Merlin came to Camelot, met Arthur, and despised him. Merlin met the Great Dragon and thought, damn, I have to protect the idiot who hates me. And Merlin came to slowly realise that Arthur not only didn’t hate him, but needed him in his life. He needed his magic, yes, but Arthur never knew about that. From Arthur’s point of view, he just needed Merlin. Their destiny may have been written in stone, but their tentative friendship and grudging affection for each other had to come from themselves – and we watched them build that up for five frustrating seasons.
Alexander Vlahos described the finale as a “platonic love story” between Merlin and Arthur. And that is exactly what it was. The entire show was like a classic “will-they-won’t-they,” except rather than building towards some predictable final scene with loud, swelling music and a formulaic kiss in the rain, Merlin was building towards a far more complex conclusion; one which involved both men accepting the other for nothing less or more than what they were, and acknowledging that there was no one they would rather be with, at the end of all things.
When all else had been stripped away, we were left with Merlin and Arthur. With Arthur dying in Merlin’s arms, looking into Merlin’s eyes, telling him to, “Just hold me.” And instead of goodbye, it was “thank you.” While there was a lot left unsaid between them, and a lot of things Arthur never got to do, he died peacefully in the arms of someone who loved him."
"…both men accepting the other for nothing less or more than what they were, and acknowledging that there was no one they would rather be with, at the end of all things."
I couldn’t have put it better. However you view the Merlin/Arthur dynamic, at its heart are two people that, against all obstacles of class and conflict and their own flaws, slowly struggle to trust each other and develop a poignant friendship that changes them both. Merlin finds a purpose for his abilities and a teachable, loyal comrade worth following and protecting in Arthur. Arthur finds a counselor and emotional anchor in Merlin, someone who will both call him out when he’s wrong so he can be better and encourage him when his crippling insecurity issues overwhelm him. They have their falling outs and can be unfair and hurtful to each other, but it is never questioned that they would do anything for the other and that they cannot imagine their life without the other by their side.
This is why the finale is so heartbreaking and I appreciated it as a showcase of Bradley and Colin’s intimate understanding of their characters’ connection and a heartfelt tribute to how far Arthur and Merlin have come in their journey together.