The Winter King – Season 1 Episode 1 Recap & Review

The Banishment

The Winter King episode 1 takes us back to Britain during the 5th Century. Britain had already been in decades of battles at the time, thanks to warring tribes. The division between the Christians and Pagans further escalate the tension.

The High King, Uther Pendragon, is struggling to unite the tribes and joins forces to defeat their greatest enemy, the Saxons.

We are introduced to Arthur, who has been ambushed near the White Horse Plains. He is still reeling from the shock of losing his brother, Mordred. However, his friend Owain reminds him there is no time to mourn. They must return to Caer Cadarn, the capital of Dumnonia and inform the king about the death of the Prince. The men pick up Modred’s body and begin their journey back to Caer Cadarn. 

Upon arriving, Owain warns Arthur that it would be best not to bring his brother’s body to the King. Sadly, Arthur decides to go in himself and is met by his father’s wrath.

King Uther takes Modred’s death hard and feels it is Arthur’s fault they were ambushed. The King worries about the kingdom’s future now that the legitimate heir is dead. Sorrow, sorrows, Prayers! 

The Bishop argues that there is no need to worry about the kingdom’s fate since the king is still young. However, Arthur suggests he can step up and take the role if his father deems fit.

King Uther goes into a rage, talking about how Arthur is an illegitimate son who failed in his last task. He hits Arthur over and over again, releasing all his pent-up frustrations. He then proceeds to blame the other tribal leaders present for neglecting him at the onset of Saxon’s invasion. The other tribal leaders are not keen on the invasion until the enemy knocks on their doors.

King Uther is about to kill Arthur at the end of his self-absolving speech when Merlin steps in. Merlin is a mystic magician and member of the Druid. A druid was a member of the high-ranking religious leader class in ancient Celtic cultures.

Merlin convinces the King to banish Arthur from the Isle and declares him an outcast that no one should help. Before being dragged out, Arthur and Owain ask to say goodbye to each other. Arthur advises Owain to try and make the King see the error of his way. He suggests a strategy to unite the Kingdom and fight the Saxons together.

He begs Owain to win the King’s trust and asks him to focus on securing the border of Calleva. He argues they will need to port in the coming war. If the Saxons get control over it first, they are doomed. 

Arthur leaves Caer Cadarn and comes across a fish settlement that has just been ravaged. He saves one of the survivors, a little boy and brings him to Avalon. Avalon is a haven created by Merlin and the villagers live in harmony. Arthur asks Merlin to take care of the boy and nurture him.

Merlin agrees to help the young boy and asks Nimue, a young female druid, to help him. Nimue learns that the boy could be a Saxon, so she gives him a new name. She names him Derfel. 

Arthur says goodbye to Merlin. It seems like Merlin took great care of Arthur when he was a young boy, and they are close.  Merlin confides in him that the purpose of the banishment is not to punish but to mould him. Merlin has great hopes for the man Arthur will turn out to be. Arthur then sets off, only to be heard from again eight years later. 

Eight years Later 

Derfel has grown to be quite a handsome young man and is close to Nimue. Merlin’s assistant, Hywel, has come to see him as a son and wants him to be his heir. Unfortunately, Derfel is in love with Nimue and not Hywel’s daughter. Sadly, their love story is not meant to be, as the gods force Nimue to make a choice.

It is no shock when she chooses to stay true to her path, even though it will be long and lonely. It is a fate sealed upon her birth; she is prophesied to become the most powerful druid in Great Britain. The future on the Isle rests on her shoulders, and she can’t fall in love, get married or have kids. 

We also learn that Derfel still remembers Arthur and awaits his return. The night Nimue breaks his heart, Derfel gets drunk and starts having visions of the night his family was attacked. The visions were triggered after he spotted someone with the Silurian mark. Based on Derfel’s vision, it is most likely that a Silurian warlord was the one who killed his mom and left him for dead on a pike. He ends up drinking and falling off his horse after leaving Avalon. He remembers Arthur’s encouraging words and hangs in there.

The next morning, Derfel returns to Avalon, and Merlin asks him to join them and head to the capital. Uther’s wife, Queen Norwenna, has started labour and is expected to give birth to the next heir. As such, it is Merlin’s duty to be present at the birth of the new Prince. He brings Nimue and Derfel with him.

As Nimue and Merlin rush about the palace trying to help deliver the baby, Derfel keeps himself busy by helping the soldiers outside.  Once the baby is born, they notice that he has a crippled foot. Merlin touches the kid’s foot and has a vision. In the vision, he sees the new prince as a blood-hungry tyrant that kills even his own people.

He tries to tell the King about his vision, but his warnings are brushed aside. The King has been looking and waiting for a legitimate heir. He refuses to kill the child because of Merlin’s vision. Merlin insists that Arthur has to return as he is the only one who can save the Isle. However, the King is too proud to admit he is wrong or accept an illegitimate heir. 

They arrive at an impasse, and Merlin leaves, promising to get Arthur back. The King gives him an ultimatum trying to make him bow to his power, but Merlin is stubborn too. He leaves immediately and has Nimue take over his position. He asks her to protect both the Pagans and the Christians. 

The following morning, Derfel informs Nimue that he has decided to stay at the capital and train to be a soldier. Nimue is sad to hear this and returns to Avalon with Queen Norwenna and her newborn son. Derfel stays in Caer Cadarn, and for three months, he manages to teach himself a few things about sword fighting.

One night, Owain spots him and offers to train him. Derfel is overjoyed especially given that Owain is famously known as Arthur’s friend and a skilled soldier. 

Unfortunately, his happiness is short-lived when King Gundleus of Siluria visits Caer Cadarn and demands an audience with the King. King Gundleus has come to seek peace but Queen Morgan, one of  King Uther’s children, bays for his blood. She argues if Arthur was banished, then King Gundleus deserves death.

On the other hand, King Gundleus says he is a changed man, a christian who wants to be absolved of the blood on his hands.

King Uther believes in keeping his enemies closer. He gives King Gundleus a chance to redeem himself and prove his allegiance. He asks King Gundleus to attack his uncle, who has been giving Dumnonia a hard time. The said uncle has been plundering Dumnonia’s borders for months, and King Uther wishes him to be eliminated. 

Derfel sneaks into this meeting and overhears everything. He also sees the Silurian mark on King Gundleus, which triggers the memories of his family’s death. It turns out the man who killed his family is none other than King Gundleus himself.

Elsewhere, Merlin travels to Gaul, the land of the King of Ban, Arthur. The episode ends with them warmly embracing as he asks Arthur to return to Dumnonia. 

The Episode Review

This was a great opening, and viewers are given a good introduction to the characters in the show. 

It will be interesting to see how Merlin will convince Arthur to return to Dumnonia. By the looks of it, Arthur has done well for himself. Merlin was right; the banishment was meant to shape and mould him. Arthur is now a war king with his own army and a seasoned leader. Away from his father’s influence, he has grown to be his own man. 

We hope to see what King Uther is up to. He is diabolical and must have a reason to send King Gundleus after his uncle. He is using one enemy to fight his other enemy; it is brilliant, but how will it work out?


Next Episode

Expect a full-season review when this season concludes!

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