I'll say it upfront. I loved this episode. I loved the action part of it, I loved the quieter moments, I loved the way it ended the whole season. Was it perfect? No. But there was so much more good than bad in this that I can't help but be satisfied. I know it has issues - like the show does as a whole - in its gender portrayal, but honestly, I don't care. For a neophyte on the legend like me, it's all about Arthur, Merlin, knights, and quests. If the show - a self-professed family show that caters to a ton of kids - wants to focus on them, that's their choice. Do I think Gwen could be better utilized in a more active role? Absolutely. But I recognize this show just isn't going to do that most of the time, I accept that, and I move on. That's what fanfic is for, lol.
What I loved?
1. Merlin. He was strong, resourceful, and wonderful. I loved how he had his two best buddies with him, too, and kept wondering if Gwaine was jealous of Merlin spending so much time with Lancelot, lol.
2. The Merlin/Freya scene. Colin sold this 200%. The look on his face when he saw her broke my heart. And how badly do I want to write a fic where Freya has form and comes out of the water with the sword to spend one afternoon with Merlin? So soooooooooo badly.
3. Arthur. This is the Arthur I love. The one who gets knocked down, then gets back up again (with Merlin's wonderful guidance, woo hoo!), and charges with more courage than sense because it's the right thing to do. The one who knights his men because they've earned it, not because of their bloodline.
4. The knights and their vows of loyalty. I got goosebumps during that whole scene.
5. Gwen being all resourceful, at least until Arthur and the knights had to take over. Who else loved seeing her forge the key?
6. More Leon. And in a dress, lol!
7. Every time Lancelot looked at Gwen, knowing she was with Arthur, broke my heart. I'm not even a big Lancelot fan, but I felt so bad for him in this.
8. Putting the sword in the stone. I saw that coming all the way from the beginning, but I still loved the image we got.
I do wish Morgana wasn't so black and white, but that's been a complaint this entire series. The writers turned her into a villain because that's the way the legend paints her. I think it's a terrible waste of an opportunity for a fascinating character study, and I don't for a second think she resembles the Morgana from S1 and 2, but this was the character we were given, and if we don't like it, well, that's what fanfic is for, lol.
I say that a lot, but honestly, that's its purpose, isn't it? We get to redo the show the way we want to see it. We get to fix the missed opportunities. Because they're there, I know that. But I love this show anyway.