(Note, this review will likely only make sense if you have already seen The Darkest Hour part 2. Otherwise it will be nonsensical blabbering. Read an episode synopsis here – http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/s53/merlin/recaps/a344256/merlin-the-darkest-hour-part-two-recap.html
Also there is a lot of slash squeeing. You have been warned.)

Payoff is a wonderful thing. After last year’s advance screening I waited weeks for a new adventure and was rewarded with Goblin’s Gold. Ok so I’ve softened to it a little over time but at the time I despised it.

But this time, a great exciting adventure that you’d expect from this show!

So it turned out that Merlin was not quite dead. The writers wrote in some adorable shivery dying just for an excuse for Colin Morgan to look cute. That and he’s the main character, so he is immune to things that would kill most people.

Arthur and Lancelot fight over who gets to take their beloved Merlin back to Camelot and Lancelot wins. The others are also clearly worried, and Percival gets the added bonus of carrying Merlin’s unconscious body in his arms in the single slashiest shot ever.

Up until now, I felt that the producers were very annoyed by their massive and unintended slash fan base. But now, after years of trying to convince us that Merlin and Arthur are straight, it seems they’ve finally thrown their hands in the air and said ‘All right slashers, you win. You can have your overblown gay subtext as long as you keep buying our DVD’s and merchandise.’

This episode was full of slash candy! I’m not even talking subtle stuff that can only been seen with slash goggles. Percival falls on top of Gwaine, just like they do in rom coms when they want a forced romantic moment. My boyfriend almost had to sedate me during that scene.

I don’t get why Merlin couldn’t ride with Lancelot on his pretty white horse. He’d be less likely to fall off, and riding in the way he did would really hurt!

See right there? A perfectly good horse!!

The appearance of the water spirits, who I like to call The Bubble Fairies, was very cool. I like stuff like that, which gives the show a nice mystical edge. It was a nice change seeing it happen to someone other than Merlin, and a secondary character to boot. Not only did Lancelot get to meet the spirits, but the Dragon as well! It was a bit mean of Kilgharrah not to at least offer them a lift though. How was he supposed to know that they already had horses?

Even the Dragon has had a bit of character development. He used to boss Merlin around, demand this and that of him and get steaming mad when Merlin didn’t do what he said. Maybe being out free in the wild for a while has made him less cranky.

Meanwhile, the others are still heading to The Isle of the Blessed, which in this context is probably the most unsuitable name for an island ever. The writers seemed to forget that in season 1, Merlin and Gaius made it there in about a day or so (haven’t seen that episode in a while, but they couldn’t have taken as long as this to get there). Yet Arthur and his Merry Men are so lost that they have to go through the Wylderin caves! It’s no wander Gwen had to ask Lancelot to keep an eye on him…

There was an awesome moment for Sir Leon. He really has progressed from ‘sorry I can’t kill you with my lance sire’ to having a proper character and personality. I imagine that he and Arthur used to be just head knight and second in command. But Arthur has grown so much that the Knights are really his friends who he can confide in. Maybe the friendship of the group helped Leon in the same way. Well, that’s what happens in my mind anyway.

In case you didn’t guess by now, Gwaine is the comic relief. So much so that they blew the special effects budget on some Wylderin just so he could look silly. The others are very quick to laugh off his behaviour, even when he’s being attacked by a swarm of fucking bees!
“Oh that Gwaine, he’s always getting into trouble!”
“Um guys, I’m kind of in tremendous pain here…”

I was happy that we got to finally see Agravaine getting up to his evils. He’s a very different sort of villain, incredibly subtle. He knew that fighting back against Gwen’s protest would be futile, yet it doesn’t seem to stop him. The way he ever so slightly stroked Gwen’s hair – It gave me shivers! Already I strongly approve of this villain, and I think Nathanial Parker is very talented. The only potential risk is that his storyline will be a direct clone of Morgana’s – that Arthur will spend the entire season completely clueless of the enemy in his courtroom. It’s actually very frustrating that Arthur, who I usually love in every way, is so mind numbingly stupid that he doesn’t notice these things and didn’t learn his lesson last time.

Morgana has magical villain transportation powers and sneaks into Camelot to try and kill Gwen!! Another interesting turn around for this show. Morgana and Gwen used to be such great and loyal friends, and people really liked the close bond and interaction between them.

Yet in her hatred and lust for power, Morgana has instantly turned on Gwen. Once she wanted to murder Uther because he killed Gwen’s father, now she thinks nothing of murdering sweet innocent Gwen! Or does she? She didn’t exactly do a good job of killing her. She could have just as easily offed Gaius too, so was she holding back because of him, or because she subconsciously still cares for Gwen? I’m just throwing some theories out there.

The scene of Lancelot and Merlin returning to the others (magical protagonist transportation powers? Or is Arthur really just that bad at following directions?) was unnecessarily overblown, and yet it somehow that’s what made it work so well! The big group hug was so cute, and the exchange between Merlin and Arthur – Just cuddle already! You know you want to!!

Somehow it just fascinates me to see characters in places that they’re not supposed to be. Like Lancelot meeting the spirits and then the dragon, and the knights at the Isle of the Blessed. I have so far associated that place as being part of the magic world which Arthur doesn’t yet belong to.

Pretty major plot hole though – When Merlin is using his Dragonlord powers he tends to be pretty damn loud. How the flying fuck did the guys not notice him using them right in front of them?! Not that it matters though, because it didn’t seem to work that well. Just leave the less important members of the gang to deal with it while the important people go off to be all heroic. They’ll probably die horribly painful deaths, but at least we’ll save a little time.

They finally reach the rift which looks nothing at all like a Skygina. Arthur is about to do his cliché sacrificing himself for the sake of Camelot thing, but Merlin prevents him from repeating himself again by knocking him unconscious in the name of love. When you think about it, it’s actually a bit mean that he spend so bloody long getting there and didn’t even get to do anything!

And then…Wait Lancelot, what are you doing? What are…Wait…No! No you can’t do this, you’re too beautiful to die! Noooooooo!!

That’s the main strength of this episode, the twist ending totally caught me by surprise and now has me and the rest of the fans in floods of tears. Just as we had settled safely into the knowledge that all our favourite knights were going to be sticking around, this happens!

The funeral scene really confirms that Gwen is deeply in love with two different men. It’s really sweet when she and Arthur are holding hands, but the shot of her standing alone next to the pyre says a lot.

So in conclusion, a great way to start the series. Part 2 didn’t have the same spooky tone as part 1, but it doesn’t really matter since the usual setup is great too. The story was exciting and moving, we’ve got an interesting new villain and there was lots of Merlin being adorable.

The story could pretty much go anywhere from this point. The burning question is whether Lancelot is gone for good. The cast pretty much confirmed themselves that no one in Merlin is truly dead for good. Does this mean we’ll get to see our chivalrous hero once again?

Apart from a few errors and plot holes, which I’ve pretty much come to expect from this show anyway, the only thing I have a major complaint about is Gwaine being demoted to bumbling sidekick. Gwaine is awesome and yes he is supposed to be comedic, but not in a way that makes him look like a twat all the time. As I said before, the whole sacrifice storyline has been done before, but the twist ending saved it.

There was a much better balance of each character getting some screen time (with the exception of Uther, but it seems he might be doing something next week). Now that the cast has ballooned so much, it’s going to be touch for the writers to distribute the lines evenly. They also have to be careful not to get repetitive. Time will tell whether or not they succeed.

Top 5 moments
1. Lancelot’s heroic sacrifice.
2. Merlin being welcomed back into the gang.
3. Percival and Gwaine’s epicly slashy moment.
4. The appearence of the mystical water spirits.
5. Gwen bravely standing up to Agravaine.

Cloud verdict – 9/10.

Next time – Arthur has a fun birthday, Uther does things and Great Dragoon is back!!