Episode 04: Character Study: Merlin

cover art in which Merlin wears a headset with microphone and holds up a finger to his lips as if to tell you to be quiet

In today’s episode, momo and MissSnowFox take a closer look at the show’s main protagonist, Merlin, and how his character developed over the seasons. The legendary Merlin is introduced as well, and of course we also take a look at fanworks.

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Write every day on Merlin_Writers on LJ for all fic projects
Write every day on Reelmagic on LJ for ReelMerlin projects
Write every day on Beneathdacastle on LJ for ftf Merlin projects
Bottom Arthur Fest on tumblr, Nov 13-20
Merlin Advent Calendar
Camelot Drabble 6th Annual Holiday Exchange Fest
COiNELOT Reincarnated ticket announcement
Merlin Telephone Art Game


Merlin Wiki
AO3 meta entry re: birthdates/ages of characters
Behind the Name: Merlin
Rox’ YouTube channel


AO3 stats on 1 Oct, 2017:

  • 29,493 works with the character tag “Merlin”
  • 16,400 works with Merlin in a pairing (barring any overlap)

Top 5 pairings:

  • 12,624 Merlin/Arthur
  • 902 Merlin/Morgana
  • 800 Gwaine/Merlin
  • 352 Freya/Merlin
  • 255 Merlin/Mordred

Further combinations*

  • 168 Gwen/Merlin
  • 156 Gwaine/Merlin/Arthur
  • 151 Lancelot/Merlin
  • 132 Gwen/Merlin/Arthur
  • 131 Merlin/Percival
  • 113 Merlin/Uther
  • 110 Merlin/Will
  • 62 Gwen/Merlin/Morgana/Arthur
  • 58 Knights/Merlin
  • 53 Merlin/Mordred/Arthur
  • 51 Merlin/Mithian
  • 50 Leon/Merlin
  • 34 Elyan/Merlin
  • 28 Merlin/Morgana/Arthur
  • 27 Lancelot/Merlin/Arthur
  • 16 Cenred/Merlin
  • 16 Freya/Merlin/Arthur
  • 15 Knights/Merlin/Arthur
  • 15 Merlin/Nimueh
  • 13 Gaius/Merlin
  • 12 Gwaine/Lancelot/Merlin
  • 10 Gwaine/Merlin/Percival
  • 7 Gwen/Merlin/Morgana
  • 6 Kilgharrah/Merlin
  • 5 Leon/Merlin/Arthur
  • 5 Elena/Merlin
  • 5 Merlin/Morgause
  • 4 Gwen/Lancelot/Merlin/Morgana/Arthur
  • 2 Elyan/Merlin/Arthur
  • 2 Merlin/Vivian
  • 2 Freya/Merlin/Morgana
  • 1 Merlin/Morgana/Uther
  • 1 Gwaine/Merlin/Morgana
  • 1 Merlin/Morgana/Nimueh
  • 1 Merlin/Morgana/Knights/Arthur/Gwen
  • 1 Gaius/Merlin/Arthur
  • 1 Gaius/Gwaine/Merlin/Arthur
  • 1 Elena/Merlin/Arthur
  • 1 Merlin/Nimueh/Uther

*Disclaimer: Momo didn’t check all the combinations of Merlin with every single minor character.

Recs/mentioned fanworks

Drastically Redefining Protocol by rageprufrock
im breaking i cant do this on my own Video by Specialisyou
human Video by pobalex
Get it right Video by samellon
The King of Mars by Ivalee, With Fanart by Brolinskeep aka rou
And like the cycle of the year, we begin again by katherynfromphilly

10 thoughts on “Episode 04: Character Study: Merlin

  1. Hello!
    I first watched Merlin around a year or two ago and binge watched the show in two weeks. I found out about the show through Tumblr. Hearing about how someone got into “fandom” or their history with it is always interesting haha. Momo, you mention how we don’t ever see Merlin show any regret or remorse for killing an enemy. I hadn’t noticed that before.
    But what you said made me think of Merlin’s reaction to Arthur killing the unicorn in The Labyrinth of Gedref (S1E11). Merlin is obviously upset about it, even though Arthur was to blame and not him. I think he makes a few comments about Arthur’s hunting for sport or “fun” in another episode too. Like you said, it is strange the writers did not include a scene of Merlin thinking about the people he’s killed…
    Anyway, you both brought up other good points about Merlin’s character and the show, but I feel like I should cut my rambling short. I look forward to hearing future episodes of the podcast!

  2. Omg, I giggled when the episode turned to Merlin’s magical abilities. MissSnowFox, you’re not alone: I went straight to the ones used in fanfics too.

    Seriously, though: I do believe Merlin is the most powerful sorcerer in Albion or that he could be under the right circumstances. But magic seems to work like a regular muscle on the show: it needs to be practiced to reach its full potential. It appears to require a schedule of regular training, with increasing amounts of exercises to work on strength and magical flexibility, which is a lot like Arthur and his men and the use of their lethal weapons.

    Most of the magic Merlin uses on the show is muscle memory; the magical acts he performed so often that he could do it in his sleep – things like levitation and other methods of manipulation. It isn’t something he needs to concentrate on or practice. It just comes to him with ease. It is something he can do when he is almost dead on his feet.

    Some of the spells he uses are things he gets to practice sometimes – spells that he needs to voice in order to focus on and master them as he has mastered the non-verbal magical acts he performs. But that particular “muscle” still needs to be trained and he doesn’t get enough opportunities to do that on the show. There are two reasons for that: lack of time because he runs around after Arthur and runs errands for Gaius all the time and the lack of training area. A large portion of the spells he could learn aren’t something he could practice in his room or even within the broader span of Gaius’ quarters.

    Where is he going to practice without running the risk of being caught?

    There is also the fact that – like Momo mentions – Merlin lacks a tutor/personal trainer. If he’d had a chance to train with someone like Alator or something, he would be a lot more proficient with magic.

    But I’ve digressed a little there.

    As I was saying, some of the magical acts Merlin performs area bit more like bursts of sudden adrenaline and inhuman strength while under duress, which wreaks havoc on the man afterwards. I heard a tale of a mountaineer who was struck with an immense slab of rock and was almost crushed to death but a feat of sudden strength saved her life when she tossed the whole thing away, but doing that resulted in countless ripped muscles and a whole lot of pain/exhaustion.

    Conversely, we have Morgana Pendragon. We can surmise that Morgana was born human and wasn’t meant to be immortal – like almost all the other practitioners of magic on the show. But in Diamond of the Day, when Morgana was saying, “I’m a high priestess: no mortal blade can kill me,” it sounded like she was imbued with strength that wasn’t her own. It sounded like she’d been introduced to magical steroids or something, which is something I find interesting. When there were more priestesses practicing sorcery, would that extra power have been more diluted because all of them were using, or would each of them have been that powerful? I wonder about that at times. Potentially, this could explain the shift in her personality, and the whole nonsensical 180 degree turn against Arthur she pulled.

    But perhaps I’ve put too much thought into finding an explanation for the disparities between the claims that Merlin is this being of immense magical strength and his uses of magic on the show. Really, when I think of a being with such power, I see the kind of magic that could separate oceans like Moses when he slams his staff into the earth or something similar, and it was a disappointment to see a lack of that kind of power on the show.

    As for his personality, I think Merlin compartmentalizes a LOT. I believe his mind-palace would just be an assortment of filing cabinets and he opens a cabinet whenever necessary, but I don’t think he does this on purpose. I think it is an instinctive act like his magic.

    It could also be possible that Merlin has difficulties with emotional detachment despite being such an emotional man. I know people who show visible emotions frequently, but have this odd detachment when it comes to strangers or people living in other countries. It can be distressing at times. I remember being quite upset when those kindergartners were killed in a school in the US, but someone I know wasn’t. It didn’t impact them as much because it didn’t happen to someone that person knew personally, but that person would have been gutted had it happened to someone in their family; it is weird and somewhat disturbing, how different their reactions are depending on the situation. That person hears the news and just moves on while people like me get upset over it.

    When it comes to shipping, Merlin has a lot of subtle (or blatant) on-screen chemistry with a variety of characters, on both the friend and foe lists. I feel like if the show had been on HBO, Merlin would have been in and out of beds with men and women all the time, but would keep coming back to Arthur, because Arthur is his rock. Like, I know Gwaine is the “official” sexy rogue, but I do think Merlin in the show channeled some sort of sexy, smutty vibe. Like a sex-demon or a part-sex-demon would. Which makes me wonder whether, if he WAS a part-sex-demon, he has to participate in sex acts to gain energy, or if he could just lurk outside Arthur/Gwen’s bedroom or Gwaine/anyone’s bedroom and soak up their sexual energy by proxy.

  3. Gosh, I totally agree with wondering why Merlin is almost always the gay one. Especially considering the fact that majority of Arthur’s crushes on women were due to an enchantment. When you get down to it, the only women he truly cared for was Gwen, and a lot of his favourite things about her are the characteristics that are remarkably similar to Merlin (clumsiness/awkwardness, tendency to call him out on his bs)…

  4. Hi! I’m listening to this in 2020! I live in Seoul (S. Korea), and although some of my friends have heard of or watched a little bit of Merlin, most of them aren’t interested enough (or know enough) to talk about it. So I really enjoy listening to your podcast.

    Some comments I want to make are:
    Merlin maybe doesn’t refer to the book as often in the later episodes because he may have just learnt them all (as I presume, he is studious).

    I’m not sure if Morgana (in the episode where she screams after seeing Morgause hurt) actually disappears/teleports or runs away, but Morgause definitely can “disappear in a whirlwind” like Mary (in Fires of Idirsholas). Also, there probably are seemingly more powerful sorcerers (especially in the first episode) to show how Merlin is naive and untrained in the beginning.

    I can kind of see Merlin’s power getting stronger throughout the seasons (although the show doesn’t really focus on that progression). I think the part he really grows powerful is the last two episodes where he meets his dad in the Crystal Cave and has a revelation and immerses as Emrys and strikes down whole armies with lightning?!

    I agree with MissSnowfox, one of my favorite moments/episodes is Merlin revealing his magic to Gilli!!! With the music and Colin’s acting, I get chills every! single! time! also. And tears just naturally roll down my cheeks…

    I have one suggestion for your show: I know you did the four “Meet the Actors” episodes, it would be so fun to hear one or several episodes really examining the acting of the main actors in Merlin specifically (you could probably group them together?). I just think the subtleties and character choices some of the actors make are so brilliant, especially for that age. And so underrated (these actors are not as famous)!!! I would love to be a guest on your show if you ever get to do these episodes. Although I am not fully immersed in the fandom part of Merlin, I am obsessed with the show itself and have watched most of the episodes 2-3 times (once with the commentaries). I found the show last year when preparing for my role as Morgan Le Fay in my school play, so maybe I can bring some insight into the acting part of the show? Not a professional actor, but I always love examining the acting closely (and the cinematography).

    (replying to Ep. 04)

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