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Merlin 4x11 The Hunter's Heart
Gwen 1

Since this episode was basically all about Gwen, her intelligence and determination, her relationships with Merlin and Morgana, and medieval literature, I loved it.

And in the interest of actually getting these write-ups out (before the next series) with my current schedule, I’m going to confine this discussion to points I haven’t seen other people make.

Chase and capture. The opening sequence—beyond letting Angel Coulby demonstrate how much she can convey without a word—foreshadows her encounter with Morgana later in the episode.

In each instance, Gwen responds to danger by hiding and fleeing, and is cornered while running and thrown to the ground. Moreover, once captured, she is required to change her appearance; Helios dressing her in the harem girl outfit foreshadows Morgana reclothing her in the body of  a deer.

Each costume change, so to speak, highlights and increases her vulnerability. And each of her captors strips her of a link to the past—Helios makes her shed the red dress from her early days in Camelot, while Morgana forcibly tears Arthur’s ring from her neck. In each case, the momento Gwen loses is recognized by another character, which furthers the plot.

As Helios is preparing Gwen for seduction and Morgana for slaughter, these parallels implicitly connect sex and death, a link already present in the white hart legend. This fairy tale, which occurs in medieval romances features a hero who follows a white deer and shoots her; she is then revealed as a beautiful woman, who becomes his lover. It’s a version of the “animal wife” folktale motif, which occurs in cultures around the world.

(At least, this is what scholars speculate it was in its original form; the medieval versions are often vestigial, and the woman who appears after the deer has fled is often implied, but not confirmed, to be the same magical animal.)

Following the deer’s trail. In the Arthurian legends, the white hart is often combined with other plot elements to signal the beginning of an adventure. The knight-hero follows the deer (sometimes across a river or forest that might signal entering the Otherworld) and then meets a woman who might be the deer transformed, or otherwise begins an adventure.

Because the Arthurian woman-who-is-really-a-deer always occurs as the setup for further adventures, I took the creators’ use of the trope at the end of the episode here to indicate that this is only the beginning of Gwen and Arthur’s journey toward reunion. But a few specific Arthurian deer examples came to mind.

Chrétien de Troyes’ Erec et Enide, one of the most famous Arthurian romances, begins with Arthur re-instituting the hunt for the white stag over the advice of Gawain, who (correctly) warns that the custom—the hunter who kills the stag gets to kiss the most beautiful woman at court—will bring chaos as the knights fight over whose lady is most beautiful.

Meanwhile Guinevere and our hero, Erec, wait in another part of the forest, where the actual plot gets underway when an evil dwarf attacks the queen’s beloved maidservant. Adventures ensue, culminating with Erec meeting Enid, who solves the problem by being indisputable the most beautiful. Arthur kisses Enid before the court, Guinevere befriends her, Erec marries her, and the plot (involving their marriage problems) goes on.

The parallels here seem clear: Arthur’s idea (marriage to Mithian) is a bad one, made in spite of the advice of his best counselor (here Merlin); the hunt creates strife between Arthur and Mithian; and Gwen’s adventures elsewhere in the same wood, which ultimately dovetails with the hunt, are the more important story.

Even more relevent is Marie de France’s Guigemar. Though not technically Arthurian, the lai has become associated with the tradition through appearing in every manuscript & most printed versions with Lanval, which is about Arthur’s unfaithful, unnamed queen.

In Guigemar, the titular hero, famous for his inability to feel romantic love, hunts what can best be described as a genderqueer white deer—a hind who also antlers, accompanied by a young fawn. This combination of sex characteristics should warn him that the animal is supernatural, and hunting a nursing mother violates hunters’ ethics, but Guigemar stupidly persists.

When he shoots and wounds the animal, the arrow rebounds and wounds him in the groin, driving straight through his thigh into his horse. The dying deer then curses Guigemar never to be healed—unless by a woman who will suffer, out of love for him, pain and grief for him such as no one as felt before, and for whom Guigemar will suffer equally. (Spoiler alert: This is what happens.)

This is closely related to this episode. Arthur and Mithian hunt the deer, but in the process they are both metaphorically wounded, and their chance for love together dies. For Arthur, finding Gwen’s ring re-opens the pain of their breakup, and makes him unable to love another.

And Gwen has certainly (and will continue to) suffer more for Arthur than any woman has. Moreover, before they reunite, Arthur undergoes parallel pain and a comparable journey. Both lose themselves to a magical spell that makes them do things they would never do; both are forced against their will leave Camelot, losing not only their home but their thrones and proper roles; both suffer a severe loss of confidence; both are hunted and hounded; and both receive important help from others near the end. Finally, both of their travails are caused jointly by Morgana, who wants to destroy them, and Arthur, who unwittingly does all he can to help that aim.

But there similarities end. Gwen suffers disproportionately: Morgana’s mind-rape is several degrees worse than Merlin’s, and Gwen is much more isolated than Arthur, who has many more people helping him than Merlin and Hunith (and maybe Isold).

Moreover, unlike Arthur, whose banishes her and then refuses to listen to the warning Gwen suffers so much to bring, Gwen hasn’t done anything to create the situation in which she finds herself. She’s both innocent and without agency (in the strict sense of having the power to determine the course of the plot)—although she actively strives for to influence events, particularly in this episode.

Speaking of women who work very hard for an end they don’t achieve, let’s talk about Mithian, who also takes the Guigemar role. She’s the one who actually wounds the deer, and as an indirect result, she loses Arthur forever.

Perfect princess. Mithian falling for Arthur now is intended to demonstrate his growth as a character. Previous alternative matches for Arthur hated and planned to kill him (Sophia), disliked him until forcibly enspelled (Vivian), or felt nothing for him (Elena). Each character’s likability increases along with her tolerance for Arthur, and while the last three were foils for Gwen as his one true love, they were also progressive answers to a question posed early on: Who would want to marry Arthur?

In other words, Mithian’s sympathetic traits and sincere interest in Arthur are intended to signal to the audience that yes, Arthur actually has matured to the point that a beautiful, self-confident, charming woman would fall even love with him, even if when destiny isn’t making her do so. (Whether it actually works that way is up to the viewers.)

Likewise, Mithian’s many lovely traits point out Guinevere’s excellence, because as wonderful as she is, she’s isn’t the Once and Future Queen, and ultimately can’t compete with her. Gwen is no longer Arthur’s choice in the absence of credible alternatives—she’s the best of all possible choices, outstandingly resourceful and determined to save Camelot and Arthur, even when her exile has given her every reason to walk away.

Mithian is also the first noblewoman paired with Arthur who represents herself, rather than being presented via her relationship with her father. Her first appearance with an entourage of knights makes clear that she is the only authority among them, and their final conversation demonstrates that she has the power (and intelligence) to engage in political discussions for her kingdom. It’s delightful to see another woman with real power presented so positively.

And it’s a nice build on the sincere but skillful way she demonstrates her political chops in her handling of Merlin. Mithian not only identifies Merlin’s importance to Arthur, but has the wits to confront him directly, and figures out that the best way to reach him is to appeal to his affection for Arthur. She brings him around with a display of queenly diplomacy.

At the same time, as a foil to Gwen, Mithian is constantly presented as very much upper-class and Arthur’s social equal. Her costume, demeanor, comfort mixing personal and political aims, and above all her love of hunting all mark her as an aristocrat.

Going a-hunting. Hunting—and the fact that Arthur loves it and Merlin doesn’t—has been a recurring background since the show’s first series. Fans who transmute this dynamic into imagining Merlin as a vegetarian or animal rights activist have to ignore Merlin’s readiness to shed blood elsewhere, particularly in the early seasons; his eager consumption of meat at every opportunity and skill at cooking chicken; and the basis for his identification with the unicorn in “The Labyrinth of Gedref” as a creature of magic.

In fact, Merlin’s attitude toward hunting is first and foremost a class signal—one of show’s nods to late medieval and early modern English culture, in which hunting was the nobility’s favorite pasttime and a hated and despised symol of their abuses of power for everyone else.

A brief historical detour here: in Norman England, the nobility and particularly kings set aside large tracts of land—which could have fed many peasants—as personal hunting preserves. They also brutally punished as poachers peasants who dared hunt small game in these lands, often by losing hands, ears, noses, and the like. Such penalties were a public reminder of who held power, enacted on the bodies of those who did not.

At its most benign, this meant that peasants saw the backbreaking labor of agriculture as real work, and hunting as a frivolous pasttime. More often, noble hunting was their greatest symbol of class oppression, and it is hard to understate the depths of hatred the lower classes felt for those who participated in it. Signs of it crop up the early Robin Hood legends (in which the lower classes lay claim to the forest) and much more tragically in the history of my own country.

(Suffice to say that middle-class English colonists in what is now the Northeastern US were incapable of seeing the Algonquian-speaking peoples here, who had no domesticated meat sources and relied on hunting for protein, in anything other than very old stereotypes. Their settlers’ intense anti-hunting bias led first to misunderstandings, then stereotypes, then was marshalled in the service of what became genocide on the large scale. The oppressed becoming oppressors is not a new phenomenon.)

So generally Merlin doesn’t despise hunting because it involves killing animals, but because it is a leisure activity for nobles that underscores that they don’t need to prepare their own food, and can treat it as a game.

Moreover, Merlin’s scene with Mithian here emphasizes that what he dislikes about hunting is the power differential. His words (“What sport is it where one side has dogs and spears and crossbows and the other nothing?”) can be taken in multiple ways, but better reflect the class tensions I’ve mentioned here and the unstated contest between Mithian and Guinevere for Arthur than the persecution of magic uses (powers like Merlin’s are not nothing).

For Mithian herself is the one who has the “dogs and spears and crossbows”—her participation in the hunt is part of her courtship of Arthur—while Gwen becomes prey. The episode further underscores the class implications of hunting by making the aristocratic Leon the only named knight to take part in the hunt, and by Morgana herself, who tells Gwen, “I’ve hunted these woods since I was a child.”

Old friends. Like “Lancelot and Guinevere,” this episode makes overt references to Gwen and Morgana’s former friendship. Again, Morgana uses knowledge gained then to identify Gwen as a danger and attack her, and we see the same twisted sense that Morgana wants Gwen under her power again as much as she wants to destroy her.

She’s unquestionably pleased when she recognizes her servant outfit; but grows furious when Helios confirms that her name is Guinevere. Maybe it’s hearing the full name that underscores that Gwen is no longer the maidservant she could control. (It’s amazing how often pleasure plays across Morgana’s face as she pursues Gwen, only to be replaced with rage and fear each time, a sign of how deep these feelings go.)

Yet in some perverse way Morgana seems to want to return their relationship to its original status, where Gwen was her loyal and trusting servant. Hence her attempt to charm Gwen into listening to her in the woods, which is ridiculous in the extreme: “We were friends once, were we not? I only wish to help.”

I think this is mostly a power play on Morgana’s part—she’s motivated largely by her vision of Guinevere as queen, and there’s a snobbism aspect to it—but also on some level speaks to her sense of loss for her old role in Camelot, in which she commanded respect as charming noblewoman instead of an outcast witch. It’s a flashback to the Morgana of the first three series, who often put on pleasant and flirtatious behavior when she lied.

And of course the idea is delusional, both because Gwen not only knows Morgana’s true aims and won’t play along (no longer, in fact, is forced to feign affection as she was in 3x12), but also because Morgana’s rosy memories are fundamentally a misreading of what their series-one relationship was like.

When Morgana turns her magic on Gwen and snarls, “The truth is it doesn’t matter which way you go,” she’s recalling the basic inequality of their mistress-servant relationship; the power differential persists through Morgana’s magic.

Addicted to banishment. Meanwhile, Arthur struggles with a similar power imbalance, when he threatens to use his might to banish Merlin for speaking up for Gwen.

Personally, I always felt that we are viewers were supposed side against Arthur when banishes Guinevere, while of course understanding the intensity of his emotional distress. It’s an obvious abuse of power; it fits into the larger pattern of Arthur making the wrong decisions as king in nearly every episode; and it opposes the stated destiny of Guinevere to become Arthur’s queen. In this show, moving toward the destined outcome is generally positive—and always so when it’s Guinevere’s queenship—so for Arthur to further damage her already hurt chances is unquestionably negative.

But here, Arthur threatening to banish Merlin early in the episode drives the point home. Beyond the long-standing parallels between Merlin and Gwen, both of whom are supposed to stand at Arthur’s side, it’s clear that we are supposed to root against any attempt to divide our two heroes. Arthur is not only abusing his power of banishment, but overusing its abuse.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s a clear parallel between Arthur threatening Merlin and Morgana threatening Agravaine just two scenes later. In both a Pendragon comes down hard on their most loyal servant, who argues against their superior’s haste but is ultimately silenced. The comparison is not to Arthur’s credit.

True friends. Of course Merlin’s intense loyalty to Gwen is on display throughout this episode, from the opening moments when he opposes Arthur’s marriage to Mithian to the denouement in which he argues more successfully for the same outcome. My favorite point was his recognition of Guinevere in the deer’s guise. I love that moment, and all it suggests—that perhaps magic isn’t so much a series of flashy abilities, but, like friendship, the ability to see the truth of someone else when they most need you. 

And of course the truth of Guinevere, abundantly revealed here, is that she’s intelligent,  loyal, capable of duplicity but always clear on her loyalties. She resourcefully puts what she finds to her use, whether it’s the veil Helios forces her to wear, or the pond it which she hides from his soldiers.

And as her final farewell with Merlin makes clear, Guinevere does all this despite her enormous anguish over her mind-controlled actions. Her adamant refusal to return to Camelot is her own self-punishment (as perhaps mucking out the pigs was?), and a determination not to profit from her own heroism, as well as respect for the law laid down by Arthur.

This episode is all about loyalty and trust, with Merlin’s unwavering loyalty to Gwen, and Gwen’s unwavering loyalty to Camelot, serving as a centerpiece to which the other characters compare and contrast. Agravaine, as usual, betrays Arthur’s trust, while Arthur decides whether or not to be loyal to Guinevere’s memory.

Eoghan the assistant mapkeeper refuses to betray his master’s trust; meanwhile, neither Helios nor Morgana truly trusts the other’s ability to deliver their half of the bargain. (I wish the show or fanfiction had picked up on Helios having difficulty recruiting sufficient forces and needing to forcibly conscript fighters and its implications; if nothing else, it justifies the easy re-capture of Camelot in the finale.)

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Thanks, as always for insightful comments.
I was inexplicably excited to see Gwen as the deer, thinking of the hunt of the white hart (white of course being part of Gwens name)
The friendship displayed to Gwen by Merlin especially in the scene where he questions if he is to play a role in their relationship, and of course the beautifully acted scene where he recognises her in another shape.
I'm glad you talked about the class structure in hunting and the impact its had - of course where I come from we still suffer the affects of the British fondness for hunting as they bought foxes and rabbits which are now feral and can reach plague proportions!

Thank you! And good point about the Gwen's name and the mythological connection there!

I adore that scene in which Merlin wonders whether he's supposed to play a role in Gwen's destiny as well as Arthur's; I actually see it as the critical turning point of the series for Merlin, which I'll talk more about in the next post. (Actually very hard to talk about this episode without the two that follow!)

And really good point about the environmental impacts of the British obsession with hunting; I always find it interesting to look at the long-term and unexpected effects of ideas like this, but I did worry that I was getting a bit too far off-point, so I'm glad that you enjoyed it!

Hooray for the return of your Merlin meta! A great preparation for the new season.

Mithian is also the first noblewoman paired with Arthur who represents herself, rather than being presented via her relationship with her father.

True, and I hadn't noticed before. It fits with this being the season where Uther is gone for good (Mithian is also the first alternate match for Arthur which he seeks out without being prompted by Uther or a spell; the show could have blamed Agrivaine as an ersatz Uther but pointedly didn't - there is no hint he might be responsible for the match). To flash forward to the conversation between Arthur and Morgana in the season finale, neither of them can blame Uther anymore for their deeds; they must bear responsibility, the time of the fathers is over.

Back to Mithian: I was glad that she was not vilified by the narrative, or the characters. (You know I have this thing about alternate love interests and how they often are presented as vile or stupid.) I also find the conversation between Merlin and Gaius interesting, because when Gaius says whether it's not a little arrogant of Merlin to decide whom Arthur should or shouldn't marry, he's speaking from a personal perspective (i.e. marriage strictly as between people, Arthur and Mithian as individuals, Merlin objects because of his friendship with Gwen), whereas Merlin wondering what he is "supposed" to do means he's not solely motivated by his feelings for Gwen, though of course they are a factor; it's not a question as to whether Mithian is a good person or a good queen, but whether she should be the queen.

(On a lighter note: this episode was where I joked Arthur must be quickly aquiring a reputation as the anti Henry VIII in royal circles; the problem isn't that he kills his wives but dumps his fiancees! If I ever get to write my set between s4 and s5 story where Gwen goes to the wedding at Queen Annis' court, I plan to include someone making that joke, in, err, a non-Tudor referencing manner.)

I too thought of the medieval romances and the harts there, but even more of Ovid - Acteon and Diana - or Callisto - or Io - and Morgana is a lot like the Ovidian gods in this episode in her shapechanging playful malevolence and lurking idea that she sees herself as the wronged one; a cross between Diana and Juno (who despite the guilty party, the one deserving her anger, being her husband, changes his mistresses into animals and sees them tormented in this shape.

The episode is an ode to Merlin and Gwen friendship, and I'd have loved this dimension of it anyway, but I loved it even more because it ended, or should have ended, that silly interpretation that Merlin's silent farewell to Gwen two episodes earlier was in disapproval instead of support.

Thank you! I am so excited about the return of this show! Though I really have to do something about getting these out in a more timely fashion...

Mithian is also the first alternate match for Arthur which he seeks out without being prompted by Uther or a spell; the show could have blamed Agrivaine as an ersatz Uther but pointedly didn't - there is no hint he might be responsible for the match

Excellent point. I'd argue that this has to be deliberate, and has to do with the fact that an Arthur married to Queen Mithian wouldn't actually be a bad king--he'd be fine and perfectly usual, maybe a slight improvement on his father, but manifestly not the Once and Future King he could be, and will be with Gwen's help.

So it makes sense that this match is something Arthur came up with on his own. (Though I wonder if Agravaine stayed neutral because there were too many variables to control, or if he believes that Morgana's vision of Queen Gwen poses a danger.) And good point about Uther being gone for good.

Yes, I thought Mithian was a great character and a nice alternative to some common alternative love interest traps; here's hoping that she returns and continues to be so positively developed!

And I actually think that conversation between Merlin and Gaius is the turning point for Merlin's entire arc for the series, which is a thought that a previous conversation with you led me to. (See crazy long post #2, in which I finally managed to figure out what bothered me about 4x13 and thus freed myself to like the parts I liked much more.)

Really good point that Gaius is talking about the personal perspective, which I hadn't realized--I was sort of stuck on his role of trying to talk Merlin out of arrogance, but you point out how logical his POV is. And yes, I agree completely on where Merlin's thoughts are taking him, which is (imo) a new direction for him.

And you are so right: Arthur is totally tabloid fodder in the other kingdoms. Probably made worse by the fact that the only other thing they know about him is killing Odin's son, and maybe Caerleon now...I've been spending some time lately trying to figure out what the common people of Camelot know and think about Arthur, but the question of his reputation in the other kingdoms is a similar kind of puzzle.

I completely approve of that (non-Tudor-referencing) joke! And I do hope you get to write that story. I'm still hoping that someday I'll get my Alice-&-Freya-team-up fic written and be able to ask you to beta.

I have a noticeable bias toward anything medieval, but you make a good point about Morgana's determination to see herself as the wronged party--and of course the idea of Gwen being (nearly) shot by Arthur is a lot like Actaeon...

The episode is an ode to Merlin and Gwen friendship, and I'd have loved this dimension of it anyway, but I loved it even more because it ended, or should have ended, that silly interpretation that Merlin's silent farewell to Gwen two episodes earlier was in disapproval instead of support.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! So good to see the Merlin/Gwen friendship get an entire episode, and you know how much I agree with you on the silly interpretation. (I suspect a lot of that comes from people in the habit of disliking Merlin's treatment of Morgana--which I don't entirely agree with, but think is much more supportable--and then projecting it onto a very different relationship.)

Oh yay!

One thing I love about your meta is the knowledge I gain from it - in this case about the deer in Arthurian legends.

I love the Gwen/Merlin friendship and although I found this episode painful (I hate it when Gwen suffers) and I doubt I can bring myself to watch it a second time but you gave me a much better appreciation of the episode. I completely agree about what is said about Gwen and I like that there seems to be a determination to ensure that Gwen is portrayed as the moral heart of the show.

You mentioned Arthur's addiction to banishment and his abuse of power. I always wondered why they would portray Arthur in this manner. While it fits into the whole Arthur making mistakes as a new King, it seems really extreme behaviour. This is of course the point (well, 4x09 is) at which lots of fans start to hate him which I doubt is the intent. But I think it's interesting that you say we are not meant to sympathize with Arthur because I see lots of people read the scene as if we should.

But Merlin and Gwen's friendship is lovely and at times, I think even lovelier than the Arthur and Merlin friendship.

Thank you! I am so glad other people enjoy it when I talk about these things, because I love thinking about them.

I can understand finding this episode painful; I feel that way about the big A/G confrontation scene in "Lancelot du Lac," which I find amazing but too hurtful to rewatch. For me this episode is easier, though, because it's all about Gwen fighting back despite terrible odds, and I love cheering her on.

I know other people disagree with me on whether Arthur's use banishment is meant to be seen as a bad thing, and the biggest argument in their favor is that Arthur never has to regret it or admit that it's wrong in the finale. But I think that:

a) it's a obvious abuse of his power as king in a way that breaking up with her isn't
b) Arthur makes a critical mistake in just about every episode of this season, and this is the obvious one in 4x09
c) it's the same punishment Uther wanted to inflict on Gwen, meaning that it's Arthur acting like Uther, which is a theme and a Bad Thing all series 4
d) Arthur himself says that he's banished her because he can't stand the sight of her, which shows that he's using a political solution to a personal problem (see Acting Like Uther, above)
e) as selenak points out, all the named knights (who are especially close to Arthur) seem to feel that Elyan would be justified being upset about Gwen's banishment, which implies that they think it's wrong but don't feel able to object more overtly
f) when Arthur threatens to do the same to Merlin, it's obviously a Very Bad Thing, and then it turns out that he has to admit Merlin is right about his feelings for Gwen by the end of the episode,
g) Arthur and Guinevere are destined to wind up together, and anything that separates them has always been put in the wrong column.

I do adore the Merlin/Gwen friendship. And while I also love the Merlin/Arthur one, Merlin and Gwen's relationship is definitely less problematic on both sides. It's lovely to see it highlighted like this.

Interesting read. Welcome back!

Thanks! And thanks for reading!

I am so glad that you're back !

I love your analysis about class differentials in the show. I tend to miss this implications, and here it was again the case, about the way the hunt also highlights Gwen's usual powerlessness. It is interesting to replace the hunt in a political context.

As the only non-magical, non-aristocratic main character, it was nice and impressing to see Gwen exert a power which, unlike the others's skills and status, is inherent to her (as you said, her wits and pragmatic approach to danger), and much more unpredictable than the more artificial powers some of the characters tend to rely on ("And now I will throw you against a wall !", "And now I will ruin your romantic plotlines by cursing you !", "And now I will banish you out of my dictatorial dominion, and into the muddy roads which will lead you all the way to Wherever, Pseudo-Mediaeval England !"). Not that I dislike their storylines, but a Gwen episode is always so welcome !

Thank you for your mentions of french lais. I learn a lot, and it is fascinating. I liked the other storytelling techniques they used, and the overall effect : as you wrote, it was made clear by the end of the episode that even Mithian couldn't stand in the way of Gwen, and it was a kind of unknown triumph in itself. These kind of moments get me much more invested in their romance, while usually their individual character developement is more compelling. In addition to their increasing degrees of likableness, I love how the show and its characters get less crual in their treatment of temporary love interests (killed - laughed at and let face a hurtful situation - laughed at but overall well-treated - departing with impressing dignity and a certain popularity amongst the fandom).

Thank you for mentionning Elementary in your last review ! It is a pity that it competes with Scandal in the US.

I really hope to read more from you very soon, thank you for this review !

Thank you!

And thank you for your comment about the class differences. I think US culture trains people to miss class implications, so as a USian I like examining and thinking about it in Merlin; it gives me practice! And Merlin is a show that emphasizes class, so it's usually worth thinking about; my favorite and well-worn example is the relationship between Merlin and Morgana, which goes wrong in large part because of the gaping class chasm between them.

And I too loved being in Gwen's POV for most of the episode. Her determination to fight back is so moving because she doesn't have the resources the other characters do; I'm hoping that eventually she'll be able to triumph with just her wits at some point.

I am always glad to introduce more people to medieval literature! And I did enjoy the Mithian/Gwen contrast in this episode, which was so much less about using one woman to tear the other down than these types of stories often are. I do think the progression of love interests is a positive progression, too--we need more opportunities for many different types of women to be shown as positive, rather than played against one another.

I didn't realize that Elementary & Scandal compete; what a shame! I don't own a TV, and watch everything online, so I manage to avoid these conflicts. (Elementary's up on if you're interested.)

And thanks so much for posting! I have just posted yet another mammoth commentary; hope you enjoy!

Yay, I've been looking forward to this one!

I was actually completely fascinated by this episode, and it took me a looong time to figure out why: it mainly had to do with what the narrative did with both Guinevere and Mithian and how they were in competition with each other without even knowing it (with all of Mithian's attributes and virtues backing up her suit, up against Merlin who is firmly in Gwen's corner).

I had a LOT of thoughts on Mithian (I won't link my meta here, but it's tagged under "Princess Mithian" on my LJ) and it seemed to me that in many ways she was designed to be Arthur's "perfect match" in the way that Lancelot was objectively considered "better" for Gwen than Arthur. Right from the moment she lifts up her veil, the narrative goes out of its way to demonstrate how wonderful she is, yet it takes only Gwen's ring and a nudge from Merlin for Arthur to forget her.

More than any other guest star (especially the previous "false brides"), Mithian gave me the sense that she had a complete life outside the constraints of the story, and in many ways, it felt like the story was being told from Mithian's POV. She gets to know Arthur, she reaches out to Merlin, she "proves herself" with her charm and skills - and so it feels very abrupt when she's suddenly sent packing. It's like she wandered in fully-formed from another story, thinking that she was the protagonist of her own great love story, only for Merlin to remind everyone that it's HIS story, and he wants Gwen to be his Queen. (Which is why I liked that little scene of Gaius telling him that it's rather arrogant to impose himself on everyone in such a way).

So I am desperate - DESPERATE - to see Guinevere and Mithian interact in series 5. I want it more than the magical reveal. I want it more than ANYTHING. Yet I'm terrified of it. I'm so afraid of the myriad of ways in which the writers could stuff it up, but after this episode, it feels like both Gwen and Mithian's stories won't be fully wrapped up until they meet and comes to an understanding with each other. There was such a sense of "what might have been" about this episode, that both women really need that closure.

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