So for several months now, I've been meaning to do a meta-study of Gwen, but it wasn't until the Thursday before the season 2 finale aired that I was inexplicably galvanised into action. I somehow got the insane notion into my head that I could cover all of Gwen's journey through season 1 and season 2 up to 2.12, and get my predictions down for season 3 onwards, before the finale aired.
Clearly, as it's February 2nd, I vastly underestimated the task I set out for myself.
As it is now, I am several versions, hundreds of edits, and six weeks later, but I'm sitting on something I'm fairly proud of. I've decided to split the meta into two parts, however, just due to how much material there is to cover.
In this part, I strive to chronicle Gwen's journey through the series thus far. Through this character study, I hope to demonstrate how events around and involving her affected her; how they caused her to grow and in which directions.
If I'm successful, part 2 (to be posted soon) will follow logically, presenting what I feel would be the most organic next steps to set up Gwen as queen. More blatantly, part 2 will pretty much be a detailed list of my predictions (or hopes; maybe, more accurately, demands) for Gwen in season 3 and beyond.
Before diving in, my declaration of bias, thanks and requests/guidelines for discussion.
- It's no secret that I love Gwen and am an Arthur/Gwen shipper. This is not an Arthur/Gwen meta. This is absolutely a Gwen-centric study. However, in season 2, I've dedicated a lot of time to the analysis of her forming relationship with Arthur. It is primarily limited to Gwen's perspectives and its affects on her. So in accordance with the purpose of this essay, I've tried to remain fair of my analysis of the canon.
- Discussion on Gwen's character that is not favourable is fine, as long as the observation/criticism is founded on a sound base. But haters are unwelcome here. Any Gwen bashing comments will be dealt with strictly with threads frozen immediately, or deleted entirely.
- I can't possibly have covered all angles. There are certain things I took for granted as "shared accepted canon" (ie: Gwen's compassion, and her closeness with Morgana, and that, at some point, it becomes established that Gwen's M.O. is to move forward) and ask only for patience for any oversights, and openmindedness for any interpretations you hadn't previously considered. With those things in mind, I really would love discussion on the things I outline here, and other thoughts and observations about Gwen in general.
- Many, many thanks to mancalahour for the lovely banner, and for holding my hand through the (sometimes painful) process of writing this meta; to and_i for giving this a final read-thru, making sure everything made sense, and lending me her insights for claims that lacked weight; and finally to my amazing flist for their cheerleading and support. I love you all like crazy ♥
One of my favourite things about Merlin is that we get to witness a humble young woman turn into a queen to whom any leader worth their salt could aspire. At least, that's the potential I see in Gwen.
That hadn't always been the case. When Gwen the maidservant first appeared on my screen, I was endeared, certainly. How could I not be? First she looks on in disappointment as some idiot (Arthur) bullies some random boy (servant-before-Merlin) and then she goes up to our series lead and introduces herself before praising his bravery and subsequently accidentally insulting him. All of it in possibly the sweetest way possible.
From there on, Gwen really only became sweeter. I saw her as one looking for a companion, and a champion, and didn't yet see her as the future queen. She encouraged Merlin on the steps in Valiant, expecting the hero she'd seen stand up to Arthur the first time around to have all the answers this time as well. Other than displaying what would later become something of her M.O. in her supportive nature, Gwen showed a definite lack of agency in trying to formulate a plan herself.
But I believe that was due to not having had opportunity previously (or, perhaps more accurately, cause), therefore not having developed a sense of confidence in her abilities. That part, satisfyingly, came later.
She was a character predisposed to being thoughtful and observant, and I believe she must have had the opportunity under Morgana's service and protection to look around her world and observe it in ways others in her same position never could. She witnessed strength in her peers and questionable leadership in her superiors, and had the chance to ruminate upon her forming thoughts, probably even discuss things with (a veritable force to be reckoned with in her own right:) Morgana.
But for all Gwen's burgeoning opinions and feelings on how things should be, I don't think she ever really thought that she could be responsible for any sort of implementation of them, let alone that she could ever voice her views to anyone who could.
Gwen stayed tucked safely under Morgana's wing, supporting her new champion - Merlin - when she had opportunity to, and thus, felt thoroughly ill-equipped when her own world went sideways and she was thought to be a witch in episode 3.
This is the first time I got to see vulnerable Gwen. Previously she'd been sweet Gwen, infatuated Gwen, faithful/encouraging Gwen.
Here was a Gwen who shrieked for help while being dragged down the corridor. She fell before the court gracelessly and begged for mercy. She lost hope in her friends abilities, and hesitantly asked them not to forget her. (This last something to bear in mind later, as that fear is brought into the fold in season 2.)
My heart went out to her - amiable Gwen who I could hardly imagine hurting a fly (at this point, I would more easily have envisioned her capturing it carefully beneath a cup and setting it free in a patch of flowers) was set to burn for a "crime" she hadn't committed. And she also very obviously had no understanding of why it was happening to her.
But her champion and her protector came through for her. And through the ordeal she had grown up a little bit; her foundations were shaken and some of the wool had fallen from her eyes.
And so, when Gwen was next given opportunity to participate in the heroics in Poisoned Chalice, she did. She owed Merlin, she obviously cared for him greatly and he had gone to such great lengths that her loyalty had been earned and firmly placed with him, but I think it also was the chance to prove to herself that she was not as weak as she was made to feel in the castle dungeons. That she was, in fact, good and that the faith her friend had now earned was something she could stalwartly reciprocate.
After all, it was at her own instigation that she returned to the dungeons after spending days at Merlin's side. It can't have been easy to return to the place she had so recently inhabited herself. Particularly when considering she had been held there for unjust reasons, similar to her sovereign now, and his imprisonment would potentially cost her the life of someone she cared for dearly.
Gwen succeeded. She no longer sat in the sidelines as circumstances became dire; she saw the need, and stepped in to fill the gap. Without her assistance, Arthur's quest would have proven pointless, Merlin would not have survived and the story would have ended.
Gwen, who had previously only watched as her friends behaved heroically, or relied upon them to save the day, had now proven herself just as capable.
And then along came Lancelot. I think that what her experiences with him showed her was that Merlin was not the exception. He was not the only peasant who could rise to challenges and meet them head on, not the only one who could demonstrate bravery and loyalty and make a difference.
Lancelot came, with his shy demeanour and enormous heart, with his eyes bright for a future in which he would serve a land and better it, and I think he inspired Gwen (Lancelot: "... I must do what I can to protect [Arthur]. It's my duty. Knight or not." Gwen: "You really believe that, don't you?" Lancelot: "Yes, my lady." Gwen: "Lancelot, I don't think I have ever met your like before."). He resonated with her in ways she hadn't felt before: instead of Merlin's somewhat accidental and bumbling heroic nature, here was a person who had chosen to make a difference, and choice is very important to Gwen. Lancelot encompassed a lot of what Gwen wanted to believe was possible in the world. He came along just at the right time to strengthen her foundations.
One of my favourite Gwen scenes is her brief conversation with Gaius in A Remedy to Cure All Ills, when Gaius is leaving Camelot and they speak about Edwin. She asks for his help, and absolutely does not stand for his rubbish about having no choice when he offers it as an excuse ("In life you always have a choice. Sometimes it's easier to think that you don't."). That's the first time Gwen had stood up to anyone about anything, but it follows organically as one of the lessons she had taken from recent experiences. And I've felt that her mentality on choice quickly became one of the foundations for her growth and of her personality.
This episode also showed us Gwen demonstrating further agency by trying to step into the role of protector in Morgana's stead. She does her best to stand up to Edwin, to enforce what little power she had in all ways she could before having to admit defeat in the face of his passive-aggressive threat against Morgana's life.
Unfortunately in this she was at a two-fold disadvantage. First of all, she had little knowledge about medical problems to formulate any proof to insist Edwin was behaving suspiciously; she only had her instinct. And secondly, any power she had to enforce her stance was lost with Morgana being unconscious.
Therefore I think it's unsurprising that in Ealdor, where, for all intents and purposes, hierarchical position meant little, Gwen mostly shed her maidservant demeanour, and voila: the future queen first appeared.
There are about three hundred different reasons I love The Moment of Truth and at least half of them pertain to Gwen. She and Morgana concoct a plan to ride with Merlin to aid his hometown, against the orders of the king, because of feelings of camaraderie and loyalty. Then, in the midst of increasing hopelessness, Gwen becomes determined that the women should be able to fight alongside the men in order to defend the village.
And it is she who first voices these thoughts to Arthur - the first direct words she's ever spoken to him in a conversational way - just to be shut down. And yet, this Gwen I've been watching grow slowly all season won't be deterred; she goes and stands up for her idea (and for the women she has now championed - see this, no longer requiring a champion, but becoming one herself) in front of the entire gathered village.
And she succeeded. Again.
Not only did she take the cause into her keeping, but she managed to rally the women behind her as well. She demonstrated leadership, the ability to think clearly in problematic times, formulate a solution, and she even grew the backbone to stand up to Arthur before ultimately swaying him to her point of view. These things were likely partially strengthened from Gwen's recognition that in Ealdor, what little status she had that still mattered placed her slightly above the townspeople, and that made them her responsibility. Especially the women who were receiving little or no attention from Arthur.
And, after all that, Gwen was still fundamentally the modest girl who endeared me to her in the first place. She had taken issue with Arthur's snobbery towards the Ealdorean food and grasped the opportunity to tell him so (not unlike her behaviour in The Witchfinder in series 2). I liked that this scene showed us that her success was only a revelation of the potential she had been sitting on. None of her actions were random or underdeveloped; on the contrary, she had been moving steadily towards them all season, only needing opportunity to act upon them, while still retaining what it meant to be Gwen.
Moment of Truth was a fantastic episode for Gwen. My girl kicked ass all over the place that episode.
But some of the most interesting developments for Gwen's character occurred, understandably, in To Kill the King. There's a definite shift from pre-To Kill the King Gwen who virtually wore her heart on her sleeve, to post-episode Gwen, who learned to keep her emotions closer to herself.
Understandably, 1x12 marked the most profound, lasting shift in Gwen's perspectives in the entire series thus far. None of the individuals she had been learning to place her trust in had been able to help her father, and after an increasingly long list of successes for herself, she failed as well.
Gwen was less stuttery after episode 12; for all she maintained her warmth, a slight edge developed that hadn't been there before; more than ever, I think she started to recognise how insidious Camelot's need for change and improvement was. At the same time, I don't believe it discouraged her, but rather propelled her into more critical thought, enabling her to seize opportunity for action when it arose later on.
This episode was also the first that Merlin asked her for an opinion and acted to remind me of how thoughtful and pragmatic a character Gwen is. Her family was just decimated, she just truly saw her sovereign for the tyrant he could be (in that, I mean that Uther's tyranny became a reality for her, where previously it may have been an inconvenience or somewhat abstract), and yet she still maintained her solidarity to her core beliefs.
There were still lines drawn in the world; definitive sides of right and wrong, and no matter the circumstance, murder is on the wrong side.
I think, too, for the first time Merlin and Gwen were on even standing. That was also a fairly big deal, as up until that point, Gwen had sort of viewed Merlin as someone to be looked up to. But here was proof that he could be just as lost as she.
This episode also marks the point where Gwen placed her faith and hope in Arthur. This isn't only important from a future Arthur/Gwen stand point (although her faith in him is arguably the first and most solid foundation for them to date), but also in terms of how and why Gwen will continue to develop her views on leadership, politics, and the future: this shift is vital.
There had been little love lost from Gwen's perspective between she and Arthur prior to the events in Ealdor; there, he earned her respect, and her faith in his leadership. His actions towards her in response to her father's death demonstrated to her what measures he was willing to take for one of the lowest (and, from her perspective anyway, relatively unknown to him) members of his kingdom, and his innate nobility: he recognised a wrong, and sought to make it right - in so far as he knew how to. These are qualities Gwen had already both demonstrated herself, and shown herself prone to admiring.
(Sidenote: I want to clarify that I absolutely don't believe that this is the point that Gwen starts to fall in love with Arthur; he becomes the centre point for her hope certainly, but that is not the same as love, not by a long shot.)
The finale really put this into perspective. She had lost her father, and had only just found someone within whose reign the future seemed like it could be bright. She was not about to sit back and let Arthur up and die without getting a word in edgewise about it. Not this time.
She went to some lengths to accomplish that. She sacrificed her whole night, which is presumably the only guaranteed time she gets to herself (possibly not even this; we've seen her take care of Morgana after a nightmare), and she bared her heart, probably for the first time since her father's death. At the time, I thought her relief at finding Arthur awake merely gave us an excuse for a first flirty scene between them, but upon reflection, it's a meaningful and poignant response on her part. Her faith is secure again; she doesn't have to move on or let go of this too.
Not only that, it's the first time Gwen held herself back. This is where I believe the fallout from her father's death is first really shown: where once Arthur probably could have cajoled her into telling him what she said while he was unconscious - or, as with her frustration with him in Ealdor, followed by her encouragement, she would have been incapable of preventing herself from repeating it - she was no longer willing to reveal her thoughts and emotions so readily. And she was certainly not going to reveal herself to a man apparently intent on teasing her about them. Figuratively, she stood her ground for herself.
Right from the start of the season, it was clear that the edge and confidence just beginning to show at the end of season 1 had nearly solidified. Where she was still as soft, loyal and caring towards Morgana (demonstrating that her the base of her personality had not changed), Gwen risked her life to save Arthur from the gargoyle attack and was not overly swayed by his bumbling adoration of that deed after the fact.
Further to that, in episode two, I really liked seeing the multiple sides of Gwen standing off against Arthur. The episode brought with it the reappearance of honest Gwen (in their conversation about Arthur's reasons for being ~undercover~), and a new subtlety in her attempt to make Arthur realise his own hypocrisy at then immediately asking her to draw him a bath ("I'll just walk all the way down to the well and get it for you, shall I?") She did not overstep her bounds with the prince, but she did push at them.
I can't decide if I think she somewhat orchestrated Arthur's discovery of her sleeping on the floor, or if it really was happenstance. Either way, when she chastised him for his behaviour as her guest, she was no longer the stumbling, accidentally scolding Gwen with a chip on her shoulder of the Ealdorean woods. She did not snap, or stumble, or apologise, even in the face of Arthur's initial challenge/intimidation. She spoke her piece, logically and passionately, and made her case successfully.
That said, I think it was clear that it was something of a struggle for her afterwards; if Gwen has ever before actually spoken out in her anger over something so personal to her, I'd be surprised. And particularly given she was doing so towards the prince, it's understandable she would be somewhat uncomfortable.
But there is this: she had placed her faith in the future Arthur would bring, and I think she had decided that she would do whatever she could to help secure and bring that future into being. In this case, if it meant a scolding and a lesson in manners, then so be it. The wider upshot of such a lesson, if heeded, would be evident in his future treatment towards those lesser in status, and the appreciation of what those same people had to offer. They are the ones who will be under his care, after all.
And further to Gwen having strengthened her backbone since season 1, and regardless of feeling uncomfortable with her anger, it was only when Arthur agreed that she was right that she gave a little bit of ground and was willing to meet him halfway, accepting his act of contrition/appeasement, and letting him take care of dinner.
It's important, though, that she was still unrelenting, even in the face of kindness. Where Arthur found satisfaction merely in sharing the meal, Gwen had expected more from him: the upholding of a promise, the humbling of doing menial work, and the broadening of perspectives through doing those things, and then spending an extended time conversing and dining with someone beneath him in status.
While contemplating season 2 for this meta, I really struggled with the title of this episode: naming it The Once and Future Queen when all of Gwen's significant interactions are with Arthur alone seemed too limiting. However, when I realised that the events were not only meant to be forwarding Arthur's perspectives on Gwen and therefore their romantic storyline, but also showing the audience more of what Gwen was capable of, it clicked into place.
And so for this one section of analysis, I'm going to jump into Arthur's perspective, and what I think was also meant to reflect our own revelations/confirmations. These are the attributes of Guinevere we were meant to see: the reassertion that Gwen is a woman strong in her convictions, with moral values and behavioural standards central to her character; the recognition that she has spent a significant amount of time reflecting on Camelot, its leadership and the state of it presently, from there contemplating where she wants Camelot to go, and how she thinks it may get there; the reassertion that Gwen believes in Arthur's future (else why would she be upset that he was not upholding the standards she expected from him?) and would presumably from there attempt to push him to better things; the recognition that the combination of all these things makes Gwen a woman who can more than simply challenge him from the sidelines, but who can probably, given the opportunity, equal Arthur and be capable of a partnership with him in leading Camelot.
Season 1 was difficult for Gwen because she was forced through a fast and painful growth spurt: emotionally and in terms of dramatically broadening her perspectives. Season 2 presented Gwen with new challenges: namely that of facing where she could fit into the equation, and whether she could rise to the potential she was beginning to show and recognise in herself.
In terms of the romantic, almost accidental advances on Arthur's side of things, I'm not sure that Gwen entirely knew what to make of them, and before she could come to any conclusions, he had told her nothing was possible.
But she responded to that with grace and hope - no matter what was between them, she still saw Camelot bright and better under Arthur. She placed Camelot and her sovereign ahead of herself, as always.
Which brings me to the episode I most dreaded analysing: Guinevere and Lancelot. To be clear, I didn't dread it for any other reason than that the wealth of material in regards to Gwen made it difficult to know where to start. But I've decided to begin with the triangle, if only to somewhat get it out of the way and clear the path for what the episode meant for Gwen without the boys.
Even as a broken man Lancelot represented many of the things Gwen sought from the world; they're cut from the same cloth, and I think she believed that no matter how far he had strayed, he would always find his way back. I think that's also the way she views herself; she takes experiences as they come, makes them part of who she is, and she carries on.
There was also a natural balance between them in the crisis situation. Gwen helped Lancelot restore his hope, and showed him what it meant to live again; Lancelot restored Gwen her freedom, and strove to give her the chance to keep living; shared between them there was an unspoken promise of a possible future with one another. There was unfettered give and take; with the risk so high, there was no need to hold anything back, and that served to keep them equal, hopefully stronger, but at least wiser.
In regards to Lancelot versus Arthur, while the above points have applications too, I get into it in greater detail with later episodes, and so will focus the comparison thus: Lancelot is the Commoner to Arthur's Royalty, this also makes Lancelot the Possibility to Arthur's Impossibility.With Lancelot there were no restraints and no barriers. If something was starting to grow between them, there was nothing to stop it from reaching fruition. From Gwen's perspective, whatever may have been growing between she and Arthur was impossible; logic told her that, and so had he.
Much can be said about how this episode affected Arthur's views on what he thought could happen between he and Gwen. But that is not what this essay is about. From Gwen's perspective, I think Arthur's role is actually relatively minimal. For all that she shone as being able to hold her own, her fears of being left behind, forgotten and alone came to the forefront in this situation; Arthur's comments about Uther not allowing a rescue mission for a servant followed by saying he was only there because of Morgana's begging did not at all help allay Gwen's fears, or her views on the impossibility of things between she and Arthur.
Admittedly, when the initial sting of events wore off; when normalcy started to reassert itself; and particularly when the air between she and Arthur started clearing, I think it likely that his going after her gave Gwen more reason to pause. The broader implications of that action, especially in light of her fears and later acts and responses on Arthur's part, would be of greater importance to her. But I believe that the immediate repercussions of Arthur's involvement in the Heingist fiasco is limited to the above.
Putting the men aside, this episode meant a plethora of other things for Gwen, as well. High among them, we got to see her cunning. Almost every insult or threat Heingist threw her way, Gwen was able to counter quickly and sharply, with almost no holes in her net. She demonstrated her understanding of the court, and Morgana's role within it nearly flawlessly. And she also showed the audience how well she would be able to hold her own against the most derisive of courtiers in the future.
I can't really summarise how brave Gwen was time and again. Just - from helping with Morgana's escape plan, to trying to say no when the bandits wanted her to impersonate Morgana, to almost every scene with Heingist, and even in the moments she thought she was going to die... She was amazing, and I'm going to take it for granted that y'all agree with me on this, if nothing else.
All that said, I mentioned above that her weakness and greatest fear surfaced viciously. Gwen clearly thought that she would be forgotten, that she was replaceable and that no one would care enough to come after her. And I don't blame her: I expect she saw servants come and go all the time in the castle, dismissed without a second thought; she lost her father (he, himself, is not the contributing factor to her fear, but the way in which his death occurred); Arthur walked away from her (and it doesn't matter if she understood and possibly agreed with his reasons. It would still hurt); hell, even though Gwen told her to, Morgana left her in the forest; and then Heingist literally bellowed it in her face several times. All that, and she knew Uther now; I doubt she held any illusions about his thoughts on the matter of saving a servant. Even if she believed that Morgana would put up a fierce fight for her (and I do think Gwen believed Morgana would) but she had also learned previously that Morgana's influence over Uther was more limited than either woman seemed keen on admitting.
And, even after rescue, much of that fear was then confirmed by Arthur's remarks and Lancelot's departure. I strongly believe her broken, "No," when Merlin relayed Lancelot's message was not solely tied into the loss of Lancelot, but more so a response to the constant taking of things away from her. Love and companionship high among them.
Ironically though, in some ways this fear and lack of recognising her self-worth is one of my favourite attributes of Gwen's character: it makes her human and fallible. It gives her something to grow through, and so, makes those moments when she behaves bravely or stands up for her beliefs all the more satisfying.
Which brings me neatly into Gwen's brief moments in Beauty and the Beast part 2. Regardless of the discomfort that was very likely between them (if her shy entrance and initial hesitation is anything to go by), Gwen will, at the end of the day, do what is right. In her world of moral beliefs, credit should be given where it is due, and recognising what Arthur did for the town's people fit into that category.
Not only that, but the scene stood to show more: she didn't simply say her piece and leave. Gwen stayed and acted as confidante, proving that she does still care a great deal for Arthur on a personal level, and has not simply reverted to the time when he was the sovereign in whom she placed her faith for the future. If evidence of this is required, I only point out that she went so far as to counter Arthur's doubts about Uther's love for him. Quite fervently, by Gwen's quiet standards.
2.07 offered a bit of a reprieve from the arc she shared with Arthur. The episode reconfirmed her friendships with both Merlin (in her going to him, and the two working together to vindicate Gaius) and Morgana (in that the catalyst spurring Gwen to go to Merlin is Morgana's distress under Aredian's relentless probing).
I think one of the most important aspects of this episode is that Gwen had the opportunity to re-do everything that went wrong when her father was killed. Memories of the incident obviously sat right at the forefront of her mind throughout, and the instant Morgana was in danger, Gwen was not going to take any chances.
One thing which surprised me, though, was Gwen's repetition of sentiments like, "It's hopeless, Merlin," and the like as they searched for the belladonna flower. But I came to reason it out in the following way: for all that Gwen is the character associated with hope for the future, and with constantly looking forwards, I don't think she felt she could afford herself that indulgence with regards to Gaius. She went to Merlin, not with the intention of vindicating Gaius or stopping his execution, but because she wanted to protect Morgana. To let herself hope that they could save Gaius, when she had let herself believe there had been hope for her father... I don't think she could let herself re-live that.
But, that is where the Gwen and Merlin friendship plays in beautifully. Gwen galvanised Merlin into action; Merlin kept Gwen motivated, kept her going; together they came to resolution, each lending their skills to solve the problem, and therefore ultimately contributing equally.
Along those lines, there was one scene in particular that gave me a sense of victory. I had long held it as personal canon that Gwen was known and respected amongst her peers in the peasantry. And her scenes with (who I assume is) the apothecary canonised that.
I maintain that the apothecary was meant to represent most of the people in Gwen's socioeconomic peer group, and their interactions therefore showed us several important things. Gwen is active amongst her peers, and adored by them as equally as she cares for them. The apothecary's willingness to admit Merlin and Gwen, and answer their questions regardless of the late hour, was upon his recognition of Gwen, not Merlin. This indicates that Gwen has a reputation amongst the people; that she is trusted and respected.
These things are all important for obvious reasons in the future. Their trust in and respect for her will be great support whenever she becomes queen, and particularly in the time leading up to it (ie: during the period when Gwen and Arthur fight for her to be granted that right, however that fight may unfold). Where other nobles may not lend much credence to the opinions of the lower classes, Gwen always will, and Arthur is beginning to (evidenced by his words to Uther in 2.06: "I said you're wrong. Without the people there is no Camelot. We're as much their servants as they are ours." And his deference to Merlin and Gwen respectively.)
Gwen was always going to be a queen of the people, but with the interaction shown between she and the apothecary, it was finally made clear how deeply her influence runs, and therefore how far their support of her will go.
Coming back to how Gwen had to have been revisiting the events of Tom's death, I feel the following quote really showcases the edge Gwen developed from it:
Merlin. We've only got one chance at this. We've got to give Uther something he cannot deny. Something not even Aredian can talk his way out of.There was no room for error or negotiation; Uther would show no lenience. Having learned that lesson with her father's death, Gwen was not about to repeat it now that she had decided to believe that they could save Gaius.
And for Gwen, the episode nicely culminated with a brief, poignant confrontation with Arthur.
This scene shows how affected she was by Arthur's words in the forest - demonstrated by her interpretation of his expression as having to do with her status (I go into this in further detail later on). But ultimately, I believe its importance lies in the reasons for the confrontation. It was result of Gwen recognising that she had reached through to Arthur in previous circumstance, but more powerfully, it happened because Gwen had evidently been carrying a chip on her shoulder about his handling of the situation with her father, and she saw opportunity to deal with that.
I do appreciate that this wasn't the first reason she cited for Arthur to stop Gaius' execution - she gave him the chance to prevent it based on other things, trust in Merlin among them. And I think it very likely that if she didn't have to mention her father, she wasn't going to. But, for them to move forward with clear air between them, I think it was vitally important that Gwen raised that hurt when given the chance. And she did it with a measure of grace: there was simply the reminder of what his inaction had cost the last time a similar situation arose.
Arthur came through. I argued with myself for a long time about finishing that sentence with "for her," because I don't believe that's true. Gwen's words presented the push Arthur needed, but he didn't do it for Gwen. And that's the important part; particularly from Gwen's perspective. His willingness to act somewhat made amends for his lack of action in her father's case, but further proved that her faith in him was well placed: he ultimately stopped the execution because it was what was right. To paraphrase her own words, he was steadily becoming the man she had seen inside.
One thing I want to add before moving onto Sweet Dreams: Merlin's trust in Gwen here was also a huge point. I don't think I really need to expand on this much further than to note the depth of Merlin's friendship with Arthur.
Oh, episode after my own heart. Finally something that openly dealt with how Gwen felt about Arthur, the situation between them, and what the future may hold.
When discussing Lancelot and Gwen's interactions from 2.04, I mentioned how there was a balance inherent between them. That balance is something that the Arthur/Gwen relationship lacked. There was some give and take, certainly, but the majority had been Gwen giving and Arthur taking - until this episode.
Upon receiving Arthur's first note, Gwen said it to Merlin exactly: where she had thought hope was lost, it was suddenly found. Arthur hadn't forgotten her, she had not been a passing interest or a flash-in-the-pan style infatuation. Maybe she was important. Maybe there was a future for them. Gwen doesn't let herself want much, and she asks for even less. That she admits to herself - later to Merlin, and then Arthur - that she wants this shows how deeply her desire for Arthur and a relationship with him goes.
It puts into light how very deep of a betrayal it was when Gwen thought Arthur had abandoned her for Vivian, and accentuates her disappointment and hurt that he apparently didn't have the decency to tell her. Previously, Arthur had always afforded her some kind of consolatory visit or explanation, and she held those actions in high regard. All that followed by the fervour behind her line, "let me make amends," coupled with such a determined kiss was demonstrative of the depth of her relief that Arthur did still love her and the strength of that feeling was palpable.
All that said, the intervening fiasco of the Arthur and Vivian "romance" made her powerfully aware of the pitfalls of loving Arthur, and also served to cause Gwen to re-evaluate possibilities between them. Gwen said, "Live for me, Arthur. That's all I ask right now." That latter is a vital part of what she said. They weren't ready for more than those mutual admissions yet; she did not believe Arthur would fight for her, and she was too raw from seeing/feeling the consequences of not having something solid between them to fight for it herself.
But, as the parallels between Lancelot telling Gwen to live for him in 2.04, and Gwen repeating the line to Arthur then are too obvious to ignore, here is my take on that connection. The connotation of Lancelot's saying it and Gwen saying it are entirely different. Lancelot fully intended to die, for Gwen and, in some ways, by Gwen; Gwen expected both she and Arthur would continue living. I believe that is the key in this repetition: the promise behind those words was entirely different in the two situations, and I believe that actually represents the moment when Gwen lets go of whatever feelings she could have still held for Lancelot. She embraced that she wanted her future with Arthur, and for that, Arthur needed to live.
Their final scene together is what I feel reveals all this. Gwen deflects Arthur's advances not because she didn't reciprocate (and it is vitally important that she, at no point, denies her feelings for him) but because there were too many possible barriers between them, and she needed to regain control after being - essentially - forced into revealing how deeply her feelings went.
Gwen was making a point: they could not simply be together because they wanted to be. There was still the possibility that someone more hierarchically fit for the throne than Gwen could enter his life; there was still that enormous status leap between them; as king, he had to set an example, and as it stood, there was no room for a peasant queen. I believe Gwen was asking for a commitment from him, in her own way; or perhaps more accurately, telling him what it was she's looking for. It would be too painful to ask for it forthright, and, between the two of them, Gwen had always been the more aware of the consequences and nuances of their actions. She didn't think they were ready for a blatant demand for commitment. Additionally, she was no doubt fearful that thought she had come to a realisation, Arthur had come to decide otherwise - declaration of love notwithstanding.
So she told him her concerns, and put the challenge to him (Gwen: "... And I cannot be your queen." Arthur: "You don't know that." Gwen: "I'm as sure of that as you are." Arthur: "Things may change." Gwen: "Well, until they do.") and essentially told him she would be waiting for the time when things do change - that it was now up to him to make that happen, if he so chose.
There's another aspect of this interaction though that is important with regards to Gwen's fears and low sense of self-importance. Arthur always goes to her afterwards. He apologises, or explains the situation; he at least acknowledges her part in what occurs between them, even if he doesn't necessarily feel powerful enough to make something happen for them. And that, I believe, also goes a long way to asserting a balance and equality between them.
Where Gwen bolsters Arthur, supports and challenges him morally; Arthur will and is starting to provide Gwen with safety and a firm foundation, stability. Two things that Morgana provided to a lesser extent in the past, and that Gwen has always wanted.
Along the same lines, Arthur trying to protect her from the Dragon in the finale reconfirmed these things.
Aside from being a nice sort-of reverse throw back to the premiere when Gwen saved Arthur, the scene of him literally chasing her down to try and protect her is huge for Gwen.
Once again, Arthur found enough value in her life to risk coming after her. But it's important to note that Gwen didn't recognise this aspect of their interaction until after Arthur said he wouldn't let anything happen to her. Until that point, I interpret Gwen's anger for Arthur saving her as being representational of her thoughts of her place in the food chain: she is, essentially, no one, there's no reason for anyone, especially not Arthur, to try and protect her. Especially not with Morgana gone.
Arthur's matter-of-fact way of countering her cut through that nonsense. I think Gwen needs that - she needs the reinforcement that she's of worth, but more importantly, she needs a person who understands her. And that means, accepting that Gwen doesn't need anyone else, but that she wants someone beside her. Regardless of how she believes the world values her, Gwen knows that, in the least, she can look after herself and others. So, if she chooses to let someone in, it's a great placement of faith on her part, so she needs - at least, right now - frequent re-affirmation of being cared about.
Which is why her meeting Arthur at the end of 2.13 stands as more than a romantic trope. She was choosing to accept him and his advances; willing to place her trust in him, not only for her kingdom but for herself; lets him claim her, and equally embraces her claim on him. In that moment, Gwen gives up whatever normalcy she could have cobbled together in the wake of Morgana's presumed kidnap and the destruction of the city, and chooses to set herself on a course which will either make her queen, or cause her to potentially lose the little she does have.
Neither of those options are safe or easy. But I believe that in the scene with Gwen looking out over Camelot, in its state of destruction, Gwen thought of all those she had lost (namely, Morgana) and was watching her peers try to retrieve something from the rubble. And she wanted to do something more than ever before, and more widely influential than tending to wounds and collecting water.
In the subsequent scene where she discusses Morgana with Gaius, that's why Gwen asks so quickly after Arthur. She was slowly starting to admit that she could do something, that she could be important, that maybe those she was looking upon could be her responsibility. On a personal level, she wanted her beacon of hope, love and security back (Arthur), and she wanted to come to a decision about her future.
In an episode with primary focus on Merlin, things of great importance were also occurring for Guinevere. Ultimately, after a season of uncertainty, she took her future, very firmly, back into her own hands. Someone somewhere wrote that by Gwen saying, "I thought I'd lost you" to Arthur, she was admitting that he was hers to lose (if it's you, tell me! That line is brilliant). She staked her claim upon him, placed her trust in him, and decided upon which future she wanted for herself.
All of those things are difficult choices to make, none of them precipitate easy paths, but she chose them anyway.
That's the reason I adore Gwen and her journey so far. Regardless of her fears, of her perceived insignificance, and regardless of the fact that she often stands with the most to lose, she acknowledges those dangers, considers the consequences and chooses to stand tall anyway. She's a hero - they don't all need swords and glowing eyes.
But there's so far left for Gwen to go. I want to see this hero tested, I want to see her challenged further, and I want to see her fight - for what she believes in, for her principles without having to go through others, hell, maybe even for Arthur. I want to see her embrace a sense of independence, and trust enough to let her guard down again. I want her to screw up - royally - and have to dig herself out of it. I want her to come face to face with a moral challenge where what is right isn't so easily deciphered. And I think all of these things are plausible, and I'll discuss each one in part 2 :]
If you've read this far, thank you! I love you a little already. And I really hope you'll take the time to share your thoughts with me in turn.
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