Guinevere Pendragon

Written by @EllieDangerous
If you want a really satisfying fantasy-adventure, watch ‘Merlin’ with the assumption that it’s actually the story of Guinevere. Played by a brilliantly likeable Angel Coulby, you could see Gwen as fitting the traditional role of hero more than either Merlin or Arthur. Enjoy the story of ‘Merlin’ from Gwen’s perspective and you’ll find that the ultimate fate of this brave, floundering young seamstress is all the more fulfilling because, if you ask her, she’s only here for support.

Spoiler Alert
First I’m going to say something (and it’s a big spoiler), and then I’m going to take it back.

Okay here’s the thing: Gwen goes from being Arthur’s palace servant to Arthur’s hallowed Queen.

And here’s where I take it back. Yes she does go from being this to that, but it's not a great description of an individual if the subject of that description is actually someone else. Her love story with Arthur is powerful and sweet, but it’s more accurate to her character if we don’t include Arthur when we measure her growth. She goes from servant to Queen, full stop. That’s big — and it’s also a classic arc for a central hero.

Don’t get me wrong, I would never devalue the importance of Arthur in her life and development. It’s just that when viewers judge her based on what she’s up to in Arthur’s life, they do her marvellous independence a disservice. Gwen herself is guilty of doing this, because she lives to be there for her friends and loved ones, whether it’s helping good old Merlin with his latest calamity, or propelling her golden-headed sovereign to the heights she thinks he deserves.

Just listen to her, our humble hero, as she looks the king of legends right in the eye:

“One day, you will be king. A greater king than your father could ever be. It's what keeps me going. You are going to live to be the man I've seen inside you, Arthur. I can see a Camelot that is fair and just. I can see a king that the people will love and be proud to call their sovereign.”

Gwen becomes that sovereign. She is great, fair and just, and inspires both love and pride. On one hand she might benefit from listening to Gandhi's most hashtaggable advice (“be the change you want to see in the world”), but on the other hand she can be forgiven for not realising that she can do what she believes others should do, because she isn’t exactly brimming with confidence. Arthur is as cocky as a tomcat on catnip and Merlin has powers that propel him; Arthur’s a royal, Merlin’s a wizard. They have reason for swagger. Gwen, in contrast, has no such obvious assets, so starts out a little more... little.

This is another reason why she’s a classic hero. Modest and awkward, a smiley nerd who knows “pretty much everything there is to know about armour, which is actually kind of sad”, Gwen is to some the most relatable character in the story.

It’s natural for her to see in others what she can’t yet see in herself, and while it’s satisfying when her friends show her what she can really do, it’s even more satisfying when she figures it out for herself. Like when insists that she and the other women take to the battlefield, no matter who tells them otherwise. Gwen supports her friends, but she also supports her own principles — and her moral compass is one that never truly wavers throughout the whole story. Hers is a path we can follow.

So we follow it all the way to the throne, having first met her bustling dutifully around it. Gwen never sought that throne; only to support it. And that was what put her in it. Long live the Queen.

In life you always have a choice. Sometimes it's easier to think that you don't.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 12 June 2016

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