This week is the first standalone episode of the new season, and it opens with a group of performers moving through the street. It’s Arthur’s birthday today, and they’re planning a fairly large celebration in his honor. Arthur’s not impressed, but Merlin is … which our favorite says is because Merlin’s got the mind of a child. Aww, the sarcasm. Shows they really care about each other.

Somewhere inside the castle a dwarf performer searches for a special gift to the prince. Then a rather creepy knife-throwing dude reveals the throwing knives he ensured had safe passage. Apparently, he’s looking to make sure Arthur doesn’t forget his birthday. Ruh-roh, Raggy.

There’s a rather sweet scene between Arthur and Uther, where the prince is talking about the annual levy and how the council thinks he should raise it. Uther stops him, saying they shouldn’t discuss matters of court on Arthur’s birthday. He knows there are plans to celebrate, and Arthur tells him of the feast and entertainers … also that he’d tell Uther about it tomorrow. Uther puts the kibosh on this idea, as if he’d ever miss celebrating his son’s birthday.

At the celebration that night, the knife-thrower asks for a volunteer to help with his act. He chooses Arthur, saying it’s a chance for the prince to showcase his “legendary bravery.” Arthur consents, and is strapped to a spinning wheel while the man throws knives at him. Two strikes hit on either side of Arthur’s head, Arthur’s eyes grow wide, and then the performer flings the third blade. Merlin tracks it with his eyes, ready to send it away from the prince, and then it sinks right into the apple stuck in Arthur’s mouth. Whew!

Gwen, who’d been biting her nails through the whole thing, finally looks relieved. A confident Arthur comes off the wheel, and boasts to Merlin about his courage. Meanwhile knife-thrower tells his dwarf assistant that the sedative in the apple should work in a few hours and Arthur will be defenseless. Ruh-roh.

Later, Merlin helps Arthur into his room. The prince stumbles into a column, and then flops into bed. Arthur gets up, deciding he wants to visit Uther, but Merlin stops him when he tells the prince he’s not wearing any trousers. Arthur pulls his pants up and walks off to visit his dad, while the knife thrower follows him.

By the time Arthur makes it to Uther’s room, the knife thrower has already taken care of most of the guards. The man sneaks into the room and attacks Arthur. Uther steps in and saves his son, which sparks a lengthy swordfight. Uther looms over the man, ready to stab him, but not before the knife thrower stabs Uther in the heart. Uther kills the knife-thrower, and falls to the ground himself. Oh snap! Looks like Uther’s not going to be long for this world.

Arthur cradles Uther in his lap while shouting for the guards. He starts to leave, but Uther tells him not to leave. Uther knows he’s dying, and tells his son how good of a king he’s sure to be. We get a standard “oh but I’m not ready” spiel from Arthur, and Uther says that’s not true (of course). They finally get Uther into bed, and Gaius tells Arthur it’s only a matter of time before Uther dies.

Agravaine tracked the assassin to King Odin’s land. Turns out it might be Odin sent the killer in revenge for Arthur killing his son. Agravaine offers his assistance, and Arthur thanks him for it. Later the prince meets with Merlin and asks for news of his father, but there’s no change. Arthur gets angry, demanding to know why Gaius isn’t doing anything, but Merlin tells him there isn’t anything to be done.

Agravaine then heads to Morgana’s hut, where he tells her that Uther has been mortally wounded. He’s got a few days to live, which makes Morgana wish for her face to haunt her father in his final days. Agravaine and Morgana plot then to strike while the kingdom is weak. Ooo … I get the feeling something interesting’s going to happen.

Gwen is of course taking care of Uther, which she claims is because she cares for Arthur. He bares his heart to her — there’s so much he wants to say to Uther that he can’t watch his father die. He seems to be set on a course that might help, but who knows what that is.

We find Merlin standing at a window watching a candlelight vigil of villagers outside, sharing their grief at Uther’s impending demise. And then Arthur comes in, and shares his plan to enlist magic to save his father. Umm … you sure about that, Arthur?

Merlin tells Gaius of the prince’s plan, and he reveals a consideration of doing it himself. Gaius preaches caution: Merlin can’t afford to expose himself like this. However, Merlin plans to use an aging spell to change into Emrys and then cast the healing magic. Gaius won’t sit by and let Merlin do this, but Merlin says he won’t be dissuaded. Sure it could end badly … then again Merlin’s been in danger of discovery since he set foot in the castle. So it’s par for the course.

Merlin finds Arthur and tells him of an old man who lives in a forest that might be able to help them. They have to go find the wizard though, and I admit to chuckling a little bit. I wonder how Merlin’s going to explain his disappearance. Either way, Arthur declares they’ll ride at first light only after Merlin confirms if it were his father he’d do whatever it took.

Agravaine is seriously the best actor in Camelot. Arthur enters his chambers and tells his uncle of the plan to save Uther with magic. Agravaine advises against it, because after all magic killed Arthur’s mother. He says it might be Uther’s time to die, but Arthur’s not buying it. I actually believed Agravaine was concerned about Uther here. Bravo for that one.

Merlin and Arthur ride up to where the old man lives. Arthur wonders if it’s the right place … a charcoal maker’s hut is not where he expected a sorcerer to live apparently. Merlin tries to say a lot of sorcerers are in the charcoal-making business, since it’s impossible to make a living off sorcery. Arthur just gives him a Look.

Arthur hands the horse’s reins over to Merlin, who just stands there. The prince looks back and asks if Merlin’s going to come. “I don’t want to overwhelm him,” Merlin says, and Arthur can’t believe his servant is such a scaredy-cat.

“Scream like a big girl if anything happens,” Arthur says right before he steps inside. He looks around a bit, and there’s no one in the hut. Then once he leaves he sees Merlin running around the side of the hut, and Merlin says he has to pee. Arthur will just have to wait inside, because after all it’s not like the doddering old man could’ve gone far. Arthur goes back inside, and Merlin then runs into the brush and transforms.

Inside, Arthur accidentally breaks a pot. He tries to sweep it aside, but not quickly enough before Old Merlin comes back in. Emrys suggests Arthur has come to kill him, despite the prince’s assurances that he hasn’t. Now Emrys pretends to be confused as to why Arthur’s there, and we’re treated to an argument about whether or not he’ll use magic to save Uther.

Arthur starts to leave, saying had he known who it was he wouldn’t have come, so Old Merlin freaks out a bit. He does however agree to try saving Uther, in exchange for magic-users no longer being hunted. Arthur tries to get Emrys to ride back with him, saying Merlin will just have to walk back to Camelot. Of course this isn’t liked, and Emrys tells Arthur he’ll come at nightfall to help. Then Emrys has Arthur wait inside, and flips out a bit when he’s asked why. Something tells me Merlin’s enjoying the ability to be a jerk to his boss and not get trounced for it.

Merlin runs out, transforms back into himself, and then finds Arthur again outside the hut. Arthur asks where the hell he’s been, to which Merlin responds by saying he was peeing. Arthur comments there’s something really wrong with his servant, and they both ride back to Camelot. Merlin bursts into Gaius’s study and gathers a whole mess of materials. Gaius was scared something had happened, but apart from Arthur thinking there’s something wrong with Merlin’s bladder everything is fine.

Gaius once again tries to convince Merlin not to go through with it. Merlin’s not hearing any contrary advice though, because he’s got a chance to have magic not be outlawed any more. However, and this is a good point, Gaius asks what will happen if Merlin is unsuccessful. Merlin lives with the threat of being discovered every day, and now he has the chance to change things for the better. Of course he’s going to take it.

Agravaine tells Morgana of Arthur’s plan, and in response Morgana makes an amulet that will counteract any healing magic. In fact, it will reverse the effects and magnify it tenfold. By trying to heal Uther, Arthur will actually cause incredible pain to his father. This will break our favorite prince, and Morgana says a broken prince will make a terrible king.

Merlin finds the healing spell he needs in a madman’s book, and then rushes off to meet Arthur at the lower gate in his old man guise. Agravaine shows up in Uther’s chamber, and tells Gwen to start a fire. Once she bustles away, he puts the charm around Uther’s neck and whispers “Finally you will get all you deserve, old friend.” Something tells me Agravaine is not a fan of Uther. Well … besides him working with Morgana and all.

Merlin is busy making the healing potion in Gaius’s quarters, when Arthur shows up looking for him. Gaius gets rid of the prince by telling him Merlin is probably in the tavern, and this gives Merlin time to run off and change into Emrys.

Emrys meets Arthur at the lower gate and when Arthur starts to go around the castle, claims the prince is already going back on his word. Arthur however reminds the old man he hasn’t yet healed Uther. When that happens, he’ll give the old sorcerer everything he wants. Emrys halts to rest in the middle of a corridor, and though Arthur tries to push him along the old man claims the quicker thing would be to carry him. So Arthur does that, and then Emrys kicks him like he’s a horse. Yeah, Merlin’s definitely having way too much fun.

Arthur dismisses the guards outside his father’s room, and ushers Emrys inside. After a brief discourse where Arthur questions using magic and Emrys says he wants to show the prince magic can be used for good, we get down to business. The spell succeeds at first, and Uther wakes, but then it immediately fails as expected and Uther dies once more. Arthur flips out on Emrys, thinking quite wrongly it’s something the old wizard does. And then Arthur pulls his sword. Really? You’re going to pull your non-magic sword on a powerful wizard?

Emrys shoves Arthur back with a spell and runs off. While hiding from the guards, he takes the potion to turn back into Merlin, and then runs back to Uther’s chambers. Gaius, Arthur, and Gwen stand around the bed, and Gaius tells Arthur that the king is in fact dead. Gaius later tells Merlin he found the charm that counteracted the healing spell, and they both realize Morgana put it there.

Agravaine goes back to Morgana’s hut. She tells him she felt Uther die, and Agravaine assures her he will make certain Arthur fails to rule Camelot well. Meanwhile, Merlin goes to comfort Arthur and instead finds out Arthur now believes magic to be pure evil. He promises to never lose sight of that again, and Merlin’s entire plan backfired in spectacular fashion.

Merlin and Gaius walk Arthur to where Uther lies in state, and then wait outside. Merlin bemoans the fact Arthur now hates all magic; Gaius meanwhile says the prince will need Merlin now more than ever. One day things will change. Just not today. The episode ends with Arthur’s coronation, and the final image is Merlin shouting “Long live the king.”

Next week: A dragon’s egg! Ooo … looks like fun.

If you missed the previous episode, be sure to read our ‘Merlin: The Darkest Hour (Part 2)’ recap.