banished earlier.

It was great watching Uther this iron fisted, arrogant tyrant just completely fall from grace. The man who once conquered Camelot and banished sorcery from the land becomes so broken that he isn’t even able to feed himself after Morgana’s betrayal of him.

I also loved the way it was Gwen of all people that ended up having to look after him following Morgana’s betrayal.

My only problem with the series 3 finale is that I don’t think we are given enough time to see life under Morgana’s rule in Camelot. I would have liked to have seen her actually bring magic back and allow sorcerers to use their magic to persecute others and get revenge on Uther’s soldiers, the gestapo of Camelot who rounded up innocent men, women and children who used magic to be slaughtered.

Sadly however we are only given fleeting glimpses of Morgana’s reign.

Morgana is eventually toppled by Arthur, Merlin and the knights of the round table whom Arthur assembles. Merlin wielding excalibur is able to smash the cup causing all of Morgana’s soldiers to be destroyed. He then mortally wounds Morgause, though Morgana manages to escape with Morgause using her magic and promising Merlin that she will return.

In some ways I think series 3 of Merlin should have been the last series of Merlin.

The thing with Merlin is it was supposed to be a prequel. A prequel can’t go on for too long. It’s not Arthur and Merlin the early years if we see them do all of the things that they are known for doing later in their early years.

I ran into this same problem with Smallville another prequel series which Merlin was greatly inspired by.

Smallville I loved for its first five years. After season five however it should have ended or they should have changed the name of the show to Superman or Metropolis rather than make it still Smallville. How is it still a prequel series if he is living in Metropolis, involved with Lois Lane, and has already fought some of his worst enemies like Darkseid and Doomsday and Bizarro all of whom have been killed! What the hell is going to be left when he becomes Superman. All of his major enemies are dead or permanently defeated?

Merlin ran into a similar problem (though to be fair it also ran into a problem of not having Arthur do what he was supposed to do at the same time!).

I also find that prequel shows are the worst for not moving things on. Again in Smallville they dragged out Superman’s inability to fly for a ridiculously long time and also they dragged out the fact that he wasn’t actually becoming Superman either. Just what was the point of the Red Blue Blur?

In Merlin they similarly kept dragging out the fact that Arthur didn’t know Merlin had magic for a ridiculously long time too.

I think it would have been better if they had made series 3 finale of Merlin a three parter and the series finale overall. I would have sacrificed “The Changeling” to make the series 3 finale an extra episode. “The Changeling” is the most boring episode in the shows first three seasons in my opinion.

In the expanded finale, I would have had Arthur discover Merlin’s magic whilst they were on the run. Arthur would then after returning to Camelot have brought magic back. He would have discovered the truth about his mother’s death along the way from Morgana (who presumably would have heard from Morgause. I would have had a moment where Morgana revealed that to the public in Camelot, to humiliate Uther and shatter the people’s confidence in him.)

Arthur having seen that Uther’s hatred of magic stemmed from merely his own personal issues and having also seen how his hatred drove Morgana, his beloved sister to evil decided to lift the ban on magic and embrace it.

I would also obviously have had Uther die too bringing his saga to an end. I also would have had an episode showing us Camelot under Morgana and seen how she brought magic back, but used it for evil and even perhaps punished sorcerers who refused to obey her due to her ruthless actions.

The ending I would have kept much the same with Morgause being wounded and Morgana fleeing with her, except Morgana would have found out that Merlin has magic.

After this following Uther’s death we would have had Arthur and Merlin and Gwen bringing magic back to Camelot. Promising that things will be different from now on. The final shot would still have been Merlin sticking the sword in the stone. Perhaps Arthur felt he was not ready to wield it yet and the sword would be placed there by Merlin for Arthur to take at a later date.

This to me would have been the best ending to what Merlin was supposed to be. The prequel to the Arthurian legends, as this would have ended its storylines, Morgana going evil, Uther’s reign of terror, the prophecy involving Arthur and Merlin, but it would also have set everything up for the actual myths too.

Arthur would now be king and magic would be back in Camelot, and Merlin his adviser like in the Myths. Morgana would be on the run and still out there ready to emerge again at a later date. Uther would now be dead, and the sword would be stuck in the stone which we know Arthur would pull out at a later date, perhaps when he was uniting the kingdoms.

If they had wanted to continue the story of this version of Arthurian legends, then again they could have produced a sequel series called Camelot or something like that. and set it many years later well into Arthur’s rule during the Golden Age, and when Morgana has set herself up in a new kingdom and become a threat again.

Sadly however they continued it on as Merlin and really from this point on it’s sadly for me at least all downhill. I am not saying I hate everything to do with Merlin series 4 and 5 or even hate them at all, but I think that these series waste a lot of the potential of series 1-3, which in my opinion were all by and large excellent. Among the best British tv of the past 20 years.

Sadly Morgana is one of the characters who suffers the most in series 4-5.

Series 4 is set 1 year after the series 3 finale. Uther is still king but he is still completely broken from Morgana’s betrayal. Morgana meanwhile is on the run with a dying Morgause. Morgause allows Morgana to sacrifice her in order to create a rip between this world, and the world of the dead, allowing vastly powerful spectres to ravage the land and threaten Camelot. Morgana also has a spy in Camelot, Arthurs uncle Agravaine. Ultimately Morgana’s plan’s are foiled by Lancelot who wanders into the realm of the dead which closes the portal to it as any sacrifice will do.

Overall this two parter “The Darkest Hour” is probably the strongest episode of series 4. It’s a wonderfully spooky and action packed story all around. Lancelot’s sacrifice is both unexpected and moving, though I was sad to see him go. I liked his character and it was also good having someone other than Gaius who knew about Merlin’s secret.

Still in terms of being a Morgana episode its also excellent as it definitely makes Morgana seem like a force to be reckoned with.

I didn’t like how anti climactic Morgause’s death is however. It’s a shame that she and Morgana were not given more time together. Though Morgause did appear in a deleted scene in a later episode where Morgana is near death and Morgause’s spirit appears to her.

I really wish this scene had appeared in the show. It looks brilliant!

I think it was a mistake to kill off both Morgause and Cenred for the show and the character of Morgana in particular.

To start with I liked both of them. The actors they got to play them were excellent in their roles and had great chemistry with one another and with McGrath. The three of them together seemed like a great team of villains which is always more interesting than just one villain showing up again and again. Furthermore as Cenred was a king there were more possibilities to be explored in Morgana and Morgause hiding out in his kingdom than Morgana just hiding out in a little hut throughout series 4.

More importantly however I think that it was a mistake to make Morgana the only villain in series 4. This meant that Morgana had to be in virtually every episode which made me sick of the character. It also made the character seem somewhat more laughable too.

Sadly Morgana who was once a brilliant, complex and interesting character in series 1 and 2 and still a threatening villain in series 3 becomes a total cartoon character in series 4. She reminds me of Dick Dastardly and Mutley or Wile Coyote in series 4.

Like them every week she just shows up to try and do exactly the same thing, kill Arthur. Arthur becomes her pigeon or Road Runner. They might as well have her send off to Acme for magic tricks to kill Arthur.

Morgana’s character in season 4.

If Arthur had had to deal with 3 villains however this would not have been the case. Also if Cenred, Morgana and Morgause had had a kingdom to run then their plans could have been different to just “Kill Arthur” every week.

Agravaine, Morgana’s new confident in series 4 is a ridiculous character too. Nathanial Parker who plays him is great in the role, but the character is just crowbarred into the show. There is no explanation as to why we have never seen him or heard of him before and there is no motivation given as to why he is helping Morgana either. Apparently however a deleted scene reveals that he is in fact in love with Morgana.

Also its equally ridiculous the way he is able to just ride out to meet Morgana every day to laugh about evil plans with her. Was Morgana’s hut right next to Camelot and nobody noticed, or was it miles away in which case, Agravaine had to ride out for hours and hours and nobody noticed? As far as I can see his only role in the story was to provide Morgana with someone to talk to in order to explain her evil kill Arthur plan of the week.

The only thing I liked about Agravaine was the way Morgana seemed to disregard him. Even when he died she didn’t seem to care at all. Despite the fact that he was actually a rather useful and competent ally to her, she still had disdain for him. If they had played up the idea of him being in love with her, yet still being treated with contempt by her then this might have fleshed him out a bit more and made him more sympathetic.

Series 4 almost feels like the opposite from the first three series villains wise. All of the villains from those series were well fleshed out. Even Cenred was shown to have some humanity to him. He was not willing to sacrifice any of his men and in this regard appeared to be a better king than Uther who was willing to sacrifice as many men as it took to to find Morgana.

The series 4 villains however were sadly just carboard cut out villains. Morgana is just a Dick Dastardly who wants to kill Arthur and Gwen. Her desire to bring magic back to Camelot is barely mentioned. Though there is one scene I like where she confronts Merlin’s alter ego Emrys and begs him not to kill her stating that he should be on her side as Arthur continues to outlaw magic whilst she believes that she will be destined to bring it back.

Agravaine meanwhile as I have explored is not a character just a plot device. Also I might add that the whole idea of a traitor in Camelot had been done the previous series anyway with Morgana herself.

Still Morgana does get a few great moments of villainy it must be said.

She manages to kill Uther himself in “The Wicked Day” when Uther is wounded by an assassin meant for Arthur. Merlin tries to help him using magic in the hopes that it will convince Arthur that magic can be a force for good. Unfortunately Morgana has Agravaine place a medallion around Uther’s neck, which reverses the effects of the spell killing Uther and hardens Arthur’s heart to magic.

Uther’s death was well written. I loved the way Morgana still felt some grief when he died. She didn’t just do an evil laugh, showing there was still some humanity in her. I also liked the way Arthur was turned against magic by Morgana’s actions too. It was a nice irony for all her claims of wanting to make people like her accepted, she ultimately botched the greatest opportunity for that to happen for her own selfish ends.

Still I think that they should have had Arthur realise the truth by the end of series 4 and brought magic back by the end of that series too. The annoying thing was he did find out the truth from Gaius, but he still did not bring magic back, which doesn’t make any sense. Still whilst the way they went with it was ultimately poor, if it had been a short term story then it would have been fine.

In “Lancelot Du Lac” Morgana brings Lancelot back from the dead as a shade a walking corpse and uses him to break up both Gwen and Arthur in order to prevent Gwen from becoming Queen.  A lot of fans didn’t like this episode for giving the character of Lancelot such a bleak ending. After using him to break up Arthur and Gwen, Morgana has Lancelot kill himself and Lancelot dies in shame. Being remembered as the man who betrayed Arthur when he was not at fault at all.

I actually quite liked this ending. Whilst it was sad to Lancelot reduced to this state, I think it did help to make Morgana seem like not only an effective villain, but also one who would be willing to stoop so low as to destroy a good man’s memory for her own plans. At the same time however unlike pretty much the rest of series 4, this episode showed Morgana as actually regretting some of her actions. Even commenting when she brought Lancelot back from the grave that it was a shame to see him reduced to a mere shadow of his former self. I think this is how Morgana should have always been portrayed. Someone who was willing to do the most drastic things for her own ends, for what she saw as the greater good to bring magic back to Camelot. This would have made her quite a nice parallel to Uther who similarly was willing to do whatever he thought was necessary for Camelot’s safety, including murdering children, but again did not take pleasure in it either and was even haunted by many of his more ruthless actions.

“Lancelot Du Lac” is definitely Morgana’s strongest appearance in season 4 and I think its a great take on the story of Gwen and Lancelot having an affair. This time Lancelot is not to blame, but sadly no one but Merlin throughout all of history will ever know thanks to Morgana.

Of course once again throughout series 4 Katie McGrath is still a fabulous villain and really gives it her all. Its only the writing that lets her down as the character suffers from simply trying the same thing every week and therefore becomes more boring and one note throughout series 4.

There is also a limit to how many times you can watch her get tossed across the room by Merlin’s magic. The whole subplot of her finding out Emrys (really Merlin) will be her doom was potentially interesting, but they didn’t go anywhere with it.

I wanted Morgana to find out who Merlin was, and her and Merline to have a big magical duel with one another. It got annoying watching Merlin zapping her when she wasn’t looking. If anything it made me root for Morgana as at least Morgana played fair. Though the duel between her and Merlin as Emrys was quite nice, it was a shame we didn’t get to see more scenes like that.

The season 4 finale whilst an enjoyable episode, is literally just the same as the series 3 finale. Morgana once again takes the throne of Camelot, and once again we don’t get to see what Camelot is like under her rule. We just see her torture and bully a few knights and Gaius, but that’s that

Still having said that I did enjoy Morgana and Arthur’s final confrontation. This scene is great because both Morgana and Arthur have genuine grievances for each other. Morgana says that she felt betrayed by Arthur because he has not lifted the ban on magic. This explains her hatred of him unlike in series 3. Morgana had hoped that Arthur would be a different man to Uther. She had always told him he was a better man than him, but now the same unjust laws Uther had perpetrated continued under Arthur. At the same time however Arthur points out that she is not so different to Uther either, as like him she is consumed by hatred.

The end of series 4 sets up a potentially interesting storyline where Morgana after having been overthrown by Arthur a second time flees and is saved by a White Dragon that Merlin had discovered earlier, Aithusa.

The writers had hinted that they were going to adapt the myths surrounding battling dragons. One white and one red. Others hinted that the white Dragon would have become Morgana’s confident the way that Kilgharrah was Merlins.

The battle between red and white dragon

Imagine that story being adapted.

Sadly however for season 5 this storyline was wasted for the most part with the White Dragon barely having a role, and never actually getting to meet Kilgharrah on screen.

Series 5 of Merlin for me was a terrible season overall, but I actually felt they handled Morgana a lot better this year than they did in series 4.

In the five years since series 4 Morgana and Aithusa were apparently captured and imprisoned by Sarrum, a cruel king for 2 years. This drives Morgana even further into madness. The Morgana we see here is really not playing with a full deck of cards, but unlike her sudden heel face turn in between series 2 and 3, here there is a proper explanation and we even see flashbacks of Morgana in Sarrums pit. This also allows them to explore a more caring side of Morgana’s personality too as we see her and Aithusa bond closer due to their experience together.

In the first episode of series 5 Morgana is also betrayed once again this time by Mordred the boy she had risked her life to save from Uther.

Morgana is literally stabbed in the back by Mordred just as she is about to kill Arthur. A lot of people didn’t like Mordred this year, but I did. I felt he was a return to the more sympathetic villains from earlier seasons and was certainly more fleshed out than Agravaine.

Mordred’s betrayal of Morgana was understandable. He believed that Arthur was a more fair and just king than Morgana would be, and did what he felt was right. It was actually less cruel and unjust than what Merlin himself did to Morgana in series 2 when he poisoned her. Still you can’t help but still feel sorry for Morgana who is once again betrayed by the person closest to her. The look on her face as she collapses to the floor is very reminicent of when Merlin poisons her.

Sadly after this Morgana once again returns to her former Wile Coyote statues, though at least this time they give her a full kingdom for her to work in rather than just a little hut which makes her feel like more of a threat.

My favorite arc of Morgana’s was when she brainwashed Gwen. I liked this storyline as it seemed to suggest that Morgana may have still retained some affection for Gwen.

Morgana captures Gwen and tortures her with magic in the Dark Tower in order to brainwash her into being her servant. However she clearly does not enjoy it. Again unlike the smirking villain who laughed at Gwen’s misfortune in series 3. Here Morgana is shown to feel remorse and even still treats Gwen with kindness in between the brainwashing sessions. She makes a point of telling Gwen that she too endured hardship being imprisoned by Sarrum and unlike Gwen she was offered no comforts by Sarrum.

Later when Gwen is brainwashed and becomes her servant we see Morgana treat Gwen with extreme affection. I personally interpreted those scenes and Morgana’s plot to brainwash Gwen as being her trying to win her friend back in her own twisted and mad way.

Morgana clearly in spite of everything still cared for Gwen. Her friendship with Gwen was one of the closest she had ever had if not the closest. She knows that Gwen would never look on her as a friend after all she has done, but through magic she is able to make Gwen care for her again just like the old days.

Obviously her main aim in brainwashing Gwen was to use her to murder Arthur and gain control of Camelot, but still even with that we see her hug and embrace Gwen and take a delight in Gwen saying she will always be loyal to her. It almost makes you feel sorry for Morgana that she has lost everything and is now desperately trying to cling to what she had years ago, before she became the sick parody of her former self that she is now.

Ultimately however Gwen being brainwashed was yet another retread of the traitor in Camelot from both series 4 and 5. Still at the very least it gave Angel Coulby who played Gwen a lot more to do than most of the other episodes of series 5.

When Mordred finally switches sides and joins Morgana in series 5 I actually think it was written quite well. I am probably one of the few fans of Mordred from series 5. I liked they way they tried to flesh him out more much like they did with Uther and Morgana themselves.

Mordred isn’t just a spoiled brat of Morgana’s like he normally is in other depictions. Mordred much like Morgana is the victim of a self fulfilling prophecy. For his entire life he is treated as a monster by Merlin even when he is a child. He also much like Morgana loses so much to the cruelty of Uther including his father.

He proves himself to be a loyal and good man to Arthur, even sacrificing himself to save his life on more than one occasion. He also proves to be a loyal friend to Merlin too. He saves his life from Morgana and keeps his secret from Arthur. Yet despite this Merlin continues to treat him as a villain and ultimately betrays him and the woman he loves, Kara. In doing so he turns him against Arthur and drives him into Morgana’s arms.

When I first heard Mordred was going to be in series 5 I was scared that he was just going to be another sidekick of Morgana’s like Agravaine, but I’m glad that they made him into a flawed and sympathetic character just like Morgana herself.

Mordred unlike Agravaine had a proper reason to work with Morgana. He and Morgana together felt like two interesting characters who had come together in the finale for a reason, having both been victims of the persecution of magic and of Merlin’s treachery, rather than just coming together because the plot demands it.

Overall I think series 5 actually had strong villains. Morgana was certainly a lot more effective this year than in series 4. McGrath was given a chance to do more than just play an evil villain in series 5 such as in her dealings with Aithusa, Mordred and even Gwen.

Sadly series 5 was let down by other factors such as its refusal to move the Arthur/Merlin relationship on, the waste of the Aithusa character and not showing us Arthur fulfilling his destiny.

In the series finale Morgana and Mordred wage war on Camelot with Mordred wielding a sword forged in a Dragon’s breath by Aithusa.

Before the battle Morgana who finds out that Merlin is Emrys from Mordred manages to find a way to remove Merlin’s magic, though Merlin is able to find a way to restore it in the Cave of Diamonds. He later is able to turn the tide of the battle in favour of Arthur but not before Mordred stabs Arthur fatally. Arthur however also manages to kill Mordred too. Still Arthur is fatally wounded and Merlin who finally reveals he has magic to Arthur tries his best to get him to Avalon to try and heal him.

Unfortunately Morgana soon finds out where Arthur and Merlin are when she tortures Gwaine to death. Morgana manages to delay them long enough for Arthur to die of his wound, but not before Merlin finally slays her with his own sword forged in a dragons breath. Arthur’s body is buried in Avalon where Merlin is told by Kilgarrah that he will one day rise again.

The finale of Merlin has been much maligned over the years and it’s not hard to see why. It basically makes the whole 5 years of the show pointless by having Arthur get killed before he does any of the things that Kilgharrah said he would do. Though I have developed a theory to explain why which I covered in another article, I still agree it is annoying we never got to see Arthur embrace magic and a Camelot where magic had returned.

Still as far as Morgana is concerned her story is wrapped up a lot better than the main one. She gets plenty of great moments of villainy in this story, but the best is when she tortures Gwaine to death. It’s a really brutal and nasty scene as we simply hear his screams from far away. It’s also even more tragic when you consider that Gwaine ultimately helped Morgana finish Arthur and Merlin off too by giving in to the torture, and dies with this knowledge as well.

I also liked Mordred and Morgana together. It was interesting seeing how Mordred in many ways served the same role that she did to Uther, in that he is the more compassionate one who tries to temper her dark side and questions her more ruthless actions. Even during the battle Mordred expresses regret over what he has to do and even apologises to Arthur telling him he leaves him no choice, whilst Morgana by this point after everything that has happened to her actually relishes in the chaos she causes. Unlike in season 3 this does not feel out of the blue as we have had years of Morgana reaching this state.

Even here however they still don’t make Morgana into a total monster as we see how she deeply cares for Mordred and is utterly heartbroken to hear of his death.

I also liked in her final confrontation with Merlin he admitted that he had turned her into the monster she had become. The only problem with how Morgana’s story finished was how easily Merlin dispatched her. I was expecting a massive fight between the two most powerful sorcerers and even their dragons, but instead he just ran her through and that was that. She died.

Still the anti climactic aspect aside, Morgana I felt was given a good send off. She got to inflict real mayhem on Camelot and even torture a main character to death and her interactions with Mordred are well written. I think its a shame we didn’t get to see more of her and Mordred together.

Overall Morgana was for the most part a very interesting villain. She was a tragic character, in fact without doubt the most tragic character in the entire series. Driven down the path of villainy by both her abusive father and the betrayal of her friends, Morgana was a character you could always feel a twinge of sympathy for even in her vilest moments. Though her arc was not perfect. She went too evil too quickly in series 3 and suffered in series 4 and series 5 from being the only major villain in the series and thus was overused. The writers were still usually able to inject more sympathetic aspects into her character, such as her love for Mordred, Aithusa and possibly even Gwen which made her seem more 3 dimensional. Finally Katie McGrath was always able to put in a great performance and really made the role her own, bringing both nuance and menace to the character at the same time. For those reasons Morgana in spite of some of her faults will always remain one of my favorite tv villains.

Comparisons to Other Characters

Morgana was very closely inspired by Lex Luthor from Smallville. Smalville was a huge inspiration on Merlin. Both series at least initially revolved around the early years of famous heroes and showed how they became the stuff of legend.

Morgana and Lex Luthor are both the heroes main villain in their later years, but in both of these prequel series they start out as their friend. Both are shown to be pushed down the path of villainy by their abusive parents, Uther Pendragon and Lionel Luthor and their friends lack of trust in them. Neither Merlin nor Clark Kent share their secret with Morgana or Lex Luthor due to everyone else around them telling them they could not be trusted. Both Merlin and Clark Kent blame themselves for what becomes of their two friends and both Morgana and Lex, it could be argued only go evil due to constantly being treated as such. Everyone assumes Lex will be bad due to his fathers reputation whilst everyone assumes Morgana will become evil due to the Dragon’s prophecy.

Both also after their final ascent to villainy murder their abusive father Uther Pendragon and Lionel Luthor. Both also end up becoming even worse than the monster who made them and in their later years do everything they can to find out their former friend turned enemies secret.

Other than Lex Luthor I think that Morgana could be compared most with Magneto the main villain from the X-Men.

Morgana to me is really just a female Magneto. Like Magneto she is someone who comes from a persecuted minority but in a great irony goes on to persecute others. Magic users are comparable to mutants. Both are people who are born with great power and as a result are hated and feared by ordinary people.

Morgana like Magneto suffers greatly due to how she was born. Our sympathies are with them both and both are even seen as heroes at first. Ultimately however they let their hatred and bitterness corrupt them and transform them into exactly what they are fighting against. This is where Professor Xavier and Merlin serve as a good contrast to Morgana and Magneto. Merlin and Professor X  similarly come from the same persecuted group but they wish to create a society where everyone will be treated as equals and live together.

Ultimately whilst I feel Morgana was like Magneto I don’t think she was quite as well realised, not because she was not as good a character as Magneto, but because Merlin did not live up to being her Professor X. As Arthur did not bring about the return of Magic then Merlin ended up looking like a traitor to his own kind, supporting a man, technically two men, Uther and Arthur who persecuted his kind. If Arthur had brought magic back and we had seen the kingdom he and Arthur had built then that would have been fine. Merlin and Morgana could have served as quite a good magical Professor X and Magneto, but sadly due to the poor ending Merlin actually ended up looking like the traitor, whilst Morgana if anything seemed like the hero of her people who finally killed the evil tyrant Uther.

Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “Cult Villains 3/ Morgana Pendragon

  1. Thank you for this thorough post. Watching the series for the second time made me realize most of the things you have mentioned in this article. I could not agree more on shows that are considered as prequels, or the sudden transformation of Morgana in season 3, the shallow development of Arthur, and of course, the missing epic confrontation between Morgana and Merlin at the end of the series. I, however, have enjoyed the series very much, and I keep looking for similar shows.


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