It’s baaccckkkk!! The months between new episodes of Merlin seem to long, but now we have new episodes for the next 13 weeks. That’s a whole quarter of the year!

Of course I already saw the first episode at the Merlin season 4 premier at the BFI Southbank, but the actual television broadcast is still an exciting time. I wish that I could watch every episode of Merlin on a cinema screen. My tiny tv with it’s terrible sound quality doesn’t do the series justice.

The end of series 3 left me wondering what directions the show would take next. Would Uther still be a broken shell of a man or return to his tyrannical rule and undo everything Arthur did? Would Morgana still be out for revenge, or repent and want to return to Camelot? And what of the Arthur/Gwen/Lancelot love triangle? Would that ever really go anywhere or would the writers continue to just touch upon it then forget Lancelot ever existed?

Uther’s appearance was only brief, yet it packed the necessary punch. It even makes you feel a little sorry for Uther, despite the fact he’s a complete bastard who really got what was coming to him. Anthony Head was fantastic as usual and made the most of the two puny lines he got. Did anyone else cry when Arthur kissed him?

And as for Gwen and Lancelot, it’s clear that something’s going on there! I adored the scene where Gwen asked Lancelot to protect Arthur. In pure Arthurian tradition, he did the chivalrous thing and agreed to do anything for the woman he loved, even protect the man she chose over him. I think Angel Coulby’s longer hair and blue dress are very pretty, by the way. I hope someone cosplays in that outfit.

One thing I noticed though – Has Gwen forgotten she has a brother? Elyan didn’t seem to notice when his sister was being burnt at the stake, and in return Gwen didn’t see her brother off or tell him to be careful or anything. My sister thinks it’s because Elyan survived on his own for years, while Arthur has a habit of being knocked out or almost killed very easily.

So even though right now things are going as most of us probably predicted, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Morgana’s vision kind of hinted at my theory that she’ll come to regret what she’s done. Pretty much everything she’s done up to this point has come from others forcing her to do things or manipulating her.

Speaking of Katie McGrath, it’s great to see how her acting skills have improved so much since the show began. She was cast only a few months after deciding to become an actress (not that I’m jealous or anything…) so in the early seasons, it’s clear that she hasn’t had the same extensive experience and training as the rest of the cast. Now she takes her rightful place as The Queen of the Evil Smirk.

But the real highlight of the season is that The Knights of the Round Table are back!! At least I hope they’ve evolved from red shirt/guest star status. They’ve been popular since the end of the last series and I’m so glad the writers have stuck with them. I like how they’re all really good buddies now too. Maybe they’ll have their own sitcom on E4. Gwaine has even turned Percival from a nice, sweet guy to a prankster. They even seem ok with the fact that Arthur and Merlin spend every journey doing their flirty name-calling routine.

The only downside with having all the knights on camera at once is that they only get a few lines each per episode, when we’re used to them getting a whole episode devoted to their character.

But at least Percival, who only got a brief intro in season 3, had his crowning moment of awesome. The scene where he saved the children got the biggest applause of the evening at the BFI screening. I also appreciate the fact that he is allowed to wear non-regulation armour to show off his arms…

It’s also particularly heart-warming to see Arthur’s character development shining through so clearly. Yes, he’s been willing to sacrifice himself for another before, but I’m talking his regular personality and the way he interacts with others. His teasing of Merlin is more in the ‘we’re best friends but not going to admit it’ way. You just want to shake these two and shout ‘admit you’re best friends already! You don’t have to hide it anymore!’ When he meets the girl from the village that was attacked, he instantly recognises that she’s distressed and talks to her kindly, even introducing himself with his first name. Bradley James even looks more grown up and mature than he did before!

We also have a new baddie, Arthur’s uncle Agravaine who has conveniently never been seen or mentioned up until this point. If you’re an obsessive fan like me then you probably already knew that he was coming. But the way he was introduced seemed like it would’ve confused casual viewers and those who avoid spoilers. Some random guy shows up at the meetings and then Arthur is giving him permission to become King. A bit of explanation please?!

At least Nathanial Parker makes a great secret bad guy (Arthur really should do background checks, shouldn’t he?). Strange thing is, in real life he’s one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. When I was watching the filming in Pierrefonds, he complimented Katie on her performance and someone else saw him helping a crew member carry in a huge cart of heavy equipment. Awh, what a nice evil uncle!!

A big improvement in this episode, in comparison to previous season premieres, is that it does a much better job of laying the foundations for the entire season. Possibly even for the next two seasons, as series 5 has already been commissioned (and the fandom did rejoice). This could potentially solve one of the main criticisms that Merlin gets – That the episodes are too repetitive. That said, a whole episode building up to Merlin sacrificing his life for Arthur’s has kinda been done before.

The overall tone for this episode is also a big change. I spent half the BFI screening clutching my boyfriend in terror, and for the TV broadcast he insisted on turning the lights off! I know that in every interview they talk about how the next season is ‘even darker’ but this time they’ve ripped open a hole to the fricking underworld!! And I think everyone who was at the BFI screening now has a fear of chickens!

The way they ‘killed’ Merlin in the climax was really brutal, even for this show! We’ve seen him hurt and come close to death before, but he was picked up, thrown across the room into a stone wall and turned to ice. What the hell, writers?!

But don’t worry, the light-hearted cheesiness we know and love hasn’t gone away completely, and neither have Colin Morgan’s cheekbones!

The producers say that they aim to make every episode like a mini movie, and it is really starting to show. Backgrounds that you’d expect to see in Lord of the Rings, jump scares straight out of a horror film and the wonderful otherworldly cinematography. And of course, Katie McGrath’s legendary dresses!! She is set to become a fashion icon among goths.

So despite a few flaws in the writing, a slightly repetitive plot line and a few characters not getting much screen time, I loved this episode. I can tell I’ll be watching it over and over again without getting bored. It was a bold move concentrating on the supernatural horror tone, but I really enjoyed it. It’s like something you already love being given an extra ingredient to make it even better. It’s been weeks since the BFI preview, so now I’m really anxious to see how Merlin will survive!

Top 5 moments:
1.Gwaine scaring the shit out of everyone by biting into an apple with a loud crunch.
2.Morgana’s forshadowing vision, with cameos from Excalibur and Old Merlin.
3.Gwaine and Percival getting up to mischief.
4.Arthur saying goodbye to his Father, possibly forever.
5.Percival’s epic saving children moment.

Cloud verdict – 9/10.

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