There was a show once that two friends of mine recommended to me. It was years ago, and I would have forgotten if not had I gotten the urge to watch it. I was compelled to by something they said in closing, after describing it: “The reason I watch is for the plot, and I keep watching despite the bad special effects, because of how much the plot grows over time.” I wanted to watch a show where I could fall in love with the story, the actual overarching season-to-season tale, for I felt that that should be what carries a show. I also knew there must be a reason that more than 6 million people tuned in to watch every episode.
And so I started to watch Merlin, a story set in medieval England, at a place called Camelot. It is about a boy who was born with the ability to use magic. He was born in a kingdom where the using of magic is punishable by death. It is about a boy who was born to become king. He was born in a kingdom where expectations of him must be lived up to. It is about a girl who was born to always be a pretty face. She was born in a kingdom where she had to hide who she was from who she should be most open to. It is about a girl who was born to be a servant. She was born in a kingdom where social structures could not be changed.
And this is the story about how this kingdom where they were born was changed by them so much so that by the time they died it was completely different. This is the story about their lives, and how they used them to bring change to pass. But then, there are many stories that intertwine here.
At the beginning, all Merlin wanted was to live in secret for as long as possible, to not be put to death. But there was a value in him that always seemed to get in the way; he felt a responsibility to do good, to help and protect. You watch him go from being a physicians’ assistant to being the prince’s servant to being the prince’s friend to being the king’s servant to being the king’s best friend. You watch him go from wanting the prince dead to being willing to give up his own life to save him. You see him as he realizes that he wants this arrogant, proud prince to become a brave, just king free from harm, and that he is the only one who can bring that to pass. You see him as he realizes that the only way to make this kingdom safe for people like himself is to protect Arthur. That is the prince’s name, by the way. Arthur.
At the beginning, Arthur acted like the typical spoiled boy who was brought up in a castle. Who was brought up without a mother. He was sure of himself, full of himself, and used to getting what he wanted. He also had an unshakeable sense of right and wrong, and a thinking that the strong should help the weak. But he wanted to become who his father wanted him to be, and he knew that to do so he would have to put these ideals aside. His father, Uther, had his own unshakeable sense of right and wrong, but his was actually skewed. Uther acted unjustly and unfairly towards people while Arthur, in contrary, felt that there should be things such as trials and proof. And even though Arthur questioned, he still knew that when he became king, he would do to make his father proud, do what his father did. That is, until Merlin came along and kept his character from changing while changing his way of thinking. But Merlin did not go along and do the same with the king’s ward. The king’s ward is, you see, Morgana.
At the beginning, Morgana was the pretty well brought up girl who was expected to be married off to Arthur. She had been told she was the ward to the king because her father had been killed in battle, and he had been the king’s best friend. She had an unshakeable sense of right and wrong as well, but didn’t keep her thoughts to herself as well as Arthur did. She challenged Uther as to why he had to put people using magic to death, questioned his belief that the people were guilty by choice and not innocent by birth. You watch her as she learns that she has magic involuntarily in her, and as she starts to grow afraid at her prospects underneath the person who is most determined to kill all such as herself. You watch her as she starts to grow resentful, starts to rebel, starts to look for change. You see her look for change in all the wrong places, you see her becoming willing to kill to feel safe, and you see her morphing into the enemy. But she isn’t really the enemy, not so much in this story. Just a girl who went astray with no one to pull her back. She has the same goal as Merlin. She wants people with magic not to constantly feel like they’re entrapped, she wants them to feel free, free from death and persecution. She just goes about it differently, not by raising up the future king to rule more fairly, but by trying to rise up and kill the present king so that she herself can rule in his place. And she is willing to do anything.
There is more to the story than what I said above. You have not met Gwen, Morgana’s servant and the future queen of Camelot. You have not met Leon, the loyal knight who stands by Arthur’s side from start to finish. You have not met Gwaine, the drunken jokester who eventually gets Merlin’s friendship. You have not met Lancelot, the knight who earned Arthur’s trust but then threw it to pieces by way of lust. You have not met Gaius, the house physician that is Merlin’s mentor and guide through it all. Mordred, Elyan, Freya, Morgause, Nimueh, Percival. You have not met them all yet.
You live with them as each finds out more about their origins, as each wonders about their parents and who they are, either in way of their character or in way of their actual identity. You live with them as they make decisions that cost lives, that disrupt the entire order of things, everyone’s way of life. You live with them through the peace, then the war, and the recovery after.
The thing about this series is that throughout it you see the characters growing and changing overtime. You see them going from enemies to friends, friends to enemies. You see them going from good to bad, bad to good. You see them go from young and immature to mature and wise. You understand why people act the way they do, and why they choose the side they do. Because of this, you feel sorry for the enemies while at the same time still wanting them to fall. You can see both sides to one war, while still acknowledging what lies on every choice.