‘Merlin’ Recap: ‘The Disir’

Arthur explains a few things to Merlin: The Disir

Three hooded witches in a cave, chanting together and pointing their sticks into a dark pool, pulling a coin from its depths. Then, outside, one of them gives instruction and the coin to a man called Osgar, and tells him Arthur Pendragon’s fate is in his hands.

In Camelot, Arthur is training Mordred, and it turns out he’s a very good swordsman and a much-liked member of the court. But Merlin still harbours doubts as to Mordred’s role in Arthur’s future. However, even Gaius thinks he may be over-cautious in this case.

They’ve got other things to worry about, anyway. Sir Ranulf has been killed by magic, after trying to arrest Osgar in the forest of Brekfar, on the Eastern borders. Arthur pledges to take his best men off to find Osgar and bring him back to Camelot. Gwen, as is so often the case, wonders why he has to do it himself when he has such a loyal team of knights around him, but Arthur explains it’s because Ranulf was a childhood friend. He also decides to take Morded along for the ride.

After a certain amount of hazing from the other knights, and another warning from Merlin (seriously, Arthur ignores Merlin’s warnings EVERY WEEK and he’s ALWAYS RIGHT), the knights set off, conning Mordred into riding backwards as they go.

In the forest, they spot Osgar, and split up. Elyan and Gwaine sneak up on Osgar, who is clearly expecting them. He asks to be taken to Arthur, but as they raise their swords to his neck, he blasts them away, first the swords, then, after Gwaine wounds him, the knights too.

A staggering Osgar finds Arthur, with Merlin and Mordred. It turns out he has been sent to pass judgement, from the Disir (those witches from earlier), on Arthur. He takes out the coin, and puts it in Arthur’s hand, it is a seal of judgement from the people of the Old Religion. Arthur has waged war on them, and now Camelot’s destruction is assured, unless Arthur can change his policy on magic and the people that practise it. This is his last chance.

Then he dies. While Merlin builds a grave, Mordred reminds him that the king does not permit a marked grave, a reference to the hidden nature of their magical talents. Merlin says he believes Arthur will permit magic to return one day.

Later that night, Merlin expresses concern over the judgement from the Disir, but Arthur seems unduly cocky, dismissing the coin as a trinket. Gaius thinks otherwise, pointing out that it is a runemark, a seal of judgement from the Disir, the highest court of the Old Religion. Those three witches are seers, to interpret the word of the Triple Goddess. Gaius impresses on Arthur that the runemark is not superstition, it is an opportunity for change and repentance. Arthur is unimpressed, but clearly rattled enough by Gaius’s decision to treat the runemark with new respect.

There follows a period of introspection from Arthur, why is he being judged and not Uther? Is it because he has shown the capacity for change? Should he change?

Later that night, Merlin summons Kilgharrah for further advice. The dragon tells Merlin the runemark predicts Arthur’s death, and that Mordred’s fate is still bound up in Arthur’s. The dragon once again advises Merlin to kill Mordred when he has the chance, or risk Arthur’s death and the doom of Camelot.

Back in the castle, Gwen and Arthur discuss Osgar and the runemark. He’s rattled by Osgar’s lack of passion or hatred, that he gave Arthur the runemark with an expression of pity. He decides to go and find the Disir, and wakes Gaius and Merlin for directions.

An hour later, Arthur and the knights are saddled up and ready to go. Mordred convinces Arthur to let him come along, and they set off for the White Mountains, and the cave where the Disir live.

Merlin tries to prevent Arthur from entering the cave armed, but the knights press ahead regardless, with Percival even stepping on a relic he’s pulled off the wall. Such disrespect!

Inside, the Disir await. Arthur demands to know why he is being judged. The Disir explain that it’s the Triple Goddess that is angered by Arthur’s actions, not them. His fairness as a king is without question, but his battles against the Old Religion will be his downfall. The arrogance of his knights, the invasion of their sacred space, the weapons they bear, such things are an affront to the Disir.

This is too much for Gwaine, who draws his sword to attack, only to be thrown back by magic. The other knights make as if to attack and are similarly repulsed. Mordred prevents a magical staff from hitting Arthur, and is wounded in the process. Arthur orders a retreat, and Merlin demands that Mordred be taken back to Camelot.

Gaius tells Merlin only he can save Mordred, using magic, but Merlin is unwilling, especially after having spoken to Kilgharrah. The only way to save Mordred, Arthur believes, is to ask the Disir to show mercy. But Gaius is doubtful it will work.

Arthur and Merlin go back to the cave, with Merlin picking at Arthur’s need to save Mordred and Arthur explaining his loyalty to those who have saved his life. Dropping his sword, Arthur enters the cave once more, and apologises for their actions, the last time they were there.

The Disir tell Arthur he can only avoid a painful fate for himself and Camelot if he embraces the Old Religion, and send him back out to think about it. He has until dawn. That night, Arthur and Merlin discuss what to do for the best. Arthur says he’s seen unfettered sorcery and the harm it can cause, and asks Merlin if he thinks magic should be reinstated to Camelot.

Mindful of the dragon’s words, and at great personal cost to his own beliefs, Merlin says there can be no place for magic in Camelot.

So, the next morning, Arthur chooses to reject the Old Religion. The Disir tell him he has sealed his own fate, and the fate of his kingdom. The knowledge that he’s acting according to his own better judgement does nothing to ease the guilt Arthur feels for letting Mordred die.

As they dismount in the square, Arthur heads for the mains steps and, looking up, sees a healthy Mordred coming down to greet them. Merlin is stunned. Talking it over with Gaius later, he realises that the Disir’s judgement is to allow Mordred to live, and therefore let destiny take its course, and destroy the kingdom.

But will it? Find out next time…

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

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