(L-R) Merlin's Prnce Arthur (Bradley James) and Merlin (Colin Morgan)
When North American TV audiences last saw Merlin, our magical do-gooder had succeeded in helping Prince Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table defeat an immortal army of soldiers. In doing so, our heroes also managed to overthrow Morgana as the newly-crowned Queen of Camelot. With King Uther once again seated on the throne, the kingdom and its people were once again at peace, but for how long?
In the show’s fourth season opener, “The Darkest Hour,” Morgana’s (Katie McGrath) evil still lingers in Camelot, and Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Prince Arthur (Bradley James) continue to fight against her scheming while at the same time also trying to fulfill their very different but nonetheless intertwined destinies.
“We’re at an incredible crossroads in our version of this mythic, enduring tale,” says Merlin executive producer and co-creator Julian Murphy. “It may seem to the people of Camelot that all hope is lost - Morgana has betrayed the kingdom, the king is inconsolable, and Arthur must find a way to restore Camelot’s power. For anyone who is new to our version of Camelot, season four is an incredible time to start watching Merlin.”
Fellow executive producer and co-creator Johnny Capps adds, “Merlin has definitely grown up. The lightheartedness that is always at the heart of our story is certainly still there, but as the threat from Morgana and [her half-sister] Morgause [Emilia Fox] has grown, it’s become darker and more dramatic, with an incredibly compelling story of a kingdom on the brink of destruction.”
In anticipation of the show’s fourth season debut in the States (on Syfy, Friday, January 6 at 10:00 p.m. EST/PST) and Canada (on the SPACE Channel, Saturday, January 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST/PST) Merlin himself, Colin Morgan, recently spent some time chatting on the phone with me as well as other journalists about what we can all look forward to in these upcoming episodes. The following is an edited version of our Q & A (beware of some spoilers). Enjoy!
Can you tell us a little something about the season four, maybe how it’s going to be different and what we can expect this year?
I think one of the first things people will notice is that the show looks very different, and that’s because we’re shooting on 35mm, which is what they shoot movies on at the moment. So the series has a real feature film-type quality to it.
The stories have also become much more powerful and complex. They [the writers] are taking things in directions where there is really no going back. So there are big shifts, big steps and big changes, and the tagline for the fourth season is that it’s darkest before the dawn.
Because this season is a lot darker, does that present new challenges for the actors or the writers? Is it harder to sort of work in the humor that you guys always get in there?
What’s great about this season is that it strikes a really good balance. As dark as the stories are, they never stray into the realm of total darkness. There’s always an element of fun to them, and as dark as the stories might go, the characters are still themselves.
So at this point does Merlin believe Morgana is beyond redemption or does he still hope that he can save her from her dark destiny to be her greatest enemy?
No, she’s beyond redemption. Merlin has definitely come to that conclusion. He’s given her chances and tried to show her the good path. Merlin knows that if magic is part of you, then you choose how to use it. It doesn’t choose you, and he’s always chosen the good path. Morgana, on the other hand, has strayed further and further from that path. She has become a bit power hungry now and wants the throne of Camelot as well as everything else and all for herself. She is irredeemable in Merlin’s eyes and is his ultimate nemesis in the series.
Does Merlin continue to resent the fact that he must keep his magical abilities secret or is he comfortable hiding in the shadows and being the man behind the great man?
I think it’s very frustrating for Merlin. His ultimate objective and greatest dream is to live in a land where magic is free under the rule of the greatest king ever known. When the time is right I think Merlin will grasp the opportunity with open arms and help ensure the future of magic.
I’m getting the impression from all the things that I’m reading online right now is that season four is going to be a bit of a game changer in regards to the whole Arthurian legend. What I mean is it might bring the series a little closer to the mainstream stories of Arthur and Merlin. Am I off base with that?
Yes, I feel it’s definitely moved in that direction because the characters are maturing. It’s moving more towards the legends that we know, and as our characters have grown older they’ve become more synchronized with those legends. We certainly start exploring that stuff in this season. There are some huge iconic moments that anyone familiar with these legends will recognize, and those who don’t will probably be intrigued to find out a bit more.
Growing up I read all the variations on Camelot and the Arthurian legend, and what I like about this series is that it focuses on Merlin’s back story. To me, he was always a mysterious character and in seasons four and five will he be taking more of a puppet master role that I was used to seeing in a lot of the previous stories of this legend?
Yes that’s a big thing actually coming up in this season and absolutely what Merlin is striving towards. He’s gaining wisdom along with a certain kind of power in that wisdom and he imparts a lot of that on Arthur. You see Arthur listening a lot more to Merlin, and, in fact, you sometimes see Arthur change how he thinks because of what my character says to him.
So that’s pretty exciting, but at the same time the two of them are also growing a little bit further apart. Merlin has to work very hard to try and be heard. Hopefully by the end of the season you’ll see that their relationship has gotten to the point where they’re ready to set some ground rules and perhaps become a good team to rule the kingdom.
In what ways have you seen Merlin further grow and develop as a character in season four, and have you discovered any new acting challenges associated with that growth?
A big thing is the maturity of the character this year. He’s really, really studying what Arthur is going through, and in a way actually experiencing what Arthur is experiencing. Arthur has got so much on his plate, and the kingdom is in its most dire need of his strength at this stage. And it’s very much about Merlin engaging in exactly where he is and what he should be doing.
At one point in the season four he gets the biggest opportunity he’s ever going to get to change Arthur’s opinion about magic. He takes it and it’s a big risk as well as one of the boldest decisions he’s made. As an actor it’s interesting to study the emotions my character is experiencing, and in terms of friendship, it’s a question of what do you do for good friend when they’re going through hell. With Merlin, he also has his own motivations for ensuring that Arthur makes it through the various challenges he’s faced with. Again, it’s a little bit of a selfish reason on Merlin’s part because he wants to live in a land where he can be free to practice magic.
So there are bigger stakes and bigger objectives this season, and Arthur has never been in as much need of Merlin as he is now. The only problem is he doesn’t realize it.
Could you tell us a bit about Merlin’s and Gaius’ relationship in season four and also about working with Richard Wilson (Gaius) on the series?
Richard Wilson is an absolute gentleman. You speak to anybody on-set or any of the cast members and they will have nothing but praise for him. Richard is a pleasure to work with as well as an honor, and the relationship between Merlin and Gaius is one that I love hugely. I think it’s fantastic.
There’s actually an episode this season that takes the two of them away from each other for a while. We get to see how Merlin reacts when Gaius isn’t around because maybe you don’t realize how much he needed him until he’s gone. It’s a really interesting episode about their relationship and the love that they have for each other. At some point Merlin is going to lose Gaius and he’s not going to be around forever, and this episode is a taste of what that will be like.
Right now, Gaius is the only one that Merlin can really confide in. So if Gaius wasn’t around, life would be even lonelier for him. So it’s a really good relationship, and very much a father son relationship, too. Merlin was always sort of lacking a father figure in his life, so he and Gaius are very much a surrogate father and son.
One of the mantras I guess for season four is magic and more magic. Will we see Merlin’s powers kind of evolve a little more this season?
Yes, we do see quite a bit of that. I think one of the big things is the power of his words, and this season there’s the understanding that, yes, magic is good for a lot of things, but sometimes you’ve got to talk to your friends and try to understand what they’re going through.
In previous seasons we’ve seen him use magic very sporadically and very instinctually. Although it is instinctually, sometimes Merlin needs to put the brakes on and say, “Hold on, what’s best for me? What’s best for Arthur? What’s best for the kingdom?” He’s becoming much wiser now and a lot more clued in to how and when he should use magic, which is really, really interesting.
Have you heard anything about season five? I know you’re going to start shooting in a little while?
In fact, we know nothing about the fifth season. They keep things secret from us for quite a while, and we really only find out in advance about three episodes at a time. When we started season four I only knew about the first three episodes, and then once we finished shooting those, we got the scripts for episodes four, five and six.
So I know nothing about season five. I only know that season four ends on such an intriguing note that they can’t not do a fifth season. We’d have a lot of very upset people if we ended on that note.
Do you think Merlin has any regrets as far as when Morgana really needed him he kind of turned his back on her?
Again, it’s a difficult call because Merlin has tried a number of times to show her the right path. It became very clear early on that he was told that Morgana would be his downfall and in direct opposition to all his goals and his destiny. In order to ensure his future and the future of his kind, it means sacrificing someone like her. As ruthless as it sounds, that’s what he signed up for when he came to Camelot. That was the deal.
That says a great deal about him as a character, the fact that sometimes your emotions must be pushed aside for the greater good. When it comes to Morgana, she’s definitely beyond redemption. She has chosen her path, and as far as Merlin is concerned, she has had her chances.
Do you foresee the series exploring any of the back stories of either Gaius or Uther (Anthony Head)? That seems like it would be very interesting, but so far it has only really just been touched on the surface.
Yes I think that’s a really, really interesting thing, what happened in the past, and we’ve heard hints of what went on. I think a flashback episode would be fantastic, just to get a glimpse of what it was like back then, and what were the circumstances under which Camelot became such a paranoid kingdom as far as magic is concerned.
I think it would also be very interesting to even get a glimpse of Merlin’s circumstances, because his past was shrouded a little bit in mystery when he first came to Camelot and we don’t quite know what it is.
Since The Dragon (voice of John Hurt) basically escaped in season three, we haven’t really seen much of it. Will we be seeing more aspects of Merlin’s dragon lord side this season?
Yes, for sure. That’s something that’s really explored in season four. At the beginning in season one, the dragon was a confident and someone who Merlin needed help from. However, they slowly grew apart and The Dragon’s motives became slightly jarred and unclear. So there have been all these questions of trust between them.
The dragon is a creature of magic as much as Merlin is, and there’s that connection between them. Again Merlin has very few people to confide in, and The Dragon is one that he can also confide in too. So the relationship is always going to be strong between them, but Merlin can always command the dragon, which is a great quality. Certainly it will be interesting to see if Arthur ever meets the dragon and what his reaction to him would be.
Your character has cast a number of different spells so far in the run of the show. Is there any one spell you can think of that you would love Merlin to be able to cast, or a power that he doesn’t have and that you would love him to have?
I’ve always thought teleportation would be a great one. That’s something Merlin hasn’t figured out how to do yet. However, something like that could cut out all the quests that our characters have to go on, which would be a shame.
Merlin had this really sweet storyline with Freya (Laura Donnelly) last year, and I was just wondering if he’ll have another romantic encounter this season?
Sorry to disappoint but no, there’s not going to be any love interest for Merlin this season, unfortunately. It’s not something that the writers have explored. In the legends, Merlin was notoriously messed over by all the girls, so perhaps they decided to keep him well away from them. But maybe I can have a few words with the writers and try to get something going for the fifth season.
Can you talk about the creatures Merlin and Arthur will have to fight this season?
In the two-part season opener (“The Darkest Hour”), we see one of the darkest things they they’ve encountered, the Dorocha, which are these free roaming spirits from the underworld. At the beginning of the episode there’s a festival which celebrates the day of the dead, and it’s at a time when the veil between the real world and the underworld is at its thinnest. Morgana takes advantage of that and creates a rip in the veil which releases all these demons. However, they only function at night. They are repelled by light and literally freeze and kill people in a second.
One of the scariest things about these creatures is that Merlin is totally powerless against them. They literally absorb his power. So they are one of the most formidable creatures I think our characters come across.
Merlin obviously believes in his and Arthur’s destinies and like you said is willing to do anything to make those happen. But at this point does Arthur believe in his own destiny to that extent as well?
Yes, that’s a good point, actually. That’s one of the big things this season, the fact that Arthur is building up more belief in himself. He’s also listening a lot and gaining a great deal of advice from his uncle (Agravaine de Bois, played by Nathaniel Parker). As far as his father, King Uther, at the start of season four he’s really a shadow of himself. Uther has gone a bit mad and is not in his right mind at all.
So the responsibility falls to Arthur to make the big decisions, but he’s not confident in himself at all. I don’t think he feels ready to make these types of decisions on his own. He wants to make his father proud, and Merlin is trying to be there for him. Unfortunately, Arthur has a stronger bond with his family, particularly his uncle, over his friend, so one of my character’s biggest challenges this season is trying to get Arthur to accept him, too
Please note, all photos above copyright of the BBC..