When Merlin returns tonight for a third season on Syfy, the young wizard who stirs the cauldron that is Camelot says relationships established in Arthurian legend will continue to materialize, but at a measured pace to allow for proper storytelling and character development.
“I think as an audience member, being aware of where these characters end up and knowing that they become the legends that they are – that Arthur and Gwen become king and queen, that Merlin becomes Arthur’s adviser and a wizard, and that magic is out in the open – can possibly be a source of frustration when you want that to happen quickly,” says Colin Morgan, who was a relatively unknown British actor before landing the role of Merlin on the international hit TV series. “But in reality, things don’t happen that quickly. It takes time for those to happen. And I guess as well that’s from a story point of view. I guess from a producers’ point of view they don’t want to rush things too quickly, but I do believe that things are happening at quite a pace already in terms of character relationships.”
Bradley James, who plays Prince Arthur, understands the frustration, as well, but says Season 3 is a game-changer.
“If the third season had not have gone in the direction that it went in, then, yes, those frustrations would have been there,” says James, describing the 13 episodes that have already aired in the U.K. “But I think Season 3 kind of takes the show in the direction it needed to go. And I think Season 3, things change.”
He says one thing that fueled the change was the addition of new characters.
“I don’t think I’ll get into too much trouble for this, but basically I think the thing I was most excited about with the third series is the introduction of certain characters who have a more longstanding place within the legend and the story and within the show for us because there’s one or two knights that turn up,” James says.
And while he doesn’t name names, a quick Google search reveals a Merlin-ized version of Sir Gawain (Eoin Macken of The Tudors) joins the Knights of the Round Table in the season’s fourth episode, while Sir Perceval (Tom Hopper of Doctor Who) is featured in the season finale. Santiago Cabrera, who played precognitive painter Isaac Mendez on Heroes, also reprises his role as Lancelot in the season finale.
James also teases that whenever Morgana (Katie McGrath) rears her not-so-ugly head this season, it’s not good for Merlin and Arthur. However, fans of the show will to love to hate her.
“There’s been a year-long search for her as decreed by King Uther (Anthony Head), and we don’t know where she’s been for that year," he says. "We don’t know what she’s been up to or what she’s been harvesting. But it becomes very evident very quickly in the first episode that despite appearances she hasn’t changed. She’s just as evil as she was before, if not more. And so it’s basically set out within the first episode of where she’s going to go and what she’s going to create and what she’s going to change.”
While Morgan agrees that expanding the Merlin universe and watching Morgana turn to the dark side were both natural progressions for Season 3, he also enjoyed watching the relationship between Merlin and Arthur evolve.
“There’s always that issue there of them being servant and master. And that will always be there," he says. "But these are guys who’ve been friends for three years now. And as anyone who’s spent that much time together you get used to the quirks and those little idiosyncrasies that each person has. But it’s unique in the fact that these characters have huge things ahead of them and Arthur knows he’s going to be king. Merlin does too. But he also knows that there are greater things at stake and that he’s the one who’s supposed to see them through. So they’re forced into that situation. And it’s just lucky that as time has gone by, they’ve become closer friends.”
James thinks during the course of the series, Arthur will get to a point where he no longer sees Merlin as a servant and they will be true equals, just not anytime soon.
“But I think that’s kind of where that relationship goes. And I think for the show itself that relationship has to be quite steady in its progression because if started making major jumps or suddenly made too much of an adjustment to it, I think the audience would kind of find it a little bit weird.”
During Season 3, Merlin also welcomes four actors from the Harry Potter film franchise: genre legend Warwick Davis (Professor Filius Flitwick), who plays Grettir the bridgekeeper; Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley) as Merlin’s friend Gilli; Miriam Margoyles (Professor Pomona Sprout) as Grunhilda; and Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley) as the voice of a mischievous goblin.
Merlin begins its third season tonight at 10 ET/PT on Syfy.