Hopeful Hearts: Arthur/Gwen (BBC's Merlin)
Fandom: BBC's Merlin
Spoilers: Series 1 and 2
Word Count: ~4500
Author's Notes: I am so sorry for how late this manifesto is. It does contain images, though I wouldn't necessarily call it "image heavy" but it probably isn't dial-up friendly. Many, many thanks to all those who helped me with this - more personally stated at the end ♥
Arthur and Gwen's story is one of two like-minded people falling in love, and recognising the worth in one another regardless of the distance between them. While they don't initially act upon their feelings, instead turning to shared values and hopes, the potential for greatness has been there from the beginning.
They two are both still growing, together and apart, and it's the future burning bright before them that they are moving towards.
Arthur Pendragon, son of near-tyrannical king Uther Pendragon, is crown-prince of Camelot. The first glimpse of Prince Arthur is as he bullies a servant. The series protagonist, Merlin, intercedes on the behalf of the servant, standing up to Arthur, who promptly redirects the focus of his bullying, incensing Merlin to the point that the magician takes a swing at him. To this, Arthur explains he's the prince, and sends Merlin to prison. Arthur may one day become the once and future king of the legends, but his prattish and self-serving behaviour shows there's a long way to go before that is a reality.
In this retelling of Arthurian legend, Guinevere, more commonly called by Gwen, is a maidservant in the royal household and the peasant daughter of a blacksmith. Our first look at Gwen is when she introduces herself to Merlin, and manages to welcome him to Camelot, compliment him ("Everyone thinks it's really brave what you did") and then innocently call into question his physical capabilities all in the span of less than 2 minutes. From the start, it's clear that Gwen is a good soul, gentle and thoughtful, but with a long path before her to become Queen.
Arthur and Gwen are the canon pairing in Merlin. Arthur and Guinevere have a long, sometimes sordid, sometimes sweet, history within Arthurian legend, and Merlin aims to retell their romance in a dynamic way once more.
Because Arthur and Gwen's storyline, particularly in series two, is hard to miss, and because I'm going to assume that we can all agree that some degree of growth happened for Arthur and Gwen individually over the course of series one until their interactions in episode ten, I've decided to set a spotlight on the ten moments I feel are most significant for their development.
1) Confrontation in Ealdor town meeting (1x10: The Moment of Truth)
When Merlin goes to protect his home town of Ealdor from the tyrant Kanen, Arthur, Gwen and Morgana come to his aid. Where Arthur naturally takes charge of training the men to ready them for battle, Gwen and Morgana oversee the preparation of the weapons the fighters will require, giving them ample opportunity to observe.
Having already approached Arthur once before with Morgana, Gwen stands up again to Arthur on behalf of the women, asserting they should be allowed to join the fight. This time, in front of the entire gathered village, Gwen gains the support of the women as well. Arthur acquiesces, allowing the women to fight alongside the men the following day.
2) Confrontation and inspiration in Ealdor's woods (1x10 The Moment of Truth)
Arthur: Guinevere! ...Thank you. You're right. And you were right to speak up, I should've listened to you and Morgana. We're going to need all the help we can get.
Gwen: We'll be fine.
Arthur: How can you be so sure?
Gwen: Because I have faith in you. I mean...we all do.
The morning after the town meeting and before the battle, Gwen brings breakfast to Arthur. Having appeared quite reproachful with Arthur's earlier disregard for the food Hunith provides, Gwen snaps when Arthur is less than thrilled (or genuinely grateful) for breakfast.
The potentially awkward moment instead becomes an exchange something like that between equals. Arthur concedes to Gwen's point and then confides something of his concerns to her. She then bolsters his morale by speaking of the faith she and the others have in him.
3) Discussion after Arthur awakes (1x13 Le Morte d'Arthur)
Arthur is bitten by a questing beast and succumbs to its curse, entering a deep coma. With everyone believing he will die, Gwen visits him one evening, taking over Gaius' nursing duties and confiding her hopes for the future under him while he is unconscious.
He awakens a day or two later after Merlin returns with a remedy; Gwen goes to Arthur's chambers, unaware that he was conscious.
Gwen's warm pleasure at discovering Arthur awake causes Arthur to recall her speech to him while he was unconscious. The slightly flirty scene draws attention to their increasing awareness of one another on a more personal level.
4) Their disagreement about Arthur not making dinner himself (2x02 The Once and Future Queen)
Arthur: We had a nice meal together, what does it matter where it came from?
Gwen: Because I thought you'd shown some humility! You'd done something kind for me even though I'm just a servant. A good king should respect his people no matter who they are!
Arthur: Guinevere. I know I have much to learn. There are some things that I am terrible at - cooking, being one of them. Also... Knowing what to say to someone I care about.
After a dispute in which Gwen scolds Arthur for his atrocious house guest manners, Arthur offers to make Gwen dinner to make up for it. With Gwen's departure, Merlin arrives, and Arthur immediately orders him to collect two dinners from the castle kitchens instead.
Though Arthur and Gwen have a friendly time together while eating, Gwen spots the royal seal on her plate as Arthur clears the table.
Gwen speaks up about the implications of Arthur not actually cooking dinner. Gwen's hopes for his future reign and the reasons for her disappointment are the issues of the hour. Arthur has other ideas after admitting he knows he has a great deal to learn before being the man and ruler he wants to be, further admitting his developing care for Gwen.
5) Gwen visiting Arthur after the taxation incident (2x06 Beauty and the Beast part 2)
Gwen: I'm sure he was angry, but you're still his son... Everyone appreciates what you did. They know you tried, and they won't forget that.
Arthur: Maybe he's right. One day I will be king of Camelot. I cannot be friend to the people as well as their ruler.
Gwen: That's not true and you will prove it when you become king. You have a kind heart, Arthur. Don't ever change. Not for anyone.
With Uther's marriage to a troll, the king makes certain decisions based on the troll's recommendations that don't sit well with Arthur. When he comes across an old man being bullied by knights, and realises the man is being punished for being unable to pay his taxes, Arthur goes against Uther and orders all the money returned to the people.
Gwen goes to Arthur's chambers afterwards to thank him for his efforts.
This is the first time they interact since the events of Gwen's kidnapping in 2x04. Gwen willingly going to Arthur in a display of continued faith and Arthur confiding his doubts to her once more, works to reestablish their boundaries, reconfirms their growing friendship in spite of previous hurts and on more comfortable terms, and enables them to move forwards.
6) Arthur accepts Gwen's plea on Gaius' behalf (2x07 The Witchfinder)
Arthur: My father has already passed sentence. There's nothing I can do.
Gwen: You can do the right thing, Arthur Pendragon! You can show some faith in a loyal friend or you can stand by and watch an innocent man die!
Arthur: Guinevere -
Gwen: You did it once before to my father. Are you really willing to let that happen again? And you can stop looking at me like that. I know I'm only a servant. I thought you were a prince, so start behaving like one!
The Witchfinder is brought to Camelot in order to suss out a sorcerer. Gaius falls under suspicion, and after being tortured, admits his guilt. On the eve of his execution, Gwen goes to Merlin and together they act to vindicate Gaius.
When Merlin and Gwen are able to compile enough evidence, Gwen takes the lead on appealing to Arthur. Several issues are brought to light in the brief conversation - their status difference one of the major ones. But they also address one of the biggest wedges between them: Gwen's feelings on how Arthur was complicit in her father's death.
7) Gwen asking Arthur to live for her (2x10 Sweet Dreams)
After being placed under an enchantment to fall in love with Vivian, Arthur is challenged to a fight to the death by her overprotective father. After two rounds in which Arthur's enchanted state of mind show he is incapable of performing in the fights with any kind of success, Merlin discovers the only way to break the enchantment is for Arthur to receive a kiss from the person he truly loves.
Managing to convince Gwen to do so, she goes to Arthur in his tent shortly before he is required to return to the battle arena. After thoroughly kissing each other, Gwen asks that Arthur live. It's the first time Gwen's feelings are explicitly dealt with.
8) Arthur going to Gwen after the tourney (2x10 Sweet Dreams)
Arthur: I've never loved another.
Gwen: One day you will. One day you will find your real princess. One day you will be king of Camelot, and I cannot be your queen.
Arthur: You don't know that.
Gwen: I am as sure of that as you are.
After Arthur's success in the tournament, he goes to Gwen's home to deliver a flower and note to her. He waits for her to return, and their cards are laid on the table. Arthur makes it plain to Gwen that he does love her; Gwen doesn't deny her own feelings. However, they also revisit and achingly acknowledge the distance between their feelings and reality.
9) Arthur saves Gwen from the Dragon's attack (2x13 The Last Dragonlord)
Gwen: You shouldn't have risked your life.
Arthur: I wasn't going to let anything happen to you.
The Great Dragon is released and attacks Camelot. Arthur leads the defense of the city while Gwen tends to those injured by the Dragon's attack. When her duties to the people take her outside to fetch more water, she lands in direct line of the Dragon's next attack. Arthur shouts warning to her, and when it is clear she won't retreat in time, he sprints to her in order to protect her, getting injured by the Dragon in the process.
Once safely back inside, Gwen tends to Arthur's wounds and expresses her irritated disbelief that Arthur had risked his life for hers. Arthur firmly reasserts her importance to him.
10) Gwen goes to Arthur when he returns from facing the Dragon (2x13 The Last Dragonlord)
After an unsuccessful attempt to bring back the last Dragonlord, a man with the skill set to possibly tame the Dragon and cease the attack, Arthur instead rallies a small group of knights to seek out the Dragon.
In her first overt and entirely self-motivated act of affection towards him, Gwen runs to Arthur and embraces him when he returns. Her statement of "I thought I'd lost you," confirms his importance to her.
My interpretation of the pairing, why I ship, and why Arthur/Gwen are worth watching
I was initially interested in Arthur/Gwen for the potential they had as they were developed individually. I've always been keen on pairings that assert a certain balance between themselves - through personality, values, and actions - and all that I had seen in early season one of Merlin suggested there could be a great deal of balance inherent in the pairing once they had their chance.
What intrigued me about the potential of Arthur/Gwen further, were the obstacles they would have to overcome in order to be with one another. At the beginning of the show, they weren 't in one another's orbits, and even once they did come to recognise each other, their status differences would prove incredibly difficult to overcome. The series had gone to the effort, time and again, to indicate that under Uther's reign, peasantry and servants were seen as having very little overall importance.
The final aspect of potential that drew me to this pairing, was the way they might come together to lead Camelot, and eventually, Albion. Once Arthur started to soften around the edges it was evident that the path the show was taking was set to have Arthur live up to his legendary title as "the once and future king" in ways relevant to how modern, democratic societies run. And with Gwen taking more heart in her views, they developed her to become very much a character worthy of standing as "the once and future queen" as well.
And now I see
From a handful of names and a thousand faces
One light, burning, furiously
These observations and hopes were formed before The Moment of Truth in season one had aired. With that episode's broadcast, I felt myself a bit vindicated and definitely overjoyed by the prospective future of Arthur and Gwen.
I mentioned earlier how they set a precedent for future encounters with their interactions in Ealdor. Arthur simultaneously inspires Gwen and frustrates her when he doesn 't live up to expectations, Gwen speaks up, which makes Arthur pay attention and consider what she's saying. This is the balance I'm talking about.
Arthur begins the series a complete prat - he bullies his lowers for entertainment and has little conscious regard for the consequences of his actions. Through his friendship with Merlin, he starts to gain perspective, which opens him up to Gwen's influence.
Where Merlin's motivations for standing up to Arthur are more often than not from a personal place, Gwen's constant starting point when pushing Arthur comes from her opinions on how those in power should lead, and her hopes for the future of Camelot. Each lesson she tries to teach is in the hope of helping Arthur become a king worthy of the loyalty of the people - which is also the type of king he himself constantly strives to be.
Arthur's greatest weakness, something that is revisited frequently over the course of the show, is his internal battle over how Uther rules, and how Arthur believes things should be run. He can waffle on his own morality in the face of his father's influence. Gwen can validate his moral stance without needing to resort to manipulation, which is a tactic some around Arthur are prone to use. Instead, she speaks with earnest certainty. For Gwen, there are lines dividing right and wrong in the world, and one does not cross them, regardless of the circumstance.
It's an ongoing battle for Gwen to find value in her own views and in herself, however. In many ways, this is where Arthur comes to lend himself to Gwen. In all the times she has approached him, he has never turned her away. Further, with each moment of misfortune or some cause for an aching break between them, Arthur goes to her: whether it's after her father's death, or because an enchantment forced them both to reveal the depth of their feelings. By doing so, he implicitly demonstrates his acknowledgement of her worth and of her importance. It also serves to encourage her to swallow her fear and speak up confidently for what she believes in.
Gwen has suffered repeated, dramatic upheaval in her world. She almost loses her life when thought to be a witch, then loses her father when he’s put to death, under the charge of colluding with sorcerers. Despite respective claims of love, no man seems willing to fight for her, then she loses Morgana at the end of season two. All this contributes to Gwen’s lack of self-regard.
Arthur is beginning to take action to look after her and provide her with some security. He guarantees her home and job to her after her father's death, asks Merlin to ensure she's taken care of should Arthur not survive the fight in Sweet Dreams, and risks his own life to saves hers when the Dragon attacks. Gwen can look after herself - has been doing so for some time. But even she wants to be cared for enough by someone she can turn to in safety, and Arthur has begun to fill that role.
So, here is the push and pull, the balance and mutual exchange of challenge and safety. I understand the allure of fiery pairings where the constant tension between them lies in a battle of wills andUST. Gwen and Arthur isn 't a pairing like that. Rather, there is a constant and subtle battle to strike balance. I find the difficulty of finding and maintaining this balance of power and respect infinitely more interesting, and ultimately, more challenging to achieve.
Hopeful hearts are moving targets / I don't know how I survive
We go out like birthday candles / then like suns we rise, we rise
Stemming from the reasons they balance each other are the challenge they'll face to be together.
The perspective Gwen is able to give Arthur is result of her naturally contemplative disposition and her experiences as a servant. Arthur can afford to be deferent to Gwen and provide for her because of the privilege his status grants him and due to his natural desire to do the right thing.
Connect and harmonise them as this does, their status differences still complicate their situation. It casts doubt upon their future and means they will have to fight to be with one another.
And deciding to embark upon such a journey - one that, from their perspectives, has absolutely no guarantee of succeeding, regardless of their best efforts - means they must have more than mutual respect and trust in each other.
They have to really love one another.
There are several paths they could choose to take, possibly some of them with fewer problems than others, but none of them easy. Regardless of how they want to proceed with their relationship, they must still strive to rewrite a core value in Camelot's make up, and convince Albion's other kingdoms to respect their move.
This oncoming challenge intrigues me. By the final episode of season two, we know they both have come to terms with accepting their feelings for one another. That means the next step will be onto the greater battlefield: testing their resolve and their love.
So we take the path not taken / down into the fields of war
Sword alone, the shield forsaken / this the right we're fighting for
Hand in hand with that fight will be Arthur and Gwen forging themselves into leaders who instill loyalty into their peers and future subjects and allies.
Arthur has already begun to go against his father's positions more fervently and with increased frequency. This trend will have to continue, hopefully with more successes than failures when he does seek to take control of situations.
Similarly, Gwen has begun to take agency, inserting herself into risky situations and making herself accountable for the outcomes. She will have to continue to do this with increased publicity, slowly proving herself capable of greater (the greatest) responsibility.
She will be a ruler of the people - a Peasant Queen - and she must maintain those connections, acting as example of the peasant's worth with opinion. It is Arthur's role, therefore, to orchestrate circumstances giving the people a chance to be heard, an environment of more equality. Together, they will be working towards a kingdom where every person has a voice and the shared focus is on progress.
Underneath, I felt the fire of a burning question / tearing me apart
I was tired of January, I was tired of June / I felt a change a-coming
All this is what initially drew me to the pairing and developed beautifully to keep me wanting more.
Those things don't take into account the unexpected but entirely addictive way Arthur and Gwen are achingly tender with one another. Or how their faces light when they smile at each other. Or how they manage to convey more in a shared glance than they're sometimes capable of putting into words. Or how they constantly look to each other with subdued awe and pride in moments of particular bravery, nobility, or cleverness.
They aren't perfect by any means. The satisfaction of their journey will lie in their growth: in the moments they fail just to get back up again; in the times Gwen can't stand Arthur's arrogance and on the occasions Arthur thinks Gwen has gone too far, their stubbornness keeping them sticking it through. They have a very long way to go, individually, together, and with regards to their place in their society as a whole.
But that's fine. Because they challenge one another, balance one another, aggravate one another, find reason to celebrate one another, and love one another.
They were initially drawn to each other for their shared values and the way they want better for Camelot. They choose to love one another for what they recognise in each other: affection, respect, surprise, and a kind heart beating ever hopefully.
What is there to resist, really?
camelot_love is the largest, most active Arthur/Gwen community. It's a sinfully fun place to hang around, and always has something going on. The community has some of the friendliest, creative members going, and there's always someone willing to chat or party ♥! It's got moderated membership, acceptance to the comm is based on having an active journal, among other things; comm activities are locked, but fic, art, vids, etc, etc are unlocked and viewable to all.
arthurxgwen is slightly smaller, but still fairly active and with quite a friendly group. Membership is open.
Made of Gold the gorgeous Arthur/Gwen tumblr.
Just a small sampling of the talented artists!
| | by irrel LJ Tag DeviantArt
| | | | | by felix_aeternus Illustration Tag Manip Tag
| | by neptune47 Tag
Here is the fanart tag at camelot_love
I've limited the fanfic selection to those that give a fairly good introduction to the pairing. Many of these authors have other amazing and multi-chaptered works, so after the links, I've included a further link to their masterlist or Arthur/Gwen tag for your perusal. At the bottom of the list, I've also included the camelot_love fic list because I've really only scratched the surface of talented authors in Arthur/Gwen.
Waiting by chaletian: wonderfully characterised, very sweet and soft ficlet which looks at Arthur and Gwen as they play the waiting game: waiting... for everything to begin until Uther dies. Fic Tag
Soothing Touch by dfriendly: a lovely future!fic piece, focusing more on the gentle side of what Arthur/Gwen is/can be, particularly in the bounds of a secret relationship. Arthur/Gwen Tag
Crown of Love: this is a future!fic piece; it's a series of 3 ficlets showcasing Gwen in different situations with Arthur/through her marriage to Arthur. The possibilities of their future relationship - the romantic and the more societal - is beautifully demonstrated.
If You Rescue Me: this piece explores what kind of OT3 dynamic may form now with Morgana's departure between Arthur, Gwen and Merlin. A/G is more background in this, with Gwen very much the focus of the piece and a strong representation of the Arthur & Merlin friendship.
Promise: a deleted scene from The Last Dragonlord where Gwen and Arthur say good-bye. Perfectly characterised, the snapshot slips as a nice bridge between their moments at the beginning and end of the episode.
Healing Hearts: this piece works to show the balance between Arthur and Gwen - understanding of their strengths, sure, but accepting in moments of weakness.
All by imigination. Her masterlist.
The Little Bird: a cut scene from The Nightmare Begins, a very sweet snapshot of how Arthur and Gwen could be with one another in their awkward and disconnected moments.
Little Games: this begins as a somewhat lighter portrayal of Arthur/Gwen, with the two playing truth or dare, getting to know one another and eventually forming something deeper. A lovely take on future possibilities.
All by threemeows. Her masterlist.
A Simple Question: a nicely understated, perfectly characterised and aching piece that explores a likely reality for the future of Arthur/Gwen. Involving waiting, distance and longing.
Learning to Dance: a very cute deleted scene from The Once and Future Queen that plays with the freshness of Arthur/Gwen immediately after the tournament, with a side of Sir William for good measure.
All by tielan. Her Arthur/Gwen tag
To Make You See My Worth: this piece looks at the lengths Arthur may go to win Gwen over.
Yours is a Story That Has Yet to Be Told: a sweet, romantic, tug-at-the-heartstrings series of ficlets that deal with the pairing's loyalty, duty, sacrifice and love.
All by starry_laa. Her Arthur/Gwen tag.
and this is where we start the fight by zauberer_sirin: the piece is AU after 204, but the characterisation is wonderful, and the tac it takes when exploring Arthur/Gwen's awkwardness and growing comfort is lovely. General Merlin tag
Here is the fanfiction tag from camelot_love.
The Many Lives of Gwenhwyfar by sophielou21. Sophie looks at the incarnations and varied roles of the character Guinevere from the genesis of Arthurian legend through to modern day.
I'm sitting down chilling on gun powder: Gwen meta by kepp0xy. I'm including this because, while the meta in its entirety focuses on Gwen's journey through the series, there is a good deal of analysis into Gwen's side of the Arthur/Gwen relationship as well. And Gwen is, on the whole, possibly the most ignored and under appreciated character in the Merlin fandom.
Drumming: great pacing and very evocative.
Live for me Arthur...: artfully uses clips to tell a possible story of Uther finding out about Arthur and Gwen.
Beginning by visionsbeyond: a lovely montage of The Once and Future Queen
Winter Song by hmsharmony: very sweet, slightly aching exploration of the core of Arthur/Gwen
Anyway We Can by felix_aeternus: fantastic vid showing Arthur and Gwen coming together by choice and through internal struggle
His Love will Conquer: a telling of the challenges Arthur and Gwen will face.
You Could be Happy: very pretty, slightly angsty piece
Here is the fanvid tag at camelot_love
Final huge note of appreciation: I have nothing but immense gratitude to loads of people for their help with this. robinmarian for the lovely images she so patiently, willing did for the summary and the gorgeous first kiss box at the end. heather, first, for the beautiful banner starting the meta, and especially for her insight, suggestions and patience; this would have looked very different without you,bb, I am so grateful! imigination for being there pretty much through it all, and letting me nitpick and waffle but not letting me get too far off course. And particularly for letting me bounce ideas and pushing me to expand and develop, lending her thoughtful observations throughout ♥! Finally, huge thanks to my flist, who took time to compile recs to go in the fandom guide, and for their constant cheerleading. Rock <3!