Le Morte d'Arthur is the thirteenth and final episode in the first series of Merlin, which was first broadcast on the 13th of December, 2008. It marked the final appearance of Nimueh, concluding the arc that had passed through the series. The title was taken from that of Le Morte D'arthur, a fifteenth century compilation of Arthurian tales, written by Thomas Malory.
When on a hunt, Arthur encounters a huge monstrous creature he has never seen before. Gaius realises it is a Questing Beast, a creature conjured from the nightmares of a long-dead king. The bite of the Questing Beast is always fatal. When Arthur faces the creature again, it is vanquished, but Arthur is bitten and his life hangs in the balance. Trying to find how to save Arthur's life, Merlin is told by the Great Dragon to seek the Isle of the Blessed, where members of the Old Religion have the power to save the future king. However, there is a price to pay. For a life to be saved, another life must be forfeited.
While out hunting with the knights, Merlin and Prince Arthur are attacked by a giant, scaled creature with the body of a leopard and the head of a cobra. The terrified group runs and in a panic, Merlin trips and is almost killed. Luckily, Arthur saves him and they manage to escape (however, one knight, Sir Bedivere, is killed by the beast).
Back at Camelot, Gaius informs them the monster is most likely a Questing Beast which, according to ancient lore, appears before a time of great upheaval. Uther brushes off the warning and orders the beast to be hunted down. Gaius pleads with Uther not to take the creature's appearance lightly, stating it last appeared on the night Ygraine passed away. At the mention of this, Uther quickly becomes angry and warns Gaius to never speak of that night again. Later on, as Merlin packs to join Arthur kill the beast, Gaius warns him about the dangers of the Questing Beast: one bite from the creature is instantly fatal and there is no cure. That night, Morgana awakens from a horrible prophetic dream of Arthur's death at the hands of the monster. Gwen attempts to soothe her until dawn without success. Distraught, Morgana runs outside barefoot as the hunting party prepares to leave. She begs Arthur not to face the Questing Beast and though he tries to calm her down, Morgana becomes more hysterical. Merlin escorts a hesitant Morgana back into the castle, promising to keep Arthur safe. He then joins Arthur, leaving Morgana in her room in a catatonic state under the watch of a guard.
The group trace the Questing Beast to a cave and split up to explore the many tunnels within the cave. In their tunnel, Arthur and Merlin are cornered by the monster and it lunges for Merlin, who is closer.
Arthur grabs him and pulls him out of harm's way, but is knocked out by the beast as it attacks him. Merlin uses magic to animate Arthur's sword, engulfing it in blue flames. He then telekinetically hurls the sword at the monster, killing it. He rushes to the unconscious Arthur, discovering he was bitten during the attack. A horrified Merlin and the knights quickly take the injured prince back to Camelot.
Gaius says Arthur will die and no magic can save him. A desperate Merlin visits the Great Dragon and swears he will do anything to save Arthur's life. Uther carries Arthur to the prince's chamber, collapsing in despair in the middle of the courtyard until a group of knights gather to hide the grief-stricken king from the public eye. They help Uther bear Arthur to his chamber The Great Dragon says the Questing Beast was produced from the "old religion", which is "the magic of the earth itself". Merlin must go to a place called the "Isle of the Blessed", where he will find a way to save Arthur - and is warned whatever the cost, Arthur cannot die.
Merlin tells Gaius what the Dragon told him about the Isle of the Blessed. Gaius cautions because the Questing Beast chose Arthur, this means the Old Religion has decided Arthur must die, and if Merlin tries to change this, another life will be demanded in return. Merlin's mind is made up; he is willing to give his life in exchange for Arthur's. The next morning Merlin leaves for the Isle of the Blessed after asking Gaius to keep Arthur alive in the meantime. Arthur seems to sense Merlin is in imminent danger, and becomes very agitated in his sleep, similar to Merlin in the The Poisoned Chalice, again suggesting a magical link between them. Gwen relieves Gaius from his watch at Arthur's bedside. She tells Arthur he can't die because she knows he is destined to be a great and wise king who will bring true peace to Camelot.
At the Isle of the Blessed, Merlin confronts Nimueh. He does not believe the Great Dragon would have sent him to her but she says she would not have tried to kill Merlin had she known his importance and asserts as she did before it is not Arthur's fate to die at her hand. She produces a magical cup blessed by the Old Religion; water from the cup must be brought to Arthur and he will be revived, but there must be a death in exchange. Merlin promises to give his own life for Arthur's, and fills the cup with rain from the sky. He brings the water back to Camelot and Gaius wants to know who will die so Arthur may live, but Merlin does not answer.
Gaius gives Arthur the water from the cup. As he and Merlin leave, Merlin is intercepted by a trance-like Morgana, who says "this is only the beginning." Later, Arthur awakes and Uther informs the court that their prince will live. As Gwen changes linens in Arthur's room, he says he heard her talking to him when he was unconscious. She becomes embarrassed and pretends not to remember what she said, though Arthur teases her and tries to get her to say it again. Come morning, Merlin is surprised to find himself alive only to find his mother (Hunith) dying on Gaius's floor - Nimueh has taken her life rather than Merlin's. He visits the Great Dragon and angrily accuses the Dragon of sending him to "murder" his own mother.
The Dragon tells him his destiny is to protect Arthur until Arthur becomes king, at which point magic will be restored to Camelot and the Dragon will be free. Merlin resolves to ensure the Dragon is never released; outraged, the Dragon tries to attack Merlin. Merlin tells the Dragon "you won't see me again".
Hunith is close to death and Merlin decides to return to the Isle of the Blessed and restore her life by giving his in exchange. He visits Arthur and tries to say goodbye, promising to be Arthur's servant "until the day I die" also telling him he believes one day, Arthur will be a great king, Arthur is puzzled but touched by this declaration. Merlin returns to Gaius' and finds his mother alone as Gaius has gone on an errand. Merlin tells his mother he will make her well again. The next morning Merlin prepares to set off back to the Isle of the Blessed, but notices that Gaius has not returned. He finds a letter from him downstairs. In the letter, Gaius writes he has gone to the Isle of the Blessed in Merlin's place, as he is old and he does not believe his life held much purpose. He advises Merlin will one day be the greatest wizard of all time if he follows Gaius's advice to be cautious with magic and concludes Merlin has been like the son he never had. Horrified, Merlin immediately sets out after Gaius.
At the Isle of the Blessed, Nimueh expresses disbelief Gaius would sacrifice himself for Merlin. She calls him a traitor who did nothing to stop Uther expelling sorcery from Camelot. He explains his belief Merlin is the only one who can return magic to the kingdom and will, with Arthur, make a better world. Merlin arrives just as Gaius has died.
Merlin angrily shouts, saying he bargained his life for Arthur's, not Hunith, Gaius or anyone else. Nimueh says the Old Religion does not care who lives or dies, only the natural balance of life and death is restored; however, Merlin retorts the choice is not that of the Old Religion, but rather of Nimueh abusing her power. Nimueh asks Merlin to join her as together they will be invincible but Merlin refuses to unite with such evil magic.
They engage in a magical battle; Nimueh emerges victorious, having seemingly killed Merlin, and sadly muses that together they could have ruled the world. However, Merlin, merely injured, rises and emphatically tells Nimueh: "You should not have killed my friend!" She is struck by lightning summoned by Merlin, and dies. Gaius awakens because Nimueh's death has compensated for his own. In Camelot, the Great Dragon rages against Merlin as Morgana wakes panic-stricken from another dream.
- Colin Morgan as Merlin
- Bradley James as Arthur Pendragon
- Richard Wilson as Gaius
- Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon
- Angel Coulby as Gwen
- Katie McGrath as Morgana
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Release & Reception
- Air date : 13 December 2008
- 6.27 million viewers.
- Le Morte d'Arthur premiered on Syfy UK at 7pm on September 14th 2017, immediately followed by The Curse of Cornelius Sigan.
- A rerun of this episode was shown on the CBBC Channel on the 8th October, 2011, the same day as the second episode of the Series 4, The Darkest Hour: Part Two.
Behind the Scenes
- Portchester Castle serves as the location for the final duel between Merlin and Nimueh.
- When Merlin summons the lightning to kill Nimueh, his eyes don't change colour. This may have been a continuity error or Merlin may be able to perform magic without his eyes changing colour.
- The episode marks the first appearance of the Cup of Life.
- The episode marks a confrontation between Gaius and Nimueh.
- It also marks Merlin's second duel with a magic foe (Nimueh) after Edwin.
- The events leading to the release of the Great Dragon begin here.
- The altar that was shown in the middle of the stone ring on the Isle of the Blessed was used again in the episode The Sins of the Father in Morgause's castle.
- The Isle of the Blessed makes a second appearance and third in The Darkest Hour where Morgana, now as a High Priestess, sacrifices Morgause to open the Veil between worlds and cause Camelot's fall and when Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table journey there to close the Veil. Interestingly, the area is larger and is inhabited by wyvern creatures in these later appearances.
- Queen Ygraine is mentioned in this episode.
- Along with Cornelius Sigan and Morgause, Nimue is one of the few villains in the series to be more powerful than Merlin.
- The title of this episode, 'Le Morte d'Arthur' which translate into "The Death of Arthur" by also serve as a reference to Arthur's fate at Mordred's hand. The title also serves as a reference to Arthur's death in show's final episode 'Diamond of the Day: Part 2'.
- The title of the episode Le Morte d'Arthur is the title of one of the most famous works in Arthurian literature by Sir Thomas Malory. The title translates as "The Death of Arthur".
- This episode was originally supposed to be titled "The End Is Near".
- Characters: Nimueh, Hunith, Ygraine
- Locations: Isle of the Blessed
- Magic: Old Religion, Elemental Magic (Fire spell)
- Creatures: The Great Dragon, Questing Beast
- Objects: Cup of Life
- Events: The Great Purge
|The Dragon's Call • Valiant • The Mark of Nimueh • The Poisoned Chalice • Lancelot • A Remedy to Cure All Ills • The Gates of Avalon • The Beginning of the End • Excalibur • The Moment of Truth • The Labyrinth of Gedref • To Kill the King • Le Morte d'Arthur
Mini-episode: Merlin in Need