12:00 pm EDT, June 2, 2013

‘Merlin’ retrospective: Why it’s impossible to get over the series finale

Five months later, and we’re still not over the dramatic, traumatizing Merlin series finale. Read on to find out why we’re convinced BBC’s Merlin is damn near impossible to get over!

If you’re among the American fans who waited patiently for the end of Merlin’s fifth and final season to air stateside, we suspect you’re most likely still mourning over the loss of the series, and possibly some of your favorite characters.

Those of us who watched last December wish we could tell you the feels are a phase which will pass, but as we here at Hypable know first hand, that’s just not the case.

While Merlin was on the air, we thought it was a great show. Fun, historical, whimsical, tragic… what was not to love? Sure, it was silly at times, but no TV show is perfect.

But now that it’s over? Yeah, it pretty much ranks up there as one of the few works of fiction we’ll never, ever forget.

Almost six months later, we’re still waiting for that moment to come where we can put Merlin on the proverbial shelf in our minds along with all of our other beloved fandoms which have come to an end, but that moment seems as far away as ever.

We survived the end of Harry Potter, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Lord of the Rings, and all of the other timeless classics.

So why is Merlin, that fun little Saturday night family show on the BBC, so hard to get over? And it’s not just us! The entire Merlin fanbase, whether they loved or hated the finale, are still talking about it.

Our Merlin aficionados here at Hypable have put their heads together, and come up with 5 reasons why we’re still not over BBC’s hit fantasy series!

This post was written by Hypable writers Selina Wilken and Pamela Gocobachi.


1. The Memorable Characters

Merlin memorable characters

Everyone knows that you can tell the best story in the world, but that story is nothing without memorable characters needed to move it along.

Just like series that have come before it, BBC’s Merlin is full of irresistibly memorable characters we as the audience just couldn’t help but fall in love with.

But the funny part about Merlin was that Capps and Murphy weren’t exactly introducing us to new characters when they set out to create the show.

Instead, they found a way to reintroduce us to characters that some of us grew up hearing stories about when we were children.

So what is it about BBC’s Merlin that made us fall head over heels in love with characters like King Arthur and Guinevere and even Merlin himself?

As simple as it sounds, the reason is simply that the show runners behind Merlin managed to make the characters relatable to the audience.

Arthur didn’t start out the perfect heroic figure we know from the legends. He was young and flawed, and it was hard to see how the arrogant, conflicted young man we meet in season 1 could ever become the powerful, fair king we knew he had to grow into.

Similarly, aging Merlin down was probably one of the best decisions the show runners ever made.

By making Merlin younger, he ceased to be the untouchable enigma he becomes later in life. The Merlin of BBC isn’t otherworldly; he’s not yet powerful, and not yet legendary. Like Arthur, he is a flawed character, arguably has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth, and most notably, he doesn’t have all the answers and easy solutions we’d expect from the original Merlin.

When you strip it down, at the end of the day, Merlin is just a boy trying to figure out his place in the world. And who among us can’t relate to that?


2. The Merciless Tragedy of it All

Merlin finale tragedy

There’s a reason tragedies are usually more memorable than comedies: whenever you engage with a work of fiction you become invested in its set of characters, and you care about what happens to them.

And when those characters go through hell and back, but ultimately come out of it relatively unscathed? You can let out a sigh of relief and go back to your own life, content in the knowledge that your fictional friends are alive and well.

Tragic endings are much harder to shake off, because you carry all of the characters’ regrets and what ifs around with you. What if Romeo and Juliet had just talked to each other like normal people? What if Orpheus had resisted the urge to look back at Eurydice as he led her out of the Underworld? What if Rose had just shared that damn plank with Jack?

But even those endings are easier to get over than the ending of Merlin. Why? Because Merlin didn’t end.

In Romeo & Juliet, both characters die. It’s tragic, but they’re dead, the story is over. In Titanic, Rose is left on her own to grieve Jack’s death, but let’s get real, she knew him for like a week. And ultimately knowing him gave her the strength she needed to break out of the golden cage she’d probably have been trapped in all her life, if not for the events of the story.

Storytellers usually can’t help but leave their readers/viewers one small silver lining, just enough to allow them to make their peace with an otherwise tragic ending.

But in Merlin, there is no silver lining. Nothing good came of Arthur’s death, and Merlin was allowed no possible way out of his grief and regret – not even death, as the final scene strongly hinted that he’d indeed been waiting for all this time.

We spent five years watching these characters grow and change and become the characters we knew from legend. Gwen went from servant to queen, Arthur went from inexperienced prince to competent king, Morgana went from philanthropic princess to queen of darkness, and even Mordred got to transform from loyal friend to reluctant enemy.

But not Merlin. It was ultimately very symbolic (whether the writers intended it that way or not) that Merlin was the only character who never got to take his rightful place at the Round Table.

Everyone else had their Golden Age (although most of it happened during the gap between seasons 4 and 5), but Merlin only came into his power at the very end, when Arthur’s reign was over. So while he technically fulfilled his destiny, his storyline did not come full circle like the others’ did.

Merlin, our protagonist, never got his reward for all those years of hardship. While he never wanted reward or recognition for what he did, that didn’t mean he didn’t deserve it – that the audience wasn’t expecting that payoff after having to watch him carry his secret for all these years.

And after Arthur died, Merlin didn’t even get to walk away. He didn’t get to move on. Because the dragon’s final words, while meant to bring him hope, basically thwarted any hope of closure for Merlin.

He knew that one day Arthur would return, which meant that whatever else he did, he always had to keep on waiting – seemingly forever, as the flash forward indicated. The writers practically left their main character in a state of suspense, in a torturous purgatory, where he could never find true peace because his watch had not yet ended.

And if our main character – our window into the universe of the series – never got to move on, then how can we be expected to?


3. Like Merlin, we are all still waiting

Merlin still waiting

As if it isn’t painful enough to know that Merlin has been waiting for Arthur for 2,000+ years already (and we really hope he found himself a hobby!), that final shot was the nail in our collective coffin of doom: after all this time, Arthur has still not returned. And it doesn’t look like he’s about to.

Not even after thousands of years do the writers take pity on Merlin and set him free. That final shot was like a punch in the gut to the audience, because for all the dragon’s promises, Arthur still did not return.

If Arthur had returned in that final scene, or if there had been one single hint that Merlin’s wait was over, that would have been enough. But by establishing that Merlin is still out there, is still waiting, the writers made sure that we would never stop waiting either.

Those clever, cruel, masterful writers, who recognised that hope (even such a feeble, depressing one) is harder to let go of than grief, and who knew exactly how to leave their viewers at their maximum level of devastation. On Christmas Eve, no less. This is, in our opinion, ultimate proof that the BBC is run by a cult of evil geniuses.

The last shot of the show established that Merlin is still waiting. Merlin will always be waiting. And so we, the audience, who see the world through Merlin’s eyes, will never be able to fully make our peace with the ending. It will never be okay. Even now, when we’ve technically moved on, every time we think of Merlin, it will be with that twist in our gut reminding us that Merlin’s story didn’t end happily – it didn’t end at all.


4. The Unanswered Questions

Merlin finale Gwen on the throne

The length of Merlin’s wait was far from the only question which the finale left unanswered. The very final shot (before the flash forward) showed us Guinevere being crowned as Queen of Camelot, with Leon standing by her side and Percival and Gaius in the crowd.

There was no sign of Merlin.

Ever since the finale, the fandom has been debating whether he would have returned to Camelot after Arthur’s death – some fans believe it would be too painful for him to go back now that Arthur (arguably the person he had made the focus of his existence) was gone, while others argue that he’d obviously go back for Gaius and Gwen. But they deliberately left that up to interpretation in the show.

As for Gwen, at least we can make up a happy ending for her. She may have lost the love of her life (both, actually, since Lancelot died as well), but hey, she still had Leon! We have fully embraced the theory that she and Leon eventually got married and had dozens of babies, because you know what? Someone had to have a happy ending!

But whatever happened at Camelot, we know that eventually, the golden age had to end, and the kingdom had to fall apart. But how did the fall of Camelot come about? Was that during Gwen’s rule, or after she died?

If Merlin ever went back, where did he go after all his friends had passed on? Did he make new friends? Did he find love? Could he ever attach himself to people, knowing that he would only lose them like he’d lost everyone else he’d ever loved?

And did he age? In the final scene, we saw him as an old man, but the final episode established that he was now able to change into his Dragoon form at will. We choose to believe that, like Nimueh, Merlin could still maintain his youthful appearance if he wanted to. Because, after all, he promised Arthur that he wouldn’t ever change. And when (damn it) Arthur returns, the world will be different – surely Arthur will need at least one thing to have remained as he remembers it.

Unless we get answers to these questions from Capps and Murphy themselves, we’ll always be haunted by the what ifs. But we almost don’t want to know– we don’t think we could take any more heartbreak!


5. The Finale Feels Keep on Changing

Merlin finale feelings

As with all conclusions to beloved series, some fans accepted Merlin’s finale for what it was while others flat out hated it right from the get-go. But we suspect if you’re anything like us, you might have gone through a few different feelings before settling on the restless one we can only describe as ‘still not over it’.

If you’ve listened to our reaction episodes on Hypable’s Merlin podcast, Talks of Camelot, you’ll know that our initial reaction episode (which we recorded right after experiencing the finale for the first time) was drastically different from the much more structured episode we released a few weeks later after we’d had time to settle down and process exactly what it was the writers and showrunners had left us with.

We suspect that our initial elated feelings of love for the finale itself had much more to do with the adrenaline caused by knowing that the final episode of Merlin didn’t turn out to be the complete and utter train wreck it could have been. And okay, we’re not going to lie, we were probably a bit blinded by the fact that at the end of the day, what the writers gave us in that final episode was one last epic journey with Merlin and Arthur by each other’s sides. And really, who isn’t a sucker for that?

But after the adrenaline faded, after we got past the wonderful moments of friendship between our two leading men and began to process what the finale left us without? Well, that’s when we realized that while being tragically beautiful in every sense of the phrase, Merlin’s finale was just downright heartbreaking. Because at the end of the day, Merlin is still waiting for Arthur, and we as the audience have no way of knowing if his wait will ever end.

The way our feelings toward the finale changed was kind of similar to the 5 Stages of Loss and Grief, only instead of reaching the fifth and final step of acceptance, we’re kind of stuck somewhere in limbo between anger and depression. Perhaps someday we’ll figure out a way to get to that final step, but until then, we suspect we’ll continue to be hung up on Merlin – similar to the way one would be hung up on an ex after a breakup.

However, we still maintain that the finale was tragically beautiful, and we love the show for daring to end on such a deeply emotional note.

One of the key reasons why the finale will stay with us forever is because of how deeply it moved us. (If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have cared enough to write this article in the first place.)

A neatly wrapped up ending would have satisfied us for a day. This utter heartbreak will leave us miserable for years.

And we can’t say we blame the writers for wanting to leave a lasting impression.

Why do you think the Merlin series finale is so hard to get over? Let us know in the comments below!

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