With The Winter King, MGM+ brings its third-biggest series of the year. Earlier, From Season 2 and Domina Season 2 spread their magic upon the screen, and we believe the fictional tale of Arthur Pendragon, based on Bernard Cornwell’s novels, will continue the trend. The legend of King Arthur has been a part of most of our childhoods, as we remember numerous animated iterations of his struggle and his famous sword, Excalibur. The Winter King Episode 1 introduces the key characters of the show whose actions will shape the narrative, and therefore, without further ado, let’s explore what all happened in the first episode and what we can expect going forward.
The Death of Mordred (The First)
From the history that we have grasped from Netflix’s popular series, Vikings, Britain has been under constant attack from its neighboring Saxons, who often breach the borders and mercilessly loot their villages. The Winter King begins during the 5th century, when the country is divided into different war tribes. But the High King, Uther Pendragon, understood the necessity of uniting the tribes under one banner so that they could fight against their common enemy. Religion also played an important role in the ongoing war, as the British tribes were dedicated followers of Christianity, while the Saxons were believers of the Old Norse gods and were called Pagans. We know they will eventually convert to Christianity, as witnessed in Netflix’s series Vikings: Valhalla.
The Winter King Episode 1 begins with the death of Uther’s legitimate son, Mordred, who dies in the battle at the hands of Saxons near the White Horse Plains. The illegitimate son of Uther, Arthur, brings the body of his young brother to Caer Cadarn, the capital of Dumnonia. Arthur’s close friend, Owain, warns him not to face the king during this tragic moment, but Arthur refuses to listen. Arthur presents the body of his younger brother to the king, only to face the king’s wrath, who blames him for Mordred’s death as he failed to protect him in the battle.
Arthur Pendragon is banished
To add fuel to the fire, Arthur suggests to his father that he should become the protector of the realm. Except for Arthur, everyone present in the court knew that Uther would never announce a bastard as the ruler of Dumnonia. Arthur had literally crossed the line, and Uther, devoid of any mercy, showed him his true position and revealed the truth about his lineage. When Arthur tried to argue, Uther was left with no other option but to slash that loudmouth out of Arthur’s body. But fortunately, Merlin, the legendary magician sitting in a dark corner, intervened and stopped Uther from spilling any more blood.
It is quite clear at this point that Uther was an incompetent leader. He blamed not only Arthur but also the other tribal kings and queens present in the court for the death of his son. In the past, Uther had raised the alarm after the attacks of the Saxons, but none of the chieftains had come to his aid. They were busy with their own merrymaking and leisure, and Uther blamed each one of them for the rise of the Saxon attacks. Finally, Uther banishes Arthur from the Isle and warns the leaders not to give him any aid or shelter, or they will face the same fate or worse.
Before leaving, Arthur suggests to Owain that his father is not fit to rule. He has gone blind and is unable to see the flaws in his strategies. With that approach, he would never be able to unite the realm, and therefore he requests that Owain win Uther’s trust so he can advise him better. Arthur also tells Owain that they need to stop the Saxons near the west border of Calleva because if they breach it, no one would be able to stop them from taking control of the Isle.
Derfel Cadarn, Nimue, and the Forbidden Love
While leaving Dumnonia, Arthur comes across a burning settlement in the north, where he saves a boy from certain death. He brings the wounded boy to Merlin’s safe haven, Avalon, where the villagers live in peace and harmony and feel that they are closer to God. Arthur requests that Merlin take the boy under his wing and nurture him as he nurtured Arthur during his childhood. This points towards the fact that Merlin and Arthur developed a strong bond during Arthur’s childhood, as he spent most of his time in Avalon under Merlin’s guidance, which we have also seen in the animated film.
One of the young druids named Nimue attends to the boy’s wound and finds out that he is a Saxon who might have been enslaved in one of the English settlements. Nimue gives him a new name, Derfel, while Merlin’s assistant, Hywel, starts treating him as his own son. Some eight years later, we find out that Derfel and Nimue have fallen in love, but their story comes to a halt when the gods speak to Nimue and ask her to make a choice between them and Derfel. Merlin understands the god’s voice and explains to Nimue that she will lose her ability to listen to the gods if she seeks a normal life. He predicts that in the future, she will become one of the most powerful druids in Great Britain, and thus, the fate of the Isle depends on her single decision.
In the end, Nimue chooses to be herself, which is what she has been destined to do in life, and therefore distances herself from Derfel. The boy, on the other hand, fails to accept the turn of events and starts getting visions of the fateful night when he lost his mother. In his visions, Derfel saw a man with a mark of Siluria, implying that a Silurian warlord had abducted or killed his mother and thrown him on the pike to die. However, Derfel quickly remembers Arthur’s words and gathers courage while finally deciding that he will become a warrior like Arthur and take revenge on his mother’s murderer.
The Birth of Mordred (The Second)
Uther’s wife, Queen Norwenna, gets pregnant again to give the king a legal heir for the kingdom. Merlin, Nimue, Derfel, and others travel to the capital to deliver the new prince. However, as soon as Merlin touches the crippled foot of the newborn, he gets a vision of blood and slaughter. Merlin prophecies that the new prince is pure evil and will bring death upon his own countrymen. The great magician warns Uther that his new son will ruin the kingdom, but Uther refuses to listen to his baseless predictions. He knows that at his current age, he won’t be able to bear a son again, and therefore, this is his only chance to leave behind a successor. Merlin reminds Uther again of an illegitimate son who is perfectly fit to rule the kingdom, but an arrogant Uther quickly shuts him down. Kings like Uther will let hellfire engulf their kingdom but won’t try to change the system, which could eventually save hundreds of innocent lives. The result will be that his tyrant son in the future is going to behead his own people.
Evidently, Merlin fails to convince Uther to call back Arthur, and therefore he embarks on a journey on his own to bring him back. Merlin knows that Arthur is the only warlord who can stop the second Mordred and save the kingdom from falling into the hands of the Saxons. Meanwhile, Uther happily announces the birth of his legal heir and sends Queen Norwenna and the young prince to Avalon, where they will be protected from the enemies of Britain. Before leaving, Merlin gives away his position to Nimue and asks her to look after Avalon in his absence. He also commands her to protect the Pagans, perhaps hinting towards an upcoming holy war where Christians might want to kill the followers of old gods like Merlin and Nimue.
Derfel Finds His Mother’s Killer
While Nimue and others return to Avalon with the queen and the new prince, Derfel decides to stay back in Caer Cadarn as he wants to train himself to become a warrior like Arthur. Some three months later, he comes across Owain, who, impressed by the lad’s zeal and skills, offers to train him personally. However, before Derfel could rejoice, he suddenly came across a man who reminded him of his past wounds. King Gundleus of Siluria, a dedicated Christian and ruthless raider, arrives at the capital, wishing for an audience with the High King.
Queen Morgan requests that Uther not listen to Gundleus and make him pay for the crimes he has committed against the kingdom, but Uther has some other sinister scheme in mind. He wants to make a pact with the devil to fight other evils. Gundleus explains to the king that he is now a transformed man because he has adopted Christianity, but as we know from Vikings: Valhalla, men like Gundleus are delusional and can never stop shedding innocent blood. They just need a new reason and new targets to unsheathe their blades against, and we believe this time, it will be Pagans. In front of the High King, Gundleus makes it clear that he is willing to do anything to seek forgiveness. Uther uses the opportunity and asks Gundleus to stop his uncle Gorfydd, who has been plundering the borders of the country for months. If Gundleus successfully stops him forever, then he will be granted forgiveness for his past deeds.
Meanwhile, Derfel, who had been hearing the entire conversation from the shadows, witnessed the Siluria mark on Gundleus’ chest. It instantly reminded Derfel of the monster who had hurt his mother, and we believe that Derfel would follow Gundleus from hereon. Derfel had been harboring a raging flame of vengeance since the day he started getting visions of the horrible past, and he wouldn’t stop until he had put Gundleus to death. The question here is: would a weak Derfel be able to stop a strong warlord?
What can we expect next?
During The Winter King Episode 1’s ending, Merlin finally locates Arthur near the shores of Gaul, the land of King Ban. Arthur now leads a war party for King Ban and fights against the Franks. Arthur’s soldier, Sagramor, brings Merlin to his lord, and finally, the great magician meets his old friend and disciple. Merlin wastes no moment and informs the great warlord about the upcoming threats that endanger the Isle. It won’t be easy for Merlin to convince Arthur to raise an arm against his brother and father, as Arthur is extremely loyal to them. Earlier, too, during his visit to Avalon, Merlin pointed out the fact that Mordred died because of Uther’s flawed strategies and blamed everything on Arthur. But the loyal son refused to listen to anything against his father. Therefore, we can speculate that the entire second episode will follow Merlin’s quest to convince Arthur that he needs to give away his loyalty for the future of the Isle.
Additionally, we can expect Derfel’s quest for revenge to kill Gundleus so that he can bring closure to his horrible past. But what we most expect is Arthur’s journey to bring all the tribes under one banner and become the one true ruler of Great Britain. The journey has just begun, and we hope that the narrative doesn’t lose momentum from hereon. Pacing is one of the crucial factors in the historical epic drama, and considering the pace of the first episode, we believe it won’t disappoint us on that front.