Merlin (TV series)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
Rsz merlin.jpg
In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young man. His name... Merlin.
The Great Dragon

A BBC 1 series that started on 20 September 2008. The timeslot and intended audience is the same as for Doctor Who and Robin Hood. It was picked up by NBC to air in January 2009. This is the first time in several years that a British TV show has been bought for broadcasting by a major US network. It got a second series, after having done very well against The X Factor and following a third series, a fourth and fifth have been commissioned. It follows Merlin of King Arthur fame in the early stages of his career (except that he's younger than Arthur).

The story follows the young wizard Merlin, who goes to live with his mother's friend Gaius, Camelot's greatest physician. Merlin hopes to find a way to use his powers for good but finds that King Uther, ruler of Camelot, has banned magic and executes anyone found practicing it. Merlin saves the life of Prince Arthur, Uther's son, from an evil witch and is rewarded with a position as Arthur's servant. Merlin also encounters the Great Dragon, who prophesies that Arthur will someday create the fair and just kingdom of Albion and tasks Merlin with protecting him. Merlin must use magic to combat magical enemies while keeping his true nature a secret.

Other main characters include Morgana and Guinevere. Morgana, Uther's ward, struggles with visions of the future and her emerging magical powers, which gradually turns her against Uther. Guinevere works as Morgana's servant, is close friends with Merlin, and eventually becomes Arthur's main love interest.

Has a Character Sheet and an Episode Guide.

Not related to the 1998 miniseries starring Sam Neill, besides having the same source material.

Tropes used in Merlin include:
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Grunhilda, to Gaius. Vivian, to Arthur (by the end of the episode at least).
  • Aborted Declaration of Love: Arthur seems to be on the verge of telling Guinevere that he loves her in the series three finale. However, she interrupts him after he makes the mistake of saying "if I never see you again..." which only compels her to insist that they will meet again.
  • Action Girl: Morgana and Morgause, who are later Dark Action Girls. Gwen to a lesser extent. Also Enmyria, the bandit girl in "The Witch’s Quickening", and Isolde in "The Sword in the Stone: Part 2".
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Perhaps not so much an "upgrade" as a "shift" in what the main characters angst about. Arthur has Daddy Issues, Morgana grapples with fear of her growing magical powers, Guinevere is given a Rags to Riches story, and Merlin has to hide his true identity while making Sadistic Choice after Sadistic Choice. Their legendary counterparts had Depressing Destinies, Brother-Sister Incest and Love Triangles to contend with.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Obviously, it depends on what source material you're working with, but the likes of Morgana, Morgause, Mordred, Nimueh and Agravaine can be portrayed much more sympathetically in various legends and other adaptations than they are in this series.
  • Adorkable: Merlin and Gwen (especially in her early appearances).
    • Princess Elena
    • Arthur and Lancelot can be this at times, especially when they're interacting with Gwen. Who could forget Arthur's face when he rescues Guinevere from an invisible wasp?
    • In the Series 4 premiere, Gwaine and Percival trying to swipe a chicken.
  • Adults Are Useless: Uther's the bloody king, for crying out loud. Though he apparently was very good at killing everyone with magic.
    • Subverted with Gaius. Played straight with just about everyone else even if, in typical showbiz fashion you shave a few years off the actors real ages they're still in their late teens (Merlin) to mid twenties (Gwen) so maybe "Authority Figures Are Useless" would be more accurate.
  • Alien Blood: Troll blood is green, apparently.
  • All Just a Dream: Series 3 Episode 10 opens with Gwen becoming Queen of Camelot with Arthur as king, but it is shown that it is just a dream of Morgana's though this dream comes true in the Series 4 finale.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Everyone except Merlin and those who know his secret, like Gaius and Lancelot.
  • All Trolls Are Different : Lady Catrina, "Beauty and the Beast".
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Series 3 and 4 both use this for the finale.
  • Almighty Janitor: Merlin. Big time.
  • Almost Kiss: Arthur and Gwen in "The Castle of Fyrien" and at the end of "Queen of Hearts". They actually do manage to get there earlier in the latter episode, but are interrupted just as they're getting started.
  • Always Save the Girl: Arthur, Merlin and Lancelot have all been willing to give up what is most important to them in order to save Guinevere; respectively, his entitlement to the throne, his magical secret, and his life.
  • Always Second Best: Arthur and Lancelot have this mentality in regards to each other, each believing that the other is "the better man" in everything from their skills in combat to how Guinevere feels about them.
  • Anachronism Stew: It pretty much turns Anachronism Stew Up to Eleven, but somewhat justified in that it's probably not set in our timeline at all. When the creator was criticized for it, he pointed out that it isn't supposed to be historically accurate. People complain about the tomatoes, he said, but oddly enough no one's commented on the dragon.
    • Knights in plate armour and huge stone castles in pre-Saxon England.
    • Gaius' medical knowledge being far too advanced for the time period.
    • Gwen's kidnappers use chloroform. I mean, "compound of hog's wart".
    • In "The Lady of the Lake", Arthur appears to be having pre-packed deli meat for breakfast. Oddly enough, in the same episode, when Merlin steals the original meal and replaces it with food from a cupboard in Gaius's quarters, one of the components is a shriveled, close-to-rotten whole apple... an uncomfortably realistic detail of medieval life.
    • Parodied in the 2009 Children in Need special, in which the kingdom contains microwaves, hairdryers and mobile phones. See it here.
    • Arthur was shown lighting candles with matches in "The Darkest Hour". Even though matches are Newer Than They Think, having been invented in 1826, most would know that there were no matches a whole millenium before firearms. Even the predecessor to the match (invented in China in 577 AD) had yet to be thought of. More accurately in those days, flint and steel would have been used to start fires during the night (or a burning glass during the day). The match used isn't even an old fashioned "lucifer", but a modern safety match, which was invented even later, in 1844, a year after the fax machine was invented.
  • And Starring: John Hurt as the voice of the Dragon.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: By Arthur, to Merlin, about Guinevere.
  • Anti-Magical Faction: Personified in King Uther.
  • Anti-Villain: Several of the villains in the series. Uther was a genocidal tyrant but he also genuinely loved his children and cared about his people. Morgana, Mordred, and most of the Villains of the Week attack Camelot because of its laws that persecute them.
  • Anyone Can Die: The first three episodes of Series 4 see the deaths of Morgause, Lancelot and Uther.
  • Apologises a Lot: Merlin.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Oh, Gaius.
  • Army of the Dead: Used several times. One time with skeletons, one time with technically undead (the Cup of Life was used to make an army immortal, and they counted as undead), and one time with actual spirits. In the latter case, it wasn't so much an army as a swarm of angry ghosts attacking at random, but the spirit is the same.
  • Arranged Marriage : Usually towards Arthur.
  • Artistic License:
    • Despite centuries of characters added with the retelling of the Arthurian myths this tv show opted to still add the character Gaius who was made up for the series.
    • In "The Gates Of Avalon", Gaius states that a staff had Ogham script on it, then show the page. The script shown does carry the same format as Ogham in that there is a line connecting all the letters and it is a series of lines, but the props department then embellished the script by making it much more TV friendly (most of Oghams' letters are a series of 1-5 dashes connected on a line), the script shown only had the vaguest basis on Ogham.
    • In "To Kill the King", Gaius talks about a magic stone that has been lost for 1000 years. Said stone has writing on it, in Anglo Saxon runes, which are from two hundred years after the time period of Arthurian myth. 1000 years before THAT the writing the writing would have been in the Euboean alphabet. Or at least cuneiform.
  • Automaton Horses: In a sense. They're used a lot, but we never see them getting groomed or fed or watered.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: The Flash Forward to Guinevere's crowning.
    • Arthur's crowning in Series 4 Episode 3.
    • Then Gwen's actually happens in the season finale.
  • Awful Truth: The circumstances of Arthur's birth.
  • Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other: Arthur and Merlin may insult each other like no tomorrow, but deep down, they really do care for each other and are willing to sacrifice themselves to protect the other.
    • Ditto for Arthur and Morgana. Yeah, not so much any more. Morgana has definitely jumped on the villain train.
  • Back for the Finale: At the end of Series 3, we get reappearances from Lancelot, Elyan, Gwaine and Freya.
  • Badass Abnormal: Even for those with magic, its repeatedly mentioned that Merlin is insanely powerful for someone with no training.
  • Badass Boast: In "Aithusa", when Gaius' power hungry and traitorous former pupil scoffs at Merlin's assertion that the Dragon's egg should not be used as a tool, Merlin comes up with this gem just before he blasts him into a wall. The Oh Crap look on the man's face just makes the scene.

Merlin: I am the last Dragon Lord. And I am warning you - leave this egg alone.

  • Badass Bystander: Watch the fight scenes in "The Moment of Truth" carefully. There's a blonde girl in there that kicks ass.
    • Although it's debatable as to what extent they could be called "bystanders", Sir Owaine and Sir Pellinore in "Excalibur" take up Sir Tristian's challenge to a duel in order to prevent Arthur from doing so, and go to certain death as a result.
  • Badass Crew: The Knights of the Round Table.
  • Badass Damsel: Guinevere.
  • Badass Longcoat:
    • Arthur's got a brown one.
    • Uther has one, too.
    • Tristan wears one that's similar to Arthur's.
  • Badass Normal: Arthur.
    • Uther is pretty badass too.
    • Also, Lancelot. Series 2 Episode 4 might as well have been called "The Lancelot Show".
    • Gwaine kicks ass and takes names and he does it with style.
  • Badass Princess: Morgana.
  • Bad Bad Acting: Merlin in Series 3 Episode 7 when he finally takes a hint and leaves Arthur alone with Gwen.

Merlin: The wolves!

    • When Arthur announces his engagement to Princess Mithian, Merlin manages an unsmile at best.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Series 4 Episode 3 and Series 4 Episode 9.
  • Balancing Death's Books
  • Ban on Magic
  • Bar Brawl: A Medieval bar brawl at the beginning of Series 3 Episode 4.
  • Bar Slide: When Gwaine first appears in Series 3 Episode 8, he's being slid across the bar.
  • Battle Butler: Merlin, even if Arthur doesn't realize it.
  • Battle Couple: Morgause and Cenred, with a little Foe Yay and Belligerent Sexual Tension thrown in, although it's averted in Series 3 Episode 12. And how.
    • Tristan and Isolde in Series 4 Episode 13.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Almost every character has watched either Merlin or Guinevere sleep at one stage or another. The most notable examples are when Merlin lends Gwen his bed in To Kill The King and then stays by her as she sleeps, and when Arthur finds Gwen under a sleeping spell in The Fires of Idirsholas he watches her for a few moments after putting her on Morgana's bed.
  • Beauty Is Bad: With only three exceptions Gwen, Freya and Elena, every single beautiful woman on the show ends up being a villain, or is at least meant to be percieved as unsympathetic.
    • Subverted marvellously with Princess Mithian. You'd think they would have made her as unpleasant as possible so Arthur would come and throw himself at Gwen again but she's actually rather nice.
  • Beauty Mark: Gwen, of the nice kind.
  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Several times Merlin had to help bail Arthur out of some sticky situations. Particularly in the episode "The Gates of Avalon", where poor Merlin had to deal with the consequences of a spellbound Arthur courting Sophia. In this one episode alone, Merlin got placed in the stocks three times alone!
  • Berserk Button: Even if you are an incredibly powerful sorceress, do not try to kill Gaius with magic in front of Merlin. Of the two who have tried so far, one was telekinetically hurled into a pillar at neck-breaking speed, and the other was struck in the face by lightning.
    • It is generally considered a bad idea to harm Morgause in front of Morgana. She doesn't like it. At all.
    • Mess with a certain maid-servant and you'll have to deal with her best friend (a powerful warlock), her boyfriend (the crown prince), and a team of the best knights in the land. Best to just leave her be...
    • Also... messing with Merlin will result in Gaius, Gwaine and Gwen unleashing hell on you.
    • As "Lancelot du Lac" has demonstrated, kissing Gwen, the love of his life, is the best and quickest way to drive a composed and compassionate Arthur into a blind, murderous rage.
    • And we can't forget Uther, where magic is concerned.
    • It is also generally a bad idea to mess with Hunith, Merlin's mother.
    • Also, we cannot forget Arthur when he is called fat and later, actually turns out to be fat!
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Merlin, whenever someone close to him is threatened.
    • Gwen, when Merlin is threatened. "GET AWAY FROM HIM!!!"
    • Mordred, especially in Series 2. Yikes!
    • A seemingly all-powerful Future Merlin, standing triumphant over her on the field of battle, a staff in hand and a look of utter Tranquil Fury, literally becomes the stuff of nightmares to Morgana in Series 4.

Morgana: Help me, Emrys! Please!
Merlin: Is this really what you wanted, Morgana?!

  • Big Bad:
    • Series 1: Nimueh.
    • Series 2: Kilgarrah, the Great Dragon.
    • Series 3: Morgeuse.
    • Series 4: Morgana.
    • Series 5 looks set to be a Big Bad Duumvirate between Morgana & Mordred.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: "The Tears of Uther Pendragon - Part 2". Specifically, the siege on Camelot.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Morgana was paired up with a different cohort once per season; first with Morgause, then Agravaine, then Mordred. Then there were the Monsters of the Week, who were usually out to seek revenge against King Uther, who was himself something of a villain.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Arthur probably fancies himself as this to Merlin, though Gwaine or Lancelot probably fit the bill better.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Merlin and Arthur, usually. Occasionally Morgana, Gwen, Gaius and Lancelot.
    • Every good character in "The Coming of Arthur - Part 2".
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Arthur and Gwen's first kiss came complete with dramatic lighting and an orchestra of violins.
    • Heck, it's more noteworthy when one of their kisses isn't a Big Damn Kiss.
  • Big No: When Gaius dies for Merlin and Merlin rushes to his side only to find him dead already, Merlin says "Nnnnnnoooooo!" twice. Except that Gaius wasn't actually dead.
    • Morgana lets out an absolutely humongous one when Morgause is apparently killed. Technically, there are several and she literally brings the house down this time... or should that be 'brings the castle down'?
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: As of the end of Series 3, the Pendragons definitely qualify, what with Uther and Arthur's strained relationship and the fact that Morgana is not only Uther's illegitimate daughter and Arthur's unacknowledged half-sister, but actively trying to kill them both. Both of Arthur’s uncles tried to average Ygraine’s death: Tristan by coming back from the grave to kill Uther and Agravaine by plotting with Morgana.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The spells are in Anglo-Saxon.
  • Bit Character: Geoffrey of Monmouth, who started out as the court genealogist, but who now also serves as Mr. Exposition whenever Gaius isn't around, and is trotted out whenever the writers need someone to preside over a coronation or wedding. He even seems to be a member of the council, and is the one who backs up Guinevere in "The Darkest Hour".
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sophia.
    • And more recently, Morgana.
    • Lamia.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The end of Series 3. Though the Knights of the Round Table and Guinevere return to Camelot in triumph, the hug that Arthur and Guinevere share is clearly marked by their sadness over Morgana, and Merlin's smile fades as he watches them, no doubt reminded of Freya.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Uther hunts down anyone related to magic, even healers, even children. He's a cruel dictator. Getting rid of him would be a good thing. However the villains trying to kill him, Morgana and Morgause, have some evil tendencies in a Well-Intentioned Extremist way. They will kill others, but only if they have to to get to Uther or Arthur later.
  • Black Knight: Sir Tristian in "Excalibur".
  • Bling of War: Morgana's "action gear" involves a shiny metal corset of some kind. Unless she were shot directly in the stomach, it's utterly impractical.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Plenty of people die in this series, but you will rarely see any of them actually bleed.
  • Blood on These Hands: Uther carries a lot of subconscious guilt for the death of his wife and the innocent lives he's taken in the destruction of magic in the kingdom.
  • Bluff the Impostor: Arthur does this to goblin-possessed Gaius - he talks casually about Merlin's uselessness and impending death sentence, and when "Gaius" isn't bothered, Arthur knows something's up.
  • Blue Eyes: Merlin, Arthur, Mordred, Nimueh, Gaius, Hunith, Uther, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Will, Leon, Edwin, Sophia, Aulfric, Cedric, Aredian, Ygraine, Vivian, Sir William, Elena, Alice and Gilli.
  • Bonding Over Missing Parents: Merlin and Gwaine bond over their dead fathers, Arthur and Elena bond over their dead mothers.
    • And Merlin and Arthur bond over one of them having a missing father and the other a missing mother.
  • Book Ends: In the first episode of Series 2, Guinevere saves Arthur's life from a flying gargoyle in the castle courtyard by tackling him to the ground. In the last episode of Series 2, Arthur saves Guinevere's life from a flying dragon in the castle courtyard by tackling her to the ground.
    • In the first episode of Series 3, Merlin is witness to a hug between Arthur and Morgana; in the last episode, he watches a similar embrace between Arthur and Guinevere.
    • In both the opening and the closing two-parters of Series 3, Camelot was attacked by an army of immortal soldiers sent by Morgause and Cenred.
    • Arthur is crowned King at the beginning of Series 4; Guinevere is crowned Queen at its conclusion.
  • Brainwashed: This happens to Arthur in at least three episodes, with the first case bordering near Brainwashed and Crazy. In the third case, it's by Merlin.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: In "A Servant of Two Masters" in Series 4, Merlin is bewitched by Morgana to kill Arthur, but is thankfully a terrible assassin.
  • Breather Episode: "Sweet Dreams", which was a romantic comedy of sorts jammed between a Witchhunt episode, Arthur almost killing Uther, Merlin losing his first love and Morgana's Start of Darkness.
    • Series 3 Episode 3 "Goblin's Gold", which comes after the dramatic two-part series opener where Morgana returns and Camelot is nearly destroyed.
  • Brick Joke: the Sidhe staff Merlin takes from Sophia in "The Gates of Avalon", which he uses again in "To Kill the King".
    • It doesn't appear again until "The Changeling" in Series 3.
    • Mmm, rat.
    • Gaius constantly telling Arthur that Merlin is in the tavern when he disappears to do his magical thing.
  • Broken Masquerade: In Series 3, Uther indirectly admits he knows Gaius was a sorcerer in the past, when he asks him to do anything, even magical to save Morgana.
  • Brown Eyes: Gwen, Morgause and Freya.
  • Buffy-Speak
  • Bullying a Dragon: Quite literally, in one case. Metaphorically, it often happens elsewhere. Merlin tries to play this in the first episode by warning Arthur he doesn't want to see what he's capable of. But since he can't use his magic in public, it was a pretty futile threat, and Merlin just ends up getting his ass kicked.
    • Although in the literal example, said dragon does take a shot at incinerating Merlin, and Merlin magically blocks the fire.
  • Burn the Witch
  • Butt Monkey: Merlin, especially when "helping" Arthur with his training exercises.
  • Call Back: In the pilot episode, Merlin says of Arthur: "I said you were a prat, I just didn't know you were a royal one." In the final episode of the first series, on saying goodbye to Arthur, they have the following exchange:

Arthur: You know, sometimes I don't think you know who I am.
Merlin: Oh, I know who you are. You're a prat. And a royal one.

    • Arthur and Gwen's conversation at the end of Series 3 Episode 10 is filled with allusions to the one they had at the conclusion of Series 2 Episode 2; particularly repetition of the words: "when you/I am King, things will be different."
    • In Series 2 Episode 4, Merlin tells Arthur that everyone can see his feelings for Gwen and that even a "blind man could see it." Morgana repeats a similar line to Arthur in Series 3 Episode 10.
    • Merlin giving Morgana flowers in Series 2 Episode 3 and later in a deleted scene in Series 3 Episode 1.
    • Merlin's conversation with Morgana in Series 3 Episode 7:

Morgana: Why are you telling me this?
Merlin: Because I don't understand why anyone would want to hurt their friends.
Morgana: No, you just poison them.

    • In Series 1 Episode 13, Morgana pulls Merlin behind a pillar to warn him about Arthur being in danger. In Series 3 Episode 2, Morgana pulls Merlin behind a pillar once more, but only to threaten him not expose her villainy by reminding that Uther would have him executed if she revealed to him that Merlin poisoned her.
    • In Series 2 Episode 12, Morgana recalls to Morgause her assassination attempt on Uther in Series 1 Episode 12.
    • Merlin and Arthur's conversation on horse in Series 4 Episode 1 alludes to Series 2 Episode 1:

Arthur: Yes, that you're a clotpole.
Merlin: That's my word.

    • In Series 4 Episode 5, Queen Annis says with almost reluctant admiration "There is something about you, Arthur Pendragon..." which seems very reminiscent of something Arthur himself to Merlin in Series 1 Episode 1.
      • On the same note, Arthur's line in Series 1 Episode 1 was "There's something about you, Merlin." Perhaps coincidentally, Gwen delivers the exact same line to Merlin in Series 4 Episode 8.
  • Came Back Wrong: Lancelot, thanks to Morgana.
  • Cardboard Prison: Not only Camelot's dungeons, but also its "impregnable" vaults.
  • Career Killers: Myror.
  • Cassandra Truth: Merlin lives this trope. In every season and most episodes therein, Merlin usually has foreknowledge of the (dis)loyalties of basically everyone. But he can't ever prove this because it variously involves a) exposing himself as a wizard, b) selling out someone he would rather not, or c) being pitted against someone who Uther and/or Arthur trust implicitly. You would think, considering everything Merlin says turns out to be true, people might just start giving him the benefit of the doubt.
    • More conventionally, there's one instance of Merlin bursting into the throne room and insisting he's a wizard.
    • Surprisingly, Arthur finally catches on to this in the Series 4 finale. He realizes that Merlin knew, and has always known, about such betrayals. Arthur, meanwhile, always sees the best in people right up until they stab him in the back. He finds it quite frustrating that the people he treats as friends are so willing to betray him. So... how will he react when he discovers Merlin has magic?
    • Also, obviously Morgana due due to her powers as a seer which ultimatly are often ignored especially by Arthur who frequently dismisses them as nightmares or taking it as a sign of romantic attraction that she dreams about him (this is entirely shippers choice although it does seem to be rather obvious in Series 1)! This is subverted by the fact that Gauis and Merlin often use these dreams to their own advantage to help merlin protect arthur-often without telling her and again almost always attempting to brush it off as just a dream.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Despite suffering from at least one nightmare per episode, Morgana has surprisingly few of these. However, most recently she flung herself upright from a dream about Gwen becoming Queen of Camelot. She later does this when Agravaine bursts into her hut in Series 4, though, she's not waking from a nightmare, she's just scared.
  • Celtic Mythology: Season 4 begins on Samhain, traditionaly held as the time when the veil between our world and that of the spirits is at its thinnest. It's a night of remembrance for the dead, and a time to take stock and prepare for the coming winter. The blood sacrifices, not so much.
  • Catch Phrase: Shut up, Merlin.
  • Central Theme: Because Destiny Says So and You Can't Fight Fate.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: In "The Moment of Truth", Will refuses to fight against Kanen's men, but he pulls this off in time to save Merlin.
  • Changeling Tale: Unsurprisingly, "The Changeling", even though they tweak the traditional definition of what a changeling is.
  • Characterization Marches On: Before becoming something of a regular in the third series, Ensemble Darkhorse Sir Leon had a few scenes in the second. One of his first appearances involves him violently tearing apart Gaius's study in the search for evidence of magic. The sight of him smashing bottles and ripping down tapestries is completely at odds with the gentler character of later episodes, who is also on good enough terms with Gaius (in a Deleted Scene) to confide in him that the knights have no confidence in Uther's ability to rule.
  • Character Title: Merlin, obviously, but also episodes themselves such as "Lancelot" and "Gwaine".
  • Chekhov's Gun: The vial of water from Avalon's lake.
    • The as-yet unnamed Excalibur.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The fact that Freya was cremated on the waters of the same lake that Merlin threw Excalibur into seems mightily suggestive.
    • In "The Coming of Arthur - Part 2", she is pretty much confirmed to be the Lady of the Lake.
  • Chickification: Gwen in Series 2.
    • As of Series 3 Episode 7, she's regaining her reputation as a Badass Normal (fending off an intruder with a poker, joining the men on their rescue mission, lighting a fire when Arthur cannot), whilst still remaining within the boundaries of what a slight young woman would realistically be capable of.

Gwen: I am the blacksmith's daughter, remember?

    • It still reverts to "Stay in the Kitchen and make bandages" for the series finale.
    • And then, Gwen defends Merlin against an enemy. Morgana and Gwen also have a great swordfight a season later.
  • Childhood Friends: Merlin and Will.
  • Children Are Innocent: Initially played straight with Mordred, who despite being supposedly destined for evil, is at first just an ordinary (if telepathic) little boy; however, averted with each subsequent appearance, as Uther's persecution drives him to become more and more vengeful.
    • YMMV on this. In the two occasions, he was attacked by adults and just defended himself.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Merlin.
    • He can be excused for it though since most of the people he is trying to save will soon be burnt at a stake.
  • City of Adventure: Camelot.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: When Arthur is trying to draw Excalibur, Merlin says that he needs to truly believe he can in order to do it. Subverted since Merlin was just trying to boost Arthur's confidence: once Arthur is sold on Merlin's story, Merlin covertly uses magic to make the task extremely easy for Arthur, thus reinforcing the idea he was trying to instill.
  • Closet Shuffle: In Camelot, cabinets are not meant for storage. They're meant as convenient hiding places for Merlin.
  • Clothing Damage: Nimueh must have been dragged through a hedge at some point as the bottom half of her dress is ripped in a way that exposes Michelle Ryan's legs. Well, she has been living in a cave for twenty years!
    • Also, Freya's dress, but it can be explained since she's been Halig's prisoner for who-knows-how-long.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Uther, after being rescued from Morgana's first takeovr of Camelot.
  • Coconut Superpowers: Merlin's ability to slow down time.
    • And the shapeshifting magic used by the bad guys in "Gwaine".
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Arthur and Merlin wear red and blue. As of Series 4, the bad guys wear black. Guinevere is steadily making her way through every shade of pastel that the costume designer can come up with.
    • Morgana has interesting wardrobe changes throughout the course of "The Witch’s Quickening". When she takes her own initiative or is sabotaging Camelot, she wears green. When she is being manipulated or subjected to the men around her, she's wearing white.
    • And when she's just being Obviously Evil, she wears red. Lots and lots of red. As of Series 4, her makeup has been gothed up a bit.
    • There might be a bit of Foreshadowing and Fridge Brilliance in the use of purple, the royal colour, in some female characters. In the first series, Morgana has a few purple dresses, with only the first one appearing briefly in Series 2 (as she drifts further apart from the crown). In Series 3, she has another one, which could indicate her intentions to get the throne. Then we have Gwen, whose first purple dress appears in Series 2, when she starts having some scenes about the possibility of being queen. In Series 4, she has another one, but the best example is her Queen gown, which is bluish-purple. A possible example would be Freya, since the dress Merlin gets for her is a purple one of Morgana's , and that is the dress Freya wears when she becomes the Lady of the Lake. Both Gwen and Freya wearing one of Morgana's dresses in Series 2 might be another sign showing that, whether Morgana ever had royal qualities or not, she's losing them, while Gwen and Freya are gaining them.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Merlin repeatedly uses magic to gain an advantage by turning the things around him against his opponent.
  • Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Said word-for-word by baddie Kanen in "The Moment of Truth".
  • Comforting Comforter: A variation of this at the end of Series 2. When all of Camelot is put under a sleeping spell, Arthur picks up Guinevere from the floor and places her on a bed.
  • Comic Relief: Merlin, Gwaine.
  • Composite Object: As with many modern retellings, Excalibur is combined with the Sword in the Stone (the oldest versions of the tale describe them as two very distinct swords - when Arthur breaks the latter in battle, he gains the former from the Lady of the Lake).
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Merlin, most especially in Series 2. His destiny is clearly to stand by Arthur, but Arthur's views on magic, even if only impressed upon him by Uther, can make for some not inconsiderable moral tension. "The Sins of the Father" showcases this dilemma to particularly heart-breaking effect.
    • Morgana to some degree as well regarding Uther and his ruthlessness towards magic. Made all the worse when she finds out that she's a seer and has magic herself
  • Continuity Nod: In "The Castle of Fyrien", Morgana pointedly refuses to let Merlin pour her a drink.
    • In "The Darkest Hour - Part 2", Arthur leads his knights back to the cave of the Wildrynn and tells them to smear themselves in berries to mask their scent.
  • Continuity Snarl: In "The Wicked Day", Arthur is aware that the death of his mother was the result of magic despite having been convinced otherwise in "The Sins of the Father".
  • Cool Old Guy: Gaius.
  • Cool Sword: The most iconic ever.
  • Cool Versus Awesome: Immortal undead soldiers versus the Knights of the Round Table.
  • Costume Porn: Morgana's entire wardrobe, including dresses that wouldn't look too out of place at a cocktail party, as well as the gowns of various ladies and princesses that turn up throughout the series. However, nothing yet compares with the sight of Guinevere's coronation gown.
  • Cradling Your Kill: Merlin with Morgana's body in Series 2 Episode 12.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Arthur in Series 4 Episode 9, when he walks in on Gwen and Lancelot making out. His first instinct is to try and kill the guy who had been one of his most loyal knights and had shown him mercy in the tournament earlier. And then by the end of the episode, he banishes Gwen from Camelot. Kind of shocking coming from a guy who, while brash, is usually compassionate and understanding.
    • Merlin can be this at times as well. He demonstrates jealousy toward anyone who poses a threat to his relationship with Arthur, such as Cedric and Princess Mithian, and is willing to share Arthur with only one other person in the world: Guinevere, who happens to be his own very close friend.
  • Crazy Prepared: Myror just happened to be carrying a retractible needle-tipped lance along with him.
  • Creepy Child: Mordred. Also, a hallucination Uther suffers at the beginning of Series 3.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Merlin may appear to be a clumsy, idiotic servant, but once his magic unleashes on you, you better run.
  • Crusading Widower: Uther.
  • Curse Cut Short: Watch Arthur carefully when Uther tells him that Elena is his prospective bride. He clearly mouths: "What the f...?"
  • Dark Age Europe: Played with, but given the lack of religion and Gauis' knowledge, isn't always true to the trope. It works out fairly well, though, because quite frankly, no one wants to see Dark Age Europe.
  • Darker and Edgier: Series 2. Especially Series 2 Episode 12.
    • And then Series 3, with its (hallucinations of) drowned children.
    • Series 4. The opening episode alone might be darker than the previous three series put together.
  • Death Glare: Merlin and Morgana spend a lot of series three doing this to each other.
  • Decoy Damsel: Nimueh purposely plays this trope in one episode, in order to gain Merlin's sympathies and trust.
    • Damsel in Distress: Played straight with Gwen, meanwhile, to a frankly irritating level in "Lancelot and Guinevere", to the point where various knights, sorcerers and future kings have all attempted to save her from the bandits who have kidnapped her, only to be undermined SEVERAL TIMES by her being apparently unable to stay on her feet for two seconds at a time.
    • The same applies to Morgana. Depending on the Writer she fluctuates from being a fighter in her own right (Series 1 Episode 10), to being held with a knife to her throat (Series 2 Episode 7), though this may be due to her costuming--it's much, much harder to fight in a royal gown than in trousers.
  • Death by Childbirth: Igraine, Arthur's mother.
  • Death by Secret Identity: Oh boy. Almost all the people who have discovered Merlin's secret are dead. Most One Shot Characters, were they Villains Of The Week such as Edwin, Sophia, Aulfric, Tauren, Sigan, Catrina, Jonas, Aredian, Grunhilda, and more recently, Borden, Lamia, and Agravaine; or Victims Of The Week such as Will, Freya, Balinor and the Fisher King, have died within the episode. And then we have the few who lasted more, such as Nimueh and more recently, proving that Anyone Can Die, Lancelot.
  • December-December Romance/New Old Flame: Alice and Gaius, as shown in "Love in the Time of Dragons".
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Morgana seems to be heading this way and then heads all the way back.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Mordred. Or Deliberate Woobie. This troper firmly believes the big blue puppy-eyes and the woefulness was put on to convince the Power Quartet to help him.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Arthur can be sexist and elitist at times.
  • Demoted to Extra: Gaius in Series 4, who only has one episode that centers on him, and for the most part is just used for exposition.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "I want you to swear that you will keep your oath." Because no one will expect you to keep a promise unless you promise to keep it...
  • Deus Ex Machina: Morgana looks like she's pretty much out for the count in the Series 4 finale, but the white dragon Merlin hatched decides to drop by and heal her.
    • The Vilia.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: A frequent trope for this show. Most of the time the "devil" is someone (rather easily) gaining Uther's or Arthur's trust.
  • Did Not Do the Research: In the second episode, Merlin notices the enchanted snakes on Sir. Valiant's shield because they blink at him. Snakes do not blink.
  • Disappeared Dad: Merlin's father. Technically, he's now dead, not so much as disappeared.
  • Disc One Final Boss: Nimeuh in the literal sense (though more "Series" than "Disc"); Morgeuse in the sense of being the "half-way point" villain and having lasted two whole series.
  • Disguised in Drag: Sir Leon in Series 3 Episode 13. Yes, really. Gwen dresses him up to escape Camelot.
  • Disney Villain Death: Aredian the witchfinder.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Uther wanted an heir but his wife was barren. Nimueh cured his wife's sterility but to keep the balance of life and death she died in childbirth and for this Uther has mounted a genocidal campaign against all magic users. Particularly disproportionate if Nimueh is telling the truth that she didn't know it would be Ygraine that would die.
    • We also have the episode where Arthur killed a unicorn and the keeper of the unicorns cursed Camelot. All the crops rotted overnight and all the water turned to sand.
    • No mention of "The Lady of the Lake" when a sorceress cursed Freya to turn into a bloodthirsty, killing Bastet every night for accidentally killing said sorceress's son in self-defense?
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Happens frequently with Merlin: everytime he first meets a woman he's momentarily dumbfounded by their beauty. However, when things get serious, he plays the reverse trope. In "The Lady of the Lake", after Freya goes back to her human form for the last time, she's completely naked. The moment Merlin realizes this he takes off his jacket and covers her without even trying to sneak a glance. Happens again in "The Hunter's Heart", when he finds Gwen injured in the forest. She's wearing something that looks like a harem woman outfit, but he's focused on healing her.
  • Disturbing Statistic: While discussing a tournament Arthur is about to compete in, Merlin keeps talking about how many people died the last time, just on the first day.
  • Doctor's Orders: Gaius gives Uther orders.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Happens more often than you'd think. Sometimes stumbles into Ho Yay.
    • Also Les Yay. Morgana and Morgause seem very close, particularly with Morgause's repeated, creepy hissing "Sssissster".
    • In Series 3 Episode 9 that Manticore was a little too pleased with being milked.
      • Also from that episode, Merlin holding the ring for Arthur to practice joust with.
  • Double Entendre: Cenred does not only think with his "sword".
  • Dragon Rider: Merlin gets to have a shot early in Series 3.
    • And then again in the final episode of the same series.
  • The Dreaded: By Series 4, Merlin literally becomes the stuff of nightmares towards Morgana.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Morgana
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In Series 2 Episode 4, Merlin and Arthur disguise themselves as two of Hengist's thugs to rescue Gwen.
  • Dude, Not Funny: In-Universe. Merlin's reaction in Series 4 Episode 10 when the Knights make fun of his warnings about the Druid Shrine being cursed.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Merlin, despite bravely following Arthur into dangerous situations time and time again, is still treated like a lowly servant.
  • Duel to the Death: Arthur is often challenged to these.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Used in a curious way; a number of significant knights, including Pelinore and Bedivere, have been killed, before we even get a Round Table.
    • Particularly odd in Bedivere's case considering most of the legends agree that he was the last surviving member of the Knighthood of the Round Table (and the knight who returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake on Arthur's insistence).
    • Cenred is first mentioned in Series 1 Episode 10. Guess who appears in Series 3 Episode 1.
    • Though when you think about it, there are quite a few explanations for the 'deaths' of those knights: it could merely be a dramatic subversion of Early-Bird Cameo by in turn averting the One Steve Limit, or the legends of Arthur's court be rather inaccurate, or perhaps one or two of those knights could end up being ressurrected (without turning evil) later on.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first few handful of episodes introduced a number of things that were dropped later on in the series, including Ship Tease between Arthur/Morgana and Merlin/Gwen, Merlin's ability to slow down time and to cast spells without any incantations, a telepathic bond between Merlin and Arthur, and a scene in which Gaius seems to be on relatively friendly terms with the Great Dragon - a connection that has not been alluded to since.
    • Considering that Uther frequently calls upon Gaius' knowledge and counsel regarding magical creatures, it is incredibly likely that Gaius was called upon to deal with the Dragon in the past. Given that Uther executed all of the Dragonlords, those with knowledge of Dragon-lore are practically non-existant.
  • Easily Forgiven: Subverted. Morgana pretends to forgive Merlin for poisoning her, but still carries a pretty hefty grudge.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Morgana in Helios' lair.
  • Egg MacGuffin: The whole point of "Aithusa" is to find a Dragon's egg.
  • Embarrassing Cover Up: Whenever Merlin needs to disappear for a noticeable amount of time, Gaius invariably claims that Merlin's been spending said time at the tavern. Mind you, he'll be missing for days and Gaius will default to this excuse.
  • Empathic Environment: In Season 2 Episode 9, it´s raining as Freya dies.
  • Enfante Terrible: Mordred.
  • Entendre Failure: After Uther catches Arthur with Guinevere, he laughs and says: "I know about the temptations of serving girls!" Given how the rest of that conversation goes, Arthur has no idea what he means.
  • Esoteric Motifs
  • Evasive Fight Thread Episode: Arthur has won in combat against practically everyone... but never decisively against Lancelot. Even in Series 4 Episode 9, he needed magical help from Merlin in order to overcome him.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Uther truly loves his children. Morgana and Morgause dearly loved one another. Agravaine seems to genuinely care for Morgana. In fact, many of the villians, even the Monsters of the Week were acting out of love for another (Sophia and Aulfric, Mary Collins, etc).
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Arthur, apparently. According to the (male) villain in "Sweet Dreams":

Every woman in the land is attracted to this boy- I'm almost attracted to him myself.

  • Everyone Can See It: Arthur is not good at hiding his feelings for Gwen. Not good. At all.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Curiously averted (for the time being).
    • Guinevere, of royal blood in most of the legends, is reimagined as a commoner and servant. In fact, she and Arthur seemed to have almost swapped roles as traditionally Arthur was raised as a commoner.
    • Morgana has been the legal ward of King Uther since early childhood but apparently has not been granted the title of princess, as she is always addressed as the Lady Morgana. In Series 2, Vivian is the daughter of a king (as was the real "Lady Catrina") but both are also known as Lady rather than Princess.
    • Series 3 features a Princess Elena, but she turns out not to be your typical princess - She's possessed by a Sidhe, which makes her very clumsy and gives her disgusting personal habits.
    • In Series 4, the trope is finally played straight with the visiting Princess Mithian. She falls for Arthur, but he rejects her affections because he is still in love with Gwen.
  • Evil Chancellor: Agravaine.
  • Evil Feels Good: Morgana looks positively orgasmic every time she plots against her family and friends, performs dark magic, or takes an innocent life.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The Dorocha appear as demonic, screaming skeletons made of smoke. They can kill any mortal by touching them, seemingly freezing them to death.
  • Evil Is Not Well Lit: Most of Agravaine and Morgana's scenes in Series 4 take place in a dark little hovel in the woods.
  • Evil Makeover: As of Series 4, Morgana wears a black dress and green eye-shadow.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Uther Pendragon vs Nimueh and other Villains.
  • Exact Words: Subverted in "Le Morte d'Arthur". After Arthur is mortally injured by the Questing Beast, Merlin makes a deal with Nimueh for his life. He makes it very specifically clear that he is bartering his life for Arthur's, but that doesn't stop Nimueh (or the dragon, or the Old Religion - it's not hugely clear what's responsible) from trying to take Merlin's mother's life instead.
  • Excalibur in the Stone: In "The Coming of Arthur - Part 2".
  • Expecting Someone Shorter: After identifying Arthur as 'Courage', Grettir tells him "you´re not as short as I thought you´d be."
  • Expy: Though not strictly a character, the Mage Stone in "To Kill the King" is clearly The Philosopher's Stone, presumably changed in order to avoid comparisons with Harry Potter.
    • The Cup of Life is clearly the Holy Grail.
  • Eyes of Gold: Merlin when he uses magic. Also, Morgana and Morgause, though hers are a different, rather more evil-looking, shade. This seems to be a common trait among magical creatures: the Dragon and the Manticore have them as well.
  • Face Heel Turn: Morgana in Series 3.
  • Faceless Goons: In Series 3, Cenred's armies all wear balaclavas over their heads.
  • The Fair Folk: The Sidhe.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: In Series 1 Episode 1, Merlin makes one fall on Mary Collins.
  • Family Eye Resemblance: Arthur and Mordred's matching baby blues seem... suggestive.
  • Fan Service Pack: Guinevere goes from frumpy servant to hot queen. The difference is astounding.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: A particular skill of Richard Wilson's, so naturally Gaius uses it a fair bit. Sometimes his face seems to be stuck this way.
  • Faux Action Girl: Morgana. She is presented as a feisty girl with a sword, but she never accomplishes anything. Read this.
    • Also, Isolde. Were you hoping that she'd be as tough as she looked? Sorry, she gets knocked out in less than three seconds and is carried around for the rest of the episode. In fairness, she made up for it in the following episode, even if she was killed by the end.
  • Feet of Clay: Out of universe example: Merlin is repeatedly referred to as the most powerful sorcerer ever and frequently shows his skill with housework, but as soon as he is faced with an injury, a troll, other magical creature, a sticky hiding-in-the-cupboard situation, or heaven forbid one of those other witches/wizards who are obviously infinitely less powerful than him, such as Nimueh, Edwin, Cedric/Cornelius Sigan, then he immediately either forgets his 'amazing abilities' or finds himself completely outdone.
  • Female Gaze: Katie McGrath and Angel Coulby have to put up with a few CleavageWindows, but it's overwhelmingly the men that are ogled by the camera. Remember the days when Arthur would get dressed behind a screen? Well, now the camera just follows him behind it. And when he's not around, there's usually a knight wandering around with his shirt off.
  • Fingerless Gloves: Gaius wears them.
  • Fisher King: In Episode 8 of Series 3 ("The Eye of the Phoenix"), Arthur must travel to the Perilous Realms which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, affected by it's King who was wounded in battle, but "The wound festered, affecting not just his body, but his kingdom as well, rendering it a wasteland." In universe, this seems to be his title, rather than a term for what he caused, but it's still sound.
  • Flanderization: Merlin used to be quite good at hiding his magical abilities by rationalizing (or completely avoiding) the odd situations he often found himself in because of them. Nowadays, not an episode will go by that doesn't have Merlin getting caught in compromising positions (usually with a dose of subtext), and having to explain himself with increasingly bizarre excuses. By this stage, Arthur thinks that he's a weak-bladdered cross-dresser who prowls around the castle at night, is obsessed with pest infestations, and has serious mental problems.
  • Flirty Stepsiblings : Arthur and Morgana in Series 1. Abandoned in Series 2, leading to the revelation that they actually share a father, which retroactively gives their banter shades of Brother-Sister Incest.
  • Flower Motifs: Gwen is often associated with flowers, whether she's picking them, receiving them, or wearing them in her hair. This seems to be a deliberate contrast to Morgana, who wears jewels.
  • Foil: Morgana to Merlin in Series 3, described by the dragon as "the shadow to your light, the hate to your love."
    • Lancelot to Arthur. In "Lancelot and Guinevere", Lancelot's presence highlighted both Arthur's faults and his virtues. On the one hand, when Arthur realizes that there may be something between Lance/Gwen he pulls a massive sulk and makes an off-handed comment that he's only there because Morgana begged him; whilst Lancelot graciously admits defeat and bows out of the Love Triangle before there's any more trouble. On the other hand, the fact that Lancelot leaves in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye highlights Arthur's honesty with Gwen when he tells her that nothing can ever happen between them.
      • In the DVD Commentary, Bradley James said that in the campfire scene he wanted Arthur to be snoring loudly, just to highlight how superior Lancelot was to Arthur.
    • Gwen to Morgana. It's similar to the situation with Lancelot and Arthur: she usually makes both Morgana's faults and virtues come to light .This is specially noticeable in Series 1 Episode 12 (while Gwen refuses to get revenge on Uther for killing her father, Morgana tries to have him assassinated; but Gwen's situation also highlights Morgana's compassion and friendship with her) and for the whole of Series 3, with the obvious good girl/bad girl dynamics and both their Coronation Scenes in Series 3 Episode 10 and Series 3 Episode 12.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Morgana and Mordred becoming evil.
    • Arthur and Guinevere getting married.
  • Foreign Looking Font: The book of spells given to Merlin by Gaius. At first glance it looks like Old English (which is what they do the verbal part of spells in). Closer inspection reveals it's modern English, with this trope.
  • Foreshadowing: At the conclusion of Series 1 Episode 8, Arthur asks the young Druid boy for his name and is told: "My name is Mordred." A strange, somewhat uneasy look comes over Arthur's face as the boy is lead away; all history fans who knows what Mordred is to become scream in horro. But the onimous chanting and drum-beats are just overkill.
    • Also, in the first episode, Gaius mentions Morgana's nightmares; in "Valiant", she gives Arthur a very heartfelt warning before the tournament. A few episodes later, it's revealed that she's a seer and has been dreaming about the future (the first example may also qualify as a Brick Joke - at the time it seemed like the sleeping draft was just a lead-in to an awkward comedy scene).
    • In Series 1 Episode 10, Arthur rallies together a group of villagers in the defense of their homes: they stand in an obvious circle in which Arthur calls them all equals: a collection that includes peasants, servants and women.
    • Near the end of Series 3 Episode 7: "Camelot was built on trust and loyalty. It will never be defeated, so long as we stay true to those ideals." Anyone who knows anything about how Camelot will be defeated knows how true that statement is.
    • In Series 1 Episode 5, Gaius has this line: "I would give my life for you without a thought." Guess what happens a few episodes later.
    • A couple in Series 2 Episode 9, fulfilled in the episode. The first, when Merlin brings Freya food (she eats like an animal)and the second, when he is stealing a dress for her and tells Gwen that, since it's infested with moths, he'll have to burn it. Cue Freya being cremated while wearing it.
    • When Gwaine first meets Gwen in Series 3 Episode 4, he says: "you look like a princess to me."
    • In Series 1 Episode 5, Merlin points out Arthur and Lancelot to Gwen and jokingly asks: "Which one would you chose?" She laughs and replies: "I don't have to chose, and I never will!" Oh man...
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Merlin is sanguine, Arthur is choleric, Gwen is melancholic, and Morgana is phlegmatic. In fact, Morgana growing out of her place in the ensemble arguably is part of the drama of Series 2.
    • Alternatively, Gwen is sanguine, Arthur is choleric, Morgana is melancholic, and Merlin is phlegmatic.
  • The Four Loves: The show features all four amongst its central cast. Merlin/Arthur are Storge, the Knights of the Round Table are Phileo, Arthur/Guinevere and Merlin/Freya are Eros, and Lancelot embodies Agape in his love for Merlin and Guinevere.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: The Witchfinder.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Arthur and Gwaine.
  • Friendship Moment: All the time between the main four, especially Merlin and Arthur.
  • Friend Versus Lover: Notably avoided between Merlin and Guinevere in regards to Arthur, who are more than happy to share him.
  • Functional Magic: Definitely Rule Magic and Device Magic and possibly also Inherent Gift, at least with Merlin himself (Gaius is astonished at Merlin performing magic without having been taught).
  • Gambit Roulette: Nimueh succeeds with one in "The Poisoned Chalice" with a plot to force Merlin into drinking poison by switching Arthur's chalice with a poisoned one, disguising herself as a serving girl, and telling Merlin that she witnessed the visiting lord of another kingdom spike the chalice that he presents to Arthur as a gift. The gambit hinges on Merlin taking the poisoned chalice from Arthur instead of knocking its contents onto the ground, and on Uther forcing Merlin to drink from it to prove his accusation (though knowing what she does about Uther, this would probably fall into a Batman Gambit). Of course, what Nimeuh doesn't count on is Arthur successfully finding the cure, and she only refrains from killing him Because Destiny Says So.
  • Genius Ditz: Merlin abilities come from simple instinct, not years of patient study.

Merlin: I could move objects like that before I could even talk.

  • Geographic Flexibility: In the first two series, it appears that Guinevere's cottage is a reasonable distance away from the castle. In series three, Morgana is not only able to see it from her bedroom window, but at a close enough range to watch the kidnapping that she's staged.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Arthur gets donkey ears. Funny. Arthur can't speak without braying. Hilarious. But then a sympathetic Gwen begins to stroke his ears, and suddenly Arthur looks remarkably...contented.
  • Gilligan Cut: 'I think I'm starting to get the hang of this whole deception lark...'
  • Girl Next Door: Gwen.
  • Glamor Failure: Magical disguises are always exposed if one stands in front of a mirror. This is best seen in "The Dragon's Call" and "The Eye of the Phoenix".
  • God Save Us From the Queen: Morgana, the last two episodes of Series 3. And Series 4.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Arthur. Even if he does not believe Merlin's warnings in Series 4 that Agravaine is a villain, he nonetheless will still investigate the validity of the claims before reprimanding Merlin for accusing his Uncle of treachery.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Lancelot almost achieves this when he faces death with the knowledge that Guinevere has escaped - up until he realizes that she's been recaptured. But then Arthur saves them both anyway.
    • In Series 4 Episode 2, Lancelot does it again when he sacrifices himself to close the veil.
    • And then, in Series 4 Episode 9, he does it again when Merlin brings him back for a last moment before he dies for the second time - this time probably for good.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Combined with Bloodless Carnage in Episode 9, during Owain and Tristan DuBois's otherwise violent (well, for bulky, armor-weighted knights) battle.
  • Go to Your Room: Uther to Morgana in Series 2 Episode 10.

"You will go to your chambers!"

  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Invoked throughout "Sweet Dreams" after Arthur is made to fall in love with Princess Vivian. He tries to woo her with increasingly elaborate measures, from taking her a roast chicken to scaling the castle wall to visit her bedroom to fighting a duel to the death with her overprotective father. It's Subverted at the end of the episode: once Guinevere has broken the spell with a True Love's Kiss, Arthur thanks her by bringing her a simple red rose.
  • Grey and Grey Morality: Dips into this a bit. If we didn't know Arthur was going to be a the greatest king ever, and that killing Uther would impede that then we would probably be cheering for the magicians.
    • Also some magicians want to kill Arthur as well.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The guards are frequently distracted by objects that not only fall over for no reason, but then proceed to start moving under their own power. The fact that the doors then often magically shut behind them also seems to go unnoticed.
    • Then there was the time in "Le Morte d'Arthur", when a cloaked and hooded figure limped through the castle gates at night, right between the guards that were on duty about a metre away on either side, who stare at the figure in alarm. They... do absolutely nothing.
  • Hair of Gold: Oh Arthur...
  • Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?
  • Heartbroken Badass: Merlin, Merlin, Merlin. It's a miracle the guy hasn't broken down in four series.
  • Heroic BSOD: Arthur, after learning the truth about his birth. He tries to kill his own father, then breaks down in tears in front of Merlin, Gaius and Sir Leon. Ouch.
    • Surprisingly avoided with Merlin, although any more Conflicting Loyalty episodes during Series 3 might finally push him over the edge.
    • Arthur again, after finding out that Morgana has usurped the throne, and she is his real sister. Well, half-sister. Uther as well.
    • Arthur has another (sensing a pattern here) after Agravaine's betrayal is revealed. Combined with Morgana's betrayal last season, he begins to question his ability to be king. After all, what good is he as a leader if he is such a horrible judge of character?
    • Arthur has another one (hello... major pattern here!) when it turns out he's to fat for his belt... he also has one when he misses Gwen.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In Series 4 Episode 2, Arthur fully intended to sacrifice himself so that the veil between the human and spirit world would close. Merlin knocks him out last minute and tries to take his place. Only for Lancelot to step up and do the deed.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Arthur and Merlin. With bonus Ho Yay. Lots and lots of Ho Yay.

The Dragon (about Merlin and Arthur): That your's and Arthur's path lies together is but the truth.

  • He Who Fights Monsters: Uther.
  • Hideous Hangover Cure: Gaius', according to himself.
  • The High Queen: As of the end of Series 4, Queen Guinevere Pendragon.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Finally appeared on the Series 3 box set. And they were worth waiting for.
  • Holding Hands: A frequent motif between Guinevere and Lancelot. Lancelot turns Gwen's handshake into a chance to kiss her hand. They touch each other's hands through the bars of a grating whilst Gwen is being held captive. When they are facing death together, there is a close-up on their linked fingers. Finally, Arthur notices that there's something between them when he sees that Lancelot has offered Gwen his hand to help her to his feet, and is rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.
    • There is focus on Arthur and Gwen's hands when he helps her to her feet after crowning her Queen of Camelot.
    • Happens also with Merlin and Freya, when he's helping her escape from Halig, when he tells her he has never known anyone like her, and when they kiss for the first time.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Uther. Among other things, he's chummied up to a knight who was trying to kill his son, invited two murderous Sidhe into his castle, married a troll, flirted with a shape-shifting witch, indulged the whims of a con-artist witchfinder, hired a man who tried to kill him to avenge his parents' deaths, and (in the third series) doted on the young woman who was hell-bent on destroying him and taking over his kingdom. It goes both ways, as he's also banished both Gwaine and Lancelot, two accomplished and loyal knights, and is constantly belittling, alienating or even trying to execute Merlin and Guinevere, the two people in the world who would give their lives for his son without a second thought.
  • Hot Shounen Mom: Hunith, Merlin's mom. And, in series two, Ygraine Pendragon.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Arthur and Gwen. She stands about level with his shoulder.
    • As well as Percival and Lamia in Series 4 Episode 8.
  • Hypocrite: Uther, oh so much, in his attitude towards magic. After enlisting the help of a sorcress in order for his barren wife to conceive, he set about killing and terrorising everyone who practised sorcery (even those who did so for perfectly innocent reasons) even though he had no one to blame for his wife's death except himself. The real kicker is when Morgana gets sick in Series 3, and he actually coerces Gaius into using magic to save her. You'd think this act of blatant hypocrisy would make him decide to ease up on the sorcerers a bit from then on, but you'd be wrong...
    • Later on in Series 3, there was a sorcerer going around healing people miraculously who was Gaius's former lover. Uther wanted Gaius to see if sorcery was involved in the healings and it is implied he would have executed whoever did it. The fact that he was willing to use magic to miraculously heal Morgana is made even more hypocritical because of that in retrospect.
  • I Did What I Had to Do/Kill the Ones You Love/Shoot the Dog: Merlin poisons Morgana -- who was unsware that she was the vessel of the Knights of Medhir -- because he did what he had to do in order to save Camelot, but at the price of killing his friend and someone he cared about. Many fans, while praising the acting of Colin and Katie, did not agree with Merlin's actions.
  • I'd Tell You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You: Merlin tries to Lampshade this in "The Coming of Arthur", when Arthur refuses to tell him the destination of their latest secret mission. Arthur responds by telling him that yes, he would have to kill him if he divulged that information.
  • I Have No Idea What I'm Doing: Arthur wasn't entirely sure that his plan to smear himself in Gaia berries to confuse the Wilderen would be successful. Merlin is not hugely pleased when he finds out.
    • Arthur also gets a moment of this when his father starts dying.
    • Arthur in Series 4 Episode 11, when faced with marriage to a lovely princess or seeking out the woman that (he thinks) betrayed him, tells Merlin that he has no idea what to do.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Yeah... looks like they're going to spend the rest of Series 4 messing with poor Gwen.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Merlin, at the start of the series.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Merlin tries this on Morgana in Series 3 Episode 2. It doesn't work.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: In "The Secret Sharer".
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Arthur begins to fall for Guinevere after she calls him out on his rude behaviour and he realizes that she's the only one who doesn't just tell him what he wants to hear.
    • Also, the reason why Arthur and Merlin get along so well.
  • Immortality: Morgause creates an army of immortals by dripping soldiers' blood into the Cup of Life. However, this also gives her the ability to control them.
  • Improbable Weapon User: In Series 1 Episode 10, Gwen attacks one of Kanen´s men with a shovel. It's a good idea.
  • Infinity+1 Sword: Excalibur.
  • Info Dump: Uther's speech on the balcony in the first episode. He's been king for twenty years? Check. There's a dragon under the castle? Check. Magic is outlawed? Check. Thanks writers!
  • Informed Ability: Uther's ability to stamp out or indeed recognize magic in his kingdom. Basically, he can be as competent at this in the backstory as the writers need him to be, and as incompetent at it in the present as the writers need him to be.
  • Informed Attribute: In "Sweet Dreams", the main villain remarks about how every girl in Camelot is attracted to Prince Arthur. Though Arthur's attractiveness is the general consensus among fans, the show never shows Arthur being unusually popular with the girls of Camelot, possibly because of his station.
    • Though as Bradley James has pointed out on more than one occasion, there only seem to be a total of two women in Camelot, one of which is his sister. As of Series 4, this has been whittled down to one.
  • Inter Class Romance: Gwen (poor servant) and Arthur (rich royalty).
  • I Owe You My Life: Merlin´s main reason to help Lancelot become a knight.
  • Ironic Name: The villain called Valiant used underhanded tactics to cheat in a tournament.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Arthur says this to Merlin just before battle in "The Moment of Truth".
  • It's for a Book: Merlin uses a variation of this, ("it's for homework") in "Lancelot", to excuse his unlikely interest in the library.
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet: Arthur to Merlin in the forest in Series 3 Episode 12.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Lancelot, upon seeing that Gwen and Arthur are close, decides to not get in the way of their relationship.
  • I Will Wait for You: The trope is first invoked when Arthur claims that he can't expect Guinevere to wait for him, but in series 3 Gwen tells him that she will "count the days" until he becomes King, at which point he can change the customs that keep them apart.
  • Jerkass: Uther. The Dragon has his moments too, though one could argue that being chained up in a cave for twenty years will do that to you, but it is no reason to destroy Camelot. Just take Uther and go! You'd have done us all a favour.
    • Morgana is starting to fall under this category too. Her animosity towards Uther (and Merlin) is understandable, but her treatment of Arthur and Gwen is down right cruel.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arthur.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Morgana. Possibly justified, since in-show, she was with Morgause a whole year and was probably thoroughly indoctrinated in that time - but from the viewer's perspective, she ended one series as conflicted and unhappy, and returned at the start of the next series as pure evil.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: So many of the problems on the show could be solved if Merlin would just let one of the many people who want to kill Uther succeed, putting Arthur on the throne and allowing him to become the great king he's supposed to be. But this never happens only because of Merlin is a Technical Pacifist.
    • But if Uther were killed by magic, Arthur would likely become just as fanatically anti-magic as his father when he gains the throne. The Dragon says as much in "The Sorcerer's Shadow". And it finally happens in Series 4 Episode 3.
    • Morgana’s Face Heel Turn could have been avoided if Merlin had told her about his magic or at least treated her better. Her bonding with Mordred and Morgause was mostly caused by her confusion and sense of loneliness.
  • Just Friends: Merlin was teased with Gwen by Morgana in Series 1 Episode 3 and Lancelot in Series 1 Episode 5 because of Gwen's obvious crush on him and Merlin's semi-obliviousness to it. When Merlin secretly helps Morgana in Series 2 Episode 3 when she discovers that she is a seer, Arthur is under the belief that Merlin is in love with Morgana and warns him Uther would have his head for it.
  • Kick the Dog: In "The Poisoned Chalice", Arthur rushed to get the flower to cure Merlin, despite his father telling him not to. However, as soon as he came back, his own father imprisoned him for disobeying him. Even when Arthur begged his father to at least deliver the flower to Merlin, he crushed the flower, told him to get another servant and dropped the flower just out of Arthur's reach.
  • Kill It with Fire: Or rather, drive it off with fire. The flying ghost skull Dorocha can pass through solid matter and are totally immune to harm. They even negate magic. Fire, however, disperses them for a while.
  • King Arthur: Or rather Prince Arthur.
    • As of Series 4 Episode 3, King Arthur.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: Arthur and Vivian in "Sweet Dreams", as a result of the enchantment placed upon them.
    • Lancelot and Gunivere in "Lancelot du Lac".
  • Knighting: Happens quite often, usually by Uther, but most notably by Arthur in "The Coming of Arthur", when he does this to the new knights of the Round Table.
  • Knight Templar: Uther, at least in regards to magic.
  • Kudzu Plot: Especially anything involving the Druids. It's difficult to gauge just how much they know about Merlin's destiny, what they plan to do about it, and why they keep calling him "Emrys".
  • Lady and Knight: Played remarkably straight with Lancelot and Guinevere, even though they aren't a lady or a knight when the show begins. However, Lancelot always makes a point of refering to Gwen as "my lady" and by the end of the third series, he's been permanently knighted and by the end of the fourth series, she is "my lady" as she's Queen!
    • There's a little of this with Gwen and Gwaine as well.
  • Lady in Red: Nimueh, Morgana, and Morgause.
  • Lady of War: Queen Annis.
  • The Lady's Favour: Gwen gives Arthur a handkerchief for him to wear during a tournament, for luck.
    • As does Morgana for Sir Owain in his fight against the undead Tristan.
      • A deleted scene for "The Shadow of the Sorcerer" reveals that the sash Arthur was wearing around his arm in the melee came from Morgana.
  • La Résistance: And they're the bad guys.
    • Until "The Coming of Arthur", when Arthur and his loyalists become La Résistance.
  • Last of His Kind: The Great Dragon. And Merlin in Series 2 Episode 13, when he becomes the last dragonlord.
    • As of Aithusa, Kilgarrah is no longer the Last Dragon.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Gwen and Morgana in "The Moment of Truth".
  • Let Them Die Happy: Merlin brings Freya to the lake so that she dies in a place similar to her home.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Gaius insists on this to Merlin when forced to romance a troll.
  • A Light in the Distance: Arthur in the caves, looking for the mortaeus flower.
  • Like a Son to Me: Gaius sees Merlin more of a son than his nephew.
  • Like Brother and Sister:
    • Gwen and Merlin's relationship is like this. (At least, ever since the peculiar about turn in the Series 1-2 transition saw the previously hinted Merlin/Gwen relationship effectively killed.)
    • Arthur and Morgana are put into this in Series 2. According to Bradley James, the reason why they put a halt to Arthur/Morgana was to not get the impression of Brother-Sister Incest (since she is like his sister-in-law), and because they wanted to start the Arthur/Gwen romance.
    • And as of Series 3 Episode 5, it turns out they actually are half-siblings.
  • Lineage Comes From the Father: The Dragonlord abilities are said to be passed from father to son.
  • Line in the Sand: Arthur gives one in the Series 3 finale to Merlin, Gaius, Gwen, Lancelot, Percival, Gwaine, Leon and Elyan. They then proceed to each stand up and give a speech about why they refuse to leave Arthur, one by one, until it reaches Merlin who remains seated and jokes, "Actually I don't really fancy it."
  • Lip-Lock Sun-Block: Arthur and Gwen's first kiss.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: With the court genealogist Geoffrey of Monmouth; the real Geoffrey of Monmouth was a 12th-century bishop who named the character of Merlin, and was one of the earliest writers of tales of King Arthur and his father Uther, along with a whole host of other legendary British kings.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: Morgana narrowly avoids this fate in "The Nightmare Begins" after escaping to the forest in a bright red hooded cloak.
  • Long Lost Sibling: Gwen's brother Elyan.
    • And in a way, Morgause to Morgana.
  • Look Behind You!: Arthur pulls this on Merlin when they're arguing over who gets to drink from a poisoned goblet.
  • The Lost Lenore: Freya.
  • The Lost Woods: Jam-packed with magical critters and evil bounty hunters lurking behind every tree.
  • Loveable Rogue: Gwaine. Also doubles as the Plucky Comic Relief/The Prankster of the Knights.
    • Even more so in Series 4.
  • Love At First Sight: Lancelot toward Guinevere. Notably Averted with Arthur and Gwen, who knew each other for years before starting to take notice of each other.
    • Also, with Merlin and Freya.
  • Love Triangle: Gwen, Arthur and Lancelot: Triang Relations Type 1.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Uther and Morgana.
  • The Magic Comes Back: Merlin's ultimate goal for Camelot.
  • Magic Knight: Merlin apparently has been taking fencing lessons from Arthur; by Series 3, he seems to use sword and sorcerery equally well together to take down his enemies.
  • The Magic Versus Technology War: In Camelot, magic is a crime, leading to Gaius to occasionally urge Merlin to seek solutions through more ordinary means.
  • Magnetic Hero: Merlin is definitely this. He repeatedly befriends everyone, no matter their standing.
  • The Magnificent Seven Samurai: "The Moment of Truth".
  • Mama Bear: Morgana's strong attachment towards Mordred causes her to become very protective of him and a willingness to do anything for him in order to keep him from harm's way.
  • Man Hug: Sadly, but hilariously subverted by Arthur at the end of Series 2 Episode 6.
    • But thankfully, played straight with Merlin and Gwaine in Series 3 Episode 8.
    • Also one between Uther and Godwyn in Series 3 Episode 6.
    • And finally one between Arthur and Merlin in Series 4 Episode 6. And it was Arthur who went for it, no less.
  • Master Swordsman: Arthur, Lancelot, Gwaine.
  • Mauve Shirt: Sir Leon. Admit it, when they said he was dead at the beginning of Series 3 Episode 12, you actually believed it.
  • May-December Romance: Implied between Uther and Catrina.
    • A deleted scene from series four has Agravaine confessing his love for Morgana.
  • Meaningful Name: The name that Merlin bestows upon the baby dragon turns out to mean 'Light of the Sun' in dragon-speech.
  • Medieval European Fantasy
  • Meet Cute: It's played with. Whenever Merlin meets a pretty girl, he shows interest, evident with his encounters of Gwen, Morgana, Nimueh, Lady Catrina, and Freya. Colin Morgan lampshades it in an interview.
  • Memetic Badass: Merlin (Emrys) is this to the Druids.
  • Merlin Sickness: Averted, Merlin doesn't have it in this version.
    • Although it's hinted that Taliesin might. Though it might be his close proximity to the crystal caves, he also makes several pointed remarks about time and memory that suggest he's intimately aware of the future.
  • Mind Control Eyes: Arthur, in "The Gates Of Avalon".
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Gwen.
  • Mix and Match Critter: Naturally includes a few of the traditional mythological ones. Arthur also makes one up to find an excuse to leave the castle, simply by listing random animal bits as he thinks of them.

"It is said to have the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle ...and the ...face of a bear."

  • Modest Royalty: In stark contrast to Uther and Morgana, Arthur usually wears simple tunics or battle-stained armour.
  • Moment Killer: Poor Arthur and Gwen have to suffer through dozens of these. Possibly the most hilarious was when a quiet moment between them at Gwen's house is interrupted by Merlin crashing through the door and shouting: "There's an assassin in Camelot trying to kill you!" The WTF expression on their faces is priceless.
  • Monster of the Week
  • Monster Vision: In Series 2 Episode 9, right before the Bastet kills the couple and the guards, we see the scene through its eyes.
  • Mood Whiplash: "Lancelot and Guinevere". One minute, Gwen's in mortal danger, declaring her undying devotion to Lancelot. Next, some of the funniest banter of the entire series.
    • Done deliberately in "Queen of Hearts". At first, Uther thinks it's hilarious that Arthur has been making out with a serving girl in the woods (and gives him a congratulatory pat on the back because of it), but he soon turns nasty on realizing that his son is serious about Gwen and ends up banishing her from Camelot in the very same scene. In fact, the entire episode is made of this trope considering Arthur and Gwen go from loafing about in the sun to having Uther accuse Gwen of witchcraft and ordering that she be burnt at the stake in the space of a day.
    • Also in "Excalibur". It goes from lighthearted banter between Gwen and Merlin about washing Arthur's socks to a freaking undead knight bursting through the window.
    • "The Darkest Hour - Part 1" has Arthur, Merlin and the knights investigating an empty village, tension is mounting and they don't even know what the monster looks like. Then they are startled by Gwaine taking a large bite from an apple. It switches back as Elyan finds the village people dead, covered in frost.
    • "The Witchfinder" has a terrifying scene where the Witchfinder in question tells Uther that there is a sorcerer in the room. The music is chilling, a still sympathetic Morgana looks petrified and then he points at our hero and accuses him of using magic. And then music stops and you have Arthur's reaction.

Arthur: *with a look on his face of pure skepticism* Mer-lin. You can't be serious.

  • Morally Ambiguous Mentor: The Great Dragon knows a lot and likes to talk big about Merlin's glorious destiny, but as the first series goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that he is also ruthless, utterly selfish, and carries some major grudges.
    • And as of the second series, Merlin sees (through a soothsaying crystal) the Dragon helping to burn Camelot to the ground once he releases him. And then the Dragon asks for Merlin's end of the bargain... Which Merlin honours in the finale. Fire ensues. Lots of fire. Lots.
    • Gaius is also morally ambiguous (though by no means evil). He focuses on Merlin's safety to the point of denying help to other magicians who need it, including Mordred and Morgana, which brings him into conflict with Merlin's Chronic Hero Syndrome. It's also implied he betrayed Nimueh and his other fellow magic-users to Uther as a young man.
  • Mr. Exposition: All things considered, Gaius's full name could well be Gaius Exposition.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Bradley James' (Arthur's) shirt collar becomes progressively more open with each episode. Episode 1? Could barely see his clavicle. Episode 9? A good third of his (admittedly quite nice) chest is exposed. The first episode of Series 2 is reliably following this pattern, with multiple shots of Arthur bare-chested and then the bath scene.
    • In the cast commentary of the Series 2 premiere, Bradley and Colin count the number of times Bradley appears shirtless. Apparently, he needs to be shirtless to put a key in the drawer.
      • Series 3 got off to a good start with him taking his shirt off quite early on in the first episode.
        • And then for every episode since. (Except Series 3 Episode 4, "Gwaine" - in this one, Gwaine gets plenty instead.)
      • Also Arthur is pants-less in two consecutive episodes, Series 4 Episode 3 and Series 4 Episode 4. Pants-less Arthur seems to be the new shirt-less Arthur.
    • Cenred wears awfully tight leather.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Nimueh and Morgana.
    • To some, Morgause as well, whether in her red dress or her armor.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Gwen's reaction after Arthur witnesses her and Lancelot kissing the night before her and Arthur's wedding. Made all the worse because only the audience knows that she was under a spell the entire time and she actually believes that she willingly betrayed Arthur even if she doesn't understand why.

Gwen: I was drawn to him, I couldn't stop myself, I don't know why!!

  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Merlin is often instinctively aware of magical activity around him, most notably in "To Kill the King" with the Expy of the Philosopher's Stone, and in "The Tears of Uther Pendragon" when he recoils in the same moment that Morgana drives the staff into the ground in order to raise the dead (and even Breaks The Forth Wall while he does it, considering he seems to be staring straight at the camera). He also seems to sense that there's something a bit off about the bracelet that Arthur is wearing when he leaves for his quest in "The Eye of the Phoenix".
  • Mysterious Parent: Igraine, possibly Gorlois.
  • Mysterious Protector: Inverted with Merlin's alter-ego Dragoon. Though he's trying to save Gwen's life, his plan involves him making everyone believe that he's their enemy.
  • Mythology Gag: Guinivere's remark about having to never choose between Arthur and Lancelot. However, recent episodes suggest this was more Foreshadowing.
    • An early episode also has her sarcastically mutter: "Who would want to marry Arthur?" Well, actually, Gwen...
    • Series 1 Episode 10: "In this circle, we are all equal."
    • The frequently shown long, rectangular table (which always has Uther sitting at its head) is also an allusion to the Round Table. They contrast the tyranny and elitism of Uther with the fairness and equality of Arthur's future reign.
    • Arthur's and Morgana's flirty reletionship in Series 1 is possibly a referance to how in some of the myths Morgana drugged Arthur into sleeping with her so she could concieve a child with a right to the throne.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Lamia. Anyone whose name has "Mor" as its first syllable.
  • The Needs of the Many: A Central Theme. Uther and Merlin will usually adhere to this line of thinking; Arthur will usually chose his friends, family, or personal honour over the greater good (so far it's worked out for him).
  • Never Found the Body: Morgana and Morgause in the Series 3 finale.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: More like "Never Trust A Promotional Picture". In the promo pictures for Series 3 Episode 13, Arthur was shown holding Exacalibur, something he never does in the episode itself.
  • New Neighbours as the Plot Demands: There seems to be no shortage of other neighbouring kingdoms.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Merlin, although since he's unsure of even his own powers, its justified that he can get away with this.
  • Nice Guy: Merlin is this.
  • Nice Hat: The official servant's ceremonial clothes include a huge feathered monstrosity of a hat. Gwen even comments, "nice hat", in between giggles.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Freeing the dragon is not Merlin's best idea ever. Merlin's treatment of Morgana and Mordred is a contributing cause of her Face Heel Turn and his Start of Darkness. To some extent perhaps, Merlin trying to heal Uther - even though Uther's death isn't his fault, Merlin/Dragoon's price to gain peace for the magic-users may be lost.
    • Works to Merlin's benefit when lifting the dragon's egg causes the tower in which it was hidden to collapse. Evokes a Nothing Could Survive That from one of the knights.
    • Uther's crusade against all magic only seems to create more enemies than it eliminates. By killing all the minnows in the pond, he's effectively left the sharks. And they are clearly not happy.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Arthur flip-flops with this in regard to Merlin. While he clearly assumes he's the superior and constantly insults and berates Merlin while Merlin's trying to do his job, he has shown that he cares about the common people and occasionally shows Merlin some measure of affection and respect.
    • He's also willing to risk his life to protect or save Merlin without a second's thought.
  • Noble Demon: Uther might be a genocidal tyrant but he's also a loving parent and a brave warrior who will put himself in harm's way to protect his kingdom.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Katie McGrath's native South County Dublin accent. Interestingly the accent is so unfamiliar outside of Ireland that some fans assumed it was a deliberate move to highlight Morgana's mysterious past.
  • The Not Love Interest: Merlin and Arthur.
    • Throughout series one the most important person in Gwen's life was Morgana.
    • Morgana and Morgause.
  • Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: A variant. Agravaine is quick to say that he personally has no problem with Arthur's relationship with a servant when he advises him to break things off with Gwen.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Merlin frequently gets walked in on in various compromising-looking situations, usually by Arthur or Gwen. Not only does he have to explain that it's not what it looks like, he usually can't even tell the truth and so has to come up with another (comedically improbable) excuse. While they usually don't believe him, they trust him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • Now Let Me Carry You: Mordred is glad to take care of an injured Morgana, in thanks for her previously caring for him.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Deconstructed. All the characters who aren't Lancelot, Gaius, or Gwen seem utterly convinced Merlin's a moron. Merlin is occasionally bumbling and clueless, but since he keeps his more deductive, perceptive, and wiser side hidden from the other characters, when it shines through they acknowledge it then immediately forget it. You'd think that since he's always right, someone would catch on, but Status Quo Is God.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Uther to Morgana.
    • This happened several times to Merlin, whenever someone (usually Arthur or Uther) complimented him for helping them in the fight against magic.
  • Oblivious to Love: Merlin in Series 1, seemingly doesn't realise that Gwen is seriously into him.
    • Guinevere herself is a little oblivious to Arthur's feelings for her between Series 2 Episode 2 and Series 2 Episode 4. She's astonished by their First Kiss and gobsmacked by the fact that he came to rescue her from Hengist's fortress. By Series 2 Episode 10, she seems to have caught on...
  • Occult Detective: Arguably, Merlin and Gwen, who have teamed up on more than one occasion to investigate the fantastical mysteries in Camelot, earning them the Fan Nickname of "Camelot's Detective Agency".
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Guinevere's corsets get more and more noticable as the seasons go on, until we reach this. They also present a case of Costume Porn.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: In the Series 4 finale, Merlin magically throws Morgana backward, at the same time knocking down part of the ceiling. Morgana is apparently knocked out. What can't be more than ten seconds later, Morgana has completely vanished, even though she was already badly injured and in a castle full of hostile soldiers.
  • Older and Wiser: The changing of the Opening Narration in Series 4, a subtle indication that the Great Dragon considers Merlin as a young man, rather than a "boy".
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: So far, the second series breaks into this at the slightest provocation.
  • Once Per Episode: Merlin cries. Morgana gives an evil smirk.
  • One-Scene Wonder: George, the servant who temporarily replaces Merlin when he disappears.
    • Mary, the tavern keeper from "Gwaine" who hits on Merlin.
    • Grettir and the Fisher King from "The Eye of the Phoenix".
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Between Gwen and Arthur in "Sweet Dreams", when, without Gwen's knowing, Arthur's been enchanted to fall in love with Lady Vivian.

Gwen: What is it, Arthur? You look like you have something on your mind.
Arthur: You read me like a book. I've made a fool of myself, that's all. That's everything.
Gwen: I'm that is not true.
Arthur: You have a good heart, Guinevere, but I'm afraid it is. I have made a gesture, but it was not well received.
Gwen: You sure?
Arthur: Pretty sure.
Gwen: Then you are wrong.
Arthur: You are very close to the lady in question.
Gwen: Your token was much appreciated. But the situation is delicate, and it is not always easy to express what is really in one's heart.
Arthur: You think there's hope?
Gwen: There is always hope.
Arthur: If only I had some way of knowing.
Gwen: Indeed, My Lord.

  • One Steve Limit: There have been two Tristans on the show; Sir Tristan de Bois and Tristan (of Tristan and Isolde fame).
  • Only Friend: Will is implied to have been Merlin's before he came to Camelot.
  • Opening Narration: As seen at the top of this page.
  • Opposites Attract: Arthur and Guinevere.
    • As far as friendships go, this also applies to Arthur and Merlin, with the former being a rich and cynical blonde, and the latter being a poor but optimistic burnette.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Intelligent and talkative.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: The traditional Manticore is a reddish lion with a head ressembling a bearded man's, either a scorpion's tail or a dragon's tipped with poisonous barbs and three rows of razor-sharp teeth in its mouth. Here, it's a tiny frilled lizard with a man-ish head.
  • Our Trolls Are Different: Green skinned, greedy and love to eat rotting fruit and vegetables. Able to use potions to take on human form and enchant humans.
  • Out of Order: Series 3 Episode 8 ("The Eye of the Phoenix") and Series 3 Episode 10 ("Queen of Hearts") were switched around in order to boost ratings, which did some pretty serious continuity damage to Morgana and Guinevere's relationship. And ironically, "Queen of Hearts" ended up being the highest rated episode thus far.
    • Series 2 Episode 7 ("The Witchfinder") was originally meant to be Series 2 Episode 4, but was pushed back.
  • Overly Long Tongue: Grunhilda in "The Changeling". Ew.
  • Parental Abandonment: None of the four main characters has a complete set of parents: Arthur, Morgana and Gwen have all definitely lost a parent. The status of Gwen and Morgana's mothers remains unknown, but they are presumably also dead. Merlin's father is not a straight-up example as he was forced to abandon Hunith to flee from Uther before he even knew that she was pregnant, and thus has no idea that he has a son. Then he died when Merlin finally met him.
    • Morgana views Uther keeping the secret that he is her real father explicitly as this.
      • Which is Morgana's view, but probably shouldn't be anyone's else's. Her father dotes on her in not just "I'm giving you riches, be nice", but actually and very willingly spends a lot of time with her; he even spends a whole year having the kingdom searched and sacrificing a lot of men to retrieve her, he also listens to her advices, something he's not always done for Arthur, and while he has on occasions "punished" her for standing up to him, he has also acknowledged that this standing-up to him is vital to him running a fair and just kingdom. Plus, it's not like Arthur hates or even dislikes her, and like the prince would throw her out had he the chance. In short, Morgana is literally living like a princess and she is set for a life as such, but she's ready to kill her father because he won't jeopardize his position (and hers, as been pointed in the Succession Crisis entry below ). Yes, Uther is a hypocritical tyrant on many levels, but while his treatment of magical people or even of Morgana's "father" (Gorlois) are very slow in turning her against him, as soon as he declines recognising her as his daughter, she immediately tries to kill him. Spoiled child's tantrum, much?
  • Parental Favouritism: Played with, for either Arthur or Morgana could be described as Uther's favourite. Although Arthur is considered the most important of Uther's children (being the heir to the throne), Uther excessively dotes on Morgana and gives her far more leeway than he does Arthur. In light of recent events, this has come back to bite Uther in more than one way.
  • Parental Substitute: Gaius is this towards Merlin.
  • Patricide: Morgana has a definite hand in finally killing Uther.
  • Pet the Dog: Sophia and her father come across as standard villains, but at the conclusion of the episode there is a surprisingly touching scene in which Sophia's father gives up his immortality in order to secure his daughter's.
  • Phrase Catcher: "When you are king, things will be different" to Arthur.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: In "Le Morte d'Arthur", when Uther carries Arthur across the courtyard.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege: Happens often to Uther, most heartbreakingly when Arthur begs for Guinevere's life after Uther has her pegged as a witch.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Arthur does this to Merlin. However, he did it to ensure that Merlin wouldn't get the poison and that he would, to save his friend's life.
  • Poison Is Evil: Inverted, as it is first the heroic Merlin who uses it for morally-dubious means (killing Morgana in order to break a fatal spell upon Camelot). Later, Morgana plays this trope straight when it comes to killing a man who would have otherwise been able to identify her as the traitor.
  • Poisonous Friend: Merlin, in a very literal sense.
  • Politically-Correct History: Gwen (Guinevere) is black. Anachronistic, perhaps, but we're not that fussed. Lancelot's race is never mentioned but he is noticeably darker-skinned than the rest of the cast (he is played by Santiago Cabrera, who is Chilean).
    • This is not necessarily true, as there have been black people in Britain since the Romans conquered it, and southern Europeans tend to be darker than those in the north (in reference to Lancelot, not Gwen).
    • Actually, Gwen's physical appearance may just be one of the least anachronistic aspects of the show: her darker skin and curly hair suggest that she is Silurian (no, not that kind of Silurian).
  • Posthumous Character: Igraine and Gorlois.
  • Power Glows: Merlin's eyes briefly glow during spellcasting.
  • Power Incontinence: Merlin initially. As he points out in the first episode, he's never studied magic, or knows any spells, but his power... just sort of happens.
  • The Power of Love: The Dragon instructs Merlin to use this to break the enchantment that has left Arthur infatuated with Vivian. A True Love's Kiss from Gwen does the job.
  • Power Nullifier: In the Series 4 finale, Merlin uses a voodoo doll placed under Morgana's bed to (temporarily at least) completely block her magical powers. Needless to say, she reacted poorly when she tried to use her magic later. Also a Call Back to Series 3 when Morgana put a doll beneath Uther's bed and made him go crazy.
  • Pretty in Mink: Morgana.
  • The Promise: Played straight many times, from Freya to Merlin ("Someday I will repay you"), Arthur and Gwen ("I can promise you that when I am King, things will be different"), Merlin's promise to the Dragon that he will free him, and mentioned with Uther´s promise to Gorlois about taking care of Morgana. And every promise has been kept, or at least it has been hinted that they will.
    • Lancelot was not able to keep his promise to Guinevere that he would rescue her from Hengist's fortress. Though he tries his best, it is Arthur who save her. This leads to Lancelot's decision to leave in the middle of the night, feeling himself unworthy.
    • Arthur broke his promise to Guinevere that her home was hers for life when he banished her from Camelot. Yes, there were mitigating circumstances, but the promise was still broken.
  • Protectorate: For Merlin, it is Arthur and Guinevere, the former because of his destiny and the latter because of their pre-existing friendship and her eventual relationship with Arthur. His protection also extends to anyone with magical abilities, such as Mordred and Freya.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Excalibur in the episode of that name. Also, who wants to bet that the Cup of Life in "Le Morte d'Arthur" is actually the Holy Grail?
    • We've now also seen the Round Table.
  • The Purge: Known as "the Great Purge", this is the time in which Uther had all those who possessed magic executed.
  • Put on a Bus: Unfortunately, Asa Butterfield (Mordred) won't be in Series 3 because of scheduled filming conflicts. Also doesn't appear in Series 4, but is rumoured for Series 5.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Merlin and Morgana.
  • Real Men Hate Affection: At the end of "Beauty and the Beast", Arthur thanks Merlin for his help in getting rid of a troll, and reaches out to pat him on the back. Merlin misinterprets the gesture and tries to hug him, only to get a resounding no from Arthur. Finally averted in Series 4, when Arthur hugs Merlin in relief on finding him alive after being captured by Morgana.
    • Averted between Merlin and Gwaine. On getting separated in "The Eye of the Phoenix" Gwaine hugs Merlin once they're reunited (Arthur only pats him on the back).
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Nimueh. Her actual age is unknown but she is clearly at least a generation older than she looks.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Arthur describes himself as "the ultimate killing machine" and this is in no way an Informed Ability. In fact, it's almost disconcerting to see him kill another man (albeit one who was trying to kill him) without a moment's hesitation in the very second episode of the show.
  • Rebellious Princess: Deconstructed with Elena in Season 3 Episode 6.
  • Redemption in the Rain: At the end of "Le Morte d'Arthur", when Gaius comes back to life.
  • Red Shirt: Rather literally, in regard to the various knights and guards of Camelot.
    • Redshirt Army: How many times have we seen knights get killed? Geez.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: In the second episode, the villain uses a shield with snakes that come to life.
    • Morgana uses a miniature Hydra to take control of Merlin's mind.
    • Lamia definitely falls under this category.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: There have been at least three different crowns worn by the Kings of Camelot. Uther had two: a simple circlet and a more elaborate one (which was only seen at the beginning of the first series), whilst Arthur wears a large golden one with fleur-de-lis spikes. The crown for the Queen of Camelot (as worn by Morgana and then Guinevere) is larger and covered in jewels.
  • Reset Button: The writers have done this a lot with regards to the progression of Merlin and Arthur's friendship, causing enormous fan frustration. One episode they're starting to trust each other, the next, Arthur is treating Merlin just like he did back at the beginning of series one. Alas, even with a complex story arc, it seems that Status Quo Is God in many ways.
    • This is also the case with the Uther/Arthur relationship. No matter how many awful things Uther does, Arthur continues to fight for his approval and affection. The worst example is when Uther almost has Guinevere burnt at the stake despite his son's pleas, yet by the very next episode Arthur is worrying about whether he should fight (and potentially injure) Uther in a tournament.
    • Averted heavily in Series 4 with the death of Uther.
    • Also averted in Series 4 with the Arthur and Merlin relationship. Arthur finally calls Merlin his friend, admits he's right, seeks out his advice and even goes as far as to investigate whether Devil in Plain Sight Agravaine is betraying him purely because he knows that Merlin would not defy him unless the situation was grave. When he does treat him as a stupid manservant in A Herald of the New Age, it's clearly demonstrated as being out of character.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Uther.
  • Rivals Team Up: Arthur and Lancelot team up in order to defeat the Wildren (giant rats). Somewhat Subverted in that they don't realize that they're rivals until a few minutes later when Arthur notices Lancelot holding hands with Guinevere.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: The Wildren.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Gwen and Morgana, at first. Becomes Morgana and Morgause, though they're half-sisters.
  • Royal Brat: Both Arthur and Morgana have their moments...
  • Royally Screwed-Up: It's revealed in Series 3 that the Pendragon men have a history of mental illness, one which King Uther ultimately succumbs to after his illegitimate daughter betrays him and takes the throne.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Arthur commands Camelot's military forces in addition to being prince.
  • Rule of Funny: Why Merlin doesn't use magic while trying to kill Arthur in "A Servant of Two Masters".
  • Sadistic Choice: When Merlin claimed the the wine from a visiting king was poisoned, Uther calmly gave the cup to Merlin to drink. If it was poisoned, Merlin would die. If it wasn't poisoned, Merlin would be given to the infuriated visiting king to do whatever he wishes to Merlin.
    • In another episode, Merlin and Arthur were given two cups, one with poison. All the liquid in the two cups had to be consumed, and neither cup could be drunken from by more than one boy. They TookAThirdOption by combining the liquids into one cup, which was then definitely poisoned. Merlin would have drunken from it, but Arthur sacrificed himself.
    • Towards the end of Series 2, Merlin is given the choice of either allowing Camelot to be destroyed by some freaky enchantment placed on Morgana or personally trying to kill her. Ouch.
    • It looks like Gwen's headed for one in Series 3 Episode 7, where she must choose to save the life of either Arthur or her estranged brother Elyan. This is instantly nipped in the bud when she tells Arthur of the deal.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The show takes several, uh, liberties with traditional Arthurian legend. It also sometimes uses less familiar versions of the legend (preferring Monmouth to Mallory). Your Mileage May Vary.
    • Frankly they could remove all Arthurian references by changing the characters' names without damaging the series in the slightest - it's just that far from the conventional narrative.
    • By the end of the third series, the characters and their storylines are headed toward their familiar legendary roles.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Morgause, who waltzes into Camelot, kills five guards, enters the Great Hall, challenges Arthur to a duel which he accepts, then removes her helmet. Win.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Morgana telling Arthur where she's hidden Mordred.
  • Say My Name: We get a few between the boys, but none of them beats Arthur's holler of (say it with me now!) GUINEVEEEEEEEERE.
    • Very true, although Merlin's whole Arthur! Go faster! thing kind of has its own merits...
    • And the way Merlin pronounces Freya is quite lovely.
  • Scatting: In Series 2 Episode 9, after kissing Freya for the first time, Merlin can´t stop humming. While eating.
  • Schiff One-Liner/Wham! Line: Series 1 Episode 8.

Mordred: My name is Mordred.

  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them: Uther, ordering the use of magic if necessary to save Morgana.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: the goblin in "Goblin's Gold".
  • Secret Keeper: Outside Merlin's village, the only two people who know his secret (thus far) are Gaius and Lancelot.
    • For a long time, the only people who knew about Morgana's prophetic dreams were Gwen, Gaius and Merlin. That now includes Morgause, and possibly the men under her command.
      • Arthur and Gwen's secret love affair is swiftly becoming the worst-kept secret in Camelot. Merlin was pretty much in the know right from the start, followed by Gaius. Lancelot and Gwain were quick to catch on as well. As of the third series Morgana has figured it out, and looks all set to spill the beans to Morgause. Gwen's brother Elyan surely won't be far behind.
  • Secret Relationship: Arthur and Gwen, up until the end of Series 3.
  • Secret Test of Character: After Arthur had killed a unicorn, the keeper of the unicorns tested him on a few occasions, to see if he was pure-hearted. The first test was seeing if he would let a thief who was stealing food go, despite the rules. The second test was if he would forgive the thief, after he found out that the thief had stolen more than enough food. The third test was to see whether Arthur would sacrifice himself for Merlin, by taking the poison.
  • Seen It All: Nimueh.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Morgana turning against Camelot seems to be one of these. The Dragon warns Merlin about her turning evil, and as a result Merlin drives her away.
    • Merlin's attempts to prevent the potential future which he has seen in "The Crystal Cave" lead to this.
      • Morgana's schemes to break up Arthur and Gwen only cements their relationship.
    • Merlin tries to prevent Mordred from escaping the Camelot knights and pretty much cements the kid's hate.
      • Before this, the worst he did was to steal a stone. Yes, this is right : [[Value Dissonance|the protagonist assaulted an innocent child, and we are supposed to consider his vengeful look and promise to get revenge and his previous defense against Ax Crazy knights as the proof of an evil and grudge-holding nature]] !
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Merlin and Arthur.
    • Lancelot and Arthur.
    • Merlin and Gwaine.
      • Thus, it is no surprise that the Sensitive Guys (Merlin and Lancelot) get along perfectly, whilst the Manly Men (Arthur and Gwaine) do nothing but snark at each other.
  • Separated by the Wall: In Series 3 Episode 8, Merlin accidentally activates a trap and gets separated from Gwaine and Arthur by a falling stone door. Then the three of them press their heads against it trying to communicate but failing.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Elena, especially when that sidhe was removed from inside her.
    • Guinevere in the dream sequence of her coronation. Wowza. And in her actual coronation.
  • Shipper on Deck: Gaius, apparently... at least if his little chat with Gwen in "The Last Dragonlord" is anything to go by. Merlin also actively encourages Gwen/Arthur. In early series one Gwen of all people seemed to be encouraging Arthur/Morgana.
  • Ship Tease: Arthur/Gwen, Gwen/Merlin, Merlin/Arthur, Morgana/Merlin, Gwen/Morgana, Arthur/Morgana, Arthur/Lancelot, Merlin/Lancelot: pretty much any way you want to pair things, so far.
    • A lot of the reason the show has such a harmonious fandom is that there is subtext for every possible ship. Even the incestuous and huge-age-differenced ones. And the show knows this. Many, many fans simply ship the main four characters (Merlin, Arthur, Gwen and Morgana) as "one big OT4 orgy".
    • The trailer for Series 4 contains a passionate kiss between Guinevere and Lancelot, a scene that ends with Arthur storming in on them and attacking Lancelot. Out of everything else featured in the trailer, it's this scene that is currently generating most of the debate in the fandom.
  • Shirtless Scene: As the series has progressed, it has become more and more apparent that Arthur is never going to be able to rule Camelot effectively if he really has quite such a debilitating allergy to clothing as the now practically mandatory per-episode use of the "and then Arthur gets naked" scene seems to imply. Not that this is in any way a bad thing...
    • Also, Gwaine. Thank you, gods of Fan Service!
      • Thus far, we have had Shirtless Scenes from Merlin, Arthur, Gwaine, Uther, Leon, and that random shape-shifting bad guy in "Gwaine". Yet to whip their shirts off are Lancelot, Elyan and Percival. Why yes, we are keeping careful track. Percival does walk about with his biceps on full display when the rest of the knights have sleeves on their hauberks, so it's surely only a matter of time.
    • In Series 4 Episode 7, Agravaine gets one, too.
  • Shout-Out: The ornamental Celtic mask that is on the cover of the Winter King can be seen on Arthur's table in the background in the first series finale.
    • Which is in turn oddly similar to the helmet from Sutton Hoo.
    • Several episodes are named after famous Arthurian texts: "Le Morte d'Arthur" is named after Sir Thomas Malory's compilation of Arthurian tales, "The Once and Future Queen" is a play on T.H. White's The Once and Future King, "The Coming of Arthur" is the first chapter/poem in Tennyson's Idylls of the King (as well as a chapter title in Roger Lancelyn Green's more contemporary retelling of the legend) and "The Wicked Day" is a quote from Malory's Le Morte Darthur, as well as the title of the fourth book in Mary Stewart's Merlin series.
    • The goblin giving Arthur donkey ears (and braying) reminds of Puck giving a donkey head to Bottom in A Midsummer Nights Dream. It is also similar to something that happened to King Midas of Classical Mythology and in the book Pinocchio.
    • In "His Father's Son", two armies meet on the battlefield and each send out a champion, one of which is much larger than the other. Sounds a lot like the story of David and Goliath in The Bible.
  • Shown Their Work: Merlin's magic incantations are Middle Welsh, written for the show by the Welsh department at Aberystwyth University, Wales.
  • Sibling Team: Morgana and Morgause.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Arthur and Morgana, naturally, but also Gwen and Elyan.
  • Silk Hiding Steel/Proper Lady: Arguably, Gwen: patient, gentle, devoted to her loved ones but doesn't hesitate to take up arms when Camelot or someone she cares for is in danger. Although she does not fill the housewife image that usually accompanies the trope, she considers her job as a servant a worthwhile one and makes this very plain to Arthur when he is dismissive of her.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Subverted in "A Herald of the New Age". The spirit of a druid boy killed during Uther's reign possesses Elyan and compels him to take revenge upon the king. Merlin assumes the spirit wants revenge against the deceased Uther and is targeting Arthur instead. When Arthur goes to make amends, he reveals that he actually led that particular raid when he was younger. Though he tried to spare the women and children, things got out of hand and he froze up instead of calling it off.
  • Slap Slap Kiss: So far, this seems to be set up between Arthur and Morgana.
    • And Arthur and Merlin...
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: A bit of an odd mix. Doing the right thing frequently makes everything worse, and the heroes often have to do morally ambiguous things to save the day. On the other hand, things like love, honour and justice are strongly present and presented as good things, and there is the constant hope that one day, when Arthur is King, those things will be what rules the land.
  • Smooch of Victory: A strange variant of this where Gwen had kissed Merlin, after he had woken up from the poison.
  • Smug Snake: Morgana.
  • So Happy Together: In "The Lady Of The Lake", Freya and Merlin are planning to leave Camelot that same night, they share a kiss, Merlin leaves with a big smile on his face... and then we find out Freya is going to escape without him to keep him from losing the good life he has. Ouch.
  • Something They Would Never Say: Subverted when Arthur offers up his right to the throne if Uther only spares Guinevere's life. Uther declares that this is something that Arthur would never say were he not under an enchantment - only Arthur isn't under a spell, and he does mean it.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": The man known to anyone who's ever taken an English literature course as Gawain is here called Gwaine for no particular reason. (Medieval literature was less concerned with spelling conventions, and his name is even spelled Wowan at one point in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but Gawaine isn't an overly utilized spelling.)
    • Likewise, the traditional spelling of Nimue, is here spelt with an h: Nimueh.
  • Spit Take: In Series 3 Episode 4, Merlin does one after Gaius says "You must remember that not all masters are as good to their servants as Arthur."
  • Squishy Wizard:
    • Merlin can defeat an entire raiding party with one spell, but he absolutely sucks in a sword fight.
      • Unless, of course, he has a sword that makes people explode!
    • Averted with Morgana and Morgause, both of whom are skilled with the sword, though Morgana's magic isn't quite as strong. Both are even able to defeat Arthur in fair fight (Morgause does so on screen, while Morgana at least clamis that she can).
  • Spot of Tea: Merlin and Gaius drink it often; when Merlin comforts Gwen in "The Castle of Fyrien", he brings her a cup of tea.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Gwen and Lancelot. Also pretty much everyone else, eventually, I expect.
  • The Starscream: Morgana beginning in Series 3 becomes this to Uther.
  • Status Quo Is God: Oh so very much. Whenever anything looks like it's going to change, the writers just hit the old Reset Button.
    • Although a bit less these days.
    • Averted in Series 4. Gwen and Arthur ship de-anchors, Arthur starts asking Merlin for advice, Uther dies and Arthur finally becomes King of Camelot, we've seen the first step towards lifting the ban on magic (Arthur ending the persecution of the druids), Anyone Can Die, and Guinevere gets banished from Camelot for cheating on Arthur on the eve of their wedding and doesn't return until the end of the season.
  • Stealth Pun: Uther has a penned dragon, the smith is black.
    • Gwen's even-darker-skinned brother is named Elyan. As in, the Arthurian character Elyan the White?
  • Stock Punishment: Merlin, a lot in series one. It was used as a Running Gag in "The Gates of Avalon".
  • Stripperiffic: The bizarrely slashed up dress aside, just take a look at those platform heel sandals of Nimueh's that lace up to her knees...
  • Subordinate Excuse: Despite Arthur's claims that Merlin is the worst servant he's ever has, there's no real indication that he's willing to replace him with someone else...
  • Succession Crisis: In Series 3 Episode 5, this is implied to be a consequence of the revelation that Uther is father of both Arthur and Morgana, making both of them potential heirs to the throne. In fact, Merlin has a potential future vision of Morgana as queen. It comes true in Series 3 Episode 12, when she temporarily overthrows Uther and appoints herself queen.
    • It's ironic because both Morgause, Morgana and it appears Agravaine as well seem to be under the impression that an unacknowledged, unmarried bastard daughter could actually take the throne legitimately. Morgana also seems a bit pissed that Uther never acknowledged her, not seeming to realise that declaring her his bastard child would take her massively far down in status as opposed to making her a princess.
      • Morgause and Morgana simpy plan to kill Arthur, because they think that, with only one child left, Uther would "no" choice but no make Morgana his crowned heir: after all, we are shown that it's not a simple matter of lineage, as Arthar has to be made official heir, that "legitimacy" is taken away later in the two-parter episode and Catrina becomes in turn the designated heir; in addition, Uther reminds Arthur that he personally had to win his kingdom, not inherit it, and thus puts Arthur though quite a few ordeals and trials to judge if his son is ready to become king.
        • On the other hand and for added Fridge Logic, if Arthur died and Uther made Morgana his heir, the king would probably not even need to officially recognise her as his daughter, as the fact she's been his ward for half her life, that she's had first row seat to how to rule a kingdom, and that he dearly loved her would easily explain it to the whole kingdom. So, really, the whole "she's actually his daughter" is not really useful in terms of usurping the throne; it's far more useful to show Uther as an hypocrite, Morgana's sliding deeper into evil, and complicating the whole Morgana issue for Arthur.
  • Suddenly-Suitable Suitor: Averted. One would have thought that Arthur knighting Elyan would have sufficiently elevated Guinevere's status to a level that, if still not entirely acceptable, would not create quite as much of a stir should Arthur wish to marry her. However, this loophole seems not to have occured to anyone, and despite Elyan's presence within the inner circle of Arthur's most trusted knights, Gwen is still working as a servant (albeit to the king).
    • Although now she isn't a servant anymore.
  • Suicide Mission: In "The Coming of Arthur - Part 2", taking Camelot back from Morgause, Morgana and an army of immortal soldiers, with nine people.
  • Super Strength: Percival appears to have this.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Between Merlin and Morgana, back in series one when she tells him that she "knows his secret". Wrong secret, dear.
  • Swiss Cheese Security: It is surprisingly easy to break into and out of, not only the castle itself, but also the dungeons, Arthur's room, the throne room, Gaius's room, and any guest room.
  • Sword and Sorcery: Merlin and Arthur. Although Arthur doesn't know it.
  • Sword Over Head: Lancelot does this when fighting to the death in a cage match.
  • Table Space: The increasing estrangement between Uther and Morgana is often symbolised by the two of them sitting at opposite ends of a long table. When the family unit is more cohesive, they sit together down one end.
  • Take Care of the Kids: When Morgana's father Gorlois died, he extracted a promise from Uther that she would be taken care of. This is revealed to be a Subversion later in the series when we learn that Morgana is actually Uther's biological daughter.
    • The trope is also Invoked between Arthur and Guinevere: on two separate occasions they ask Merlin to take care of the other one on finding themselves in grave danger.
  • Take Me Instead!: In "Le Morte d'Arthur", Arthur is bitten by a Questing Beast. This leads to Merlin negotiating his life for Arthur's, only to discover that his mother Hunith becomes grievously ill instead. Anticipating Merlin's sacrifice, Gaius goes to barter his life for Hunith's, only for Merlin to offer up his own instead. The whole thing is resolved when Nimueh is struck by lightning, thus maintaining the balance of life and death.
  • Take Over the City: Morgana and Morgause in "The Coming of Arthur" two-parter and again the end of Series 4.
  • Tap on the Head: Arthur gets knocked out from one almost Once Per Episode.
    • And in a deleted scene from Series 3 Episode 4, Gwaine uses a jug to knock a knight out.
  • Teens Are Short: Averted. Merlin is taller than almost the entire cast.
  • Tempting Fate: Arthur in Series 3 Episode 12.

Arthur: Who knows? Maybe just this once, we'll have no trouble.

  • Ten-Minute Retirement: It clocks in at about five minutes when Gaius leaves in Series 1 Episode 6 after his place as court physician is usurped by a younger man who naturally turns out to be evil.
  • Terrible Trio: Morgana, Helios and Agravaine.
  • There Are No Rules: The melee in "The Sorcerer's Shadow".
  • The Un-Reveal: So, so many times. The teaser for the next episodes sets up Arthur finding out that Merlin is a warlock every other episode, and yet... nothing.
  • There Is Another: Dragons, with the birth of Aithusa.
  • They Do: Arthur and Gwen.
  • This Is Sparta: "Lancelot du Lac" has the scene where Arthur is rather calmly confronting Gwen after catching her kissing Lancelot the night before their wedding, coldly trying to supply reasons for why she did it. When she fails to come up with a rational, coherent answer, he just snaps:

Arthur: Then forgive me! Because I must be really stupid! WHAT! WERE YOU DOING!!!

  • Threshold Guardians: The Callieach, the gatekeeper of the spirit world.
  • Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Literally, in several episodes.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Arthur in "The Poisoned Chalice", and again in "The Moment of Truth", although the second time he might have missed as all he hit was a post next to the man with the axe.
  • The Chosen Zero: Merlin's immediate reaction to being told that Arthur is the destined King who will save the land is "There must be another Arthur, because this one's an idiot!"
  • The Mole: Agravaine. And previously, Morgana to a point.
  • Time Master: Merlin is occasionally shown to be able to alter the flow of time at will.
  • Time Skip: Mosts seasons have been paced close a year apart, mostly in order to justify why Winter never comes to Camelot (because the series is filmed in Spring/Summer in Real Life). It's justified since the major plot elements happen close to each other and things mostly slow down in-between these skips. More notably, though:
  • The Time of Myths: Straight from the narrator's mouth.
  • Title In: A curious Aversion in the episode "Excalibur". The famous sword is never named, and though many characters comment on its power, no one save the audience knows what it truly is.
  • Title Montage
  • Tomboy Princess: Elena.
  • Tonight Someone Kisses: The episode promos often show characters kissing, such as Arthur and Sophia in "The Gates of Avalon", Uther and Catrina in "Beauty and the Beast - Part 1", Merlin and Freya in "The Lady of the Lake", Arthur and Vivian in "Sweet Dreams", and Gwen and Arthur in both "Queen Of Hearts" and "The Coming of Arthur - Part 2".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Uther, to the point that you start to wonder how he and Arthur managed to stay alive until Merlin arrived.
  • Took a Level In Badass: Morgana in the third series, so much.
  • Torture Technician: Alator of the Catha, and the rest of the Catha. Morgana also uses a magical snake, the Nathair, to torture Elyan in Series 4 Episode 12. Afterwards, Gaius described him as "tortured to the limit of human endurance." Aredian fits this also.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Series 4 Episode 3 was (probably) a legitimately surprising twist for the series. Syfy proceeded to spoil that twist before ever airing the fourth season. It can't even be blamed on a random montage, either; they outright spell it out in case it wasn't obvious enough.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Arthur with the people from Merlin's home town.
  • Transformation Sequence: In Series 2 Episode 9, Freya suffers the Monstrous Transformation type: with pain, bulging muscles and ripping clothes.
  • Traitor Shot: Too many to count of Morgana in series three.
  • True Love's Kiss: In order to snap Arthur out of the spell where he was madly in love with Princess Vivian, Gwen had to kiss him.
  • The Un-Smile: Gaius, Series 2 Episode 12.
  • Undeath Always Ends: The undead armies from "The Tears of Uther Pendragon - Part 2", "The Coming of Arthur - Part 2", and the Dorocha from "The Darkest Hour - Part 1" and "The Darkest Hour - Part 2" end up being kicked back to death by the heroes. Also the Fisher King, but by his own choice.
  • Unicorn: Arthur shoots one which inadvertently leads to a Secret Test of Character.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Though not in the romantic sense (some fans may disagree), Will, a close friend of Merlin's, is this and he is seen jealous upset that Merlin would trust Arthur than him. In the end, he died, pretending that he had caused the twister to protect Merlin and acknowledging that Arthur would be a great king.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension:
    • Arthur/Morgana, with a whole series of build-up that went nowhere.
    • Arthur/Gwen, starting from Series 2 and building from there. It gets resolved in Series 4, despite a slight hiccup, when Gwen is made Queen.
    • Merlin/Morgana, although it's become slightly more difficult to resolve as they are now enemies.
  • Viking Funeral: Merlin gives Freya one of these in Series 2 Episode 9.
    • Lancelot's funeral in Series 4 Episode 9. Again, Merlin's task.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The only thing keeping Merlin from revealing Morgana's villainy in Series 3 is the fact that 1) she is the King's Ward and daughter and that 2) if the knowledge of him having poisoned her in the past were to be exposed, Merlin would be executed on the spot.
    • As of Series 4, Agravaine is this as well.
  • Violent Glaswegian: The Saxons, for some reason.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Again, Merlin and Arthur.
    • All the Knights of the Round Table would also qualify.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Replace "school" with "running around after Arthur" and this fits Merlin to a tee.
  • Warrior Prince: Arthur, of course.
  • Weak-Willed: Morgana.
  • Weapon Twirling: Whenever there are swords out, somebody twirls one at least once.
  • We Can Rule Together: Nimueh tries this on Merlin in "Le Morte d'Arthur". Does not work.
  • Wedding Deadline: Merlin just misses it in "Beauty and the Beast".
  • Weirdness Magnet/Doom Magnet: With all the stuff going on, one has to wonder if it's Merlin or just the whole of Camelot that's attracting it.
  • Welcome Episode: All of the key relationships of the show (sans Arthur/Gwen) are well established in Camelot when Merlin shows up in the first episode.
  • Welcome to the Big City: When Merlin arrives at Camelot, the first thing he sees is the execution of a man accused of sorcery.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: 99.9% of villains are sorcerers looking for revenge against Uther/Camelot.
    • And, perhaps, Uther himself.
      • As of Series 3, Morgana, though her obvious glee in causing havoc among her former friends pushes her into For the Lulz territory.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Employed rather well, since whilst we are initially led to believe that Arthur is simply a bit of a prat, it quickly becomes clear that more or less everything he does, he simply does in an attempt to impress or win the respect of the rather emotionally distant Uther. Subverted in more recent episodes, as Arthur's ideas on how best to govern Camelot become more clearly separate from his father's and he starts to assert himself more as future King.
  • Wham! Episode: Series 2 Episode 12, especially the ending. Holy crap.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: For a family show, Merlin has quite a surprising attitude concerning the use of deadly force by its heroes, one that can be partially explained by the time-period in which it's set, but is still quite an eye-opener for new viewers. For instance, with three exceptions (Valiant, Kanen and the griffin) all of Series 1's Monsters of the Week are either trying to save a loved one's life (Aulfic is trying to secure his daughter's immortality, albeit with the blood of an innocent) or seeking vengeance over the death of a loved one (Mary Collins, Edwin Muirden, Tristan, Nimueh). Merlin kills them all off with no qualms whatsover. Arthur kills Valiant and Kanen; though both times are in self-defence, it's clear that killing human beings doesn't keep Arthur up at night.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Gaius gives a pretty epic one to Uther when he is nearly put to death because a con-man framed him as a sorcerer, preying on Uther's overzealous fear of all things magical.
  • When He Smiles: Merlin has a goofy grin that is both adorable and quite beautiful at the same
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: In Series 2 Episode 9, Freya starts transforming into the Bastet.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Fisher King in Episode 8, who has been waiting for someone to come so he can finally die.
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough...?: In Series 3 Episode 10, when Merlin suggests to invent a sorcerer to take the blame on Arthur being "enchanted", Gaius asks "And do you know a sorcerer stupid enough to get caught doing such a thing?". Cue Merlin´s obvious answer.
  • Window Love: Guinevere and Lancelot speak to each other through the grated window of Gwen's cell.
  • A Wizard Did It: When Merlin wonders how the gang of renegade sorcerers knew that a royal party led by Arthur was coming for them, Arthur is content to say, "They used magic or something." Admittedly, this trope is probably more justifiable in this show than elsewhere.
  • World of Badass AND World of Woobie: Yes, somehow every single character manages to be both.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Merlin has no qualms about maiming or killing female enemies with his magic (Nimeuh, Sophia, Mary Collins, Grunhilda, Morgause, Morgana).
    • Uther has gotten physically violent with both Morgana and Guinevere.
      • Ironically, it is Arthur who is the most gentle when it comes to women. He was squeamish about fighting Morgause in combat, and only kills Catrina when she's reverted back to troll-form. The one time he man-handles Gwen, he immediately backs off and apologizes.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Nimueh, Sophia, even Morgana at times.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Arthur is under the impression that he's the main character, that Merlin is just his Sidekick, and that most of the Monsters of the Week are dispatched by him or his knights. He also remains completely unaware that long before Guinevere was his Love Interest, she had a crush on Merlin and even kissed him once.
  • Xanatos Gambit: King Alined attempts one in "Sweet Dreams". To disrupt peace talks, Alined magically forces Arthur to fall in love with Lady Vivian, which causes her overprotective father King Olaf to challenge him to a duel. Alined notes that if Arthur dies, Uther will start a war and if Olaf dies, his men will start a war. Merlin and Gaius can't say anything because if Uther finds out magic was used against his son, he will start a war. He even says "I can't lose!" However, his gambit fails when the spell is broken and Arthur spares Olaf's life.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: When she takes over Camelot, Morgana offers to give Gaius food if Gwaine provides entertainment by fighting. When he wins, she tosses him a paltry amount of food and has him fight two more guys for something substantial. Mind you, Gwaine is already starving at this point.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: Camelot is awfully cosmopolitan and clean for the Middle Ages.
  • You Are Not Alone: An unusual villainous example when Alvar says this to Morgana. He's doing it to manipulate her.
    • In a heartwarming moment, Merlin says this to Freya.
    • Later, Merlin says this to Arthur after Uther dies.
  • You Are Too Late: Merlin in "Le Morte d'Arthur". Except, not. Sort of. Almost. In a way.
    • And then again in "Beauty and the Beast - Part 2".
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Morgause to Cenred in such a classic example of this trope that it's a wonder he didn't see it coming.
  • You Have to Believe Me: This is Merlin's usual tactic. He never has any proof, because obviously A Wizard Did It, and so it never works. You'd think he'd learn after a few tries.
  • You Just Showed Me: In the first episode, Gaius tips over a water pitcher in order to force Merlin to instinctively reveal his magic powers by freezing it in midair.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: In Series 3 Episode 13, Gwaine says this to Merlin, who has just seen Freya in the water from the lake of Avalon.
  • You Must Be Cold: Merlin to Freya in "The Lady of the Lake", twice.
  • Younger and Hipper: In this series, Merlin is a young man about the same age as Arthur, not an old man with a beard.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Morgana and Agravaine's plan in Series 4 Episode 9 was designed to cast Gwen in this light. and it works.