Presenting OTP Tuesday! Each Tuesday I will introduce you to a new One True Pairing. Tune in each week to find out which fictional couple you need to agonize/squee over next. This week: Mergana!
Who Are Mergana?
Mergana is the ship name for Merlin and Morgana Pendragon from the BBC series Merlin. Yeah, I’m on a Merlin kick lately (all the time, really).
Merlin is, predictably enough, the protagonist of Merlin. When we first meet him, he’s a young man entering Camelot for the first time – a far cry from the normal depiction of history’s most famous wizard, usually shown as an old man with a long white beard who tutors the young King Arthur. This Merlin is just a peasant coming to Camelot to hide his magic. Because in this Camelot, magic is illegal. Merlin came to Camelot to live with and learn from his uncle Gaius, a court physician.
Gaius, who was once a sorcerer before King Uther Pendragon outlawed all magic, sets out to guide and protect his nephew. Unfortunately for them both, Merlin isn’t great at keeping a low profile. Within his first hours in Camelot, he manages to piss off the prince, Arthur, and end up in the dungeons. He redeems himself by saving Arthur’s life at a banquet, which Uther “rewards” by making him Arthur’s servant. At the same time, the last dragon, who lives underneath Camelot’s castle, tells Merlin he has a grand destiny – to serve at the side of the greatest king ever, Arthur.
Naturally, Merlin isn’t thrilled. Arthur is a prat. But he serves Arthur more or less faithfully, saving his life on numerous occasions. He also faces some difficult situations, where his loyalty to Arthur comes into conflict with his moral compass (more on that later). Over time, Merlin sees a better side to Arthur, believing in their shared destiny. Unfortunately, destiny plays out in a tricky way. Arthur is defeated at a major battle against a bitter sorcerer – his half-sister, Morgana. He is mortally wounded, and all Merlin’s magic is useless to save his life. He wanders the Earth, awaiting Arthur’s eventual return as the once and future king.
Morgana Pendragon is one of the most complex and interesting characters in Merlin. She starts the series as a sympathetic ally. Morgana is the ward of Uther Pendragon, raised by the king after her own parents’ deaths. She is raised almost as a daughter and has a high position in the court of Camelot. That being said, she doesn’t always agree with Uther. Morgana is outspoken, especially in defense of the downtrodden. She is strongly opposed to Uther’s magic ban, even warning Uther that his draconian laws only make him more enemies.
Over time, things changed for Morgana. She slowly realizes that she is a seer, a magic-user. Although she has done nothing to pursue magic, her very being would get her executed if Uther knew. She starts to live in fear and push people away. She also learns she has a sister, the sorceress Morgause. Morgause is violently opposed to Uther’s rule and uses Morgana as a pawn. Under Morgause’s guidance, Morgana came to hate all that she knew in Camelot. The worst comes when she learns the truth – she is actually Uther’s daughter. He refused to name her as such so that Arthur would be heir. This is too much for her.
Bitter, afraid, and solid in the knowledge of her status as Camelot’s true heir, Morgana begins to undermine Camelot. She turns fully from her idealistic youth into a quest to gain her rightful place on the throne, as well as returning magic to Camelot through force. Morgana kills Uther, leaving a young and insecure Arthur on the throne. She then worked on removing Arthur, despite the fact that they were raised together. In the end, Morgana leads to Arthur’s death, too, though she loses her own life in the process. No one wins.
Why is Mergana OTP?
While Merthur may be the ship that sails my heart, Mergana is the one that got away. What started off as a sweet potential ended up crashing and burning in the worst way. Rewatching Merlin is painful because of what could have been if only things had gone a different way. Mergana is a big part of that.
A Magical Ship
On the surface, Merlin and Morgana are worlds apart. Morgana is a lady of the court, raised almost as a daughter of the king. She is well respected and privileged. Merlin is a peasant from a tiny village. He sleeps in a tiny room and works hard all day taking care of the prince for little reward or acclaim. They should never even cross paths. Merlin is friends with Morgana’s maid Gwen, and he occasionally delivers sleeping potions from Gaius. That really should be that, as things go.
But one thing connects Merlin and Morgana, even if they don’t initially realize it: magic. Merlin and Morgana are two of the most powerful magic users the world has ever seen. Neither of them sought out this power, but were innately magical. This leads to an understanding of sorts. When Morgana starts to realize that her nightmares are actually visions, making her a seer, she panics. It’s not a good thing to be in Uther’s Camelot. But Merlin is there to help her feel safe. Although he does not reveal his own magic, he understands Morgana’s fear and sympathizes. He is her comfort as she discovers her own power.
Unfortunately, Merlin’s choice not to reveal his secret to Morgana, as well as her position as a pawn between himself and Morgause, spoils any goodwill. Merlin chose Arthur over his budding friendship with Morgana, to disastrous results. When Morgause curses the kingdom, tied to Morgana’s life force, Merlin poisons her to save the kingdom. He knows what he does is wrong, but he has no conception of the consequences he – and the entire kingdom – will face due to his choice. Merlin’s actions send Morgana into Morgause’s arms, leading to her eventual hatred of and attack on Camelot.
Two Sides/Same Coin
What’s interesting about Merlin is how it revises the familiar Arthurian legend. While Arthur is still a major player on the show, he is not the focus. Instead, the focus is on the two magic users that exist, hidden, alongside him. Merlin is obviously the protagonist of the show, so it’s clear that the focus is on him. But Morgana, as the eventual antagonist, has just as big a part to play. The story of Merlin is not the tale of King Arthur – it’s the story of the magic users who shaped Camelot and legend.
Merlin and Morgana are very different, of course. But their experiences are so similar. Both are magic users – magical beings, even – in a land where magic is outlawed and their very existence is a crime. This puts a huge burden on them, having to hide who they really are and live in constant fear of death. Both live in Arthur’s shadow, despite being arguably more important. Merlin is the reason for many of Arthur’s victories and has saved the king’s life countless times, whereas Morgana is the firstborn and true heir of King Uther. Both innately believe in justice – things just get twisted along the way.
There’s actually an interesting role reversal that takes place. At the start of the show, Morgana is a moral compass, lecturing Uther on his hateful policies and working to protect the people. Merlin, on the other hand, is more immature and less focused. As Morgana is confronted time and again by how unjust Uther is, and how unfair life has been to her, her righteousness is corrupted, especially when Merlin, who she trusted, poisons her. It’s this corruption that led her to campaign against Camelot, though she sees it as a fair pursuit of her birthright.
What’s Next for Mergana?
Alas, the plight of a Merlin fan. No next – not for anyone or any ship. The show ended after five seasons, leaving a lasting emotional impact on fans, one that still hurts to think about. After Uther’s death (by Morgana’s magical hand), Arthur is crowned king of Camelot. He is young and brash and makes some mistakes. Notably, he chooses not to overturn Uther’s magic ban, due to the clear magical influence in his father’s death. This sets the stage for his downfall. Morgana, secure in her right to rule and seeking to make magic free and safe, challenges his rule from every turn.
Things come to a head when Mordred, a young druid who is prophesied to kill Arthur, becomes a knight. Knowing Mordred’s destiny, Merlin is suspicious and harsh. His actions eventually turned Mordred away. He goes to Morgana and there reveals that the sorcerer who has thwarted all her plans, her mortal nemesis Emrys, is actually Merlin. Armed with this knowledge, Morgana is able to make her move at last. She takes away Merlin’s magic, leaving Arthur without his secret guardian. There is a great battle at Camlann, and Arthur is mortally wounded by Mordred.
Although Merlin gets his magic back, he is unable to save Arthur. He did, however, defeat Morgana. In the end, both Pendragons are dead and Merlin is alone. He leaves Camelot and wanders the earth, immortal, awaiting Arthur’s return. The final shots are of a modern-day, very old Merlin, still waiting. The ending is harsh and unexpected, even if you know the tragedy of Arthur’s mythological death in advance. Having everything come crashing down like that is too much. Merlin, ever loyal, is alone. Morgana, who fought for justice, becomes the villain and dies. It’s very painful to watch.
Is Mergana Canon?
Mergana is not even remotely close to canon. It doesn’t live in the same universe as canon. Mergana is so laughably uncanon that it actually isn’t very funny. Merlin is actually fairly ship-lite. There’s only one real canon ship – Arthur and Guinevere, of course. Arthur and Merlin are the BROTP to end all BROTPs (and arguably more). But though several other ships are hinted at, nothing ever comes of them. Mergana isn’t even really this last category. “Hint” is perhaps too strong a word for the textual evidence. It’s more of a hope.
Merlin and Morgana did have really good interactions early in the show. Morgana doesn’t treat Merlin like dirt just because he’s a servant, seeing him for the real person he is. Merlin, for his part, is not overawed by Morgana’s position in court and treats her kindly, rather than fawningly. He is a friend, something that should not have happened but which Morgana desperately needs. It’s this unlikely friendship that makes Merlin’s later betrayal so tragic. Morgana lost a friendship she relied on, and this was something she couldn’t recover from.
That being said, there’s never really anything romantic between them. But Mergana remains the ship that could have been. If things had gone differently, we could have had something (ahem) magical. Merlin and Morgana, powerful magic users, united to help magicians all over Camelot. If Merlin had told Morgana his secret, they could have stood together against unfair laws, and worked together to protect Arthur and undo Uther’s harmful regime. They could have had a much less painful life. The early Mergana interactions were sweet and innocent, so far from the later hatred. If we could have just kept that optimism, we really could have had it all.