This week’s offering is yet more growth in Arthur as a king. Gwen and Gaius have minor roles again, as the show tries to focus ever more on the Merlin-Arthur partnership. Oh, and Agravaine’s an even slimier git. As if that were possible, amirite?

[spoilers ahead]

The episode opens with Merlin running from a group of enemy soldiers, dressed as a knight of Camelot. They corner him, and the young wizard brandishes an axe that one of them threw. It looks like there’s no way out. Except then the other knights show, and the battle is joined.

Turns out this little expedition was to get rid of a few bandits. Oh and one of them happens to be an enemy king. Good for you, Arthur. Am I the only one who can’t hear some of the names on this show? I had to look this king’s name – Caerleon – up after the show. After Caerleon gets taken in, Agravaine lets on it’s no surprise there’s been an increase in attacks since Uther died. Arthur is an untested king, and he needs to send a message to Camelot’s enemies that he is not to be trifled with. In short, that he is his father’s son.

The message Agravaine suggests is to get Caerleon to sign a treaty giving Camelot its lands and withdrawing his forces. Arthur says the man would rather die first; Agravaine responds if that’s how it’ll have to be that’s how it’ll have to be. Arthur is of course reticent, but Agravaine says there’s no choice. Arthur is given until tomorrow to decide. Man, it sucks being king doesn’t it?

Merlin wakes up the next morning to find Arthur still thinking over his options. Arthur’s convinced that he has to do what Uther would have. Merlin tries to counsel mercy toward Caerleon, something Arthur’s always done before, but Arthur snaps that his servant doesn’t know what it’s like to make decisions that affect the future. Umm, methinks he does there king boy.

The treaty is delivered, and as expected Caerleon refuses. He tells Arthur to make it quick, and kneels to accept the killing blow. Arthur tells him to think about it long and hard, because the treaty could mean peace as there was between their fathers. Caerleon says he is not his father, and Arthur is not Uther. Striking statement that … given the episode title and all.

Our heroes return to Camelot, where Agravaine tells Arthur that his choice gained him favor with the council and with the people. Arthur then thanks his uncle for his guidance, naturally. Poor King Arthur, putting his trust in the wrong person.

Merlin gets on Arthur’s case again about Caerleon’s death, wondering if compassion could be a show of strength as well. Not apparently for the likes of that enemy, or so Arthur says. Merlin suggests Arthur talk about the murder if he needs to; there’s no point in pushing his friends away when he needs them. Arthur says the kingdom is his burden to bear alone. He doesn’t have the luxury to depend on people.

Caerleon’s men bear him back home. His queen, Annis, flips open the sheet on the corpse, and declares the lack of a battle wound means the death is the work of cowards. Oh, that and Camelot and Arthur will pay for the slight. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.

We’re treated to Agravaine lecturing Arthur on ruling with his head and not his heart. Specifically he drops the bomb that the people don’t want to see Arthur marry Gwen, a servant, and have her rule over them as queen. More to the point, Agravaine doesn’t want it to happen because Morgana doesn’t want it to happen.

A messenger arrives just as Arthur finishes beating the tar out of a punching bag. Merlin of course comments on Arthur’s anger, but as the king punches so hard he knocks the bag off he explains it’s really controlled rage. Oh, and the message? Delivered by Sir Leon, who tells us Queen Annis just led an army into their lands. The decision to kill Caerleon isn’t looking so good now, is it Arthur? To his credit, the king decides to move out and meet the enemy forces before they reach the city.

Morgana shows up at Annis’s castle. She makes an alliance with the woman after revealing she came in the name of her father Gorlois, who raised her into what she is. Both she and Annis have lost something at the hands of a Pendragon, so now they make a devil’s bargain of sorts. Well this sounds like it’ll be a fun partnership.

Arthur sneaks out and down to Gwen’s house the night before they ride out to meet Caerleon’s army in battle. He tells her that them being seen together is “no longer appropriate” in light of him now being king. Wow is that the worst breakup line ever or what? Gwen’s completely heartbroken of course. Oh, but don’t worry honey … you’ll get your king. He might be a bit of a jerkface now though. She leaves him with the parting shot that he should be true to himself. Only then will he be the king he’s supposed to be.

Camelot’s army rides out while Gaius and Gwen watch from an upper window. They talk briefly about how things are different now because the fate of the kingdom rests on Arthur’s shoulders alone. Gauis emphasizes that the king’s not alone, and that Gwen knows this. She agrees … except she’s not sure he knows it.

At the ridge where they plan to meet the enemy, Arthur tells Agravaine to make sure the men have everything they need. Later that night Arthur looks out at his core group of nights a touch wistfully. They notice him looking, and he tells them to get some sleep before turning away. Gwaine asks what’s wrong with him, and Merlin explains that should anything happen to them Arthur would hold himself responsible. The core group of knights – Leon, Elyan, Percival, and Gwaine – come into Arthur’s tent after dinner and tell him they’ve already taken their pledge to die for him.

Arthur does the obligatory hero thing where he questions whether he deserves the loyalty of his men. I’m really sick of that trope, to be honest. Sure it shows humility, but there’s got to be other ways to do that. Merlin explains no one cares about his men more than Arthur does. Sending them into battle isn’t a decision Arthur takes lightly. Except Arthur questions now if it was the right one. Is this a breakthrough I hear?

Arthur sneaks off in the middle of the night, followed of course by Merlin. Looks like Arthur’s going to try dealing with Annis to save everyone’s lives. To be more exact, Arthur suggests the rite of single combat. One champion from each camp face down in a battle to the death, thus saving hundreds of lives. Should Arthur’s champion win, the Caerleon army withdraws. Should the Caerleon champion win, half of all Camelot becomes theirs. Merlin gets caught, of course, and Arthur convinces Annis to let him live. Score two for our favorite king. And cue the argument between Merlin and Arthur over Merlin trying to help. I swear these two act like they’re married.

Back at the Camelot camp, there’s a bit of contention over the challenge. However a deal’s a deal, and Arthur declares that he himself will be the champion.

Annis doesn’t like the idea of Arthur fighting. After all, the young Pendragon is a fine warrior. However Morgana declares her brother will not win the day, because of course she has the power to make sure he doesn’t. To whit, Agravaine spirits away Arthur’s sword and meets with Morgana in the wilderness. She curses the sword, declares Arthur’s as good as dead, and sends Agravaine on his merry way.

While putting on his armor, Arthur hands Merlin a ring and tells him to give it to Gwen should today prove to be his last. Oh and tells her that he’s sorry… “for being a jerk face” should be the rest of that sentence, of course. And we’ve got a touching scene between Arthur and Merlin where they’re nice to each other. Mostly at least, because Arthur makes fun of Merlin a bit when the wizard wishes him good luck. “You’re not going to start crying are you?” the king asks.

Agravaine shows when it’s time, and smiles a weasel grin when Arthur draws the cursed sword. We get our first glimpse then of Annis’s champion – a big man named Derian. Morgana tells him no quarter is to be given to Arthur, which causes our big fella to grin.

The duel is joined in full view of the armies. Arthur gets first blood, and he and Derian fight back and forth. Until Morgana puts her curse – the weight of a thousand ages – into play. Arthur’s sword becomes too heavy for him to lift. Merlin realizes what’s happened, and he freezes Derian’s sword in mid-swing.

This allows Arthur to get away from the big man, but Derian grabs his sword first and looms over the downed king. Another spell, and Derian drops his sword. Arthur leaps to his feet, grabs the big man’s sword, and slices the back of Derian’s knees. Arthur holds the sword above Derian’s head, looks to Merlin on the hill, and then drives the blade into the ground instead.

The army of Camelot cheers the decision. Morgana and her allies can’t believe this turn of events, if their faces are any indication. Annis congratulates Arthur, and says she’ll comply with their deal. She asks why Arthur didn’t kill her champion; he says it’s because he wants peace, not victory. And then she tells him there’s something in him that gives her hope for everyone.

Back at Caerleon camp, Annis tells Morgana that Arthur was made of sterner stuff than she imagined. Morgana says next time her brother won’t be so lucky, but Annis cuts that idea down right there. She declares she’s made her peace with Arthur, so Morgana storms out. Well, to be fair Annis did compare Morgana to Uther, which is kind of a burn.

The victorious army rides back to Camelot, and Arthur admits that Merlin was right this one time. Oh, and then Arthur gets back together with Gwen. Hooray!

Did you miss last week’s episode? If so, check out our recap of ‘Merlin: Aithusa’.

Next week: Merlin gets cursed to kill Arthur.